By: Hamid Waqar
Hamid Waqar is an American Scholar graduated from Islamic seminaries.
The bombings of the Boston Marathon proved to be yet another horrific example of terrorism seeping into American soil. Islam dynamically opposes all acts of terrorism. These attacks devastate the American psyche, despite their relatively low incidence compared to many other countries around the globe. Over the years a diverse group of terrorists with varying goals have harmed American citizens and spread fear in society with acts of wanton violence. It is with great regret that some Muslims have been responsible for a portion of these terrorist attacks.
Media reports abound of incidents where Muslims have been indoctrinated with extreme beliefs causing them to perpetrate violent acts. These actions are not always considered terrorism, but they contribute to the creation of a false impression of Islam. For instance, when I was in Australia in 2011, I remember an extremist group decided to punish a new convert to Islam by lashing him because he had consumed some alcohol. This incident was reported in the news, making Muslims as a whole seem extreme and violent. Another example is the unfathomable, brutal attack on an unarmed, off-duty soldier in Woolwich, south London late last May. This attack was horrendous, horrific and showed just how far extreme beliefs can lead one to committing unspeakable crimes.
The media, to a certain extent, has tried to show that the criminals acted outside of the scope of Islam, but this has not always been the case. Islam is often portrayed as a religion that stands behind extremism and terror. This portrayal is not supported by the facts. Although these cases, and others, are tragic and inexcusable, Muslims account for a very small percentage of the terrorism that America faces. According to raw data taken from the FBI database, the percentage of terrorist attacks committed inside the United States by Muslim extremists between the years of 1980-2005 is 6% compared with 7% committed by Jewish extremists.
Other notable groups are extreme leftwing groups which make up 24% and Latino extremists who account for the majority with 42%. The percentage of terrorist attacks committed by Muslim extremists in Europe falls to an even smaller proportion than the US.
One of the largest terrorist attacks on American soil was committed by Timothy McVeigh who killed 168 people and injured 680 when he detonated bombs in the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. The motivation behind this attack was apparently revenge for the FBI standoff with the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas which had ended in the deaths of 76 people two years earlier. Other notable recent terrorist attacks in the United States have been the 2010 kamikaze-type attack carried out by Andrew Joseph Stack III in Austin, Texas and the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.
The vast majority of Muslims have constantly and consistently condemned acts of terrorism committed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There are clear verses in the Qur'an and traditions from the holy figures of Islam which prohibit the taking of innocent life. The Qur'an equates the murder of one innocent person to be equal to the murder of mankind in its entirety, just as it equates the saving of an innocent life to be equal to the saving of mankind in its entirety. "...whoever kills a soul, without [its being guilty of] manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind..." (5:32)
Many Islamophobes disregard this verse and take other verses out of context with the purpose of presenting the Qur'an as a book exhorting violence. An example of a verse that they use to support their argument is: "Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush." (9:5) If one reads this verse in isolation he might well conclude that Islam is a violent religion. But taking one verse or one tradition and basing one's opinion about the religion solely on that text without looking at the religion in its entirety is unjust. This verse, like all others, must be put into context by looking at the various types of polytheists in the Qur'an. This verse was revealed about a group of polytheists who broke the treaty of Hudaybiyah. They were given permission to remain for four months, but after that, God permitted the Muslims to fight them on the battlefield.
Extremism exists in fringe groups within the Muslim community but it is in no way the norm. Extreme beliefs arise from individual interpretations of scripture devised to suit one's own personal agenda, not from the tenets of Islam. That being said, it is important for Muslims to be on the watch for extreme elements within the community in order to quell any possible dangers. I will close by quoting two prominent Islamic scholars who have spoken out against terrorism. Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi of Al-Azhar University in Cairo said: "Attacking innocent people is not courageous; it is stupid and will be punished on the Day of Judgement. ... It's not courageous to attack innocent children, women and civilians. It is courageous to protect freedom; it is courageous to defend oneself and not to attack."
Likewise, Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, said shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001: "Killing of [innocent] people, in any place and with any kind of weapons, including atomic bombs, long-range missiles, biological or chemical weapons, passenger or war planes, carried out by any organisation, country or individuals is condemned. ...It makes no difference whether such massacres happen in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Qana, Sabra, Shatila, Deir Yassin, Bosnia, and Kosovo, Iraq or in New York and Washington."
Originally published in islam today magazine UK, Vol. 1 No. 9 | July 2013. It has been republished here with permission.