Moderate Muslims? We’re everywhere: Eboo Patel

Those who want to hijack Islam mustn’t be allowed to set the agenda and turn Americans — and the rest of the world — against us.

By Eboo Patel

I’m not the world’s most physical guy, but I have a hero fantasy I play over and over in my head.

I’m on a plane and a guy a few rows up starts to make some suspicious moves. In some dream sequences, he’s taking out a box cutter. Other times, he’s trying to set his shoe on fire.

Everyone else is sleeping, but I’m doing my patriotic duty by staying vigilant, and I see this guy try to take us down and I’m not going to let him. I yell “TERRORIST!” just as the blade comes out or the match lights up. It startles him just for a second, buying me enough time to lunge over two rows and knock the object out of his hands.

There are going to be some new details in my hero fantasy after the failed terrorist attempt on Christmas Day bags of explosive powder taped to legs, syringes full of chemicals, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. But one part of the sequence will remain the same: After I knock the box cutter or match or whatever out of the terrorist’s hand, I go straight for the son of a bitch’s throat. I want to crush his larynx before he can squeeze any Arabic out of it. Because not only does this guy want to take down a plane full of God’s people, he wants to take down a whole religion with it. And I want to do my part to rescue both.

My sense of helplessnessI got closer than I ever thought I would to testing this vision in real life. I was on the Amsterdam-Detroit flight about a week before the terrorist attempt on that same route.

And as I thought about what the brave passengers on that flight actually did, and what I would have wanted to do had my trip been delayed eight days, I can’t help but confess that my dream is more about real helplessness than imagined toughness.

I, like most Muslims I know, believe in my bones that terrorism is antithetical to Islam, as it is to any religion, or any feeling that can be described as even remotely human. And I, like most Muslims I know, take every chance I get to denounce terrorism, to decouple it from my religion, to define Islam the way classical Muslim scholars did: as a faith, above all, of mercy and monotheism.

We write our blogs and our books, give our speeches and teach our classes, shape faith formation in Muslim spaces and build civic organizations that seek to accentuate the positive values Islam shares with other traditions. We stew when pundits say Muslim leaders aren’t doing enough, as if we could somehow stop the extremists if we just tried harder.

Here’s the sad truth: Mainstream Muslims have zero influence over extremists. In fact, if one of those guys had a single bullet in his gun and you and I were up against the wall, he would shoot me first. He hates me more because not only do I not follow his perverse vision of Islam, I also represent an alternative interpretation. He insists Islam requires domination; I suggest Islam inspires cooperation.

‘Aiding and abetting’ an agendaExtremists have a strategy. They want their terrorist acts to be front-page news, to stain a 1,400-year-old religion, to smear a community of 1.3 billion people.They want Americans to be suspicious of their Muslim neighbors. If we want to defeat extremists, we have to reject their world view and drown out their message. Indignantly asking, “Where are the moderate Muslims?”, as if there aren’t any, is allowing the extremists to set the terms, effectively aiding and abetting their agenda.

The truth is, mainstream Muslims are right in front of you, speaking all the time, advancing a Muslim vision of mercy and cooperation. It’s time people added their voices to ours, instead of amplifying the message of the extremists.

Eboo Patel is the executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core and the author of Acts of Faith, winner of the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

(Annual pilgrimage: Muslims from all over the world at the Saudi holy city of Mecca on Nov. 30./Mahmud Hams, AFP/Getty Images.)


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