A Spiritual Jihad Against Violence and Terrorism - Part I

Sheila Musaji

Posted Aug 9, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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A Spiritual Jihad Against Violence and Terrorism - Part I

by Sheila Musaji


NOTE:  This paper relies heavily on the thoughts of many individuals who are politicians, scholars and clergy-persons and their quotes are used within the body of the text and not as footnotes as each of these quotes are an important part of the discussion.  I am focusing on the Abrahamic faiths not because they are the only ones affected or involved in this problem, but because, at this moment in history they are the principal protagonists.

Our society is whirling down a spiral of violence of which terrorism is the manifestation, that is currently at the front of our minds.  There is a growing exploitation by religious extremists, political extremists, nationalist extremists, etc.  All of these share a “religious” element in that they are all convinced that they are God’s agents to bring about and enforce their “right” belief on everyone else, and that they, and they alone - know the “right” way.  This “religious” element is particularly dangerous because it is devoid of spirituality.

More innocent lives are in danger today than in any previous period of history.  The entire world is in danger.  We are at the beginning of a new century and a new millenium, and it is possible that we will not complete either without destroying ourselves.

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

We are violent,  not only with each other but with the environment, and even with our spiritual selves.  We are one human race but isolate ourselves from each other through fear, suspicion and selfishness.  We have broken our ties with the natural order and with each other.

I very much like the term Tikkun ‘te-kun’ “to mend, heal and transform”. This is also the basic theme of Islam. The very name Islam comes from Salaam which means “to be intact, unbroken, sound and complete.” The purpose of Islam is to heal the brokenness in our relationship with God as well as with fellow human beings and other creatures of God. ... The purpose of religion is to provide identity, to bring integration, mending, healing and transformation. We must transform ourselves from mere self-existence to pro-existence, from merely living for ourselves to living for others. We must treat others as we want to be treated by others. ... Today we have broken relations, broken hearts, broken trusts and broken homes, broken buildings and towns. We must see how to change this situation. How to bring real Tikkun and real Salaam.” Healing Our Brokenness, Muzammil Siddiqui

Our beliefs may be different but our suffering and sorrow are shared.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place. (Rumi)

Too often, we excuse “our” violence and condemn “their” violence (whether individual or state) in the name of ethnicity, culture, politics, self-defense, religion,— but, no matter the “reason” or excuse, the end result is the same, more death and destruction. 

Terrorism is only one aspect of this widespread violence.  Currently it is most commonly associated with “Islamic terrorism” although this is an oxymoron just as much as “Christian terrorism” or “Jewish terrorism”.  The truth is that TERROR HAS NO RELIGION!  There are lots of reasons given for why terrorism has become so common in our times, and why in the last few years that among the perpetrators are individuals identifying as “religious” people.  When they are Muslims this violence is most commonly attributed to either a response to policies or an inherent flaw in Islam.  This “either/or” critique is an over-simplification of a complex issue.  Is there something wrong with religion generally, with one particular religion, is something wrong with our political policies, is something wrong with our belief system, or is there more to the issue?

It is of course true - as Shabbir Akhtar has noted - that powerlessness can corrupt as insistently as does power. But to comprehend is not to sanction or even to empathize. To take innocent life to achieve a goal is the hallmark of the most extreme secular utilitarian ethic, and stands at the opposite pole of the absolute moral constraints required by religion.  There was a time, not long ago, when the ‘ultras’ were few, forming only a tiny wart on the face of the worldwide attempt to revivify Islam. Sadly, we can no longer enjoy the luxury of ignoring them. The extreme has broadened, and the middle ground, giving way, is everywhere dislocated and confused. And this enfeeblement of the middle ground, was what was enjoined by the Prophetic example, is in turn accelerated by the opprobrium which the extremists bring not simply upon themselves, but upon committed Muslims everywhere. For here, as elsewhere, the preferences of the media work firmly against us. David Koresh could broadcast his fringe Biblical message from Ranch Apocalypse without the image of Christianity, or even its Adventist wing, being in any way besmirched. But when a fringe Islamic group bombs Swedish tourists in Cairo, the muck is instantly spread over ‘militant Muslims’ everywhere. ... At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the ‘middle way’, defined by that sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But it can only be retrieved when we improve the state of our hearts, and fill hem with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance and reconciliation. This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonising, failure. Islamic Spirituality: the Forgotten Revolution, Abdal Hakim Murad

As an American-Muslim I feel moral repugnance towards terrorism and violence, and at the same time I feel concern and frustration for what is happening to Muslims (and others in the third world) daily. Because the legitimate grievances of some have been hijacked by criminals as a pretext for terrorism does not de-legitimize the concerns.  The issues still need to be addressed..  Much of the world suffers from oppression, occupation, tyranny and injustice.  We cannot stop terrorism without first working to end the injustice.

