Update: Comments from Shaykh Tawfique Chowdhury and lecture by Shaykh Waleed appended below.
The following article was originally posted on IslamToday.com by Shaykh Salman al-Oudah (also spelled al-Awdah). The article is reproduced below, and then followed up with comments from MuslimMatters Shuyūkh Yasir Qadhi and Yaser Birjas.
Standing United against Terrorism & al-Qaeda | Sheikh Salman al-Oadah|
This article contains some harsh words for those who choose to follow the path of violence. However, I find it necessary to use a harsh tone – which departs from my normal writing style – in order to confront those people who take up arms with the purpose of bringing death to numerous people and reducing societies to ruin.
When I wrote about al-Qaeda, some of my dear friends took exception to my doing so, warning me that I would be the brunt of libel and attacks upon my honor, or worse. However, I replied that the situation required that we speak clearly and frankly, and it does not matter what people will say.
I have persistently called upon our sincere scholars and preachers – and continue to call upon them – to describe things by their proper names, and to disassociate the word “jihād” (a word rich in meaning which is found in our sacred texts) form the activities of those killing organizations which murder innocent people and undermine security in societies around the world – regardless of whether those societies are Muslim or non-Muslim – since carrying out atrocities and targeting civilians is categorically forbidden in Islam.
Today, I must stress how important it is for us to condemn the abominable and criminal acts being perpetrated around the world in Islam's name and which are being misrepresented as “jihād”. We must expose those acts and the people who carry them out by calling them what they really are, whether their perpetrators refer to themselves as al-Qaeda, or a jihad organization, or a militant organization or an “Islamic state”. It is not enough to give vague indications and make ambiguous general statements.
At the same time, I must stress that it is the right of every country in the world to defend itself against external aggression and to carry out resistance against an invader or occupying power. This is an international right acknowledged by all nations. Nevertheless, carrying out such legitimate resistance neither justifies nor excuses the targeting of civilians and innocents, regardless of where they are.
It is not enough that we speak up. Things have gone farther than that. A crisis has rent the intellectual and cultural fabric of our society. Therefore, I appeal to myself and to my fellow preachers to condemn this great evil in the clearest and most unambiguous terms, an evil which is causing bloodshed, destroying society, and blackening Islam's good name. It is also hampering our development, bringing ruin to our countries, inciting transgression against human life, while violating both the tenets of Islam and the dictates of basic human values.
Therefore, we must take care not to confuse our message by discussing other wrongdoings at the same time we discuss this matter, tying them in with each other. Some ignorant people might claim that we are justifying those atrocities or seeking an excuse for them. Indeed, we should not bring up the question of terrorist attacks when we are discussing social and political issues, or the media, and say: “This is the cause of that. Avoid these mistakes so as not to give cause for extremism…” This is not a good way to address the matter. It could make some of those people feel, when they see things they dislike, that they have an excuse to perpetrate acts of violence. We need to make a clear distinction between issues, and take care how we speak, so as not to unwittingly have a negative impact upon such people.
We should be wary of how we use the words “but” and “however”, words which can lead some young people to fall into misunderstandings, as if what we are saying has many angles to it which can be interpreted in various ways.
The problem we are addressing is one of blind civil strife, where “every time it seems to come to an end, it just goes on” as the Prophet Muḥammad (peace be upon him) said in an authentic tradition describing the tribulations of the Last Days. The onus of quelling this strife and exposing how it violates Islamic teachings falls upon the sincere scholars and preachers of Islam who do not fear the censure of others and who feel no hesitation in calling a crime a crime, regardless of the consequences.
I do not care if some people who dislike what I say are going to accuse me of working for this or that interest group, or of being a “government stooge”. I call Allāh to witness for what I say. My condemnation of terror stems from my religious faith and my firm convictions. No one has any sway over my beliefs. I am neither for nor against the governments. Regardless of the consequences, I am against deviance, destructive behavior, and acts of atrocity in general, and especially when those acts are perpetrated in the name of religion. I make my position plain.
I do not care if my opponents insist on making false accusations against me. I say what I mean, loudly and clearly. These are my religious beliefs, which I have not changed and which have not been any different in the past. However, there is a more pressing need today than at any previous time to reiterate those beliefs and announce them all the more forcefully. Indeed, ever since the outbreak of these violent acts, speaking out against them has become a religious, educational and moral imperative for anyone who cares about the future of Islam, our country, the generations to come, and preserving what little stability is left in the Muslim world.
