Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day either speak good or be silent. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his neighbor. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his guest.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

Uncouth Opportunism

The manner in which some Muslim personalities have politicized the “Batman Shooter” tragedy by questioning if it should have been labeled “terrorism” brings to the surface some deeply internalized self-image issues.  It is a public display of the level of some Muslims' insecurity as well as a lack of compassion for our neighbors.

As the old saying goes, “Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they are not out to get you.” Likewise, just because cognitive dissonance runs rabid in our culture, it doesn't make it right to try and spin every tragedy for our political gain and use the misfortune of our neighbors as an opportunity to complain about our struggles.

Sadly, it didn't take long for a number of American Muslim pundits 1, 2, 3 to do exactly that by publicly asking the question that was privately on many of our minds, “What if James Holmes was Muslim?”

It is a shame that most of these “what if” opinion pieces didn't even bother to acknowledge the tragic loss of life.

A funeral procession passed in front of us and the Prophet stood up and we too stood up. We said, “O Allah's Apostle! This is the funeral procession of a Jew.” He said, “Whenever you see a funeral procession, you should stand up.” [Bukhari 2:398]

Bad Timing & Bad Form

IF” the Batman shooter had been a Muslim, the coverage would have been completely different. We already KNOW this! So why ask this insensitive and rhetorical question and why ask it now while people are still mourning? Shouldn't we have focused on showing our compassion for the victims and their families instead of stooping to the level of pursuing political agendas?

It seems that many of us have let our obsession with the very real and very stark increases in anti-Muslim bigotry corrupt our core values and tactfulness.

Vilification to Vindication?

For the record, I am confident that “IF” James Holmes was a Muslim, his murdering spree would surely have been labeled “terrorism” in the public discourse.

However, as American Muslims our goal shouldn't be to have every atrocity committed by a non-Muslim labeled as terrorism. Instead our goal should be to elevate the status of Muslims to being an accepted and respected faith group in America. This goal cannot be achieved until we start seeing ourselves and acting like what we in fact are: a talented, diverse and positively contributing part of the society.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Terrorism: Public Commentary verses Legal Jurisprudence

The vast majority of legal definitions of terrorism have one critical element in common and that is the agenda or intent behind the use of violence. They all require that the use of force or violence must have been committed to further political or social objectives through intimidation and/or coercion.

Take the example of the Fort Hood shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan — a Muslim — who is responsible for 43 casualties, including the killing of 13 people, 12 of which were his fellow US soldiers. He was widely called a terrorist in the public discourse. Take note that Hasan's targeted population (American Soldiers) easily qualifies as a political target. Also, take in to account that Hasan was reportedly in direct communication with an infamous terrorist recruiter. Still, with these factors, Hasan officially faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. What he does not face is a single terrorism charge. Why? There is a difference between the public use of the word terrorism and the word's legal definitions. While the alleged act may have caused terror, and was apparently encouraged by a person who openly called for the murder of Americans for political reasons, the authorities investigating the case believed the shooter's acts were better defined  as “murder.”

Don't misunderstand me, we all have pondered the “what if they were Muslim” line of thinking in cases like Anders Breivik's (the 2011 Norway shooter) and Andrew Joseph Stack III's (the 2010 suicide attack, by flying an airplane into the IRS Building in Austin, TX) where the term “terrorism” seemed appropriate.  The term “terrorism” seems to fit because both of these people clearly pronounced their political motivations before they killed.

To date we have no real knowledge of James Holmes motives or goals. Yet that didn't prevent one Muslim pundit from theorizing that Holmes is a terrorist because he intended to coerce movie goers toward the social objective of not patronizing their “neighborhood movie theater.”

The Bottom-line

My fear is that many American Muslims have so heavily invested in the tactic of identity politics that we have effectively severed our American and Muslim identities. More importantly — as a result — we have stopped striving toward what Islam actually calls us to be: a people united by our faith.

If every time a tragic incident makes the news our first and primary thought is, “I hope it wasn't a Muslim!” then we truly have disconnected ourselves from our humanity. What will we do when the perpetrator eventually ends up being a Muslim?

Let's remember that Prophet Muhammad never lead from a position of victim-hood! The Colorado tragedy was about “us” as Americans and not “us” as “American Muslims.”

