Osama bin Laden and his network of militants have declared that the United States and its Western allies are engaged in a war against Islam, using that as a justification for attacks such as the ones on London on 7 July. It is a war, they say, that the United States and Europe declared decades ago in sending troops to Muslim lands and in cementing its "special relationship" with Israel.
But now another cry is resounding throughout the Islamic world. Muslim moderates are speaking out with increasing anger against extremists, who they say have gone beyond the bounds of Islam's teachings to murder women, children -- and even fellow Muslims. Faithful Muslims are likely among those killed and injured in the London attacks, and the Muslim community may face increasing hostility in Europe as a result of terror committed in the name of Islam.
But at times, Muslim moderates, including many in the West, have seemed ambivalent about suicide bombers and the extremists' fight against the West. They were caught between their own anger at the plight of Palestinians and Iraqis and what they knew to be the militants' distortion of the teachings of Islam.
But, it seems the militants have gone too far -- and there are signs that many moderate Muslims are stepping up more boldly to defend their faith. Growing Divisions
Sheikh Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Shanqiti -- an Islamic scholar who writes for Islam Online -- is among a growing chorus of authorities who have gone on the record to distance themselves, and their religion, from those who attack innocents.
"First of all, we would like to stress that Islam forbids targeting non-combatants or taking them as hostages or inflicting any kind of harm on them," he wrote in response to a question from a reader of Islam Online. "One of the rules of conduct of jihad in Islam that Muhammad stressed is, do not kill a woman, a child, an old man -- or a monk in his monastery."
Islam also sets harsh penalties for those who kill fellow believers. In his book "Islamic Awakening Between Rejection And Extremism," the renowned Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusif al-Qaradawi quoted a well-known hadith, or reported saying of the prophet Muhammad: "When two Muslims draw weapons against each other, they are at the brink of hell. If one of them kills the other, they both enter it together."
That is why devout Muslims throughout the world have been horrified by the beheadings in Iraq and the murder of children in Beslan. Americans may have hung their heads in shame at the scandal of Abu Ghuryab, but Muslims moderates also have been horrified at the atrocities that militants have committed in the name of Islam.
"Extremism is the enemy of Islam," Grand Imam Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi of the prestigious Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo declared at a conference of Islamic scholars in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2004.
He and other eminent scholars at the gathering sounded an alarm heard throughout the Muslim world -- bin Laden and other militants are not only at war with the West, but at war against the true Islam.
This divide between moderate and radical Islamists has been steadily deepening since the first mother suicide bomber went to her death in the West Bank.
After Reem Rayishi orphaned her children by blowing herself up at an Israeli checkpoint, Dr. Hasan May al-Nurani -- a prominent Palestinian who is also candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority -- wrote an article published on 14 January 2004, on the Dunya al-Watan website (http://www.alwatanvoice.com) entitled "Hamas, Apologize to the Children!"
"Hamas, whose sheikh professes that the Erez operation carried out by an infant's mother marks a significant evolution in the opposition to occupation, made a grave mistake. Have you apologized to the infant for letting its mother leave it for ever?" al-Nurani wrote.
He was referring to the late Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, who was killed in an Israeli attack in March 2004.
And Ziyad Abu al-Hija, a Palestinian intellectual, wrote in Fatah's "Gaza Journal": "A 22-year-old mother of two children, one an infant boy and the other a girl, carried out a mission of self-sacrifice. Who issued a fatwa [religious ruling] taking an infant's mother away from him? Who decided to add two more orphans to the list of Palestine's orphans?"
"Who can believe that a father or a mother rejoices at the martyrdom of their child? Oh religious scholars, raise your voices! Oh intellectual writers, raise your voices! There can be no more silence."
"On the basis of what Koran verses and what hadiths [traditional Islamic writings] does a young mother leave her true place of jihad [holy war], which is raising the two children, one of whom still needs her milk."
"The religious scholars of Islam, and particularly the religious scholars in Palestine, must make their point; they must clarify to all the position of Islam regarding operations of self-sacrifice, and the most recent operation in particular."
"Who can believe that a father or a mother rejoices at the martyrdom of their child? Oh religious scholars, raise your voices! Oh intellectual writers, raise your voices! There can be no more silence." Reform From Within
Many Islamic scholars indeed are starting to raise their voices. Whether prompted by the calls of lay people such as Dr. al-Hija, or by their own revulsion at the misuse of their religion, they are clarifying the religion's teachings and condemning extremists, despite the risk to their own lives.
After the Beslan tragedy, the Russian fatwa council even went so far as to declare the extremists who seized the school apostates, declaring that taking hostages in the school was "a terrorist act that Islam totally refuses and forbids."
The council went on to state that "these are people without faith. They are not Muslims."
Many moderate Muslims now realize that the forces defaming Islam can only be stopped by those who know its teachings and are brave enough to defend them -- even with the threat that they will be martyred for the cause.
It is now clear to many on the outside, as well as inside, that there is a war being waged within Islam -- and the West has a large stake in who emerges victorious.See also:
Europe Proving To Be Growing Base For Al-Qaeda
Britain Seen As Important Link In Iraqi Jihadist Networks