“Until we can sympathise with the victims of terrorism regardless of their nationality, skin colour or religion—whether they are Egyptian or British, Palestinians or Israelis, Iraqis or Americans—all of us are in store for a great deal more anguish. Our ability to empathise with “the Other”, whoever he or she may be, to see the world from a different perspective, to feel other people’s pain, share their grief and understand their injustice, better enables us to address the misunderstandings, as well as the practical problems, that divide us. By acknowledging the legitimacy of other peoples’ grievances, their disappointments and frustrations, we demonstrate to the world that we care not only about ourselves. We also come to see the world differently and act in it accordingly. Recognising our common humanity is the first step towards creating a better future for all of us: a world with less violence, less suffering and possibly even less terrorism. It might make us collectively safer. It will also make us more human.” Double Standards, Samer Shehata

Mainstream American Muslims are in a unique position to act as a bridge between two cultures.  We are also in a very difficult position in that we are under suspicion and are marginalized in our own country for being Muslims, and also tanted by the extremists for being the “wrong” kind of Muslims.

Most of us say that we believe in one of the great faith traditions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism - all of whom teach brotherhood, justice, mercy, tolerance, compassion, the highest ideals to which humanity can aspire. But, it would seem that if so many people held such beliefs and followed such teachings we would see the practical results of that belief - somewhere. And, when we look around us at the condition of humanity and the planet there is no light shining from anywhere which reflects the results of establishing a real society based on actually following these teachings which we say we believe in.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, blatant Colonialism, outright slavery are in the past, and yet the mentality which brought these about is still prevalent. We still have too many people who are so strongly committed to their own beliefs that they are willing to see others die for those beliefs and too few who are so strongly committed to their beliefs that they are willing to give their own life for those beliefs!

Looking at the state of the world it would not be unreasonable to conclude that all of these belief systems are a failure. Or, we might conclude, as I have, that the failure is with us - because we lack either the courage or the vision or the commitment to act on those beliefs.

Now is a good time to test those beliefs, because at the same time that we are realizing that we have economic, social and environmental problems that are global in scope. At the same time that we face these global problems, the systems we have depended on have failed us. We are witnessing the collapse, or at least the redefinition of established social, political, economic and ideological systems worldwide. Colonialism (political or spiritual), apartheid, communism, materialism, nationalism, capitalism, sexism, racism, any of the systems which saw one group of human beings versus another, or all human beings versus nature are collapsing or being challenged.

They have failed because instead of being based on a belief in God and a commitment to act and order our lives based on that belief they were based on the small dreams of small people who had made themselves small by their own definitions of themselves. There is no justification in any of these belief systems for what we have done or what we are doing. It is we who have defined ourselves as members of a particular race, tribe, ethnic, religious, political or linguistic group to the exclusion of others who do not belong to the same groups. It is we who have defined the essential element of ourselves not as human beings but as members of these categories. It is we who have created systems that were also based on these small definitions, and these systems have failed.

We have tried every violent means as a solution to our differences, too often even in the name of religion and it has gotten us nowhere. We have walked our separate roads and when our paths crossed that meeting has been marked most often by. violence, intolerance and injustice.

We have now come to a point in history where it is obvious that all partial solutions have failed. We have a situation in which it is possible to imagine the total destruction of the world as we know it - either through nuclear war or through continuing destruction of the environment. We rea1ly are between a rock and a hard place.

I believe that it is time for all of those who believe in GOD, who believe that there is a purpose to this life, who believe that we are responsible and accountable for our actions to see this crossroads we are at as an opportunity to take the first steps on a new road that we can walk together in peace.

In America we may have the greatest opportunity to see this possibility become a reality. We are just beginning to realize that we have become a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious society. We used to think of ourselves as a melting pot - but that concept implies trying to change people, to make them all the same, to homogenize them. It won’t happen, and it can’t be done without damaging the human spirit. Perhaps if we discarded the idea of being a melting pot in favor of a mosaic we might be able to begin making connections. A mosaic not only accepts the fact of difference, it requires difference, it rejoices in difference, it uses difference. The different colors, textures and shapes together create something more beautiful and powerful than any single element could.

