The true voice of Islam

Op-Ed by His Majesty King Abdullah II
The Washington Post
07 December 2002

This week marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims throughout the world take time to reflect upon the values of our faith: compassion; goodwill; and respect for others. These are core ideals in Islam, the faith that my family, the Hashemites, descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, has served for forty generations. Our religion calls us to live and work for justice and to promote tolerance. Daily, we share God's blessing: salaam aleikum -- peace be upon you.

This is the true voice of Islam but it is not the voice that Americans always hear. Instead, they hear the hatred spewed by groups mistakenly called Islamic fundamentalists. In fact, there is nothing fundamentally Islamic about these extremists. They are religious totalitarians, in a long line of extremists of various faiths who seek power by intimidation, violence and thuggery.

Extremists violently reject the original moderation and openness of Islam – qualities that made the Muslim world the historical home of diversity and learning. Nor does their violence constitute jihad, or holy war. The Prophet Mohammad tells us that the “greater” holy war is not against others at all but against one's own failings – the “war against the ego.” Moreover, in a famous speech, the Prophet's follower and first successor, Abu Bakr, commanded Muslim soldiers: “Do not betray, do not deceive, do not bludgeon and maim, do not kill a child, nor a woman, nor an old man . . . do not burn, do not cut down a fruit tree. . . . If you come across communities who have consecrated themselves to the [Christian church], leave them.”

These words are part of the most basic religious education that Arab and Muslim schoolchildren receive. I know, because I was one of them. So when today's terrorists target innocents, they provide direct evidence of their real agenda: power politics, not religion. In fact, long before so-called Islamic terrorists began attacking the West, they were targeting fellow Muslims. The goal was to silence opposition and obliterate the Islam of peace and dialogue. I carry the name of my great-grandfather, Abdullah I, who was assassinated by an extremist. In the same attack, my father, then age 15, was hit by a bullet. He survived and, as King Hussein, became a great peacemaker. He always believed a real leader stands up against the forces of destruction.

Among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, extremists are, of course, a tiny minority. For decades, many Muslims thought that because they had nothing to do with this criminal fringe, they could ignore it. Sept. 11, 2001, changed that kind of thinking. The idea that anyone would exploit our religion to sanction the killing of innocents outraged Muslims everywhere. To my knowledge, every Muslim country, every centre of traditional Islamic scholarship and every major Islamic organisation in the United States condemned the Sept. 11 attacks absolutely. They did so, not out of diplomatic nicety, not out of fear of the United States but because our faith demands it.

Yet we must do even more to make sure the real voice of Islam is heard. Today Muslims must speak out boldly in defence of a dynamic, moderate Islam -- an Islam that upholds the sanctity of human life, reaches out to the oppressed, respects men and women alike, and insists on the fellowship of all humankind. This is the true Islam of the Prophet, and the Islam that terrorists seek to destroy.

But this is not a challenge for Muslims alone. All religions have suffered from the violence and extremism of a few. Even as we begin the 21st century – an era of global exchange and exploding knowledge – God's name is being exploited to promote rifts and justify conflict. Differences between faiths become differences between people, and all humanity suffers.

Together, we share a responsibility to prevent the abuse of religion by those who would divide us. We have a special duty to combat injustice, which is so often exploited by extremists. Nowhere is our help needed more than in the Holy Land, where Palestinians and Israelis alike are crying out for peace, stability and security. Together we must urge their leaders to hear the voices of reason and peace, end oppression and occupation, stop the violence and create a future of hope.

My father and great-grandfather believed that a peaceful, political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be essential to defeating extremism and building a world of mutual acceptance and peace. Events show that they were right. What is needed now is clear to all sides: a fully independent Palestinian state and an Israel that is integrated, in peace and security, into its Arab neighbourhood. This is why Jordan has strongly supported the Arab Peace Initiative that came out of Beirut last March, which commits all Arab states to a peace agreement with Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state and includes collective security guarantees and an agreed solution to the refugee problem. Jordan is also working with the United States, Russia, Europe and the United Nations to craft a road map and timetable for a permanent, sustainable end to the conflict.

It is a terrible truth that for many people, the Holy Land has come to symbolise extremism and injustice, rather than peace on Earth. But we, Earth's citizens and leaders, have a chance to defy hatred and defeat terror. In doing so, we can help this region, so important to all our faiths, lead the way to a better future for all the world.