ISIS threat calls for Muslim leadership: Guest opinion


Originally published in The Oregonian

President Obama has presented his strategy for dealing with the menace known as ISIS, which has continued to perpetrate some of the most heinous acts imaginable – disregarding all international laws and even the dictates of human decency.  As much as I commend the United States for stepping up to confront ISIS, I am befuddled at the Muslim world’s inability to present a solution to this menace.  Instead of stepping up as leaders who courageously confront this terror movement, they have stood by watching Western nations struggle to formulate a strategy to do so and then needing to be convinced by Western leadership to join in the effort.

Make no mistake: Halting the expansion and popularity of ISIS requires involvement of all parties, including Western nations as well as Muslim nations.  With its military, diplomatic and economic might, the United States certainly does have a role to play in bringing ISIS to justice.  However, the true resolution to the ISIS problem lies in both short-term and long-term strategies, ownership of which lies squarely on the shoulders of Muslims.

In the short-term, it is vital for ISIS to face a physical force that not only halts its growth but also destroys its infrastructure and returns operation of its conquered lands back to the nations to which they belong. And although the United States and other Western powers are important partners in this effort, Muslims must take ownership over restraining and overcoming ISIS. It must be led by Muslim nations. Otherwise, more terror groups will continue their propaganda that this is Western imperialism.

Beyond this practical reality, the Muslim Holy Scripture puts the responsibility on Muslims to fight groups like ISIS to restore peace. Chapter 49 of the Quran, states: “if two parties of believers fight each other, make peace between them; then if after that one of them transgresses against the other, fight the party that transgresses until it returns to the command of Allah. Then if it returns, make peace between them with equity, and act justly. Verily, Allah loves the just.”

Thus, Islam requires Muslims to establish and maintain peace by restraining, constraining and fighting ISIS.  The problem is that other Muslim nations either remain amused spectators or take sides in the dispute based on ulterior motives.  In order to adhere to the dictates of justice and equity stated in the Quran, they must fight ISIS until they cease their ways and help those who are being oppressed at their hands.  This short-term solution requires secular leadership to take action based on honesty of purpose and justice.  The Arab League’s recent pledge to confront and combat ISIS is a good start, but must be pursued with reasoned conviction and sincere intention to see real action that does not wither away with internal fighting and arguments.

But the short-term elimination of the imminent ISIS threat is insufficient to prevent other such groups from emerging.  As argued by Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House policy institute, a military response is only a quick fix and won’t defeat terrorists unless there is also “focus on undermining the culture and ideology they are trying to plant in the region.”

Without this long-term strategy of undermining the ideology of those espousing a militant perversion of Islam, we stand no chance of eliminating this menace from the face of the earth.  Thus, it is imperative that we present a superior version of Islam that will result in defeating the misguided ideology these people present.  Again, this responsibility lies squarely on Muslims.  This is a war of ideas, and the ideas of Islam are the only answer.

This long-term solution requires not secular leadership but spiritual leadership.  Ironically, the solution lies in the system of caliphate that ISIS claims to have established.  In actuality, caliphate (known in Arabic as Khilafat) was prophesized to return as a spiritual institution to lead Muslims on the path of God consciousness and peace.  Hence, it is the obligation of the Muslim world to fill this leadership void by presenting Khilafat to the world as the antidote to the hard-hearted practice of faith we see in different parts of the world.

The Khalifa of Islam is meant to provide spiritual leadership and invite people to follow the example of the Prophet of Islam through prayers and actions. You can judge the veracity of anyone claiming to be a Khalifa by whether or not he presents a rational message of Islam that confronts the brutal political ideology upon which militant factions rely.  Find the Khaifa who instructs Muslims to do good by exercising tolerance, love and compassion for mankind

So where is the Muslim leadership?  How much longer will you stand by following others instead of taking lead?  Both the short- and long-term solutions are necessary to protect not only the true message of Islam but also the world. It’s time to step up and put this two-step solution into action.

About the author

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Harris Zafar

Harris Zafar serves as National Spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is author of the book “Demystifying Islam: Tackling the Tough Questions.” Harris addresses issues facing Islam and the Muslim world in various media and also elucidates the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s nationwide efforts towards pluralism and understanding. As National Director of Faith Outreach for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, he encourages Muslim youth, in particular, to speak out about the true, peaceful and tolerant teachings of Islam.

Harris is a frequent speaker and lecturer about Islam at conferences, universities, schools, churches and other public events. He has spoken in cities such as London, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Seattle and Portland. Harris is also an Adjunct Professor at two colleges, teaching classes about Islam. He has appeared on several national and local news programs to provide commentary on current issues from an Islamic perspective and to explain what Muslim Americans are doing to combat intolerance.

His approach to religion is based on rational discourse and justice.

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