Opinion: Muslim Leaders Need to Stand Up

SMU Daily Campus Editor-in-Chief Rahfin Faruk writes about the need for Muslim leaders to make it clear that radical Muslims are not good Muslims.

After the Boston Marathon tragedy, the American Muslim community has responded rather predictably: Islam and America can co-exist.

In an earlier op-ed in The Dallas Morning News, I made a similar argument. I argued that my diverse identities -- as a male, a Bangladeshi and a Muslim -- constitute my overall American identity.

However, amongst all the opinion columns and speeches -- including my own -- about tolerance and acceptance, one assertion was not made: radical Muslims are not good Muslims.

As a member of the Muslim community, it is important for me to make that differentiation because so many of our leaders have failed to do so.

For many Muslims, the actions of two radicalized Chechnyan migrants have no bearing on their faith. While I would argue that this assertion is true -- Islamic theology stresses non-violence and tolerance -- our community can no longer ignore the implicit link that many in the American public have made: moderate Islam and radical Islam are one in the same. The argument goes that the doctrinal and historical foundations of Islam lend itself to violence.

The most common response to my Dallas Morning News op-ed was one that called for Muslims like me to denounce the actions of radical Islamists.

One responder said, "I believe that it is essential that all Muslims of good will openly and loudly condemn all activities that have even a hint of anti-American, anti-Israel anti-Jew, anti-Christian, etc. teaching."

One responder went further and said, "The average American always wonders about a Muslim and their intentions."

Certainly, such assertions are unfair. Islam is a diverse faith. The radical strands of Islam do not account for the super-majority that embraces a moderate version of the faith. And, contrary to popular belief, only 20 percent of the Muslim world is in the Middle East. Islam is a faith that strongly interacts with its cultural and social setting -- from Sufi mystics in Indonesia to secular Ismailis in Pakistan to Muslim Uyghurs in China. There is no monolithic Islam, but one universal tenet holds true: Islam does not condone any form of terror.

It is unfair that the actions of a minority -- a group of outliers -- can distort the perception of the majority. My religion has been hijacked by a group of extremists. In the same way that the actions of an undocumented immigrant can shift sentiments towards certain minority groups, the actions of fringe Muslims has shifted how America views its Muslim community.

In a 2010 TIME poll, more than 70 percent of those surveyed concluded that the Park51 project, a Muslim community center and worship area, would be an insult to those who died on 9/11.

The same poll also revealed other disturbing trends. About one-third of voters believe that a Muslim should not be allowed to be president. 28 percent of voters believe that a Muslim should not be allowed to serve on the Supreme Court.

The least I can do as an American Muslim is to stand and shout: I condemn those that turn to violence against innocents. I refuse to consider radicals to be good Muslims -- or Muslims at all.

As a migrant group, Muslims in America are thriving -- economically, socially and culturally. Civic engagement, educational attainment and business participation are at all-time highs. A 2009 Gallup poll reported that Muslim American women are among the most educated female religious groups in America. It also reported that American Muslims have a high degree of economic gender parity among all income groups.

In order for Muslims to show American society who we are, we must denounce what we are not. I encourage others in the Muslim community to take a stance that we should have taken years ago: jihadists are not one of us.

It is time for the silent majority to finally speak.