By Sajid Khan
Growing up in the Bay Area Muslim community, my elders and teachers always me taught that Muslims were one “ummah,” one nation tasked with supporting and defending one another. There was an emphasis that Muslims were all brothers and sisters in faith and that we and our brethren worldwide, be they in Palestine, Iraq, Europe or Africa, were one. So when Rupert Murdoch tweeted recently, “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible…” I couldn’t help but agree (except with his spelling of “Muslim”).
There’s been a tendency in the Muslim community after terrorist attacks committed by Muslims or those acting in the name of Islam to divide ourselves into bins and categories. “We” are the mainstream, moderate Muslims who condemn terrorism and have the appropriate understanding of our beautiful faith. “They,” those who engage in violence and terror, are extremist, fringe individuals who aren’t Muslim and have distorted and misinterpreted the Islamic faith. By creating these separate camps and distancing ourselves from Muslim perpetrators of terrorist acts, “we” forgo our responsibility to prevent these acts and ignore the skeletons in our community closet. The negative and biting response from Muslims to Murdoch’s tweet is indicative of a naivety, willful ignorance and an abdication of responsibility present in our community.
Let me clear: I haven’t seen fringe, vicious versions of Islam on display in the Bay Area and American Muslim communities that I interact with. The Muslims I know play pickup basketball and softball, have Super Bowl parties and watch the Oscars but take breaks to make our 5 daily prayers. The Muslims I know go to Warriors, A’s and 49ers games, cheering for their teams while avoiding alcohol. The mosques I attend offer yoga and fitness classes between prayer services. The mosques I know host chess tournaments and free legal clinics for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Muslims organizations I know, like the Rahima Foundation in San Jose or the Umma Clinic in Los Angeles, provide services to the underprivileged and needy in our society.
Nevertheless, we must remind ourselves that the Muslim “ummah,” or nation, is one body and remember our duty to enjoin good and forbid evil, including within the Muslim community. We should recognize that extreme, violent elements may exist within our mosques. In turn, we must develop the insight, maturity and wisdom to appropriately remedy these evils. Should violent interpretations of Islam arise within our mosques or communities, and should we fail to proactively address them and they manifest in acts of terror, “we,” the Muslim community as a whole, stand complicit in those murderous acts.
Our duty to quell these terrorist acts starts with educating our young people in our Islamic schools and youth groups about the correct, mainstream form of our faith that condemns offensive violence and denounces the murder of civilians. Our efforts should include open, honest discussions during our Friday prayers and family nights about the acceptable Islamic perspectives on these issues. We must engage those who possess and maintain extreme versions of Islam and seek to, with grace and wisdom, alter their understanding. We must provide forums and outlets for the disenfranchised and disillusioned in our community to voice their frustrations rather than resort to covert, violent alternatives.
Demonizing Rupert Murdoch for his tweet is wasted breath and unproductive. Instead, we, the Muslim community, should recognize the truth in his words rather than be offended by them. We must open our eyes to our significant responsibility to enjoin good and forbid evil within our ummah, to help prevent violence by Muslims and those acting in the name of Islam. If not us, then who?