North American Muslims Determined to Counter Violence and Terrorism

Sheila Musaji

Posted Jan 9, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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North American Muslims Determined to Counter Violence and Terrorism

by Sheila Musaji

The North American Muslim community leadership has been attempting for some time to raise awareness about extremism and the possibility of young people becoming radicalized.  Because of the internet and other media radical elements are able to make connections with others across all national lines.  Any idiot with a computer is able to connect with others all over the world.  Over the past several years there has been a great deal of discussion within the Muslim community on the subject of how best to deal with extremism within the Muslim community, and recently there have been some very encouraging developments which encourage practical steps to counter radicalization - for example, CAIR’s announcement that they plan to set up a website specifically aimed at countering extremist interpretations of the Qur’an, MPAC’s Building Bridges document, ISNA’s statement Against Terrorism and Religious Extremism:  Muslim Position and Responsibilities

This week 20 North American Imams issued a Fatwa Against Terrorists.  According to The National Post of Canada:  “Syed Soharwardy, an imam at the Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Centre, who organized the initiative, said yesterday that any attack by foreign elements should also be considered a direct affront to the 10 million Muslims who call either Canada or the United States home.  “We want Muslims around the world who would dare to commit terrorism on our soil to know that we stand together with all Canadians and Americans.  “We are asking Muslims here not only to condemn terrorism but to also see these events as attacks on themselves.”

Also, this week, on the day that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was arraigned in court there was a rally of about 150 American Muslims and Arabs outside the court.  The participants in the rally held signs saying “Not in the name of Islam”, “We are Americans,” and “Islam is Against Terrorism.”  According to the Chicago Tribune the rally was organized by Majed Moughni who created a Facebook group called Dearborn Area Community Members to plan the rally. 

Prior to the rally, a group of Imams from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan held a press conference condemning terrorism.  You can see video of the rally here and photos of the rally here.

The American Muslim and Arab communities are attempting to whatever they can to make it clear that we reject violence and extremism as solutions to anything.  I hope that there will be many more such efforts, just as there have previously been many other efforts.  Here are a few of the notable efforts:  - Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq put together a statement on Apostasy in Islam in 2007 which was signed by over 100 scholars and activists.  - The Sunni Shia Dialogue petition organized by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid.  - a Muslim Intrafaith Code of Honor was developed and publically signed by Sunni and Shia scholars at ISNA in 2007.  - The ISNA Statement Against Terrorism and Religious Extremism in 2006 - CAIRs Not In the Name of Islam Petition which received 691,591 signatures in 2004.  Fiqh Council of North America Fatwa against terrorism in 2005.  You can find an extensive list of fatwas, articles, and statements against extremism and terrorism on The American Muslim site under the heading Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism.

In the 2006 statement - Against Terrorism and Religious Extremism:  Muslim Position and Responsibilities, ISNA said in item III:

“III. Countering Terrorism and Religious Extremism: Muslims’ Responsibilities

It is incumbent upon all Muslims to uphold and clarify the correct position of Islam on issues such as terrorism and religious extremism. As the fatwa from FCNA explained, we must also take whatever steps we can to combat these scourges. These include the following:

• Educate Muslims, especially leaders and imams, about relevant Islamic teachings, societal concerns and responsive initiatives relating to terrorism and religious extremism.
• Publicize FCNA’s “Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Religious Extremism Fatwa” in the community, understand it and encourage every mosque and Islamic educational entity across the country to endorse it.
• Hold leaders responsible for un-Islamic teachings, and encourage them to seek training from institutions such as the ILDC [ISNA Leadership Development Center] or advice from FCNA.
• Organize youth outreach programs that provide clarification on the Islamic position regarding terrorism and religious extremism.
• Build and promote relationships and interaction with law enforcement officials, including sensitivity and diversity training.
• Reach out to our neighbors and interfaith institutions to create better understanding and cooperation.
• Forge alliances with national and international Islamic institutions to develop, promote, and implement a global, unified Muslim platform and initiatives against terrorism and religious extremism.”

I believe that the events of this week show clearly that the Muslim community is more than ready to work with the leadership to do anything we can to stop this plague of extremism and terrorism.  I pray that the leaders of our national organizations will work together cooperatively to establish some very practical guidelines and systems to help us to do that.

A few quotes from important articles discussing this issue.  I would encourage you to read the full articles.

