Parliament of the World’s Religions: Muslim scholars examine ISIS, urge interfaith action

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Muslim scholars presented literature and discussion on the Muslim response to ISIS.
Muslim scholars presented literature and discussion on the Muslim response to ISIS during the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

ISIS is a term that engenders fear and confusion for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It’s a situation Muslim scholars and religious leaders gathered to discuss at the Parliament of the World’s Religions on Saturday.

The question of whether ISIS is a Muslim movement is an “insidious question,” said Jonathan Brown, the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University.

Brown said statistics show that of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, less than one percent are terrorists. While ISIS terrorists justify their actions by citing the Quran, more than 180 Muslim scholars have signed a document titled,  “Letter to Baghdadi,” denouncing ISIS as “highly heretical or a non-Muslim movement.”

The American media has culpability in the terror campaign by directing attention away from challenging the reflection on war and directing it on ISIS, Brown said.

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, board chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions,  agreed with Brown. He also outlined what he called bias in the media by asking how many people knew about the  the radical efforts of Christian militant groups and the burning of mosques in Central Africa as French colonizers stood by watching. In each case, less than ten percent of the potential audience was informed, he said.

From his perspective, condemning terrorism has almost become a “sixth pillar of Islam.” Mujahid discussed how Muslims around the world have gathered together to condemn ISIS, and reminded the audience that many Muslims have also been killed by the terrorist network.

He urged the interfaith community as a whole to speak out against ISIS and wants to see action that will help combat the move by ISIS to enslave civilians in the areas where they operate. “If you’re against ISIS, you must condemn war, terrorism and hate,” Mujahid said.

But slavery isn’t a new problem for the Islamic faith, according to Bernard K. Freamon, a professor of law at Seton Hall Law School. He said many Muslim groups have misinterpreted the Quran over time to justify slavery.

“The burden is on the Muslims (and Muslim scholars) to take on the problem of slavery,” said Freamon, who serves as director of the Zanzibar Program on Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking at Seton Hall.

The problems that have led to the creation of ISIS go beyond faith or religion, and encompass psychological, economic, cultural and political issues, according to Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University’s Oriental Institute.

He urged the audience to reflect on why ISIS is more attractive to young Muslims than narratives of peace. “We are not coming up with the right answer to this complex problem,” Ramadan said.

Ramadan reminded the audience of the danger in demonizing spiritual words, such as “jihad,” merely because terrorists have twisted the meaning of them.

“We judge actions and statements,” Ramadan said. “But we cannot absolutely and indefinitely judge persons, especially young people who are victims. They are not lost people forever. The problem is not the sincere people at the forefront. It’s the very insincere people in the background.”

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