The bombing of the Boston marathon and the subsequent man-hunt for the young Dzhokar Tsarnaev, has once again focused everyone’s attention on the so-called threat of Islamic radicalism and on Muslims living in the West. It has also given anti-Muslim extremists all the ammunition they need to put Islamophobia and anti-Muslim campaigns on steroids. While I fear the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., I am also encouraged by many thoughtful voices, including President Obama, in the broadcast, print and social media, which are warning Americans from a rush to judgment and inviting them to look at the matter without prejudice against American Muslims.
There are signs of two emerging memes in the media that are promising from a Muslim perspective. The first is the suggestion by some commentators that perhaps the Boston tragedy should be viewed more as a Columbine like event rather than an al Qaeda type attack. The second meme is the broad recognition that American Muslims are just as opposed to these horrendous attacks as any American and they have no sympathy for extremists of any stripe. The second view, I think, will limit the impact of those Islamophobes, like Congressman Peter King of New York, who wish to use this tragedy to garner support for their crusade against American Muslims.
But nevertheless, I want to address a bigger problem within the global Muslim community that continues to make young people like the Tsarnaev brothers open to manipulation by radical voices and ready to embrace violence. This is the globalization of Muslim victimology. The perception that every problem in the Muslim world from the civil war in Syria, the sectarian violence in Pakistan and Iraq, to unemployment in Egypt and the crashing of my nephews old laptop, is as a result of a deep-rooted Western conspiracy to destroy Islam.
The main themes of Muslim political discourses, besides the Arab spring, are still the plight of Palestinians, the Indian occupation of Kashmir, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Russian atrocities in Chechnya and so on and so forth. We Muslims are selective in our obsessions of injustices; we ignore the plight of Shias in Pakistan, the Kurds in Turkey, Christians in Egypt, or women everywhere. But this idea that Muslims are the victims of injustice is a strong emotional trigger that seems to be built into the Islamic identity and with increased religiosity comes a feeling of Muslim solidarity and heightened awareness of geopolitical injustices. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there are no injustices, there are many. I am trying to impress that in order to arrest the radicalization of Muslim youth, we need to find a way to enable heightened religiosity without a concomitant spike in anger, frustration and desire for revenge.
Muslims should seek change not revenge.
There is a simple solution, let the Palestinians have their state, let the Kashmiris have their referendum, and the US must get out of Afghanistan and stop using drones to kill women and children in Pakistan. But we all know that that is unlikely to happen tomorrow. But what many Muslims don’t realize is that given the global distribution of power, Muslim resort to terrorism in the name of these causes will most likely delay rather than expedite their resolution.
Muslims cannot continue to allow the radicalization of their youth. We cannot allow our kids to become killers and be hunted down like mad dogs.
How do we teach young Muslims to struggle for justice, but without resorting to terror tactics? How do we teach them that a just cause is not a justification for unjust means? Anger is forbidden. To act in anger, even in the pursuit of justice is Un-Islamic. How do we teach our child that how one responds to injustice is the true measure of one’s values and a true reflection of who we are? How do we teach them that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us — la darar wa la dirar — do no harm and do not reciprocate harm.
Yes, Muhammad taught Muslims neither to initiate harm nor to reciprocate harm. This tradition is very widely known, at least to Muslims who know their religion. It is #32 in the famous collection of traditions by Imam al-Nawawi. Do not do injustice. Do not respond to injustice with injustice. The sources are there, why do we not have the will to teach our children what really are our beliefs? Because the Islamization of Muslim politics, has politicized Islam, and we teach only those sources of our faith that serve our geopolitics. What will happen to the dream of the Palestinian state, the hope of referendum in Kashmir, if Muslims don’t get angry? When will we teach our children that practicing one’s values is more important than advancing one’s politics? Muslims who believe that their religion is beautiful and commands beautiful deeds (Ihsan) must stand up and teach these values.
Every Friday a vast majority of sermons, all over the world, end with this Quranic verse:
Indeed Allah has ordered justice with beautiful deeds (16:90) Bi al-adl Wa aI-hsan. Justice with beautiful action; that is God’s command to Muslims and most of those who pray, hear it nearly every Friday.
This is what we need to teach our children, that we are Muslims, we struggle for justice but with beautiful means. That is the divine command, which if we violate, we surrender our claim to being Muslims. Justice cannot be worthy of pursuit if it is besmirched with the blood of innocents.
Indeed God is beautiful and he loves those who do beautiful deeds. There is nothing more beautiful than abstaining from reciprocating injustice, there is nothing more beautiful than finding compassion and forbearance in our hearts in moments of crisis. Being a Muslim means to submit to the will of God and not to our passions. And He, to whom we submit, commands that we pursue just causes with beautiful means.
Ihsan, doing beautiful deeds, is according to most Muslim scholars the highest manifestation of Islam. It is time we taught our kids to take the highroad.
This article was triggered by the look of sheer agony that flashed on my 14-year-old son, Rumi’s face, when I told him that the alleged Boston bombers were Muslim.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is associate Professor at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. His website is www.ijtihad.org.
This article was published by The Huffington Post on April 22, 2013. Read it here.