By Imam Omar Ahmad Suleiman, Imam in New Orleans, LA and a member of ICNA’s Shariah Council
In the name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.
May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His final messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
First and foremost, everything that is written is in assumption that the messages from Imam Anwar that have recently surfaced are indeed from him and no one else.
As American Muslims, many of us used to wonder at how Allah has blessed Imam Anwar with such a degree of eloquence, and the gift of storytelling if you will, that he could move you to tears within 5 minutes of his lecturing. The news that he was detained a few years ago in Yemen brought many of us into a state of shock and depression. We invoked Allah (subhanahu wa ta ala) to free our beloved Imam nightly until we heard the wonderful news that he had been freed on December 12, 2007. I remember all the text messages, emails, and blog posts with ecstatic Muslims around the country praising Allah for his release.
Then something happened. Slowly, we began to see the post-prison Anwar Al Awlaki express strange radical views. Lectures that were as fiery as ever were being published on various websites that called on Muslims to join the “global jihad.” Out of our blind love for him, most American Muslims simply dismissed his new lectures and writings as tainted by his frustration with what had happened to him in prison. As a community, we were willing to forgive him for his new bitter and pessimistic attitude towards the world because of the ordeal he had faced.
On November 7, 2009, 2 days after the Fort Hood shooting, the love affair between conscience American Muslims and Imam Anwar suffered a huge blow. Although Imam Al Awlaki was sounding increasingly radical in his lectures, he never once before condoned terrorism. In fact, he very clearly denounced the attacks of 9/11 in various interviews and sermons both within public and private circles. This time was different. He not only condoned the Fort Hood shootings but even went so far to say that Muslim organizations and scholars in the United States were guilty of cowardice, treason, and hypocrisy for condemning the shootings. As American Muslims who loved the old Anwar Al Awlaki so much, most of us immediately declared that these words were probably forged in his name to create dissension amongst the community. Then as the interviews started to come out, we couldn’t believe what was happening. Some of us probably questioned our own faith and principles because of our attachment to Imam Anwar. We watched Imam Johari of Dar Al Hijrah, where Imam Anwar once delivered a powerful condemnation of 9/11, as he had to stand and denounce one of his former closest friends and a man who captured our hearts for so many years.
Then came Imam Anwar’s praise of the failed Christmas day terrorist plot of Umar Farouk AbdulMuttalib. This left us even more baffled since this was an attack intended to kill 278 innocent airline passengers, many of whom were Muslims. How could an Imam who once seemed so level-headed now be a proponent of such a clear transgression of Islamic law?
Our search for answers and excuses for Anwar Al Awlaki have run out. Today we are hearing the words of hate and violence in the voice of the very same Imam which used to bring us so much good through the stories of our prophets and the remembrance of the hereafter. His call today for us as American Muslims to take up arms against our own country serves no other purpose but to wreak havoc and destruction. It is the same call of the kharijites that has been repeated so many times that feasts on the frustration and uncontrolled emotions of vulnerable youth that do not have the foundation or knowledge to recognize its illegitimacy.
In the next few days, I sincerely hope that American Muslim scholars will repudiate this call of hate using the injunctions of the Quran and the authentic Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). In the long run however, as Muslim communities and organizations we must seek to offer avenues of positive energy, in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah, for our zealous youth. We also should not shy away from repudiating calls of violence and hate that recklessly ignore the manhaj (methodology) of our pious predecessors. It is only through the dissemination of authentic knowledge of our religion that such calls can be drowned.
To our dear young brothers and sisters who grew up listening to the lectures of Imam Anwar and are overcome by emotion, I can only advise you with the words of the late Imam Al Ghazali (ra): “Islam is a commitment to principles, not people.” Think about the repercussions of this call to the religion of Allah. Will yielding to this pessimistic view of world destruction bring about any good to the ummah? Will it really end the occupation of Palestine or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or will it simply make matters worse than they already are. Allah desires from you that you bring about a positive change in your society, not chaos and destruction that will only further jeopardize an already delicate situation.
As for the Imam Anwar of today who spreads messages filled with hate and violence, perhaps no one could refute you more effectively than the Imam Anwar that was so beloved to our community who once said in a sermon back in October 2001:
“We as Muslims… we want to bring an end to terrorism more than anyone else. Our position needs to be reiterated and needs to be very clear. The fact the US has administered the death and homicide of over 1 million civilians in Iraq, the fact that the US is supporting the deaths and killing of thousands of Palestinians, does not justify the killing of 1 US civilian in New York City or Washington DC.”
I sincerely ask Allah to guide Imam Anwar back to the path of moderation, and enlighten him to renounce this new methodology which stands contrary to the Quran and Sunnah. May Allah protect our community and allow us to be amongst those who call to guidance and are guided, and not amongst those who call to misguidance and are astray. Ameen.