THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, AUGUST 9, 2002
ISLAM'S SILENT MAJORITY
By ROBERT ASGHAR
Innocents are killed in Murree, Pakistan , at a school
that I visited from time to time as a teenager. Wall
Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl loses his life in
Karachi, a town that was once my home. And an
Islamabad church is attacked, just a few miles away
from another previous home. In each incident, the name
of Allah is invoked. The question is then asked once
again: Is Islam a religion of peace?
Many Muslims are peaceful, and I was raised in one
such family. However, it's quite clear that they are
by and large not the hosts of the party, but rather
bashful guests. For the sake of their faith -- and for
the sake of a world that Islam professes to care about
-- the time has come for them to step forward, take
control of their assembly, and kick out those who
preach a more violent version of the faith.
My family's story intersects in odd ways with the
narrative being played out globally. While recognizing
the demands of self-defense and just war, I have a
pacifistic streak; that streak did not seem to be
accommodated within Islam, so I affiliated with
another religion, much to the chagrin of my family.
Here is where they began setting a good example for
their faith. Many such families toss out apostates in
the best-case scenario and often do much more -- a
Kurdish immigrant in Sweden killed his adult daughter
in January for defying their heritage. But my family
made peace with my decision and kept me in the fold.
When it came to light after Sept. 11 that Pakistani
madrasas had nourished a culture of hatred, my father
used a significant amount of his life savings to build
new schools in his mud-hut hometown village -- schools
that would offer a liberal education and inculcate an
anti-extremist approach to civil life and offer
economic opportunity to marginalized youths.
Such acts come at the risk of inflaming the passions
of radicals. People like my father will need the
support and protection of like-minded moderates. Most
Muslims are in fact both moderate and cowardly, but
perhaps understandably so; they are buffeted by
bullying forces unlike anything we know. American
agnostics who dislike saying the Pledge of Allegiance,
like spoiled princesses who feel a pea under a stack
of mattresses, have no idea how good they have it.
The bullying limits opposition to nothing more than
snide mutterings among progressives cowering at dinner
parties in Pakistan , Palestine or Saudi Arabia. Far
be it from them to challenge extremism publicly,
however -- it's not worth the fight or the trouble, in
But now their very civilization is at stake -- and so
is that of the West. It's time to put one's money
where one's prayers are. The rest of the world is
looking on with puzzlement and fear, wondering where
the heart of Islam lies. In all likelihood, the outcry
against Islam will grow deafening in coming months and
years. This will polarize moderate Muslims: Either
they will feel under attack and align themselves fully
with their fundamentalist cousins, or they will become
radical moderates, fighting for the honor of Islam
against these backward cousins. The former scenario
would be a disaster for the planet.
Here, one can learn from white Americans. Fifty years
ago, racist views were tolerated, even encouraged by
mainstream society. The Marge Schotts of our nation
used to get away with their rantings, thanks to the
tepid response of most white citizens; but now, such
bigots are ostracized with devastating swiftness.
Sure, you can be a racist -- but you'd better keep it
under wraps if you plan on working in this town again.
Let that be a lesson for Muslims. Too many people have
been thrown out of Muslim families for being
insufficiently fundamentalist. Start throwing out sons
and daughters for being insufficiently peaceful. Too
many Muslims are more bothered by competing forms of
monotheism than by demonic forces rumbling in their
own camp. Too many hundreds of millions of Muslims can
tolerate, rationalize and even promote violence. All
this must change, and change now.
Granted, the language of the Koran can seem aggressive
and belligerent to some ears. But let the graceful
image of Prophet Mohammed, depicted by scholars such
as Huston Smith, become the normative one for Muslims
and Westerners alike. The prophet was long-suffering
and merciful toward Meccan authorities who had abused
him during his ministry. Let a Palestinian child
meditate on that. Let Muslims tolerate no lower
standard of civic life, and divorce all those who
The five million Muslims who call the United States
home are the best candidates to step forward and set
this standard. Doing so would give Islam an authentic
claim as a religion of peace.
Mr. Asghar is a Los Angeles-based editor of management
and leadership books.