Boston: lessons still not learned

News of the harrowing explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon struck a nervous chord in the hearts of us all last week.  The first thought that comes to mind is a hope that it was an accident, a ruptured gas line or the like.  Shortly after the first blast comes the report of a second.  Not unlike the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, the likelihood of malicious intent begins to resonate.  For most Americans, any doubts soon give way to anxiety, manifested and swollen with fear, anger, and suspicion.  “Who could have committed such an atrocity and why?”  Unsubstantiated news reports of two men of “dark complexion” go unchallenged[1] seem to satiate the knee-jerk reaction to accuse the usual suspects.  Meanwhile, for Muslim Americans, experiencing the same feelings of violation as the rest of America, have a compounded sense of apprehension as we worriedly await reports that we hope will alleviate the thoughts racing through our minds and silent prayers of “God, please don’t let it be a Muslim who has done this” made beneath our breath.    

The hours turn to days; claims of responsibility go unspoken for.  While there are always quick accusations by the likes of Erik Rush and his tweets that Muslims are “evil” and “Let’s kill them all” we maintain hope that the accused will turn out to be another Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Wade Page, or Joe Stack[2]- names which statistics far more associate with violent crime than the likes of ”Muhammad” or “Omar.”[3]  Video stills are released by the FBI and reports emerge that the two suspects are “white males.”  Tensions remain elevated but somewhat decreased, for as Muslims, we know our faith to be represented by all ethnicities and backgrounds―despite the misconceptions that Islam is a religion of Arabs.[4]  Upon seeing the stills we notice the suspects also appear clean shaven, wearing baseball caps― another sign that perhaps  this was again a massacre committed by an anti-government, white male whose religion will largely go unmentioned and for whom the terrorist label will be set aside, regardless of motive.[5]  Yet, if we were to attach the same conditions to white males that are attached to Muslims―or brown people with whom a certain semblance is shared, civility in this country would suffer a complete breakdown.      

Confirmation of the suspects’ identity brings joy to the likes of Erik Rush and Pamela Geller, who can now bask in the stench of their bigotry―“we told you so!  Muslims are evil!” they can say with empty rhetoric and false confidence.  More posters featuring images of the WTC buildings ablaze followed with Qur’anic verses taken out-of-context[6] can convince unstable individuals such as Erika Menendez that pushing a man off a subway platform, ahead of an oncoming train is justified.  The man in this case, Sunando Sen, a Hindu, was mistaken for a Muslim.  The aforementioned posters adorned the subway walls, serving as a backdrop of hate for all to aspire.  Wade Page can now rest peacefully that his savage assault on the Sikh temple he mistook for a mosque, was “close enough.”  In fact, few were alarmed at these killings―as if the only crime was one of mistaken identity.  The latest victim, Sunil Tripathi, found floating face down in the Providence River (as of now, the cause of death is unknown), was falsely named as a suspect of the Boston bombing by careless social media “journalists.”  His family received a surge of hateful threats that were simply glazed over with an empty apology from the Redit social media outlet and the pushing of a delete button by the wave of tweeters who felt it their place to reproduce unsubstantiated reports.  One journalist reports the after she confronted one such twitterer about his “confirmation” of Mr. Tripathi’s involvement, he essentially replied “well, there’s so many people saying it, it must be true!”[7]  These reckless reports may have resulted in a young man’s death. 

Conclusions made about the motivations of the suspects fall in line with the bloodstained ads on the subway walls, that is, the religion of Islam made them do it.  “They became more religious,” it’s reported, “praying five times a day; the senior brother’s wife wore a hijab,” as if the mere practicing of Islam must be the motivation behind committing atrocities.  Thus, women who wear hijab and men who have beards (or heaven forbid turbans), are legitimate targets.  Yet, the images seen everywhere of the perpetrators demonstrates they were not unlike their victims in appearance.  When I arrived up at my mother’s house the day the suspects’ identities were announced wearing traditional Islamic attire, she said I should be careful to avoid being shot.  “For what”, I ask, “wearing a turban?”  Should I simply shave my beard and hide who I am because of someone who looks nothing like me kills in the name of my faith?  Should a Catholic leave their crucifix at home because yet another priest was caught molesting a child?  Should a Jew remove his yarmulke because one of his own shot up a theater in Aurora?  Perhaps conservative Christians should stop proselytizing because of Timothy McVeigh?  Of course not, but this is the common logic as applied to Muslims.  “It’s their religion” it’s said when a Muslim stands accused, but it’s their “sanity” or “political ideology” when someone else commits a heinous act.  As to cancel the Boston Marathon would give victory to the suspected terrorists, hiding my identity as a Muslim or to be ashamed of my faith would be to do likewise.

