Audio from the lecture removed by request.
A few weeks ago, I attended the “Curbing Violent Extremism” event hosted by the ADAMS Center in Sterling, Virginia. Zaid Shakir, an Islamic activist and teacher at Zaytuna College spoke alongside Mohamed Magid, the imam of the ADAMS Center and the new President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). I found the discussion invigorating and refreshingly frank. Below is a recap of some of the major points and the Q&A that followed.
Imam Zaid Shakir
Zaid Shakir opened the discussion by recognizing that the issue of violent extremism is “a very complex, sensitive, and emotive topic and one that stirs up a lot of emotions” so he mentioned by way of reminder the hadith in which the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) advised a man three times to not become angry meaning to “not act out of your anger.”
The most “dangerous manifestation” of violent extremism here in the U.S. in Shakir’s view comes from those who seek to gain positions of prominence in the government to advance an agenda that will prove detrimental to Muslims. However, Shakir stated that his primary focus is on how the American Muslim community can “empower or diffuse” the agenda of those who seek to inflict ever greater levels of harm upon innocent Muslims around the world. He posits that the real targets in this climate of increased attention and hostility towards Muslims are not Muslims themselves but rather the “disappearing white middle class.” The fear of Muslims and Islam is conveniently used to distract attention away from the difficult economic climate.
According to Shakir, we should also be concerned with what Muslims do because “we are a people of personal and individual responsibility. We are not a people who play the victim card or blame others for our actions.” Muslims must learn the lessons of history and look internally to remember that “we are the responsible actors for effecting change and not anyone else.”
Shakir then noted that, “we have some Muslims who are just as wedded to violence as this cabal of neo-cons, extreme Zionists, and [some] Christian fundamentalists in this country.” However, there is a significant difference between the two groups as the latter group has access to the instruments of mass destruction while the Muslims do not. Shakir then noted the example of General Ken Waller during the first Gulf War who responded to Saddam Hussein’s boast to “fight the Americans until the last Iraqi” by saying that “we’ll grant them their every dying wish.”
Imam Zaid counseled the audience to not be so naïve as to think that the claims of those including candidates for public office who say we need to wipe Islam off the face of the earth or bomb Mecca or intern Muslims are so far-fetched if the political reality changes, for “what human beings have done, humans can do” and the examples from history are numerous. In the face of such a concerted effort, the Muslims promoting a violent ideology would not be able to effective counter measures.
Shakir answered critics who say that the violent extremists are only following a literal reading of the Quran with the verse, “Allah does not forbid you concerning a people that have not fought you over your religion nor expelled you from your homes that you have amicable and just relations with them and Allah loves those who are just.” Some may respond by saying that “the Americans are driving people out of their homes” but Shakir countered this by saying “most Americans I know haven’t driven anyone out of their homes.” Rather, he advised Muslims, especially frustrated and angry young Muslims that want to do something to join forces with those Americans like Michael Ratner and Chris Hedges that have dedicated their careers to shutdown the Guantanamo Bay prison and oppose the invasion of Iraq.
“Michael Ratner has dedicated the last 8 years of his career with others in trying to shutdown Guantanamo Bay. What have you done to help him in this effort, did you go to law school or learn about the political mechanisms of this country and add your voice, organize your community, educate your neighbors, use the media…Where were you when Chris Hedges and Veterans for Peace chained themselves to the White House fence and were arrested while trying to draw attention to those veterans protesting the war? Had Shakir, a military veteran been here, he says he would have a joined them.
Out of frustration, Shakir said that some Muslims claim “the only thing they can do is to blow something up and kill their neighbors who never did anything to them” all the while strengthening the forces that are salivating to go to war against Muslims. He then reminded the audience of the hadith where the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Don’t any one of you insult your father.” The companions replied, “How could any of us insult our father?” To which, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “You insult another man’s father and in return he insults your father, you’re the cause of your father being insulted.” Similarly, “if you were to go and blow up a bunch of people and these people become filled with rage, vengeance and retaliation and they kill thousands of times the number of people you killed, do you think that none of that blood would be on your hands?” Shakir probed the audience, “There are millions of able-bodied Muslim men that can bear arms and fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, why do they need an American to go over there to pick up an AK-47? Is that why Allah put all of these Muslims here in America? Allah has given us so many opportunities here, access to education, the ability to organize and mobilize politically, to critique and stand against our government and its vicious war machine.”
