Last month, three Muslim men were arrested in Britain in connection with the London bombings of July 2005. In light of such situations, a number of non-Muslims and Muslims alike yearn for "moderate," peace-loving Muslims to speak out against the violent acts sometimes perpetrated in the name of Islam. And to avoid association with terrorism, some Muslims adopt a "moderate" label to describe themselves.
I am a Muslim who embraces peace. But, if we must attach stereotypical tags, I'd rather be considered "orthodox" than "moderate."
"Moderate" implies that Muslims who are more orthodox are somehow backward and violent. And in our current cultural climate, progress and peace are restricted to "moderate" Muslims. To be a "moderate" Muslim is to be a "good," malleable Muslim in the eyes of Western society.
I recently attended a debate about Western liberalism and Islam at the University of Cambridge where I'm pursuing my master's degree. I expected debaters on one side to present a bigoted laundry list of complaints against Islam and its alleged incompatibility with liberalism, and they did.
But what was more disturbing was that those on the other side, in theory supported the harmony of Islam and Western liberalism, but they based their argument on spurious terms. While these debaters – including a former top government official and a Nobel peace prize winner – were well-intentioned, they in fact wrought more harm than good. Through implied references to moderate Muslims, they offered a simplistic, paternalistic discourse that suggested Muslims would one day catch up with Western civilization.
In the aftermath of September 11, much has been said about the need for "moderate Muslims." But to be a "moderate" Muslim also implies that Osama bin Laden and Co. must represent the pinnacle of orthodoxy; that a criterion of orthodox Islam somehow inherently entails violence; and, consequently, that if I espouse peace, I am not adhering to my full religious duties.
I refuse to live as a "moderate" Muslim if its side effect is an unintentional admission that suicide bombing is a religious obligation for the orthodox faithful. True orthodoxy is simply the attempt to adhere piously to a religion's tenets.