First and foremost, peace be upon you, my fellow human beings. I address this letter to you in hopes that it will find you well and within the realm of God’s blessings and mercy. I would like to shed some light on a topic that is probably both simultaneously curious and terrifying to you: Islam. Depending on your media consumption of choice, the impression you have of Islam and Muslims is either that we are demonic terrorists bent on world domination, or we are passive victims in a world that is increasingly marginalising and oppressing us.
I’m here to tell you that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The true Muslims among us are not sword swinging, bomb wearing terrorists, and neither are we wilting flower, submissive victims waiting for the liberals to save us. We are people of peace, but we are also people that will not take oppression sitting down. We are human, and no one definition can define us all, just as no one definition can define all Christians, Jews, Atheists, or any other group of people.
Nobody can tell anyone else what to believe or think, and for some of you this letter may fall upon deaf ears that have been told so many lies and slanders about Islam, your heart has hardened into an unshakable opinion. I pray God opens your heart and lets you hear what I have to say. If nothing else, perhaps I can provide a glimpse into the infuriating turmoil that we as Muslims are facing right now.
Ramadan is most well known for the fasting that we do from sunrise to sunset, forsaking all food and drink, even water. More than gaining hunger and thirst, Ramadan is about gaining self-control, gaining spiritual growth, and gaining a greater connection to our Creator and our community. Most Muslims break their fasts together and have dinner at our Mosques, worshipping and celebrating our achievements and enjoying the company of our friends.
But this year, like too many before, Ramadan has also brought death, carnage, anger, and infuriating confusion. Just five days before the Holy Month began, on May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, UK. Two days later, two suicide blasts killed three in Jakarta, Indonesia. On May 26, at least 28 Coptic Christians were killed in Egypt. A few days later, on the 4th of Ramadan, two car bombs were set off in Baghdad, Iraq, one of them outside an ice cream shop where children were enjoying a late night treat with their parents. At least 31 people were killed. The next day saw a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan that took the lives of at least 150 people, followed by a bombing at a funeral killing 12. On June 3rd, the UK was yet again the victim of an attack, this time in London, when a lunatic in a van ploughed through pedestrians and then three men wielded knives on the crowd. Eight people lost their lives. Then, just two days later in Tehran, Iran, 17 people were killed in near-simultaneous attacks. All of these attacks have been claimed by ISIS.
So, to tally them, in the past three weeks, 271 people have lost their lives because of ISIS. And that is not counting the 103 who lost their lives in the Philippines when an ISIS-allied group laid siege on the city of Marawi.
What is worse is that we have no reason to believe there won’t be more attacks.
So while ISIS targets civilians across the globe, some Muslim and some not, (213 out of the first 271 people killed were Muslims, that’s almost 80% of the victims), here in the US the bigots and ill informed among us, have begun their blind hatred and rage against Islam, planning to hold “anti-sharia” protests this month. To their ignorant minds there is no difference between ISIS and Hassan Minaj, between Osama Bin Ladin and Muhammad Ali Clay, or between Saddam Hussein and Ibtihaj Muhammad.
This is a fatal mistake.
More often than not, Muslims like myself use our privilege as Americans to scream at the top of our social media lungs and condemn these attacks. We try and bring to light that these backward, devilish, terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, that they’ve done more than hijack planes: they’ve hijacked and perverted an entire religion. But usually, our screams fall on deaf ears and more often than we are heard, we are ignored, insulted, and attacked.
A favorite hobby of the bigots of the Internet is to take passages from the Quran and misrepresent their meanings. So, let us look at some commands in the Quran that pertain to murder:
“Oh you who believe! Do not cheat and steal from one another’s property, only make trades by mutual consent; and do not kill one another. Surely God is Merciful to you.” [4:29]
“And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is hell; he shall abide in it, and God will send His wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement.” [4:93]
“…and do not kill the human soul of any person which God has forbidden…” [6:151]
“And do not kill anyone whom God has forbidden…” [17:33]
“Because of that, we ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a soul except in justice, it would be as if he killed all of mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” [5:32]
In short, murder is forbidden. It should be clear to you that in Islam, the murder of a person is no light matter. Only when it is done with justice (i.e. capital punishment in restitution of certain crimes like murder, or in self-defense) is it allowed. Therefore, these individuals running around shouting “Allahu Akbar” who murder and terrorize have nothing to do with God and Islam. Their nonsense claims of “Caliphate” and “seizure of land” are political ideologies like Zionism or Fascism, not at all religious in nature.
What’s more is that it is the Holy Month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims have been commanded to avoid conflict, as God states in the Holy Quran:
“They ask you concerning warfare in the Sacred Month. Say to them: Warfare in it is a great transgression…” [2:217]
“Oh you who believe! Do not violate the signs appointed by God nor the Sacred Month…” [5:2]
Here are just two examples of verses specifically commanding Muslims not to engage in war, fighting, and violence in this month, to keep it holy and peaceful. In another verse it commands that even if you are attacked in this month, to retaliate only so far as to defend yourself, but not react in a way that can be interpreted as escalation.
In addition to the Quran, Muslims find guidance in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (salutation and blessings be upon him) and the family and companions of the prophet. Arguably, the most important figure in early Islamic history was Ali son of Abu Talib (peace be upon him). On the morning of the 19th day of Ramadan he was struck with a poisoned sword on his head while he offered his morning prayers. In response, the people were angry and called for his attacker’s death. But Imam Ali (pbuh) demanded that the people control themselves and show clemency to him. While he sat bleeding from his fatal wound, he instructed the people to give food and water to his attacker and told them only if he died from his wounds were they to inflict any punishment upon the attacker. What’s more, he demanded that the punishment should fit the crime: that the man only be struck in the exact way in which the Imam had been struck and his body was not to be abused or mutilated for he had heard the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) say: “Do not abuse even a rabid dog.” Also, it was known that the man had not worked alone, that there had been a wider conspiracy to assassinate Imam Ali (pbuh) and the Imam demanded to let the matter be put to rest and not to pursue the ones indirectly involved. A man with so much power used his death to bring justice and peace rather than division and civil war. This was the mercy and manners of Islam manifested in practicality.
Now you tell me, how are shooting, stabbing, beheading, and blowing up innocent victims following the commands from the Quran and the traditions of Islam? These ISIS thugs are not only in pure defiance of the divine commandments, they wait until the Holy Month to attack more because it is traditionally a time of spiritual peace, tranquility, and growth. What is more un-Islamic and barbaric than that?
Furthermore, there are several verses that the bigots of the Internet always use against Muslims, claiming that the verses provide instructions for Islamic domination and hegemony. People who lack understanding claim these verses call for “jihad”, a word that actually means “to struggle”, not “holy war”. For example, in the chapter of the Quran called “The Table”, God is relating the story of Cain and Able, how jealousy led to Cain killing his brother. He describes how grievous the crime of murder is and then explains how so many people of the previous generations ignored this rule and targeted the righteous prophets of the past. God then says:
“The punishment of those who wage war against God and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned. This shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have grievous chastisement.” [5:33]
The verse immediately after says:
“Except those who repent before you have them in your power; so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [5:34]
In a book of 6,349 verses, less than ten of them talk of “slaying them wherever you find them” and other such violent things like the example above. And without the context of the verse, it is easy to see why they can be so easily misconstrued. But all the verses that talk of this violence and brutality are referring to specific groups of people, at specific times during war. In general, especially during warfare, Islam demands decorum and justice. The Prophet Muhammad (salutations and peace be upon him) gave ten specific instructions to the people regarding decorum during war including never killing children, women, or the elderly, not cutting any trees, not destroying any buildings, and not mistreating prisoners of war, especially instructing not to force them to accept Islam.
When you see verses like the one above, and others like it in the Quran, they are not referring to general war. The enemies that these verses refer to ALWAYS refer to people whose purpose is anarchy, division, and destruction of faith. They aren’t simply people who are fighting Muslims like the crusaders, or people who are disputing over land or resources. These enemies that deserve such swift and brutal death are the ones that fight for the pure joy of fighting, causing trouble, turmoil, and terror among people, and with the explicit purpose of destroying or defaming Islam.
You know, like ISIS.
There is a reason that many Muslim leaders around the globe have spoken out against ISIS. Political leaders in the Middle East have even called for absolute war against them. In Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, leaders have made many statements since 2013 against the ideology and behavior of ISIS, which they refer to as “daesh” which means “bigot,” as well as providing military and monetary assistance to those who are actively fighting them.
When ISIS began its siege in Iraq, the main spiritual leader of the country, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, made a call to arms to all able-bodied men to join the fight against them in June 2014. When trained Iraqi soldiers sometimes fled the battlefields, these brave volunteers stayed and fought the terrorists, and together they liberated town after town, eventually chasing ISIS out of the major cities of Iraq. Upon losing in Iraq, ISIS turned their attention to Syria where they fanned the flames of revolution against Bashar al-Assad and disguised themselves as “rebels.”
