Confronting Terrorism and Islamophobia Without More Muslim Apologies
The attacks in Paris on Friday the 13th of November, 2015 triggered a global shockwave of reactions. From politicians driven by fear to shut out refugees to hatemongers whipping up a frenzy of Islamophobia among right-wing radicals. Then came Muslims rushing to media outlets to condemn terrorism with the same pattern of Muslim apologies that are all too common. All of these things we have seen before, but for some reason the series of six attacks in France hit at the “perfect” moment in time to create a stir of hate and fear that we have not seen since just after 9/11.
We reached out to four Muslim-American leaders to get a fresh perspective on the issue beyond what the major media outlets can tell.
The Iqra Imperative
Dr. Achmat Salie (founder of Islamic studies at the University of Detroit, Mercy) started the conversation with “We have to move beyond apology, the current atmosphere is such that people will not accept apologies; instead we have to look for opportunities.” Dr. Salie elaborated that instead of apologizing, we should embrace the opportunity to have dialog. However, we first must be educated Muslims. “Iqra, the first command, is imperative. To read, research, and gain deeper insights is more important now than ever before!”
“There are so many books out there on so many different topics,” lamented Dr. Salie, “however, if Muslims are not readers then they are missing the advantage of this knowledge! So many people suffer from religious illiteracy. Muslims must put more effort into reading. I call this the Iqra Imperative.”
How does this apply to responding to terror and Islamophobia? Dr. Salie explains, “Learn more about the people around you, their history, community, what do THEY want, need, love. Learn these things so that you can speak directly to the individual and communicate as a fellow human being.”
Dr. Salie also believes in focusing on a positive response rather than a negative reaction. “Groups like CAIR and others always catch people doing wrong. Instead, let’s find people doing right and illuminate them; bring that to the people!” By evolving our dialog into expressing what is great about Muslims, we can clearly dissolve the focus on the small group creating negative attention today.
A Time For Jihad?
Sheikh Mohammed Shafayaz (Director of Al-Hikmat) agrees with Dr. Salie’s assertion that Muslim apologies are dead. Sheikh Shafayaz says “Condemning terrorist acts is a normal thing, the statement has no effect! People get up and say ‘We condmen… blah blah blah’ it’s too much of a norm and has no effect at all. Why are we apologizing for something we are not even doing?”
He is more direct to the solution of Daesh “Based on what all the scholars are saying worldwide, ISIS is not acting Islamically, they are not practicing Islamic principles and their actions do not represent the Qur’an and Sunnah. So the course seems very clear. I think it is time for the Muslims, leaders and organizations and nations, to call for a jihad against ISIS.”
We pressed the Sheikh for more defense of this position and he continued, “They are punishing Muslims and misrepresenting Islam completely. If they were only talking then I would say ‘yes, fight them with talk’ but they are militarized and they are killing innocent people. So in this case we must stop the evil with our hands and make jihad! This is fully in line with Shariah.”
How does this make us different from Daesh? Sheikh Shafayaz says “What they are doing is not jihad, they are committing murder and we cannot allow them to continue killing people wildly.” Then he broke down the details of the true Islamic Jihad, “When I called for a true Islamic Jihad it is intellectual, spiritual and even physical. Do it in the halal way and make sure it is correct and pure. We have to correct this fitna.”
What is the halal way? According to Sheikh Shafayaz, “Use the pen, use spiritual teaching, use intellectualism. When the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) would fight, he would tell some people to stay behind and teach. Therefore everyone must use their own ability in every way of life to fight the enemy of Islam; right now that is ISIS/Daesh.”
Own Your Responsibility
Imam Ismaeel Chartier (Clifton Mosque, Cincinnati, OH) had an interesting stance for where the blame lies for Islamophobia, “In a way, Muslims are responsible because we are like the people of Saleh. There are people who want to create chaos and we are allowing them to do it by keeping silent.”
Imam Chartier explains, “Far too often we have a binary discussion within Muslim circles where it becomes an US verses THEM paradigm and that sets people up for polarization and extremism. We end up creating these little spaces for our own cultural understanding away from mainstream society and this is exactly how we see recruitment from extremists.”
Imam Chartier explains how to teach against extreme thought, “When you read the Qur’an you should be filled with love of Allah and love of Islam and be filled with the beauty of Islam. By reclaiming this love and beauty of Islam, we have youth who want to be involved in the community and who look forward to lectures. When we make the religion dogmatic and all about rules and regulations, we steal the beauty and love from Islam.”
The Masjid should radiate this beauty and love outward into the community, according to Imam Chartier, “We have to be engaged and involved in the society which we live by serving on committees, by getting elected to positions and by serving the public. We must have our own homeless shelters, hospitals, etc and be fully engaged in our society to address the needs of the people.”
