Moderate Muslims Urged to Speak Out

By JAN M. OLSEN
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 30, 2006; 9:11 PM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Moderate Muslims must take a stand against extremists, speakers said Saturday at a conference marking a year since the publication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons that led to violent demonstrations in Muslim countries.

The 12 drawings, first published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September, were reprinted in several European countries four months later, prompting angry mobs to attack Western embassies in countries including Lebanon, Iran and Indonesia.

The cartoons, which included a drawing of the prophet with a bomb-shaped turban, were seen as highly insulting by many followers of Islam, which is interpreted as barring even respectful images of Muhammad for fear of prompting idolatry.

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born journalist and commentator based in New York City, urged moderate Muslims to speak up against violent reactions like the massive protests and riots in late January and February.

Syrian-born psychologist Wafa Sultan said moderate Muslims have always struggled to make their voice heard even within their own religion, but that the cartoon uproar gave them a platform to present their ideas to the whole world.

"The cartoon crisis was the first step to break out of the box in which we have been sitting since the 7th century," Sultan said, referring to the time of Islam's founding. "We as Muslims must learn to listen to others' opinion."

The one-day conference held in Copenhagen was organized by Denmark's Democratic Muslims network, co-founded in February by Naser Khader, a Syrian-born member of the Danish Parliament. Some 200 people attended and it attracted speakers from around the world.

Earlier this week, the Deutsche Opera in Berlin decided to cancel a production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" with a scene featuring the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, after Berlin security officials said they could not guarantee the opera house's security in the event of violent protests.

The incident was the latest in Europe involving religious sensitivities. Pope Benedict XVI infuriated Muslims on Sept. 12 by quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who characterized some Islamic teachings as "evil and inhuman."

"The reaction to the cartoons, then to the Pope's remarks and the opera in Berlin, are making more and more young Muslims aware of a certain rigid strain of Islam that is pushing its way into the West," Canadian author Irshad Manji said.

"I call that kind of Islam 'fundamentalism.' It sanctifies everything that is related to the founding moment in the 7th century _ the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran," the author said.

A poll published Saturday showed a majority of Danes still support the decision to print the cartoons.


© 2006 The Associated Press