Although Muslims in the United States and around the world have repeatedly condemned terrorism and extremism, Muslims stand falsely accused by nationally known commentators and influential religious leaders of remaining silent.
Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.
The Islamic Resource Group (IRG), an educational outreach organization, has done more than 1,900 presentations reaching more than 65,000 Minnesotans in face-to-face interaction. The number one question people want IRG speakers to answer is: What does Islam say about terrorism? Sadly, we are forced to prove that we condemned terrorism. This is a situation no other faith community faces where it is held responsible for the actions of a few over what we have neither control nor influence.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, prominent Muslim scholar Dr. Jamal Badawi is scheduled to discuss coexistence in Islam. The alleged failure to condemn terrorism will be one among several subjects addressed in his speech. Dr. Badawi, in town by invitation of the IRG and University of St. Thomas, will give a presentation titled “Is Coexistence Feasible? An Islamic Response.”
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
“Is Coexistence Feasible? An Islamic Response.”
7 p.m. Weds., Feb. 20
O’Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium
University of St. Thomas,
2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN
The constant repetition of the alleged failure to condemn terrorism has pushed our voices behind an intellectual apartheid wall; hence, nothing we say is heard.
As proof of the assertion that Muslims condemned terrorism, consider what was said at the 39th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in Washington D.C., at which Dr. Badawi was a key presenter. At this conference, Muslim scholars analyzed the September 11 terrorist attacks in light of Islamic teachings. This was one year after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The convention commenced on a Friday afternoon with a prayer for the victims of September 11. Speakers went on to condemn the terrorist attacks before a large Muslim audience of 40,000, myself included.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Ingrid Mattson, a professor of Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian relations at Hartford Seminary and the new president of ISNA, explained in The New York Times that “Islamic law is very clear: Terrorism is not permitted. Even in a legitimate war — even if Osama bin Laden were a legitimate head of state, which he’s not — you’re not permitted to indiscriminately kill civilians just to create terror in the general population.”
On Sept. 15, 2002, Shaykh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, proclaimed that “Hijacking planes, terrorizing innocent people and shedding blood constitute a form of injustice that cannot be tolerated by Islam, which views them as gross crimes and sinful acts.”
These were hardly exceptions. On the web site The American Muslim , one can see a large compilation of condemnations of the attacks and condolences to the American people by Muslim leaders. In addition, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the most prominent Muslim civil rights organization in the U.S., compiled a 68-page document after the September 11 attacks, and has a special Anti-Terrorism page on their website with voices of Muslims from all over the world (See http://www.cair.com/AmericanMuslims/AntiTerrorism.aspx)
For many Americans — and for me in particular as a Palestinian American — one of the most disturbing images was the celebration of a few Palestinian youths after the 9/11 tragedy. This image was played over and over again in a provocative manner on CNN and FOX and mentioned by many nationally known commentators. This reinforced the myth that somehow Arabs and Muslims were gloating at American loss of life and pain!
This one image became a tool to drown out the condemnations and condolences by every Palestinian leader and organization, student associations, municipalities, mosques, churches and other groups. Students here and abroad held vigils, moments of silence and even blood drives.
The mainstream media, however, largely ignored these actions, as our voices remained behind an intellectual apartheid wall.
The final – and perhaps most important – lecture delivered at the 2002 Islamic Society convention concerned Muslim/non-Muslim relations. Dr. Jamal Badawi, a prominent Muslim scholar on Christian-Muslim relations, discussed the challenges posed by some commentators and religious leaders against the Qur’an and Islam.
Badawi Explains Coexistence
Badawi explained that Islam does not divide the world into believers and infidels. God addresses people, “O mankind,” over 200 times in the Qur’an and “O children of Adam,” many times. The term for Jews and Christians is not infidel, but “Ahlil Kitab,” or People of the Book.Badawi elaborated on coexistence by explaining that the inclusive address “O mankind,” is an address by the Divine that embraces all. “It reminds humanity that they belong to one family with the same set of parents, albeit a diverse family. This is a reminder that diversity in unity and unity within diversity are possible. Humanity is like a bouquet of flowers in which each flower is beautiful in its own right, yet, the combination of all flowers and the rich diversity of their colors is more beautiful. This sweeping statement in the Qur’an about broad human brotherhood is a profound basis for peace for and among all.”
Badawi added, “The basic principle in dealing with non-Muslims is ‘birr.’” There is no good definition of the word birr in English; however, it can be most closely translated to mean honor, compassion and kindness. God uses the same word “birr” when advising Muslims on how to deal with their parents. Furthermore, the Qur’an clearly states there is “no compulsion in religion.”
Finally, Badawi touched upon the word “jihad,” which means struggle, but is often mistranslated as “holy war.” Jihad has many forms, from the spiritual struggle against the self to the physical struggle against aggressors, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.
Badawi emphasized, “This [physical struggle against aggressors] is not a holy war. It is the lesser of two evils. There is nothing holy about destruction, killing or suffering.”
As we dialogue and work on solutions to make our country secure, we must realize the importance of understanding Islam and Muslims to ensure that our policies and solutions for security are within the spirit of justice and peace, not revenge and hatred.
U.S. Must Lead by Example
As a Muslim, the feeling I get is – unless Muslims en masse are virgin pure and undefiled – they stand condemned. The loudest voices making these false accusations are those who have justified all violations of international law in attacking Muslims. Strangely, this is the logic of honor killing, where men get away with acts of promiscuity, yet women are condemned for not being virgin pure and undefiled. If we are going to demand Muslims condemn terrorism, we must lead by example by condemning acts of terrorism by all, including state-sponsored terrorism. Even if those states claim to be democratic.
The weak always imitate the strong. If we are sincere in our desire to end terrorism, we must realize that it is a fruitless exercise to condemn violence by the weak and support it and condone it by those in power.
Yet, despite these forces who seek to silence and marginalize the Muslim American community, Muslims will continue to persevere in their attempts to build bridges of understanding and find common ground with other faith communities.
On February 20th, The Islamic Resource Group and the University of St. Thomas have invited Dr. Jamal Badawi to Minnesota to give a presentation titled “Is Coexistence Feasible? – An Islamic Response.” This event is free and open to the public. Your attendance is welcome. We need to work together to end all forms of violence and extremism against all.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.