By Henry Sturm
February 18, 2015
In Iraq and Syria, the terrorist organization ISIS is carving out its domain with cruelty and terrorism. Journalists David Foley, Kenji Goto and Steven Sotloff and humanitarian aid workers Alan Henning, David Haines and Kayla Mueller were all beheaded in acts of brutality and belligerence; Muath al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot, was burned alive in a cage. And most recently, 21 Christians were beheaded. Their deaths were recorded in a video entitled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.”
Members of ISIS are mentally ill, vicious, sadistic men and women who will likely burn in hell. But out of the approximately 1.6 billion Muslim people in the world, violent extremists such as those in ISIS are a minority.
All this to say that the current events involving extremists in the Middle East have nothing to do with Islam. The events and the resulting false perception of Muslims are caused by violence — something that is ingrained in the primal instincts of humanity, not within religion.
Calling For a Change
In a CNN interview, Egyptian author Tawfik Hamid said although violence is found in other religions, these other religions have been reformed, whereas Islam has not. Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer, responded by saying every Muslim organization in America “has condemned ISIS in public statements.”
“We stand on street corners with bullhorns for the rest of our lives and we condemn terrorism, but for some people it’s never enough,” Iftikhar said. “They’re going to only focus on the minuscule extremist minority and conflate that to represent all 1.6 billion Muslims.”
Education of the uniformed and conversation with those willing to listen are the available actions since reformation has already taken place. Non-Muslims and the media continuously call upon the people of Islam to condemn this violence, as if Muslims are responsible for acts of terrorism.
According to Business Insider, esteemed members of the global Muslim community wrote a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, rebuking his interpretation of Islam by saying it is “forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.”
Yet it remains that many non-Muslims believe Muslims are like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, as if the religion is defined by violence, and even supports such acts.
Executive director of UH’s Gulen Institute Dogan Koc said “having (violence) as a religious establishment… will not continue for a long time.” Koc said a religion that is inherently violent will not survive.
People can buck against this idea, but the fact of the matter is that at the spiritual core of any religion is a desire for peace and the means to work towards harmony.
Religion and History
“If you were someone living in the 12th century or 13th century, you would say the same thing for the crusaders, for the Catholics, ” Koc said.
“Crusaders looted churches (in Byzantium). Christian crusaders looted churches because it was an Eastern church. You will see mosaics of Jesus, and some of them were taken (by crusaders) because they were gold.”
The Crusades are but one example of the violent acts that have been undertaken in the name of Christianity. Religious studies professor Christian Eberhart said a lot of conquering and genocides have taken place by Christians.
“The colonial period… that was basically Western Christianity, they started to conquer the rest of the world,” Eberhart said. “This continent was born out of two genocides. The ones who committed these genocides, against the Native American population and African-Americans, were usually Christians.”
Non-Muslim commentators have said these historical events are ancient history and therefore not applicable to the conversation. Christianity isn’t considered a violent religion because those events occurred in a more barbaric time.
One day the terrorist acts of ISIS will be ancient history. If history doesn’t matter when one is talking about Christianity, then it technically shouldn’t matter when one is talking about Islam.
Islam is not a violent religion; if it were, then so would be every other religion known to man — as well as almost any ideology.
Who Is The Bad Guy?
Proximity to recent events is the true instigator of anti-Muslim perception.
“Usually there is a certain group … that didn’t have good (public) perception. I have a friend who told me, ‘Until a new group will come, Muslims will be the bad guys,’” Koc said. “Before Muslims it was the Soviets … then you have Asians and Germans … so usually you have an identifiable certain group that does not have a good perception in the general population.”
Anger can arise at the thought of bigotry and ignorance. Yet the people of Islam continue to work on focusing their energies on acts to promote peace.
Teaching and learning junior Wajiha Jawed, who is the walkathon manager for the UH Muslim Student Association, said that Islam, like any religion, “is a way of life that encourages people to become the best versions of themselves.”
Eberhart said a study was done recently in which participants were asked if they were afraid of Islam and of Muslim people. The result of the study was that the majority of participants did feel fear or discomfort towards Islam.
“A secondary finding is that the discomfort was articulated mostly in areas where people had pretty much no contact with Muslims and didn’t know anything about Muslims,” Eberhart said. “It was the least articulated in areas where people knew Muslims and had contact with Muslims.”
Koc said he has “hope for the future,” and said when more intimate interactions between Western Christians and Muslims happen, “you will see better perception.”
Religions are based upon peace. All acts of violence and negativity stem from the raw egoism of humanity.
In Matthew 5:39 of the Bible, Jesus says, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
“The last prophet of Islam Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was even kind to people who treated him terribly,” Jawed said.
Spirituality works on the side of good and justice; don’t turn your hearts away from those who love peace, regardless of your ideology.