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Who Speaks for Islam? Part 3a- What Makes a Radical?




| Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3a | Part 3b |Part 4 | Part 5 |

*Amad is taking over for Chapter 3 and 4. Cross-posted on Dailykos & Streetprophets

See important notes on survey methodology at the bottom of this post.

The so-called “war against terrorism” has been raging for more than six years, yet the author argue that Muslim extremism and violence continues to spread and grow all over the world.

The Osama bin Ladens of the world have turned a once-popular jihad – a struggle in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation supported by the Muslim world and the West – into an unholy war of suicide bombings, hostage taking, and broad-based terror.

In parallel, Islamophobia has increased sharply, while anti-Americanism sentiments surge on the Arab and Muslim streets. The West is galvanized by terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Iraq, Israel, etc. while the Muslim world is galvanized by invasion of its lands, abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and images of civilian deaths and destruction caused by Israel, in Gaza and Lebanon

Against the backdrop of this bleak world situation, the West desires stable, secular democracies in the Muslim countries it deems as “supporting terrorism”, believing this to be the ultimate measure of victory in the “war against terrorism”. But a number of challenges exist in this battle of hearts and minds, and data is ever-important to understand the people we wish to move.

[What] doomed the United States during the Vietnam War was that it knew almost nothing about its enemy [Former Secretary of Defense McNamara in an interview]

The Vietnam War was believed to be part of the “domino theory” in preventing monolithic communism, similar to how the present war is framed. To halt the same mistake from being made, an effort has to be made in order to understand “the other”—the mainstream, moderate majority Muslims, and the extremist minority. Some of the key questions asked by Gallup reveal a significant insight:

  1. Who are the political radicals?
  2. What is the link between terrorism and poverty or ignorance?
  3. Are the radicals jobless and hopeless?
  4. What is the relationship between Islam and terrorism? What about jihad and suicide terrorism?
  5. Why do they hate us and our way of life?
  6. What are the primary drivers of radicalism?

Who are the political radicals?

The debate on how radicals are “made” has gone on for decades. Blame has been pinned on psychological, sociological, economic, political, and religious. The intuitive sense has been to blame a combination of religious extremism, poverty, and unemployment as driving terrorism. But for instance, many of the 9/11 attackers were not poor or downtrodden or uneducated, and this came as a surprise to many.

The authors argue that it shouldn’t have, considering recent history. Early studies by Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim concluded that the typical profile of militant Islamic group comprised: youth, middle-class, educated and from cohesive families. Not so different are today’s breed of militants. Another important distinction: some of these radicals were devout, others not. For instance, many of the 9/11 hijackers drank, and frequented strip clubs and porn shops, not exactly practicing Muslims! Furthermore, most of the terrorists didn’t go to the oft-maligned madrassas. For example, Omar Sheikh (the mastermind of Daniel Pearl’s murder) studied at the prestigious London School of Economics.

So, what does the data say?

According to the Gallup Poll covering 10 countries the make up 80% of the Muslim population (Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Morocco, Iran, and Bangladesh)

7% of respondents think that 9/11 attacks were “completely” justified [authors refer to them as “the politically radicalized”], and view the US unfavorably. Among those who believe that the 9/11 attacks were not justified [authors refer to them as “the politically radicalized”] 40% are pro-United States, but 60% view the United States unfavorably.

The authors are not saying that all in the “7% group” commit acts of violence, but rather they are a potential source for recruitment and support for terrorist groups. 13% of this “7% group” is so committed to political change that they view other civilian attacks as completely justified.

Age distinction? Not much. 49% of this group is between 18-29, but similar to the 41% of those with moderate views in the same age range. One may also find surprising that 37% of the “political radicals” are females.

What is the link between terrorism and poverty or ignorance?
None, according to the data. The political radicals are on average more educated than the moderates: 67% have secondary or higher education (vs. 52% of moderates), 65% have average or above-average income (vs. 55% of moderates).

Are political radicals jobless and hopeless?
No, according to the data. Unemployment levels are about the same for radicals and moderates (approx. 20% each). In fact, the radicals are more likely to supervise others (higher responsibility) at 47%, compared to 34% moderates. Hopeless? Not really. 64% of radicals are satisfied financially and quality of life, compared to 55% moderates. Surprisingly, more radicals (52%) are more optimistic about their futures than moderates at 45%. But while they are optimistic about their own lives, they are more pessimistic about world affairs and internal politics.

