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When Muslims march for peace

Shift in thought

With Islamic State instigating more attacks on the West, Muslim groups in Germany hope a march for peace will show that such terrorism is not part of Islam.

Seyran Ates, right, founder of a new mosque in Berlin, Germany, preaches June 16. The liberal mosque, call Ibn-Rushd-Goethe, is the first one in Germany where men and women can pray together, homosexuals are welcome, and Muslims of all sects can leave their inner-religious conflicts behind.
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Several Muslim groups in Germany hope to rally tens of thousands on June 17 in a march with a simple message: Acts of terror carried out in the name of Islam are not Islamic. This very public support for peace represents a new step for Muslims in the West beyond statements that denounce terrorism. And it is also a necessary one. The Islamic State has called for more attacks in Europe as well as the United States – with the goal of driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Organizers of the march say they want to show that Muslims have “no spiritual proximity” to terrorist groups. They also hope a protest against violent extremism will help them protect their faith in God and affirm their belief in peaceful coexistence with others. 

The march has another purpose, says organizer Lamya Kaddor, a teacher born in Germany to Syrian parents. It is to lessen the fear of Islam by nonMuslims. After the recent terrorists attacks in Europe, and with Germany trying to absorb nearly 1 million refugees from the Middle East, democracy is under threat from the rise of anti-Islamic political parties.

Britain, too, faces a rising fear of Islam. After the attacks on London Bridge and in Manchester, England, Prime Minister Theresa May said there is “far too much tolerance” of extremism in Britain. She asked the whole of society to come together to take on extremism, adding, “we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.”

Like those of any faith, Muslims are diverse in their practices and beliefs. Yet with the rising threat from Islamic State and other groups, they are becoming more united in making clear to the world the purpose of Islam. Many Muslims hold prayer vigils with other faiths after an attack. Or they issue statements of condemnation. But a public march like the one in Germany is a new way to enlist Islam as a force for peace.