Why Malala’s shooting will hinder the credibility of ‘moderate’ Muslims

By Abdulkhalig Alhassan

Several weeks ago Pakistani-Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghanistan Taliban, cowardly shot Malala Yousifzai in the head. Malala, aged 14, is a well known activist for education rights for girls. Her brave stand against the Taliban belief in banning girls’ education nearly killed her.

The tragic accident has brought lots of anger, from within and outside Pakistan. Most politicians around the world raced to show their support and willingness for her to be treated. However, the accident has raised many questions about the moral credibility of the Muslim majority.

Theoretically, the Muslim majorities around the world, who like to define themselves as ‘moderates’, are very keen to distinguish themselves from the fundamental minority. Moreover, they don’t miss any opportunity to assure others of  their attitude of co-existing with people of all beliefs. But in reality, the story is different.

The influence of the fundamentalist minority on them is very visible and undeniable. In fact, they live under ongoing blackmail by them. Whenever something attacks the fundamentalists and is seen by them as insulting to Islam, we find the majority fall in line and take their side, despite their whispering condemnation of the radicals’ violence and overreaction.

Malala’s ‘accident’ is evidence of how moderate Muslims have not yet developed an independent attitude to the one adopted by fanatics. The fact that fundamentalist Muslims all around the world ignored what happened to the Pakistani girl is not a surprise. It’s very consistent with their misogynistic attitudes.

What about the moderate Muslims? What was their reaction to what happened? Why couldn’t they mobilise themselves and protest? Why didn’t they show strong condemnation and make it clear that what happened to Malala is an insult to Islam and Muslims?

The answer is very simple; there is no difference between the ‘moderates’ and the fundamentalists. They dance to the same tune. And if they don’t, it is only in degree rather than essence. Both groups are traditional-minded; nevertheless, the radicals appear more consistent in their theological perspectives. The dilemma of the moderates is that they feel caught in the middle. Most of them are secular to some degree, but at the same time, they haven’t developed a clear cut attitude to make them immune from the influence of traditional-Islam interpreting, which is manipulated by conservatives.

Most have internalised the notion that they are not true representatives of Islam, as if Islam is only one solid version, which in reality it is not. This situation pushes them to shy away from Islamic issues unless invited by the ‘true’ representatives, the salafists. This situation, where they are deprived of their rights to criticise any sort of insults, comes to Islam from within. This vulnerable situation of the moderates has given salifists the upper hand to create exclusive measurements of what insults Islam and Muslims.

It’s well known to those moderates that Malala had done nothing to insult Islam. In fact, she sought her right to education within the traditional paradigm of Islam. However, their lack of confidence as Muslims meant they failed to seize the moment to defend their tolerant message of Islam and at the same time to corner the radicals and embarrass them.

This inconsistency and double standard will hurt moderates and Islam. Any talks from their side, in the future, about the tolerance and peaceful message of Islam won’t be taken seriously as long they can’t respond to the violence and insult to their beliefs from within.

On the other hand, the only winner in this situation is the radicals. They are left as the main player on the Islamic arena. The radicals are gaining legitimacy every day as the only representative of the Muslims. At the same time, their violent brand of Islamism steadily dominates. No wonder then it became more and more difficult for the silent majority of Muslims to defend their peaceful version of Islam.

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