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Busting Myth That Muslims Don’t Condemn Terrorism

Would you believe it?

It turns out that more than 12 conferences and consultations have already been organized by international Islamic bodies in order to condemn the behavior of ISIS in the year following the group’s emergence in the summer of 2014.

Even though their lists of conclusions and recommendations are extensively available online, they have received very little, if any, coverage in the media.

I often still hear complaints that Muslim leaders are conspicuously silent about the atrocities committed by ISIS, that they are not doing enough to condemn them.

In fact, this is a claim that is alleged against Muslims every time a Muslim commits a terrorist act, and I have become intrigued by it.

I happen to have extensive relationships with Muslims, and I know very well that they disapprove of ISIS’ behavior. So I decided this time to investigate the question further.

One of the first gatherings in reaction to ISIS was organized on Nov. 19, 2014, by the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), in Vienna, Austria.

The resulting declaration is available online: “United Against Violence in the Name of Religion.”

The conference brought together “high-level representatives of the major world religious and social institutions.”

It aimed at developing “programs and initiatives that contribute to strengthening the unity against violence in the name of religion” and “to support religious and cultural diversity in Iraq and Syria.”

Another particularly interesting movement has been happening in Egypt, triggered by the push for change that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been calling for.

In February, Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments organized a conference titled “The Greatness of Islam and the Errors of Some of Its Adherents.” The gathering addressed four main issues:

  1. The politicization of religion as a reason for the chasm between the greatness of Islam and the behavior of some of its adherents;
  2. The greatness of Islamic civilization, the greatness of its ethical values and the greatness of its guidance in the treatment of the different others;
  3. The identification of the intellectual and behavioral errors of those who falsely claim to belong to Islam; and
  4. The need to rectify the image of Muslims by correcting erroneous behavior and developing tools to correct their image worldwide.

Many other conferences have been organized, in Beirut and in Iran as well as in Paris, Istanbul, Tajikistan, Iraq, Amman and so on.

It is unfortunate that more of the resulting statements do not exist in English for an international readership, and this may help explain why they have received so little attention in the media.

Since the summer of 2014, I have heard many affirm that ISIS was “finally revealing the true face of Islam.” I believe it would be more accurate to affirm that ISIS has been transforming the face of Islam.

Islam is too diverse to be “revealed” in any single movement, region or even period of history.

But I firmly believe that, in the long run, ISIS will have done more to transform Islam than any of the late 19th or early 20th century reform movements.

The positive transformation is not through direct action, but rather is emerging as a result of the reactions provoked by ISIS’s savage behavior.

The Muslim world is embarrassed. A striking common thread in a number of these gatherings is the focus on the embarrassment that ISIS has caused for Islam and the Muslim world.

This is expected in a world ruled by honor and shame. But it remains to be seen whether the reform impulse of the Muslim world will go deeper and beyond “saving face.”

Muslim organizations and governments are certainly launching serious initiatives to ensure that this happens.

As I write, I’m attending another follow-up consultation by KAICIID, bringing together deans of Muslim schools of Sharia and Christian seminaries.

The aim is to create a network of religious schools in the Arab world in order to coordinate our efforts in forming religious leaders and preachers who will build a new foundation for moderate religious communities, ones that will work together on marginalizing extremist and violent religious discourses and behavior.

As the Muslim world goes through its latest birth pangs, what position should the Christian church take? Should we look on in “priestly” smugness and complacency? Should we pass by on the other side of the road, unmoved and cynical?

Muslims lay beaten by the roadside. They have fallen into the hands of robbers. They have been stripped of their clothes and beaten up, left half dead.

Could it be that, here too, Jesus calls us to be like the Good Samaritan?

He showed compassion, bandaged wounds and poured on oil and wine; he took the beaten man to an inn and took care of him. Jesus says, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

Martin Accad is director of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. A version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @marzaatar and IMES @IMESLebanon.