In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
This article was originally published on Beliefnet. It was my column for May.
It seems that the Muslim community did not get a chance to finish breathing a sigh of relief when it was learned that the Virginia Tech shooter was not a Muslim. Because unfortunately it is pretty standard now that when there’s a mass shooting or any sort of man-induced disaster, many Muslims immediately pray, “Let it not be a Muslim.”
Soon another round of bad news made the headlines: Federal authorities arrested six Muslim men in New Jersey on charges that they allegedly plotted to attack Fort Dix, and, in the words of one of the men, “kill as many American soldiers as possible.” What’s worse, media reports stated that they were ready to kill and die “in the name of Allah.”
So once again American Muslims appealed to their fellow Americans not to link Islam with terrorism. In a statement applauding the FBI for foiling this plot, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) requested that “media outlets and public officials refrain from linking this case to the faith of Islam.” Afterwards I was listening to the Dennis Miller Radio show, and he seemed to make light of this statement by CAIR.
Miller said that he found it interesting how Muslims keep saying terror has nothing to do with Islam when it is clear that terrorist after terrorist insist that, “Islam made me do this.” He brought this up to Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for CAIR, who was a guest on his show. The question was half in jest, but it’s one that keeps coming up.
I myself was recently a guest on a radio program in Tampa, FL, and a caller asked how it could be that if I don’t believe Jesus was crucified, that I would go to heaven “without doing jihad.” I believe his question stemmed from his misconception that Muslims only can go to heaven by committing acts of terrorism or declaring “holy war” (“jihad” in his mind). Whenever I hear something like that, I get upset–because I just don’t understand how people can truly think that Islam would call for terror and death. There is a serious disconnect, and I think I have finally figured out why.
It is natural for someone with very little familiarity with Islam and Muslims to make the connection between Islam and terrorism, especially with all the negative press and publicity that has surrounded Islam for the past few years. It is very easy to conclude that Islam calls for murder when they hear tapes by Osama bin Laden or Aiman Al Zawahiri calling upon all Muslims to “kill an infidel.” Then there are those who make it their mission to smear the religion by selectively quoting from Islamic texts to bolster the fallacious argument that Islam itself is the reason for the terrorism perpetrated by some Muslims.
Thus, when the average American hears Muslims say, “Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam,” they either think we are in denial or lying. But we American Muslims mean it when we say, “Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.” And here’s why: There is a disconnect between Islam and terrorism that can be traced to the mind of a terrorist–even if that terrorist believes the complete opposite. At his very essence, a terrorist is a criminal. When a criminal commits a crime, he or she has a rationale in their mind for why they committed their crime.
If someone robs you at gun point for your iPod, his rationale may be that he wants one and doesn’t have the money to pay for one. So he will steal it from someone who has it. This justification makes absolutely no sense to you and me, but in the mind of the thief, it makes perfect sense. Cho Sueng Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, had some sort of sick justification in his mind for his massacre of 32 fellow students. Again, it made no sense to the rest of us. But in the mind of Cho, it made perfect sense.
The same is true with terrorists who claim to be Muslim. In their minds, the Qur’an says they are justified to kill non-Muslims; they are justified to kill Shi’a Muslims; they are justified to behead foreign journalists; and they are justified to strap a bomb on their waist and detonate it in a mosque full of worshippers during Friday prayers. So-called “Muslim” terrorists will even quote specific verses of the Qur’an and specific traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to bolster their claims.
To someone with very little familiarity with Islam and its teachings, their arguments will sound convincing. But this logic is twisted and fallacious, and it is so precisely because it comes from a criminal mindset, which is, a priori, twisted and evil.
To the huge majority of us Muslims who are not terrorist criminals –we can quite clearly see that this logic is twisted and evil, just as most people will clearly see how the logic of killing someone because he or she made a strange face is twisted and evil. To claim that America is altogether evil because in this country there are young men who kill others –and justify it completely– for the shoes they wear on their feet is a very faulty argument.
Similarly, the claim that Islam is a religion of violence because there are some Muslims who use Islam to justify violence is also a very faulty argument. The twisted actions of the criminals of a community must never be reflected upon the whole of that community.
Yet, a question remains: What about those verses of the Qur’an or traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) that, on the surface, seem belligerent, violent, and the like? What do we do about verses that say: “Slay the pagans wherever you may find them. … (9:5)” or “When you suffer confrontation with those who reject faith, let the blow be at the neck … (47:4)”? We should never run away from these verses.
These verses have a context and an explanation, just as similar verses in the Bible: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Matthew 10:34-36)” Biblical verses like this one also have a context and an explanation. To use either passage out of context to prove a point is a grave mistake and only leads to mutual distrust and misunderstanding.
The terrorists who commit acts of violence and murder in the name of Islam are vile criminals, and these criminals must be found and brought to justice. Their cells need to be infiltrated, and their plots need to be disrupted. More importantly, however, their philosophy must be exposed as the product of a twisted, criminal mind and rejected out of hand. There is a disconnect between a “Muslim” terrorist and Islam itself. And it is inappropriate to use the arguments of terrorist criminals as proof that terrorism indeed has something to do with Islam. It does not, plain and simple.