Since 9/11, “reforming” Islam under the guise of combatting extremism has become increasingly financially lucrative. More than $57 million has been spent to promote fear of Islam and Muslims. And it seems like everyone’s an expert—including those who have no actual education or scholarship on Islamic jurisprudence.
In a 2012 study analyzing the top 25 most popular anti-Muslim activists in America, the Muslim Political Action Committee (MPAC) found: “Only 1 out of the 25 individuals examined have qualifications that would make him/her an expert on Islam.” Perhaps most relevant to combatting extremism the report rightly concluded: “Relying on individuals who lack academic qualifications about the subjects, one which they claim to be an expert, has severe negative consequences for our national security.” In other words, pseudo-scholars don’t stop extremism—they can create extremism.
For example, a recent TIME piece argues that New Atheism, which emerged post 9/11, is the solution to extremism and violence in the Muslim world because it allegedly speaks “honestly about religion.” This empty rhetoric obfuscates that throughout their so-called “honest” advocacy, the most prominent New Atheists have spoken from a position of ignorance to promote ideas and policies that have fostered extremism. For example, Christopher Hitchens advocated for the Iraq War—which has left more than 500,000 civilians dead, a region in disarray, and as President Obama admits, led to the rise of ISIS. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has advocated for a military destruction of Islam by “any means necessary.” Not a destruction of radicalism, but of Islam itself. Richard Dawkins has also slammed Islam: for example, in a 2013 tweet, he wrote: “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today[.]”
New Atheists, the Islamophobia industry, and so-called “Muslim reformers” (who meritlessly seek to change the Qur’an altogether) all share three significant characteristics. First, each is wholly ignorant of Islam as exemplified by their myopic insistence to ignore events like the Iraq War and instead claim that ISIS’s existence and approximately 30,000 members are a more valid example of Islam than Islam’s 1.6 billion Muslims and 1,400 years of non-ISIS existence. Second, each offers only an empty theory of Islamic “reformation.” Third, and perhaps most significant, each refuses to acknowledge the practical and proven models from Muslim organizations that have long existed well before 9/11 that analyze Islam from a position of honesty and scholarship, and demonstrate that it is not Islam that needs reformation—but Muslims themselves.
I’m the Director of Civil Rights and Policy for KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Since the early 1990s KARAMAH has utilized authentic Islamic scholarship to advocate for worldwide gender equity from an Islamic lens. As a women-led organization, KARAMAH exemplifies a proven model of Islam by educating, training and inspiring a new generation of Muslim women leaders who have gone on to become prolific authors, journalists, academics and activists. These long-standing successes are not in spite of Islam, but because of Islam.
Indeed, a stronger Muslim identity derived from a proven model is the best defense against extremism. This shouldn’t be surprising. A 2016 analysis on American Muslims from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding reports that “Muslims who regularly attend mosques are more likely to work with their neighbors to solve community problems, be registered to vote, and are more likely to plan to vote.” This echoes a 2008 British intelligence MI5 analysis that concluded: “[a] well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”
Moreover, for more than a century and across 209 nations, tens of millions of Muslims belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have stood united under an Islamic Caliphate. This Community of Muslims cites authentic Islamic scholarship—the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith—to exemplify a proven model of True Islam that teaches secular governance, gender equity, universal human rights and a categorical condemnation of terrorism. In 2013 the Khalifa of Islam His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad spoke at Capitol Hill to a bi-partisan Congressional audience and admonished:
[Islam] requires absolute justice. It requires truthful testimony to always be given. It requires that our glances are not cast enviously in the direction of the wealth of others. It requires that the developed nations put aside their vested interests, and instead help and serve the less developed and poorer nations.
We must work together to successfully counter extremism. But peace will not come from ignorant Islamophobes, the empty theory of pseudo-reformers, or from New Atheists.
Peace will come from supporting those Muslims who’ve long exemplified a proven model of Islam.