That which is happening in Somalia and elsewhere is a heartbreaking tragedy. Everything is being laid to waste and people are killing each other over the ruins – all in Islam's name. People are being killed by the droves, without pause, even in the month of Ramadan.
I declare that Allāh does not make right the deeds of those who perpetrate atrocities. Nor does He bring the plots of the deceivers to right guidance. Those who, in the name of Islam, kill innocents – and very often they happen to be Muslims – or who claim that by doing so they are upholding Islamic teachings, they will not succeed and they will not set things right. Rather, they will face Allāh's punishment and become a warning to others unless they repent beforehand.
Al-Qaeda is not what it was before September 11. It has turned into a media phenomenon with many people claiming the name merely for its symbolic value, mobilizing the youth under its umbrella. In this way, the strategy has changed, the evil has shaken loose from its reins and become like shrapnel all over the place, possessing a regional character but making a global noise. Al-Qaeda has become like a trademark that anyone can get hold of and carry out their activities in its name. It is no longer a cohesive organization with strong ties between its leaders and followers.
I call upon those who still make excuses and hesitate when they speak to think about the judgment they will face when they will stand before Allāh. They should not let the oppressive acts of governments or their policies – like what took place in Algeria – or the embargoes that governments impose upon them, cause them to be unjust. The heavens and the earth are only set aright by justice.
The merciful thing to do is to tell those young people who have been deceived, and those who are set to join their ranks tomorrow, that: “This path you are taking is not going to bring you to your goal. It will not save you from Hell or earn you Paradise. Whoever wants success in this life, salvation in the next, and Allāh's pleasure should adhere to the true teachings of Islam and keep far away from bloodshed and strife. Do not attempt to reinterpret the faith so as to justify acts that are clearly and patently evil. In the boldness with which you commit such mortal sins, you engage in crimes far worse in Allāh's estimation than those whom you purport to condemn.”
This should be the message that parents give to their families, that mothers teach their children, that teachers impart to their students, and that preachers address to their congregations. The condemnation of terror should not be connected with any official campaign, media drive, or salaried work. Rather, it should come from an inner sense of religious duty, from our obligation to raise the next generation correctly and to call people to what is right. It should be carried out with the intention of fostering reconciliation in society and building bridges between ourselves and those who disagree with us, which can be achieved on the basis of our shared concern to safeguard our faith and our worldly lives. In our thinking, we need to get beyond defending our individual interests and look to the general good and to the future. Our concern should be for society: its common folk and its leaders, its rich and its poor, those who are righteous and those who are sinners. All of these people are part of our society, and we must share a sense of loyalty with them all.
When we talk about this issue, which is of the utmost seriousness, we must not mix it up with talk about other things. Those other matters might very well be equally important, or more important, or less. In any case, those issues can be addressed on other occasions.
In all earnest, I call upon our young people to discuss this matter both in person and on the Internet, to uncover the reasons why some people have sympathies for such activities and organizations and how to remedy the causes for those sympathies. I call upon them to hold fast to the clear and explicit teachings of Islam, as set forth in the Qur'an and Sunnah, which warn against sowing dissention, killing, and murder. Indeed, this was one of the last exhortations that the Prophet Muḥammad (peace be upon him) made to his followers at the end of his life, on the occasion of his final pilgrimage.
Some sick-minded people have started talking about assassinations as if they were a tradition established by the Prophet. This is more than a misunderstanding – it is delusional. Did the Prophet permit the execution of the leaders of Quraysh in Mecca when they sought to stamp out the Muslims in their midst? No. Or the leaders of the traitorous hypocrites in Madīnah when the sought to undermine the nascent Muslim community? No. Did he call for executing the leaders of the Jews when there was a covenant between them? No. Did he ever grant anyone the right to pass personal judgment over others and their faith and carry out punishments? No. Never did he permit such things. What chaos would have been worse than that? But this is what these people today want to reduce us to.
I assert, on the basis of certain conviction, that the people who follow that extreme path, if they ever come into power, will bring destruction and ruin to everything. Society, from its civil cohesion, to its family integrity, to its agriculture, would waste away. Those people would foster civil strife and suffer for it in turn. This is because they have deviated from the straight path. They have no understanding of Islamic teachings and the wisdom behind those teachings. They are ignorant of the natural laws that Allāh has placed in His creation. Therefore, they will never be successful and never find divine support. That is for certain, as anyone who has understanding can see. Nevertheless, those people are quite successful in spreading chaos and confusion. They are good at misleading the simple-minded and causing discord, and they are given support in this whenever we are silent, mince our words, or withhold judgment.
