Monday, January 27, 2020
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A Muslim student’s perspective on terrorism

To most people in the world, who see Muslims terrorizing Paris, Mali, and other familiar and unfamiliar locations, Islam teaches the killing of innocents to isolated groups of poorly educated souls. We don’t see fundamentalist Baptists shooting up churches or shopping malls filled with adulterers; rather, we see Muslims shooting people at concerts or in a sidewalk cafe.

The Chicago Tribune talked with Nour Saleh, the 17-year-old president of the Muslim Student Association at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She said she’s afraid of ISIS, like most Muslims, but also afraid of the reaction Americans have toward Muslims who aren’t terrorists.

Right away people went, “Oh, Muslims—terrorists.” They think all Muslims all over the world are terrorists. It’s upsetting because I am 17 years old, I’m a good citizen, how do I have anything to do with something that happened halfway around the world?

Terrorism has nothing to do with race or religion. It’s a radical group of extremists that has nothing to with either. Religion is one of the most beautiful things in the world. How can you put something so beautiful with something so evil?

Nour, with all respect, we Americans didn’t “put something so beautiful with something so evil,” nor did we conflate religion and terrorism. A group of radical Muslims did that all on their own.

The clear theme in these attacks is that radical Islam is using violence to kill innocent people. A main goal seems to be, speaking as a Christian outsider, to eradicate Western values, those I hold dear as an American, like you, and impose their version of Islamic law.

Islam, like Christianity, which comes under attack every time a stupid and poorly educated terrorist shoots up an abortion clinic or kills an innocent doctor, is a beautiful religion. We must have the courage to call out the people who kill in the name of their religion, and by “we” I mean Western people who live for today in a pluralistic world, including Muslims. How many innocent lives will be sacrificed before we have the courage to stand up to evil?

I think terrorists are using Islam as a mask to hide the face of their corrupt ideology, just as Hitler used Christianity as a mask to hide the face of his when he killed innocent human beings. Humanity is at war with a group—or I should say, groups, since Al Queda clearly had something to do with the attacks in Mali—and we need to understand the enemy.

American Muslims like you are not the enemy, and both George W Bush and Barack Obama have made that clear. You are no more the enemy than I was simply by being a Christian during World War II.

But you can help us understand how to stop the killing. This war can’t be fought with weapons alone; it must be fought on the ideological front.

How can we convince these terrorists to stop usurping Islam’s great teachings to get what they want? Because, if we can’t do that—meaning you, me, Muslims, Christians, and Westerners who live in the 21st century—a lot more people are going to die, and the only logical conclusion would be that religion caused the killing and should be eradicated.

I have to be honest, when I read some passages in the Bible, I think, God said we should kill someone for what? But I know better. We don’t live in that world anymore, but there are fundamentalist Christians as well, radical as they are, who interpret the Bible literally.

[Leviticus 20:10] If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.

Of course, Jesus himself fixed that problem when he forgave a prostitute in John’s gospel, so the Bible really comes down to a collection of stories that, taken as a whole, teach beautiful and valuable lessons about living our daily lives. Most Christians today don’t have any clue what life was like in the first century, and to suggest we do would be radical.

In the Qur’an, there are also several verses that could be read in such a way that would promote the killing of non-believers. This is known as Jihad, a subject I’m sure you’re much more familiar with than I. Please tell us how we can move past this?

[2:190] And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you. And do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. [191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out. Persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the sacred mosque until they fight with you in it. But if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbeliever.

More than 150 verses (that I counted) say the same thing: kill those who don’t believe. A radical thinker (or, I should say, non-thinker) is likely to come across verses like this and stop. But the Prophet goes on, and this is the message you can bring:

“But if they desist, then surely Allah is forgiving and merciful,” says the very next verse. If we were to apply even a little critical thinking or close reading to this text, we would have to conclude that taking life is wrong, since it would not give Allah a chance to show mercy.

Radical thinking, however, doesn’t lend itself to taking into account the whole breadth of the Prophet’s message. It leads to ideas being taken out of context and applied to situations, like people eating in a sidewalk cafe or watching a concert, where they clearly do not apply, given the total context of the Qur’an.

Nour, help us educate people in the ideology of Islam as it should be, the beautiful religion you hold. If we can’t, Islam and maybe all religions are doomed, because terrorists are willing to die for their misguided beliefs based on a cursory reading of select religious texts. No gun or army can stop people in that frame of mind.

  • Can a Muslim ideology known as postponement, or irja, called a heresy by ISIS—which says that only Allah, not a bunch of humans, can determine (in the afterlife) if someone is an apostate—end the violence? To quote a better part of the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion.”
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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