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Islam is a touchy subject. But it’s also a historical subject, a cultural and worldview subject, and it’s a subject of ethics and politics. For that reason, wisdom demands we discuss and learn about Islam no matter how touchy it may be. As a non-muslim myself, I understand the media’s fear–the fear of an “outsider”–of making matter-of-fact claims about Islam, especially politically incorrect claims.

After all, Islam is a force to reckon with, serving as the common denominator in most world terrorism. Onlookers, like myself, have to put words into the mouths of the terrorists to make them say, “This isn’t ‘true’ Islam.” To what extent can we rightfully tell the muslim extremist that his version of “Islam” is wrong? Is this kind of distinction between “radical” and “moderate” Islam a foreign invasion or a native distinction?Even with the important contributions of Islam in the arts, philosophy, math and sciences those would seem to be the irrepressably beautiful face bloodied and beaten by centuries of violence. Were such violence bygone, these questions might be outdated. But these are urgent and present questions. Hostilities remain hot.

Though I am a professor of world religions, I am no expert on Islam. I speak as an outsider. I approach this topic not as a claim but as a plea for self-proclaimed Muslims to clarify for the onlooking world what grounds do we have for denying the ‘muslim’ terrorist his claim on Islam? Is there a grounds? If so, what is it?There are plenty of ‘moderates’ who teach that Islam or the Qu’ran does not advocate violence. But there are also self-proclaimed “moderates” who refuse to call Hamas a terrorist organization. The same can be said of Hezbolah and Al Quaida. Such “moderates” give true moderates a bad name. Hence, “moderate” is a relative term, confusing to outsiders. Some might consider themselves “moderate” because they’ve never pulled a terrorist trigger themselves, yet they would knowingly and willingly support groups who do. Even “moderate” is ambiguous.

Yet the voice of true moderates is being heard. We wish it were louder, but it’s real and clear for its size. Meanwhile, the extremists and false moderates have their own references in the Qu’ran and Hadith, not to mention a history of Islam which easily suggests militancy. It would be a historical whitewash to think of the Prophet of Islam as anything less than a warlord (though He may have been more than that), or to neglect mentioning the military expansionism of Islam up through the middle ages and today, or to ignore the nagging border disputes in most every Muslim country, nor can we forget the prophecied empirialism where Islam is to be the reigning religion subjugating Jew, Christian, Atheist, and all manner of Kafur. Honest historians widely recognize that most every border to a Muslim-dominant country has been a bloody border. Even admitting the same kinds of bloodshed and empirialism by Jewish and Christian swords in world history, these other Abrahamic faiths have their respective reformations wherein religious militancy took a back seat to democracy and produced such political innovations as “priesthood of the believer,” “separation of church and state,” and “freedom of religion.” There remains a substantive and historical distinction between Judeo-Christian militancy and Islamic militancy. I know of no widespread or overarching reformation in Islam to suggest that this religion has outgrown those warring ways. Scholars reading this, am I wrong? Am I missing something?

I reiterate that there are many non-violent muslims and self-proclaimed moderates who are proud of their Muslim faith and Muslim heritage yet abhor all forms of terrorism, including that of Hamas, Al Quaeda and Hezbolah. I’m thankful for the moderates opposing tyranny and terrorism. So I mean no disrespect, nor hostility. I’m simply asking for a clear and defensible demarcation line between “true” Islam and that espoused by terrorists.

Those of us on the outside looking in desperately want to believe there is a kind of safe Islam that is both true to itself, being faithful to the Qu’ran and the Hadith, but which still represents a reformative split from the darker parts of Islam. The Qu’ran and Hadith ground that faith for the future so it is not enough for a liberalized or compromised form of “Islam” to reduce the Qu’ran and Hadith to pleasant metaphors, or allegorize their content into fairy tales. Islam has been and will be largely defined by it’s holy books, so that true Muslims must rightfully find in those books an Islam that is basically peaceful and uncoercive.Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all imperfect. But there are clearly discernable historically defensible reformations in the first two. Does textual, historical, or theological Islam distinguish “radicals” and “moderates” or are we arbitrarily deciding that the “safe” Muslims represent Islam while the dangerous ones don’t?

Perhaps, true Islam encompasses both so that truly peaceful non-coercive Muslims will have to pioneer their own reformation of Islam before they can effectively distinguish themselves from the ambiguous shades, shy of the middle, and the lunatic fringe of rioting and terrorist outlyers?

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