by Irtiza Khaled
18 years ago today, I woke up to the noise and chatter of the television in our family room at home. I had quite a hectic last couple days without catching much sleep, so this commotion was unusual for many reasons: my folks had always raised me to keep quiet as a courtesy to those resting within the walls of our home. So, to think that the same parents had the chunky box of cathode-ray tubes blasting on loud volume was quite odd. Even more odd was what I registered to be the voices coming from the television set as I stumbled across my room trying to find my sandals and get my bearings straight. I eventually walked out of my room, my eyes barely open in the bright light of the family room, a stark look of annoyance greeting my parents. What I saw next left me more worried than bitter.
My mother, a woman which is the physical embodiment of peace and warmth, was sitting on the edge of the couch, cold to the touch, with tears in her eyes. My father, a man of few words and probably the world’s best poker-face, was shaking his head in disbelief, terror clearly visible in his eyes. As my gaze drifted towards the convergence point in the room, my eyes grabbed onto the words zooming across the bottom of the screen: “Act of War: thousands dead!” and atop that news-ticker was the macabre image of the Twin Towers burning with smoke and flames reaching hundreds of feet in the air.
“The world is going to change now…” I remember my mother sighing as I sat next to her. I was speechless. With every passing minute, the death toll kept rising. As days passed, interviewers and political analysts doubled down on facts and opinions regarding the attacks. Days became weeks and controversies and conspiracy theories started emerging, perhaps to help the grieving Americans grapple with the magnitude of the loss they had suffered. Perhaps not? But one thing did not change: the darkness that comes with the loss of three thousand souls and the three thousand families those departed souls left behind.
I was a teenager when the attacks occurred. Growing up in a Muslim home I had always been taught the value of respect for others and the need to seek the pleasure of God. What I couldn’t grapple in my mind was how those who claimed responsibility for the attacks called themselves Muslims. I have always been a rebel, much to the despair of my parents. But was this the biggest moment of rebellion that would define my life? Was it true that the Islam I was raised to follow preached Jehad and murder in the name of God or that was nothing but a frivolous propaganda by the media to assign blame because blame needed to be assigned? If my religion was indeed that of peace and blessings, how could I change the opinion that thousands if not millions of people around the planet had already adopted and believed to be true? I started researching, yearning to know the truth What was the Jehad that the Quran always seemed to talk about? Surely, that is not what the religion my forefathers wanted me to follow. Was this not the religion I was meant to follow? Was this my final act of rebellion againstmy family and religion?
As I dove deeper into my research, I found answers that helped me find peace. I needed validation, something or someone to tell me that my entire life was not a lie. In fact, those who claimed to be Muslims were aching to hijack my religion and my beliefs. And boy, did I get that validation:
“Assist one another in piety and rectitude and assist not one another in sin and transgression.” (Quran, 5:3)
“Whosoever killed a person… it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.”(Quran, 5:33)
How could someone claim to be a Muslim and have these words of wisdom guiding their path, yet they indulged in something so vile and disturbing as to chill the very bones underneath the skin? These are just two of the literal hundreds of examples where Quran, the Holy Book believed to be the word of God by Muslims across the globe, has emphasized on the sanctity of life. Life in its most basic form has been deemed sacred by the religion. There seemed to be only one explanation for these terror attacks; those who claimed responsibility for this heinous act were not Muslims or at the very least had the wrong notion of what Islam was about. They were either ignorant or malicious – neither things you want someone to be. The Quran (and hence by extension, God) could not be any clearer on what it means to protect the life of another.
Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Khalifa of Islam Ahmadiyya, states that human history begins with the curse of Cain. He says, “it is a gory tale of murder, assassination and torture. So much blood has been spilled throughout history that the whole world could be painted red with it – with plenty to spare.” He continues to argue that Abel was the first man to be killed, by his brother, for no reason. “The story of that murder has been preserved by the Quran and the Bible as a lesson to us all – it will remain as an example till the end of time. Study history, and one thing becomes clear: that man is an aggressive creature. His aggressiveness has been untamed by the growth of civilization. Man is as cruel today as he was thousands of years ago. The story of his ruthlessness, his tyranny, and his aggression is long and painful. The fire of human aggression has not been quenched even after thousands of years of savagery.” Whichever book from history one picks up, one realizes that assassinations of individuals and destruction of entire groups are a repetitive theme of history. One can’t blame religion for actions of its followers. Especially when the faith has been nothing but crystal clear of what it teaches its members. Especially when faith has dictated without doubt what it expects off the believers.
The word ‘Islam’ literally translates to ‘peace.’ In his Farewell Pilgrimage, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) states, “even as this month, land, and day of Pilgrimage are holy, so has God made the blood, property, and honor of every human being sacred.” This is the same Prophet who would not retaliate back when members of community would lash him with stones and his blood would trickle down his legs to fill his shoes. This is the same Prophet who forgave his most ill-natured oppressors. This is the same Prophet of a peaceful religion who ended the tyranny of man against women and exalted the latter to the highest moral ground known to exist.
Al-Qaeda hid behind the ruse of Jihad and used that to uproot the lives of thousands and millions of families affected by the September 11 attacks of 2001. Jihad in its true sense is fighting in the name of God. Whosoever attempts to take the name of God in vain, must be stopped. But how one oppresses the oppressor is key: the sword of passion or the blow of the mighty pen. Gyanandra Dev Sharma Shastri, a prominent anti-Islam pandit from India states, “The critics are blind. They cannot see that the only sword Muhammad wielded was the sword of mercy, compassion, friendship, and forgiveness – the sword that conquers enemies and purifies hearts. His sword was sharper than the sword of steel.” Non-Muslims who had the privilege to study the history of Islam have had to admit to the magnanimous and altruistic nature of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). A Hindu editor of the Sat Updaish, wrote, “some people say that Islam was preached by the sword, but we cannot agree with this view. What is forced on people is soon rejected. Had Islam been imposed on people through oppression, there would have been no Islam today. Why? Because the Prophet of Islam had spiritual power, he loved humanity and he was guided by the ideal of ultimate good.”
No doubt, the attack on New York City on September 11th, 2001 went down as the deadliest terror attack in recent world history. But while they caused fear and prejudice against one of the great religions of the world, they also hijacked the faith of Islam itself. By portraying Islam to be a violent religion, they have caused people to develop mistrust of Muslims all across the planet. The fact is that these terrorists and their mindless ideologies are not representative of Islam nor Muslims, quite the contrary actually.
Life is sacred and so is everything that comes with it. To honor the blood of thousands that was shed on September 11th, and to emphasize the Islamic teachings regarding the sanctity of life, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community launched its Muslims for Peace campaign in the United States and the United Kingdom. Since 2011, a blood drive campaign has been organized by the name of Muslims for Life in the United States and has now become an annual and national phenomenon. According to the Muslim for Life website, over the eight years since its inception, this campaign has facilitated over 1,500 blood drives which collected 60,000 pints – enough to have helped save as many as 180,000 lives. This year the goal is to reach even higher records.
New York City has a rich, arduous history that has proven time and time again that New Yorkers are resilient and passionate, ready to tackle any problem head-on with the utmost determination. However, people started calling these attacks ‘Islamic Terrorism.’Mirza Tahir Ahmad responds, “Islam is as closely related to terrorism as light is to darkness or life is to death or peace is to war. They do come into contact with each other, of course, but from directions diametrically opposed. They are found grappling with each other but never walking hand in hand happily together.” No doubt, there are those who will do vile acts in the name of Islam and Muslims and their sole goal is to cause terror in the hearts of those effected. To counter the acts of thisese, the Quran states:
“Whenever they kindle a fire to start a war, Allah puts it out. They strive to create disorder in the land and Allah loves not those who create disorder.” (Quran, 5:65)
I remember the Before I conclude my piece, I would like to repeat the seven simple words my mother uttered as she witnessed the cries and tears of thousands affectedeffected by the terror attacks: “The world is going to change now…” And indeed, the world changed. Since the attacks the United States military has been involved in multiple wars, the longest of them being the war in Afghanistan. That war alone has costed United States taxpayerstax payers over three trillion dollars. These terror attacks painted Islam in horrifyingly repugnant colors and I, for one, have been spending the last 18 years of my life trying to undo the damage caused by this atrocity. The loved ones of those three thousand families will never come back – such is, sadly, the nature of life. Time has never flownew back – it never will. I learned that in endless lectures of physics and entropy. But efforts to rid the world of pain, suffering, disease, and prejudice may perhaps one day in a bleak moment in the future make our sorrows disappear. No one is more affected by Islamophobiaism than decent and average Muslims. Christian Van Gorder details in his book, Islam, Peace and Social Justice: A Christian Perspective that Melody Moezzi rightfully asserts, “If anyone is to rescue Islam from the distortions and manipulations to which a small number of misinformed fanatics are subjecting it, it will be the logical, freethinking, and outspoken Muslims of the world.” In the words of Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Khalifa of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:
This essay before you is one such attempt by a logical, freethinking, and outspoken Muslim of the world. A stab at Jehad-al-Qalm. A hope that I can change the prejudice you or people you may know may have about Islam and its teachings. As a last closing remark I would like to leave you with words of Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Khalifa of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. These words are truer and more important today than ever in the history before:
“No true religion, whatever its name, can sanction violence and the bloodshed of innocent men, women and children in the name of God.God is love, God is peace! Love can never beget hatred, and peace can never lead to war.”