THE MUSLIM new year has come in with a bang. On the eve of the high holiday of Eid Al-Adha, explosions abound. Outside Beirut a car bomb kills four. A double-blast in Quetta, Pakistan, destroys eight lives. Twin suicide bombings in Iraq's Diyala Province murder 26, including six women and children. Two bombers in Algiers, one a grandfather, claim over 35 victims.
This year-end killing spree - whose victims were nearly all Muslim - has again revealed a profound failure to stop violent extremism across the Muslim world. The international community, increasingly numb to a steady tide of slaughter in Muslim lands, has little to say. Muslim leaders offer a ritual disclaimer that the radicals don't represent Islam - a "religion of peace" - and then retreat into silence.
We have failed to offer a robust response to the brutal wave of human sacrifice. This failure has allowed extremists to garner headlines and define the agenda without meeting an equally passionate response from the moderate center. It is long past time to mount a vigorous campaign against the cult of death and reaffirm a culture of life.
An essential first step is admitting we have a problem. The terrible attacks of recent days occurred during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's most solemn act of atonement. The introspection and self-criticism of this sacred time offer an ideal moment to acknowledge the sacrilege of terrorism and the sin of being a passive bystander.
We must also avoid the temptation to rationalize murder. "The attack is wrong," goes a common refrain, "but we must understand the root causes." There can be no "buts" - no qualifications or justifications that indulge the political grievances and religious sanction claimed by extremists.
Taking an unequivocal stand against human sacrifice does not require radical reinterpretation of Muslim tradition. In fact, it is addressed directly in the new-year holiday of Eid Al-Adha - the "Festival of the Sacrifice" - which commemorates Abraham's near-sacrifice of Ismael. In the Koran, it is Abraham's first-born son, not Isaac, whom God demands as a sacrifice. Bound to the altar, Ismael is spared at the last second, as Abraham's knife falls on a lamb instead.
Some focus on the first half of this incident, hailing Abraham as a man so obedient to God's will that he would kill his own offspring without hesitation. A twisted manifestation of this interpretation was on display last week in Toronto, as Muhammad Parvez strangled his teenage daughter to death for refusing to wear a hijab. Here was a neighborhood parent (not a radical in a faraway land) so consumed with righteous anger that he would sacrifice his own daughter.
But the climax of Eid Al-Adha offers an unequivocal denunciation of human sacrifice, even when it appears divinely sanctioned. Indeed, although God himself seems to order the sacrifice of a human being, it is ultimately stopped. As Muslim families around the world gather for the traditional holiday lamb meal, they celebrate the rescue of Ismael and the unequivocal sanctity of human life.
Eid Al-Adha's profoundly moving message of redemption offers a strong and compelling argument to be wielded against the extremists who delight in human sacrifice. These radicals have developed sophisticated messaging for their cause, cloaking their political agenda in a religious mantle. Mainstream Muslims have failed to articulate a passionate and compelling response, exposing Muslims worldwide to a deadly virus. Still, we have the necessary elements to promote a forthright affirmation of life more powerful than the extremists' sacrilegious sanctification of death.
As we look back at a year filled with bloodshed and forward to the uncertain year ahead, Muslims and non-Muslims alike should rededicate ourselves to protecting and celebrating life. The demagoguery of extremists must be challenged, the carnage of terrorists and "honor-killers" must be rejected no matter the "cause," and our own passivity must end.
This year, reclaiming the spirit of Eid Al-Adha seems more urgent then ever. The knife may be coming down on innocent victims - but if we act in time they can be spared.
Nasser Weddady is civil rights outreach director of the American Islamic Congress.