Monday, April 23, 2007

Moderate Muslims

Moderate Muslims
Can they escape the label?
Mike Ghouse, April 23, 2007

The words change in their meaning and context over a period of time, either they shrink in scope or become universal. The word Moderate is talked about quite extensively these days, especially in reference to Muslims. Who is a moderate Muslim?

Wikipedia, "a moderate is an individual who holds an intermediate position between two extreme or radical viewpoints."

In our life time, we have witnessed dramatic changes in understanding the words and how the meaning has changed in scope. The word Liberal is considered open minded around the world, where as in America the conservatives have reduced it to a negative term. John F. Kennedy challenged it , "But if by a 'Liberal' they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a 'Liberal,' then I'm proud to say I'm a 'Liberal.' " The neo-cons use the world "Liberal" as though it is evil. Oddly the Liberals are not as offensive to denounce the trickery played by the likes of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Beck and others.

Don Feder in USA today claims that, "A universe that isn't God-centered becomes ego-centered" Belief or non-belief in God does not make a big dent in one becoming an egomaniac. Morality is common social values internalized, some derive from religion, as it is a source, but morality does not necessarily hinge on being God-centric. For years, an Atheist was meant an immoral person, and it is all going to change. Morality is derived from religion but is not religion- dependent.

The tragic 9/11 was a wake up call to Muslims around the world. They felt a sense of betrayal as Jihad, a noble and comprehensive concept of struggle, was resorted to commit violence against innocent people, where Islam, even in the battle field does not allow indiscriminate violence. Such violence in the name of Islam can be better understood as abusing the religion as a political tool, just as much as the crusades and inquisitions were political tools using religion to consolidate the hold of rulers over their people.

Jihad is an Arabic word meaning a struggle or an effort in the fulfilling of the commandments of God in order to become a better human being. The war is not holy and there is nothing in the Qur'an to aggressively go after anyone, unless you're defending against an aggression. Islam forbids aggression and suicide.

Coming to the word "Moderate Muslims", Muqtedar Khan writes, "Muslims in general do not like using the term, understanding it to indicate an individual who has politically sold out to the "other" side. In some internal intellectual debates, the term moderate Muslim is used pejoratively to indicate a Muslim who is more secular and less Islamic than the norm."

Asma Khalid writes in Christian Science Monitor "The term moderate Muslim is actually a redundancy. In the Islamic tradition, the concept of the "middle way" is central. Muslims believe that Islam is a path of intrinsic moderation, wasatiyya."

In an article Civil Liberties and Uncivil Super-Patriotism: The Struggle between the Two Americas, Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq explains why the media and the government in America have made it so difficult for themselves to find moderate Muslims.

Khan, Khalid and Farooq are right. Muslims do resist the classification of any kind, and moderation is the given standard of Islam. When Muslims join in to pray at the largest annual Muslim congregational prayer on the day of Hajj, all distinctions of wealth, knowledge, age, gender, race, ethnicity and culture simply fade. There is no distinction between Shia or Sunni or any other sub-group, they may fold their hand on their chest or at the naval, but pray they do with no one looking at the other nor anyone is judgmental about others.

Prophet Muhammad always talked about the Middle path being the most acceptable path, the one that prevents you from extremes. I was teaching Buddhism in my workshop on Sunday, April 22 nd and incredibly, the philosophy of Buddhism hinges on taking the middle path. When Buddha he experimented from self-denial after the princely life of self-indulgent, he figured that the middle path was the way to go.

By definition and following the traditions of the prophet Muhammad, Muslims are given to be moderates and the phrase 'Moderate Muslim' is simply rhetorical.

However, given the current meaning ascribed to the word Moderate in all faith traditions, it is necessary to identify a meaning with the word.

Liberal Muslims can be defined as those who see a lot of flexibility in their faith; they find freedom in following their faith and making their own rules in some aspect of life as they go forward. Religion is a private matter to them; some of them don't see the need for an outward expression. The conservative Muslims on the other hand (some of them are fundamentalists or orthodox Muslims) will remain loyal to the literal meaning of the words, they don't see the need for any flexibility in following their faith as they understand it. Together these two groups constitute – i.e., strict conservatives and liberals - less than 5% of the Muslim population. That may be the ratio in all groups.

The moderate Muslims, on the other hand are religious too; religion is not a divider to them at all. The religious barrier is literally non-existent to them and they get along with all people. In practicing their faith they see some flexibility and accept some rigidity. They can also be called average Muslims, like the average Joes or Abdul's or Muhammad's. When you are with them, you get the idea that they are Muslims, but it is not a neon sign.

Ironically the moderates of any faith do not wish to be labeled, they do not want to be classified, and they want to be simply beings that follow a certain faith in person. So is the case with Moderate Muslims. They do not prefer the label and I pray it does not stick to them. However, we cannot escape being identified as Moderate Muslims and I am one.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio, discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He founded the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: "good for Muslims and good for the world." His personal Website is and his articles can be found on the Websites mentioned above and in his Blogs: and . He can be reached at . Mike lives in Carrollton with his family and has been a Dallasite since 1980.

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