Saudi Arabia mosque prayer
Muslims perform the Al Fajr prayer inside the Al Rajhi Mosque win Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 31, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Islam, a religion faithfully followed by more than one and a half billion people across the globe has come under severe attack in the last decade or so, giving rise to the current anxiety aptly named Islamophobia on the lips of many.

Unfortunately, the dangers of extremism in recent years has led many outsiders to perceive Islam as a hateful religion. The Islam of peace became an Islam of compulsion in the minds and acts of some who craftily manipulated religious mores with their own sets of beliefs which had little to do with the religion.

An American recently wrote to me asking, ‘How can we be called to join the faith of Islam, when so much of hurtful actions happen in the name of this religion? How can an outsider believe in the compassion of Islam and its teachings, when almost every day we read about dogmatic practices, of militants claiming to be Muslims and blowing innocent people everywhere?’

Clerics who deliver the Friday sermon at mosques have a duty to broadcast the message of rejection of such extremist acts.

- Tariq A. Al Maeena, Saudi commentator

Such extremism has been denounced by many writers in the past. But rarely by persons who have studied the Quran and its teachings and who could have said with religious authority that this or that interpretation was not acceptable and as such condemned it.

Key religious leaders, Islamic Institutions and organisations have begun to understand the threat of Islamophobia and have come out and publicly denounced acts of terrorism by bandanna-draped terrorists shouting Allahu akbar. But such announcements were few and far in between then. The absence of such clear and repeated statements nourished an underlying feeling that religious authorities are not unhappy with an extreme interpretation of the script. By their silence, they came off as condoning such vile acts.

This absence of clear positioning made dialogue between the cultures very difficult, and had led to a great misunderstanding of the true meaning of Islam. If we have something that we denounce on both sides, then we should jointly state it again and again, and with each case renew our bond for better understanding of faiths and cultures.

Subjugation of personal rights

Indeed, if one looks around at the abominable acts carried out in the name of Islam today, one would not be short of material. In many parts of the world, criminals are shielding themselves behind this religion to mask their wicked intent. Such forceful acts often disguise the quest for power and the subjugation of personal rights, something intolerable in Islam. Acts that threaten Islam through deviant practices by Muslims are far more dangerous than threats from other quarters.

But what seems disturbing is the lukewarm universal concern and rejection by established Islamic religious institutions and figures of such twisted practices and values, and a public denouncement that is carried far and wide to indicate their disagreement and displeasure.

Take the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations. It has a membership of 57 Islamic countries spread over four continents. For years it had been promoting its opposition to violence through press releases and such. In recent times, however, they have begun to hold a more aggressive role in enjoining religious leaders of other faiths and searching for solutions arising from religious conflicts.

An Islamic institution in Egypt, one of over a thousand years old, and an established centre for great scholars of Islam was not vocal enough to discredit terrorism. Many accused it of not taking the lead in publicly calling for the preservation of rights of those who suffer under the hands of deviants employing a twisted ideology. It too is changing today.

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In Saudi Arabia acts of terrorism are repeatedly denounced through fatwas and edicts, and public condemnation of extremism carried out by Muslims. Saudi Ulema began to take the lead in denouncing each and every vile act committed in the guise of Islam regardless of its location. But there is much more to do.

Clerics who deliver the Friday sermon at mosques have a duty to broadcast the message of rejection of such extremist acts. This grass roots approach works best in towns and villages, and its value should not be underscored.

The Islamic faith is being abused (through aberrant practices) by some who claim to be Muslims. Islamophobia is real. It is essential that the right message goes out loud and clear through established Islamic organisations and institutions who must publicly denounce such acts regardless where they occur.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena