Challenging Extremism: A Religious Perspective

Imam Shamsi Ali

Imam Shamsi Ali


Imam Shamsi Ali, a Muslim leader who emigrated from Indonesia to New York founded the Nusantara Foundation in this city with its headquarters at 4 West 43rd Street in Manhattan in 2008. He invited me to a panel discussion on Tuesday, September 24, 2014 on the challenge of extremism. The discussion included some of the following panelists:

Ambassador Dr. Muhamed Sacirbey, former Vice Foreign Minister of Bosnia, Rev. Paul Raushenbush, religious commentator/editor, Huffington Post,

Dr. Serene Jones, president, Union Theological Seminary,

Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, president, Auburn Seminary,

Rabbi Bob Kaplan, director, The Center of Community Leadership @ JCRCNY,

Dr. Sayyed Sayyid, Islamic Society of North America,

Ramaswamy Mohan, Hindu Temple Society of North America,

Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director, Interfaith Center of New York (Moderator)


Some of the Statements made by the panel of speakers:


  • Images are extremely important in education and communication. What images are we creating about religion? How can we change them? We must go beyond friendship and tolerance in the images we present in our education and public relations in order to counteract the images of extremism.
  • Who are the heroes of our day? Who are the messengers that we praise?
  • Young people are immersed in the internet and social media. That is where they are. We must be effective in our use of these media if we are to reach those who are being recruited by extremism.
  • What is extreme? Is it just a matter of semantics? A deeper question is why are young people joining extremist groups? For many it is because they have lost the meaning of their lives. They feel they do not belong, have no place with which to identify.
  • ISIS are good organizers. They are very effective with internet and the media.
  • The Hindu religion is a religion of hope. We are survivors. We have many problems in India, but we continue to make progress. We learn to think for ourselves. We are a religion that centers in the individual. The Hindu religion draws a person inside to find one’s own strength. We guide children to be the best they can be.
  • Our reaction to 9/11 was a reaction of fear. We need to speak with authenticity.
  • The problem is not so much religion in politics, i.e. religion using the state, but the opposite, i.e. the state using religion for the benefit of politics and politicians. Is the state dominating religion? Anyone who requires absolute obedience should be suspect. The religious response of faith must be given freely.
  • Religion should give guidance. Young people are looking for substance.
  • We learned much from the conflict of Bosnia/Croatia/Herzegovina and Serbia, especially the danger of nationalism to the point of hatred of others, and unwillingness to reconcile and heal wounds of the past.




            Reacting to extremism in fear, anger and revenge is self-defeating. While extremism must be faced firmly, it must be faced rationally and with honesty and authentic rule of law and respect of persons.