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An Islamic Reformation

An Islamic Reformation

I realized that I had grown up behind a wall of fear, media lies and deception that separated us Muslims from the rest of humanity.


Born and raised a Muslim, I grew up in Gaza and Cairo at a time when Gamal Abdel Nasser committed Egypt to unifying the Arab world and destroying Israel.

Egypt mobilized the Arabs of Gaza and encouraged the fedayeen to make cross-border attacks into Israel.

My father, a high-ranking Egyptian officer, was killed as a result of one of these operations in Gaza.

After my father's death attention was lavished on our family -- for a few weeks. However, widows of shahids, like my poor mother, were left holding the bag alone in a culture that respects only families headed by men.

In Gaza elementary schools we learned hatred of Jews, vengeance and retaliation. Peace with Israel was never mentioned as an option. I was told not to take candy from strangers since it could be a Jew trying to poison me.

I lived in the Arab world until the age of 30, witnessing three major wars and the ever-growing influence of fundamentalist Islam. Freedom of speech was suppressed.

Citizens developed a degree of comfort in being ruled by dictators. Their statues and pictures were everywhere; songs praised them on every radio station.

I witnessed the oppression of women, honor killings of girls, female genital mutilation, and polygamy, with its devastating effects on family dynamics.

I was happy, finally, to leave all this behind and move to America in 1978. Suddenly I enjoyed freedom of religion and equality between classes and races.

My first job was given to me by a Jewish businessman. I witnessed Christians and Jews practicing their faith peacefully. Among my Jewish and Christian friends I heard the words love, compassion, forgiveness and shalom.

Sincerely they asked: What can we do to have peace with Arabs?

I felt betrayed by my culture of origin for advocating violence or talking about peace only in the presence of Westerners.

I realized that I had grown up behind a wall of fear, media lies and deception that separated us from the rest of humanity. But I did not yet dare verbalize these thoughts.

When I visited Egypt in 2001 the situation there had become even more difficult. Pollution, hazardous materials and garbage were to be found along the banks of the Nile. I witnessed extreme poverty, unemployment, high inflation, widespread corruption and mismanagement.

We returned to the US on September 10, 2001. Next morning, the whole world changed.

The very instant I saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers I knew that jihad had come to America.

I knew -- the very instant I saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers -- that jihad had come to America. To my horror, the country that had given me shelter, protection and hope was under a monstrous attack from my own culture of origin.

I immediately telephoned a number of Muslim friends. Without exception, they made excuses for terrorism, denied the responsibility of Muslim culture, and concluded that 9/11 was an Israeli conspiracy.

These were not radical fundamentalists but moderate, educated and well-traveled Muslims.

I began to reflect on the society in which I had grown up.

Those who do not practice Islam fervently enough become the target of radicals. The result is domestic turmoil, political assassinations, fatwas, and terror.

Arab governments constantly struggle to maintain internal stability. An external non-Muslim enemy is essential to divert popular attention.

I remember, as a young woman, visiting a Christian friend in Cairo during Friday prayers. We both heard the attacks on Christians and Jews from the loudspeakers outside the mosque: "May God destroy the infidels and the Jews, the enemies of God. We are not to befriend them or make treaties with them."

We also heard worshipers responding, "Amen."

My friend looked scared, and I was ashamed. That was when I first realized something was very wrong in the way my religion was taught and practiced.

It is these preachers who are responsible for turning vulnerable young men into terrorists. No government is "Muslim enough" for them. In this dynamic, only tyrannical regimes can survive.

Yet reforming how Islam is taught is not going to be easy, especially because the change must come from within. So far, Muslims do not seem genuinely interested in reformation.

A huge, well-funded PR campaign, in operation since 9/11, is concerned with the image and reputation of Islam. But it does not confront the fundamental need for an Islamic Reformation.

After 9/11, I had to break my silence. A few other Arabs and Muslims also found the strength, commitment and honesty in their hearts to speak out - to say America and Israel were not the enemy.

I have been privileged to meet with many people across America. I have shared tears and embraces with many women and young students.

Americans, simply puzzled by Muslim culture, often ask me: "Why are Muslims not outraged over 9/11? Why are moderate Muslims not speaking out?"

With time I began receiving e-mails from Muslims who agreed with me. They wanted to live in peace with Israel, but were afraid to speak out.

I realized there was a need for a forum to exchange ideas and speak freely, either anonymously or openly. And so I founded the Web site

Recently a Palestinian woman, now living in the US, who shares my views sent an e-mail, which I posted on the site. Out of habit I protected her by signing it "Anonymous."

She wrote back: "No, put my name on it. My full name."

