By Duston Barto
One of the greatest things that our community has done historically to promote positive interfaith relationships is to defend the weak; strike down the oppressors and speak truth no matter who it is against. Somehow, even though this relationship was seen by our founding fathers in America, there has been a global shift in the view of Islam and Muslims over the past few decades. This shift has led to the media portrayal of Muslims only being about those who are “over there” and who are violent and blowing things up and killing people. This triggers the all too common sight of Muslims being forced by media and society pressure to rush in condemnation of such horrible acts.
In September of this year, however, there were three major announcements coming from Muslim-Americans that should act as blanket statements for all acts of violence and terror moving forward. The statements were so massive, clear and nonspecific (meaning they were not condemnations of a specific group or individual action) that it would take someone who is intellectually blind, deaf and dumb to ignore them.
The first was a statement issued from the network of Masajid under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Mohammad. It opens with a very clear statement of “The Conveners of Imams associated with the Community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed stand in solidarity with those who are appalled and condemn the brutal, indiscriminate murder, rape, and violence against innocent men, women, and children committed anywhere in the world!” Then goes on to declare: “The religion of Al-Islam and the example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) promote human excellence, religious freedom, social justice, and tolerance of human and religious diversity. Every Muslim is obligated to protect the dignity and freedom of all human beings. This includes the protection of houses of worship such as monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques (Al-Quran 22:40).” The complete PDF will be made available on our website along with this article.
The second was a press conference issued here in Charlotte, NC via a united statement with representatives from the uniquely Muslim-American institutions of MAS (Muslim American Society) and Mosques under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. As the leaders and members of the community stood on the steps of the Charlotte Observer in defiance of being ignored by media there were not only strong statements of condemnation against terrorism, hate and violence in the name of Islam; but also the gauntlet was thrown down to the secular media to report on the positive things our community does and to stop feeding into the ideology of Islamophobia.
Imam John Ederer made it a point to clarify the social factor in these extreme groups as he illustrated, “It’s obviously very apparent that these groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram; all of these people are uneducated in general. This is the problem with these people and when you look at their political instability that they live in and in this vacuum, they seek to grab political power by cherry picking some verses from Scriptures to suit their own desires. In fact it is no secret in world history that people use religion for power and they killed and caused bloodshed across various religions in history and this unfortunately now a sad chapter in history where Muslims are ignorant of their religion and misusing their religion.”
Imam Khalil Akbar punctuated the points with his statement, declaring “How can they represent Al-Islam when its Holy Book condemns the slaughter of innocent people? It says that one murder of one person; it is as if he has murdered all of humanity. Furthermore it says there is no compulsion in religion. Surely the right course is distinct from the wrong course. In regards to our Prophet, God says there has certainly been for you a Messenger of God an excellent pattern of conduct for anyone whose hope is to God and the Last Day. The religion of Islam and the example of ProphetMuhammad promote human excellence, religious freedom, social justice and empowerment for human and religious diversity. Every Muslim is obligated to protect the dignity and freedom of all human beings. This includes protection of the house of worship such as monasteries, churches, synagogue and mosques. The recent horrific crimes against humanity by groups like ISIS are totally contrary to those universal principles which are embraced in the religion of Islam.”
Imam John Ramadan challenged the media in it’s perpetuation of the myth of the violent Muslim as he said “When the press presents something, I think they should do it fairly. We are having a program and have had programs for years, interfaith work, building bridges of humanity in a world of many faiths, a reunion of the human family but there’s no coverage of that. There’s no coverage of the good work that Muslims do in this city. So when it comes to us as people of faith, all of us have to band together with other good people. Good should always promote good. There are good Christians. There are good Jews. There are good people of all different types of faith and like Prophet Muhammad said (peace and prayers be upon him) he says, “The best among you are the ones who are beneficial to humanity.” Not for a part of it because all humanity should be benefitted. This whole creation that we live in, God has made beneficial to everybody that is in His creation.”
Imam Abdul Pasha echoed the interfaith communion of peace in his statement “Anyone following in these extremist practices or ideas that we see really is not a part of Al-Islam but their own agenda. So I thank you and we pray that the religious people of faith can come together against any wrongdoing that is being done to Muslims, Christians or Jews because we are all human beings.”
Osama Idlibi, the president of MAS of North Carolina, closed out the initial information portion of the press conference as he said: “Muslims view the actions of ISIS as un-Islamic and morally repugnant. No religion condones the murder of civilians, the beheading of religious scholars or the desecration of houses of worship. We condemn the actions of ISIS and reject its assertion that all Muslims are required to pay allegiance to its leader.”
Following the initial information, there was a short Q&A with the press. Alhamdulillah, the media responded strongly as all the major news stations in Charlotte covered it for several minutes in each news broadcast that day as well as Charlotte Observer running an excellent article on the following day.
The third major event to happen in September was a coalition of Muslim-American scholars reached out to make the strong declaration against ISIS and Al-Baghdadi in the form of an open letter. This open letter struck on 24 points of Islamic jurisprudence and is deeply researched so that no educated person could refute it. The 17 page document rips away at the weak arguments that ISIS makes to support its actions and uses Qur’an and authentic hadith to prove that ISIS is so far outside of Islam that no Muslim should touch them. As of this writing there are 126 signatories from all over the world to this document. It is a strong voice to non-Muslims that so many scholars have been able to come together in such a well-researched and documented condemnation of violence, terrorism and hate in the name of Islam.
In spite of these very public statements; there will still be those who come against Islam and Muslims so it is important for all of us to keep these resources at hand so that we can calmly show that we have always been against violence and we have a historic obligation begun by Muhammad (SAWS) to maintain peaceful coexistence with people of other faiths.