What is the religion-terrorism connection?
The use of religious language and symbolism by terrorists seemingly puts Islam at the forefront of their motivations. Critics charge that Islam, a militant or violent religion, is responsible for global terrorism, and terrorists by default are devoutly religious. The noted atheist, Sam Harris wrote in Washington Times that it was time to admit that “we are not at war with ‘terrorism’. We are at war with Islam… The idea that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion hijacked by extremists’ is a dangerous fantasy” [Harris writes similar here, and is roundly rebuffed here].

But, what does the data say?

Again the answer is no connection! Radical views do not correlate with personal piety. Both radicals and moderates (94% and 90% respectively, remember the ±3% margin of error) say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. Furthermore, there is no significant difference between the two groups in mosque attendance, an important parameter of “piety level”.

The radicals were further asked why they condoned extremist actions, and their responses would shake Sam Harris and other disillusioned “experts” to the core. For example in Indonesia (the largest Muslim majority nation), those who condemned terrorism (the moderates) cited humanitarian AND Islamic reasons for holding their views [such as the verse “Killing one life is as sinful as killing the entire humanity”- Quran 5.32]. And what about the radicals? Not a SINGLE respondent from Indonesia who condoned the 9/11 attacks cited the Quran as justification. Instead, the responses were “markedly secular and worldly” [such as “The US government is too controlling toward other countries”].

Its politics, not piety, stupid!

How then does one explain extremists’ religious rhetoric? The Gallup data clearly demonstrated that religion is the dominant ideology in the Arab and Muslim world, just as secular Arab nationalism was in the days of ex-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The PLO, a staunchly secular group, used secular Palestinian nationalism to recruit and justify acts of violence.

Just as Arab nationalism was used in the 1960s, today religion is used to justify extremism and terrorism

The authors emphasize the need for larger and more complex context to understand the link between religion and terrorism. Close ties have existed among religion, politics and societies, and leaders have used and hijacked religion for their own ulterior political or territorial purposes.

In the next part: Islam & Jihad, suicide terrorism, “do they hate us and our way of life”, Muslim views about the West and America.

Due to questions raised on previous posts about how this polling could be done effectively in developing countries, the following bit from the book on methodology should help understand the science better. For those seriously concerned about this, and understand statistical sampling, there are two excellent sections in the book dedicated to this.

Important notes on the methodology design and sampling:

Two methods are used by Gallup. (1) A RDD telephone system is used where 80%+ population uses landlines, as is the case in most developed nations. (2) An area frame design is used for face-to-face interviewing in the developing world.

Key aspects of the survey philosophy: Sample represents all parts of each country, including rural area. Face-to-face surveys are about an hour long, phone 30 minutes. Sample size of 1000 ensures a +-3% margin of error.

Amad Shaikh is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Amad is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").



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    May 6, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    I found this chapter particularly revealing in what Muslims are thinking. Especially highlighting how Muslims use Quran to justify NON-violence, while the radicals use politics to justify violence. Of course, there are exceptions, but statistical sampling gets it right within a 95% confidence level band.

    On a side-note, I didn’t know much about statistics until I took a course on it last semester. And I think everyone will find it useful to learn a bit more about it. When you hear poll results and data reported as +-3%, etc… what does that mean?

    You can read more here on confidence intervals here and here (this one is a nice summary).

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    May 9, 2008 at 6:57 AM

    I just want to answer your question, What is the relationship between Islam and terrorism? As i read this, i remember one article that i had read regarding terrorism and it said that “Islam does not support terrorism under any circumstances. Terrorism goes against every principle in Islam. If a Muslim engages in terrorism, he is not following Islam. He may be wrongly using the name of Islam for political or financial gain.” After reading this article i come up for this conclusion, nobody wants to kill or to hurt other people and I think no one would create a rule that will put his people into a door of death.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change  

Imam Mikaeel Smith



Why do we consider emotional intelligence to be half of the Prophetic intellect? The answer lies in the word “messenger.” Messengers of Allah are tasked with the divine responsibility of conveying to humanity the keys to their salvation. They are not only tasked with passing on the message but also with being a living example of that message.

When ʿĀʾishah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, was asked to explain the character of the blessed Prophet ﷺ, her reply was, “His character was the Qurʾān.[1]” We are giving emotional intelligence a place of primacy in the construct of Prophetic intelligence because it seems implausible that Allah would send a messenger without providing that messenger with the means necessary to exemplify and transmit the message to others. If the Prophets of Allah did not have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to successfully pass on the message to the next generation, the argument would be incomplete. People could easily excuse themselves of all accountability because the message was never conveyed.

