Enlightened Moderation, but Not the Phony Kind
By Anjum Niaz
A wiseacre advised General (retd) Musharraf to jazz up religion with the catchphrase ‘enlightened moderation’ and fool the West. Nobody got fooled. Instead, jihadi nurseries hatched scores of suicide bombers during the dictator’s decade in power. Because it was phony and, the term eventually got dumped. Today, more than ever, Muslims around the world need to engage with the real meaning of enlightened moderation to impact their daily lives.
Clerics, especially, need to rethink their sermons . Blissfully oblivious of how Islam is viewed in the US after the San Bernardino killings carried out by a jihadi couple with Pakistani origins, the preachers are fixated on paradise: “You’ll go to Jannah if you…,” hollers the imam to a congregation at a mosque in New Jersey. I hear the same sermon , by different imams, aimed to lure the faithful to follow the yellers’ hidebound rules if we want ‘palaces’ in paradise. Intimidation and threat are their twin weapons.
Only if I can walk up to the clerics and ask them to also focus on showcasing Islam as a progressive religion by modelling themselves and their congregation on practical everyday life teachings of the Holy Qur’an. Teach us to be humane — kind, generous and caring towards all, no matter what faith people belong to. Teach us to respect the rules and laws of our adopted country and not treat with disdain its value systems or clash with its culture. This question I put to the director of the Islamic center where I go. “I fully endorse your views, but sadly, most consider worship as a reward or punishment by Allah — more transactional than spiritual,” the director tells me.
I go to another makeshift mosque closer to our home for Friday prayers. I am the only woman there barricaded by a row of chairs holding straw mats to screen the women’s section. The whole sermon is in Arabic! I can’t understand a word of what the imam says. Nor can most of the faithful who just sit and wait for prayers to begin. I miss my old imam in South Florida who never missed a Friday without giving us something to take away and mull over it. Brother Basheer was a great orator. His sermons were in English; his message always leading to some soul-searing. There was neither rhetoric nor scaremongering about hellfire and God’s wrath.
The radicalized couple that killed 14 people now lie in unmarked and undisclosed graves somewhere in California, but their heinous crime has set up red flags against Islam . Pakistani-Americans, especially, are under the law enforcement spotlight. When flying in from Pakistan, males of a certain age spend six to eight hours in ‘secondary questioning’ at airports, getting their credentials checked. We can’t blame the US immigration authorities for their intensive interrogation and grilling. They don’t want another Tashfeen Malik-like IS supporter sneaking into their country. Donald Trump’s hateful statements banning Muslims from America can become a reality.
I don’t think any of these preachers or their followers consider the acts of the IS or the couple’s act to be un-Islamic. While they may not engender extreme political, social or religious ideals and aspirations that reject 21 st century ideas and expressions of freedom of choice, most imams don’t spurn them forcefully enough. In a town in New Jersey which has a heavy South Asian population, I see Muslim men and women wear their religion on their sleeves, obviously attracting more revulsion and anger from the bigots who want them out of America.
“Why wear your religion on your sleeves?” says a Pakistani who adds, “If you want to parade your beliefs in public, better for you to go back from where you’ve come.” Aftab Khan, a partner at the law firm of Surridge & Beecheno in Lahore visits the US each year to be with his children. “I can imagine in the coming days life for Muslims, particularly for Pakistanis, who have migrated to America, is going to be very difficult. I blame them partly because most won’t venture out of their Muslim/Pakistani diaspora.” ( The writer is a journalist with over 30 years of experience. The Express Tribune)