Muslim Community at a Crossroads with a Leadership Vacuum


Muslims are a very diverse people. Although they share timeless universals that weave them together into a common fabric, it would be dishonest to paint them with a broad brush.

A sophisticated and elegant civilization built over fourteen centuries stretching from Spain to China, it was brought to its knees in a crescendo of upheaval during the 30-year period between the two world wars.

The stabilizing institutions native to Islamic society would never recover -- imported, European-style nationalist ideologies would seal their fate. Amid this severe instability, no new post-industrial revolution thought could flourish and no space would be allowed for the intellectual framing of a contemporary yet "rooted" identity.

Making sense of the scattered pieces that remain would be a daunting task for even the best hearts and minds, let alone those who find themselves in the unenviable position of representing Muslim communities across the continents they span.

So it is with a great deal of deference to contributions and sacrifices offered up at precious price that I proceed to suggest that we have a problem. There is a vacuity in our leadership vision and the time has come for a change in course.

Community leaders both East and West have been unable to articulate a clear direction for Muslims that illustrates a positive, authentic identity that is engaged as a participant in global society.

For 10 years now, the discourse of Muslim religious leadership has been limited to a single mantra. We continue to be reminded what Islam and Muslims are not. Not extreme, not violent. We seem to be constantly trying to convince our fellow non-Muslim citizens and neighbors that Muslims are no different than them -- nothing unique, nothing authentic, nothing remarkable.

Will the time ever arrive to talk about what Islam is and Muslims are, as opposed to only what they are not? Can we not talk about what unique and authentic contributions Muslims can bring to the global table? There are many Muslims throughout the world who would love to express how they, too, in their own unique way, are earning their keep in our great cosmopolitan societies. Can we know how Islam informs and inspires these contributions?

Current discourse from Muslim leaders appears to acquiesce to the faulty premise that extreme and violent tendencies are rampant among the mainstream Muslim population.

While it is true that a minority fringe of individuals have allowed their political and human rights frustrations to carry them beyond the pale of Islam's normative teachings -- violating the very principles of the religion they invoke -- in so doing, their acts of terrorism cannot justifiably be branded "Islamic." What they are, then, is criminal. Criminal in international law, criminal in Shariah law.
Will the time ever arrive to talk about what Islam is and Muslims are, as opposed to only what they are not?

The vast majority of Muslims have never accepted this behavior. Not in the name of Islam, and not in any other name.