Few persons charged with committing or attempting to carry out terror attacks are outwardly Muslim and not a single one of them ever received lessons in Islam by a qualified teacher or alim, yet the majority of these people have spent years of their lives earning degrees in western secular studies.[8]   In simple matters of etiquette, which if violated constitute a major sin, such as interrupting the Friday sermon to voice a disagreement with the speaker, as was mentioned about the deceased suspect, is indicative of a simpleton bereft of a basic understanding of his faith.  The excuses of such persons are predictable and in line with those of federal agencies, that is, violence against Muslims abroad, be it drone strikes[9] that have taken the lives of nearly 200 children[10], or a full scale war, resulting in the insurmountable civilian casualties, heightens the risk of terrorism against the United States.[11]  The common claim by those who attack this country is that the military’s failure to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants somehow justifies doing the same― a concept absolutely antithetical to the teachings of Islam as agreed upon  by our scholars.  In reality, such persons exhibit profound ignorance of Islam, compounded by cowardice, for how often have they made an effort to share their religion with non-Muslims?  One simply has to look at the life of the Prophet, upon who is peace, to understand that were it not for his noble character, Islam would have never won the hearts of his people.  Rather, the character these persons resembles that of Robert Bales, charged with leaving his base in Kandahar and gunning down 16 Afghan men, women, and children.   Neither religion nor state was a motivating factor, yet surely he felt himself a patriot.

As sensible people try to understand how anyone could walk into a crowd of innocent spectators and detonate a bomb, killing an eight year old child, a young woman, and a student from China, not to mention those wounded, must recognize that the acts of individuals cannot serve to represent the adherents of an entire faith community, despite what Glenn Beck may advocate.  For no more than can the crimes of Christians during the African Slave Trade or the subsequent crimes of Jim Crow be attributed to Christianity (despite the justifications made at the time), can terror committed by individual Muslims represent Islam.  To paint Muslims with the broad brush of terrorism adds insult to injury.  The blasts that went off in Boston were intended to kill Americans; we, too, are Americans, Muslim Americans.  Those who sought to strike fear into the hearts of the American public did not set about on an inquiry into the religion of those present ahead of time.  Such persons consider all Americans, citizens or not, as an equal opportunity to satisfy their aims.  Yet, before the ashes land, Muslims on the opposite side of the country become suspects.  We are then expected to apologize for something which we as individuals had nothing to do with, and therefore to accept responsibility for the actions of ignorant people whose actions do not represent our religion.  For those who want to blame the religion of Islam, know that Islam condemns the killing of innocent people, for the Prophet, in no uncertain terms forbade such action and it is from his example that Muslims are to conduct ourselves.[12] [13]   

Acknowledging that Muslims have carried out such acts should cause us to reflect on our own priorities, however.  What is the level of our practice?  Are we proud of who we are and the Prophetic tradition we have been gifted?  Are we embarrassed to pray in public or be identified as Muslims?  If so, who are we benefitting?  Where does our faith fit in on our priority scale?  Do we send our children to study Islam?  Do we learn from those qualified to teach, that is, those who have demonstrated a commitment to the formal study of Islamic sciences―not simply from someone who picks up a book and thinks they know all the answers?  Have we learned our creed (Aqeedah), as our faith requires?   For if we are doing nothing to better our understanding or improve our practice, how can we understand, beyond the level of the mundane, that our religion specifically condemns all attacks against innocent people?  Our Prophet, upon him be peace, abhorred such behavior and the attempt to excuse it by arguing reciprocity is to turn one’s back on the teachings of Islam and embrace the teachings of rogue elements within anarchist movement or worse still, the very people who justify “collateral damage”―these become one’s teachers.  None can argue that Islam allows its adherents to kill innocent civilians because “they do it to us.”  They are not the example our religion sets forth, rather, it is we who are tasked to rise above such savagery not adopt it.   

For those who feel they cannot practice their Islam in America, what does our religion command?  The answer lies in what was considered to be the greatest form of worship during the time of the Prophet: Emigrate.  This is the prophetic example and the example by which Muslims are to live.  Never has living in non-Muslim lands been an excuse to either leave aside our practice or force others to comply with them.[14]  For the vast majority of Muslim Americans, however, we understand that we live in a country wherein a system exists that affords us our religious liberties, where the letter of the law can be used to stand against lawmakers who would prefer such rights be stripped from us, as in states that have enacted anti-Shari’a laws.  How Muslims conduct ourselves through this process will have significant ramifications for our future in the country.  In times when our scholars are being replaced with clowns who lack a basic understanding of this religion, offering two-day degree programs, and believing they are qualified to guide others will only denigrate a masterful tradition built upon 1,400 years of learning.  Our seat at the American table awaits us.  To fulfill that promise will require us to live up to the prophetic example―nothing more, and nothing less.  Only then will we pull ourselves up from the caverns of ignorance and in so doing, the country as a whole.  Choosing to ignore the involvement of Muslims found guilty of egregious crimes will not enlighten our community.  Our tradition abounds in teachings on how to respond to difficulty in challenging times; any student of history can attest to the success engendered by those who embodied these teachings.  If, by the will of Allah ta’ala, we do so, never again will “I hope it wasn’t a Muslim” enter our hearts, for we will have taken our seat at the table of the American family. 