Shakir closed his opening remarks with a final reminder, cautioning Muslims not to be used as unwitting “pawns” in a geo-political game and exhorting Muslims to stand up for justice and to recognize that if the community does stand up, that many other Americans will also stand with them.
Imam Mohamed Magid
Imam Magid opened his remarks by acknowledging the unfortunate reality that despite the many condemnations of terrorism by Muslims, the wider American public will still say that they have not heard this message from the Muslim community. Violent extremism, in Magid’s view has three components – ideological, political, and social.
Ideologically, verses and hadith are taken out of context. Politically, many Muslims do not believe they have an effective platform or may be afraid to speak about foreign policy grievances for fear of being labeled a “terrorist sympathizer.” Zaid Shakir offered that “if you are against American foreign policy, its brutality and its excesses and you are called a sympathizer, then you should know that is nothing new in American history…you should understand that you are part of a proud tradition” of groups that were labeled for standing up for what’s right. And socially, Muslims may become frustrated and angry by the public attacks on Islam and/or by the personal bullying they have experienced for being identifiably Muslim, the last two factors, which Magid believes if taken together may lead to “social isolation.”
In Magid’s view, the Muslim community must respond by engaging in various means of dialogue to deconstruct the arguments used to justify violent extremism. Imam Magid advised the audience that “no Muslim should be intimidated, scared, or afraid to engage in political discourse or to stand up and say that I disagree with the American government on a specific issue because you have the right to free speech.” Commenting on the fears some Muslims have expressed about having their phones tapped or receiving undue scrutiny, Magid responded by saying, “even if that is the case, we have to fight the fight of civil rights and civil liberties as that’s how each people gain respect in this country.”
He also emphasized that “on a political issue if you disagree, you have to use a political platform to make that disagreement known. Trying to take up arms in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq does not solve the real underlying issues.” In addition, Magid believes there is a need for Muslims to work to combat the negative portrayals of Muslims in the media and to offer young people an opportunity to learn “authentic and true Islam” to minimize the reliance on sometimes dubious internet sources.
Questions and Answers
For more thorough responses, listen to the mp3 audio. Zaid Shakir has written an extensive set of responses to questions received after the publication of his Letter to a Would-Be Mujahid article, which can be found here: Answers to “Would-Be Mujahids.”
1. What is violent extremism? Why is that we seem to be adopting the language the corporate media assigns to people struggling for self-determination in their own countries?
Zaid Shakir: Anyone whose land is invaded and occupied has a right to defend their land, their people, their honor, their resources and that right is universal. But we are not talking about that, no one is labeling those defending their land as violent extremists. But people who put bombs in marketplaces, masjids, and now churches or those who would blow up innocent people in some part of this country that’s not doing anything to liberate anybody’s lands. That’s just in many instances frustration…
Our Islamic terminology is being hijacked by Muslims and others. An example of a real mujahid is Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri he fought the French valiantly but when he saw there no maslaha (religiously counted interest) that could be advanced by continuing to fight, he surrendered. He was eventually exiled to Damascus and during a pogrom of Christians initiated by some Druze, he put his armor and weapons back on and gathered his men to defend the Christians. He said, “Anyone who wishes to harm these Christians because they are weak while our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) has promised them protection will have to fight me.” Now, that is a mujahid. The town of Elkader in Iowa was named after him.
We are an honorable people and do not murder women and children. According to Ibn Hazm, one the ijma’at (issues of consensus) that the entire ummah has agreed upon is that the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) forbade the killing of women and children.
What about those who say if they kill Muslim women and children that we can kill their women and children as well?
Zaid Shakir: Ijma and Muslim history argues against these claims. Imam Malik in his al-Mudawanna mentioned that if you are confronted on the battlefield by a woman with a weapon that you should try to run around her and go the other way because the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) forbade killing women and it is from him (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) that we derive our principles.
Should Muslims accept employment with U.S. federal government and defense contractors that may target Muslims?
Zaid Shakir: Everyone has to use their independent conscience. There are primarily two arguments, we need conscientious Muslims in these agencies trying to bring an Islamic perspective to the policy and analysis so there will be something to check these agencies from running totally roughshod over the Muslim community. The other argument is that these agencies are infiltrating the Muslims and clearly displaying enmity towards Islam and the Muslim community so we should have nothing to do with them. A person must be mature and weigh both sides of the argument. If they feel they can make a difference they should try and if they feel they can’t make a difference then they should quit. Ibn Taymiyyah in one of his fatwa said, “If you are a Muslim in a minority land where you can do something to check the evil of evildoers against the Muslims then you are obliged to make that effort.” But the decision should be made on your conscience and we shouldn’t say nay or yea. Remember the hadith, “Righteousness is good character and sin is what causes you agitation in your soul and you wouldn’t want people to know about it.”