‘If you hate the west, emigrate to a Muslim country’ Hamza Yusuf 2001

”...It is time that the great majority stopped being a silent majority, and raised its voice courageously. The sunna must be reclaimed as a via positiva. This is not, I believe, a heroic option; it is a fundamental religious duty. To uphold the honour of Islam, as a great world religion, and to defy the voices that would turn it into little more than a resentful sect, is a fard ‘ayn - an individual obligation.  ...  We need institutions and faces that can believably do this. A few of our mosques and Islamic centres are in the grip of a small minority of worshippers who care nothing for peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens, and whose hearts and minds are overseas. ...” Abdal-Hakim Murad 2003

”... But frankly, American Muslims have generally been more critical of injustices committed by the American government than of injustices committed by Muslims. This has to change. ...  who has the greatest duty to stop the oppression of Muslims committed by other Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims.  ...  Who has the greatest duty to stop violence committed by Muslims against innocent non-Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims ...  beginning with an honest critical evaluation of our own flaws. ...”  Ingrid Mattson 2001

” ... turning a blind eye to serious problems in our leaders and institutions. ...  Criticism doesn’t harm unity. Instead, it makes it stronger because Muslims then work together to solve problems for the benefit of the community. It’s worse when the Muslim leadership remains critically silent.  ...  But it’s not the Taliban that should have been the focus of the criticism, it’s their understanding of Islam. Even in Chicago there are a few Masjids where women cannot enter.  I wish I hadn’t stopped a demonstration in front of one of these Masjids a few years ago, by requesting a dialogue between the mosque’s administration and the protesters.    Why did some national Muslim organizations jump to support the bombing of Afghanistan and then condemn it within weeks? What changed during these few weeks which was not known earlier? What decision-making process was used the first time and what method was used the second time?” Abdul Malik Mujahid 2002

“We American Muslims seem frozen in a defensive mode, forever having to explain to the public that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance after the occurrence of some horrific event. ... If these defensive apologies continue indefinitely, we risk hypocrisy.  ...  “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” was released last April by (CAIR) in Washington, D.C. One finding ... about 350,000 Muslims perform the Jum’ah throughout the United States every week.  ...  No other religious gathering has the regularity and the cumulative effect of the Jum’ah in helping to shape the views of American Muslims and impress upon them the tolerant message of Islam.  Unfortunately, the imams often squander this opportunity.  ...  However, in selecting imams, directors are often not as careful and thorough as they ought to be, even when recognizing that improper choices can alienate moderate Muslims and splinter communities.  ...  One reason for this unhappy situation is that many of the imams, educated in religious institutions abroad, have little or no knowledge of American history and how the government works.  ...  In particular, they should favor imams educated in America who are fluent in English and are voices of moderation, who can talk to the media on issues ranging from education and the environment to threats of global terrorism, and who can sustain a constructive dialogue with Americans from all walks of life not just during a crisis, but also in peaceful times. When enlightened imams lead mosques and inspire their congregations to actively promote what is right and oppose what is wrong, the risks of some deviants pulling off malevolent deeds are either minimized or made easier to identify and thwart. Only then will America and the world begin to appreciate the true, peaceful message of Islam.”  Hasan Zillur Rahim 2002

”...  why then did the “Muslim leadership” not condemn the rhetoric before it translated into carnage? ... Muslims have two choices - either to bemoan their plight as unfair and do nothing, or to confront the reality and become proactive. As demeaning as it is to have to respond to egregious depictions in order to seemingly re-establish their legitimacy, given the crusader attitude they currently face, Muslims have little option. ...”  Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal 2002

“An inference needs to be squarely faced. If our belongingness to our adopted countries is only about economics, then we cannot blame the host societies for regarding us with dislike and suspicion. For if we are suspicious of non-Muslims in Muslim majority countries who fail to acclimatise themselves to the ambient values and sense of collective purpose of their countries of citizenship, then why should we demand that they behave differently when it is we who are the minority? A country that accepts migrants, however conspicuously economic their primary motives, has the right to expect that they engage in some form of cultural migration as well. No Muslim would deny that multiculturalism must always have some limits.  ...  The first tough realisation that we face is that the future of Islam in America will be an American future, if it is to happen at all. As the ‘war against terrorism’, with all its clumsy, pixellated violence, and cultural simplifications, gathers momentum, it is likely that there will be further events and atrocities which will render the current social and psychological marginality of the community still more precarious. Unless American Muslims can locate for themselves, and populate, a spiritual and cultural space which can meaningfully be called American, we will be in the firing line. Only a few of the ultras in the mosques would welcome such a showdown; most of us would be appalled.  ...  What the new generation must do is therefore threefold. Firstly, we need to acknowledge that confrontational readings of Islam, imported by some leaders from countries where confrontation with local tyrannies is often morally necessary, may not serve Muslims in the dangerous context of the modern West. It is already clear to many that Mawdudi and Qutb were not writing for 21st century Muslim minorities in America, but for a mid-twentieth century struggle against secular repression and corruption in majority Muslim lands. They themselves would, quite possibly, be startled to learn that their books were being pressed on utterly different communities, fifty years on.    Secondly, we need to turn again to the founding story of Islam for guidance on the correct conduct of guests. An insulting guest will not be tolerated indefinitely even by the most religious of hosts; and our communal condemnations of Western culture have to be seen as at best discourteous. A measured, concerned critique of social dissolution, unacceptable beliefs, or destructive foreign policies will always be a required component of Muslim discourse, but wild denunciations of Great Satans or global Crusader Conspiracies are, for Muslims here, not only dangerous, but are also discourteous - scarcely a lesser sin.”  Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad 2002