[1] Immediately following news reports of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, media outlets released similar statements regarding two Arab men seen driving a pick-up truck in the area at the time of the blast.
[2] Profiles of the aforementioned persons: Lanza: white, male, Catholic; Holmes: white, male, Jewish; Page: white, male, Christian; Stack: white, male, former member of Universal Life Church.
[3] Although his aim was, by definition, an act of terrorism, he is most often referred to simply as “a pilot.”  Had his name been Abdullah, the conventional designation of “terrorist” would apply.  Case-in-point, the following article appearing in Wall Street Journal:  Russell Gold, Bob Sechler, and Evan Perez, “Tax Protester Crashes Plane Into IRS Office,” Wall Street Journal, 10 Febuary 2010.  Available from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703315004575073401102945506.html (Accessed April 26, 2013).
[4] The actual figure being roughly 13%.
[5] The definition of Terrorism as defined by Merriam Webster: “Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” 
[6] 3:151-154 can be rendered in English as follows and concerns the Battle of Uhud in which the Meccans sought revenge for earlier losses by Muslim forces: “We will strike panic into the disbelievers’ hearts because they attribute partners to God although He has sent no authority for this: their shelter will be the Fire– how  miserable is the home of the evildoers! God fulfilled His promise to you: you were routing them, with His permission, but then you faltered, disputed the order, and disobeyed, once He had brought you within sight of your goal – some of you desire the gains of this world and others desire the world to come– and then He prevented you from [defeating] them as a punishment. He has now forgiven you: God is most gracious to the believers. You fled without looking back while the Messenger was calling out to you from behind, and God rewarded you with sorrow for sorrow. [He has now forgiven you] so that you may not grieve for what you missed or for what happened to you. God is well aware of everything you do.”  Thus, in no way is this verse be justification for the September 11th attacks, as implied.  Translation available from: M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, trans., The Qur’an: A new translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), cited by verse.
[7] Ross Reynolds, “Boston Marathon Bombings: Social Media Manhunt,” The Conversation, interview transcript  http://kuow.org/post/boston-marathon-bombings-social-media-manhunt (Accessed 22 April 2013).
[8] Of the high profile terrorism cases involving Muslims in recent years, all have invested their time in secular studies rather than studies of Islamic sciences: Faisal Shahzad, MBA from Southwestern University, Bridgeport; Umar Farouk Adbulmutalib, Engineering, Business Finance University College London; Nidal Hasan, Biochemistry, Virginia Tech, Psychiatry USUHS; Anwar al Awlaki (though never found to commit nor ever charged with committing any act of terror, was considered to have inspired all of the above persons―and was killed by a drone strike, despite being an American citizen), Civil Engineering, Colorado State; Educational Leadership, San Diego State; Human Resource Development, George Washington University.
[9] Tom Brokaw made a striking observation on Meet the Press, not normally made in popular media in which he states, “What prompts a young man to come to this country and still feel alienated from it, to go back to Russia and do whatever he did and I don’t think we’ve examined that enough? I mean, there was 24/7 coverage on television, a lot of newspaper print and so on, but we have got to look at the roots of all of this because it exist across the whole subcontinent, and the-- and the Islamic world around the world. And I think we also have to examine the use of drones that the United States is involved and-- and there are a lot of civilians who are innocently killed in a drone attack in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. And I can tell you having spent a lot of time over there, young people will come up to me on the streets and say we love America. If you harm one hair on the-- on the head of my sister, I will fight you forever and there is this enormous rage against what they see in that part of the world as a presumptuousness of the United States.”  Referenced: Meet the Press, “April 21: Deval Patrick, Mike Rogers, Dick Durbin, Pete Williams, Michael Chertoff, Tom Brokaw, Doris Kerns-Goodwin, Peggy Noonan, Jeffery Goldberg,” review of the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing, Meet the Press, PDF Transcript, p 10:       
[11] Although we reject all attacks on civilians, it must be recognized that the Obama administration’s drone policies, like those of his predecessor, serve as a major recruitment tool for those wishing to avenge the killing of civilians in the Muslim world.  For further reading see the report (specifically chapter 5: “Strategic Considerations”) published by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law:  Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan, September 2012, available from http://www.livingunderdrones.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Stanford-NYU-LIVING-UNDER-DRONES.pdf (Accessed 25 April 2013).
[12] Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4320, Chapter 19: Prohibition of killing women and children in war.
[13] For a discussion on this issue, refer to: Imam Zaid Shakir, “Youth, Politics & Islam” (lecture, New York University, New York, NY, 10 December 2010).  Viewable at: http://www.newislamicdirections.com/media/youth_islam_and_politics (Accessed 23 April 2013).  Referenced comments begin at 17:30. 
[14] To this day, in some Muslim majority countries, school children are required to learn about the religion of their family―be they Muslim or otherwise, not unlike the confirmation process required of Catholics. 

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