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October 11th, 2010
08:22 AM ET

My Take: Islam is a religion of peace, or it isn't

Editor's Note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of NYU's Islamic Center.

By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN

Last week, New York University hosted the Intelligence Squared Debates at its Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Four panelists, two for and two against, presented arguments on the motion of "Islam Is a Religion of Peace."  About 800 showed up to learn the answer.

Problem is, there is no one answer.

The Muslim community is by no means monolithic and viewing us as one is problematic. We are diverse.

Yet we find ourselves in a moment in which we are very narrowly understood. That normative understanding is equated to something radical, despite the fact that 93 percent of Muslims are found to be far from radical according to recent Gallup surveys.

What becomes more problematic is that typically when one of us from that 93 percent steps up to speak, we are vehemently told that we either do not represent Islam or even more absurdly that we are not truly practicing Islam's teachings.

Zeba Khan, a panelist for the "Islam Is a Religion of Peace" last week, was met with such a response. She started off the debate by sharing her personal story about growing up in Ohio, attending a Hebrew Day School, and being raised by Indian parents in a Muslim household. "Just because you may not hear us," said Khan," doesn't mean we are not speaking."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali , speaking against the motion, followed Zeba and immediately said, "The problem with Islam is who speaks for Islam."  She went on to say, "I concede (the radical voice) is a minority," and expressed her desire that someone like Zeba Khan actually would speak for Islam, but, in her opinion, could not and does not.

And so Zeba's voice, her interpretation, and all of her efforts were collectively dismissed since she did not fit into what Hirsi Ali believed Islam to be.

Maajid Nawaz, Zeba Khan's co-panelist for the motion, was dismissed just as easily. "This debate is not about making excuses for terrorism," he said. "This debate acknowledges that Muslims bear a responsibility in reclaiming their faith from a minority."

If anyone understands the issues of that minority voice it is Nawaz. Having been a member of  the political party Hizb ut-Tahrir for 14 years, Nawaz was a founding member in Denmark and Pakistan. In his own words, he eventually served a sentence for four years in an Egyptian prison as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, and during them that time broke away from Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideology.

He has since dedicated his life to counter-radicalism initiatives and seeks to uphold the responsibility that he spoke of through his work. He even uniquely acknowledges the presence of a radical element in Islam and how its misinterpretation is still in fact an interpretation that needs to be dealt with.

Despite this, those opposed to the motion told him that it is his peaceful understanding of Islam that is rooted in misinterpretation, since it does not match up with the interpretation put forth by the radical minority, and thus somehow ignores the fundamentals of Islam since those groups somehow are the end-all be-all of what Islam actually means.

That a peaceful interpretation of the religion, or even one that is non-radical, can only exist by ignoring fundamental texts is flawed in its logic.

Characteristic of any text - whether religious or not - is its ability to be interpreted through the lens of its reader. Interpretations of the Quran that espouse ideas of tolerance, compassion and mercy have existed and continue to exist in the majority of Muslim communities since the advent of Islam 1400 years ago.

As much as Muslims need to acknowledge the existence of a minority voice that is radicalized, so too does a broader society need to acknowledge the existence of a majority voice that is not radicalized and more importantly condemns radical thought. There are those who make Islam to be something restrictive and radical, but there are many, many more who do not.

Moderating the panel last week, ABC News correspondent John Donvan said speaking to those against the motion, "You are making it sound like Islam is what you make it to be. Why then can it not be the peaceful Islam that we see being practiced by so many around the world?"

The answer, Mr. Donvan, is that it can be, and for the majority of us, it is.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khalid Latif

Editor's Note #2: Bloomberg TV will be airing parts of the debate tonight at 9pm Eastern.  You can see a preview here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Muslim • New York • Opinion • United States

soundoff (537 Responses)
  1. DCPinTX

    talon10

    "The old testament of the bible advocates all kinds of violence, it condones slavery, stoning people to death for minor crimes, the murder and enslavement of thousands of women and children (Numbers: 31). So all Christians must be evil".

