In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful
The death of Osama bin Laden is indeed a notable event: the symbol of Al Qaeda and the most prominent proponent of modern “jihadist” philosophy and thought, was killed by American Special Forces in Pakistan on May 1. His killing has been met with jubilation all across America, in both government and among the general populace. Among Muslims, news of his killing has elicited a myriad of responses, most of which was relief and a desire to move forward in a “post-bin Laden” world.
Is this the end of Al Qaeda? Perhaps. Is this the end of the terrorist threat against America and the West? Hardly, and it is naive for anyone to think so. Yet, the killing of Bin Laden is the exclamation point at the end of a steady decline of his philosophy and methodology of change.
Bin Laden’s heresy is but the latest in a series of “blips” in the historical trajectory of Islam and its core message of faith, justice, compassion, and mercy. Indeed, the blips can be the source of much strife, trial, and tribulation, but they are not threats to the core of Islam. The people behind these aberrancies embody this verse of the Qur’an:
They aim to extinguish God’s light with their utterances; but God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth (61:8)
The Kharijites were the first of these “blips” in the history of Islam. First appearing in the 7th Century, they emerged in response to the civil war between Imam Ali (r) and Mua’wiah (r). They became a force of dissension and rebellion, and many Muslims were killed because of their aberrant theology. These were the first to declare that anyone who does not follow their way to be a “kafir,” or “unbeliever” in their mind, who deserves death. The Kharijites ultimately assassinated Imam Ali (r) himself.
They sought “to extinguish God’s light with their utterances,” But their aberrancy died away, for “God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness.” The core of Islam remained intact, and the Muslim nation continued to do great things in human history.
Then came the Hashashin, or Assassins, who terrorized the Muslim populace for many years. They worked for Crusader and Muslim alike, doing whatever was necessary for their own wordly gain. They were one of the earliest terrorists to spread suffering among the Muslims. It is even believed that the Assassins attempted to kill Saladin himself.
Once again, these killers aimed to “extinguish God’s light with their utterances,” but their aberrancy also died away, for “God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness.” Islam was not destroyed by them, and its core message remained alive and well, giving nourishment to millions upon millions of people.
And now we saw Bin Laden, emboldened by the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, who thought he could be a new force for change in the Muslim world. After being spurned and rejected, he turned violent, becoming a neo-Kharijite and declaring war on innocent people. In his name, thousands upon thousands of people – who did nothing wrong – were maimed and murdered. Legendary Muslim filmmaker Mustafa Akkad was one of those victims, among scores of others.
He aimed “to extinguish God’s light” with his rambling utterances, “but God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness…” The entire world saw the fruit of his beliefs, and it was nothing but terror, and darkness, and evil. He brought nothing good, and as the Qur’an says:
In this way does God set forth the parable of truth and falsehood: for, as far as the scum is concerned, it passes away as [does all] dross; but that which is of benefit to man abides on earth. In this way does God set forth the parables (13:17)
The scum of his violent theology has indeed passed away, and that which is benefit to man – the light of God’s truth embodied in the core of Islamic teaching – continues to abide on earth. And one can see how his scum philosophy has passed away: for his heretical beliefs have been largely ignored and spurned by the overwhelming majority of Muslims all across the world. In each and every street uprising, whether in Tunisia, or Egypt, or Yemen, or Syria, Muslims have said “NO” to Bin Laden and his theology.
This is because “God has willed to spread his light in all its fullness…”
Now there are those that want you to believe that these aberrations, these “blips” in the history of Islam, are the essence of the faith. They want you to believe that the terror and violence and intolerance that marked the Kharijites, or the Assassins, or the modern neo-Kharijite barbarians of Bin Laden’s ilk, is based in and comes from Islam. They lie in the worst possible manner.
All the violence and evil that comes from “Islamic terror” is inimical and antithetical to everything for which Islam stands. Terror in the name of Islam is the exception, not the rule, and the events of the last six months has borne this out in full display for everyone to see. As Michael Shank recently wrote in the Nation:
What is happening in the streets of Cairo and Sanaa and Damascus is not the work of Gene Sharp or Gandhi. As Americans angle to amplify nonviolent Muslim voices, a good start would be to give credit where credit is due: The seeds sprouting this Arab Spring are native born.
It very well may be that Muslims will face another aberrancy that will wreak havoc among their ranks, although I pray this does not come to pass. I pray that justice, freedom, and dignity embrace all peoples – Muslim or otherwise – and that peace will reign supreme. Yet, if such an aberrancy rears its ugly head, it too will pass, and the core of Islam will remain unscathed. That is because:
“God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth.”