A memo to American Muslims

It's time for us to search our souls. How can the message of Muhammad become a source of horror and fear? How can Islam inspire thousands of youth to dedicate their lives to killing others?

Topics: Religion, Terrorism, Middle East, Islam,

In the name of Allah, the most Benevolent and the Most Merciful. May this memo find you in the shade of Islam enjoying the mercy, the protection and the grace of Allah. I am writing this memo to you all with the explicit purpose of inviting you to lead the American Muslim community in soul searching, reflection and reassessment.

What happened on Sept. 11 in New York and Washington will forever remain a horrible scar on the history of Islam and humanity. No matter how much we condemn it, and point to the Quran and the Sunnah to argue that Islam forbids the killing of innocent people, the fact remains that the perpetrators of this crime against humanity have indicated that their actions are sanctioned by Islamic values. The fact that even now several Muslim scholars and thousands of Muslims defend the accused is indicative that not all Muslims believe that the attacks are un-Islamic. This is truly sad.

Even if it were true that Israel and the U.S. are enemies of the Muslim world, a response that mercilessly murders thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of Muslims, is absolutely indefensible. If anywhere in your hearts there is any sympathy or understanding with those who committed this act, I invite you to ask yourself this question: Would Muhammad sanction such an act?

While encouraging Muslims to struggle against injustice (Al Quran 4:135), Allah also imposes strict rules of engagement. He says in unequivocal terms that to kill an innocent being is like killing entire humanity (Al Quran 5:32). He also encourages Muslims to forgive Jews and Christians if they have committed injustices against us (Al Quran 2:109, 3:159, 5:85).

Muslims, including American Muslims, have been practicing hypocrisy on a grand scale. They protest against the discriminatory practices of Israel but are silent against the discriminatory practices in Muslim states. In the Persian Gulf one can see how laws and even salaries are based on ethnic origin. This is racism, but we never hear of Muslims protesting against them at international forums.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. While acknowledging that, I must remind you that Israel treats its 1 million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens. Today Palestinian refugees can settle in the U.S. and become American citizens, but in spite of all the tall rhetoric of the Arab world and Quranic injunctions (24:22), no Muslim country except Jordan extends this support to them.



While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians, we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam Hussein and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)? Remember the Pakistani army’s excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)? Remember the mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shiis? Have we protested the violation of their rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for the rights and lives of the Palestinians; we don’t. We condemn Israel because we hate “them.”

Muslims love to live in the U.S. but also love to hate it. Many openly claim that the U.S. is a terrorist state but they continue to live in it. Their decision to live here is testimony that they would rather live here than anywhere else. As an Indian Muslim, I know for sure that nowhere on earth, including India, will I get the same sense of dignity and respect that I have received in the U.S. No Muslim country will treat me as well as the U.S. has. If what happened on Sept. 11 had happened in India, the world’s biggest democracy, thousands of Muslims would have been slaughtered in riots on mere suspicion and there would be another slaughter after the culprits’ identity was confirmed. But in the U.S., bigotry and xenophobia have been kept in check by the media and political leaders. In many places hundreds of Americans have gathered around Islamic centers in symbolic gestures of protection and embrace of American Muslims. In many cities Christian congregations have started wearing hijab to identify with fellow Muslim women. In patience and in tolerance ordinary Americans have demonstrated their extraordinary virtues.

It is time that we acknowledge that the freedoms we enjoy in the U.S. are more desirable to us than superficial solidarity with the Muslim world. If you disagree, then prove it by packing your bags and going to whichever Muslim country you identify with. If you do not leave and do not acknowledge that you would rather live here than anywhere else, know that you are being hypocritical.

It is time that we faced these hypocritical practices and struggled to transcend them. It is time that American Muslim leaders fought to purify their own lot. For over a decade we have watched as Muslims in the name of Islam have committed violence against other Muslims and other peoples. We have always found a way to reconcile the vast distance between Islamic values and Muslim practices by pointing to the injustices committed upon Muslims by others. The point however is this — our belief in Islam and commitment to Islamic values is not contingent on the moral conduct of the U.S. or Israel. And as Muslims can we condone such inhuman and senseless waste of life in the name of Islam?

The biggest victims of hate-filled politics as embodied in the actions of several Muslim militias all over the world are Muslims themselves. Hate is the extreme form of intolerance and when individuals and groups succumb to it they can do nothing constructive. Militias like the Taliban have allowed their hate for the West to override their obligation to pursue the welfare of their people and as a result of their actions not only have thousands of innocent people died in America, but thousands of people will die in the Muslim world.

Already, half a million Afghans have had to leave their homes and their country. It will only get worse as the war escalates. Hamas and Islamic Jihad may kill a few Jews, women and children included, with their suicide bombs and temporarily satisfy their lust for Jewish blood, but thousands of Palestinians then pay the price for their actions.

The culture of hate and killing is tearing away at the moral fabric of the Muslim society. We are more focused on “the other” and have completely forgotten our duty to Allah. In pursuit of the inferior jihad we have sacrificed the superior jihad.

Islamic resurgence, the cherished ideals of which pursued the ultimate goal of a universally just and moral society, has been hijacked by hate and calls for murder and mayhem. If Osama bin Laden were an individual, then we would have no problem. But unfortunately bin Laden has become a phenomenon — a cancer eating away at the morality of our youth, and undermining the spiritual health of our future.

Today the century-old Islamic revival is in jeopardy because we have allowed insanity to prevail over our better judgment. Yes, the U.S. has played a hand in the creation of bin Laden and the Taliban, but it is we who have allowed them to grow and gain such a foothold. It is our duty to police our world. It is our responsibility to prevent people from abusing Islam. It is our job to ensure that Islam is not misrepresented. We should have made sure that what happened on Sept. 11 should never have happened.

It is time the leaders of the American Muslim community woke up and realized that there is more to life than competing with the American Jewish lobby for power over U.S. foreign policy. Islam is not about defeating Jews or conquering Jerusalem. It is about mercy, about virtue, about sacrifice and about duty. Above all it is the pursuit of moral perfection. Nothing can be further away from moral perfection than the wanton slaughter of thousands of unsuspecting innocent people.

I hope that we will now rededicate our lives and our institutions to the search for harmony, peace and tolerance. Let us be prepared to suffer injustice rather than commit injustices. After all, it is we who carry the divine burden of Islam and not others. We have to be morally better, more forgiving, more sacrificing than others, if we wish to convince the world about the truth of our message. We cannot simply be equal to others in virtue, we must excel.

It is time for soul searching. How can the message of Muhammad, who was sent as mercy to mankind, become a source of horror and fear? How can Islam inspire thousands of youth to dedicate their lives to killing others? We are supposed to invite people to Islam, not murder them.

The worst exhibition of Islam happened on our turf. We must take first responsibility to undo the evil it has manifest. This is our mandate, our burden and also our opportunity.

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