    For heaven's sake man – do you not understand the work "CHRISTian"? Followers of Christ – to my knowledge, He was not born when the Old Testament was written.

    To others, the New Testament was given to us to signify that God, the Creator, was giving man, His creation, the opportunity to reconcile with Him. He gave His Son. I'm sure all of us would be willing to do the same – NOT! Just because you don't believe in Him will not change the fact that He will judge us for the way we live our lives. God knows our hearts, but He has also given us Free Will and Choice. Look at the choices some of us have made. Clean up your own backyard, then let others know what God has done for you. If you choose "flesh" over "obedience" – I believe your fate is sealed. Not His will, but your desires will result in your destruction. We see it again and again and yet refuse to accepth His grace, mercy and love – simply by choosing not to do His will. No other than Jesus Christ ever proclaimed to be the Son of God. Not Mohammed, not Buddah, not John Smith, not Brigham Young – not anyone else. Satan challenged Him and lost. You would do well to understand this.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:30 am |
    • xmaseveeve

      (Sorry moderators – I didn't mean to press the abuse button.) Look hen. You believe this. That is fine. Just don't try to force it on me.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  2. Buck Futt

    Dear God.....Please protect us from your followers...

    October 12, 2010 at 1:25 am |
  3. Knowledgeable

    THIS is for all you haters of Islam – read this and be educated. ALL OF THE WESTS LAWS DERIVE FROM ISLAMIC LAWS – THE SHARIA . . . . . It was Islam's teachings that initiated the period of enlightenment. Surgery was undertaken in Moslem countries 700 years before it was 'acquired' in the west. Those pictures of the human body by Leonardo Da Vinci. Ha – the Moslems had those 600 years before Leonardo was born. Don't believe me – go to your nearest university and as a history professor – I dare you !!!!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • Maybe

      Knowledgeable,

      It is good that the people of the Middle East pursued medical advancements when such things were discouraged in Europe by the Church.

      Modern laws are derived from many sources and perhaps some of them parallel Sharia.

      These facts do not in any way prove that Islam is a religion of peace; nor do they prove that the imaginary supernatural beings of Islam are real.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:24 am |
    • Buck Futt

      Who cares your point is Moot

      October 12, 2010 at 1:26 am |
    • Raison

      @Knowledgeable

      Do you mean haters of Islam or haters OF Islam? Are you teaching to those within your religion or to those outside of it?
      And which religion do you follow?
      Your post really isn't clear about all that.
      I guess your knowledge of English isn't all that great, eh? But keep trying. Who knows? You might just make a point somewhere along the way....

      October 12, 2010 at 1:28 am |
    • Castle Bravo

      – Knowledgeable

      Please remain still while I adjust for windage and elevation.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:00 am |
    • The Raven

      @ Knowledgeable who said: "Surgery was undertaken in Moslem countries 700 years before it was 'acquired' in the west."

      But successful "Western" surgery requires that all functional organs remain in the patient's body. It's more difficult when you do it properly you know.

      October 12, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
  4. Flavius Josephus

    If the flag of Saudi Arabia represents the violent sword of jihad, then Islam uses a one-edged sword like a box-cutter cutting only one way to export a religious death cult for eventual global domination. In The Holy Bible, The Word of God is symbolized as a double-edged/two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) having the power to bring life or death and Jesus Christ is The Word of God (John 1).
    Historian Flavius Josephus had this to say concerning Jesus Christ in Antiquities of the Jews Book 18 Chapter 3 paragraph 3, "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." And also in Antiquities Book 20 Chapter 9 paragraph 1 Josephus said of Jesus Christ, "And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest." William Whiston, Sir Isaac Newton's protege, translated the works of Flavius Josephus.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:57 am |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      Another cut-and-paste queen.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  5. GodIsForImbeciles

    "Islam is a religion of peace."

    The irony of that statement is supreme! The hundreds of thousands of people murdered while the echoes of "Allah-hu-akhbar" resonate across the planet every century make it one of the most hysterical claims of all time...and yet the most tragic.