”...  What Muslims lack in this moment of crisis is a clear, decisive, and unequivocal religious authority able to declare that the killing of innocents by terrorist attacks is contrary to Islam and to explain how Muslims can stand firmly against terrorism without seeming to embrace the United States and its policies. When authority itself is in question, the middle gives way.  ...  Islam’s leaders must act. The heads of Islamic centers and institutes around the world, along with leading Muslim intellectuals of every persuasion, must clarify the meaning of their faith. Non-Muslims in the United States and other countries are eager for signs of leadership in the Muslim world. They await an affirmation that the vision of a peaceful, fraternal world embodied in Islam’s past and in the hearts of most ordinary Muslims still guides the people who claim to speak in Islam’s name. ... “ Richard Bulliett 2002

” ...  they cannot deny forever that doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism.  ... Islam is a great world religion that has produced much of the world’’s most sensitive art, architecture and literature, and has a rich life of ethics, missionary work, and spirituality. Such are the real, and historically-successful, weapons of Islam, because they are the instruments that make friends of our neighbours, instead of enemies fit for burning alive. Those that refuse them, out of cultural impotence or impatience, will in the longer term be perceived as so radical in their denial of what is necessarily known to be part of Islam, that the authorities of the religion are likely to declare them to be beyond its reach. If that takes place, then future catastrophes by Wahhabi ultras will have little impact on the image of communities, whose spokesmen can simply say that Muslims were not implicated. This is the approach taken by Christian churches when confronted by, say, the Reverend Jim Jones’’s suicide cult, or the Branch Davidians at Waco. Only a radical amputation of this kind will save Islam’’s name, and the physical safety of Muslims, particularly women, as they live and work in Western cities.” Abdal-Hakim Murad 2001

“In both the British and Dutch cases, we have a European Muslim’s worst nightmare - young Muslims who have been born and raised in Europe, yet who reject a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. They see themselves as outsiders who, for whatever reason, see violence as a means for correcting the actions of their government or of fellow citizens. ... Unfortunately, it does not matter if these five individuals represent an extreme minority within the larger European Muslim community. The fact that they exist at all, and spoke with a collective defiant voice, will haunt their non-Muslim neighbors, make Muslim integration into European society increasingly difficult, and compound the alienation that may lead to extremism in the first place. ...  It is too easy for a condemnation to morph into an abdication of responsibility to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, distancing oneself from extremism only allows it to grow unchecked. The time has come - actually, it came several years ago - for a zero-tolerance policy towards violent rhetoric in the Muslim community. It is time for shock and sorrow to give way to introspection and resoluteness.  ... “  Shahed Amanullah 2005

“I do not think there is war between the East and the West or between the “Muslim” World and the Non-Muslim World. Nor does there exist, in the real world, such an issue as a “Clash between Two Civilizations” i.e. between Islam and the West—as is some times very ignorantly proclaimed. Rather, the ideals and the higher values in Islam and the ideals and the higher values in the West are very much the same. It is so because Islam stands for the Divine Guidance revealed to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and other messengers of God; while “the West” expresses the yearning, in modern times, of the human mind and spirit toward very similar higher concerns. The West as such is a movement which was initiated as an awakening in the geographical west, at a time when the followers of these messengers were failing in their duty to liberate humans from their mutual slaveries and to lead the world toward peace, prosperity and progress.    Perhaps, there is a war between two groups: one of these—in spite of huge opposition of conscientious people of the West—claims to be a custodian and representative of “Western Civilization” without practicing the higher values for which the West stands. The other group, some of whose members are not ashamed of committing a most heinous crime i.e. creating terror through murder of innocent civilians, which according to the Qur’an (25: 68-70), would bring to its doers (unless they repent and correct themselves) eternal punishment of Hell, still considers itself a defender of Islam and Muslims. However, the rest of humankind agrees that they have done the greatest disservice to Islam.”  Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan 2006

