By Javeed Akhter
December 11, 2015
Those who believe that Islam allows them to kill those who do not subscribe to their idea of right and wrong forget that the Prophet Muhammad banned revenge and considered anger a weakness. (Bryan R. Smith / AP)
I looked at the scared face of my lovely 10-year-old granddaughter, Zayna, who was at my house one evening and asked if everything was all right. She asked me if I had heard about the Paris terrorist attacks.
I wish she had not heard, but she knew, so I tried to reassure her by saying that it had been the work of people who do not understand Islam. She paused for a moment and said, “Do you know they met up in the mosque before going out to kill?” The statement about meeting up at the mosque is likely not true, though the terrorists had met up on the Internet. But now the mosque has a negative association in her mind — as do the words Islam and Muslim.
Many Muslim-Americans are asking the unthinkable: Is it safe for their children and grandchildren to live here?
I am one on those Muslims; I am 100 percent American and 100 percent Muslim.
Muslims would never have imagined in their worst nightmares that the current rhetoric of prejudice by Donald Trump would find a place in the public square, but it has. What is even more unsettling is how many Americans seem to tolerate it.
There are interconnected reasons why this type of brazen bigotry has found traction.
Foremost are the mindless violent acts committed by some Muslims.
Like all faiths, Islam has a heterodox violent fringe. This ideology surfaced soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad and inspired a group known as the “Exitors,” or Kharijites. After a brief and violent period it died. But like Freddy Krueger it reincarnates itself, especially at times when Muslims feel they are being treated unfairly. This extreme exclusionary ideology regards anyone, Muslim or not, who does not subscribe to their idea of right and wrong as an enemy to be killed. It takes out of context the verses in the Quran that allow jihad as a part of self-defence and ignores those that value life and justice. Those who subscribe to this deviant ideology forget that the Prophet Muhammad banned revenge and considered anger a weakness. “Evil and good are not equal,” says the Quran. It advises Muslims to respond to evil with good and assures that good will win over enemies.
Groups like Islamic State have channelled this Exitor ideology while promising a simple, puritanical utopia that existed in early Islam. The ideologues of these groups cannot be reclaimed, but many recruits may be shown how this version of Islam contradicts the high concepts the Quran propounds — such as: There should be no compulsion in faith, be just even if it means your close family might be hurt, saving a life is akin to saving all humanity.
That is why the carnage of the San Bernardino, Calif., killers made no sense. Unlike the two British would-be Muslim extremists who ordered “Islam For Dummies” online or the suspected terrorist in Paris who once ran a bar, the California couple who killed 14 people on Dec. 2 knew Islam — or did they? Syed Rizwan Farook prayed at two local mosques, and both had recently been on the lesser Mecca pilgrimage, called the Umrah. What was beyond comprehension was their willingness to orphan their 6-month-old infant.
Traditional mosque-based religious leaders need to speak out with even greater clarity on this extreme ideology that is poisoning the Islamic well. Many Muslim scholars are speaking up, in mosques and through social media. They need to do more.
For some, a sense that Muslims are being brutalized in other parts of the world leads to a belief that violence is an appropriate response. But the fact that Muslim groups around the world are victims of injustice is never a rationalization for violence. Perpetuating any idea that such injustice justifies violence only helps drive young Muslim men and women to groups like Islamic State.
Muslim thought leaders need to educate their young to fight injustice with nonviolence. Taking a nonviolent approach requires patience and fortitude, but that is the only way to stop injustice. Violence begets violence, and it will eventually destroy Islam itself.
The media, too, have inadvertently promoted stereotyping. Muslims ask, legitimately, why there is rarely a “Buddhist terrorist” or a “Hindu terrorist” or a “Christian terrorist” or others. The impact of seeing the phrase “Islamic terrorist” or “Muslim terrorist” is profound. Media professionals should de-link violence from religion.
I think about these issues as I consider my granddaughter’s life. I wonder if she should grow up with this burden. If things continue to get worse, are Muslims at the risk of physical assault? Will mosques be shut down and vandalized? Some already have been burned.
What is sacred about our country is each person’s freedom to practice what is sacred to him or her with security. Will that continue for Muslims?
Javeed Akhter lives in Oak Brook.