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The irony of Muslim terrorism

Terrorism is the vilest crime because it robs people not only of their lives, but also of their safety and freedom.

Last Modified: 29 Apr 2013 15:09
Mohamed Ghilan

Mohamed Ghilan is a neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, Canada, and a student of Islamic jurisprudence.
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"Unfortunately for Muslims, bigots who take on all opportunities to demonise Islam and Muslims always utilise dreadful events as proof for how evil Islam is," writes Ghilan [Reuters]

It is truly a sad state when the group affected the most by the current climate following the Boston marathon bombings have to wait for an outsider to speak some sense on their behalf. It is not that Muslims lack the capacity to express themselves and engage in an intellectual dialogue. But when the rhetoric all over the media continues to assert the label "radical Islam" whenever these events and their like are discussed, being a Muslim is equated with at the very least being suspicious.

What makes it worse is that radical comes from the Late Latin, meaning "roots". According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term radical means, "of, relating to, or proceeding from a root; of or relating to the origin". In other words, what is being said is that the Tsarnaev brothers and anyone else who allegedly gets involved in terrorist activities are the ones who are properly practising the root teachings of Islam. This makes it highly problematic that Muslims have embraced such terminology as they try to defend their faith and community from being stigmatised and defined by these acts.

Moreover, the manner in which Tamarlan Tsarnaev has been supposedly "radicalised" into an "extremist" form of Islam gives the impression that he was really being a practising Muslim in the extreme sense. Thus further embedding the idea that Islam is the problem, which is a simpleton's conclusion.

The problem Muslims have in this circumstance is that any attempt at clearing Islam from such a tainting by the media is immediately met with scepticism. After all, these are not good odds to be up against. The suspects are Muslim, they speak in religious rhetoric, and the media puts all it can into making sure that every time they speak of tragic events like the one in Boston, Islam must be part of the red-coloured capital-lettered headline.

It is possibly the largest mass scale Pavlovian conditioning experiment ever conducted, because the public is the subject. Of course, Muslims cannot even dream of attempting to engage in an inquiry on the non-religious reasons why these attackers have allegedly done what they had done. Such an attempt will seem like a form of justification or at least a siding with the alleged terrorists. Somehow explanation is confused for justification.

Muslim responses

It must be made clear: the taking of innocent lives of people who happen to be going about their day with their families is a capital crime in Islam. But to assume that politics has no role to play in what has happened is delusional. As brilliantly articulated by Glenn Greenwald in his article in the Guardian, every single time a terrorist was apprehended before or after they carried their attack, their motives were always and without a single exception political.

It would not come as a surprise to know that most Muslims are probably glad it was Glenn who wrote that article. Not because it was well written or well referenced or anything of that sort. It is because Glenn is an American, white, liberal, gay and not Muslim. It is like the jackpot for having an advocate who is most likely to be heard, because the truth of the matter is most of the public are not swayed by rational arguments. So this rationality must be packaged just right in order for it to be taken seriously.

Now that Glenn dealt with the motives side of things to try and separate Islam from the bombing, Muslims can focus on the same old song and dance about how Islam is peace and it is all about love and quote the same verses as every Muslim does about the sanctity of human life. Imam Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center has been quite active in his efforts to distance Islam and Muslims from the Tsarnaev brothers and the bombing they allegedly carried out in his own city. 

Listening Post - Boston: When the media gets it wrong

Webb's recent article with Scott Korb in the New York Times was a combination of denunciation of the act and its perpetrators, and an invitation for Americans to visit their local Islamic mosques and community centres and find out what "true" Islam is all about. On the other hand Asra Nomani insists that such responses are growing stale and Muslims must take ownership of the fact that a minority of Muslims are finding religious justification for their acts and somehow they must be rooted out.

Unfortunately for Muslims, bigots who take on all opportunities to demonise Islam and Muslims always utilise dreadful events as proof for how evil Islam is. They play on the public's lack of familiarity with the actual body counts garnered by different religious groups. As Juan Cole clearly showed in his recent analysis, when it comes to mass killing, nobody did it better than Christian Europe.

But to blame religion for horrific acts, as if it has some compelling force, we are unable to resist if we believe in it is the explanation provided by those who are in denial about human nature. As John Stuart Mill noted about the overarching power of the Church when it had it that even it "could not make men fight less with one another, nor tyrannise less cruelly over the serfs, and when they were able, over burgesses".

Terrorism is anti-Islam

The idea that terrorism can be justified through Islam relies on nothing else but fear-mongering and rhetoric to sway emotions. It has no leg to stand on if one studies Islamic Law at the most rudimentary level. Hence, it might serve us to discuss this issue from the Islamic legal perspective.

One of the most well-transmitted statements of Prophet Muhammad regarding conduct during war is what many of the companions have related and can be found in all the major Hadith (Prophetic statements and actions) collections, which is that "the Messenger of God has forbidden the killing of women, children and the elderly". This prohibition has such a degree of severity that many scholars have declared that even in active battle one must avoid female combatants at all costs and only engage with them if it becomes a matter of life and death for you.

In other narrations, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have prohibited the killing of religious figures, monks, animals and even the cutting of trees in the event a city is conquered.

