Reform Islam, and find a shared road to truth

In the wake of Sept. 11, many ask whether Islam condones the killing of civilians. Islam forbids it. In fact, Islam forbids the taking of one's own life, and rules that killing one person is equivalent to killing humanity.

The events of Sept. 11 have also raised deeper questions. Americans ask why the West is hated, and what wrongs they could repair to create greater sympathy between Muslims and the West. These are important questions. However, as Muslims, we also bear the scourge of Sept. 11, and must ask why some resort to extreme violence in the name of Islam.

True Islam encourages peace and stands for justice. But Islamic states have fallen short of achieving these goals. Moreover, the Koran invites Muslims to reinterpret Islam according to their time. While many Muslim leaders have been quick to use Islam as a tool to confront what they see as an assault from Western values, few have considered the need for reform within their faith - reform that should be carried out on all fronts to achieve greater freedom, justice, democracy, and peace for the Muslim world.

To achieve reform, Islamic states need strong civil societies to promote progressive thinking and enhance tolerance for diverse opinions. Without such deep reform, Islamic countries will remain breeding grounds for religious fanaticism at the expense of the welfare of their own people, and the safety and security of citizens around the world.

Banafsheh Keynoush Tehran, Iran

I am a French Muslim studying in America, and since Sept. 11, I have discovered that most Americans know little about this religion. Almost the only information about this culture comes through extremists and terrorists' acts or interviews. One problem Muslims encounter in communicating our beliefs is a lack of central leaders, a figure like the pope for the Catholics - so that anyone can seem to represent Islam. It seems that today's only Islamic "leaders" are Iran, Iraq, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden. But I don't see myself in their speech or acts, and I don't give them the authority to talk for me. Our spiritual guide is the Koran, and one is free to reinterpret it. The Koran is not a story, and seems to contradict itself, allowing anyone to find reason for any behavior.

The last point that concerns me is the fact that Islamic principles are often mixed with Arabic traditions, which have nothing to do with religion. My parents taught me those principles, but never told me that a woman must wear an "Islamic" scarf, or cannot study or work. In Islam, freedom and equality are very important - even if the practices of many Muslims and Muslim nations contradict these principles.

Jamal Bouali New York

I am a male Palestinian Muslim. I grew up in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. I came to this country because of the war in Lebanon; I ended up falling in love with it, and have been here for 25 years. I am married to a wonderful Jewish woman. Being married to a woman whose people are at war with mine is a healing process for me, for her, and, I am sure, for many around us, because it breaks the molds that some hold dear.

People are asking me questions about the Muslim religion. As a Muslim and an Arab, I have learned to respect human life - both others' and my own. Human life is not mine to take away; suicide is against everything I learned growing up.

We must pass on to our children messages of love and tolerance. Many people live to have their whole world rotate around hate. How sad that is. It should be obvious to all of us when we are hating, loving, or tolerating others - but it is not. I have been angry and I have been peaceful, and I like being peaceful much better.

Kayed Khalil Framingham, Mass.

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