My Islam: Freedom and Responsibility

Posted on October 19, 2007


Dr. Ingrid Mattson 

Muslims in America today seem to have lost the right to be individuals. We are treated as a collectivity – responsible as a group for any crime committed by another Muslim or done in the name of Islam.

Shortly after 9/11, I wrote an article stating that Muslims have the greatest obligation to reject terrorism and political violence committed in the name of Islam. I still believe this is the case. Islam does not have a centralized authority; there is no universally recognized council of scholars or clerics who speak on behalf of all Muslims.

With freedom from clerical authority, however, comes the responsibility to engage in the debate over the true meaning of Islam. Islamic law states that silence is an indication of consent. If Muslims do not reject the perverted interpretations of the Qur’an proffered by terrorists, they will have shirked their responsibility to define the real meaning of Islam.

At the same time, clarifying our own position does not mean that we have to “speak out” against each and every statement issued by terrorists or every criminal action taken by groups claiming to represent Muslim interests. Once we have defined what we stand for, and what we stand against, then any particular action that violates those guidelines are clearly rejected by us. American Muslim organizations have made extraordinary efforts to publicize their rejection of terrorism and extremism in the name of Islam: we have organized petitions, written fatwas and position papers, distributed brochures, held conferences, organized press briefings, published op-eds, spoken on the radio and television.

Still, we are asked “why have moderate Muslims not spoken out against the extremists?” We have spoken, but we have not been heard – primarily because good news does not get much coverage.

Even worse, we have spoken, but we have not been listened to. There are many people who are ideologically opposed to Islam – to the most benign interpretation of Islam – because of their own extremist religious or political ideologies. [more]

Dr. Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert, is an “On Faith” panelist and professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford (Conn.) Seminary. She is the first woman to be president of the Islamic Society of North America.

Please click here to read the remainder of this article.

Note from Rafik Beekun: Since Sr. Ingrid wrote this article, there have been a flood of mostly negative comments on the Newsweek website in response.  I would encourage you to go to this comment  link, and participate in the discussion on the article in a positive, balanced and polite manner, Insha Allah.  Again, please click here to access the comment link on this article at Newsweek.