In an op-ed piece entitled "Muslim extremists constantly insult faith," Mr. Ibish commented about a number of recent cases so much in the news, such as the case of Gillian Gibbons, the second grade teacher in Sudan who was sentenced to jail (and eventually pardoned) and exiled from the country because her seven year old students voted to give a name to the teddy bear they took turns taking home.
At least one of my kids, at a similar age, had custody of Clifford, the "Big Red Dog" of Public Television fame, for a weekend and a similar assignment: Write about her 'adventures' with the stuffed animal while it was visiting our home.
No one ever said the stuffed bear in Ms. Gibbons' classroom was supposed to be a representation of the Prophet. The toy was named Muhammad -- but so were several of the boys in the class.
Mr. Ibish wrote, "This isn't a case of cross-cultural misunderstanding, in which a better-educated Westerner would have avoided an error that would predictably have caused offense to Muslims. Rather, it is a case of fanatics once again finding offense over something that is no insult at all to any sensible Muslim anywhere in the world. After the verdict, the most extreme of these radicals publicly protested, with several hundred actually calling for her execution."
Mr. Ibish went on to address the scandalous case of the young Saudi woman who (*horrors!*) broke Saudi law by meeting -- alone -- with a man who was not her husband. A gang of deeply religious toughs happened on the couple and administered their version of street justice: They gang raped the woman.
For this, the woman -- the victim -- is to receive 200 lashes. Her sentence was actually increased when word of her trial leaked to the Western press. Writes Mr. Ibish, "the Saudi court and its apologists have attempted to justify this travesty on religious grounds, citing 'Islamic law' and values."
Such judicial abuses illustrate that a corrosive and morally blind form of religiosity has spread much too far in the Islamic world in recent decades.Mr. Ibish: I don't want to be a bigot, nor do I wish to be an "Islamaphobe." So I am grateful to you for speaking out and I want to do my little bit here to see that your voice is heard.
This is faith shorn of spirituality and religion reduced to a vulgar and often vicious punitive code that bears no resemblance to the principles of traditional Islam and the God who is continuous[ly] referred to in the Quran as "the compassionate and the merciful" -- two values almost completely missing from the mind-set of the present day ultraconservatives in the Muslim world.
These scandals not only damage their own societies, they also promote the worst possible impression of Islam and Muslims and contribute greatly to the false impression in the West that they somehow typify the Islamic faith in action and the generalized attitude of Muslims around the world, including American Muslims. Bigots and Islamophobes could not wish for a more generous contribution to their campaign of hatred against all things Muslim.
While extremism is always present in any society, the present fit of politicized religious dementia gaining ground in the Islamic world is a relatively recent phenomenon. This is a version of Islam that was all but unknown to me as a boy growing up in the Middle East in the 1960s and '70s.
Like the rioters who considered violent rage to be an appropriate response to offensive cartoons in a Danish newspaper, or those who misuse religion to justify attacks on civilians, the ones who are inflicting the most serious damage to Islam and the Muslims are the religious extremists seeking political advantage by promoting a version of the faith that is devoid of human values and common decency.
What bigger insult to Islam could there possibly be?
Today, though, your voice seems to me like a lonely voice in the wilderness. I hope and pray the views expressed in your December 5 column become more widely shared by your fellow Muslims around the world.