CNN Belief Blog

Our Take: How to reclaim Islam from the radicals

Editor's Note: Khalil Nouri was born in an Afghan political family. He is the co-founder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solutions for Afghanistan. Michael Hughes is a journalist for The Huffington Post and and is a strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition.

By Khalil Nouri and Michael Hughes, Special to CNN

Contrary to popular belief, most of the Islamic faithful were severely disturbed by the 9/11 attacks. According to Gallup, 93 percent of Muslims across the globe condemn the heinous acts, and many found it appalling that deranged jihadists hijacked two planes and killed over 3,000 innocents in the name of Islam.

These extremists also hijacked Islam itself. Muslims can rescue their religion only through a solution that is spiritual in nature.

Although a relatively diminutive percentage of the total, Muslims who adhere to Islamic radicalism have done significant damage. Take Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces are struggling against the Taliban and al Qaeda, movements described as “fascism with an Islamic face”.

Sadly, these Islamofascists are winning the war of ideas, peddling their perversion of Islam quite effectively, beating the coalition on the battlefield and, more importantly, in the minds of the local populace.

The U.S. cannot kill militants fast enough, as a seemingly endless stream of young jihadists pours in from thousands of Wahabbi and Deobondi madrassas, where the seeds of radical ideology are planted in minds of future suicide bombers.

Today, poor socioeconomic conditions combined with a lack of strong political leadership have created a perfect storm in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, causing young Muslims to feel hopeless and desperate.

Meanwhile, an impressive extremist media infrastructure tells them their individual religious duty is to take up arms in defense of Islam against the West. Poverty-stricken and neglected by their governments, the average young Muslim on the street becomes susceptible to these messages, his subconscious mind open to reactionary ideas that oppose the status quo, including jihadism.

Jihadists vow to establish a caliphate and implement Islamic law by any means, including overthrowing apostate regimes. They believe jihadists are the only true believers and that the rest of the world consists of hostile nonbelievers whose sole purpose is the destruction of Islam. The extremists’ main enemies are other Muslims who oppose jihad or support nonbelievers.

In contrast, traditional Islam allows for many forms of governance but holds that laws in a Muslim country should be inspired by Islam. This can be loosely interpreted to mean that laws must be moral. Most Muslims do not want to see another caliphate. Followers of modern Islam even see private life and government as separate matters.

Military force alone will never beat jihadist concepts and, in most cases, will simply make the problem worse. Going on the offensive against terrorists requires attacking their center of gravity – which is their narrative.

The extremists’ source of strength must be appropriated by forcefully contesting their ideas with undeniable truths based on historical facts. One of the best ways to do this is via fatwas, formal Islamic legal opinions issued by recognized religious authorities.

Fatwas issued by authorized scholars based on the true interpretation of Islamic Shariah will be given prominence over the opinions of unqualified Muslims.

A council of senior ulema (great imams) can be congregated in some secular and secure Islamic state where the most respected Islamic leaders in the world can collectively issue fatwas that publicly rebuke terrorism and anti-Islamic acts such as beheading, school blazing, suicide and martyr operations carried out in the name of Islam. They can also prohibit youth worldwide from traveling into terrorist hubs to engage in jihad.

The next step is to establish rehabilitation centers through Islamic seminary branches in the vicinities of militant operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan to divert recruits from entering terror camps. Young Muslims and even some hardcore terrorists, given the opportunity, would rather receive an Islamic awakening from preeminent scholars than suffer through the curriculum of barely-literate Mullahs.

Full caution must be taken that the endeavor is free from influence by non-Islamic states and that only Muslims are seen leading and financing it.

Islam is suffering because the ulema, prominent imams and the Muslim intellectuals, are failing to publicly renounce the societal disease of radicalism. They have an opportunity to reintroduce the true Islam of peace and love over the distorted version that preaches holy war and hate.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of  Khalil Nouri and Michael Hughes.