By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC World Service Arab affairs analyst
A leading Saudi journalist has caused a stir by launching a scathing attack on Muslim clerics who justify the killing of innocent civilians in the name of jihad, or holy war.
The article was provoked by reflections on the tragic Russian school siege
In an editorial on the hostage crisis in Beslan, Abdelrahman al-Rashid, the managing director of the satellite channel al-Arabiya, wrote: "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."
He laid the blame for Islamist violence around the world on radical Muslim clerics, whom he accused of hijacking what is essentially a peace-loving and tolerant faith.
Mr Rashid's article, which appeared on Saturday in al-Sharq al-Awsat, singled out the controversial and influential Egyptian cleric, Yousef al-Qaradawi, whose views are aired regularly on the Qatari satellite channel, al-Jazeera.
"A man of his advanced age incites young men to kill civilians, while his two daughters are studying under the protection of British security in the "infidel" United Kingdom," Mr Rashid wrote. The implication is that Mr Qaradawi is a hypocrite.
Calling for reform
Mr Rashid's views are not new or unique. Several Arab writers have been calling on Arab societies to examine themselves and stop blaming external forces for their misfortunes.
But coming this time from a journalist as prominent as Mr Rashid they are likely to infuriate an Islamic public that is firmly convinced that that it is Muslims who are the victims of what many see as state-sponsored violence, whether it is in Chechnya, the occupied Palestinian territories, or in Algeria.
Mr Rashid's comments employ what has become a standard defence of the Muslim faith, namely, that the problem is not Islam itself, but a small number of Muslims.
That may very well be true as far as the number of Islamic militants go. But this analysis does not address the fact that radical clerics, like Mr Qaradawi, remain widely popular.
The problem of Islamist violence appears to go well beyond the views of a small, albeit influential, minority.
Other liberal critics of Arab societies go further than Mr Rashid.
They blame what they see as a predominantly literalist interpretation of Islamic tradition and the Koran.
They have also called for a radical reform of religious education and for curbing the power of the religious establishment across the Arab world.
Please send us your views on this article and on the opinions expressed by Abdelrahman al-Rashid.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received.
I do like this article as it does pinpoint the source of our problems in the Arab world. Everybody starts blaming the US or Israel for their misfortunes. I do believe that most of our problems come from within. Yet, nobody can deny the role the US and Israel is playing in the Arab world. At the end of the day, it is all endless pandemonium.
Rami, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Abdelrahman al-Rashid has a point. How should we stop people from using the principles of Islam to build hatred towards the Western world? With the concept of the principle of separation of church and state. This in my opinion, is the first step any government should take in order to prevent fundamentalist groups from using the power of politics to enforce its own beliefs or to build hatred towards the Western world.
Daniel Arenas, Montreal, Canada
What is sad is that the path of violence has not really gained anything but misery for all innocent parties caught in between. It is about time individuals stopped lashing out against the world in such a manner. Apparently, these methods rarely work anyway.
Tom R, Illinois, USA
As a Muslim I am disappointed that this man claims Islam is at fault when in fact it's the Muslims who have suffered violence more than anyone. Its always Muslim states who are being bombed by America, Britain and their allies. Thousands of Muslims are killed. Yet these deaths are rarely mentioned, as the blood of Muslims is cheap. Yet when some Muslims decide to retaliate and use violence, its headline news all over the non-Muslim world, even if the casualties inflicted by the Muslim "terrorists" are far, far fewer than those the Muslims have suffered. This man needs to take a look at how the Muslims are suffering before trying to grab easy headlines in the west.
Nazir Ismail, Coventry, UK
It's about time the Muslim's of the world identify the problems with their faith. Islam is not the problem. The problem is the absolute power of the Muslim clerics and their control over the supporters. The more radical the cleric the more control he has over his supporter. It is either their way or no way. It's time for the Muslims to clean house, to denounce all clerics that do not preach tolerance. Remove from power those who send their supporters to die at their own hand. When more 9/11's or Beslans happen and it becomes too painful for the world, the weight of the world will come crashing down on them at some point.
