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EXCLUSIVE: Raheel Raza, A Not-So-Moderate Anti-Extremist

Shalom Life speaks to the Canadian Muslim author of 'Their Jihad, Not My Jihad' on being mistaken for a Jew, Islamism and receiving death threats

By: Sandra Mergulhão
Published: July 16th, 2013 in News » World
Raheel Raza

It’s rare to see Muslims speak out against the extremists of their religion.

It's even rarer to hear a Shiaa Muslim women speak out against the controversial views on Islam.

Raheel Raza is a Pakistani-born Canadian journalist, author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad: A Muslim Canadian Woman Speaks Out. She is an internationally known public speaker, media consultant, anti-racism activist, and interfaith discussion leader. A woman who strongly opposes terrorism committed in the name of Islam, inequality towards Muslim women and outspoken of her love for Israel, Raheel has received more than a few death threats in her time.

“I am not pro-Israel, I love Israel!” she states.

Raza's interest in Israel goes back a long way, when she first read The Diary of Anne Frank and Leon Uris’s Exodus as a child in Pakistan. It intrigued her to know more about this strong-willed people who, in the face of immense challenges, were passionate and determined to establish and maintain a State of Israel.

But a stamp on Raza's Pakistani passport which read (and still does) “valid for every country except Israel” brought out the rebel in her.

She immediately vowed to visit Israel one day soon.

Years later, when she moved to Canada, Raza was able to engage in her first interaction with a Jewish person.

“25 years ago I moved to Canada and I finally started meeting real Jewish people – not just the ones in my mind and my books. Four years ago I visited Israel for the first time as a tourist," she tells Shalom Life. "I loved every part of the country and the people.”

Although Raza grew up in a region where opposition and suppression were widespread, highly accepted concepts, her opinions were staunchly rebellious and progressive. She has always believed that Islamism (or political Islam) is more grave a danger than extreme terrorism.

Israel is 'more aware' than we are in the West

“At present we are faced with two evils - one is the Wahhabi/Salafi ideology coming out of Saudi Arabia (Al Qaeda being part of this) which openly supports armed Jihad and terrorism,” she explains. “And the second is the Muslim Brotherhood. We can see what’s happened in Egypt. The election mandate of the Muslim Brotherhood was not to kill Shias or persecute Coptic Christians, but how did their agenda unfold?” she asks with conviction.

“These two menaces are equally dangerous," she continues. "However while terrorism is a tragic incident which in some cases can be tracked, Islamism is far more lethal and operates as an ongoing ideology to weaken the West from within.”

Raza suggests that the West must use their friends, progressive Muslims and the State of Israel to determine a clear strategy for dealing with Islamism. She mentions Israel in particular since she believes the country has been dealing with the fallout of political Islam since its inception, and has a clear idea of the agenda of the Islamists.

“Israel has a strong security and intelligence system so they are much more aware of the ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ than we are in the West,” she elucidates.

'The Palestinians need a Gandhi, not an Arafat'

Raza deems that the anti-Israel stance many Muslim countries currently occupy is highly politicized. “I am accredited with the United Nations Human Rights Council and there I noticed the attitude of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation,” she says. “Many Muslim leaders, instead of improving the conditions of their own people by providing gender equality, education and human rights, use Israel as the bogeyman to deflect their own shortcoming and blame all their problems on a Zionist conspiracy.”

But having said this, Raza doesn’t deny that the Palestinians have issues. However, she believes that there are suitable ways of addressing them. “The Palestinians need a Gandhi, not an Arafat. There’s nothing that can’t be resolved across a table and peace can only be achieved when each side is equally interested and willing to talk,” she says pragmatically.

It was in 2009 that Raza was first invited to attend Israel’s annual Presidential Conference, "Facing Tomorrow.”

She was so impressed with the concept of the conference that she decided to name her own not-for-profit organization “Muslims Facing Tomorrow.”

“One of the ideas I picked up at the Presidential Conference, is the concept of ‘tikkun olam’ ('repairing the world')," she says. "I would like to implement this beautiful concept, knowing well that in order to do so, we have no choice but to point out those who make violence and terror their bread and butter."

Raheel Raza’s life is, naturally, in no way monotonous or dull. When visiting Israel, she observed that the Israelis thought she was Iranian, while in the rest of the world, Muslims think she is Jewish. “It sure makes it interesting!” she jokes.

“This just goes to prove that I’ve truly become a global citizen," Raza adds. "Another interesting angle to this is that mainstream Muslims try to label me as Ismaili, Ahmaddi, Shia, Zionist, non-Muslim and even a man – because it’s hard for them to see and hear a mainstream observant Sunni Muslim woman speak out against all that they have been brainwashed with over the past three decades.”

Learn more about Raza at her official website.

Related articles: Raheel Raza, Muslim, Anti-Extremist, Their Jihad, Not My Jihad, Pro-Israel
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