Muslim Leaders’ Global Fight Against Extremism

Posted on October 23, 2008


Stryker McGuire, Newsweek

A year ago, 138 Muslim leaders from 40 nations addressed a plea for interfaith dialogue to the leaders of the world’s Christian churches in a bid to diminish the influence of extremism around the world. That initiative, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” led to a conference between Muslim and U.S. Protestant leaders at Yale University last summer and another last week with Church of England leaders at Cambridge University, to be followed next month by a meeting with Roman Catholic leaders at the Vatican. Ali Gomaa, who as the grand mufti (chief Islamic jurist) in Cairo is the senior Sunni Muslim figure in Egypt, was one of the Common Word signatories. He presided over the Cambridge conference with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. newsweek’s Stryker McGuire interviewed Gomaa at a local hotel. At one point, their chat was interrupted by a carpenter’s power saw. “That noise,” joked Gomaa, “is from the sphere of terrorism.” Excerpts:

Newsweek: What signs of progress have you seen since the Common Word initiative was launched?
Gomaa: Meetings such as this one at Cambridge, working with Muslims and Christians because they represent much of the world’s population, are a sign of progress. Our willingness to listen to each other is the first sign of the melting away of the iceberg between the two sides. It’s really something of a small miracle. We need to go step by step. The massiveness of the current economic crisis is something else that we must come together to solve. A crisis in the United States affects the street trader in Cairo. We no longer have the option to live in isolation. We Muslims and Christians must be successful so that we can be an example to the rest of the world. We hope that Common Word becomes a massive international peace movement.

One of your goals has been to reduce extremism, including terrorism, in the Islamic world. Are the radicals listening?
We have two objectives here. The first is to reach young people. That is where the problems begin and where we must begin. I equate terrorism with cancer. If we leave it alone, it will affect the entire body. The second involves the actual terrorists themselves, and our effort is to dampen their negative effect. In that regard we have been successful, but it’s a partial success. We want to create boundaries for terrorism and restrict its activity. We’ve had a specific experiment in Egypt with the people who killed [President] Anwar Sadat [in 1981]. In Egypt there were about 16,000 members of the group [Islamic Jihad] that was responsible for Sadat’s assassination. We were able to discuss issues with them and convince them of their errors, and 14,000 of them ended up denouncing the principles of the terrorism they had espoused.

You are an eminent legal scholar, and as a religious judge, you issue fatwas , or religious rulings, in all kinds of disputes. You ve said in the past that ill-trained or manipulative Islamic pseudoscholars have misused fatwas for their own ends. How so?
It is from these people that you get fatwas that endorse terrorism. That leaves the cancer to spread throughout the body. If Islam is not approached from a proper, scholarly point of view, we will see many problems. [more]

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Answering Hate and Islamophobia with Peace and Mutual Understanding

1. A Message of Peace from Muslim Scholars to the Pope.

2. Please click here to download the whole 29-page letter entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You.”

3. Against Terrorism and Religious Extremism: Muslim Position and Responsibilities. An extremely helpful and clearly written handout by the Islamic Society of North America addressed to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

4. Brochure Anti-Terrorisme et Anti-extrémisme en langue française. Une brochure extrêmement utile et clairement écrite par la Société Islamique de l’Amérique du Nord (ISNA) adressée aux Musulmans et aux non-Musulmans francophones du monde entier.

5. Full text of fatwa by Islamic Commission of Spain against Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida (in English, French and the original Spanish).

6. Complete text of the British Muslim Clerics’ Fatwa against terrorism.

7. Complete text of fatwa of U.S. Muslim Scholars against religious extremism.

Posted in: Islam