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A Single Step

This is a guest post by Shiraz Maher

In the wave of revanchist rage that follows almost every terrorist attack (one needs only look at some of the comments left on Harry’s Place) it is easy to forget that ordinary Muslims also suffer at the hands of Islamist extremists. Often, it is those genuinely liberal and progressive forces within the Muslim community who are the first to bear the brunt of such violence.

In the past that meant most Muslims were willing to bury their heads in the sand, hoping the problem might go away.

But the landscape of the Muslim community, both at home and abroad, is now slowly changing. Following the Mumbai massacres, there is encouraging news from India here:

“In what is perhaps their first openly defiant act against “Islamic terrorism”, Muslims in India have decided they will not allow the militants to be buried in Muslim graveyards anywhere in the country.

They said that they could not believe that the assailants, who they said had “killed innocent civilians unprovoked”, were true followers of Islam.

Ibrahim Tai, the president of the Indian Muslim Council, which looks after the social and religious affairs of the Muslim community in India, said that they had “defamed” his religion.”

This is a remarkable and symbolic gesture by Indian Muslims. It will not bring back the dead, but it will hopefully galvanise Muslims into being even more forthright against the cancerous ideology which lives within our faith.

Writing in the Telegraph over the weekend Ed Husain gives an insight into what steps his think-tank, the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation is taking:

The Quilliam Foundation has successfully opened a public space in which it is possible to be fully Western and fully Muslim, free from the political burdens of the Arab world and the cultural baggage of the sub-continent. We have put extremists on the defensive, compelled to either jettison their ideology or face pressure to change. But we cannot win alone.

Wider society has a moral and civic duty to ensure that parts of our country do not become Balkanised. This means having the courage to explain that secularism does not mean being anti-religious, but a neutral public space. It also means having the courage to stand up for the ideas that make Britain the country that it is today. When Muslim seminaries in Dewsbury teach Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration, then we can rest assured that British Muslim clerics have truly understood Britain. At present, we are light years away.

Even the longest journey begins with a single step.