It is time for Arabs to set ourselves free from the taboo against self-criticism. A reformation movement within the Muslim world is desperately needed. There is plenty of virtue and goodness in Islam that needs to be pushed to the forefront.

It is the duty of good Muslims to bring out the compassion and tolerance in Islam, not only verbally but also through action.

We need a Middle East culture that reflects the diversity of its people and respects equal rights for all - Jews, Christians and Muslims.

One goal should be to welcome the people of Israel as neighbors and invite them to flourish with us in an atmosphere of coexistence and peace.

I am cautiously optimistic that the good side of human nature will prevail.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.


December 25, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) Mr. Cohen, June 9, 2016 5:46 PM

(15) Sally, May 22, 2011 4:15 PM

i'm scared

this is a frightening article which confirms what we know in our hearts, but keep denying in the hope for peace. it confirms, that if we continue to give land to palestinians and if G'd forbid, they are given a state in september, which it seems they"ll get it, all Israel will receive is more bloodshed and wars. Now that our last friend, the U.S, is feeding us to the wolves, what is to become of us? now that the whole arab world is becoming extremist, they'll unite forces with the "new palestinian state" in attacking Israel. more and more, the end of days seems near. I'm super petrified!!

(14) Jeffrey Pomykala, March 7, 2005 12:00 AM


I beg to differ with Joe Whitehead's earlier comment and his insinuation that a reform of Islam cannot happen while there are Koranic passages such as Sura 8& 9 as well as many additional, man-made Hadiths that are used by men to justify murder and worse.

At one time in history, there were other religions that espoused stoning of adulterers, massacring entire villages and other events that in this day and age could be called "atrocities". And if these other religions could grow up from the "ways of the times" and stop practices that may have been necessary at the time ("Turn the other cheek" in 1000 b.c?? What? you want your civilization to be destroyed??) then the religion of Islam can do the same. We (per Judaism and Christianity) no longer stone our woman for adultery. It is no longer necessary for survival of the species/clan as it was for another time. Luckily, the vast majority of our Rabbi's, Priest's and Pastor's don't actively espouse just those particular types of passages within our own "scriptures". Usually what they try to do is see the entire balance of what the scriptures say...including those about truly loving ones enemies. And therein lies a major difference.

So how can a reformation within Islam come about?? The same way the Christian reformation came knowledge. An informed and literate people is the way to change.

Surprisingly, this is best accomplished in a Democratic environment of leaders accountable to the people with a free press.

It's rather interesting (in a "there is no such thing as coincidence" sort of way) that Christianity had a 600 year head start on Islam....and roughly 600 years ago, Christianity had it's "reformation".

Maybe now it's time for a real "Islamic reformation" - to throw off the shackles of men and reach for G-d without ANY read and understand G-d's word for YOURSELF and build a closer relationship with the Creator....without any middle-man.

I believe (and this may be a stretch for some) that there is room in God's kingdom for ALL his children. That the sons of Abraham can all sit at the table of mankind and share...instead of killing each other over Isaac's G-d given birthright.
May there be True peace in Israel, soon.

(13) Kirby, January 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Goodness of human nature?

What a compelling story! I'm deeply moved by the courage and conviction of the writer and would gladly stand beside them. Yet I hold no hope in the
"good side of human nature". Humanity is single in this world for our ability to be inhumane. Only God is good and if Jews, Muslims and Christians worship the same God then we should pray for His goodness; seek earnestly for His peace and His will.
We three seem to be striving to please the same God by taking different paths. Let each of us be convinced that the path he takes is the will of our creator.That our worship is pleasing to Him. That His peace will reign in our world, now and forever.
Let us consol those who have lost loved ones and not condemn. Let us embrace each other for who we are, a unique creation. Let us also have a keen sense of justice, that we may protect the innocent.
May God be our protection in these troubled times.

(12) Dr. Jose Nigrin, January 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Newer generations

It is a well known fact, that when Moses liberated the jews from bondage, they had to live wandering for 40 years, in the Sinai Desert, before entering the new promise land. Why was this? Because their generation was full of Egyptian way of living, in virtues and vices. They had to disappear and leave to the new generations to come, start a different way of life, without slavery, discrimination and idolatry. The same happens with the Muslim generations, used to the Koran and its laws, and hate, for other ways of thinking , like the christian-judeo legacy.To change this will take, a long time to be accomplished: Changing the Muslim mind, will take a complete turn around, and not being considered infidels, to their ancestry. The Koran was a response, to the bible expulsion of first born Ismael Haggar's son, and favoring its half brother Isaac, Sara's son. Since then, there a rift between the jewish supremacy, against the lesser Ismaelis. So Islam was formed, as an opposed attitude to this Judeo Christian challenge.

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