Each generation has had to make choices, but for most of the course of human history those choices were limited to a relatively small area of impact (individual families, clans, tribes or ethnic groups). This generation faces what may be the biggest challenge - because the choices we make may have global impact. The choices of our generation may be the choices that will define our future as a species on this planet.


The Wikipedia.com entry on terrorism as well as the entry on definitions of terrorism include a discussion of how difficult it has been to agree on a definition. 

The United Nations has not accepted any definition of terrorism as being authoritative [[3]. However, the UN “academic consensus definition,” written by terrorism expert A.P. Schmid and widely used by social scientists, runs:  “Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought,” (Schmid, 1988).

The U.S. government’s definition of terrorism—

“the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”

It seems to me that we are confusing ourselves with unnecessary complications.  How about working on a more simplified definition. Terrorism is any action either by an individual or government that targets civilians, or even “Terrorism is violence committed against non-military targets for political purposes.”

There are a lot of questions to be considered before coming up with a final definition, a few might be:

- Are government sponsored actions that target civilians to be included in the definition?  -  What about bombings in times of war that target civilians, e.g. Hiroshima,  Nagasaki, Hamburg, Dresden?  (Note: “The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, that like terrorism today, the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan to end World War II were unjustifiable because they failed to “discriminate between noncombatants and combatants.”)  - How much   collateral damage is acceptable?  - If government troops do not act to prevent a slaughter of civilians, e.g. the Dutch U.N. Peacekeepers at Srebenica, are they complicit in terrorism?  - If government troops actually surround a civilian population so they cannot escape allowing another party to commit a massacre, e.g. Israeli troops at Sabra & Shatilla,  are they also complicit in terrorism?  - Is the use of WMD’s terrorism (how about depleted uranium)?  - If one government funds anothers tyrannical goverment, does it bear any responsibility, e.g. the Shah of Iran’s torture chambers.  - How about pre-emptive war, torture, sanctions, genocide, ethnic cleansing?

Whatever definition we come up with, we can agree that all violence is best avoided.

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”  Gandhi

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”  Gandhi


Answers.com has an entry on Christian Terrorism as does Wikipedia - which includes the killing of abortion doctors, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, the Christian Identity Movement, Ku Klux Klan, The Order, God’s Army, the IRA, the Nagaland Rebels.

Surprisingly, the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians by the Serbs was not included, nor were many other events that Muslims would consider terrorism.  Why no religious designation for the perpetrators or victims?

In the case of Christianity Answers.com includes the disclaimer that “Mainstream believers typically consider acts by “Christian terrorists” to be egregious violations of the religion’s ethics and regularly condemn all acts of terrorism, including those perpetuated by self-professed Christian terrorists.”

“Is Eric Rudolph a “Christian terrorist”? Well, it depends on your definition. But if he’s not a Christian terrorist, Osama bin Laden isn’t an Islamic terrorist. His views and actions closely parallel those of Islamist radicals who attack targets inside majority-Islamic countries with a goal of instituting Islamic states.  Christians—and not just conservatives, but moderates and liberals—will say that Eric Rudolph isn’t really Christian. Christianity, of course, is a religion of peace. Now, where have we heard that before?  There is, of course, a long history of murder and war in the name of the Prince of Peace. It hardly stopped with the Crusades or the Thirty Years’ War. Nor is it confined to Ireland. I don’t believe there’s any creed that can’t be perverted to violence.”  From Actual Christian Terrorism, Mac Thomason

This is one of the difficult issues to dialogue about, but it is an issue that needs to be dealt with - What was the religious affiliation of:  - Those who enslaved and murdered the Native Americans; - Those who colonized most of what is now the “Third World”; - Those who dropped the atomic bomb; - Those who developed and participated in the political systems of Naziism and Fascism; - Those who participated in torture at Abu Ghraib; - Those who carried out ethnic cleansing against the Bosnian Muslims; - Those who were responsible for the death of millions in Germany’s death camps?

I know that if the answer to any of these questions had been - Islam - that the term Islamic terrorism would have been used to describe the event.  I don’t believe that these events represent Christianity, but I also don’t believe that the terrorist acts that are referred to as Islamic terrorism represent Islam.  They are deviant actions that happened in spite of the religion of the perpetrators.

