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Former Muslim terrorist promotes Islamic moderate movement       

Written by Avraham Zuroff    

Tuesday, 27 October 2009 

Jerusalem – Scholars from the Muslim world, including a former terrorist, told delegates at the Facing Tomorrow Presidential Conference in Jerusalem last week that an alternative to Islamic radicalism exists and should be promoted.

Raquel Ukeles, Islamic and Jewish studies professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and moderator of the panel, said that there is too much focus in Western society on extremist Muslims. ‘Moderate’ Muslims have yet to enter the political, social and cultural arenas as key players in today’s changing world due to the fact that they receive little attention from the West and fellow extremist Muslim groups.

Ukeles said that the lack of understanding of contemporary Islam has direct policy implications and it is important to give voice to ‘non-radical contemporary Muslim movements.’

Dr. Emmanuel Sivan, a professor of Islamic studies at Hebrew University, said that a major player in all Muslim countries is the state.

“Modern brainwashing of the state, lack of encouragement, and double dealings all are well-known,” Sivan said. He mentioned that former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed in November 2005 for democratic elections in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that advocates Sharia [Muslim law enforced by government], received one-fifth of the seats. As a result, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak rejected the election results. In the new elections, no candidate from the Brotherhood was elected.

“I don’t think that Washington think tanks will solve the problem. They could only save it themselves,” Sivan said.

Dr. Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, member of the Palestinian Authority and founder of the Wasatia movement, began by saying “in times of extremism, being moderate is revolutionary.”

The word ‘wasatia’ in Arabic means ‘a moderate way.’ He promotes his movement throughout Palestinian society with the goal of resisting the adoption of radical Islam, embracing the acknowledgement of other religions and peoples and interpreting passages in the Koran to be peaceful.

He said, “Nationalism separates us, religion separates us. Wasatia can bring us together.”

Approaching the issue of coexistence from another side, Andre Azoulay, counselor to the King of Morocco, is a Moroccan Jew who has witnessed the coexistence of Jews and Arabs in his home country.

“Islam is by itself, it does not need to be labelled as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist,’” he said, calling this a “trend that is unfortunately labelling Muslims and is polluting our minds and culture.” He says that “to resist and to fight antisemitism means also that as Jews we have to fight and eradicate Islamophobia.”

He called upon the audience to remember that the Holocaust was caused by a Christian group and that some of the only places that offered Jews refuge during that time were Arab nations.

A former member of a terrorist organization directly addressed the topic of radical Islam. Dr. Tawfil Hamid is an Egyptian author and scholar of the subject. He claims that there are three main roots to the problem. He said that the “lack of theologically based peaceful interpretations” is a main issue in the vision of these extremist groups.

“I was radicalized for a short time in a terrorist group,” he said. “There was a passage in the Koran that greatly disturbed me: Kill the Jews wherever you find them.” He asked different Islamic clerics to help him. A Sunni cleric ignored the passage and merely told him, “You should love every human being.” However, when another cleric gave a literal interpretation, Hamid was resolved to become a terrorist. He said that his motivation wasn’t poverty – as he wasn’t poor – but merely his undertaking to follow the literal meaning of the Koran, which Hamas members use to justify their actions.

Furthermore, he noted the “oppression of critical thinking” notably in religious institutions. Finally, he criticized the literal interpretation of passages from the Koran, which extremists take as permission to act violently towards those who are different.

He emphasized that it is important to introduce disciplines such as cognitive psychology in the education of interpreting the Koran so that students can rely also on their conscience as human beings when making religious decisions.

“Having governments involved in the process of implementing these educational systems,” he said, “is an effective way” to change the thought process of young Muslims across the world.

When looking towards the future, the panelists were asked whether the West should negotiate and engage with these Muslim movements, even supporting them. The responses were mixed.

“Yes,” said Hamid. “Western governments should be involved simply because they are affected by it. I believe the Egyptian government is interested in defeating radical Islam” as well as other countries in Northern Africa.

Although she agrees with Hamid, Geneive Abdo, author and journalist who specializes in Egypt and Islam, warns that Western governments are engaging with the wrong people. She said that activists around the world tend to speak on behalf of these groups to the West, but they have no connection with them. She believes that “the absence of engagement is leading us to a dangerous policy.”


Daoudi concludes that although it is important to engage with these groups, Western governments must speak the language of the Arab world.


“If the West can speak the language of Islam, then it can reach the Arab world from that angle.” 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 28 October 2009 )

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