I think what most of us hope it means is "a Muslim that openly and definitely repudiates the violent, intolerant, supremacist passages in the Koran."
But the more I read about mainstream "moderate" Muslim organizations in America, the more I realize that what I hope "moderate" means and what those "moderate Muslims" mean by the term are entirely different. I am getting the feeling that the term "moderate Muslim" is not only pointless, but misleading — perhaps even deliberately misleading.
We should stop using the term. We should come up with a name for Muslims who straightforwardly reject the violent, intolerant passages in the Koran and openly reject the supremacist ideology strewn throughout Islamic teachings.
In my opinion, someone who does that is not really a Muslim, but maybe they still enjoy praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan, so they might prefer to call themselves Muslims. Maybe they don't want to be rejected by their community and family. Who am I to tell someone what they call themselves?
On the other hand, we non-Muslims need a term that draws a distinction between the two types of Muslims. One type is dangerous to non-Muslims and one is not. A Muslim may not care about this distinction, but it's pretty important to us non-Muslims.
I heard Walid Phares use the term "democracy-seeking Muslims" and I thought that was pretty good, but it doesn't go far enough. Until a Muslim acknowledges that there are, in fact, calls to violence and intolerance against non-Muslims in their central holy book, and then repudiates those specific Koranic passages, I don't feel that Muslim can be trusted.
I know that would sound terrible to someone who doesn't know anything about Islam. But really, this is a pretty straightforward matter. If you call yourself a Muslim, almost everybody on earth is assuming you think the Koran contains the core teachings you will follow. For us non-Muslims who have read the book, that's a scary thought. For those of you who haven't read it yet, these passages will give you an idea: What the Koran Says About Non-Muslims.
So a firm repudiation of those passages would at least acknowledge that the Muslim knows those passages exist and acknowledges that they should be rejected. I know it is entirely possible someone saying so could be lying, but it would at least be a start.
What should we call Muslims who repudiate intolerant and supremacist Islamic teachings? "Moderate" isn't good enough. How about "Scrubbed Muslims?" "Jihad-rejecting Muslims?" "Freed Muslims?" "Friendly Muslims?" "Non-jihadi Muslims?" "Pluralist Muslims?"
I like "Jihad-rejecting Muslims," or JRMs. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, JRMs are the only ones we should engage in "interfaith dialogs" and the only ones allowed to provide counsel for the FBI and the only ones translating documents for security services.
JRMs are the only Muslims who should be allowed to preach in mosques in free countries or teach in madrassas. This is just simple, reasonable self-preservation. A person who calls himself a Muslim but does not openly reject the killing of non-Muslims for being non-Muslims, and who does not reject the overthrow of legitimate democracies, and who does not reject Shari'a law, should not be allowed into those positions. That should be a no-brainer for any person who cares about their government's survival.
So far there aren't many Muslims who are clearly JRMs. The term "moderate Muslims" lets them off the hook — they don't have to risk rejection by their families or perhaps even risk their lives openly repudiating specific Koranic passages, and non-Muslims are left with no way to tell who is a friend and who is a foe.
The term "moderate Muslim" also allows Muslims to remain "undeclared." They don't have to decide whose side they are on. They can secretly harbor a wish that some day their democratic country will be ruled by Shari'a, that some day Islam will reign supreme over the whole world, and that some day all kafirs will pay the jizya (tax on non-Muslims), and yet they may look in every way like a good citizen, trusted by non-Muslims, allowed into influential positions, etc. But if circumstances permitted, they would work toward their Islamic supremacist fantasy. They can function like a kind of sleeper cell in our midst.
By making our own term and defining it, we can make a clear distinction for ourselves and for Muslims, between who is an enemy and who is a friend.
I don't know if simply rejecting jihad would be even be enough, however. One of the most fundamental principles of Islam is that loyalty to Islam comes before loyalty to anything else, including one's country or even one's family. Wouldn't that be a potential problem if the person is working for the government? But maybe our definition of a JRM could include a repudiation of this Islamic hierarchy of loyalties as well.
Another problem is that it says in the Koran 91 times that a Muslim should use Mohammad as an example to emulate. And Mohammad ordered the torture of people, personally participated in beheading 600 people in one night, ordered and led raids on caravans, captured, owned and had sex with slaves, and spent the last ten years of his life conquering and subjugating people. So the definition of a JRM would also have to include a bold rejection of the idea that Mohammad is someone who should be imitated.
Since the stakes are so high for us non-Muslims (being the target of the violence), and since it is easy enough to find out what it actually says in the Koran (that it's a Muslim's duty to fight against the unbelievers until no god is worshiped in the world but Allah), we would be foolish to cavalierly grant our trust to Muslims until they prove themselves trustworthy.
The onus, the burden of proof, is not on non-Muslims.
Muslims will have to prove themselves trustworthy. This whole thing is difficult for all of us, but this distinction must be made. It's a sane response for non-Muslims to make to this sticky situation.
If any Muslim thinks this is offensive or intolerable or somehow outrageous, I think we have discovered someone who is trying to pretend those dangerous passages are not in their holy book, and that sounds like someone we cannot trust.
But if non-Muslims named and defined who we would be willing to trust, and we did it clearly and defiantly, we might find out how many Muslims are on the side of freedom, equality, and pluralism. What do you think?