Islam's war within

Often, we in Israel lose sight of that "bright face of Islam."

eid festival 248 ap (photo credit: AP)
eid festival 248 ap
(photo credit: AP)
In honor of Eid al-Adha, Festival of the Sacrifice, President Shimon Peres is scheduled this morning to visit the mainly Muslim city of Sakhnin in Galilee. Also in honor of the Eid, West Bank Palestinian Arabs with close relatives in Israel will be permitted to enter the Jewish state; and Arab citizens of Israel may travel to the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, some 230 Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons will gain an early release and be handed over to Mahmoud Abbas when he returns from the haj pilgrimage. While 4,000 West Bank Palestinians went on the haj, infighting between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas resulted in none making the pilgrimage from Gaza. For the world's estimated 1.4 billion Muslims, yesterday marked the culmination of the haj and beginning of the four-day Eid festival. The holiday commemorates the biblical story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son. In Muslim tradition, the son who is saved at the last minute is not Isaac, but Ishmael. This year, some 3 million faithful journeyed to Saudi Arabia, seeking forgiveness and spirituality as they proceeded through various stages of the haj around Mecca. Eventually, they circle the Kaaba, a cube-like structure in the courtyard of the great Haram mosque. It is the holiest shrine of Islam. During prayer, Muslims the world over face the Kaaba, which the Koran teaches was originally linked with Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. It is important to distinguish Islam - the religion and civilization - from the threat posed by its extremist adherents, the Islamists, who are at war with the West and our values of liberty, tolerance and individual freedom. Without deluding ourselves about the extent to which the Islamists have penetrated the Muslim world, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge non-Islamist Muslim figures who seek a modus vivendi with the rest of us. Which is why we were pleased that in his annual Mount Arafat sermon on Sunday, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh, declared: "The world must criminalize terrorism... we must be cautious of terrorism and fight hostile criminal gangs that destroy countries and people." The Saudi grand mufti urged the faithful to show "the bright face of Islam" and spread "forgiveness, peace and love." He also advocated Shari'a law - but what matters most to us is that he urged the faithful to abjure bloodshed. OFTEN, we in Israel lose sight of that "bright face of Islam." That's understandable, considering that Muslim fanatics control the nearby Gaza Strip, with wide popular support. A hundred mortar shells and rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in the past week alone. Hamas has been relentless in trying to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near the border fence. Indeed, the current round of fighting began on November 4, when the IDF preempted Hamas from abducting Israeli soldiers there. Hamas says the tenets of Islamic "resistance" prohibit Palestinians from ever living in peace with Israel. Yet when Hamas isn't shooting at us, Israeli authorities, in the context of a limited embargo, allow fuel, food, humanitarian supplies and even Israeli currency to flow into the Strip. Nor does the "bright face of Islam" radiate from Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi of Cairo's Al-Azhar University. He's found it necessary to deny that he purposefully shook hands, on November 12, with our president while both were attending an interfaith conference in New York under Saudi Arabian sponsorship. "Many people walked up to shake my hand, among them Peres. I didn't know him. It was a random handshake." Those who suggest otherwise, the sheikh insisted, are liars and "the sons of 60 dogs." Islam is mostly at war within itself. And nowhere is this better illustrated than in Pakistan, where a moderate government is contending with a Taliban supported by Islamist elements within the regime's own intelligence agency. Closer to our neck of the woods, we see a similar scenario playing out between relative Fatah moderates and Hamas fundamentalists. Only Muslims can chart the direction in which they want to take their society. Some, like the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, seem to appreciate that a theology which celebrates brutality will ultimately consume its own.