There have been Christians that have defended terrorism, or at least some forms of what others would see as terrorism.  A recent example is Chuck Spingola and some Christian clergy have defended slavery, KKK lynchings, and even the Nazi regime.

In 1999 Pat Robertson called the assassination of foreign leaders “practical.”

Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson said it might be “practical” foreign policy to assassinate some international leaders. Speaking Aug. 9 on “The 700 Club,” Robertson said: “I know it sounds somewhat Machiavellian and evil, to think that you could send a squad in to take out somebody like (terrorist) Osama bin Laden or to take out the head of North Korea. But isn’t it better to do something like that, to take out (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic, to take out (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein, rather than to spend billions and billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country? It would just seem so much more practical to have that flexibility.”

And, now in 2005 he calls specifically for the assassination of the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. 


My sense is that history has come to a point where only one thing will save this venerable faith tradition at this critical time in Christian history, and that is a new Reformation far more radical than Christianity has ever before known and that this Reformation must deal with the very substance of that faith. This Reformation will recognize that the pre-modern concepts in which Christianity has traditionally been carried will never again speak to the post-modern world we now inhabit. This Reformation will be about the very life and death of Christianity. Because it goes to the heart of how Christianity is to be understood, it will dwarf in intensity the Reformation of the 16th century. It will not be concerned about authority, ecclesiastical polity, valid ordinations and valid sacraments. It will be rather a Reformation that will examine the very nature of the Christian faith itself. It will ask whether or not this ancient religious system can be refocused and re-articulated so as to continue living in this increasingly non-religious world. A Call for a New Reformation, Rev. John D. Spong

TAM has a list of articles on Christian terrorism


Under the heading Religious Terrorism such Jewish groups as the Jewish Defense League and Kahane Chai are listed.  Wikipedia has an entry on the Qibya Massacre by Israeli troops;  the Kafr Qasim Massacre by the Israeli border police; the Sabra and Shatila massacres which refer to the perpetrators as Maronite Christian Militias and to possible Israeli culpability; and the Lavon Affair including the Operation Susannah bombings in Egypt by the Israeli’s.  Why Israeli and not Jewish?  Why no mention of their religion?  Why Militias and not terrorists?

In the case of Jewish terrorists Wikipedia includes the disclaimer://: Some of these Jewish groups believe that God gave Jews the land of Israel and so they advocate ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel, West Bank and Gaza). Most, if not all, however, support the transfer of Palestinians to other regions within the Middle East. and, while this entry on Religious Terrorism includes many entries for Islamic terrorism, doesn’t even mention many groups affiliated with Christianity or Judaism who have resorted to terrorism. 

There have been some Jews who defended terrorism: In this terrible time of crisis, we remember the words of HaRav Yitzchak Nissim, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel that said in 1968, “The Land of Israel was, with its borders, defined for us by Divine Providence. Thou shalt be, says the Almighty, and there it is. No power on earth can alter that which was created by Him. In this connection it is not a question of law or logic, neither is it a matter of human treatment or that sort of thing.”  source . Rabbi Meier Kahane founded an organization called Kach which promoted ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.  The JDL defended the Hebron massacre of Palestinians by Dr. Baruch Goldstein.


“And how can you apply the adjective life-affirming to thousands of ferociously angry settlers in Gaza determined to rip down every brick in place, cut down every tree, root up every vine, people who have been widely reported to be poisoning the land they will have to surrender? It seems to me that Israel itself represents the focus of just such a struggle going on in Judaism, the only difference between it and what we see in Islam being one of numbers.” The Dumbest Story Ever Written, John Chuckman


The list of terrorist acts attributed to “Islamic” Terrorism doesn’t need to be repeated here because it so widespread as to be “common knowledge — common, but not accurate.  Any act committed by any criminal who happens to be a Muslim will be labelled Islamic Terrorism.

We need to question whether al-Qaeda is “an evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of Islam” as Tony Blair has said, or is it a violent response to perceived injustices, twisting Islamic belief in an attempt to justify that response by misusing the Qur’an and going against 1400 years of Islamic thought.

In the case of Islamist terrorism Answers.com is much less generous than it was with possible Christian or Jewish terrorism and says only: The extent of support for “Islamist terrorism” within the Muslim population is disputed, although it is generally agreed that only the most extremist fringes support it. Many Muslims have denounced support for terrorism.

This is a deceptive wording that gives a very different impression than the disclaimers for Christianity and Judaism.