We also see clear examples in the Qur’ān that this knowledge was being perpetually perfected in the character of the Prophet ﷺ. Slight slips in his Emotional Intelligence were rare, but when they did occur, Allah gently addressed the mistake by means of revelation. Allah says in the Qurʾān, “If you (O Muḥammad) were harsh and hardhearted, then the people would flee from you.” This verse clearly placed the burden of keeping an audience upon the shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ. What this means is that the Prophet ﷺ had to be aware of what would push people away; he had to know what would create cognitive and emotional barriers to receptivity. When we study the shamāʾil (books about his character), we find that he was beyond exceptional in his ability to make people receptive. He took great care in studying the people around him and deeply understanding them. Only after the Prophet ﷺ had exhausted all the means of removing barriers to receptivity would the responsibility to affirm the message be shifted to those called to it.

Another example of this Prophetic responsibility can be found in the story of Prophet Mūsa when he was commissioned to call Pharaoh and the children of Israel to Allah. When Allah informed him of the task he was chosen for, he immediately attempted to excuse himself because he had a slight speech impediment. He knew that his speech impediment could potentially affect the receptivity of people to the message. He felt that this disqualified him from being a Prophet. He also felt that the act of manslaughter he committed might come between the people and guidance. All of these examples show that Allah’s Prophets understood that many factors can affect a person’s receptivity to learning something new, especially when the implications of that new information call into question almost every aspect of a person’s identity. History tells us that initially, people did not accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; they completely rejected him and accused him of being a liar.

One particular incident shows very clearly that he ﷺ understood how necessary it was for him to remove any cognitive or emotional barriers that existed between him and his community. When the people of his hometown of Makkah had almost completely rejected him, he felt that it was time to turn his attention to a neighboring town. The city of Ṭā’if was a major city and the Prophet ﷺ was hopeful that perhaps they would be receptive to the message. Unfortunately, they completely rejected him and refused to even listen to what he had to say. They chased him out of town, throwing stones at him until his injuries left him completely covered in blood. Barely making it outside the city, the Prophet ﷺ collapsed. Too weak to move, he turned his attention to his Lord and made one of the most powerful supplications made by a Prophet of Allah.

اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي، وقلة حيلتي، وهواني على الناس، يا أرحم الراحمين، أنت أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي، إلى من تكلني؟ إلى عدو يتجهمني؟ أو إلى قريب ملكته أمري؟ إن لم يكن بك علي غضب فلا أبالي، غير أن عافيتك أوسع لي، أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أشرقت له الظلمات، وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والآخرة، من أن ينزل بي غضبك، أو يحل علي سخطك، لك العتبى حتى ترضى، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بك”

“Oh Allah, only to You do I complain about my lack of strength, my insufficient strategies, and lowliness in the sight of the people. You are my Lord. To whom do you turn me over? Someone distant from me who will forsake me? Or have you placed my affair in the hands of my enemy? [2]

The Prophet ﷺ felt that he was the reason why the people were not accepting the message. His concern that “my low status in the eyes of the people,” informs us that he understood that people naturally judge the seriousness of a message based on the stature of the message bearer. The people of Ṭā’if were extremely ignorant, so much that they adamantly refused to enter into any dialogue. In reality, this was not due to any shortcoming of the Prophet ﷺ; he demonstrated the best of character and displayed extreme patience in the face of such ignorance. But the beginning of the supplication teaches us what he was focused on: making sure that he was not the reason why someone did not accept the message.

Because his message was not geographically restricted like that of other Prophets, those who inherited the message would have the extra burden of transferring the message to a people with whom they were unfamiliar. The intelligence needed to pass the message of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ around the world included an understanding of the cultural differences that occur between people. Without this understanding effective communication and passing on of his message would be impossible.

A sharp Emotional Intelligence is built upon the development of both intra- and interpersonal intelligence. These intelligences are the backbone of EQ and they provide a person with emotional awareness and understanding of his or her own self, an empathic understanding of others, and the ability needed to communicate effectively and cause change. Emotional Intelligence by itself is not sufficient for individual reform or societal reform; instead, it is only one part of the puzzle. The ʿaql or intellect that is referenced repeatedly in the Qurʾān is a more comprehensive tool that not only recognizes how to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of people but recognizes morally upright and sound behavior. After that this intellect, if healthy and mature, forces a person to conform to that standard. Therefore, we understand the ʿaql to be a comprehensive collection of intelligences analogous to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.

