Ed Husain: Let moderate Islam be heard

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Muslims who live in Europe have a moral duty to present the true, benign face of their religion. Twenty out of 23 children chose to name their class teddy bear Muhammad. A rather sweet gesture, I think.

But no. In ultra-sensitive Sudan, parents and a staff member decided to complain against what they saw as a white, female, infidel British teacher insulting their religion. What was an innocent classroom gesture was, yet again, hijacked by Muslim extremists to threats of floggings and demands of shooting after Friday prayers in Khartoum last week.

Last year, it was the Danish cartoons. This year it is a teddy bear. What next? And why this repeated madness?

For me, it is not about the possible offence taken at perceived negative portrayals of Islamic symbols, but the repeated calls for death, lashings and stoning.

The medieval, literalist mindset that fails to comprehend the inhumane nature of these brutal and barbaric acts, often carried out against the defenceless, is the crux of the matter.

The Western media are right to hold a mirror to educated Muslims by highlighting these outdated practices. Only a week ago, a young Saudi gang rape victim, rather than being counselled and loved, was sentenced to 200 lashes.

If the young lady had been a wealthy Saudi with powerful connections, she would have escaped her punishment. Similarly, if Gillian Gibbons had not been British, there would not have been an outcry.

When Muslims want to appear sanctimonious about newspaper cartoons or a teddy bear, I ask where are the mass protests against the Saudi Wahhabite destruction of the birthplace of Muhammad in Mecca? Or the systematic annihilation of Muslim heritage in Medina? Or the organised desecration of the Prophet's family's tombs across Saudi Arabia?

We should not be hypocritical in our choice of protest. Mainstream Muslims cannot remain silent as our faith is destroyed by extremists from within, and mocked by agenda-driven, habitual Islam-haters from without.

We must have the courage to stand and reclaim our faith.

I write these lines from an international conference in Madrid, a city, like my home, London, that has suffered immensely from the Islamist-jihadist rage.

The ubiquitous question here has been: where is the voice of the Muslim majority? Part of the answer is that it is buried in fear of extremist reprisals and concern at breaking ranks with fellow Muslims only to be attacked by fundamentalist atheists for not going far enough.

Last week, I faced former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who levelled exactly that criticism at me. How could I possibly believe? Another renowned British liberal called Islam "gobbledegook". Despite being caught in crossfire between two extremes, I believe in a Muslim tradition, a spiritual path, that can bring harmony between Islam and the West and thereby rescue millions from misery, rigidity and oppression.

If anything, the modern West stems from a Judaeo-Christian-Islamic heritage. More than ever, Western Muslims need to stop viewing the world through bipolarised lenses - a them-and-us world view - and assert our Western belonging.

More than any other Muslim community across the world, those of us who were born, raised and educated in the west have access to both cultures - Islam and the West. It is my generation that can bridge the gap between what seem like warring parties.

The presence of millions of Muslims in the West is an asset. But Western Muslims must, in the words of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "build our home together" with fellow citizens of all and no faith.

It is our common bond, being human, which comes first. Our future must be a negotiated one. The Koran repeatedly calls us to think, contemplate and reflect. For how much longer will we be the laughing stock of the world? And all over a teddy bear.

* Ed Husain is author of The Islamist, a book published this year describing his becoming an Islamic fundamentalist but rejecting it five years later.

- Observer

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