As for the foremost authority in Islam, the Quran, it is continually quoted out of context to serve the purposes of those who wish to achieve some end in mind. This is not about having a bad translation from Arabic. All the verses dealing with fighting are highly restricted and cannot be excerpted in the fashion fanatics, Muslim or otherwise, like to do with them.

In fact, according to the Quran, if a combatant puts down his weapon and stops fighting, it is binding upon a Muslim to also stop [Quran 4:90]. It is a limit that a Muslim cannot transgress. It goes without saying here that non-combatants, regardless of who they are and what their religious or non-religious affiliation is, are not to be harmed a priori. This is not a matter of opinion or following "moderate Islam", whatever that means. It is clear-cut Islamic Law.

Where misinterpretations come from

Looking at the Islamic legal tradition and what it says about indiscriminate violence against non-combatants is sure to generate a case of cognitive dissonance for many people. It is difficult to reconcile the violence that is purportedly carried out by extremist Muslims quoting the Quran and screaming "Allahu Akbar", with the opposing message that such acts are not in fact Islamically justifiable in the slightest sense.

If we are to grant that Islam does not sanction these terrorist acts, where are these terrorists getting their ideology? This issue goes back to the current state of Islamic education, the roots of which lie in the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and creation of the modern Arab states that began as colonies for different European countries.

The "modernisation" of the Muslim world during the colonial period took over many aspects of life. One important consequence was the secularisation of the education system, which began in Istanbul, followed by Egypt, and then the rest of the Muslim world. This meant the divorcing of traditional Islamic education from the overall curriculum. Interestingly, the aim of the newly introduced education system by the colonialists was military (a bit ironic given the current circumstances) and not educational. The method of implementation for this new system of education was not to modify the Islamic traditional system, but to create a new parallel system that can eventually undermine the Islamic one.

Changing the education system is but one aspect of what took place in the Muslim world when the European colonialists were present. It was a systemic dismantling of everything that was thought to pose a future threat to the imperialistic tendencies of the West. However, what was not taken into account was the fact that Islam as a religion deals with not only theological and metaphysical matters, but also with worldly affairs as well. Although it is unjustifiable, it is not surprising that some young Muslims can have their political and economic plights addressed in a religious context. 

People have the right to be safe and not worry about themselves or their loved ones when they go out in public.

Mohamed Ghilan 

Without going through proper education with qualified teachers, it is an easy one-two step into fanatic extremism that can be clothed with Islamic concepts like Jihad. For example, the central fatwa (religious decree) that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda base their whole ideology on was discovered to be a corrupted text that has been widely circulated through the printing presses. Eminent Muslim scholars gathered at the Mardin Conference in 2010 to discuss this fatwa and assess its validity. Upon examination of the text from a linguistic standpoint, it was evident that it was corrupted.

Examining the earliest manuscripts of the text confirmed that what was in circulation was indeed a corrupted version of the original manuscript, which changed the meaning of the text. This discovery was not through anything but the discerning eyes and intellects of traditionally educated Muslim scholars. So when a few intellectual invalids who could not even conjugate an Arabic sentence properly, let alone interpret the Quran and derive rulings from it, claim that they are acting based on Islamic injunctions, it should give reason for pause.

Islamic ruling on terrorism

The matter is not about Islam. A closer investigation of Islam through proper methods of study and proper contextualisation will reveal that it is impossible for anyone to conclude any room for justifying, let alone do it in the name of Islam, the indiscriminate killing of innocent people on the streets. What we are dealing with are the repercussions of political decisions and historical forces that gave rise to insane acts by misguided Muslims who think they are serving Islam and Muslims.

What they do not realise is the greater harm they inflict upon their fellow Muslims who experience the negative long-term socio-political consequences of their actions. They have increasingly allowed numerous opportunities for anti-Islam bigots to contribute to the rise of Islamophobia among the general public by providing them with material to perform their sleight of hand tricks - see those terrorist attacks? It is Islam, not our drone attacks, illegal invasions, stealing their resources, putting up puppet dictatorships to serve us, inhumane sanctions, kidnappings and incarcerations without charges!

Here is the kicker when it comes to terrorists. According to Islamic Law, if a terrorist is captured in the act, and in fact convicted after due process, they will receive the death penalty. People have the right to be safe and not worry about themselves or their loved ones when they go out in public. Terrorism is the vilest crime because it robs people not only of their lives, but also of their safety and freedom. It receives the most severe punishment because of its severe effect upon society. The proof of that today is evident not only for non-Muslims, but also for Muslims.

As Murtaza Hussain articulated succinctly, Muslims do not just have to share the worry about some misguided fool looking to make a political statement by harming us; they also have to worry about how they are perceived by their own fellow citizens who are misguided by the radical representation the media is giving them about Muslims. What is ironic about all of this is that if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev receives a fair trial, is convicted, and gets issued the death penalty; Islamic Law would have taken its course within the US justice system in the midst of all this anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Mohamed Ghilan is a neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, Canada, and a student of Islamic jurisprudence. He blogs here and has an active self-titled podcast on iTunes.

Follow him on Twitter: @mohamedghilan

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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