Taking into consideration the extreme diversity found within Western Muslim communities, we see how both Moral Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are needed. Fostering and nurturing healthy communities requires that we understand how people receive our messages. This is the interpersonal intelligence aspect of EQ. Without grounding the moral component of our community, diversity can lead to what some contemporary moral theorists call moral plasticity, a phenomenon where concrete understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, are lost. Moral Education (Moral Education, which will be discussed throughout the book, is the process of building a Morally Intelligent heart) focuses on correcting the message that we are communicating to the world; in other words, Moral Intelligence helps us maintain our ideals and live by them, while Emotional Intelligence ensures that the message is effectively communicated to others.

My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.”

Interpersonal understanding is the core of emotional intelligence. My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.” From the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, this statement is very accurate. The way we interpret words, body language, verbal inflections, and facial expressions is based on many different factors. The subtle power of this book lies in the simple fact that your emotional intelligence is the primary agent of change and thus the most powerful force you have. You must understand how people perceive what you are communicating to them. What is missing from my father’s statement is the primacy of Moral Intelligence. Throughout this book, I attempt to show how the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ demonstrated a level of perfection of both of these intelligences.

*With the Heart in Mind is available for pre-order at

[1]Bayhaqī, Shuʿb al-ʾĪmān, vol. 3, p. 23.

[2] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 3, p. 136.


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Read Books, Build Character, Inspire Generations





By Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

Believers would recognise that God has made knowledge the foundation for the superiority of human beings over other creatures on Earth. The first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was ‘Iqra’, meaning ‘read’ or ‘recite’. The Prophet said “the seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim” (Al-Tirmidhi). Knowledge thus goes hand in hand with the Islamic creed.

Muslims are asked to seek knowledge by reading, learning and reflecting to live their lives as stewards in our planet. They are asked to supplicate “O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge” (Al-Qur’an 20:114). To emphasise the message of the superiority of learned people in Islam, the Prophet said, “The superiority of the learned man over the worshipper is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars …” (Abu Dawud).

One can observe exemplary practices amongst those who are often labelled as enlightened. A trait that typically stands out prominently is their craving for knowledge and emphasis on reading. Many would own bookshelves or even a private library in their homes; public libraries would abound across the country. Through knowledge, scholarship, good character and hard work they endeavour to create long-lasting civilisations; whether it be Greek, Indian or Chinese examples.

During the Islamic Golden Age which began in the 8th century and lasted over 600 years, Muslims flourished in intellectual pursuits because of their thirst for learning. They became the ardent lovers of books and became synonymous with knowledge. They made momentous progress in all areas of life. At a time when books were written and copied by hand, affluent Muslims spent their wealth to establish libraries, mostly adjacent to schools or mosques, so that everyone could use them. Books and libraries became the Muslims’ umbilical cord in connecting their material progress and spiritual quest together.

During their peak cultural and intellectual period, Muslim scientific and technological innovations, as well as their translations of ancient Greek knowledge into Latin, inspired Europe in its intellectual resurgence. This Muslim-led knowledge revolution with the flowering of science, art, medicine, and philosophy spread across the Muslim world. It was the infusion of this knowledge into Western Europe that fuelled the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. The invention of the printing machine in 1451 further helped to transform Europe, as knowledge rapidly reached beyond the elite class.

While Europe was brimming with energy and started its new journey with astounding vigour, political weaknesses and collective inertia meant the Islamic world fell into stagnation. One calamity that befell Muslims, considered by many historians to be a hammer blow to their intellectual backbone, was the Mongol invasion of Muslim lands. The occupation of Baghdad in 1258 witnessed an unparalleled barbarity; killing scholars, burning books and destroying libraries. In spite of the successful military fightbacks against the Crusading armies, the conversion of many Mongol invaders to Islam and the victories of the Ottomans over the next few centuries, the Muslim world gradually succumbed to intellectual passivity and socio-political fracture. The rest – the colonisation of lands and minds, eventual independence but subsequent failures of leadership to this day – is history.

Today, the overall condition of Muslims – in terms of their education level, economic performance and intellectual standard – is less than satisfactory. Their political and religious leadership has imploded in many places; their ineffective governance and lack of institutional capacity to harness human and material resources are still hindering progress. Post-9/11 disorder in the form of imposed or proxy wars in historic lands and failed or repressive politics in some countries have displaced millions of people from their homelands.