” In modern times the violent approach of our ulema, intellectuals, and leaders of movements, is the sole reason for the present violent mentality among Muslims all over the world. It is as a result of this mentality that, if anyone writes a book against Islam, Muslims are prepared to kill the writer. If any procession raises anti-Muslim slogans, Muslims start stoning the procession instead of killing the evil by observing silence, which, as Umar Faruq advocated, would be the best strategy in this case. If there is any monetary or territorial controversy with any nation, they immediately take up arms against it, rather than adopt a peaceful strategy to solve the problem.    This violent mentality of Muslims is responsible for having alienated them from their neighbors everywhere. Their conduct clearly shows that they no longer cherish the ideal of universal brotherhood. Everywhere they are looked upon with aversion and dread. One can even see notices on walls which say ‘Beware of Muslims’, instead of ‘Beware of dogs.’ And if these words are not inscribed on walls, they are certainly inscribed on the hearts and minds of the people. The resulting dissociation has left Muslims a backward group in modern times. Even in advanced countries like America they remain backward as a community in comparison with other immigrant groups.    The only way to alleviate the tragic plight of Muslims is to bring them back to non-violent Islam, by helping to understand that their violent version of Islam is not the true one.    As soon as Muslims take to the path of non-violent Islam, they will be able to become equal partners with other communities. They will have joined the universal mainstream, and will consequently be able to participate in all activities, in all institutions. People instead of dreading them, will welcome them. They will become a part of the universal brotherhood. Their issues will be looked upon with justice. Their equal partnership will be certain in all institutions ranging from the social to the educational.” Maulana Wahiduddin Khan 2006

“We feel totally disgusted with your action and we condemn you without any reservation. Don’t come to our mosques to preach this hatred. Don’t visit our Islamic centers to spill the blood of innocents. Don’t think that just because we share the same religion, we would show some sympathy to you. You are not of us. You don’t belong to the religion whose followers are trying to live a peaceful life for themselves and others serving the divine according to their understanding. In our understanding of faith, you appear as anti-divine and anti-human. We reject you now as we rejected you yesterday.  There is nothing common between you and us.  We stand for life, you want to destroy it.  We accept the divine scheme of diversity in the world and you want to impose conformity.  We respect every human being simply because he or she is a creation of the divine, and you hate people based on their religion and ethnicity.
We support freedom and liberty and justice, and you promote bigotry, murder and strangulation.  You will never be able to find a sympathetic voice amidst us. Our differences with others will never lead us to do things that are fundamentally wrong in our faith, i. e. taking the lives of innocent people and killing others because they are different.”
  Aslam Abdullah 2006

“It is these statistics that are the most disturbing. As a Muslim leader, I am disturbed that 7% of Muslim Americans say that “suicide bombings against civilian targets” are “sometimes justified.” How could those who claim to follow the Prophet Muhammad reject his explicit teachings on this topic? But what am I to make of the fact that according to the University of Maryland, 51% of Americans believe that “bombings and other types of attacks against civilians are sometimes justified”? I am simply dumbfounded that according to a 2005 Pew poll, a majority of American Catholics and White Protestants think that “the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information” can “often” or “sometimes” be justified. How could those who claim to worship Jesus, who was tortured by political authorities, accept the torture of human beings?    What all of this demonstrates, more clearly than ever before, is that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the moral leadership of our religious and political leaders is clearly deficient. Although the Islamic Society of North America has been clear in its denunciation of terrorism (and, as Americans, we have denounced torture), there are others sending different messages.    All of us need to restate our position that “any means necessary” is not heroic, it is not manly, it is immoral and sinful. Beyond words, moral leaders need to engage the imagination of their communities to, at the very least, understand what it would feel like to be the victim of torture, cluster bombing or a terrorist bombing at our (American, Israeli, Muslim) hands. Here, there is a perfect opportunity for cooperation and common ground between moral leaders and artists – secular or religious. We need their stories, their plays and their films that allow us to imagine being in the position of the other.    What this means is that our narratives – the narratives we tell from the pulpits and minbars – as well as from the politician’s podium – need to begin from the assertion of the God-given dignity of all human beings. Then we need to engage this imaginative capacity to call for a robust heroism that is fully-grounded in morality. The hero who resists oppression, not least of all, the oppression he is tempted to inflict upon others.”  Ingrid Mattson 2007.  (This was in response to the 2007 PEW poll of Muslim attitudes in the U.S.)

