In the name of Almighty God, Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. We are bombarded on a daily basis with news stories of violence in Muslim majority countries. Whether it be the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the pirates or Al Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq, or state sponsored terrorism and political intimidation within the borders of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Of course the news media, which is anything but unbias, tends to only show Muslims doing these sorts of things and do little to show Muslims doing anything positive. For example the national news media did absolutely NO reporting on the work of groups like Islamic Relief in Haiti earthquake relief. Of course this is because fear makes for better ratings. The national news media always has to have someone to paint as the "boogie man" in order to keep people watching.
However, even though these stories of indiscriminate violence against largely innocent masses in the Muslim world aren't the whole picture, they ARE still indeed part of that picture. When faced with questions about terrorism and its relationship to Islam, we Muslims often point out the peaceful teachings of Islam; we point out that violence is only permissible in self defense according to Islam; and we point out that the VAST majority of Muslims are peaceful people and that people like those in Al Qaeda are a very small minority. While all these things are indeed true, we are still not really addressing the issue. Yes these terrorist are a small minority BUT they are a small group with BIG consequences. We can't simply ignore that and try to make it a non-issue.
When incidents of terrorism or attempted terrorism occurs in the US or the west in general, groups like ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) or CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) will always issues statements that all pretty much say the same thing; "We condemn these actions...we applaud law enforcement...we stand with all Americans against terrorism"and on and on and on. While these responses are indeed necessary, they are nothing but empty words if we don't actually do something to act on those condemnations of terrorism in order to do our part to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.
Muslims may ask though, "well what are we really supposed to do. Of course we do condemn terrorism but what more are we supposed to do to stop it. Past incidents have shown that virtually no one who is a terrorist or terrorist in training is born and raised in that ideology. Everyone who gets rapped up in this movement gets indoctrinated or "radicalized" at some point in their life but more often than not it's when they are in their teens or early adulthood. That isn't surprising as this is when people are usually the most idealistic and the most impressionable. They usually come from more secular families, not religious ones. After all Osama bin Laden was an engineer and has no formal religious schooling whatsoever. They are usually plucked by terrorist recruiters from Muslim youth from socially, politically and economically disenfranchised backgrounds, which is basically everyone outside the ruling class in most Muslim majority countries and from poorer inner-city areas of the US and other western countries. Bear in mind that there have been Muslim converts from more upper class suburban areas of the US and western countries that have become radicalized but usually become radicalized after falling into radical Muslim groups within inner-city environments. John Walker Lindh or the "American Taliban" is an example of that. They are radicalized using a combination of two basic ideological tactics
1. Terrorist recruiters take possibly legitimate grievances that Muslims generally have against the west and the US and grossly over exaggerate them. They use the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to say that the US is murdering innocent Muslims including women and children. They use political puppets like Saddam Hussain and Hosni Mubarak to claim that the US is a political colonial power (hearkening the memories of "actual" colonialism by European nations), and they will point to things like MTV and American films and music in general to claim American cultural imperialism. That's ultimately what they paint America as; an imperialist power bent on world domination, akin to Nazism and Communism. They also utilize extreme left-wing socialist ideologies including the hatred of Capitalism and the claim that Americans are fat, greedy hoarders of wealth. By making these gross exaggerations, the newbie is left believing that America is the most evil force on Earth.
2. They have to twist Islamic scriptural doctrines from the Qur'an and the example of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in such a way that it can be used to justify violence against innocents. For example the Qur'an teaches that taking an innocent life is akin to killing all of humanity. So, they simply twist the facts to convince their recruits that they're not innocent. Osama Bin Laden says in a letter addressed to the American people that because the American people elect those in government, the American people are therefore part of the government, and therefore part of the aggression, and therefore legitimate targets. When recruits ask about the killing of children or other Muslims, they'll simply say they are just casualties of war and that Allah will not judge them unjustly, or they will say (about other Muslims) that's the consequence of living in the Dar ul Harb (land of war). The Qur'an is interpreted willy-nilly based on their own "interpretations" and recruits are NEVER exposed to the 1000+ years of Islamic theological scholarship on the Qur'an which overwhelming condemns all forms of physical aggression, especially against non-combatants.
Once these recruits are convinced of the evil imperialistic intentions of America, and the permissibility within Islam to commit acts of aggression against innocent people, then they are officially "radicalized", and ready for para-military training.
So how can we, the Muslim Ummah, combat these issues. Well I would break down my suggestions as such.
1. EDUCATION: This means both Islamic and secular education. We need to be ever increasing our youths access to quality Islamic education in our Islamic centers. We need to have "hip" and relevant means to keep our youth interested in being at the mosque and learning about the true tenants of Islam while socializing with other Muslim youth, thus building our community leaders of the future. We Muslims in the wealthier nations in the west also need to be financially supporting quality Islamic and secular education in the Muslim majority countries. Muslims in those countries have little to no access to quality education save a few exceptions and we who have the financial advantage in the west need to be supporting the de-radicalization of Muslim youth overseas. What we have right now is actually the exact opposite as many American mosques and Islamic centers are funded thru such entities as the Saudi embassy. Also remember it's not the job of the US government to help "build" good societies in the Muslim countries. We need to take care of our own and the American government needs to focus on economically and militarily protecting and serving the American people.
