If the religion of Islam ever succeeds in eradicating its extremist and violent elements, it will be because of devout Muslim women like Raheel Raza, a long-time human rights activist from Pakistan.
I came across Raza’s name on a piece she wrote last week on the Gatestone Institute Web site about three recent terrorist attacks — in Kenya, Pakistan and Iraq — which she characterized as “pre-meditated terror attacks on civilians … as part of an armed jihad.”
She points her finger, in part, at the “instant knee-jerk reaction of the apologists” such as the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation], which she writes “has let us down by giving priority to their own agenda on Islamophobia in the West and remaining silent when Muslims indulge in wanton terrorism — in fact, they object to use of the word ‘terrorist’ attached to Muslims.”
Railing against the West’s “soft stance” against jihadist terrorism, she asks: “How much more bloodshed and carnage do we have to see and endure before we wake up to the reality that something dangerous has taken root in the heart of the Muslims who kill in the name of faith?”
But it’s her rage at the mullahs’ silence over jihadist violence — the murders of Muslims as well as non-Muslims — that struck me the most: “Why is it that there is no voice from the pulpit, and the Sunni majority does not even bat an eyelash about the death squads against Shias and the persecution of Ahmedis?
“Is it because ‘Cyber Mullahs,’ ‘Hadeeth Hurlers’ and ‘Qu’ran Thumpers’ are invoking their interpretation of the Qu’ran, and insisting that armed jihad is valid and needed today while we say it is time to make it obsolete?
“Is it because there are verses in the Qu’ran that can be, and have been, used to justify violence against non-Muslims?
“If this is the situation, then it is time for us to lift our heads out of the sand, and understand that the enemy is within.
“Platitudes about Islam being a faith of peace are not credible anymore. Islam is only as good as the way its followers practice it …”
As I read her piece, I wondered: Is this courageous woman in trouble?
I tracked her down to find out.
“My fear is minuscule compared to the work that needs to be done,” she told me on the phone from Toronto. “If I give in to fear, the extremists win.”
Who are these extremists? She calls them “seventh-century Muslims.”
“Politicization of Islam took place just after Muhammad died,” she said. “Only 60 years later, his own grandson was killed by another Muslim.”
Today, radical Islam comprises three main prongs, which she calls an “insidious triangle”: al-Qaeda (Sunni), “Khomeinists” (Shia) and Muslim Brotherhood (Sunni), with their many offshoots.
They might be at one another’s tribal throats on many issues, but they’re not at odds on using violence or oppressing women in the name of their faith.
“The Qu’ran is a book that is open to interpretation,” she says. “Unfortunately, for 1,400 years, it has been interpreted only by men.”
A just and merciful God, she says, “would never relegate half of humanity [women] to the lower rung of life.”
She doesn’t deny that the Qu’ran can be interpreted in violent ways, especially by extremists with a radical mission, but that’s precisely why she believes new interpretations are desperately needed from Muslims who have a more human and universal agenda.
As an example of a more humane interpretation, in the Qu’ran, she says, “Men and women are created from one soul,” unlike in the Judeo-Christian tradition, where woman was created from the ribs of man.
“My feminism is not anti-men, it’s pro-equality,” she says. “We come from the same soul.”
“When we pray five times a day,” she adds, “we pray for Abraham and for the progeny of Abraham, who are the Christians and Jews.”
Raza, who wrote the book “Their Jihad … Not My Jihad! A Muslim Canadian Woman Speaks Out,” and is also a poet and playwright, considers herself a “warrior” for the cause of interpreting Islam in the most moderate and humane way possible.
She’d love to see the spiritual and peaceful strains of Islam — such as the Sufi tradition — become the dominant expressions of the religion she loves. She’s far from naïve or even optimistic on this count, but she doesn’t see a choice other than to fight.
“The reason I am in a battle for the soul of Islam is for the future of our children and grandchildren,” she says. “Children are not born terrorists.”
Above all, she would love to see the more moderate Muslims of the world rise up and fight the battle from within. “The moderate Muslims I know are afraid,” she says.
She certainly isn’t.
This month, Raza will be one of nine women’s rights advocates featured in “Honor Diaries,” a new documentary that highlights the oppression facing millions of women in Muslim-majority societies.
She’s bracing herself for the reaction. “I have been sued for calling extremists, ‘extremist,’ and I am listed on the 10 ‘World’s Most Hated Muslims’ list,” she says.
“I’m No. 6. I hope to be No. 1.”
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.