May the peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muḥammad, who brought the clear message and established the clear proof. And praise be to Allāh, the Lord of All the Worlds.
Comments by Shaykh Yaser Birjas
Sheikh Salaman al-Awdah has boldly spoken the truth. His words in his recent article “Standing Together Against Terrorism and al-Qa'eda” truly profess a scholarly assessment, a brotherly advice and putting things, facts and people in their rightful position.
Speaking from a personal experience during my four year stay in Bosnia, I can confidently confirm the great misconception young Muslims have had and still have about a noble religious principle in its broader meaning such as Jihad and the mix up between it and the acts of violence done in the name of Jihad and Islam.
There is no doubt, calling for justice is a form of Jihad in itself, even if it entails the use of proportional force by those who are in authoritative position and can perform in that capacity. Acts of violence, such as indiscriminate killing, on the other hand can never be attributed to Jihad or Islam simply because the perpetrators chose to give it that name.
The message delivered in the article was a strong statement from the sheikh hafidhahullah, and definitely was much needed for our time. I personally support it and believe in it.
May Allāh give the Sheikh and us all the strength to remain steadfast against all acts of evil and injustice and use us all in the best way in serving his message, al-Islam.
Comments by Shaykh Yasir Qadhi
In the early 90′s, a new movement appeared that claimed to follow the teachings of the earliest generations yet were far removed from it in ideology, methodology and manners. They assumed that they and they alone were rightly guided. They deemed all those who opposed them to be deviants and heretics. They made it their religion to go around concentrating on the supposed faults of other people, without actually offering anything of substance to their communities. This group gave such a negative stereotype to anyone who wished to preach an orthodox understanding of Islam that to this day we are battling the negativity they created.
I had plenty of run-ins with them, and they caused many of us much personal grief and problems. I must admit, though, that while the swiftness of their demise did come as a surprise, I knew all along that their fame would be short-lived, and their popularity temporary. I knew this not because I was privy to some unseen knowledge, but because Allāh says in the Qurʾān, “So as for the chaff, it leaves in all direction, and as for that which benefits mankind, it stays on earth” [al-Ra`ad, 17]. These people were bankrupt in knowledge, bankrupt in manners, and bankrupt in being of any benefit to society. Their only contribution appeared to be in belittling the contribution of others and mocking their efforts.
While that group is now, for all practical purposes, wiped off the face of the earth, a more sinister group has taken their place. Their tactics are the same, but their mannerisms and accusations are worse. Rather than accuse others of being 'deviant' or 'off the manhaj', this new group, following directly in the footsteps of the Khawarij, accuse other Muslims of being hypocrites and disbelievers, government sell-outs and stooges. While they themselves cannot show an iota of positive contribution to the Ummah, they revel in heaping more and more accusations upon those who are actually striving to make a difference. Armchair critics against those activists who live in the same lands as they do, they act as cheerleaders for those in other lands who terrorize others in the name of the religion, all the while not seeing the irony of their pathetic situation. Whenever I converse with one of them, a strong sense of deja vu overtakes me. I have spoken to their ilk before, and advised their methodological descendants.
Far from awakening true Islamic spirit, all these groups can do is unleash the worst of manners and the most condescending of attitudes and the most arrogant of tones against people who are genuinely striving to make Muslims better Muslims. My advice to them, as it was to those before them, remains the same:
- Even if you believe you are 'more rightly guided' than others, do not make your entire religion a negation of 'the other'. No ideology can flourish merely by critiquing others. Do something productive for the community instead of spending all your time criticizing those who are actually doing something productive.
- Realize that those whom you oppose might be sincere people, and if you have wronged them, you will be accountable on the Day of Judgment for those wrongs.
- Err on the side of caution; accusing someone of being a hypocrite is a grave sin, if you have nothing good to say, be silent, that is better for you.
- Realize that none of the senior activists of the West are supportive of your ideologies, even if you wish to claim one as your own. There are people who are more intimately familiar with those who cannot speak for themselves, and know first-hand that such people are supportive of the mainstream activists, and wish to dissociate from extremists and from supporters of groups that cause much evil and bloodshed on earth.
