LONDON - Today Muslims are being challenged to face up to the fact that crimes are committed in the name of their religion. Like many, I am finding it hard to accept.
One of the crucial factors about the London bombings, I think, goes right back to school: where did those who carried out the attacks get their teachings from? What curriculum were they following or not following when they decided it was OK to blow up themselves and people they didn't even know? What background have the bombers come from and who taught them?
As a new Muslim I wasn't born a Muslim and didn't have the customary upbringing receiving an English translation of the Qur'an as a gift in 1976 was a wonderful chance to learn from scratch what the teachings of this misunderstood religion really proclaimed. You may or may not know that the word Islam is rooted in the word 'peace'.
Yes, some have claimed that there are verses in the Qur'an which endorse violence and fanaticism. But all that proves is that, when you quote out of context to further your own particular brand of extremism, you can choose any book on the shelf. Islam is not alone.
The message I picked up from the Qur'an was quite different. I found the light of knowledge and godliness shining from the verses and stories, linking mankind together as one family, regardless of colour, status or nationality. It told me of the wondrous universal teachings of peace and unity advocated by the greatest of educators, people such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others. Yet the followers of these messengers, in defiance of their noble teachings, have indulged in countless wars.
You can't blame the teachers. You have to blame the distortions and ignorance of their followers.
Again, Islam is not unique in this. At the end of every Friday sermon around the world, in every mosque, the imam usually recites the following words from the Qur'an: "Verily, God commands justice and kindness and giving to relatives and He forbids indecency, objectionable actions and extremism. God instructs you that you may be reminded."
Yet no matter what the teachings convey, some listeners will be selective, and may choose not to be reminded.
It's uncomfortable but easy to imagine youths today many of whom are fugitives from the mosques in the first place growing up against the backdrop of the injustices lambasting the Muslim world, being impressed by the fiery rhetoric of the sharp-tongued dogmatists. Youngsters are naturally attracted to short-cut solutions. This is where many of the problems start.
Education is crucial. Here in Britain, the education system has been slow, at best, in allowing Islamic teachings to be taught in their full breadth. There is a lack of commitment to the rigours of traditional learning.
In the West, where Islam is denigrated and prejudice abounds, where headlines designed to shock and mesmerize dominate people's minds, the real teachings of the faith are left for people to fall upon by chance. In terms of spiritual and moral nourishment, it has been left to largely irregular and inadequate models of religious education to deliver the goods.
An hour-long mosque sermon, once a week which most Muslims attend or a lecture by a visiting scholar who barely speaks English and has little understanding of British and European life, are never likely to deliver the balanced curriculum necessary to build the conscientious believer, one who not only knows his duty to God but also to the society and world he lives in.
The July 7 (2005) bombers attended state schools in Britain, not faith-based schools. Some of them, we are told, briefly visited madrassa schools in Pakistan. This may or may not be relevant, but it suggests that they felt they had had insufficient Islamic education in Britain. By going abroad, they laid themselves open to influences outside normal scholastic parameters.
If we fail to provide authentic and traditional spiritual values within everyday schooling, we allow rogue ideologists to distort the essence of religious concepts. We also exclude invaluable wisdom and repress the strong spirit of devotion that many believers naturally feel.
The teachings of Islam have nothing to do with the recent barbarities. The problem, to oversimplify, is not too much Islam but too little. In the same way, Christianity didn't produce Hitler; but the absence of true Christian teachings and a lack of strong spiritual role models must have contributed.
Faith-based education produces major benefits. At, Islamia Primary, the first Muslim school to be granted aided status by the British government, by conforming to and delivering the national curriculum, we are able to balance society's needs with the aspirations of Muslim parents. The results are not perfect, but they are encouraging.
Children and particularly those disposed to disaffection, need spiritual support and firm moral borders when confronted by the pressures of modern life. We aim to provide these in a context of learning.
Historically, Islamic civilization nurtured the development of science and spurred the arrival of the European Renaissance. "Seek knowledge, even if it is in China", is a much quoted Islamic proverb attributed to Prophet Muhammad. An uneducated Muslim is a dangerous entity to himself as well as to others. Ignorance contradicts the very essence of true Islam, which is based on the love and search for knowledge. So without knowledge, please don't blame Islam.
Note: Yusuf Islam is chairman of the International Board for Educational Research and Resources. In 2004 he was honoured with the 'Man for Peace' award by a committee of Nobel peace laureates.