One of the greatest causes of anti-Islamic sentiment among many non-Muslims is the way many Muslims themselves understand, interpret and express Islam—for instance, in a highly supremacist, extremely ritualistic and sometimes violence-driven manner. But, these three phenomena, it must be clearly understood, are part of Muslim culture and not part of Islam. Muslims must abandon them and follow the true teachings of Islam. Islam cultivates equality and not supremacism, it is a spirit-based religion rather than being a form-based religion, and Islam exhorts its followers to adopt the peaceful method as against the violent method.
Related to this above-mentioned issue about non-Muslims’ perceptions, some Muslims claim that some non-Muslims are biased against Islam because, so they allege, such people are inherently opposed to God and the Truth. But these allegations are completely wrong. Simply by being born a Muslim one cannot become good. And, similarly, by merely being born a non-Muslim, one cannot inherently become an enemy of the Truth. Islam is a matter of discovery and choice for both Muslims and non-Muslims. It is not something that is received as inheritance.
In many parts of the world today, violent movements in the name of Islamic jihad are being fought. No doubt this has greatly contributed to anti-Islamic sentiments among many non-Muslims and to the wrong image of Islam as a violent religion. What is the way out?
The real solution is to disarm all the non-governmental organizations that engage in violence. According to Islam, only an established government has the right to possess and use arms. It is not permissible for non-state actors or non-governmental organizations to keep arms. Non-governmental organizations have only one choice, which is of peaceful activism. No excuse whatsoever can make it lawful for non-state actors to pick up arms. Muslim governments must make sure that in their countries, other than the military, no one should have access to arms. This must be implemented very effectively by Muslim governments.
Some people claim that the problem of radicalism in the name of Islam is mainly economic and political, and that only by addressing these issues can such militancy be solved. According to my assessment, however, the reason for radicalism in the name of Islam is neither political nor economic. Rather, it is due to a wrong concept of Islam, which is the product of the political interpretation of Islam. It is this political interpretation that has sanctioned the use of arms in the name of establishing an Islamic system. The effective solution to counter militancy is for all Muslim leaders to disown this practice outright.
In this connection, all the ulema must issue a fatwa, based on a consensus, stating that terrorism is unlawful in Islam. Muslim intellectuals also have an important role to play in this regard. They must disown all forms of terrorism, and openly write and speak against these activities. At present, this is not happening on the scale it should among Muslims. Perhaps the reason is fear in their minds. They are living in Muslim society, so they have developed fear that they may be persecuted by people of their community if they criticize them.
In this regard, however, Muslims must follow the advice given in this Quranic verse: “O Believers, turn you all together towards God.” (24:31). Thus, all Muslims should collectively condemn the terrorism being engaged in in the name of Islam.
The Muslim media, too, has its role to play in the struggle against terrorism in the name of Islam. Currently, the Muslim media is, however, highlighting the conspiracies and atrocities of others. Such news provokes Muslims further. And so, the Muslim media must immediately and entirely cease the publication of this kind of news and reporting. They must, instead, speak about the positive contributions of others. For example, many Muslims condemn the US for its bombardment in Iraq, but hardly any Muslims ever acknowledge the fact that it is the US that has ushered in the modern age of communication. Muslims extensively draw benefits from modern technology invented by the West, yet they do not acknowledge them or offer thanks to them. The Muslim media thus must totally stop spreading negative news, and, instead, engage in the task of highlighting positive news.
As for the general Muslim public, they must not at all participate in politics, and must concentrate solely on earning their livelihood instead. Laymen should remain indifferent in matters pertaining to politics. These are some ways in which the phenomenon of terrorism in the name of Islam can be combatted.
Terrorism wrongly in the name of Islam has definitely impacted on some Muslims’ self-perceptions and self-confidence. Some days ago, someone asked me, “In the face of the growing incidents of terror engaged in by self-styled Islamic groups in different countries, some Muslims hesitate to identify themselves as Muslims in front of people of other faiths. When in the company of non-Muslims, they tend to conceal or down play their Muslim-ness. Some of them even develop feelings of self-hatred. Some have even lost interest in Islam. What advice do you have for such people?”
I answered this person, saying, “There is a better choice available to such Muslims—that is, to disown the terrorism done in the name of Islam and to present the true picture of Islam before non-Muslims. I am doing the same task. They should tell people that they need to differentiate between Islam and Muslims, and judge Muslims in the light of Islamic teachings and not vice versa. They can take this as an opportunity for carrying out dialogue and dawah work, that is, inviting people to God's path. When people are now talking about Islam, even negatively, they can see this as providing an opportunity for presenting to them a true picture of Islam.”
If Muslims remain silent on the wrongful interpretation of Islam that is employed to justify terrorism, they are giving non-Muslims the opportunity to form wrong notions regarding Islam. Thus, it is our duty to speak out and to correct this wrong image of Islam.
Radical Islam is the product of the political theory of Islam. Those who are influenced by this interpretation, too, have to be explained that this is not the right interpretation of Islam. Once they are convinced, they will themselves abandon the militant activities. My own experience has been very positive in this regard.