NOTE: May Allah reward all the Muslim authors, personalities and activists who are helping shape the dialogues about our faith and our community, for it is truly a mammoth task. May Allah guide us all to the best in this life and the next!

About The Author

PR Consultant

Paul "Iesa" Galloway is a native born Texan. He was recently called "the Yoda of interfaith affairs" by a colleague from his daytime gig. After hours Iesa serves as a consultant, messaging strategist and trainer on media, government and community relations. Iesa is a product of the "Military Brat" experience of the 1990's on US Army bases in Germany he has traveled extensively, for extended periods in Kenya, Hungary and Communist Poland on missionary trips, visited Communist East Germany with the Boy Scouts of America, as well as enjoyed time in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Austria. Since embracing Islam, Iesa was asked to be the founding Executive Director of CAIR-Houston, where he served the community from 2002 to 2006, he has completed the Hajj pilgrimage, participated in an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Society for Biblical Studies and completed a study abroad program on the history of Islamic Spain, Morocco and Andalusian Philosophy with the University of Houston. Iesa's education is rooted in History and Public Relations and he has a interfaith and multiracial background.

19 Responses

  1. Asif Balouch

    Great insight brother Iesa. The “If *insert criminal here* was a Muslim..” argument is really starting to get tired and mimics the “It’s because I’m black” saying when trying to complain about something unfair happening to an individual.

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  2. WAJiD

    Salaam brother Iesa,

    An interesting article. However, must sympathy for the victims and indignation at media/public hypocrisy be mutually exclusive?

    People are using the terrible events of Colorado to talk about all sorts of things – gun control, how the recession has made a generation of graduates feel hopeless, whether young children should be at midnight screenings of violent movies… And I doubt that they are all automatically showing a lack of sensitivity to the victims by bringing up these issues.

    In the end it does come down to a game of semantics, but I’m not so sure that one precludes the other.

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    • Iesa Galloway

      Walaikum Salaam! – Thanks for the insightful comment, my point is this: it is not how we “should” as Muslims (in terms of Islamic Character) respond.

      Sure people utilize tragedies all the time for their own purposes and benefit, but we are a faith community and how we do things reflects on who we are as well as how we adhere to our religion.

      The deeper element I hope we all to consider is how we see ourselves and what if anything did we learn about our self-image?

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  3. Halima

    This actually makes a lot of sense. We do already know what would happen if he were Muslim. Good article.

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  4. Abu Ishaq

    Assalamu Alikum Iesa,

    What James Holmes did was a terrible act, and the grief of his victims and their relatives is understandable. The fact that he slaughtered even children shows how truly evil he is.

    I wish your outrage over this act of terror (and no, I disagree with you that terrorism is only when the act has a political or social purpose) would also extend to the victims of American terror abroad. How many tears have you shed for the children who are victims of drone strikes. Indeed, how many articles have you written about that issue? Is it because you do not feel a connection with Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere since the media here treats them as collateral damage and perishable goods. How many funerals have you witnessed of children killed by bombs dropped by drones; indeed how many would you care to attend if you even had the chance to do so?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/15553761

    In your rabid response and swipe at a man who was illegally killed by the US government without any trial, you fail to notice that his son was killed a few days afterwards too; a teenager who was innocent of any crime. Yet, I do not expect you to write an article about that as you have done so here.

    It is an even more unfortunate thing that I read your drivel in the holy month of Ramadan. May Allah guide us all and truly allow us to understand and implement the concepts of love and hatred for the sake of Allaah.

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    • Iesa Galloway

      Walaikum Asalaam Br. Abu Ishaq,

      JazakAllahu Khaira for your comments. Glad to have you as a reader.

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    • Tamim

      Salaam akhi,

      I am afraid you are doing the same exact thing Br. Iesa was talking about. You are only willing to offer your condolences with the conditional statements about “American condolences abroad.” The article was about a specific problem in a specific sector in the community. You cannot expect the writer to have to note all the terrible things happening abroad in every piece of writing that has to do with crime and terrorism.

