Inviting Muslims to be heard

Many groups have a right to speak on Islamic issues. Even radical voices should be included in the conversation.

THE Australian government faces a difficult situation. Who should it consult on issues of Muslim integration and radicalism? Who represents Islam? Is it the overseas-trained imams who have a firm grip on classical Islamic jurisprudence? Is it the grassroots community leaders who may not have the training of the imams, but have their finger on the pulse of their communities? Is it the firebrand activists convinced that the world is mobilised against Islam in an epic battle of good versus evil? Or is it the academics who have the same answer for every question: ''Let's put that in context?''

In reality, the most appropriate answer is: all the above. They all have a claim to Islam. Unlike the Christian tradition, there is no religious hierarchy in Islam, no clerical intermediaries to carry the word of God to their flock. Of course, a hierarchy of Islamic scholars has emerged over centuries. But that has more to do with the way people organise their social relations, than Islam. The principle that any individual has direct access to God is cherished by Muslims. It is this principle that has allowed the proliferation of radical interpretations obsessed with jihad.
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Unfortunately, jihadis make an exclusive claim on Islam. Devotees of radical Islam dismiss traditional Muslim leadership, and all Islamic scholars who differ from their perspective, as missing the point or as heretical. This explains the intensity of their feelings. Opposing the radical jihadi interpretation of Islam is seen as opposing the word of God.

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