To Waleed Aly: An Open Letter

Subject: To Waleed Aly: An Open Letter
From: Sophie T
Date: 17 Nov 2015

Dear Waleed,

From my living room in Germany, I watched and nodded along with so many others around the world, as you brought a refreshing, much needed input to the dialogue about ISIL. It is without doubt that the world needs more voices like yours to speak against the ever-growing xenophobia (especially in Europe) addressed not only to Muslims, but also to people of Arabic origin regardless of their religion. However I find myself wondering if you would address a critical issue that is rarely (or with bigoted intentions) discussed. It is an issue so great I that if we don’t confront it head on, I fear we will lose this ‘war’ (or better said, this clash of ideologies). And please take this not as a provocation, for I find your opinion a smart, important and accurate contribution to the issues around Islam and tolerance. It is with genuine interest in your views that I ask on this issue, and a plea to bring this issue into the discussion.

The issue I refer to is this:
You call the truth on ISIL, saying they are a radicalized, barbaric group that prey on Muslims isolated and denigrated by their society (presumably Western societies here). I agree with you here wholeheartedly. You are right to point out that we need love and inclusion to keep our youth from turning to this murderous cult. Yet something is going unsaid and I wonder if you would be the person to bring this issue forth and to speak about it openly and wisely. I would like to know why our Muslim youth (as opposed to youth in other religions) are so susceptible to turning to ISIL for sanctuary? If ISIL has absolutely nothing to do with what is written in the Koran, with Islam, then why do they prey exclusively on Muslims? Better said, why does ISIL think they have some form of common ground that they can use to identify with and entice Muslims?

This seems like an obvious question with an obvious answer, but I can’t help but wonder why no one speaks about the way in which ISIL manipulate the Islamic teachings. Why will no one be brave enough to admit that like all religions, there are immoral, outdated, simply barbaric passages in religious texts (Koran, Bible, Torah) that can be taken so literally that they obliterate the beautiful passages in these texts, the ones that speak of love and community, of devotion and humility, the passages that bring out the best in many of those who follow these religions.

Why are we afraid to admit this reality? What are the consequences if we don’t admit this reality? For how can we reach out to a susceptible youth and win this battle of ideologies if we refuse to counter the very passages from our religious texts that ISIL is using to draw us into their world?

Our religions, our faith is strong enough to find a common path alongside secularism. We should not feel threatened or worried that by simply negating the bad parts of our religions, the whole religion will somehow be under attack. In fact, we have many experiments of how beautifully this has worked and how religion can sit alongside a secular, open, free society. Look at Europe, at the separation of church and state in France, at the Constitution of the United States and South Africa, two of the most secular, separated from religion constitutions in the world, which are beloved and upheld by their largely religious populations. Look at Australia who had an atheist Prime Minister in a land filled with thriving religious diversity. The effect of secularism on religion is that it has helped us bring our religions into the modern world, and most of all, to promote tolerance and freedom. While the non-Muslim finger pointing community has to work on adhering to these secular values and upholding them with pride, the Muslim community has another task ahead. That is to promote the harmony between secularism and the beautiful parts of Islamic teachings. But to do that, we need to recognise that there are bad parts, for how else can you tackle an issue without first recognising it?

Would you be willing to open a discussion about this issue?