And where were the Western powers during this time? Under President Obama, the weapon of choice was drone strikes, which is an imperfect science and sometimes did more harm than good. Meanwhile, the western media largely ignored ISIS for many months as they beheaded and killed Muslims who wouldn’t subscribe to their ideology, and targeted ethnic minorities in the region. When ISIS began proudly targeting Christians in mid 2014, the western media began to give some attention, but only after the terrible attack of Paris in November 2015 that claimed the lives of 130 victims, did people really begin to truly care.
Since then, media outlets have provided their followers with emotive and biased reports of ISIS, perpetuating stories they think their audiences will like. From the right, we have heard of “radical izlamic terror” and reasons to fear refugees and Muslim neighbors. From the left we have heard of tyrannical regimes and civil war.
But what you haven’t heard are the sobs of one of my Sunday School student’s as he feared for the lives of his uncles who were bravely fighting ISIS in Iraq. You haven’t heard gunfire so often that it has become background noise you barely notice. You haven’t heard the sounds of people drowning in a stormy sea because the risk of a sinking ship was more attractive than staying in your home.
No, you hear politicians exploit other people’s pain to boost their polling numbers. You watch presidents dance with and bow to a Saudi king. You hear them mock, ridicule, and taunt the victims of terrorism.
You don’t realize how shameful this really is.
And enough is enough.
You probably believe that ISIS and other terror groups are homebred Islamic movements. But the truth is anything but. It is widely admitted that al-Qaeda (aka the group behind 9-11 and the most casualties in the Iraq War) and the Taliban (aka the group responsible for the most casualties in the Afghanistan War) were created by the United States. They actively trained, armed, and financed these groups to fight the Soviet Union and then Saddam Hussein, but the groups developed beyond American control and turned against the West, with the direct help of the Saudi Arabian monarchy and other Wahabi extremists in the Gulf States.
Donald Trump blames the “vacuum” created by the removal of American troops in December 2011 for the creation of ISIS. But ISIS has been around since 2004. Their so-called leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was imprisoned by American forces in Iraq in 2004 and then conveniently released as a “low-level threat.” They were a largely dormant and unorganized group at first, focusing on random bombings throughout Iraq and eventually Syria, but lo and behold, in 2013 they grew so exponentially wealthier, that by a year later they had conquered portions of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
Where did they get their funding? Their weapons? Their technological and social media expertise? The same place they received their crooked, backward ideology: Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States subscribe to an ideology called “Wahhabism.” Like most extremist dogma, their doctrine involves the perversion and most conservative form of religion. Because of the oil found beneath their sands, the Arabian Peninsula has found themselves richer beyond belief and has used their riches to export their extreme ideology and fund and militarise extremist groups around the globe. The past 150 years have brought on more change to the Islamic world than the previous 500. People that were once peaceful have found their cultures and faith ambushed by the tyrannical doctrine of Wahhabism, also known as Salafism.
Its history begins in the mid-1700’s, over a thousand years after the advent of Islam. A man named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab began adapting, altering, and changing well-established Islamic principles to match his own extremist beliefs. As his movement gained followers, he allied himself with the founder of the Saudi monarchy and together they conquered almost the entire Arabian Peninsula.
In the 1800’s, as the British conquered nearly 25% of the world, including the Arabian Peninsula, they aided the then infant Saudi monarchy, providing them with military technological advantage, and the suppression of other Arab groups. By the 1920’s, Britain declared Saudi Arabia a sovereign state and the House of Saud began their now nearly century-long reign of tyranny. In the 1930’s and 40’s, with the discovery of oil beneath the burning sands, the Saudi’s have essentially purchased a monopoly of piety and faith, exporting their doctrine throughout the globe and have been met with little to no criticism from the outside world.
Indeed, rather than criticizing, isolating, and trying to stop them and their sponsorship of global extremism and terrorism, not to mention their illegal war on Yemen, and their numerous Human Rights violations, our leaders make $110 billion arms deals with them, while openly mocking those who are the only ones in the region to take a stand against them.
In the official White House statement after the attacks in Tehran, Trump said:
“We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times. We underscore that states the sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”
To make that clear, Trump is basically saying that Iran deserved the attack because of their government’s spending habits. Does this mean that the attacks in London, Manchester, Paris, and New York on 9-11 were “justified” as well, Mr. Trump? So much ignorance, malice, and propaganda seep through this message that one hardly needs to comment on it.
