Broadly speaking, Muslims respond to a terrorist attack in three different ways. Let me first say, before we talk about those that condolences to families of victims, and calling it a human tragedy on electronic media does not correspond to what I call a response. My understanding of a response deals with the opinion of Muslims regarding the perpetrators of a crime, actions required to take them down and strategies needed to counteract the insurgent ideology.
The first group consists of Muslims who after a brief episode of compassion would defend an act of terror as a reaction to the atrocities of the West: the American invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, the support provided to Israel against Palestinians or a drone strike. Because of that some people call them Taliban apologists. Personally, they may not take up arms to fight, but when given an option to choose sides between the west and a Muslim fundamentalist, they end up selecting the latter. Why? Because they believe they are morally and religiously obliged to lend a hand to their Muslim brothers. Non-Muslims can never be trusted, in their view. To support their hypothesis, they provide quotes from Quran, the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. Beware: they are dangerous. Everything they cite from history needs confirmation and further examination, not because what they quote does not exist but because they change the frame of reference and alter the meaning altogether.
The second group represents those who do not associate themselves with Islam or any Religion for that matter. They condemn the atrocities committed in the name of God all over the world. However, their scorn is mostly focused on Islam nowadays. Why? That is because Muslims tend to use religion nowadays for political gains much more than the followers of any other religion. Vocal they are, as you may hear them quite a bit, but their narrative remains unimpressive.
The third group, which may represent a vast Majority of Muslims, are those who cannot justify terror on religious grounds, yet they cannot give up Islam because of extremism either. Their faith stands firm that religion does not allow violence to seize power, not at least in the modern era. To a large extent, they believe in democracy but more than that they believe in social justice.
This barbaric, inhuman and violent religion that the world recognises as theirs is foreign to them, as foreign as it is to the west. The reason is simple: a large number of Muslims are still taught about their religion in which Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) showed concern for a non-Muslim woman who used to throw trash on him everyday. One day, she missed her daily ritual, and that prompted him to look for her, only to find that she was suffering and needed help.
In another instance regarding self-restraint and patience, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) forbade his followers to bother a non-believer who was publicly relieving himself in the courtyard of the mosque. Impressed by prophet’s (pbuh) equanimity, the fellow converted to Islam apologising for his action.
Multiple anecdotes with similar undertones can be found in the history books. Some of them are attributed to the prophet (pbuh) himself, but in many it is his followers who pass on the massage. For example, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, a leading mystic of the12th century, told robbers where he had stashed his money, when they asked him if he had cash hidden somewhere. Not wanting to lie about it, he said it was stitched inside his garments, showing the mystic’s preference for honesty over physical possessions.
Very few Muslims are familiar with the violent history of their religion. A large majority, as surprising it may sound, does not even understand the reasons for Shia-Sunni divide. They have some patchy clues but no real insight. Born in a Sunni family they are, most of the time, taught to ignore differences between the sects, and spend their energies on education and career-building rather than digging a controversial past that will not help in future. For them the formula to be a good Muslim is not complicated: offer prayers, perform Hajj once in their lifetime, and fast in Ramadan. On a social level too, Islam never gets very complex. It brings peace and justice in society by redistributing wealth to the poor through compulsory zakat, a 2.5 percent yearly tax on net worth, and by encouraging the rich to be generous. Like any other religion, the bottom-line is: do not be greedy and do not hoard money; instead share your blessings with the people who are hungry, sick and destitute. Furthermore, this is what the Sharia means to them, and this is what they defend when confronted with any modern day challenge.
The first two groups have made up their minds, and that will be hard to change. The former will defend even the most gruesome acts of terrorists, while the latter will criticise even the most humane message of the religion. However, the majority stays in the middle, lost, confused. It is this majority that needs to stand up against those who teach religious intolerance and bigotry — the clergy. We have to equip the majority with a stronger, more effective counter-narrative of Islam that focuses on peace and plurality, a message that brings people together irrespective of their faith. I am not sure how soon it can be done, but one thing is clear: there is no way out, neither for Muslims nor for their faith.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at [email protected]
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