Muslims And Terrorism—The Right Response
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
26 May, 2015
Some days ago, a Muslim school student asked me, “How should I respond when my friends from other communities allege that all, or most, Muslims are terrorists, or that all, or most, terrorists are Muslims?”
I said to the boy, “I can tell you what my approach is. When people make such statements, I do not defend Muslims at all. Instead, I admit that Muslims are indeed engaged in terrorism. And after this I am able to say that one must distinguish between Islam, on the one hand, and Muslims on the other. I am able to say that we need to gauge Muslims in the light of Islamic teachings, and not vice versa. I admit that Muslims are engaged in terrorism, and then I say that these Muslims’ behaviour is not only not in accordance with Islam, but that it is totally opposed to it.”
I explained to the boy that if you try to defend Muslims from the charge of being engaged in terrorism, you do not have solid ground to stand on. You will get stuck. Why? Because it is an undeniable reality that Muslims are indeed engaged in terrorism.
Now, what is terrorism?
Terrorism can be defined as the use of arms by agencies other than the state. Muslim non-state groups that are engaged in violence in different parts of the world are, therefore, by definition, engaged in terrorism. This is a reality. By issuing wrong fatwas, ulema or Muslim clerics in different parts have wrongly sought to sanction this violence. They have wrongly sought to provide justification for Muslim terrorism.
In Islam, it is very clear that the use of arms is the prerogative solely of the state. Islam brought about major reform in this regard. In pre-Islamic Arabia, everyone kept arms, and inter-tribal rivalry was rife. Islam established a new rule—that the use of arms was to be the prerogative of the state. But today, in various parts of the world, ulema have issued fatwas that wrongly declare it permissible for Muslim non-state actors to engage in violence.
So, I do not at all defend Muslims. I say that it is a fact that Muslims, in different parts of the world, are indeed engaged in terrorism. But, then, I add that Muslims are one thing, and Islam is another. In public gatherings, I openly say, “I have not come here to advocate for Muslims. I am here only to tell you about Islam.” And when I do that, everyone accepts what I say.
It is not only those Muslims who are actively engaged in violence who are engaged in terrorism. Those Muslims who tacitly support Muslims who are engaged in terrorism, even only by sympathizing with them or keeping quiet on their crimes, are also engaged in terrorism—in this case, passive terrorism.
Many Muslims simply refuse to admit that Muslims are indeed engaged in terrorism. They insist that the terrorist violence engaged in by Muslims is actually the handiwork of some other people. When this argument fails to convince others, they seek to justify the violence of Muslims by claiming it is a reaction to the violence of others.
Such defences will not work. No one will be satisfied with these arguments. People know that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were done by Muslims, but many Muslims blame it on Jews. No one takes this argument seriously, though.
This approach will not work. It is not honest. You need to admit the truth. And the truth is that Muslims are indeed engaged in terrorism. And it is the ulema who are majorly responsible for this, because many of them, in different countries, have, through their wrong fatwas, sought to justify the possession and use of arms by Muslim non-state actors, something that is not permissible in Islam. The ultimate responsibility for this terrorist violence lies not with the young Muslim men who have taken to violence. It lies, instead, with these ulema who have wrongly declared this violence legitimate.
So, the only honest option for Muslims when asked by others about Muslim terrorism is to adopt the approach I have adopted. And that is, that they must disown the terrorists completely. No attempt to defend or justify their violence is acceptable. No excuse will work. Once you disown the terrorists completely, everything will be clear.
A week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I participated in a conference on terrorism in Switzerland. When my turn came to speak about the attacks, my eyes were full of tears. The chairperson of the meeting came on stage and said, “In our midst there is one Muslim who sheds tears for 9/11.”
After I had spoken, a Muslim from America of Indian origin came on stage. He had lived in America for 25-30 years. He said, “It is not just one person who is shedding tears for the victims of 9/11. The whole Muslim world is weeping!”
Later, when we broke for tea, I said to this Muslim man, “I’ve come from Delhi, and I haven’t seen a single Muslim who has shed tears for 9/11, contrary to what you claim.”
And do you know what the man answered? He said, “America was acting just too bossy. And so, it had to be taught a lesson.”
On the stage, the man had said something, but in our private conversation he said just the opposite.
This is just one case of dishonesty on the issue of terrorism involving Muslims. People say one thing in public, and just the opposite in private. I can cite many other examples of this sort.
This sort of dishonesty is totally unacceptable.
And so I say to Muslims, “It is imperative that you disown the terrorists in your midst and not defend them in any way. If you are honest, there is absolutely no need to fear. God will protect you. We have to save Islam, not the terrorists.”
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org A prolific writer, many of his writings can be accessed on http://www.cpsglobal.org/articles/mwk
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