There is much more to be said, but suffice to conclude by stating that the statement of Sh. Salman al-Oudah is a statement that I support 110 %. Sh. Salman is someone whom I know personally, and consider a mentor.
While I realize, having experienced the attitudes of the groups before them, that such statements rarely have any impact on the followers of such extremist ideologies (for their zealousness blinds them to anything outside of their limited understandings), I also realize that we have a responsibility to others, Muslims and non-Muslims, to publicly repudiate such extremist ideologies. It is for this reason that we at MuslimMatters proudly endorse this statement and publicly acknowledge this to be our stance as well.
NEW! Comments by Shaykh Tawfique Chowdhury
Those who have followed the events of recent decades will have noticed the rise of two distinct groups that are fighting for our hearts and minds – vastly different in their positions to the undiscerning eye, but extremely similar in their essence to the intelligent investigator. Like the Murjiah and Khawarij – differing against each other on their positions on īmān but being similar in the fallacy that led to their differing positions – that of believing that īmān is a whole that does not subdivide nor can it increase or decrease. Today we have the modern version of these two groups that are struggling for our hearts and minds – the modernists calling for total assimilation, reinterpretation, reinvention, rediscovery and liberation from the purity of Islam to the freedom of ignorance vs the takfeeri jihadi cult of Al-Qaeda and those upon their beliefs calling for indiscriminate death and destruction. Though both are diametrically opposed in their positions – they are in fact nothing but two sides of the same coin! That coin being – perversion of the religion from its roots, ideals and traditional scholastic methodology of understanding the Qurʾān and Sunnah. Both of them understand Islam through the same prism of perverted pseudo-scholarship and come to two very distinct conclusions. This is not scholarship. It is perversion, ignorance and distortion of the pristine traditional methodology of the scholars of Islam. The advice of every true scholar of our time and before has always been to be wary of following the paths of the two. Allāh says: “And likewise, we made you a nation on the middle path…”
There is no doubt to anyone that our Prophet was a Prophet of mercy. He was a Prophet that forbade in mutawatir ahadith to kill women and children. The Prophetic path of rectification is not to channel our anger at women and children, but at the actual perpetrator. There is no place for vigilantism in our religion. To consider this Jihad is not only a perversion but a clear fallacy. Even those scholars considered to be the sheikhs of the Mujahideen of today such as Abdullah Azzam rahimahullah as considered by some – were opposed to such acts of terrorism and vigilantism. So I advise those brothers and sisters who are persuaded by these thoughts or by these people – to reconsider and avoid a path that has no benefit.
I myself have seen numerous examples of mashaikh that have spent their time building the takfeeri jihadi tarbiyyah in their students. Never has this ever led to any good by Allāh. These same mashaikh have had to become informants to security agencies to preserve their freedom, their students have been imprisoned after turning on their own mashaikh with takfeer and tafseeq, some of them have lost their lives and many now languish in prisons and their families cry night and day thinking about what went wrong. Others less serious in their levels of misguidance in this matter are plagued with extreme levels of negativity and have varying levels of antisocial personality disorder from the Muslim ummah in general and the greater society as a whole. They do little good and are responsible for little good that sustains the da‘wah movement today. They stand ready to meet every Islamic endeavour with scepticism and to perform verbal and literary jihad upon every attempt at revival and sustaining the momentum of our da‘wah. This is the path of deception and destruction.
On the contrary, I urge everyone to be the likes of our esteemed mashaikh of the past and encourage everyone to hear the message of our Sheikh Salman Al-Oudah for he speaks with knowledge, wisdom and deep experience in dealing with such people and such mentalities. The path of true success is that of orthodox traditional Islam upon the pure understanding of our great ulema, may Allāh preserve them.
And our last call is that all praise is for Allāh the Lord of Mankind.
Talk Delivered by Shaykh Waleed at IlmFest 2009
In front of an audience of an estimated thousand Muslims in Baltimore at Ilmfest, Dr. Waleed Basyouni delivered a lecture titled “Reclaiming Islam from the Jihadists”.
The speech was featured in the Baltimore Sun newspaper,
Hundreds of Muslims went to the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday to hear Basyouni and others promote what organizers described as a moderate, modern interpretation of Islam for the United States and the West. It was the opening day of Ilm Fest, an annual education conference previously staged in New York, Chicago and Toronto.
To download this lecture, click here