Richard Johnston, Springer, OK USA
I applaud the courage of Abdelrahman al-Rashid. The world needs to hear more Muslim voices proclaiming Islam a religion of peace and tolerance, decrying the ways of violence and terror and publicly chastising Muslim clerics and leaders that make excuses for those claiming holy purpose for their acts of evil. Violence will gain Muslims nothing but chaos and death. Truly courageous acts for peace will lead them to greater achievements and worldwide esteem.
Knox, Atlanta, GA, USA
The heart of the problem in the Islamic world is the absence of any organised interpretation of Islam, its principles, and laws. Anybody with access to a media outlet can come out with any amount of vitriol and poison, and can appeal to the uneducated impoverished masses. They have hijacked Islam and claim a monopoly on the truth, although like all religions, Islam has its sects, interpretations, and opinions. Sufism is Islam, Yousuf Al Qaradawi is Islam, Osama Bin Laden is Islam, Khatami is Islam, and I am Islam.
Ammar Shams, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
I agree with Mr Rashid. The tyranny of terror and the reactionary politics of Islamic fundamentalism have gone unopposed by the Muslims. Muhammad did not practice nor preach terror and violence. He forgave his most formidable enemies. While the fundamentalists zealously practice their bloody trades, we, the rest of Muslims, remain sheepishly silent. That Sheikh in Qatar, the "Colonel" in Beslan, or Moqtada Sadr do not own my faith nor understand it. Let my faith go, you who have darkened hearts and blind eyes. Every verse of the Koran begins "In The Name of God the Benevolent Merciful" And you claim to act in God's name? Shame on you treacherous deserters for forwarding your own darkest deeds in God's name.
Ali Javad, Washington DC, USA
I am a Christian and I agree with much of what Mr Rashid says. I also think that most Arab and Islamic countries should examine themselves rather than blame outsiders. However, I also believe that much of the resentment of the Arab and Islamist societies is because the West has not left them alone. That includes direct military interventions, supporting unpopular regimes, undermining popular leaders who do not bow to us and blindly supporting the state of Israel for over 50 years.
Basil Balian, U.S.
As an atheist, I find it high time indeed for a member of the Muslim faith to speak out loudly and clearly against these radical 'Muslim clerics' and their hangers-on. They are truly a shame for Islam - they are quickly establishing their version of Islam as the only one being perceived in the non-Muslim world. Such people are doing more damage than anything else to Islam's message. I applaud the courage of Mr al-Rashid and like-minded Muslims and hope they will continue to speak out.
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany
I agree that the problem lies not in the religion itself, but in its misunderstanding and application. Masses are brainwashed to believe that what their terrorist leaders are doing is actually holy, whereas it is actually crime even in the name of basic human rights. A radical reform of religious education is therefore definitely craved for. Otherwise this form of primitive politics would contribute heavily to making the world nothing but a very dangerously divided place.
Lama Wehbe, Beirut, Lebanon
I certainly agree with the views Mr Rashid. Islam is a peace loving religion and does not allow the killing of innocent people. Islam says to kill a person means to kill the whole humanity. My humble request is that the world should ponder over the conflicts and do justice with those who suffer and thereby root out the causes of bloodshed, terrorism and hatred in the world.
It is finally good to hear someone of Abdelrahman al-Rashid's status and religious background come out and speak against the hardline clerics. For too long clerics have used religion as a tool to promote their own political careers. Not only are they furthering their careers by spreading hate but more ironically, they use the facilities of the West to further the careers of their children and fill their wardrobes, they have dined in UK restaurants and made use of the UK's recreational facilities such as casinos and other forms of evening recreation. Let us not forget that hypocrisy, too, is a grave sin in Islam. Now we are seeing the outcome of what is happening to their countries whose folks have over looked the sin of hypocrisy.
Sajad Hussain, Rome, Italy
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