Skip to main content

David Cameron called on Muslims in Britain last week to help fight extremism. "We need to challenge [extremists] and need the help of Muslim scholars to help defeat them, and Muslim communities and scholars to say they're wrong," the British Prime Minister said, adding that extremists misinterpret Islam, which he said is "a religion of peace."

Mr. Cameron follows the path of French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama in reaching out to the wider Muslim community as partners in the fight against extremism (in stark contrast to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's approach).

While most British Muslim leaders welcomed the Cameron initiative, Imam Qari Asim from Leeds said: "Muslims feel, in a way, victims in all of this, because [the Islamic State has] hijacked our faith."

Yet another example of a Muslim leader wallowing in victimhood, lamenting the helplessness of Muslims in the face of modern challenges.

I couldn't help but compare his response with weight-loss advice from fitness guru Jillian Michaels. Her first step: "Reclaim power over your own life. Take an honest look at your current situation and own it. Acknowledge the choices you've made that haven't served you and start making choices that do."

I prefer her approach as being much truer to my faith than that of the imam. Ownership of your situation and personal accountability are fundamental tenets of Islam, and provide the foundation for self-empowerment to improve your situation.

While Canadian Muslim leadership is evolving, there are still too many who ascribe to victimhood and conspiracy theories. Such self-defeating attitudes do not serve the community well; blaming others prevents much-needed self-introspection, thereby allowing flaws to fester.

Islamophobia is real and must be addressed. This week alone, a London mosque was vandalized and a video surfaced of an anti-Muslim verbal attack on a Calgary cab driver. But Islamophobia should not be used as a cover to mask wrong behaviour.

A parallel theme weaves through Saul Bellow's novel The Victim, in which a Jewish protagonist blames his misfortunes on anti-Semitism without much introspection. Gradually, he takes stock of his own shortcomings, and with a renewed moral compass takes on life's challenges (including anti-Semitism) with a confident, balanced attitude.

This type of fresh outlook is evident in the next generation of Muslim leaders, such as physician Alaa Murabit, who was raised in Saskatoon and moved to Libya at the age of 15. Shocked by widespread gender discrimination in her new environment, she eventually founded the Voice of Libyan Women (VLW) to challenge the prevailing norms.

In her recent TED talk, "What my religion really says about women," Ms. Murabit is unapologetic about her love for Islam, her source of strength. She readily acknowledges the discrimination faced by women in Muslim cultures (rather than blaming news media for reporting on real-life horrors). She seeks to address the "crooked foundation" by advocating that women reclaim their religion by looking to examples of Muslim women in early Islamic history, to the authentic example of the Prophet Mohammed and to the Koran itself.

The Noor Campaign, a VLW program, has used this approach to combat violence against women in Libya and abroad. It is gruelling work. Criticized by the right, the left, the fundamentalists and the secularists, Ms. Murabit marches on with honesty, humility and compassion – because she believes in forging positive societal change.

Canadian Muslims do not need to wait for leadership from traditional institutions to evolve to this level of dynamism. They can independently forge initiatives that address areas of neglect, such as family dysfunction, substance abuse and mental health. Or they can participate in wider campaigns on issues such as poverty and the environment. They should also demand a seat at the table at Islamic centres, since women and youth are stakeholders.

Each of us possesses inherent human dignity. When we discard this gift, we become victims of our own pessimism.