Iran is far from perfect, but it is the only nation in the Middle East that consistently and incessantly has the courage to stand up to the Saudi regime, and the colonist, interfering powers of the United Kingdom and the United States. They do this while maintaining a relatively safe and stable country surrounded by enemies. The attacks on June 7 were the first violent attacks the country has faced since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
When politicians claim the Iranians are sponsors of terrorism, they traditionally point to their support of Hezbollah, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Hamas. These groups are labelled “terrorist organisations” by the United States government, but Hezbollah and the PLO are the armies of Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, both of which act as the only line of defence when Israel‘s Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attack their lands or threaten them. Hamas, while known for suicide bombings and indiscriminate mortar rocket attacks, has changed their tactics in recent years, focusing instead on defence and the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) non-violent movement. The Israeli presence in the region is not the innocent haven the Western media makes it out to be and is a topic that deserves its own discussion.
Also, in the recent Syrian conflict, Iran has provided assistance to the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to help in his fight against ISIS, which has disguised itself on the global stage as “moderate rebels”. In the past 20 years, there has never been an unprovoked terrorist attack by Iran or those it supports, compared to the countless, horrific deaths at the hands of Saudi-backed, Wahhabi extremists. If Trump considers Iran’s assistance of these groups as “sponsoring terrorism,” how can he justify Saudi Arabia’s funding of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups across the Islamic world? It seems that the biggest crime Iran is guilty of is not bending down to kiss the toes of the West and refusing to allow the Wahhabi, Salafi, perverted Islam to consume the entire Muslim world.
A popular trope that the media likes to bring up when discussing Saudi Arabia and Iran is the Sunni vs. Shia rhetoric. To be clear, while Iran is a Shia nation, Saudi Arabia is not a Sunni one. Sunni’s around the globe reject Wahhabism and Salafism and have given their lives and generations to combat it. Anyone with any sense of justice and humanity would combat this dogma that preaches that women deserve rape if they are not dressed “properly”, that preaches that having a photograph in your home is a version of polytheism, that preaches that Christians and Jews are sorcerers and therefore deserving of the sword, among thousands of disturbing rules and edicts their leaders come up with. This is not Islam, and we should stop kissing the feet of those who believe these things.
All this information is common historical knowledge, all of which I easily found in an afternoon of research, yet our media, both left and right, keep it conveniently omitted from their narratives, or manipulate it make it all about “sectarian conflict.” Our politicians lie to our faces in the name of money, oil, and power. In the US, some politicians have already begun praising the attack on Iran and proposed that an alliance with ISIS would not necessarily be a bad idea.
When will we say enough is enough?
Every time a Muslim is unfairly bullied or threatened, the threat of terrorism grows. ISIS thrives by recruiting the weakest, most ignorant, and most marginalised by offering them belonging, identity, and community. They use verses from the Quran like the one mentioned above out of context to justify the deaths of innocents. They pervert scripture and promise paradise to those who feel their life here is hell. This explanation is not to justify anything, but rather to offer perspective on the challenges we face in educating, informing, and providing support for the vulnerable around us. And it is not limited to the Muslim community. Countless “converts” among Americans and Europeans have travelled overseas to join ISIS and committed attacks in their name.
Since 2015, all of the attacks on US soil that have been perpetrated by Muslims have been claimed by ISIS. All of these incidences have been proven to be lone-wolf attacks. The assailants have had no direct connection to the terrorist group other than Internet searches and sometimes random pledges of allegiance to ISIS as they commit their crimes.
This is not an enemy that can be defeated by extreme vetting, demeaning and insulting talk, or xenophobia, and it is certainly not an enemy that can be defeated by making arms deals with its suppliers and supporters and mocking its victims.
The defeat of ISIS will come from education. If enough people are educated, and this education is reflected in the appointment of honest, trustworthy, and brave politicians, and the tyrannical monarchies in the Gulf States are dismantled, we will not only uproot the biggest cause of division and discord facing the world, we will be insuring the start of a peaceful Middle East and globe. If the people of the Muslim world are given ample opportunity at true education rather than Saudi state-endorsed brainwashing or complete denial of education, the people of the region can define their own destiny rather than being forced by colonial powers to accept governance that benefits the colonisers at the expense of the people.
I conclude this letter with one final thought. Many of you will read through this and think, “why should I care?” We as Westerners sit in comfort and freedom and forget that our success was not only bought by the sacrifices of those before, but by suppression and oppression. It has been our governments’ policies for generations to pursue what’s best “for us” at the expense of others. No one’s comfort or prosperity should be built on another’s suffering. This was the ideology of history’s worst tyrants, from the Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites, to the pre-Islamic Arabs who buried their infant daughters in the sand. A shift towards just and fair policy toward the region is the future that the world, from East to West, deserves. Nobody should live under oppression, nobody should live in fear, and nobody should live in ignorance. To paraphrase Nelson Mandala, while even one of us lives under tyranny, none of our freedom shall be complete.