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Muslims share fears of extremism

Pew survey shows Islam's adherents react as negatively to terror groups as folks from other faiths

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Do you ever wonder what Muslims around the world think of terrorist groups like al-Qaida and Boko Haram? It turns out that most are just as worried about those groups as everyone else.

That's the finding of a new 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 al-Qaida, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas. It found almost universal negative opinions for all of the groups. Al-Qaida, one of the most notorious of the terrorist groups, 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, adding that "in most Middle Eastern countries, concern about extremism has increased in the past year."

In Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, 92 per cent of those interviewed said they were worried about Islamic extremism. Concern has also risen in Jordan and Turkey, and in Pakistan, where 66 per cent are concerned about the same thing.

The survey was conducted before the radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, and before the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At that time, 63 per cent of people living in Gaza had a negative opinion of Hamas, an increase from 54 per cent in 2013.

Canadian Muslim leader Sheema Khan, a longtime columnist for the Globe and Mail, isn't surprised by the survey.

Like many other Muslims in Canada, she is "horrified" by extremism conducted in the name of her religion.

When asked about extremist groups like ISIL, which are committing acts of horrific violence against in Iraq, she is adamant they don't represent what she knows about Islam.

"I don't recognize my faith in anything they are saying," she says.

She recognizes the Islamic ideas and words they use, she says, noting they are the same ones she uses. "But I don't see anything familiar in them," she says.

As a Canadian, she doesn't want that group -- which has called on all Muslims to pledge allegiance to its rule -- to "define us" as an Islamic community in Canada.

What worries her is that non-Muslims in Canada might see what ISIL and other extremists are doing and saying, and then think this represents all Muslims. Muslims, she states, are "not marching to the same drummer."

Like the rest of us, Khan feels "just as helpless" as other Canadians to do anything about the situation.

What she is pledging to do is to help shape what it means to be a Muslim in Canada. In this case, it 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 is here," she says. Canada is "my country."

Closer to home, local Muslim community leader Shahina Siddiqui is also was repelled by the violence in Iraq.

Siddiqui's prayer during Ramadan, which ended in mid-July, was that "the evil doers" of ISIL and other Islamic terrorist groups "will be defeated and peace and harmony will once again prevail" in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and wherever else there is violence and unrest in the name of her religion.

She also prayed for peace "in other parts of the world, and that the world will gain peace and social harmony."

With so much religiously supported or inspired violence and conflict in so many parts of the world today, we can all say "amen" to that.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 D15

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