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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Islam, Explained; Bigotry Exposed

By: Hussam Ayloush
Published in the Orange County Register
June 25, 2006

A recent book review by Orange County Register senior editorial writer, Steve Greenhut, praised a book arguing that the minority of Muslim extremists who are involved in terrorism are not a deviation from, but rather a "natural result of following the actual teachings of Muhammad and the Koran."

Such a conclusion by the book author and reviewer reflects either a distressing ignorance about Islam or more worrisome, an unrepentant Islamophobia. I usually refrain from responding to outright bigotry; however, when such bigotry finds its place in a mainstream newspaper, I have no choice but to respond.

No religion, including Islam, should bear the responsibility of the actions by the extremist few who twist its teachings. And no religion should be judged through a selective reading of its scripture. In every scripture, extremists can find justification for any of their acts. Verses from the Bible were manipulated by extremists to justify the Crusades and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Christians and Muslims, the inquisitions, the enslavement and lynching of Africans and African Americans, the blessing of Nazi German soldiers, the Apartheid in South Africa, the Catholic-Protestant pogrom cycle in Europe, the displacement of Palestinians and the bombing of abortion clinics.

Muslims certainly do not judge Christianity or Judaism by those acts, but rather by our belief in the message of peace and justice taught by the revered prophets Moses and Jesus. Similarly, Islam should be judged by its message of justice and equality as followed by most of its 1.3 billion followers.

Muslims' relationship with other people is based on peace, mutual respect, cooperation, justice and kindness as guided by Quranic verses such as:

"There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256)

"O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of God, is the best in conduct." (49:13)

"God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just." (60:8)

Islam forbids wars of aggression and, like Christianity, sets strict conditions for just warfare. Those conditions are limited to self-defense or removing injustice against other people. For example, the Prophet Muhammad said: "Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people (he also mentioned priests, nuns and rabbis). Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees and do not poison the wells of your enemies."

More importantly, Islam's long history of tolerance speaks for itself. After more than 14 centuries of Muslim rule over the Middle East, tens of millions of Christians still share the same towns and villages with Muslims, in mutual brotherhood and respect. The rare exceptions that occurred have impacted all religious communities, equally. Prophet Muhammad, who was also married to a Christian and a Jew, said: "Whoever harms a Christian or a Jew, it is as if he has harmed me."

If Islam's goal is to kill or convert non-Muslims then why is it that after over 700 years of Muslim rule, India is still 80% Hindu? Or why is it that Jews fled the European persecution of many centuries to live with Muslims in Andalusian Spain and North Africa in what they described as the "Golden Age of Judaism"?

If the teachings of Islam are so violent and evil, then why is it the fastest growing religion in the West as well as the rest of the world? Why have hundreds of thousands of peaceful Westerners chosen Islam as their new religion, about two third of them women? Why have Cat Stevens (former rockstar), Wilfried Hofmann (former NATO director of information), Leopold Wiess (former Austrian Jewish statesman), Herbert Hobohm (former German diplomat), and other intellectuals and leaders converted to Islam?

There must be something other than its "viewing of non-Muslims as enemies that are to be treated without any rights" as Mr. Greenhut would like us to believe. Maybe it is Islam's stress on the brotherhood of all human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. Maybe it is Islam's struggle for justice and equality for all people. Maybe it is Islam's balance, spirituality, simplicity, humility, and tolerance.

All religions can co-exist peacefully, when the true followers stop tolerating the few haters among them who try to divide us along religion lines. We all need to reject the hatemongers who try to negate the humanity and goodness in people who are different than us. Religions are good; it is the bad followers who bring them the bad name.

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