I know Muslims are sick and tired of the Islamophobic refrain of “Why don’t they speak out against ISIS?” Some refuse to accept the terms of the challenge, seeing it as a demand that they apologize for being Muslim. Others denounce terrorism, to deaf ears. But it wasn’t until I read this piece by New Zealanders Khareyah Wahaab and Jason Kennedy, who made news a couple of years back by inviting a racist MP to dinner, that I realized how Muslims in the West are doubly threatened by extremism.
[Tim from Timaru, by the way, is the New Zealand equivalent of Joe Bloggs — or perhaps Joe the Plumber. And it should be noted that before ISIS took to beheading Western hostages, they beheaded dozens of Syrians in Raqqa. They stuck the heads on the points of railings in the city’s main park. Western media paid no attention.]
This may come as a shock to some, but ISIS hates us, a young Muslim couple in the West, with the same vehemence as Tim from Timaru. Except, unlike Tim, we have many ties to the Muslim community in New Zealand. It’s a small community and our family is known to most Muslims here, who in turn still have ties to their countries of origin. This means that if by some freak chance a terrorist group were to put a bounty on our heads for speaking out against them, they have a much greater chance of finding us than finding Tim from Tumaru.
More than anyone else, terror groups seek to punish those they view as apostates of their own religion. Radical fundamentalists thus hold all Muslims hostage. Even in New Zealand, where our freedoms of speech and religion are a given, we still live with the risk of terrorist reprisal for speaking out, precisely because we are Muslim.
Terrorism is not aimed only at Westerners; it’s a daily experience for those who must live among extremists. Muslims have immigrated to the West in a conscious decision to escape violence and instability, seeking to build a better life, but many fear that if they speak out loud, they and their families “back home” will suffer. You may call this cowardly, but first ask yourself if you would be willing to jeopardize your family’s freedom and safety if you legitimately feared reprisal.
Many do so nonetheless. In public gatherings, demonstrations, formal statements by imams, even teenagers posting their frustrations on YouTube, the message is the same: “ISIS does not represent us. ISIS does not represent Islam. We condemn their actions entirely.” You don’t hear them because they’re not considered newsworthy, but engage a Muslim in conversation, and you are very apt to find someone who feels exactly the same way about extremists as you do.
How can we, two Kiwis who have never had anything to do with the Middle East, possibly answer for the actions of extremists with whom we have nothing in common other than proclaiming to be Muslim? Like every other Muslim we know, we choose to follow the progressive, peaceful tenets of Islam, and leave the rest to the annals of a long and tumultuous history.
With biblical literalism still prevalent in many churches, it should be no surprise that Islam also struggles with literalism. Most Muslims in the West gloss over the violent passages in the Quran in much the same way as Christians disregard the violent passages in the Bible. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they recognize the need for reform. But Martin Luther’s reform of Christianity didn’t come until the sixteenth century. Islam, a faith 600 years younger, is now, in the twenty-first century, grappling with the same need. Progressive western Muslims will certainly lead the way.
And if you haven’t managed to hear it by now, then hear it this time: Yes, we are Muslim, and yes, we categorically denounce ISIS and all forms of terror.
Thanks much for posting Leslie. I just heard Malik Mujahid, a civic leader in Chicago respond to an interview that condemning groups like ISIS has almost become a 6th pillar of Islam which condemnations required 5 x a day. I found that funny but sad.
Regarding the issue of reform, I think the main issue that traditional Muslims need to confront is that much of the problem is of shackling the Qur’an to the hadith literature. The Prophet never authorized anyone to collect and compile alleged sayings of his and especially not to do so 100 years or more after his death.
So interpreting the Qur’an through medieval lens is problematic because it institutionalizes a medieval mindset. I am not saying that medieval thought is necessarily bad….but it is not necessarily good either and it is not necessarily really from the Prophet either…at least much of what is said to be from him is likely not from him but from what people thought he would have said or what they mistakened him as saying.
I think once that lightbulb resonates throughout the Muslim world, then that would be a huge blow to traditional and most especially a huge blow to salafi muslims and catastrophic to extremist muslims.
I am not against hadith…i believe an indispensible source for interpretation of the Qur’an should be sought in looking at the hadith deemed authentic because some of it is authentic but not to replace reason and not to override the Qur’an as is done much too much by some muslims.
Love the mordant humor of condemnation of ISIS as the sixth pillar of Islam! Similar vein to the #MuslimApologies meme on Twitter.
Re hadith, I know I’ve recommended Sadakat Kadri’s ‘Heaven on Earth’ before, but can’t do so too often (the title makes it sound like devotional pap, but would I be recommending it if it were?). Especially the section on Salafism and the reinterpretation of tradition:
I liked the insightful comment about unshackling the Qur’an from the hadith — not that I get a say in it, but a minute after reading that it dawned on me that that could be an excellent thing. I’m of mixed minds about it, because a religion’s interpretive literature helps it grow and adjust to later time epochs. Yet, no matter how the hadith is divvied up among greater-to-lesser credibility, the sayings and actions of people as recollected later are notoriously unreliable and must certainly lead to misguided practices which become enshrined and immutable.
I love your articles! Absolutely admire the way you represent your thoughts.
But I cannot help myself but to add the following: We Muslims in the Middle East are trying to progress and reform Islam. We condemn ISIS, and we want peace in the region, we want peace and love between the east and west.
Much respect to the kiwis writers and to you.
Cannot wait until your next article!
Isis greatest enemy is Islam’s Sufism – “the love within Islam” all Muslims have to do to combatt and destroy ISIS …is bring back Sufism(love) as was expounded by one of the greatest personalities/poet – Rumi.
Love all,Malice unto none