“Terrorism, which is termed hirabah (not jihad) in Arabic, was uniformly condemned by all the classical Islamic scholars, even by those who were imprisoned by the authorities (which included all the greatest scholars in Islamic history), because it was the classic example of the fasad (or societal corruption) that destroys civilization (al hadara al islamiya). Osama bin Laden is nothing less than a Beast of the Anti-Christ (the masiah al dajal) and his terrorism against America is hirabah al shaitaniyyah, a satanic war that can only plunge all of humanity into centuries or millennia of barbarism. ... We must understand where he is coming from, but also where he is going. Our task is not merely to stop evil, which can’t be done, but to promote good, which can overcome it, in sha’a Allah.” Economic Justice: A Cure for Terrorism, Dr. Robert D. Crane

Currently, to add to this misunderstanding and mutual distrust we have:

(1) blame leveled at the entire religion — the problem is not just Muslim terrorists but an “evil” Islam.  (TAM has a collection of alarming anti-Muslim quotes - many by “respectable” community and religious leaders);

“Responsibility” is a better word than “blame”. We demand it, rightly, of those who carry out the atrocities; we should demand it also of ourselves and our rulers. The bombers, or rather those who control and influence them, are clear they are at war. President Bush seemed to agree when he declared a “war on terror”. Is our role in this war a just one? Do we want to continue the war? If not, what will we do to stop it? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves.? The Responsibility We Share for Islamist Shock and Awe, Peter Wilby

(2) demands for the Muslim community to apologize for every criminal action that is carried out by any individual who happens to be a Muslim (Many Muslims are very frustrated by this demand for an apology for something that is not the fault of Islam).  Almost daily, one Muslim leder or another is called on to engage in what amounts to calling into doubt the sanctity of Islam - falling just short of being asked to condemn their religion;

Terrorism and Islam’s Exceptionalism.  Modern forms of terrorism were introduced into the Middle East in the 1940s by Jewish groups in then British-occupied Palestine. It was the Irgun, the Stern gang, and the Hagana that began the practice of bombing “gathering places [and] crowded Arab areas [in an attempt to] terrorize the Arab community” (Smith, 1992: 19; 140). The Stern gang even attacked Jewish banks, resulting in “Jewish loss of life” (120). The Irgun, as we know, “slaughtered about 250 men, women and children whose mutilated bodies were stuffed down wells” in the village of Dair Yassin (143).  ...  Even though many such terror tactics continued until fairly recent times, people in the U.S. did not put world Jewry on call by asking Jews to explain what Judaism has to say about killing innocent civilians. ...  People may have denounced these terrorist groups-freedom fighters to many-but they did not call on all Jews to explain which Torah or Talmud the Jewish terrorists were reading, or ask the “real” Judaism to “stand up.” Why, then, this assault on Muslims to explain what their “bible” - as that savant, Larry King, calls the Qur’an - teaches about violence? (He even badgered Hanan Ashrawi, assuming that because she’s Palestinian, she’s a Muslim, even though she’s not.) The same people who say (like the anonymous author I quoted earlier does) that they don’t give a “rat’s—-” about Islam nonetheless are shrieking for the “real” Islam to stand up! In an atmosphere where only Muslims are expected to keep protesting our humanity and to defend our religion, my politics dictated that I should not speak at all in any forum on Islam. But, my religion teaches the jihad of knowledge and, as a Muslim, this jihad is obligatory for me. Interpretation and Exceptionalism, Asma Barlas

(3) an attempt (named “Religion Building” by Jim Lobe) to re-define Islam for us;

It is very unkind for Muslims to blame Christianity for the abominations of pagan secularists and their blind followers, especially because Muslims are victims of precisely the same sort of demonizing everywhere themselves. If Muslims want others to let them define Islam, they should let devout Christians define Christianity and devout Jews define the essence of Judaism. Confrontation through polemical denial of the other’s right to self-identity is universally to be condemned as perhaps the worst possible affront to human dignity. Peaceful Engagement Through Interfaith Action, Dr. Robert D. Crane

(4) requests for us to explain what it is about Islam that allows it to be hijacked; as if terrorism were inherent in Islam, but somehow mitigated by extenuating circumstances when committed by others.

