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Wednesday, 26 December, 2001, 10:51 GMT
Restoring faith in Islam
Mosque in West Bank town of Ramallah
Islam has become associated with violence
Frank Gardner

Prayer is a daily ritual for millions of Muslims, all over the Islamic world.

They draw great comfort from their religion.

They see it as a source of stability, a guiding force that has nothing to do with violence or terrorism.

But recent events have given Islam a very different image.

Maher Habeishi, a Palestinian suicide bomber, was recorded reciting the Holy Koran shortly before blowing up himself and 15 Israeli civilians.

Inspired by his faith, he and others like him see it as a holy duty to fight to liberate their land from Israeli occupation.

Suicide bomber Maher Habeishi
Suicide bomber Maher Habeishi recites from the Koran
Yet the Dean of London's Muslim College, Dr Zaki Badawi, says that while suicide bombers may have a genuine political grievance, they have no right to kill civilians in the name of Islam.

"I personally think they are wrong in their understanding of Islam and I think that it is terrible to commit a crime against innocent people because this is against Muslim law."

Community sympathy

"Many people who have certain grievances, and these grievances are real - one cannot deny these grievances - but for them to try to justify their own struggle, to mobilise their emotion, and also to have the greater sympathy within the community, they bring in religion.

"So religion by itself is innocent".

At a religious school in Cairo, the teachings of the Holy Koran are open to interpretation.

Muslim school in Cairo
Muslim pupils in Egypt are given an open interpretation of the Koran
Muslim children are taught that it is honourable to sacrifice yourself for a holy cause.

Most Muslims do not consider what happened on September 11 to be a holy cause. They say it has nothing to do with Islam.

But many Muslims do believe that attacks on Israeli women and children are legitimate.

The spiritual head of the world's Sunni Muslims, Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, disagrees.

"I am against those who say that attacking women, children, or any other civilians is permitted, just because the children may grow up to serve in the army.

"This is ridiculous, ugly talk that is totally rejected. And it totally contradicts the recommendations of the Prophet. Aggression against honest people is completely prohibited by Islamic law."
 Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi
Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi says it is wrong to attack civilians

But aggression has been carried out in the name of Islam, even by Muslim against Muslim.

Egypt's President Sadat was assassinated by violent Islamists.

Deep suspicion

Since then, many Arab governments remain deeply suspicious of their own countries' Islamic movements.

Egypt, for example, has rounded up thousands of Islamists who were bent on turning it into an Islamic republic.

In the heart of Cairo's medieval, Islamic district, I met the Islamist lawyer, Mamdouh Ismail. Once, he was imprisoned for his beliefs. Now, he and other Islamists, are turning their anger towards the West.

"We Muslims feel an unjust western enmity towards Muslims," he says

"It's a continuous enmity since Bosnia-Herzegovina right up till Afghanistan. This enmity generates in us a feeling of injustice that will no doubt make Muslims unite to confront it.

'War against Muslims'

Mamdouh Ismail
Islamists like Mamdouh Ismail are turning their anger towards western countries
Only God knows what form this solidarity will take. But I can tell you, we will not stand idle with our hands tied, while this war is waged against Muslims."

Of course, not all Muslims believe in such an east-west confrontation.

But there is no doubt that recent events have made Muslims feel maligned and misunderstood.

The western media must take some of the blame for misrepresenting Islam.

But at the same time, violent acts are being committed in the name of Islam.

So in the end, the onus will be on Muslims themselves, to prove to the world that their religion has nothing to do with terror.

See also:

11 Oct 01 | Americas
Islam 'hijacked' by terror
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: The roots of jihad
19 Oct 01 | Americas
Roots of extremism
15 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's Islamic radicals
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