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    • Abu Bakr

      MashaAllah Akhi, very well said. Perhaps AmericanMatters would have been a better name for this place

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  5. Husnain Awan

    I disagree. This is exactly the time that Muslims need to bring up this point and get Americans out of their comfy zones. No doubt, our heart go out to the victims who got shot and unfortunately, it seems like these kinds of incidents occur almost every year to which America has no answer to.

    However, they also need to realize that just because we are Muslims, doesn’t mean that our minds are only focused on murder and mayhem to the exclusion of everything else. The courts are locking Muslims up sometimes just for something you could best describe as hate speech.

    By the way, check out most of the media reports and you will not see terrorism attributed to the shooter Chris Holmes and even though it was a clear act of terrorism. What is terrorism after all? To terrorize and he did that pretty effectively, seeing how gun sales have shot up in Colorado

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  6. Tiger

    Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his neighbor.

    I have been noticing this for a long time now. Muslimmatters writers fitting verses from the Quran and writing Ahadith to suit their needs. Do you have any idea under what context the word ‘neighbour’ is used in the Hadith?

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    • Iesa Galloway

      It’s in Imam Nawawi’s 40 Hadith, number 15 do read up on his explanation.

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  7. Azraeel

    Subhanallah. Death sure doesn’t come knocking. This should be lesson to Muslims in America and American Muslims. Don’t die in that state during Ramadan. Take a break from places where kufr is glorified, where your last deeds are wasted in watching fictional character in a devili’s suite.

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  8. Omar

    The main thing about terrorism is the “terror” it spreads to the general public, especially those who are not directly affected by the act itself. I don’t think much terror was spread by his crimes, people just wrote him off as a deranged individual and there’s no need to be afraid. Whereas the case of terror in the name of Islam does spread fear.

    I notice it with myself and many Muslims I know, even nonreligious ones, that the first thing going through their mind when they hear this is “oh God I wish he is not a Muslim”.

    This shows a defeated mentality. And the solution to this is to regain our self confidence by becoming strong, independent, and respected through our positive contributions to society and the world. ‘Izza.

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  9. Gibran Mahmud

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    It’s understandable that we should be expected to show compassion to others when tragedy strikes.

    I for one however, am enraged at the scarcity of words for our Muslim brothers in Myanmar who are getting shot while they flee their homes.

    Are we so interested in getting Americans to accept us as one of them, as people who share their values an pains that we’ve forgotten the one group that we share our values and pains with above all other ummahs. The group known as MUSLIMS.

    I think it’s appalling akhi, that we exaggerate our problems here in the west(oh, what to do about Muslim American identity crisis, oh Islamophobes, oh we are going through so much oh what patience we American muslims are showing oh what challenges we face!) while our brothers in need are being tortured and killed.

    SubhanAllah, this is just disgusting me.

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    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      Dear Gibran
      Assalamu’Alaikum:

      Jazak’Allah Khair for your comment. We at MM are very concerned about the Burma situation and the pain of our brethren is very much in our hearts.
      We recently published an article on it and the only reason we don’t have something indepth is that none of us are so well versed with the area or its history. We have asked for guest posts and anyone (hint hint) is free to write one. Moreover, please wait a few days and Insha’Allah your concerns regarding our apparent apathy towards the situation will Insha’Allah be answered.
      Jazak’Allah Khair
      -Aly

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  10. Yasir

    Salaam Brother Esah,
    I am impressed with your approach and I am convinced it is the right approach. To sum up your article in a few words, the bottom line is … “Practice what you desire, be tolerant and lead by example”. An eye-for-an-eye is not the right approach at our current times and it is equally contrary to the basic fundamental of our religion – Sabr (Patience). May Allah make it easy for us and accept our fastings and Duas.
    Yasir

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  11. Nauman

    Assalam-o-Alaikum! Nice work brother. it changed the way i used to think. We should put the “if” question when asked for or at suitable forum…

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  12. reallyposh

    Assalam Alaikum brother, though I agree with you that Muslims need to be compassionate with others, irrespective of their creed ( and I mean REAL compassion, not just a political show of correctness), I disagree with you on the other issue. Sometimes you need a jolt to show others their double standards. While I have nothing against the West, or America, every society has some problems and the marginalizing of Muslims because of their faith is one of them. You need an opportunity for your voice to be heard and I concur with brother Wajid’s comment on this.

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