(5) Verses taken out of context to “prove” that the Qur’an encourages terrorism, or that the Muslim world is backwards because of the teachings of the Qur’an;

Imagine asking Christians or Jews to reconcile Christianity or Judaism in light of an out-of-context verse from the Bible, such as: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)  Or this verse: “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (Hosea 13:16) ...  This is certainly not a fair or scientific way to understand the Bible nor the peaceful message of Christianity or Judaism. The Qur’an, like all other scriptures, cannot be understood except within its context. Taking a verse out of its theological or historical context can lead to misinterpretations, often the hallmark of extremists. Just as the Bible has been abused by fanatics to justify slavery and the holocaust, so have Muslim fanatics abused the Qur?an to further their murderous agenda. Quoting the Qur’an, Hussam Ayloush

(6) the constantly repeated “Where are the Muslim voices against terrorism?” - no matter how often those voices have spoken, they don’t seem to be heard or are discounted as being “insincere”;

The most recent of these blame Islam diatribes was by Thomas Friedman.  On July 8, 2005 Thomas Friedman wrote “If It’s A Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution” in which he said “To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.” 

I use Friedman as an example throughout this paper simply because his writing so clearly exemplifies so many of the issues raised.  His is the “average” American point of view.

“The second false presupposition Mr. Friedman puts forward is that bin Ladenite jihadism is a Muslim problem that begs Muslim solutions. I wonder whether throughout the years that the IRA terrorized Britons in London any pundit ever called the predicament of the Irish a “Catholic problem with Catholic solutions.” ... It is true that Islam, like any other religion, is understood in competing and at times contradictory ways. But each of these competing interpretations of Islam corresponds and reacts to particular situations in which Muslims find themselves. One cannot understand violent interpretations of jihad outside the violence to which Muslim majority nations have been subjected. In other words, Islam is not innately predisposed to violence; it does not breed savagery ex nihilo, thus the fallacy of terrorism as a “Muslim problem.” Somehow it is easier for many western pundits to understand that rather than a “Catholic problem,” violence in Northern Ireland had much to do with British Empire.” Thomas Friedman’s Muslim Problem, Behrooz Ghamari

Muslims have spoken up just as loudly against terrorism as any other group.  Hundreds of clerics and theologians have condemned al Qaeda’s and Osama bin Laden’s violence.  There have been fatwas issued on every aspect of violence and terrorism and even fatwas to clarify who is qualified to issue a fatwa. 


“Fatwa has entered the media’s vocabulary. Fatwa, like other borrowed Arabic terms, (e.g., intifada, jihad, madrasa, sharia) carries an assumed meaning, is draped in mystery, and leads to misunderstanding. Linguistically, fatwa means “an answer to a question” - the question may be rhetorical or actual. The answer represents only the opinion of the person who offered it. In Islamic jurisprudence, fatwa means the opinion of a scholar based on that scholar’s understanding and interpretation of the intent of the sources of Islam, that scholar’s knowledge of the subject in question, and the social milieu that produced the issue or question. The scholar’s answer or fatwa is not a binding rule; rather, it is a recommendation. The answer (fatwa) may be opposed, criticized, accepted, or rejected. In addition, the answer (fatwa) may itself become the subject of debate or questions. ... In an egalitarian system such as Islam, a fatwa gains acceptance based on the integrity of the person who offered the fatwa (in Arabic, a mufti), that person’s knowledge of Islamic sources as well as knowledge of the issue and of the social context that raised the issue. Any of the aforementioned prerequisites may be challenged and the answer (fatwa) is an opinion and that opinion may be incorrect. To consider a fatwa issued by anyone as binding on all Muslims is a dangerous contemporary trend that merely stifles Islam’s rich history of debate and dissent. Moreover, it would allow individuals to claim authority over others by virtue of their supposed knowledge of God’s will. The purpose of a fatwa is to offer an opinion, not to silence discourse.” Demystifying the Fatwa, by Dr. Maher Hathout

TAM has a lengthy collection of references under the heading Muslim Voices Against Terrorism  The fatwa recently issued by the Fiqh Council of North America (which was insulted as coming late) was simply the latest in a long list of such fatwas.  Perhaps if we continue to issue such fatwas and statements enough times they will finally be heard even by the deafest of those who continue to deny that such statements have been made.

