By Kerim Balci, Istanbul
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi
One cannot establish an Islamic state by means of terrorism, and acts of barbarism like beheading people are methods that will only establish a satanic state, said Muzammil Siddiqi, a leading Muslim American scholar when speaking with Sundayâ€™s Zaman.
Dr. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) Council of North America, was referring to the brutal tactics of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Siddiqi lamented that the images of ISIL militants only serve anti-Islamic circles and fuel Islamophobic sentiment in the Western public.
Though the activities of terrorist organizations like ISIL, the al-Nusrah Front, al-Shahab and Boko Haram worsen the image of Islam in the West, Siddiqi warned that the negative image cannot be attributed only to Muslim radicals. â€œThere have always been people who promoted a negative picture of Islam in the West. Today we call them Islamophobes, but they existed during the time of the Crusades and during the colonial era, too. The prejudices and lack of information about Islam are reinforced by the deliberate acts of these Islamophobes. They are very active and are using millions of dollars to spread their anti-Islamic message,â€ Siddiqi said.
â€œWe were already suffering because of the involvement of America in the Iraq War and in Afghanistan and the anti-American groups that used this involvement as a pretext for their hate speech. This vicious cycle was already putting us in a problematic situation,â€ Siddiqi said. A way out of this vicious cycle is for Muslim leaders to denounce violence. His organization issued a fatwa (an Islamic religious decree) soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, declaring that any act of terrorism is religiously forbidden and inviting American Muslims to cooperate with security forces in their fight against terrorism. This fatwa was overwhelmingly supported by the Muslim community; over 500 Islamic centers endorsed it and no Muslim group spoke out against the fatwa. Unfortunately, Islamophobes were not ready to believe in the sincerity of the Fiqh Council. â€œThey always complain that we Muslims are not speaking out against terrorism, but, in fact, they are listening selectively. They donâ€™t hear us,â€ Siddiqi said.
Siddiqi noted that the terrible crimes committed against the American people on Sept. 11, 2001 created a further challenge for the American Muslim community, but underlined that most Americans were helpful in dispelling the fear in the Muslim community and that Muslims in the West became more aware about the importance of interfaith activities after those horrible events. â€œIt is true that a large number of Americans still have suspicions about Muslims, but the Muslim community is much more active now about undoing those suspicions. Our mosques, schools and centers are open non-Muslims and more and more Americans are visiting them now,â€ he told Sundayâ€™s Zaman.
Siddiqi is aware that interfaith activities are misunderstood by some Muslims. â€œThey think that interfaith means making one faith out of all faiths, or that it results in the loosening of oneâ€™s commitment to Islam. In interfaith activities, we are not toning down the very message of Islam. The purpose of interfaith [activity] is that we are living as neighbors in a pluralistic society where there are Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, theists and people of many different cultures. We have to create a civic society that is a society of respect, a society of tolerance, a society where we can cooperate, work with each other and live in peace and harmony. This can only come true when we know each other. If our neighbors do not know us, how can they trust us?â€ he said. When reminded about the verse banning befriending Jews and Christians (Maida 5:51), Siddiqi cautioned that every verse in the Quran has to be understood in its proper context. â€œText out of context is pretext,â€ he said. â€œThere are verses that give general principles, and there are verses that are the products of a particular situation. [What is] particular has to be applied in a particular situation. That verse was revealed in a time of war when certain Jews and certain Christians were mocking Islam and Islamic observances. This verse banned, in that particular situation, the befriending of those particular people. This doesnâ€™t mean all Jews or all Christians. Because we have another verse with a general appeal, saying â€˜Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them.â€™ (Mumtahina, 60:8) This is the general principle.â€ he explained.
Not everyone reads the Quran as Dr. Siddiqi does. Some, just like the Islamophobes, do but a selective reading of the Quran. In Siddiqiâ€™s words, radicals usually do a â€œcut and paste kind of readingâ€ of their holy texts and this is not limited to just Muslim radicals. Siddiqi was once approached by a Christian critic of Islam who asked about the killing of infidels. â€œI asked him, â€˜Did you read the complete verse? Did you read the verse before that? Did you read the one after that? Did you read the whole surah?â€™ and then I said, â€˜Let me select a dozen verses from the Bible in a similar way and present them to you. What would you say about those verses?â€™â€ Siddiqi said. He underlined that every scripture can be misused. If some of the violent Muslim groups are misusing the Quran, is it not the fault of those Muslims and not of the Quran or of Islam as a whole?
That brought our discussion to the distinction between Islam and Muslim. Islam is the name of an ideal and Muslims are actual human beings. Islam is not whatever Muslims do. Islam is what Muslims are supposed to do. â€œThere are Muslim terrorists, but there is no Islamic terrorism,â€ Siddiqi said, and continued: â€œIf a Muslim drinks alcohol, you donâ€™t call it Islamic alcohol. If a Muslim eats pork, we donâ€™t call it Islamic pork. This is the same. If a Muslim acts violently, this is un-Islamic. Unfortunately, today, un-Islamic is called Islamic.â€