    God = Bigfoot = Tinkerbell.

    Grow. A. Brain.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:45 am |
  6. Greg G.

    Islam is not a religion of peace any more than Christianity or Judeasm is.
    The history of all three branches of this religion tree is repleat with violence.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:33 am |
  7. Broke1

    Defined as an absence of opposition, Islam becomes a little more peaceful every time one of their peace loving followers kills an infidel. If muslims kill all who are not muslim, then, their ultimate peace may be achieved. Let's just hope we never see a world where Islamists are at peace! The more peace they get, the less the rest of us get!

    October 11, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
    • WorldIsRound

      Sorry to say you are wrong! There is no ultimate peace with Islam. Don't you see what happens daily on the streets of Pakistan or Indonesia with more than 90% Muslims? Once they are done with non believers they start killing each other to prove who is the real Muslim. Read about the persecution of Shias in Pakistan or Saudi or the opposite in Iran and Iraq and persecution of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and around the Islamic world. Islam is a quagmire, once you get into it there is no way you can come out of it.

      October 11, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  8. WorldIsRound

    Radical interpretation or radical verse doesn't matter. What matters is that wherever Islam spread in the world it only lead to divisiveness and radicalization, The nature of the religion doesn't allow assimilation of a common Muslim with people from other faiths, it breeds and thrives in isolation. Why do Muslims in minority need special rights and privileges like prayer rooms in schools and offices or squatting en masse blocking roads and public places in secular nations? Why don't they accord the same rights to other faiths where they are in majority? The religion of Islam is full of hypocrisy and oneupmanship.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Michele Gomis

    the very fact that there is a debate internal to islam about whether or not it is a religion of peace proves to me that it is not or there would be nothing to debate.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  10. Michele Gomis

    I've said it before but no one is listening: when the murders stop I will begin to listen. If islam is supposed to be a religion of peace then prove it.

    When the murders stop I will begin to listen.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • WorldIsRound

      You are right Michael – the moderate Muslims can root about the peaceful nature of Islam but unless it shows on the ground it all sounds as hypocrisy.

      October 11, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  11. Michele Gomis

    I've said it before but no one is listening: when the murders stop I will begin to listen. Is islam is supposed to be a religion of peace then prove it.

    When the murders stop I will begin to listen.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
  12. Not a Muslim

    The problem of Islam is not whether it's a religion of peace but rather how progressive and tolerant it is. It is not denying that Sharia law has different standards for men, women and people not following Islam. It's a rigid religion with no provision for changing time. Other relgions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism are less rigid and take into account human indiscretions and are more forgiving. The idea of atoning for your sins is something that is accepted in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Forgiveness is a one of the fundamentals tenents of all religions except Islam. That is where the conflict manifests itself between the followers of Islam and the non-followers.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  13. Just a thought

    The problem of Islam is not whether it's a religion of peace but rather how progressive and tolerant it is. It is not denying that Sharia law has different standards for men, women and people not following Islam. It's a rigid religion with no provision for changing time. Other relgions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism are less rigid and take into account human indiscretions and are more forgiving. The idea of atoning for your sins is something that is accepted in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Forgiveness is a one of the fundamentals tenents of all religions except Islam. That is where the conflict manifests itself between the followers of Islam and the non-followers.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  14. Steve

    Read author Brigette Gabriel's two books – "Because They Hate" and "They Must Be Stopped" and visit her website http://www.actforamerica.com Ms Gabriel writes as someone who has experienced atrocities most of us couldn't even imagine.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  15. Robert SF

    "The Muslim community is by no means monolithic and viewing us as one is problematic. We are diverse."

    And yet there's the Organization of the Islamic Conference, with 57 member nations, which has the authority to lay down dogma. Just a few years ago (in 2005?), the OIC declared Sufi Islam not to be a heresy after all.