“Whether we are American, Nigerian, Indonesian, or British, we look like them, we dress like them, we speak like them, and we pray like them. We cannot identify them before they strike. They hate us because we reject their ideology. They would kill us as ‘‘infidels.” We are Muslims. So are they. But they are terrorists and we are not. That is the distinction. This is where we must make our stand. ... As troubling as it is for Muslims to be identified as potential terrorists, the truth is that the terrorists conducting such barbaric acts in today’s society are Muslims. That is not to say that they are the only or the biggest terrorists, but they are the most mindless, unpredictable, and deliberately merciless. Driven by motives or grievances that they may legitimately share with countless other Muslims, they have devised their own demonic modus operandi that almost all others abhor and are repulsed by. In an open society they bear no distinctive traits. ... While the recent terror acts have been committed by Muslims, there is nothing ‘‘Islamic” about them. They are totally antithetical to the fundamental principles of Islam and represent a heretical deviation of the religion. When the 9/11 Commission went out of its way to define terrorism as not just any generic terrorism, but specifically as ‘‘Islamist,” this pejorative label, despite the banal niceties of ‘‘Islam being a religion of peace,” sent a chilling message to Muslims worldwide that terrorism is a hallmark or prerogative of Islam, or that when committed by other groups it is in some way mitigated by intrinsic extenuating circumstances. ,,, The leap from deviant Muslims perpetrating atrocities to a religion being impugned for the sins of its supposed adherents is breath-taking in its audacity. This distinction has become critical ever since the ‘‘showdown with Saddam” transmuted into the ‘‘war on terror.” With the daily mind-numbing imagery of maniacal Muslim ‘‘insurgents” savaging troops and civilians alike, a transformation rapidly took place: The problem was just not Muslim terrorists but an ‘‘evil” Islam itself. This is a theme broadcast with malevolent glee by talk shows on a daily basis thereby intensifying suspicion, fear, contempt, and hatred of Islam. Demonizing Islam makes it the enemy in the ‘‘war on terror.” ... Ironically, it is us Muslims who have the greatest vested interest in eradicating terrorism. We need to do this to salvage our religion and our self-respect. As long as we are marginalized by the West and taunted by the extremists, we are made to feel as if we were part of the problem rather than of the solution, and our commitment becomes ambivalent. If the so-called war on terrorism has any chance of being won, there needs to be an immediate redefinition of the enemy.” Foe isn’t Islam, it’s Binladenism, Abdul Cader Asmal

To say that recent terrorist acts are specifically a Muslim problem is to remove them from the historical context.

“The terrorist acts of a few Muslims are terrible tragedies: but do they have a history behind them? Is there a history of Western provocations in the Muslim world? Does the Western world at any point enter the historical chain of causation that now drives a few sane Muslims to acts of terrorism? The only history that Friedman will acknowledge is one of Western innocence. There is no blowback: hence, no Western responsibility, no Western guilt. ... Mr. Friedman speaks on this authoritatively and with clarity. The Muslim world has produced a “jihadist death cult in its midst.” “If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere.” His two-fold verdict is clear. Inexplicably, the Muslims have produced a death cult, a religious frenzy, that is driving those infected by it to kill innocent Westerners without provocation. Equally bad, the Muslims have done nothing to condemn, to root out this death cult they have spawned. ... There is not even a hint of history in these words. The historical amnesia is truly astounding. Does Mr. Friedman know any history? Of course, he does; but the history he knows is better forgotten if he is to succeed in demonizing the Muslim world. The oppressors choose to forget the history of their depredations, or substitute a civilizing mission for their history of brutalities, bombings, massacres, ethnic cleansings and expropriations. It is the oppressed peoples who know the history of their oppression: they know it because they have endured it. Its history is seared into their memory, their individual and collective memory. Indeed, they can liberate themselves only by memorializing this history.”  A Muslim Problem, M. Shahid Alam

“Two weeks ago, we saw how a group of young Muslims swallowed the bait of fiery rhetoric riddled with out-of-context verses spun in order to serve a nihilistic ideology of anger and despair offered to them disguised as Islam. Within a short period of time, these young men fell prey to the hate-filled dogma and were transformed into beings capable of blowing themselves up, taking with them innocent lives whom God has also blown in them from his spirit and “conferred dignity on the children of Adam” (Quran 7:70) which cuts through barriers of race, gender and creed…As they commit the crime against themselves and others, they drag with them the reputation and image of the religion they claim to venerate. They not only violate its basic teachings, but disfigure the message of “mercy to the worlds” into a justification for cruel, cowardly and repulsive behavior. In this way, hearts that were supposed to be opened to the word of God got closed and minds that were hoped to have been opened to the light of guidance are shut.”  Dr. Maher Hathout

To remove the discussion of terrorism from the historical context makes it easy to turn this in to an “us and them” struggle that has no other solution but violence.

