Muslim Voices — Islamic Pluralism
0:00:06:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Welcome to Muslim Voices. I'm your host, Rosemary Pennington. In 2004, the Center for Islamic Pluralism was started in Washington D.C. Described on its Web site as, quote, "a think tank that challenges the dominance of American Muslim life by militant Islamist groups," end quote, the center considers itself the voice of moderate Islam. Executive Director Stephen Suleyman Schwartz claims organizations like the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations are receiving funds directly from jihadi groups in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Schwartz claims his organization is attempting to counterbalance their influence. I sat down with Schwartz in Washington and asked him how he defines what moderate Islam is as well as how the Center for Islamic Pluralism came into being in the first place.
0:01:01:>>STEPHEN SULEYMAN SCHWARTZ: The main thing we're trying to do is to educate the Muslim public and the non-Muslim public on the nature of radical Islam. We believe that in the history of Islam you can see, as in other religions, a range between radical views and moderate views, and we represent moderate Islam. We represent an Islam that is not jihadist, does not believe that jihad is a legitimate form of affirmation or struggle today, that is military-arm jihad. We are for Muslim immigrants in non-Muslim countries obeying the laws in non-Muslim countries because that's traditional Islamic guidance. We are for mutual respect between the different religions, the what I might call the established religions. And we are for seeking peaceful resolution of the conflicts that exist and that have been created by the crisis of Islam, which is really a crisis of radical Islam versus moderate Islam.
0:02:09:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: So you see that really as a crisis right now?
0:02:11:>>STEPHEN SULEYMAN SCHWARTZ: The problem - the whole problem that is facing the world now - and most of the Muslim world is really rather I would say baffled by - is really an internal crisis in Islam. It's a crisis based on the challenge of deciding whether Islam is going to go - continue to go as it did historically in a moderate direction or if it is going to go in one of basically several but really only two radical directions toward what we would call a reactionary utopia - that is an Islam that looks at the past and tries to recreate the past in the present rather than practicing an Islam that is relevant to the present.
0:02:54:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: How well-known do you think you are in the Muslim community? Because I had no idea you existed until I was looking, actually researching something else and then I came across your Web site.
0:03:04:>>STEPHEN SULEYMAN SCHWARTZ: We have to deal with the fact that the radical trend is to a great extent in control of the Muslim community and Muslim community communications and in the United States especially. And they have essentially done what they could to write us out of the discourse to ignore us, to isolate and ostracize us. But we are there. And people do find us.
0:03:33:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: On your Web site you have one section that's specifically focused on the Wahhabis. Why the focus on that particular group?
0:03:43:>>STEPHEN SULEYMAN SCHWARTZ: Well, our analysis - and I would say that this is one of the things that we pretty much all agree on - is that the rise of Wahhabism, that is this particularly extreme exclusionary fundamentalist radical violent interpretation of Islam which emerged in Arabia 250 years ago and the enabling of Wahhabism to gain great influence thanks to Saudi and Gulf oil energy income, this is the biggest problem in Sunnism today. There's no question in our minds about this. Saudi - right now, I have to say that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the reform course he's following, even though he's isolated, he's an absolute ruler, but he is isolated within the royal family and he's isolated within the social structure of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah is making attempts to - has made several attempts to curb the power of the Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia and of the Wahhabi institutions in Saudi Arabia that have spent trillions of dollars of energy income to basically make every Sunni Muslim in the world a Wahhabi. I first encountered this myself in a country where I became a Muslim which was Bosnia, where I became a Muslim in 1997. And there I saw that Bosnian Islam, which had really very little to do except the fundamentals in the fundamentals of the religion with the Arab Islam, that a serious attempt was being made to Wahhabize - to introduce Wahhabism as a doctrine that would be the dominant doctrine for Muslims in the Balkans. I then observed - simultaneously observed that this really was going on throughout the Sunni world. Everywhere that there were Sunnis there was Saudi money, Pakistani functionaries, Brotherhood literature, working in a triangle to draw the Sunnis into the Wahhabi orbit to bring them under Wahhabi control and Wahhabi domination, Wahhabi influence, and to inculcate in them certain - basically what we consider to be deviant and extreme and even heretical Wahhabi ideas.
0:06:10:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: At the beginning of the interview, you said that you are standing up for moderate Muslims. Could you define what moderate means for you, because I think it means probably different things for different people.
0:06:22:>>STEPHEN SULEYMAN SCHWARTZ: Well, moderate is one of those words that does definitely have different definitions for different people. For us, moderate Islam means Islam as a religion that is like other religions in that of course as Muslims we believe our religion is the best. But that does not mean for a moderate Muslim that one has contempt for other religions or one has feelings of aggression or gets involved in violent activities towards other religions or in any way counter poses itself violently or negatively toward the other religions. Koran teaches us as Muslims to respect the people of the book, which at the time of the delivery of Koran meant Jews and Christians but has in some respects become a wider definition of other religions. I would say that moderate Islam seeks peace instead of war. Moderate Islam recognizes that the concept of jihad as an armed enterprise or an armed effort does not have legitimacy today. Moderate Islam generally looks for opportunities to enhance the quality of women and to advance women in leading roles. And moderate Islam is a religion that has its own principles, and its own history, and its own pride and its own fulfilment for its members, for its adherents. But it is not in its social being, in a social functioning or in its essence very different from the other established religions.
0:08:14:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: This has been Muslim Voices, a production of the Voices and Visions project in partnership with WFIU public media from Indiana University. Support comes from the Social Science Research Council. Music was provided by Animus. You can find Muslim Voices on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes. There's also a blog. Find us at muslimvoices.org.