What are the consequences? “If we don’t do that, then all we have is the media lie about what Islam is,” expressed Ismaeel, “we say that Islam is the solution and they respond ‘to what?’ because we aren’t doing anything!” Imam Chartier further punctuated, “We have got to think far into the future. We don’t want to have a situation where 500 years from now, archaeologists dig up our history and find out that the only thing Muslims contributed to the society is kebab and falafel.”
De-Legitimize the Extremists
Will Coley, from Muslims 4 Liberty, agrees that we have serious problems with focusing energy in the wrong places, “Our community is very slacktivist; we do open houses every once in a while and send money to big organizations to let them do all the work. We get emotional over ISNA, CAIR and others because they laid the ground work, but in many ways they have gotten lazy in addressing the issues of terrorism and Islamophobia head-on. In fact, many organizations refuse to directly engage Pamela Gellar or other major Islamophobes head-on.”
While Will Coley continued expressing the flaws in our methodology (such as inviting the same groups of people over and over to open house events) he punctuated strong points to change. “We are allowing the fear of persecution to cloud our judgment and prevent us from addressing the problem in a direct and meaningful way. In my personal opinion, it is a form of idolatry.” How could Brother Coley defend such a statement? He explains, “Allah wants us to change something that is wrong with our hands or our tongues or to pray about it and the latter is the lowest form of faith. We have decided to take the least approach and we are therefore allowing this thing (fear) to come between us and Allah’s pleasure. We should be Mujahid ul-Aql and fight with knowledge.”
How do we move past more Muslim Apologies? Will explains further, “The main goal should be to de-legitimize ISIS as an entity. We have to stop using terms like Islamist, Islamic Extremism, Radical Muslim, etc. We have to remove terms that can be used to connect them to us because they are NOT us, they do not represent us and we should abhor any connection to us. Call them Daesh or kharajites, najdi; etc. Reinforce these negative connections because we know who they are, we were warned by Muhammad (SAWS) and Allah that they were coming.”
Will explains that this is not a new idea, “Tahir Al Qadri tried to express this with his 600 page fatwa against ISIS but the media glossed over it to minimize its impact. We need to be out there repeating this information.”
Dawah Cures All
One of the underlying themes that came up over and over again in our conversations is that dawah has to evolve and that we have to be more pro-active as a community to solve both the problems of Islamophobia and of terrorism.
Dr. Achmat Salie reminds us that there is no textbook dawah, “Dawah should be information sharing so it is always going to be contextual and relevant to the individual that you are talking to. Using a one size fits all form of dawah is not effective.”
Sheikh Shafayaz says that we become softer ourselves. “Nowadays you look at some Muslims and you’re scared to approach them!” Sheikh Shafayaz exclaimed, “The look on their faces is so stern and harsh! They start talking and it is scary to hear them speak!”
Imam Ismaeel Chartier agrees with the harshness, “Muslims ourselves can be xenophobic bigots, there are so many times that people tell me I cannot be an Imam because I’m white. They have told me that I cannot understand Arabic properly because I’m white. We have to get rid of our own Islamophobia and racism from the Muslim community. We have to stop bringing in foreign ideas and calling it Islam.”
How then, should we proceed? “I don’t care where you are from, if you understand the culture and you understand the American people, THAT is who should be leading the charge.” Imam Chartier explains. “I do not believe that organizations like ICNA, MAS, ISNA and CAIR should be leading this dialog because they STILL come to the table with a foreign mindset.” He continues “You have to understand [as an example] what it means to go to McDonald’s as a child and the joy that we have from getting a cheeseburger there.” Imam Ismaeel closes by saying, “Condemning and being armchair activists isn’t going to do anything. We have to get out and get into the grassroots to get things done and be fully present in our society.”
Will Coley agrees, “Until we get out there and become parts of the communities, nothing will get better. We have to create seminars that engage the community directly and make a difference.” Will also agrees with Imam Chartier about the American experience, “The convert community has a completely different connection to the American community. We ARE American culture, we WERE a part of the community that we must relate to, so converts are the ideal people to lead the charge.”
Brother Will suggests that we work with intellectual arguments, “Maximize the free speech areas of college campuses, and bring out local Imams and other good speakers from the community. Talk about eschatology of this, the theological ramifications of that. Talk about Islam on an intellectual level.”
Muslims 4 Liberty uses talking points which connect to the core of American values as Will explains, “Presumption of innocence in a court of law, jurisprudence, the natural rights of man; these are all concepts that Muslims brought to the world. We need to reclaim these, own these and promote the historic connection with these.”
According to these four Muslim American leaders, we have a lot of work to do within our own communities. We need to be more proactive in promoting the love, warmth and mercy that Islam teaches to other Muslims so that our message to the non-Muslim community is unified in the Qur’an and Sunnah instead of some other cultural trapping. We must be integrated in society and provide Americans the physical, economic and spiritual healing that is desperately needed.
In short, it’s time to stop merely performing the rituals and fully embrace all the principles of Islam.