The triumph of the West, or the resurgence of an Islam interpreted by bestselling Pentecostal authors as a chastisement and a demonic challenge, signals the end of a growing worry about the religious meaninglessness of late modernity. Tragically, however, neither protagonist seems validly linked to the remnants of established religion, or shows any sign of awareness of how to connect with history. Fundamentalist disjuncture is placing us in a kind of metahistorical parenthesis, an end-time excitement in which, as for St Paul, old rules are irrelevant, and Christ and Antichrist are the only significant gladiators on the stage. Fundamentalists, as well as mystics, can insist that the moment is all that is real. ... In such a world of pseudo-religious reaction against the postmodern erosion of identity, it follows that if you are not “with us,” you are with the devil. Or, when this has to be reformulated for the benefit of the blue-collar godless, you are a “cheese-eating surrender monkey”. Where religion exists to supply an identity, the world is Augustinian, if not quite Manichean. The West’s ancient trope of itself as a free space, perhaps a white space, holding out against Persian or Semitic intruders, is being coupled powerfully, but hardly for the first time, with Pauline and patristic understandings of the New Israel as unique vessel of truth and salvation, threatened in the discharge of its redemptive project by the Oriental, Semitic, Ishmaelitic other. In the West, at least, the religious resources for this dualism are abundant and easily abused. Bombing Without Moonlight: the Origins of Suicidal Terrorism, Abdal-Hakim Murad

There have been some Muslims who defended terrorism or at least justified some form of it.  The most striking example is what is called the “Palestinian exception” to the rules of war.


“No doubt, Muslims are facing a deep spiritual crisis. Islam has been hijacked and turned into an ideology in pursuit of worldly success instead of a religion meant to purify the soul and focus one’s life on Almighty God. ...  I don’t deny that there are “Muslim terrorists” out there. Rather, like many people, I’m rather cynical about the conduct of what so far has been a rather selective war on terrorism. Indeed, a blind-eye is being turned to other great atrocities in the world and problems that cost far more human lives are being ignored. In the hands of ideologues who seemingly believe that military force can solve many of the world’s complex problems, the “War on Terror” has been expanded to include not only countries that are seemingly uninvolved, but carried out in gross violation of the very international laws that the terrorists are guilty of violating. Unfortunately, we live in an age where well-intentioned criticism is often considered un-patriotic, especially when coming from a Muslim. Being a good citizenship these days seems to mean shutting up and climbing on the bandwagon. Critical thinking and moral courage seem to be in short supply. Finding a semblance of them is as tough as finding an honest man in Congress. We only hope that our attempts to understand the motives for a crime are never understood to be endorsements of it. In order to develop reasonable, coherent and viable solutions to the plague of ignorance and extremism that we’re facing, we need to study the sources, context and motives behind the crimes. Simple solutions are bogus solutions, and most of the tough problems facing the human race can’t be solved by using military force. ... As a God-fearing and morally upright community, we’ve got to join together and bring our resources to bear in order to refute with a vengeance these extremist “Protestant Muslims” and their flaky “Do-It-Yourself” religion that has cast aside over 1,400 years of peerless scholarly tradition. In this undertaking, it’s crucial that we stay balanced, moderate and true to our blessed tradition. ...We need to explain the high moral standards of our faith; that it is a religion that primarily emphasizes not only the infinite mercy of God but encourages mercy between all human beings. Indeed, Islam condemns terrorism, murder, hijacking, kidnaping, taking the law into your own hands and so on. None of this is compromised by the fact that we also have a “Just War” theory which is extremely similar to the ones advocated not only by various churches, but by international law as well. Our beloved Prophet was sent as a mercy to the worlds (Qur’an 21:107), so we have to save Islam from the reckless few that have made a large part of humanity feel that it’s a scourge rather than a blessing.” Monkey See Monkey Do - Not an Islamic Ideal, Abdur Rahman Squires

We are in the midst of wars between the different families of Abraham - Jews, Christians, and Muslims. - Some of the family members actually define these wars as religiously required. ... Even worse, there are groups within the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities that are trying to incite and create an all-out war between Islam and “the West.” Such a war would bring misery upon the peoples of all nations.

Part I http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_i/
Part II http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_ii/
Part III http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_iii/
Part IV http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_iv/
Part V http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_v/

Sheila Musaji is the Editor of The American Muslim at http://www.theamericanmuslim.org

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as there are no changes, and this active link to The American Muslim is included.