[Finding Moderate Muslims:] Do you believe in modernity?
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
If militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution, as I often argue, how does one differentiate between these two forms of Islam?
It's a tough question, especially as concerns Muslims who live in Western countries. To understand just how tough it is, consider the case of Abdurahman Alamoudi, a prominent American figure associated with 16 Muslim organizations.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter described one of those, the American Muslim Council, as "the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States." The Defense Department entrusted two of them (the Islamic Society of North America and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Council) to vet Islamic chaplains for the armed forces. The State Department thought so highly of Alamoudi, it six times hired him and sent him on all-expenses-paid trips to majority-Muslim countries to carry what it called "a message of religious tolerance." Alamoudi's admirers have publicly hailed him as a "moderate," a "liberal Muslim," and someone known "for his charitable support of battered women and a free health clinic."
But this image of moderation collapsed recently when an Alamoudi-endorsed chaplain was arrested and charged with mishandling classified material; when Alamoudi himself was arrested on charges of illegal commerce with Libya; and when Alamoudi's Palm Pilot was found to contain contact information on seven men designated by the United States government as global terrorists.
Distinguishing between real and phony moderation, obviously, is not a job for amateurs like US government officials.
The best way to discern moderation is by delving into the record - public and private, Internet and print, domestic and foreign - of an individual or institution. Such research is most productive with intellectuals, activists and imams, all of whom have a paper trail. With others, who lack a public record, it is necessary to ask questions. These need to be specific, as vague inquiries ("Is Islam a religion of peace?" "Do you condemn terrorism?") have little value, depending as they do on definitions (of peace, terrorism).
Useful questions might include:
It is ideal if these questions are posed publicly - in the media or in front of an audience - thereby reducing the scope for dissimulation.
No single reply establishes a militant Islamic disposition (plenty of non-Muslim Europeans believe the Bush administration itself carried out the 9/11 attacks); and pretence is always a possibility, but these questions offer a good start to the vexing issue of separating enemy from friend.
Dec. 27, 2004 update: I have collected my writings on the topic of reformist Muslims at "Bibliography – My Writings on Moderate Islam."
Oct. 5, 2005 update: For what others have come up with to determine who is an Islamist and who is not, see "Finding Moderate Muslims - More Questions."
June 3, 2006 update: For comments on the above list of questions, see John Furedy's "Organizational vs. individual application of Pipes's list."
Sep. 6, 2004 update: A semi-comical American Muslim "leader" replied to this article and I reply to him at "Hamza Yusuf Fails My 'Test'."
Apr. 28, 2007 update: For a sarcastic application of these question to Christians, see "Daniel Pipes on How to Expose Militant Christianity."
Reader comments (205) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes