With all the terrible actions of Islamist extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria, there’s a lot of concern and worry about Islam-inspired terrorism today — in the Muslim world.
Surprised? It turns out that many Muslims are just as concerned about terrorism being done in the name of their religion as Christians. That’s the finding of a Pew Research Center survey of people in 14 countries with large Muslim populations.
The survey, which polled 14,000 Muslims in April and May, asked respondents what they thought of groups like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas.
It found almost universal negative opinions for all of the groups, including al-Qaeda, which was viewed negatively by strong majorities in all 14 countries.
“As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations,” Pew stated. “In most Middle Eastern countries, concern about extremism has increased in the past year.”
In Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, 92 percent of those interviewed said they were worried about Islamic extremism. Concern has also risen in Jordan and Turkey, and in Pakistan, where 66 percent are concerned about the same thing.
The survey was conducted before the rise of the radical terrorist group ISIS and before the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At that time, 63 percent of people living in Gaza had a negative opinion of Hamas, up from 54 percent in 2013.
Canadian Muslim leader Sheema Khan isn’t surprised by the survey results. Like many other Muslims in Canada, she is horrified by extremism conducted in the name of her religion.
When asked about extremist groups like ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which are committing acts of horrific violence in Iraq, she is adamant that they don’t represent what she knows about Islam.
“I don’t recognize my faith in anything they are saying,” she says.
As a Canadian, she doesn’t want that, or any other Islamic terrorist group, to “define us” as an Islamic community in Canada.
Like the rest of us, Khan feels just as helpless as other Canadians to do anything about the situation in Iraq. What she can do is help shape what it means to be a Muslim in Canada.
In her case, this means creating a peaceful and constructive Islam, one that is “wholly Canadian” and integrated in Canadian society — an Islam that finds Muslims working with other Canadians to address issues such as the environment, poverty and injustice.
“My life and my family are here,” she says. Canada is “my country.”
During Ramadan, a Muslim friend told me she prayed every day that “the world will gain peace and harmony.”
With so much religiously supported or inspired violence and conflict in so many parts of the world today, I think we can all say “amen” to that.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.