Ed. note: Part one of this commentary ran in last week’s New Times.
ISIS in Iraq has brought the issue of abhorrent expressions of the Islamic religion (Mis-lam) to the center stage. They have attacked, desecrated, and pillaged the holy sites of Christians and Muslims. They have murdered innocent Christian civilians, as well as countless Iraqi Muslims of various sects, including Sunnis.
Through its actions, ISIS falsely depicts Islam as a religion of cruelty, brutality, and injustice. The majority of 1.6 billion Muslims across the world practice a beautiful, peaceful, and pluralistic faith of individual responsibility, impeccable etiquettes, selfless service, and godly devotions. In these times, many would doubt such a claim due to the voluminous shadow cast by duplicitous and violent extremists.
The fall of many parts of Iraq to ISIS has the world shuddering at the possibility of the rise of a new radical totalitarian nation united under the banner of a mutated and grotesque expression of Islam. ISIS has used brutal acts such as beheadings, summary execution, and crucifixion to inculcate fear and submissiveness into defenseless populations. Also by using the adjective “Islamic” to label their cause, and the Islamic declaration of faith on their banner, ISIS and other such groups are recruiting frustrated and uneducated Muslims to join in their iniquity. This dark time requires the Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, and Christian communities in Iraq to unite under the banner of pluralism and make a courageous stand against these criminals who perfidiously clothe themselves with the vestments of Islam.
But to say there is nothing “Islamic” about the “Islamic State” is also a dangerous underestimation of the deviousness of the ISIS/AQ battle plan. Terror groups use Islamic dissimulation and bullying tactics to disarm their would-be adversaries. There is no greater opiate of the masses than convincing adherents of a faith that they are either with or against hardliners who cast themselves as “the only true believers.” They essentially warp all of their extremist acts into some form of holy observance. If Muslims seek to defend their religion, they must counter ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and other such freakish and unholy recreants on every level. However, this requires an understanding of the religion of Islam and a willingness by Muslims to fight for the pulchritude of its goodly teachings. The struggle to defend the minorities of Mosul from criminal radicals is representative of a global fight for the soul of the Islamic religion. “Jihad goes both ways,” and the ideological struggle to snuff out maleficent advocacy will be fought from Oxford Street in Britain where radicals are distributing pro-ISIS leaflets, to the dusty roads of the Mosul.
The Quran cautions Muslims not to be befuddled by scare tactics or to let criminals use the façade of religion to cause or justify harm. The Quran reads in Sura 4, verse 107: “Contend not on behalf of those who have wronged their own souls, for God does not love those given to crime and duplicity.” The Quran also emboldens its readers to stand up for what is noble and right, even when the perpetrators of injustice are from their own faith, race, or even family. Sura 4 verse 135 of the Quran warns mankind, “Stand out firmly for Justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, whether it be against the rich or the poor, for verily God can best protect both.”
The actions of ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al-Qaeda are so vile that many Sunni Muslims consider them outside of the fold of the Islamic faith. Citing the polar doctrinal incongruity between Islam and “Mis-lam,” scholars of all sects across the globe have shunned these nefarious misanthropes. One scholar in Northern California was unequivocal on this matter, stating, “These murderers are not our own. By declaring Muslims as unbelievers, usurping the property of others, and murdering those who disagree with them, they have removed themselves from the Muslim community.” Even ultra-conservative Sunni religious leaders have identified the so-called “Islamic State” as Islam’s greatest nemesis. It is my assertion that labeling these religious interlopers as adversaries to the Islamic faith itself is the first step in successfully engaging the problem.
The radicals who threaten innocent Christians today—whether in Iraq, Pakistan, or Afghanistan—are just as much a threat to the religion of Islam and Muslims as they are to the poor people they harass. Many fail to realize that for every church that is destroyed by these criminals, many Muslim cultural sites are decimated. And for every Christian murdered in Iraq, many more Muslims who oppose ISIS were slaughtered along the way. ISIS has displaced more than 1.2 million Iraqis. The vast majority of them were fellow Muslims.
Irrespective of faith, the Quran equates the taking of a single life with the annihilation of the entire human race. The sanctity of Christian and Jewish life, “the people of the book,” was given special note by the Prophet Muhammad (sws). He instructed his followers, “He who harms an innocent Christian or Jew harms me.” Muhammmad is also reported to have said that, “He who takes the life of an innocent Christian or Jew will not even smell the aroma of heaven (even though the scent of heaven can be perceived in the fires of Hell).”
The Islamic position is clearly to counter ISIS and other such fanatic and violent manifestations of an otherwise beautiful faith tradition. However that message must be robust and not just whispered at the dinner table, but echoed from the minbars of mosques to social media and Internet blogs.
Because of their remoteness from radical violence, in both mindset and geography, many Muslims in the West feel impotent in halting overseas radicals. Feelings of helplessness, embarrassment, and frustration abound. Muslims find themselves and their faith vilified and held accountable for the acts of Islamist miscreants. This is to be expected, as many in Western society are unfamiliar with mainstream Islam and Muslims. The “world” book from which they read is compiled from webpage upon webpage of radical Islamist brutality. The Prophet Muhammad himself once said, “People naturally love those who are kind and loathe those who are cruel.” Ironically, the solution to countering the misanthropy of radicalized “Mis-lam” lies within the benevolent teachings of Islam itself.
Muslims were taught by their Prophet, “If you see something wrong, change it with your hands, if you cannot change it with your hands, change it with your tongue, and if not with your tongue at least with your heart. And this shows the weakest of faith.” By speaking out, writing, and advocating, Muslim communities around the world can demonstrate the rival narrative to “Mis-lam” and moreover utilize teachings within Islam to deconstruct this toxic phenomenon. It is when communities remain silent that less well meaning persons will fill in the blanks and paint all Muslims with the same brush.
Dr. Rushdi Cader M.D., F.A.C.E.P., is medical director of SLO Regional SWAT and CEO/president of STAT Inc. He lives in San Luis Obispo. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.