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Real Muslim leadership, not a terrorist's death, would be something to celebrate

Good riddance, Osama bin Laden.

That's one less terrorist I, as a Muslim American, have to worry about ruining my life. But while people filled the streets in Times Square and Pennsylvania Avenue with joy Sunday night, I'm looking at myself in the mirror, wondering: What's truly changed for me?

Indulge me for a moment. Even if bin Laden was the "queen bee" of terrorism, how does his death really improve the physical and mental conditions of the Muslim world? It doesn't undo what he did, that's for sure. Thousands lost their loved ones on Sept. 11, and all devout Muslims lost a bit of their good name. The damage is done — and remains. The fair name of Islam has been smeared with filth and dragged in the gutter by the hands of radical and retrogressive Muslim fanatics.

Muslims have a rich heritage in scientific invention, medicine, secular governance, philosophy, literature and arts that spanned centuries and crossed continents. They created a civilization which, for 800 years, cultivated both the mind and the spirit. It was an era of poet-philosophers like Rumi and Omar Khayyam, whose questions challenged our notions of God and truth. They gave us the scientific traditions of algebra and chemistry, both of which are Arabic words, and created some of the world's first and oldest universities where in the name of scholarship all were welcome — of any faith and of both genders.

Their contributions weighed heavily on European culture, especially through Ottoman Europe and Moorish Spain, by virtue of which etymologists claim that nearly 4 percent of the English language today is derived from Arabic root words. They left us with delightful, romantic treasures such as the Taj Mahal and "The Arabian Nights."

But that vision is long gone. Today, the sad, tragic truth is that Muslims sit at the bottom of the barrel.

There are nearly a billion and a half Muslims on the planet. Yet, out of the more than 500 Nobel Prizes in science, Muslims have won only two. We represent one-fifth of the world's population but won only 1.9 percent of the medals in the most recent Olympics. Indonesia and Pakistan, the world's two most populous Muslim countries, are frequently criticized as corrupt democracies. There are 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world — and not a single economic superpower.

Furthermore, illiteracy and poverty remain major hindrances from repairing these failed societies. Above all, the hatred that died with Osama bin Laden lives on in countless other terrorists (and, for that matter, extremists of all religions).

What's missing? We need an international religious figurehead who can unite Muslims with a purpose for education and progress. With the death of bin Laden, the Muslim world needs a different kind of hero. Where is the Muslim Nelson Mandela who will be our voice and elevate our conscience? Where is the Muslim Mahatma Gandhi who will provide hope and a new kind of vision for prosperity? We need someone who can inspire Muslims to nourish the talents of our women, not forbid them; who will use bricks to build schools instead of to stone criminals.

Such a leader will weaken, not strengthen, religious fanaticism from within. The problem is that if the Muslim world had such a moralist, they probably wouldn't know him if he stood up in his soup. The legacy that Islam should embellish world culture — and should be practiced in the peaceful manner for which it was intended — needs to take root once again. But we're far from it.

So excuse me if I don't chant slogans and pump my fists this week. I'm waiting for a day when you hear "Muslim" and you don't think "car bombings," "fatwas," "suicide attacks," "holy war" and Sept. 11 itself.

Now, that would be cause for celebration.

Dr. Bilal Rana is an anesthesiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His email is bilalrana1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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