Liberal Grace

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

One Question Interview with Husain Haqqani

Husain Haqqani is the Director Center for International Relations and Associate Professor at Boston University

Many North Americans are frightened and dismayed at the Toronto arrests and some will surely use the example of these alleged terrorist-wannabes to argue that all of Islam is a violent religion. I would encourage all my readers to use the emotions of this event to inspire you to better understand our Muslim cousins.

I want to point out that Mr. Haqqani is one of the most qualified people in the world to answer this question!

Liberal Grace: Many Americans know little about Islam but they hear bin Laden claim he is the best kind of Muslim. Less loudly, perhaps, they hear moderate Muslims claim that bin Laden and the violent terrorists are not Muslim at all.

How can an average American know who are the real Muslims, honoring the true teachings of Islam?

Husain Haqqani
The question is based on the incorrect premise that there can ever be one simple way for people uninformed about another to understand their faith and history.

The very fact that people like Osama bin Laden are estimated to have no more than a few thousand followers amidst a global Muslim population of 1.4 billion is sufficient to confirm that groups like Al-Qaeda are far removed from the mainstream of Islam. The advantage of extremists is that their acts of violence are front-page news while the day-to-day religious practices of hundreds of millions --believing in one God, praying 5 times a day, giving part of your income to charity, fasting from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan and once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca -- are not.

In some ways, extremist groups like Al-Qaeda are to Islam what Branch Dravidians were to the faithful in America. The only difference is that Muslim extremists have a political message that has significance in international relations and their actions are global and, therefore, of concern to the international community.

Islam, like all other major religions, has considerable variation among its followers. Indeed, the understanding of faith of 1.4 billion people simply cannot be limited to one interpretation.

The United States has many Christian denominations, some of whom consider others as mere cults. Sectarian warfare among Christians in Europe led to many wars and, for some, still did not settle the issue of who are the best Christians truly following the teachings of Christ. As a Muslim growing up in Pakistan, how was I to know "who are the real Christians, honoring the true teachings of Christianity?" I simply recognized the diversity and pluralism of the Christian community and understood the distinction between the teachings of a religion and the actions of its various followers.

It is unfortunate that extremists in the Muslim world perpetuate violence in the name of Islam. Muslims need to confront them, isolate them and hopefully eliminate them. Terrorism poses a threat to American, and indeed global, security and moderate Muslims are America's allies in combating it. Until moderate Muslims prevail within the Muslim world, it is important that Americans do not identify all of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims with the actions of extremists.

In my opinion, one of his most compelling points is the numerical argument. Let's do the math: Al Qaeda has a few thousand followers. There probably are no exact numbers for membership but here's what Wikipedia says:

While an estimated 100,000 Islamist militants are said to have received instruction in al-Qaeda camps since its inception, the group is believed to retain only a small number of militants under direct orders. Estimates seldom peg its manpower higher than 20,000 world wide.
To emphasize the point, I'll use the larger estimates of al Qaeda members 100,000 and the smaller estimates of the size of Islam: 900,000,000,000.

100,000 al Qaeda members trainees / 900,000,000,000 Muslims = 0.00000011

It is argument enough to say that a .00001% faction, by definition, does not represent the other 99.99999%

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