Zaid Shakir: The target is not the Muslims but rather those who see the headlines right at Christmas time. I didn’t elaborate on entrapment because entrapment is clear and well-known. My concern is not the FBI as it takes two to tango. If someone comes to you and says let’s put a bomb out here to blow up innocent people, even if you don’t intend to do anything, what’s going on in your heart and mind to even make you vulnerable to such suggestions? Muslims should not vulnerable to a scheme that’s going to kill innocent people. No ifs, and, or buts…we need to be crystal clear on this that none of us will be involved in any scheme that leads to the deaths of innocent people and which makes it easier to kill innocent Muslims all over this world. This is why I am emphasizing what we have to do.
Feeling guilty about events overseas?
Zaid Shakir: Brothers and sisters, you should not be feeling guilty because Palestine is occupied, Gaza was bombed, and Kashmir hasn’t been liberated, yet. There are one hundred million Muslims surrounding Jerusalem, if they haven’t taken it upon themselves to liberate Jerusalem, what are you guilty of? Allah has put you in a position to educate people and let them know about the injustices that are going on, not to get all worked up and feel guilty about something millions of Muslims haven’t done. You don’t have to do anything but be a responsible Muslim, educate your fellow citizens about what is going on in the world and add your voice to a discourse where our voices are missing.
Zaid Shakir: We have a responsibility for the safety and security of everyone we share this land with. And if we know of anyone who is working to undermine the safety and security of the people we share this land with, Muslim or otherwise, we have a responsibility to stop that person. There’s a hadith, “If you see something wrong change it with your hand. If you can’t, then with your tongue, and if you can’t even do that then hate it in your heart and that is the lowest level of faith.” We have to assume the moral agency and the peripheral details vary on a case by case basis. What’s important is to understand the principle that we must protect innocent people from harm.
Should we be more open in taking a stand against Muslim leaders who take a more radical message?
Zaid Shakir: If anyone is distorting the religion especially in a way that has grave consequences for Muslims then that person should be called out for whatever they are advocating…
Preaching to the already converted, what other effective means of communication can we use?
Imam Magid: It begins here first with open and honest discourse without fear that someone is listening in, which will lead to healthy discussions that address the issues. Even if we use all of the means at our disposal we will never be able to control every single outcome. We need to do whatever we can within our own circles of influence and to emphasize the meta-narrative that represents real Islam and minimize the impact of the alternative narrative of those who seek to justify a violent ideology. We need to discuss issues of foreign policy and issues of concern to Muslims by creating an open platform here and in virtual space.
Zaid Shakir: Never underestimate the power of Allah (ta ala) to convey your words, Ibrahim (alayhi salam) was asked, “Proclaim the pilgrimage amongst the people” He said, my voice can’t reach them all. Allah instructed him to make the call and Allah would make the call reach everyone. So the mountains humbled low and his voice spread to all corners of the earth. With the tawfiq (blessing) of Allah (subhanahu wa ta ala), the internet, and word of mouth you never know where your words will spread.
Some signs that one may go down the path of violent radicalism?
Zaid Shakir: Keep ears and communication open, some signs may include withdrawal from the mainstream of the community because they condemn them as sell-outs and punks. Beginning to espouse dangerous ideas and this requires engagement with them. Another sign is disengagement from non-Muslim friends.
Imam Magid: Vulnerability to extremism is not solely a Muslim phenomenon, there are also criminal gangs. When a person becomes isolated or part of a clique they often begin to become secretive, which is a red flag. We have to be able to answer the hard questions and provide a corrective understanding of mistaken interpretations of the Quran to counteract those ideological views. We need to do prevention instead of intervention. We need to engage young people in productive activities. For example, we should have a Muslim Peace Corps so if there is something happening overseas that Muslims here want to contribute to then they can go overseas and help build schools and communities. Bullying in schools and in the media also leads to social isolation and a vulnerability that can be exploited by violent extremist recruiters.
Muslim mainstream has developed an aversion to speaking about foreign policy while more radical voices utilize foreign policy to draw in willing listeners.