    "And so Zeba's voice, her interpretation, and all of her efforts were collectively dismissed since she did not fit into what Hirsi Ali believed Islam to be."

    Not quite. Zeba can be dismissed because she's nobody within the Ummah. She's no recognized authority. Her good intentions are good but have no influence on Islam.

    And by the way, a 7% radicalizaiton is huge! Can you imagine if 7% of the USA were radical Christians, of the Waco type? That would be 21 million people, about 70% of the population of California!

    October 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
    • DNA

      Robert,

      As a Muslim, I wanted to let you know that I know of no Muslim that has ever paid attention to the OIC. Islam is and (since the death of the Prophet) has been a decentralized religion without a central body commanding authority over the "dogma" of Islam.

      November 10, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  16. ROss

    Islam is not a religion of peace. So please stop the crap. Even the Muslims who are not radicals are so into themselves..
    Islam should be eradicated- period

    October 11, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  17. Jackc

    Islam is a religion of peace.. .............(.WHERE ) ??????????????????????????????????? I have seen nothing of the kind.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
    • ROss

      So true Jack....My God why do these people say things like this and make fun of themselves.I have met few muslim (arab) men myself and they are nuts. They cannot see others enjoy. Highly self centered

      October 11, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
    • Maybe

      Jackc,

      I do not believe in the religion of Islam, but I do believe in being fair and factual.

      You don't hear about the peaceful behavior because it is nothing reportable. Do you ever see headlines: "No Robberies on Elm St. Today" or "Love Breaks Out in Podunk"?

      There most certainly are kind, peaceful Muslims out there.

      October 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  18. Mike Knox

    I think a great many of us recognize that Islam has coexisted peacefully alongside other faiths in many countries for many years. The relatively recent wave of extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam has caused many people to look into the Qur'an for insight, and what we are finding is a book that seems pretty blunt in its teaching on what to do with infidels. So we are looking to Muslims–the 93%–to raise up a common voice both denouncing the terrorists and explaining how they can pursue peace with infidels while remaining faithful to their own scriptures. Perhaps it's not "fair" that the world is now demanding this of them, but terrorism is forcing their hand.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • ROss

      Mike you are so wrong. Muslims have never co existed peacefully. The only place they are quiet is when they are a minority.
      Bro this religion is dangerous. Trust me my friend

      October 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
    • DNA

      Mike,

      Moderate Muslims HAVE denounced radicalized, militant "Islamists." However, it seems like this is either never trusted or is never enough even when they serve in our military (or die fighting them in their own nation's military).

      November 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  19. ALEXANDER

    It is obviously clear to the entire human race that all Muslims are guilty...The so – called moderate Muslims are guilty by association, more importantly guilty by NEVER taking any responsibility or willingness to eradicate our planet of the "radical extremists" so as far as I'm concerned they are all guilty. They come to the United States, European countries and they all have so much to say about us and how our western societies treat them...well what do they expect? The only thing they know how to do is plan to kill or destroy and do it in the most cowardly fashion – you know blow up a bus, stick an IUD, use a school as a firing point...
    What really upsets me is the constant complaining and blaming the US, European countries, etc for the way they are treated and how our societies are run...Are they kidding me??? May be they should go back to where they came from and complain there.

    But wait...complain in Egypt and they will throw in jail, complain in Saudi Arabia and they will stick you in a hole for about 25 years, complain in Syria and they will cut your tongue out, complain in Iran they will dismember your entire body, complain in Palestinian occupied territories and the radicals will murder your entire family and friends...It's just a cesspool of sub-human DNA.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
    • ROss

      The best comment ever. Alexander is absolutely right. I try to hit a conversation with a Arab guy the other day about NY bomb.
      The Pakistan guy who failed in bomb attack. His reply was–Oh that is old news. worst he said look at your history -There are killings everywhere and moved away briskly. This guy is here in US enjoying our country and abusing us. Shame on us. Our government wont do anything so we need to take things in our hand

      October 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
  20. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ios-RNSp2jE&w=640&h=360]

    October 11, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.