Although Muslims in the United States and around the world have repeatedly condemned the attacks on Sept. 11, we stand falsely accused by nationally known commentators and influential religious leaders of remaining silent. Sadly, one year after the attacks, we are forced to prove that we condemned 9-11 to silence these voices, which are inciting hatred against our community.
As validation for what I am saying, consider what was said last weekend at the 39th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in Washington D.C., where Muslim scholars analyzed September 11 terrorist attacks in light of Islamic teachings. The convention commenced Friday afternoon with a prayer for the victims of Sept. 11. Speakers went on to condemn the terrorist attacks before a large Muslim audience of 40,000, myself included.
This was hardly an exception from remarks of the last year. An incomplete document compiling condemnations of the attacks and condolences to the American people by Muslim leaders has reached 41 pages and is growing as I write.
For example, in the New York Times in the aftermath of the attacks, Ingrid Mattson, a professor of Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian relations at Hartford Seminary and the new president of ISNA, explained to America that “Islamic law is very clear: terrorism is not permitted. Even in a legitimate war – even if Osama bin Laden were a legitimate head of state, which he’s not – you’re not permitted to indiscriminately kill civilians, just to create terror in the general population.”
Last Sept. 15, Shaykh Abdul Aziz al-Ashaikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, proclaimed that “Hijacking planes, terrorizing innocent people and shedding blood constitute a form of injustice that cannot be tolerated by Islam, which views them as gross crimes and sinful acts.”
For many Americans–and for me particularly as a Palestinian American-one of the most disturbing images was the celebration of a few Palestinian youths after the tragedy. This image has been played over and over again in an inciteful manner on CNN and FOX, and mentioned by many nationally known commentators. This was to reinforce the myth that somehow Arabs and Muslims are gloating at American loss of life and pain.
This one image became a tool to drown out the condemnations and condolences by every Palestinian leader and organization, student associations, municipalities, mosques and churches etc. Students here and abroad held vigils, moments of silence and even blood drives.
The mainstream media, however, largely ignored these actions. Yet, despite these forces who seek to silence and marginalize the Muslim American community, Muslims will continue to persevere in their attempts to build bridges of understanding and find common ground with other faith communities.
The final — and perhaps the most important — lecture delivered at the Islamic Society convention concerned Muslim/non-Muslim relations. Dr. Jamal Badawi, a prominent Muslim scholar on Christian-Muslim relations, discussed the challenges posed by some commentators and religious leaders against the Quran and Islam.
Islam is NOT an “evil wicked religion,” as evangelical leader Franklin Graham has claimed. The word Islam is derived from the root word “silm,” which means submission and peace. Islam means peace and is achieved through submission to God.
Badawi explained that Islam does not divide the world into believers and infidels. God addresses people, “O mankind” over 200 times in the Quran and “O children of Adam,” many times. The term for Jews and Christians is not infidel, but “Ahlil Kitab,” or people of the book.
Badawi added, “the basic principle in dealing with non-Muslims is ‘birr’.” There is no good definition of the word birr in English; however, it can be most closely translated to mean honor, compassion and kindness. God uses the same word “birr” when advising Muslims on how to deal with their parents. Furthermore, the Qur’an clearly states there is “no compulsion in religion.”
Finally, Badawi touched upon the word “jihad,” which means struggle, but is often mistranslated as “holy war.” Jihad has many forms, from the spiritual struggle against the self to the physical struggle against aggressors, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.
Badawi emphasized, “This [physical struggle against aggressors] is not a holy war. It is the lesser of two evils. There is nothing holy about destruction, killing or suffering.”
As we commemorate the one year anniversary of the attacks on our nation and we work on solutions to make America secure, we must realize the importance of understanding Islam and Muslims to ensure that our policies and solutions for security are within the spirit of justice and peace, not revenge and hatred.
Ms. Fedwa Wazwaz, of Crystal, Minnesota, is Communications Director of the Islamic Resource Group and a columnist with the Independent Writers Syndicate.