Fighting extremism

Voice of America's Judith Latham has found a bit of news that seems rather significant but has received little attention from other more mainstream news outlets.

Muslim scholars in the United States and Canada released a judicial ruling -- or fatwa -- last week saying that Islam condemns terrorism, religious extremism, and violence against civilians. A response to last month's bombings in London and Egypt, the fatwa also reflects the gravity of the struggle within Islam between moderates and extremists.

Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now's International Press Club, Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, said she sees the war on terrorism since 9/11 as a small part of a much larger religious and intellectual struggle within Islam. She described that struggle as being waged between people like herself, who believe in a "more moderate, progressive way" of following a religion they hold dearly, and others who claim their interpretation of Islam is the "only true one." And furthermore, she said, they don't believe in pluralism and "hate anyone who is against the ideology they follow."

Yes, VOA is a government news organization, but that does not mean the bit of news Latham has uncovered is any less significant. The interview with Eltahawy gives us a glimpse of the ideological struggle within Islam. From what I know, some argue that Islam never went through a reformation and others say Islam lacks a central authority figure akin to the Pope. Whatever it is, Islam is going to struggle with the issue of radical terrorism for some years to come.

Update: The Associated Press is carrying a story that says critics within the Muslim community in the United States are saying the "fatwa" condemning terrorism is too broad.

The fatwa condemning religious extremism recently issued by American Muslim groups was so broad it was meaningless, and should have denounced specific terrorist groups including al Qaeda, critics within the U.S. Muslim community say.

Critics also say the declaration seemed geared more toward improving the faith's image rather than starting an honest discussion about Islamic teaching.

"The bulk of the Islamic tradition as it exists does stand against these lunatic, savage attacks on civilians," said Omid Safi, a Colgate University religion professor and chairman of the Progressive Muslim Union, an American reform group.

Imagine that, a divide among Muslims over the issue of extremism.

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