During the dark days of our Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote, "That these are the times, that try men's souls." As an American Muslim, I feel the sentiment of these words like a red-hot brand on my brain.
I have watched horrified as assassins have read out the words from my Holy Koran before slitting the throats of some poor innocent souls. To my non-comprehending eyes, I have seen mothers proudly support their sons' accomplishment of blowing up innocent people as they eat or travel. It shatters some part of me, to see my faith as an instrument for butchery.
It makes me hope and pray for some counter-movement within my faith which will push back all this darkness. And I know that it must start with what is most basic -- the common truth that binds all religions: "Do unto others, as you would have them do onto you." The Golden Rule.
But that is not what I am seeing taught in a great deal of the Muslim world today, and, unfortunately, in America it's just not much better.
Night after night, I see Muslim national organizations like the Council for American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, cry out over and over about anecdotal victimization while saying and doing absolutely nothing about the most vile hate-speak and actions toward Jews and Christians in the Muslim world. It is the most self-serving of outrage.
The question I ask myself in the darkness of my own night is, "How did my beautiful faith become so linked with such ugliness." To me, the answer is both deep and simple. A spiritual path must be only about the spiritual while a worldly path must be about this world. When the two get mixed together, it brings out the very worst in both.
Much of what passes today for religious thought and action is actually political. When I hear a sermon in a mosque about the horrors of Israeli occupation, I know that the political arena has taken over the spiritual one. When I see the actions of suicide bombers praised or excused by religious leaders, I know that this politicization is complete. But the current Muslim leadership in groups like CAIR and others want only to talk of victimization. So, it is now high time for a new movement by Muslims in America and the West.
We in the Muslim community need to develop a new paradigm for our organizations and think tanks which holds Muslims publicly accountable for the separation of the political from the spiritual. Gone should be the day where individuals and their organizations can hide behind the cloak of victimization as a smoke screen for what they really believe.
I do believe that religions have cycles that they go through. Christianity was once a highly intolerant faith. Jews were labeled as "Christ killers" and the colored peoples of the Third World were people whose native faith was like ragged clothes to be torn off their bodies.
Thank God those days are over. Now my faith community must do the same. It should be the true test of a Muslim, not so much how he treats a fellow Muslim but how he treats someone of another faith.
Time is not on our side and the volatile radical minority of Muslims could strike again at any time. But, while true change among Muslims may take generations, our history teaches us that once we start the ideological battle, nothing can counter the power of freedom, pluralism and the desire for human rights.
There are some small signs that my community is finally beginning to wake up to the cancer in its midst. We are learning something that was the central lesson of World War II -- that once aroused, evil never stays self-contained.
For many in my faith, it was all right to blow up innocent Israelis as they sat in their cafes and pizza parlors. Through some tortured act of logic, these suicide bombings were seen as some sort of legitimate religion-sanctioned acts. (All the while, notice how few Muslim organizations like CAIR will denounce Hamas by name). But, as evil always does, it migrates, and soon radical Muslims were blowing up little children in Russia, commuters in Spain and worshippers in one of Iraq's holiest mosques.
Maybe our first true wake-up call was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's homicide attack on the wedding party in Jordan. Because now, the evil unleashed on the occupying Jews had landed on the doorstep of Muslims as they partook in a joyous wedding day.
That is the lesson that we in the Muslim community are now learning. Do evil to anyone and eventually it will boomerang on you. Perhaps, that's a good place to start. Let the barometer of our faith be how we treat our Jewish friends, because in the end, that is how we will eventually treat ourselves.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. A former Navy lieutenant commander, he currently is an internist in private practice in Phoenix.