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Author: Only Muslims Dedicated to Islam Can Defeat Extremism

(Washington, DC--November 1, 2004) The escalation of violence by Islamic extremists over the past year has mobilized moderate Muslims to speak out against Islamic terrorists, an expert on suicide bombers told an RFE/RL audience last week.

Joyce M. Davis, author of "Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in the Middle East," and an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL, said that the terrorists perpetrating violence in the name of Islam are at "war with Islam" itself, and that Muslims who believe in the peaceful tenets of their faith are the ones "who will have to defeat them." Davis said that she sees evidence that these voices of moderate Islam are now speaking up in defense their faith, "even at the risk of themselves becoming targets, which is a real threat."

Davis said that, while many Islamists consider the United States and the western world as the enemy of Islam, her research -- particularly interviews with scholars in the Middle East -- refutes this conclusion and supports the view that "extremists who act against the religion's teachings are actually its true enemies." While acknowledging the history of martyrdom and its significance in the expansion of Islam, Davis said the violent actions taken by terrorists in the name of God are not supported by Islam and its religious texts.

According to Davis, many of Islam's most prominent scholars have concluded that the September 11 attacks and similar attacks on civilians are not justified by Islam's teachings. For instance, Abdulaziz bin Abdallah al Sheik, the leading religious authority in Saudi Arabia, declared in April 2001, "Any act of self killing or suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam. The one who blows himself up in the midst of the enemies is also performing an act contrary to Islamic teachings." More recently, Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo -- considered the highest authority in Sunni Islam -- told a conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in July 2003 that extremist Islamic groups had appropriated Islam and its notion of jihad, or holy struggle, for their own ends, asserting that "Extremism is the enemy of Islam."

Davis argues that the only way the war against terror can be won is by giving a voice to moderate Muslims, just as RFE/RL is doing in its daily broadcasts. She encouraged more moderates to reclaim their religion from the extremists whom they feel are "the greatest threat to the survival of Islam in the modern world." At the same time, Davis suggests the United States do more to engage the moderates and their defense of the true nature of Islam, which celebrates world peace. She noted this is not easy, because of the risk that moderates themselves will be targeted for attacks. To hear archived audio for this and other RFE/RL briefings and events, please visit our website at