Ali Miraj is a social entrepreneur and financier. He served on the Conservative Party’s Policy Commission on National and International Security in opposition, and is a former Parliamentary candidate.
The latest horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, so clearly Islamist is inspiration, has resulted in the usual sequential response.
Muslim community groups and leaders condemn the attack; say that no grievance, however great, can justify the killing of innocent civilians; claim that such terrorists are not representative of Islam or Muslims in general; and state that the act should unite and not divide us.
These statements, whilst heartfelt, fail to address the fundamental issue. The individuals committing these atrocities do so in the name of Islam. To ignore this is to live in denial. To accept it is the first step in a long journey towards countering it.
In 2015, I attended a debate in hosted by a Muslim organisation entitled: “Is Islam the cause or solution to extremism?” at a university campus in East London. One of the panellists refused to accept any link between Islam and terrorism at all, and robustly denounced the term “Islamist terrorism” by the media to cheers and applause from the audience.
But the perpetrators of these criminal acts are often heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” when decapitating people on the street or mowing them down on pavements or in Christmas markets. To cry “Islamaphobia”, and revel in a victim mentally if people point out the facts, is neither helpful nor productive.
The majority of Muslims may passionately believe that there is no link between the religion they follow and heinous acts of murder, but they must realise that there is a minority of people within the faith who argue that their religion not only allows for such acts in the name of jihad, but that it is incumbent upon followers to perpetuate them.
They regard other Muslims that do not share their world view as “kuffar”, or non-believers. Therefore, the question should be: what religious sources do extremists cite to justify their actions, and how can they be challenged most effectively?
If the majority of Muslims feel that their religion has been hijacked by a minority with a warped interpretation of the Quran, then it is incumbent upon them to stand up, refute, debate, and win the argument over their co-religionists from kitchen tables, to mosques, to public spaces.
The problem is that the minority of those that do exactly that – some having traversed the path from radical extremism to common sense Islam – are often branded as sellouts and Western stooges. The rest would rather keep their heads down or fret about the minutiae of the correct height of one’s trousers in relation to one’s ankles when standing for prayer.
Security measures and additional powers for the intelligence community are important, but they will never address the source of the problem. The key battle that needs to be forged is amongst Muslims themselves for the soul of Islam.
The silent majority must rise up. That will involve acquiring a thorough knowledge of scripture as well a deep understanding of the philosophical underpinning of the faith. It is this that will determine which narratives within, and interpretations of, the religion will triumph.
This is not a task that can or should be left solely to “community leaders”. It is a struggle that every follower of the faith must engage in. Securing victory will require great fortitude, courage and intellectual effort. It will not be easy but the state we are in calls for leadership and responsibility at a very personal level.