I do not regard lightly, the loss of any life; no matter what the cause, or circumstance. Innocent life is sacred, regardless of whether it is a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Buddhist, or an atheist. It is Allah who grants life to whomever He pleases, according to His Divine will, and His Infinite Wisdom, and no one; has a legitimate right to take that life unjustly without just cause. When people die, other people’s lives are affected. When innocent people are mercilessly killed, slaughtered, gunned down, beheaded, massacred, blown up, suicide bombed, or droned, for no sense at all, it amplifies the tragedy. The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon Him) once said, “A time will come when the murderer will not know why he has committed the murder and the victim will not know why he has been killed” [Collected by Muslim]
Since 9/11, American Muslims have condemned, and repudiated terrorism, and violent acts of Muslim extremism, through every conceivable network. We’ve taken out ads, marched in the streets, held vigils, convened press conferences, appeared on broadcast and cable television, written op-eds, penned blog posts, and expended considerable time, money, and resources, trying to convince people that Islam is a religion of peace, and that these violent Muslim extremists, do not represent Islam! We’ve made every attempt to distance ourselves from the so-called violent Muslim extremist, and even coined powerful catch all phrases like; ‘not in our name’, ‘Islam is a religion of peace’, and, ‘they’ve hijacked our faith’. Yet, nearly 14 years after 9/11, it seems glaringly obvious that our message is not getting through, and the people who we are trying to convince are not listening. For the record, I do not consider Islam to be a religion of peace; I do consider our faith to be a religion of submission, of which peace is a component.
I agree wholeheartedly that condemning violence against innocent souls is an appropriate Muslim response as it falls into the category of enjoining the good and forbidding evil (nahyi an al-munkar). However, condemning selected instances of violence, while remaining silent about others appears disingenuous, and self-serving. Especially if we do not take a across the board, moral stance against the very principle of violent extremism in the name of Islam. There is a difference between taking a firm and unequivocal, principled position against something, and between taking an episodic stance against something according to media, political, and public relations considerations. When Muslims condemn acts of Muslim extremism acting on cue from the media, according to what the media considers important, we are entering down an ostentatious black hole, with no foreseeable ending or win game. If the desired outcome of this strategy of selective condemnation of Muslim violent extremism, was to somehow convince the media, and the numerous and increasingly vocal critics of Islam, and Muslims, to put the brakes on their vitriol, and give the rest of us a break, then history has shown that we are not succeeding by any measure. Otherwise, we would not find ourselves in the circuitous predicament of feeling compelled to condemn, yet another incident of Muslim violence, and then complaining with the same frequency, that Muslims still get negative press.
The presence of violent Muslim extremism, that disregards the sanctity of innocent life, honor, and property, based upon sect, ideology, ethnicity, race, land, power, or tribe, and done under the camouflage of religion, goes back hundreds of years. Addressing it is a complex, and sensitive matter that will take more than condemnation, polemics, or public relations spin doctoring. Over the last decade or so, there has been very little variation in our approach as American Muslims, in responding to incidents of violent Muslim extremism headlined in the news, or combatting the anticipated negative backlash directed towards Muslims, and or Islam. The self-delusional, reactionary condemnation strategy, is chockfull of quirks, ironies, and contradictions, and has just about outlived its usefulness. If as Muslims we took a moral, and principled stance against terrorism, and violent extremism, then it’s not only ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban that needs condemnation; we’d have to talk about despotic Muslims governments, American and European foreign policy in the Muslim world, honor killings, ethnic cleansing, racial injustice within Muslim communities, indiscriminate suicide bombings, reckless fatwas, and an host of issues, of which the pandemic of unwarranted violence of Muslims against innocent souls is just one manifestation.
In the global Muslim community, there is a long, and largely unattended laundry list of deep rooted, and debilitating, spiritual, and emotional illness, that we have not only failed to address in any meaningful or comprehensive way; we are in an almost complete denial that they exist. The easy fallback position is to resort to political or media based solutions in the form of marches, selective condemnations, episodic appearances of unity, and the focus on individual occurrences of violence in the name of Islam, per media suggestion. The much more difficult task is to finally get to the roots of the problem, at least that which pertains to our morality, or lack thereof. We have to rethink about how much we want to allow our sacred moral duties to address concerns of grave importance such as Muslim on Muslim killing, and Muslim violent extremism, to be incorporated and manipulated by media executives, pundits, critics and antagonists. Perhaps it’s time to change our strategy. Maybe we should stop worrying about what the media, and other people think of Muslims, and of Islam. After all, we are a people of faith, and the essence of faith is principle, not politics; and certainly not public relations. Before we can take back Islam from violent extremists, we must first take back our moral imperative from the hands of the media.The clock is ticking, and we are long overdue.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad