In the last few days, several people have put their two cents in about whether Muslims are condemning ISIS, why these condemnations aren’t reaching those who need to hear it, and what Muslims can do to reach the media. A tumblr page has been created documenting instances of Muslims condemning things. This question, “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism,” is one that nearly single Muslim leader, activist, public intellectual, interfaith speaker, has had to answer multiple times, especially since 9/11.
This week, over on Patheos Christian sister channel, one blogger has taken the Muslim channel writers to task for not writing specifically about ISIS’s persecution of Christians; another outright suggested that we support terrorism since she hadn’t seen us using our Patheos blogs to condemn ISIS. Two of my colleagues on the Muslim channel, Precious Muhammad and Rabia Chaudry, penned pieces responding to these attacks. Precious recounted her deep love and respect for her family’s Christian and Muslim heritages. Rabia painted a picture of the larger context of this summer’s difficulties. Both women reiterated their condemnation of terrorism, as did our editor, Dilshad Ali, in a piece she wrote last month.
So you might ask yourself, “She sounds mad. Why is she so mad? These are legitimate questions. There are Muslim terrorists out there! And if Muslims are condemning terrorism, how come I haven’t heard it yet?”
Dear reader, I will explain. I’m frustrated because for years, Muslim writers/activists/leaders have endured our interfaith sisters and brothers, as well as media and politicians, telling us that we don’t denounce terrorism done by Muslims. Even though Muslim organizations, leaders, lay people have all constantly condemned terrorism in the name of Islam, consistently since 9/11. There have been numerous fatwas against terrorism issued by Islamic scholars, including here in the United States. Sheila Musaji doggedly and exhaustively details national and global Muslim condemnations of terrorism on her site, The American Muslim (direct link to the page of condemnations) Yet, Muslim denouncements of terrorism are not reported on, because it’s simply not sexy enough to make news. Somehow, it’s become such an accepted truth that Muslims don’t condemn terrorism, that it almost becomes a satirical question.
For example, yesterday the Pope called on Muslim leaders to denounce ISIS’s horrific persecution of Christians and Yazidis, suggesting that if they don’t, interfaith cooperation and dialogue will be jeapordized. Yet, merely two weeks ago, the Vatican Radio’s own website posted an article that highlighted two major Muslim leaders denouncing ISIS. That, to me, encapsulates the absurdity of the question, “Why don’t Muslims condemn terorrism?” Frankly, that question is symptomatic of the larger issue: the default assumption that if you don’t hear a particular Muslim person denouncing terrorism, then that must mean that the person supports terrorism by default and by virtue of being Muslim.
Many Muslim leaders, activists, public intellectuals and lay people have condemned ISIS or expressed disgust, fear and dismay over them, since they first arose in Syria, killing and attacking the Muslims with whom they disagree. We’ve continued to express our horror at their actions as they unleashed their terror in Syria, then in Iraq, and now as they try to make inroads in Lebanon. Just because you found out about them only after they started to attack Iraqi Christians this summer, doesn’t mean we weren’t horrified and speaking out about the situation when they first became prominent in Syria years ago.
So, if you’re a person inclined to ask, “Why haven’t I seen Muslims condemning ISIS’s persecution of Christians and Yazidis?” I would like to suggest that you try this exercise first:
Questions to ask myself before I publicly wonder whether Muslims condemn terrorism:
1) Do I know any Muslims in real life that I can ask?
2) Am I actually following any Muslim activists, scholars or leaders on social media outlets?
3) Am I assuming that if Muslims are not condemning violence done by other Muslims 24/7 in the medium that I personally follow, so that I can see it when I check into FB or Twitter at a time convenient for me, then that means Muslims support terrorism and are inherently violent people because of their religion?
4) When I meet a person of a different faith is my immediate assumption, “This person is Catholic, he must be a child molester” or “This Jewish woman hates all Muslim children and wants them to be bombed” or “This person is a Christian, he must want to steal the money of gullible old white ladies who think the Rapture is imminent?” Or is my assumption when I meet people is that they believe all these things are abhorrent and that we share these basic values?
5) If some people of a faith tradition have committed criminal acts, even if they claim it’s done in God’s name, does it automatically mean that every person of that faith tradition supports crime?
6) This Hindtrospectives blogger sure sounds mad. She claims that Muslims have been condemning all kinds of Muslim terrorism for over at least over a decade on every medium available to them. Is it up to me to find these condemnations, or is it up to them to make sure I see the thousands of condemnations they’ve issued in the past?
7) Do I know what a search engine is? If so, I wonder what will come up when I type “Muslims condemning terrorism?”
Was that too snarky? Oops, sorry. Here’s a make-up present for you – Sunni and Shia British imams denouncing ISIS together. That clip has less than 40,000 views – can we work together to change that?
Also, a suggestion to my readers: if you want to change reality on the ground, one way to do it is to support Islamic Relief’s efforts to aid Christians and those displaced by ISIS in Mosul. Finally, to my sisters and brothers over at the Patheos Christian channel, I’m still interested in dialogue, but as I always tell the college kids I facilitate interfaith dialogues with: the first rule of creating safe space is, “Assume good intentions.” Can we agree to assume good intentions of each other as we begin to [re]build trust? I definitely appreciate Rebecca Hamilton’s willingness to extend a hand of grace in our ongoing dialogue.