By Nadia Cassim
It was 1am on Saturday morning when I woke in a fright. The intense South African heatwave we were experiencing causing me to dip in and out of fitful sleep. Despite the fact that the windows in my bedroom were wide open, it still felt like a furnace inside. I was wet from perspiration and something, like an unsettling feeling, had descended upon me. I grabbed my mobile phone from the bedside table and logged onto Facebook. The first thing I saw was the bright red BREAKING NEWS report posted by Aljazeera. Paris was under attack! I sat upright and felt the blood drain from my face and a chill crept over my entire body. Not again, I thought to myself. I clicked on the news report which claimed that there were suicide bombings and a shooting in which the killer screamed out “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire, killing many instantly.
I posted my thoughts on Facebook, condemning the attacks and expressing my disgust at the act of terrorism that was carried out. I also described my frustration at what I knew would be the inevitable outcome of such a crisis- Muslims would be pushed further to the fringes of society and labelled as terrorists. I remember, after posting my thoughts on social media, feeling disheartened. Again, I would be expected to defend the peaceful principles of my faith. Again, I would be accused of making excuses for these psychopaths who carry out heinous crimes using phrases we deem Holy and Praiseworthy of God. Allahu Akbar-God is Great- now carries a sinister tone and threat to the non-Muslim world. Lailllaha Illallah– Arabic for There is no God, But God-the testimony of faith for Muslims is waved by terrorists beheading innocents. The fact that amongst those killed by ISIS are Muslims as well as non-adherents to the faith, escapes many eager opportunists who use such terrorist attacks to further their own anti-Islamic agendas.
Nabeel Qureshi, an ex-Muslim for instance, seized the opportunity on social media to condemn the terror attacks by labelling such terrorists “Muslim terrorists”. He went further by posting a YouTube Video made by himself labelled “Does Islam Really Teach Peace?”. This supposed man of God was furthering his purpose by creating nothing but division and fear in the hearts of his Christian followers.
“Don’t read the comments on his posts”, I was told by someone close to me. I couldn’t resist. I needed to know what the world thought of Islam. And it wasn’t good. In fact, nothing but hatred towards Muslims, Islam and the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) jumped out at me. As one poster said “These people are demented and they need to be saved”.
Qureshi wasn’t the only opportunist. There was Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party, who was ready to add fuel to the fire and further her xenophobic agenda¹. It also gave an excuse to the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley to refuse Syrian refugees entering his US state². There is little doubt that many more countries will take this stance.
As I stared at the television on Sunday morning and watched the President of France make his speech, the one thing I took note of, was the words he used to describe the attackers. Instead of using the word “terrorist” to describe the evildoers, he and many other politicians chose to use the words “Islamic extremists”, or “Islamists”. At this point I felt upset. As a Muslim, I know that the actions of these barbaric crimes are not in line with Islam, so why label them with a word associated with my faith.
I know that many of my friends after the Paris attacks felt betrayed by the way the media went about reporting the crisis and many, rightfully so, kept expressing over and over that in the same week there was another suicide bombing in Beirut in which Muslim’s were the target, but that news headline did not catch the attention of the world ³. The question arises, why has the world turned a blind eye? My simple answer: It is because it is Muslims too who are suffering at the hands of terrorists and by focusing on their plight the narrative that the media and the world have created around the “apparent evils” of Islam, will need to be reimagined. It doesn’t help to show that Muslims are suffering at the hand of ISIS who themselves are labelled as Muslims because then there would be a need to redefine terms, and perhaps stop using the words Islamic Radicalism and just calling it what it is: Radicalism, terrorism.
As I paged through social media late last night I was disappointed at the things I read. Not necessarily by my fellow non-Muslim friends who actually comforted me by saying that I should stand proud by my faith, but by my fellow Muslim friends who refused to sympathize with the people who were killed on Friday. I will say this again and again: empathizing with innocents killed does not mean that you stand by the foreign policy of a government they are ruled by. Just today it has emerged that amongst those killed in the Friday attacks was a Muslim Moroccan man, Amine Ibnolmobarak, aged 29. Will you not stand by your Muslim brother who died on Friday? If we all follow this path as Muslims then we are giving in to the objectives of terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram who want nothing more than division in society and to stir up feelings of hate and anger. We are no better than the Nabeel Qureshi’s of our time or those who claim that we need “saving” for we worship the devil himself. We are no better than the custodians of our Holy Mosque, the Saudi government who engage in persecuting Christians on a frequent basis⁴.
What kind of example are we setting as followers of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) who we know was a peaceful and diplomatic man! He not only allowed others to practice their faith freely, but he set an example of what a true Muslim stands for. And no, I am not talking of the prophet described in the Hadith, but the man described by God Himself in the Quran! There are numerous verses that describe his nature and mission, but we sadly overlook them⁵.
What is the point of quoting a verse here and there from the Holy texts expressing Islam’s true identity of one that is humane and peaceful if we ourselves give in to hatred and animosity? There is no doubt in my mind that being a Muslim in this day and age is difficult and oftentimes lonely, but we must remember that throughout time and ages, those of belief were persecuted by a majority, laughed at and ridiculed- the people who stood against Noah and his followers, the people of Lot who refused to believe, Pharaoh and his people against Moses and his followers, to name but a few. As Muslims we will face an onward threat of hate and dislike for our “otherness”, by those who don’t take the time to get to know our true beliefs, but we will hold steadfast to the Almighty’s promise that He “is the patron of the believers” (Holy Quran 3:68)
⁵ The Holy Quran 2:149; 2:146; 3:73; 3:121- ; 3:159; 4:41; 4:84; 4:102; 4:113; 5:81; 7:157; 8:17; 8:64-65; 9:61; 9:92; 9:117; 11:2; 15:49; 27:70; 26:214 etc