“Of course, anti-Islam pundits and commentators seized on the findings about suicide bombings to “prove” that, as the Investors Business Daily proclaimed, “the country is embedded with a ticking time bomb of Muslim youth who condone suicide bombings”. Yet these same people fail to point out that more Americans believed that intentional attacks against civilians are “often/sometimes” justified (24% vs 8%) and far less Americans believe that attacking civilians is “never justified” (46% vs 78%). But what else did you expect from the anti-Islam crowd?  Still, despite the twisting of the results of the poll to smear Islam, there are some glaring facts about the survey that cannot be ignored by American Muslims. We must, as Muslims, go after the Devil. First of all, only 40% of Muslims believed that groups of Arabs were responsible for 9/11. That means that 60% either did not know or did not believe that Arabs carried out the attacks of 9/11. This despite the fact that Osama bin Laden admitted that he was behind the September 11 attacks. Yes, there is a small minority of Americans who also believe that Arabs were not behind 9/11, but for Muslims to deny that al-Qaeda is behind 9/11 is absolutely astonishing.    In addition, 5% of Muslims had either a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of al-Qaeda, with this being higher among African-American Muslims (9%). This is also astonishing. This group, al-Qaeda, is a gang of neo-kharijites whose sole purpose is to foment chaos and instability around the world. Moreover, they have shown themselves to be brutally murderous, and they have no qualms against killing any innocent person who stands in the way of their Satanic plans.    ... Although the findings of the Pew poll are generally positive, some of the more concerning findings of the polls should serve as an opportunity to address potential problems that are festering in the community. Dismissing the findings of the poll would be terribly irresponsible, because American Muslims cannot afford to have their youth - the future of Islam in America - fall sway to the ideology of neo-kharijism. Not only is national security potentially at risk, but the very survival of Islam in this country may hang in the balance. God did promise He will protect His faith, but as His deputies on earth, we must not shirk our own responsibility.”  Hesham Hassaballa 2007

“Peace is not an alternative; it is a necessity for the true comprehension of the divine message. One does not attack those who are the intended recipients of the divine message. If we want to show our commitment to peace, then we must go beyond words and rhetoric. The least that we can do is to express our condemnation of the killing done in the name of religion regardless of the victims and perpetrators.  The self-killing that is directed deliberately at innocent people is not part of the divine faith: “None despairs of God’s grace except the disbelieving people” (12:87).”  Aslam Abdullah 2007

“One incident of violent extremism is one too many.  ... Our community needs to develop more sophistication in dealing with this challenge.” ...  “Muslim communities must do their part to reach out and continue to assist law enforcement to bring real terrorist perpetrators to justice,” Beutel wrote in the report. “The role Muslim communities should play is in counterradicalization efforts through better religious education, social programs and long-term constructive political engagement.”  Alejandro Beutel 2009

“Is this a case of misplaced zeal on the part of Muslims?  In many ways, I believe so.  While it’s perfectly rational and just to question and speak out against bans such as the Swiss minaret ban, it is also perfectly rational to ask where is the zeal the Muslims have when wanting to improve the West, located when it comes time to criticize to the East?  Why aren’t the Muslim organizations, scholars, Imams, and other leaders routinely blasting Muslim governments for their disregard toward minorities and dare I say Human Rights?” Robert Salaam 2009

“It should be clear that a Muslim is not allowed to transgress against non-Muslims as long as he or she resides in their lands under their protection. Any aggression from their quarter is unsanctioned treachery. If they feel they can no longer accept the perceived or real abuses or injustices of the host people then they are obliged to leave that land if remaining there would push them into acts of violence or aggression against the host community.    The idea of reciprocity is critical in this particular area of inquiry. All of our major legal texts discuss this idea. It is the idea that the responsibilities expected of non-Muslims minorities in Muslim lands are incumbent on Muslims in non-Muslim lands. Hence, just as it would be unacceptable for a non-Muslim residing in a Muslim land to attack the people of that land, civilian or military, it is unacceptable for a Muslim residing in a non-Muslim land to engage in similar acts. This is an undeniable principle in our law. Hence, respecting it is not a stratagem or a convenient contingency; it is upholding an inviolable principle.” Imam Zaid Shakir 2009


VIDEO:  Curing Extremism by Zaid Shakir, Hamza Yusuf & Abdal Hakim Murad