Who Are Moderate Muslims? is a chapter from the book American Muslim Agenda available at Amazon and Kindle
Every individual—regardless of their race, religion, nationality, affiliation, or gender—falls into three broad categories: conservative, moderate, and progressive.
Conservatives are those who hang on to their religious, social, and cultural values firmly and have difficulty in dealing with any advancement from that position. They are the backbone of society and hold things together. If it were not for them, chaos after chaos will have to be dealt with.
Progressives, on the other hand, are the engines for progress. They want to explore and get out of the caves and see the universe. They accommodate an individual’s linear movements out of the circle, and their comfort zone is much bigger and fills planet Earth. All the progress we have made in society, culture, religion, and politics is because of their drive.
Moderates live in the center of the spectrum. They are usually the spectators of the two extremes on the left and the right. They are the acceptors of change. They are the silent majority.
Conservatives are always afraid of others; a change is an anathema to them. They are insecure and will adopt any means from brutal force to conniving to feel their false sense of security (John Bolton, Dick Cheney, George Bush, and others). The ultraconservatives even refuse to see another point of view.
The ultraprogressives are comfortable experimenting with the changes and opening the new doors and stretching beyond their capacity. They are way too open to the conservatives.
Moderates get along with all. they see both points of view, and finally, they vote which way to go—the path laid out by the conservatives or the progressives. A majority of the population is moderate, even the center-leaning conservatives and progressives are more comfortable with moderation. Change is welcomed but in linear form (Lincoln, Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Obama).
Moderation in Religion
The best way to understand moderation in religion is to study Buddha, the lead proponent of temperance. He was a prince and saw the luxuries life had to offer him, but he had difficulty in understanding death, suffering, poverty, and diseases. So he gave up everything and went to live on the streets, living off alms and begging for food. Once he understood (also known as nirvana or enlightenment) the purpose of life between the two extremes, he went on sharing his wisdom for people to adopt moderation to live a happier life—a life with least amount of conflicts.
Nine hundred years later, Muhammad was facing the same crisis—the division, discord, poverty, and suffering of people around him. So what did he do? He went to the cave each time and reflected on life, and like Buddha, he came to the same conclusions and recommended moderation in every aspect of life.
There is a story about a man who believed in worshipping God all day long. When the Prophet’s associates mentioned about him, he was more at the mosque than at home with his wife. The Prophet responded, “God does not want his prayers all day long, but just the prescribed prayers are enough. The man needs to be fair and only to his wife and spend time with her, like taking her to movies.” Just kidding.
Islam preaches moderation in every aspect of life. The prophet says you cannot go wrong following the usual path.
Now let me take a moment to reflect the attitudes of my Muslim friends, and you determine what it is. Whenever, I have listed my mentors as Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK, Pope Francis, Obama, and others; some of them had a problem with it. A few protested that I should not list Gandhi and Muhammad in the same line. They forget the teachings of the Quran that no one is superior to the other. All good men are on par; we may learn more from one than the other, but in the eyes of God, all are equal, and it is a moderate view (see section “Islamic Value No. 9: Equality and Gender Equality”).
Who Is a Moderate Muslim?
Our friends on the right—particularly among Jews, Christians, and Hindus—believe that a moderate Muslim is someone who has an ax to grind and who can join them in bashing Islam. This narrative suits them, but they are not dealing with moderate Muslims; they are dealing with the left whose voice does not reach out to the moderate majority but the left. The moderate Muslims merely laugh off at the extremism displayed by the right-leaning Jews, Christians, and Hindus. The same is good the other way around.
Moderate Muslims are like average Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Baha’is, Jains, or others. Getting along with everyone, they have no problem with anyone, and they live their life and let others live theirs. Their focus is in taking care of themselves, their family, friends, and community. By nature, they are spectators; they watch the extremists fight with one another.
Moderate Muslims do not fall for temptations. The progressives do, and so are the conservatives. I fully understand them when I was on the show Hannity for about seven years. Wherever and whichever lion’s den I walk into, temptations lie in my path to bash Islam and go up on the fame ladder. It was easy to fall into the trap and become like Zuhdi Jasser, Tarek Fatah, Asra Nomani, or Raheel Raza. I am a moderate and will not be tempted by the left or the right; as a stable moderate, I would instead pull them to the center of the universe.
Moderate Muslims have no qualms in wishing you a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Diwali, or whatever festival you celebrate. The same is right about the moderate Hindus, Christians, Jews, and others.
I teach the beautiful religious greetings of all religions and what they mean. It is breaking the ice among strangers, connecting and developing possible friendship. Twice, I was taken aback. In one of the gatherings, I mistook a man and greeted him with a Muslim greeting. He actively resisted and retorted, “I am not a Muslim.” A kid said “Happy Hanukkah” to another one in a subway in New York. He got beat up for that after the remark “I am not a Jew.” You will find these in all faiths. How would moderates respond? They see that the other person is wishing them well and positively responds back either with what they know or in the same religious tone.
The far-right conservatives among us scream out loud that Hinduism is in danger, Christianity is in danger, Islam is in danger, or Israel (Jews) is in danger. Does God want these salesmen to defend his religion? Is God’s religion so weak and defenseless? They are not protecting the faiths; they are trying to get you to open your checkbook. Read their articles be it Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, or others. They will frighten the crap out of a constipated man and then ask for donation.
The moderates try to mitigate conflicts, but they don’t stir up the base emotions for one to open the checkbook. I am sure, most of the peace organizations like ours, the Center for Pluralism, face the same situation. Who wants to pay for good things? We are conditioned to have an enemy, and whoever implants that in our mind, we support him or her.
The moderates among us don’t see the danger. We don’t need these conservative men to escalate and aggravate the conflict. We instead see them mitigate the conflicts and nurture goodwill.
Moderate Muslims will seldom say you will go to hell.
Moderate Muslims (or any moderate for that matter) don’t bring religion between you and them. Social life is comfortable with them; they mix and mingle. They will go to a bar with you, and while you drink alcohol, they will quietly drink water or soda and not make a production out of their religion.
I was in Mexico with Mary Ann Thompson’s organization Memnosyne Foundation for the grand opening of the medicine garden for the Maya Indians. The group stayed in an all-paid vacation resort. One evening, we want to the bar. They served unlimited free drinks. Mary Ann and I were the only two nondrinkers. She had a virgin margarita; so did I (nonalcoholic). We kept ordering, and everybody had a ball. We have a choice in life. I will not compromise friendships for a drink. There was no need for me to stay and sulk in the room while they were having fun. A moderate Muslim is a part of every aspect of society.
Moderate Muslims’ language is sensitive. They rarely believe that there is an enemy out there to get them. They see people as different from them.
Moderate Muslims are mainstream Muslims; they have no barriers between them and God’s creation. They are free from prejudice toward others.
Moderates of all faiths, including Muslims, will listen but will not produce and disseminate conspiracy theories.
If you invite them for dinner, they quietly eat what suits them, and you don’t have to be stressed out about what to cook for them. They appreciate it if you are conscious that Muslims don’t eat pork products.
Moderates don’t excite people. Their focus is on finding solutions and getting along. They don’t bash anyone.
Moderate Muslims quietly practice their faiths; take care of their children, family, education, neighbors, crime, and retirement. They also volunteer at civic organizations that serve all humanity.
They have an inherent sense of equality concerning men and women. Misogyny is not a part of them.
Moderate Muslims do not flaunt their religion at every opportunity.
They are not hell-bent on converting or missionizing others. They see other paths as equally valid. They will not engage in the upmanship battles either.
Moderate Muslim interactions would usually be personal. They are not enthused in selling their religion. They do not see any problem with others’ beliefs.
Almost all Moderate Muslims happily quote and believe in the following verses. They are the basis of free speech, free will, respect for the otherness of others, and inclusiveness—also known as pluralism:Unto you, your moral law, and unto me, mine. (Asad, Quran 109:6)
To you be your Way and to me mine. (Yusuf Ali, Quran 109:6)
Unto you your religion, and unto me my faith. (Pickthall, Quran 109:6)
You have your religion, and I have mine. (Wahidudin, Quran 109:6)
You have your own belief, and I have mine. (Safi Kaskas, Quran 109:6)
Note: The right-wing Muslims have gotten the uneasy interpretation. Please check the section “Islamic Value No. 12: Civil Dialogue.”
THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the idea of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing. (Muhammad Asad, Quran 2:256)
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (Yusuf Ali, Quran 2:256)
There should be no compulsion in religion. Normal behavior stands out clearly from error; so, anyone who rejects the Arrogant ones and believes in God has grasped the Firmest Handle which will never break. God is Alert, Aware. (T. B. Irving, Quran 2:256)
O, men! Behold, we have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware. (Muhammad Asad, Quran 49:13)
O mankind! We created you from a single [pair] of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other [not that ye may despise each other]. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is [he who is] the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted [with all things]. (Yusuf Ali, Quran 49:13)
People, we created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the one who is most mindful of God. God is All-knowing and All-Aware. (Safi Kaskas, Quran 49:13)
As most moderate white, black, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Native Americans, pagans, Wicca, or Zoroastrian parents do, moderate Muslims will neither compel their children to observe religion nor throw fits if their kids marry outside their faiths. Personalizing faith is an American value.
Moderate Muslims are reasonably well integrated, and they don’t feel threatened that their religion is in danger.
The process of telling the American Muslim story has begun. It started with Sean Hannity of Fox News. He was the first one to bring a moderate mainstream Muslim on his show. Before that, Muslims were usually represented by bearded men wearing religious costumes. Let me clarify—the beard and hijab are not the determinants of one’s moderation or religiosity. They are cultural in nature and are a personal choice.
Gone are the days when you were not Muslim enough to speak about Islam if you did not wear the beard or hijab, did not throw in a ton of Arabic phrases, and did not wear some exotic sort of body-and-head covering associated with Islam.
Islam is not about ruling others or compelling others to believe against their will. The Quran is clear on that. No one bears the burdens of others, and no one is responsible for others’ actions. What Islam is, is free to believe as you will and the freedom to choose between right and wrong. And it is very much about taking responsibility for one’s words and actions.
These characteristics accurately describe the vast majority of mainstream American Muslims. They quietly practice their faith and don’t feel the need to make a show of their religion.
Islam is nothing but common sense, and moderate Muslims represent that.