The terrorist attack in Sri Lanka last week was the largest of its kind since Sept. 11. Many of us were lulled into thinking that the defeat of ISIS in Syria and the pause in large-scale bombings across the world portended a steady and inevitable decline in the allure of radicalized Islam.
We were wrong.
Zahran Hashim, the alleged organizer of the plot and one of the Sri Lankan bombers himself, began preaching that Sri Lanka, a Buddhist country, was, according to the Washington Post, “a Muslim land and that Muslims should never submit to the rule of others.” Hashim lived in Kattankudy, a seaside city of 50,000 where Muslims felt safe but disagreed among themselves, sometimes violently, over what Islam was meant to be. An ISIS-inspired ideology gradually gained ground among Kattankudy’s Muslim population. As the Post reported, “more moderate local Islamic practices have lost ground to an ultraconservative brand of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia that has drawn adherents among young people.”
This all sounds familiar. Five years ago this same fundamentalist ideology drew thousands of Muslims from around the world to Syria and Iraq to form the Caliphate, with devastating consequences.
Will it ever end? It can, but the solution will not be more police or barriers on the sidewalks, but a change in ideology. If there is ever to be an end to the terror, Islam — the good kind of Islam, the religion of the vast majority — must resort to something like the following. It will take a long time for the message to sink in, but it has to be attempted.
(1) look to the Quran as a work of divine inspiration but without insisting on its infallibility;
(2) look to the Quran and Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet) for guidance, but respect the wide variety of interpretation that comes from their reading;
(3) affirm the greatness of the Prophet Muhammad, but do not raise him to Allah’s status as an infallible oracle;
(4) never require a non-Muslim to follow their sharia, for such a requirement would nullify humanity’s free will, Allah’s greatest gift to all;
(5) affirm the Greater Jihad which calls on every Muslim to fight the demons within their own hearts, but reject the Lesser Jihad that calls for the persecution of infidels as their enemy;
(6) refrain from spreading the faith by force or violence or conquest, but by respectful discussion and noble example;
(7) adopt a more forgiving morality in keeping with God’s name “the Merciful,” that recognizes the universality of human failing, equally in imam, mullah, man, and woman;
(8) recognize that men and women, different in so many ways, as Allah intended, are equals in his eyes and enjoy the same rights and privileges;
(9) respect Islam’s sister religions as legitimate paths to salvation and renounce the radical claim to be the only religion approved by Allah;
(10) accept criticism from alien perspectives as a show of strength and self-confidence, recognizing that Allah does not need the help of finite beings to defend his honor.
American Muslims must not flinch in declaring the whole idea of a Muslim state, a so-called Caliphate, a fiasco, a delusion. They must make it clear that this ideology would only alienate Muslims from every other American citizen, whose country explicitly separates church from state, and that it is a poor fit for civilization as a whole. They should courageously take the lead in speaking out against ISIS and all other counterfeits of their religion. If they don't, if they leave it up to non-Muslims to carry the ball, we're in for a long fight that can only escalate as time passes.
Stafford Betty, Ph.D., is the author of "The War for Islam" and professor of religious studies at Cal State Bakersfield. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.