2. JUSTICE: We have to stand for justice. Allah says in the Qur'an, "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 135] As we can see by this verse we must strive hard to act justly, even when it is against ourselves, even if it be against the poor (we often are against the rich), even if it be against our own families. We can't protest Israel just because they're Israel and they occupy Palestinian lands. There are indeed times when Israel is the aggressor but there are also times when the Palestinians are the aggressor. When that happens we have to defend Israel, no matter how much it may pain us, just as much as we defend Palestine when they are treated unjustly. Like Allah says, follow not the lusts of your heart, lest you swerve (from doing justice). We can't respond to incidents based on emotions. We have to assess the FACTS and not the "sound bites" and "talking points" of a situation before making judgments on people; even people who we normally assume to be wrong.
3. BE POLITICALLY NEUTRAL: Many Muslim organizations in the US claim to be politically neutral but anyone with half a brain can tell that they lean far to the left. It's no coincidence that the first two Muslim US Congressmen were Democrats. I'm not saying that's a bad thing necessarily but we as a community have to be careful to not get to much in bed with either party. We tend to side with Democrats because we don't hear many Republicans saying many nice things about Muslims, but don't let that fool you. Neoconservatives may not really like Muslims, but liberals don't like religion in general, but both will use you to get votes if they can. In keeping with justice, we have hold both parties accountable for their wrongs, and give them both our support in their good. This may be dealing with strictly the American Muslim community but ultimately we are the one's who have the potential to influence the rest of the world. Both parties have the potential to only feed the fire of extremism and radicalization of Muslims. Republicans tend to enrage the Muslim world due to their arrogance, and Democrats tend to make American look weak. The answer is somewhere in between. We need to show our brothers and sisters across the oceans that we are proud American Muslims. We need to show them that America is NOT an imperialistic power bent on world domination, and that even though America has made mistakes, America is ultimately only interested in protecting its citizens and preserving justice. Barack Obama's speech in Cairo was a very good step to dispelling the "over exaggerated" claims by terrorist recruiters.
Also in this same topic, be politically active. Be as informed as you can about political issues, including those not related to Islam or Muslims, and when I say be informed I don't mean just listen to media and politician talking points and sound bites. Actually go and read legislation for yourself. Study and learn the Constitution and understand the "proper" role of government. Register to vote if your a citizen. If your not a citizen and intend to stay here indefinitely, then work towards becoming a citizen. Learn the history of this nation. Know where the things we take for granted come from. Then actually go and vote.
4. ACTION: Once we've done these things (and we have in some ways been working on these things) we need to actually take action against those who are radicalizing Muslims into terrorist behavior. The first and best action is watch where your money goes. There are many good and legitimate Islamic charities but there are indeed some in which money does get funnelled to extremists. I once read a book called "My Jihad" by Aukai Collins, a white American Muslim, who fought as a mujihadeen in Bosnia (one example of a 'legitimate' modern day Jihad) and he tells of how he actually got to Bosnia under the disguise of a worker with an Islamic charity organization and how money and weapons were funnelled through their network. While that fight was a justified one, the same channels are being used by terrorists today. We need to find, as Muslims, what those channels are and rigorously boycott them and shut them down if we can. We need to actively boycott and protest oppressive Muslim governments including and especially Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation that's official doctrine is that of so-called Wahhabism. This doctrine, while not in and of itself one of preaching terrorism, has many elements that can lead to that type of indoctrination. Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and his protectors from the family of Saud did engage in what they called "jihad" against the other Muslims of Arabia and the world as whole in order to establish their puritanical version of Islam. Don't get me wrong Abd al Wahhab was a great preacher of tawheed (monotheism) and a rejector of saint and grave worship, but the way in which he chose to spread his message, through violent coercion, was and is unacceptable in Islamic theology. Saudi Arabia has many official policies that are blatant violations of traditional Islamic law. Women are forced to wear niqab or a face veil in addition to the traditional khimar or head covering, they are not allow to drive, etc. Christianity, Judaism and other religions are officially banned from Saudi Arabia, including what they see as deviant practices of Islam including that of the Sufis and Shia. There are many stories of women being executed for zina (adultery) when they were in fact rapped. All of these things are blatant violations of Islamic law and represent a dumbed down, over simplified, merciless and compassion less form of Islam that traditional Muslims in more free societies need to be more actively against. Just because they are the "custodians" of the Holy Kaa'ba and the cities of Mecca and Medina doesn't make them any authority on Islam. Firstly, we should not be taking funding from the Saudi embassy for our mosques and Islamic centers. The one who pays the piper calls the tune. So if the Saudis are funding American mosques and Islamic centers then that means they also may expect some homage be paid to them as well in regards to the influence of "Wahhabi" doctrine. The same is true of countries like Egypt or Syria or Jordan as well. Likewise we should oppose and boycott Muslim majority countries that actually prevent people from practicing Islam at all like in Tunisia or even Turkey. Both countries have passed laws actually banning the hijab of Muslim women in public offices. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we distance ourselves from the people of these countries; not at all. There are plenty of good and decent Saudis including many great scholars of Islam who live there. The same is true of Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and every other Muslim country, but what I advocate is a complete boycott and political opposition to the governments of these countries. We need to do this primarily because it is the oppression of these governments that helps to breed the disenfranchisement that leads to radicalization. Ordinary Muslims are much less likely to be radicalized when they have jobs, when they have freedom of speech and assembly, the freedom to question their government and replace them when they see fit, and when they have the freedom to learn the true tenants of Islam in the midst of the places where that history actually took place. There are many things that I might not even be thinking of but the point is we need to take economic, political and cultural steps to make oppressive Muslim governments aware that the Muslims of the "free world" will no longer tolerate their completely un-Islamic behavior and treatment of our brothers and sisters living under their thumb, and we need to call them themselves back to the true tenants of Islam.