Zaid Shakir: If we have any concern for the future viability of this country then we have to speak out…
What can we do?
Zaid Shakir: We need a healthy diverse civic life, if some people wish to engage in civil disobedience that is their right and we should respect that. If some people want to work within the context of a political party to try to advance their interests or do something positive for the Muslims then that’s their right or if some people want to write that is their right. We are a part of a diverse civic community and we don’t all have to march lock-step in one direction to protest or to build and create power to bring our voices to bear in an effective way. We should not forfeit our right to disagree and to civil disobedience. We shouldn’t say those who work in the mainstream are sell-outs as their niyyah (intention) may be greater than our niyyah. And we shouldn’t say that those protesting in the streets are not going to change anything. Every meaningful change in American history started in the streets. It was the people in the street protesting against slavery and the denial of women’s suffrage that led to emancipation and universal women’s suffrage. It was the people in the streets with Dr. King that led to the civil rights advances that occurred in this country. Politicians understand that. Everyone has a role to play and needs to find that venue and go for it.
Dar al-Harb/Dar al-Islam/Dar al-Ahd?
Zaid Shakir: There is no standard definition for dar al-harb and dar al-Islam, scholars have differed. None of them describe the situation we are in now where Muslims have universal equal citizenship that’s protected by the law. If there are abuses we have legal recourse within the modern nation-state. For these political realities, dar al-Islam/dar al-harb thinking has absolutely no relevance.
Imam Magid: A land where you sign a treaty with a people is considered dar al-ahd, which according to one scholar is any place you are able to live and able to practice your Islam. This land then becomes your land and you have to protect it even if you are a minority.
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.
It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.
Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.
In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.
Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.
Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.
Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.
Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead
Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.
Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.
However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.
Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.
#MyFastMySriLanka Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.
Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.
It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.
I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.
I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.
I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.
Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah
White Activism Is Crucial In The Wake of Right-Wing Terrorism
The vicious terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 were a punch to the gut for peace-loving people all over the world. Only the most heartless of individuals could feel nonchalant about 70 innocent children, women, and men being killed or maimed mercilessly as they prayed. However, even a brief glimpse at comments on social media confirms that among the outpouring of sadness and shock, there are, indeed, numerous sick individuals who glory in Brenton Tarrant’s deliberately evil actions. White supremacy, in all its horrific manifestations, is clearly alive and well.
In an enlightening article in The Washington Post, R. Joseph Parrott explains, “Recently, global white supremacy has been making a comeback, attracting adherents by stoking a new unease with changing demographics, using an expanded rhetoric of deluge and cultivating nostalgia for a time when various white governments ruled the world (and local cities). At the fringes, longing for lost white regimes forged a new global iconography of supremacy.”
“Modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world. Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.” (link)
Many people want to sweep this terrifying reality under the rug, among them the U.S. President. Asked by a reporter if he saw an increase globally in the threat of white nationalism, Trump replied, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
However, experts in his own country disagree. A March 17 article in NBC News claims that, “The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned in a 2017 intelligence bulletin that white supremacist groups had carried out more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years. And officials believe they are likely to carry out more.”
Although they may be unaware of — or in denial about –the growing influence of white supremacist ideology, the vast majority of white people do not support violent acts of terrorism. However, many of them are surprisingly, hurtfully silent when acts of terrorism are committed by non-Muslims, with Muslims as the victims.
When a shooter yells “Allahu akbar” before killing innocent people, public furor is obvious and palpable. “Terror attacks by Muslims receive 375% more press attention,” states a headline in The Guardian, citing a study by the University of Alabama. The perpetrator is often portrayed as a “maniac” and a representative of an inherently violent faith. In the wake of an attack committed by a Muslim, everyone from politicians to religious leaders to news anchors calls on Muslim individuals and organizations to disavow terrorism. However, when white men kill Muslims en masse, there is significantly less outrage. People try to make sense of the shooters’ vile actions, looking into their past for trauma, mental illness, or addiction that will somehow explain why they did what they did. Various news outlets humanized Brenton Tarrant with bold headlines that labeled him an “angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer,” an “ordinary white man,” “obsessed with video games,” and even “badly picked on as a child because he was chubby.” Those descriptions, which evoke sympathy rather than revulsion, are reserved for white mass murderers.
The media’s spin on terrorist acts shapes public reaction. Six days after the Christchurch attacks, millions were not currently taking to the streets to protest right-wing extremism. World leaders are not linking arms in a dramatic march against white supremacist terrorism. And no one is demanding that white men, in general, disavow terrorism.
But that would be unreasonable, right? To expect all white men to condemn the vile actions of an individual they don’t even know? Unreasonable though it may be, such expectations are placed on Muslims all the time.
As a white woman, I am here to argue that white people — and most of all white-led institutions — are exactly the ones who need to speak up now, loudly and clearly condemning right-wing terrorism, disavowing white supremacy, and showing support of Muslims generally. We need to do this even if we firmly believe we’re not part of the problem. We need to do this even if our first reaction is to feel defensive (“But I’m not a bigot!”), or if discussing race is uncomfortable to us. We need to do it even if we are Muslims who fully comprehend that our beloved Prophet said, “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”
While we might not hold hatred in our hearts individually, we do hold the power, institutionally. If we truly care about people of color, peace, and justice, we must put our fragile egos aside and avoid “not me-ism.” The fact is, if we have white skin, we have grown up in a world that favors us in innumerable ways, both big and small. Those of us with privilege, position, and authority are the very ones who have the greatest responsibility to make major changes to society. Sadly, sometimes it takes a white person to make other white people listen and change.
White religious leaders, politicians, and other people with influence and power need to speak up and condemn the New Zealand attacks publically and unequivocally, even if we do not consider ourselves remotely affiliated with right-wing extremists or murderous bigots. Living our comfortable lives, refusing to discuss or challenge institutionalized racism, xenophobia, and rampant Islamophobia, and accepting the status quo are all a tacit approval of the toxic reality that we live in.
Institutional power is the backbone of racism. Throughout history, governments and religious institutions have enforced racist legislation, segregation, xenophobic policies, and the notion that white people are inherently superior to people of color. These institutions continue to be controlled by white people, and if white leaders and white individuals truly believe in justice for all, we must do much more than “be a nice person.” We must use our influence to change the system and to challenge injustice.
White ministers need to decry racial violence and anti-immigrant sentiment from their pulpits, making it abundantly clear that their religion does not advocate racism, xenophobia, or Islamophobia. They must condemn Brenton Tarrant’s abhorrent actions in clear terms, in case any member of their flock sees him as some sort of hero. Politicians and other leaders need to humanize and defend Muslims while expressing zero tolerance for extremists who threaten the lives or peace of their fellow citizens — all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, immigration status, or ethnicity. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is an excellent role model for world leaders; she has handled her nation’s tragedy with beautiful compassion, wisdom, and crystal clear condemnation of the attacker and his motives. Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demonstrated superb leadership and a humane, loving response to the victims in Christchurch (and Muslims in general) in his recent address to the House of Commons.
Indeed, when they put their mind to it, people can make quite an impactful statement against extremist violence. In January 2015 when Muslim gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, there was an immediate global reaction. The phrase “Je suis Charlie” trended on social media and in fact became one of the most popular hashtags in the history of Twitter. Approximately 3.4 million people marched in anti-terrorism rallies throughout France, and 40 world leaders — most of whom were white — marched alongside a crowd of over 1 million in Paris.
While several political and religious leaders have made public statements condemning the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, there is much less activism on the streets and even on social media following this particular atrocity. Many Muslims who expected words of solidarity, unity, or comfort from non-Muslim family or friends were disappointed by the general lack of interest, even after a mosque was burned in California with a note left in homage to New Zealand.
In a public Facebook post, Shibli Zaman of Texas echoed many Muslims’ feelings when he wrote, “One of the most astonishing things to me that I did not expect — but, in hindsight, realize that I probably should have — is how few of my non-Muslim friends have reached out to me to express condolences and sorrow.” His post concluded, “But I have learned that practically none of my non-Muslim friends care.”
Ladan Rashidi of California posted, simply, “The Silence. Your silence is deafening. And hurtful.” Although her words were brief and potentially enigmatic, her Muslim Facebook friends instantly understood what she was talking about and commiserated with her.
Why do words and actions matter so much in the wake of a tragedy?
Because they have the power to heal and to unite. Muslims feel shattered right now, and the lack of widespread compassion or global activism only heightens the feeling that we are unwanted and “other.” If 50 innocent Muslims die from terrorism, and the incident does not spark universal outrage, but one Muslim pulls the trigger and the whole world erupts in indignation, then what is that saying about society’s perception of the value of Muslim lives?