There are however signs of genuine awareness and reappraisal as well as positive changes in many places. It is time Muslims sharpen their reading habits, build character and find practical ways to join the dots of good works with a ‘glass half full’ attitude. The regeneration of their grass-roots leadership across the world of Islam – from parents at home, teachers in school and Imams in mosques – has become a necessity. Muslims must learn to excel in what they do in their family, community, workplace and wider society with inclusive social activism. Only then, can they create an effective civil society everywhere.

Their reading, as in their heydays, should start from core religious texts for moral guidance and spiritual peace to all areas of modern knowledge which has made astounding progress in recent decades largely without Muslim input. Reading activates the human brain and provides food for thought and is vital for developing curiosity and enhancing critical autonomy. Ultimately it is knowledge that empowers a people.

In a world of information overload, one has to pick and choose what to read and what not to. With our short and limited lifespan, we cannot afford to waste time by only reading junk and indulging in vanity. Good books are the sources of silent power; they are the pillars of success. Like a balanced diet for a human body, good books are vital sources for mental agility and spiritual peace. Reading should be for a purpose that injects the attitude of reflection and action, build character to act for the good of all. Good reading nourishes from within, fills hearts and souls with gratefulness to God for all the bounties around and catapults people to serve others with the best of human character, Adab.

Let us read books, inspire children, and help create a better world for our future.

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, parenting consultant, and author. His memoir A Long Jihad: My Quest for the Middle Way was published in summer 2018. Dr. Abdul Bari is the former Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Here is Dr Bari’s concise recommended reading list:

Children Related

1)  Islam for Children Series

2)  Children’s books on various topics – Khurram Murad

3)  Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim book of Colors – Hena Khan

4)  Crescent Moons and Painted Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes – Hena Khan

5)  A Guide to Parenting in Islam: Cherishing Childhood – Muhammad Abdul Bari

Al-Qur’an/Qur’an Related

1)  To choose 2-3 from classical and modern Tafsirs

2)  Understanding the Quran Themes and styles – Mohammad Abdel Haleem

3)  The Majestic Quran: A Plain English Translation – Musharraf Hussain

4)  Way to the Qur’an – Khurram Murad

Hadith/Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

1)  The Complete Forty Hadith – Imam an-Nawawi

2)  Stories of the Prophets – Ibn Kathir

3)  Muhammad – Martin Lings

4)  Companions of the Prophets 1 and 2 – Abdul Wahid Hamid

5)  The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet – Safiur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri

6)  In The Footsteps of the Prophet – Tariq Ramadan

Islam/Islam Related

1)  Ihya Ulum Id Din: Book of Religious Learning Hardcover – Imam Ghazali

2)  In The Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self Development – Khurram Murad


1)  The Road to Mecca – Muhammad Asad

2)  Islam Between East and West – Alija Izetbegović

3)  Islam and the Destiny of Man – Gai Eaton

4)  Autobiography of Malcolm X

5)  Inescapable Questions: Autobiographical Notes – Alija Izetbegović

6)  To Be a European Muslim – Tariq Ramadan

7)  A Long Jihad: My Quest for the Middle Way – Muhammad Abdul Bari

8)  1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in our World – Chief Editor, Salim TS Al-Hasani


1)  Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman

2)  Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

3)  The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament – Wael Hallaq


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118 by Tariq Touré

Tariq Toure




Ummi’s house is beaten by the aroma
of a whistling kettle filled with red zinger tea
grandchildren bouncing in & out screen doors
firecrackers conversing in the backyard
neighbors shouting yesterday’s yesterdays
with living rooms just big enough to seat
the world’s problems
And July’s you had to stand dead center
to comprehend

Ummi is a house too,
with 7 attics and 55 windows
shaped in circles of all sizes
She is where searching souls find
a reflection of the words they once housed

She reminds us, with perfect diction
that we are strangers in this land
no matter how her smile threads
through a crowded room
it will one day return to the sky

Olivet Lane brought buttered biscuit to mouth
carved Sunday dinners out of maybe
deposited toy truck to hand and sent soldiers
into a world at war with our wishes

We too became houses wrapped in a concert of windows.
We too became a home for travelers
no duty more sacred than
serenity in the pores of our guests,
traffickers of light.

A nation passed through the arch of her back,
And while lightning never strikes
the same place twice,
it always found its way home

Infants crawling scattered below her ankles
will forget too soon
how close they were
to paradise

Purchase Tariq’s new book of poetry: 2 Parts Oxygen: How I Learned to Breathe 

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