5 BE WILLING TO DEFEND THE DEEN: Even if all the above steps are taken, and even if Islamic governments did reform their ways, and we ended the sort of disenfranchisement that was behind most radicalization, there will still be radical extremists. There were extremists and terrorists in Islams past, even when Islamic civilization was flourishing. The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), taught that whenever someone sees evil they have a responsibility to stop it with their hand, and if they cannot to stop it with their tongue, and if they cannot do that then to at least hold hatred for it in their heart, and that that is the least of faith. Likewise he also said that it is the responsibility of every Muslim to support their brother whether they do wrong or right, and when asked how we are supposed to support our brother when they are wrong, he said, "by preventing them from doing wrong". With regards to murder, Allah says in the Qur'an,
"If anyone kills a person, UNLESS IT BE FOR MURDER OR SPREADING MISCHIEF IN THE LAND, it will be as if he killed all of humanity, and if anyone saves a life, then it will be as if he saved all of humanity. " (Qur'an 5:32)
The verse states that killing a person in unequivocally forbidden UNLESS, they are guilty of murder or "spreading mischief in the land". By "spreading mischief" in this case, it means someone oppressing others, starting war, killing innocents, etc. Therefore, by this verse, it is not forbidden, for a Muslim to kill someone who is doing those things. Now this is a very complicated issue as there is very little black/white in these issues, but generally, people like Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups would fall under that category. I'm not a scholar of any kind but it seems to me that that might be a basis for a fatwa of jihad against those groups. After all, the leading killers of innocent Muslims are indeed these groups, not the American or other western military. So, what I'm saying is that true mujtahidoon might be able to look at this issue and issue an official fatwa of jihad against terrorists amongst the Muslims. In the history of Islamic civilization there were examples of Muslims having to fight other Muslims in battle in order to preserve order and prevent oppression being committed by Muslims. Now I want to make this very clear; Violence should never be resorted to as a quick fix to a complicated problem (because then we are no better than them), and all life is sacred, including the lives of these misguided young Muslims who become radicalized by evil forces within these groups. Those responsible for that misguidance need to be captured and brought to justice and exposed for what they are. For this reason Muslims need to support American and other coalition military campaigns to find, arrest, and if necessary kill the leaders of these groups. There is nothing un-Islamic in that. The sad truth is that it shouldn't be the responsibility of the Americans to do this. Muslims should have done this long ago, but unfortunately we have too many problems in the areas of faith and education to understand that responsibility. Right now the Afghan Army is fighting alongside US troops to end this radicalization. The same is true for Iraqi troops and Pakistani troops. I feel that they are the real mujihadeen in the world today because they are fighting the true oppression of the Muslims today. Likewise for this reason, American Muslims shouldn't be apprehensive about joining the US military. The American military and other government agencies need Muslims for the sake of educating troops, translating and helping bridge the cultural gap between the soldiers and those people that they come into contact with on a daily basis. Yes this may mean being put in a situation of having to fight other Muslims, but you have to bear in mind that the Muslims who US troops are fighting mostly are Muslims who are working for, supporting and protecting people who are undoubtedly vile enemies of Islam, regardless of their claimed adherence to it. Many Muslims both in the official army as well as civilian militia are volunteering to fight alongside the Americans because they recognize that threat, and they recognize that threat because they see what many of the rest of us don't; the brutality and ruthlessness of these people who's ideologies have no place in the religion of Islam.
These are a few steps that I might humbly suggest as viable steps towards actually doing something, as the Muslim community, about the terrorist problem. I am no kind of scholar so don't take this as any kind of fatwa and don't think that I'm not open to other notions, ideas, or points of view. I'm not perfect and I'm open to any thoughts on the issue. Anything good in it is from Allah and anything bad or wrong is from my own flawed self.
...And Allah Knows Best...