To the compassionate non-Muslims who have delivered flowers, supportive messages, and condolences to the Muslim community in New Zealand and elsewhere, I thank you sincerely. You renew our hope in humanity.
To the white people who care enough to acknowledge their privilege and use it to the best of their ability to bring about justice and peace, I salute you. Please persevere in your noble goals. Please continue to learn about institutionalized racism and attempt to make positive changes. Do not shy away from discussions about race and do not doubt or silence people of color when they explain their feelings. Our discomfort, our defensiveness, and our professed “colorblindness” should not dominate the conversation every time we hear the word “racism.” We should listen more than speak and put our egos to the side. I am still learning to do this, and while it is not easy, it is crucial to true understanding and transformation.
To the rest of you who have remained silent, for whatever reason: I ask you to look inside yourself and think about whether you are really satisfied with a system that values some human lives so highly over others. If you are not a white supremacist, nor a bigot, nor a racist — if you truly oppose these ideologies — then you must do more than remain in your comfortable bubble. Speak up. Spread love. Fix problems on whatever level you can, to the best of your ability. If you are in a leadership position, the weight on your shoulders is heavy; do not shirk your duty. To be passive, selfish, apathetic, or lazy is to enable hatred to thrive, and then, whether you intended to or not, you are on the side of the extremists. Which side are you on? Decide and act.
“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case, he is justly accountable to them for their injury.” — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.
For the past decade, writer Laura El Alam has been a regular contributor to SISTERS Magazine, Al Jumuah, and About Islam. Her articles frequently tackle issues like Muslim American identity, women’s rights in Islam, support of converts/reverts, and racism. A graduate of Grinnell College, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband and five children. Laura recently started a Facebook page, The Common Sense Convert, to support Muslim women, particularly those who are new to the deen.
Spiritually Processing What Happened In New Zealand A Few Days Later
It feels like we’re living in the times that were described by the Prophet ﷺ in a number of different narrations. The Prophet ﷺ said, “A time will come upon people when a person practicing his religion with patience will be like one holding on to a burning ember.”
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِمَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ يَأْتِي عَلَى النَّاسِ زَمَانٌ الصَّابِرُ فِيهِمْ عَلَىدِينِهِ كَالْقَابِضِ عَلَى الْجَمْر
Just like holding on to a burning ember is very difficult, it causes physical pain, holding on to our religion will also be very difficult. It will lead to hardships and difficulties. It seems as if every other week we’re dealing with some type of tragedy, some type of crisis. And each one seems to be bigger and worse than the last. As Anas told those who were complaining about the trials and difficulties they were facing at the hands of Hajjāj ibn Yusuf, “There is no year, except that the one that is after it will be more evil than it, until you meet your Lord. I heard this from your Prophet ﷺ.”
“ مَا مِنْ عَامٍ إِلاَّالَّذِي بَعْدَهُ شَرٌّ مِنْهُ حَتَّى تَلْقَوْا رَبَّكُمْ ” . سَمِعْتُ هَذَا مِنْ نَبِيِّكُمْ صلى الله عليه وسلم .
Similarly, the Prophet ﷺ told us that we will face trial after trial, difficulty after difficulty. The Prophet ﷺ said that near the end of times the Ummah will be faced with trials and difficulties that it will dislike. Then he said, “There will be tremendous trials one after the other, each making the previous one dwindle into insignificance. When they would be afflicted with a trial, the believer would say: This is going to bring about my destruction. When at (the trial) is over, they would be afflicted with another trial, and the believer would say: This surely is going to be my end.”
· وَتَجِيءُ فِتْنَةٌ فَيُرَقِّقُ بَعْضُهَا بَعْضًا وَتَجِيءُالْفِتْنَةُ فَيَقُولُ الْمُؤْمِنُ هَذِهِ مُهْلِكَتِي . ثُمَّ تَنْكَشِفُوَتَجِيءُ الْفِتْنَةُ فَيَقُولُ الْمُؤْمِنُ هَذِهِ هَذِهِ .
This week, the Muslim ummah was faced with another devastating trial. Two separate mosques were attacked by a right-wing extremist in New Zealand during Friday prayer. According to the latest report approximately 49 god-conscious, mosque-going Muslims were massacred in cold bold. This is an absolute act of senseless violence. They were killed in the masjid simply because they believed in the kalima la ilaha illa Allah… There’s absolutely no mistake that this was a cowardly act of terrorism. May Allah ﷻgrant all the deceased the highest ranks in Jannah and may He give patience and strength to their families.
This is a result of years of unchecked and unfiltered hate speech, xenophobia, Islamophobia, prejudice, and racism that has been propagated through the mainstream media. All of us know that the mainstream media, whether its CNN, BCC, or Fox News, portrays Islam and Muslims in the most negative light possible. There’s a whole well-funded industry of Islamophobia and propaganda dedicated to tarnishing the image of Islam and Muslims in the average person’s mind. They’ve created an environment where the word Islam has negative associations. To an extent that when someone hears the word Islam, they automatically think of violence, terror, bombings and the enemy.
Although the perpetrator himself carried out the massacre in cold blood, I can’t help but place blame on all those who demonize Islam and Muslims. Part of the blame rests with those politicians who use fear-mongering, hate and prejudice to paint Muslims as the “other” just to win votes. They say outlandish things like Muslims are colonizing and invading our countries. That they want to take over and impose Sharia Law. They introduce anti-Sharia bills to create more fear. Part of the blame goes to these obnoxious, loud-mouthed, bigoted pundits, like Bill Maher and his likes, who constantly spew inflammatory rhetoric from their influential platforms. Part of the blame goes to people like Lauren Southern, Tommy Robinson, Richard Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Frank Gaffney who are openly prejudiced towards Islam and try to create a sense of hate and fear in their viewer’s hearts. They openly speak of something they call “the Muslim problem”. Part of the blame goes to all these other bigots who use their influence to preach against Islam. There are so much bigotry and fear-mongering that at times it seems overwhelming. There’s so much bias, hate, and prejudice that sometimes we feel stuck. And it’s this rhetoric, this hate, this prejudice and bigotry that has created an environment that would allow for something like this to happen. Senseless acts of violence like this don’t happen in a vacuum. There are circumstances that are created that allow them to take place.
This tragic incident really hit home for a lot of us. Part of the reason is that Muslims living as minorities can actually relate to it. It feels real. It is real. The individuals killed in the masjid could’ve been any one of us. It could’ve been any one of our family members and that’s a scary thought. Whenever we see Muslims in pain, struggling, dealing with death and loss we’re supposed to feel that pain as well. As the Prophet ﷺ said, “The believers are like a single body. If the eye hurts the entire body feels the pain. If the head hurts the entire body feels that pain.” All of us are feeling that pain. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of pain the parents and the families are feeling right now.
How do we channel this pain?
How do we deal with it? What are we supposed to do? One thing that we can definitely take solace in is the fact that the Prophet ﷺ, the last and final messenger, our role model also felt that pain. He experiences similar trials and hardships. There was a very powerful anti-Islam, anti-Muslim sentiment among the people of Makkah. The Prophet ﷺ himself was attacked both verbally and physically. He dealt with the pain of rejection, prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. He had to deal with the pain of seeing some of his closest companions tortured, beaten, persecuted, and even killed. Yasir, his wife Sumayyah and their son ‘Ammar faced painful persecution at the hands of Quraish. Yasir died as a result of his persecution and his wife was killed by Abu Jahl just because they were Muslim. They were made to feel this pain, to go through these trials, difficulties and struggle to make them stronger. To develop their faith, personality, and character. This pain didn’t cause them to give in to fear; it didn’t make them scared. Rather, it made them stronger.
In multiple places throughout the Quran Allah ﷻ teaches the Prophet ﷺ how to deal with this pain. How to derive strength from these trials and hardships. When the people of Quraish rejected him when they called him a liar, a magician, a sorcerer and a madman Allah ﷻ told him, “So be patient, [O Muhammad]. Indeed, the promise of Allah is Truth. And ask forgiveness for your sin and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord in the evening and the morning.” Allah ﷻ told him to seek strength through patience and prayer.
To focus on his relationship with Allah ﷻ. Allah ﷻ told him something similar in Surah Taha, “So be patient over what they say and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and during periods of the night[exalt Him] and at the ends of the day, that you may be satisfied.”
These are the same words of advice that Allah ﷻ gives to us as believers, “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” The true strength of believers has never been through financial or physical means. Their true power has always come through their spiritual strength. These incidents are meant to push us closer to Allah ﷻ, to unite us, to strengthen our faith, and make us more dedicated to our religion.
These are wake up calls. Allah ﷻ is literally shaking us and telling us to come back to him. It’s time to come back. That’s the only true way of changing our situation.
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