By Fatima Haffejee
Muslim’s have inadvertently become accustomed to condemning the cruelty of their so-called fellow brethren. The ‘not in my name’ campaign is one such example, almost as if we feel personally responsible for the atrocities committed in the name of Islam. It’s either that or having to persistently deal with ignorant remarks about Islam being a religion that perpetuates violence.
The name ISIS is anything but foreign to us South African’s, but the reality of its existence hit home hard after the news spread of a Muslim girl from Cape Town running off to join the notorious jihadist group, much to the astonishment of her parents. Astonishment is actually putting it mildly because like any other parents, they simply regarded her demeanour prior to running off as nothing more than that of a teenager acting up.
Thankfully, authorities caught up with her before the departure of her flight (and potential doom). Yet, despite her return home to a place of safety, a persistent thought possibly settled in the mind of every Muslim (and perhaps even non- Muslim) parent: ‘What if my child….?’
Those who know me well know that I am a sceptic, so writing an article on a particular ‘sore’ point for most Muslims compels me to be cautious in my approach to this particular topic. Personal opinions don’t stand a chance against the so-called facts fed to us- the masses-on a regular bases by the media. It is important to keep in mind that what we see on television or read in newspapers is usually a version of events narrated to us by a group of people reporting on a developing story. Here, the role of the journalist is pivotal because it is their narrative which we are drawing upon as a source of information.
ISIS: The Breakdown
Led by Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi, the actual formation of ISIS began in April last year (2014). It is astonishing to know that they were ousted from Syria on the basis of being too harsh and extreme, even for the likes of Al-Qaeda! A public repudiation led by Ayman Al-Zawahiri- Al-Qaeda’s leader- called on Isis to leave Syria and return to Iraq.
Thousands of foreign ‘volunteers’ have been recruited from Syria, Europe and the US, thus bolstering its strength and further spreading its reign of anarchy. Estimated currently to be having over 10 000 men in their charge, the group presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to Al – Qaeda within the so-called Jihadi community, to the extent that it has publicly challenged the leadership of Zawahiri.
In light of their failed recruitment from Cape Town, there is no doubt that the objective of ISIS is far beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq which as a result, unnerves even the calmest of us. Unlike other terrorist groups fighting in Syria, ISIS’s survival is not dependent on foreign aid. They’ve established some sort of independent state for themselves via the sale of electricity and collecting the equivalent of taxes to fund its military activity. That they are fiscally independent is even more problematic.
The Islamic verdict
The head of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, Moulana Ebrahim Bham, condemned the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at a local programme held in Roshnee, Vereeniging. In doing this he aligned himself with the worldwide call for Muslim leaders to step out of their comfort zone and publicly condemn the actions by terrorists committing crimes against humanity in the name of Islam. His public disapproval of ISIS however, had more to do with condemning their insubordination to the principles of Islam- in other words, their ideological views- than his willingness to appease an audience.
Graeme Wood, in an article titled What ISIS really wants? (theatlantic.com. March 2015) wrote that “The Islamic state is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them, that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse” Wood goes on to say that “the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam”
It is at this point I feel obligated to apologize, not on behalf of my faith, but for individuals such as Wood who has, in my opinion, applied very little common sense to his argument. Thus far, the media has portrayed the Islamic State as perpetuating the agendas of Islam. Muslims with even a basic understanding of their faith can vouch that Islam is a religion of peace. In fact, the very greeting of Asalaam-u-alaikum that is used throughout the world by Muslims literally translates into May peace be upon you.
ISLAM does not advocate merciless killings, mutilation of any sort or the denial of human rights.
In the course of my research, I came across an anti-Islamic article titled The 10 Most Diabolical Evil Teachings in all of Human History, submitted by Jake Neuwman on danielpipes.org in May, 2012 – This was prior to ISIS being a thing, but it didn’t lessen the blow. Unfortunately, the web is sprawling with such hate speech, furthering the current divide between religious groups. Neuwman is no different to ISIS in my opinion because he has interpreted Islamic religious texts to suit his own anti-Islamic agenda.
Newman’s hate speech made me livid. I feel the need to clarify some points, not because I owe it to anyone, but because there is a greater need to avoid a misrepresentation of Islam. Many have taken up interpreting the Quran as they deem fit. A misinterpretation of the Holy texts when done without sufficient know-how can be as damaging as the president of our country claiming that a shower is a definitive cure for HIV.
Islam does not allow for whimsical killings!
Self-defence does not count as whimsical, nor does fighting against a tyrannical ruler. Yes, we’ve been provided with sufficient reasons in the Quran as to when taking a man’s life would be considered ‘fighting for a cause’ but the Holy Quran categorically states:
“Whoever kills a person…it is as if though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind” [5:32]
Even if there is reason to fight against tyranny, we are encouraged in the Holy text to practice restraint, patience and above all, forgiveness and justice. To treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Which is why, in all honesty, there is no condoning the actions of the Islamic State regardless of which Quranic verse they may reinterpret to suit their own warped agenda.
Whilst this article focuses mainly on condemning the lawlessness of ISIS, it in no way condones the wars raging across Muslim lands. As M I Bham aptly put it:
“Opposition to the actions of the Islamic State does not mean support for any of the unjust wars that have raged across Muslim lands”
We all have our own perceptions of right and wrong which is why the phrase ‘only God has the right to judge’ is so commonplace. I for one however, cannot uphold the validity of this phrase when speaking out against the atrocities committed by ISIS who have clearly put themselves above the law of the land and the Holy texts. I will judge them! I will condemn them! And that is because as a human being and practicing Muslim I choose not to associate myself with anyone who behaves contrary to the basic freedoms of humanity, something I believe is practiced by many around the world, Muslim or not.