Muslim scholars denounce the attacks in Turkey and Belgium. Will we listen this time?

More of the Same

In light of the most recent atrocities in Turkey and Belgium, it is important to note that Muslim scholars, being the most representative of Islamic voices, have again made their condemnations known unambiguously. Sadly, one cannot expect to find much acknowledgement from the mainstream media, leading some to question whether any such condemnations have been made. The lack of reporting in this regard is dangerous during a time in which many believe that Muslims act as enablers of terrorism. It was only yesterday that US presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stated that Muslims are “absolutely not reporting” suspected dangerous terrorists, as if they are somehow obliged to know some. Some may feel that attempting to preserve the image of Islam during a period of outrage and mourning indicates a lack of priorities, however the current climate of hate, and the likelihood of a violent backlash against Muslim communities across Europe, is a matter to be taken seriously.

This is not the first time that Muslim scholars have clarified the gulf between Islam and ISIS, even if those attempts have also gone unacknowledged. When ISIS first emerged in 2014, over 120 Muslim scholars issued an open letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi which denounced his organisation with specific references to Islamic tradition. Even so, when Bill Maher and Sam Harris proceeded to debate the ISIS issue with Ben Affleck and others a few weeks thereafter, the letter was mentioned by only one attentive panellist, and subsequently neglected by the pair for the rest of the exchange. Denunciations continued when the Charlie Hebdo Shootings occurred in January 2015, and again with the Paris Attacks in November. Additional refutations have continued to emerge and, for the sake of brevity, an authentic yet peaceful Islam has been articulated in publications, lectures, and conferences by many a voice, many a time over. Regrettably, none of these efforts have garnered much attention, despite the repeated attempts of Muslim scholars to convey their message to mainstream media. As Shaykh Hamza Yusuf had put it: “I’ve been to so many conferences condemning this stuff. The media ignores us. There are books written on this.” Sure enough, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi had already authored Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal of its Religious and Ideological Foundations by that point, yet despite his addressing the work to western journalists, it remains yet another neglected point of conversation. One might also have read the overlooked ISIS: State of Ignorance: A Reflection on Islam and Moderation, Extremism and Terrorism, and the Fitnah of ISIS (Daesh) by Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada. Had efforts such as these become more widely known, then perhaps the sentiments of Donald Trump would not be as consequential as they are.

What follows by way of condemnation is a sample of what Muslim scholars have said regarding the attacks in Turkey and Belgium. It is hoped that this will provide an insight into specifically Islamic objections to violent terrorism. It is also hoped that such sentiments are finally given the attention they deserve. The selection includes voices from across the spectrum of Muslim opinion, including socially conservative and also liberal voices. Despite the variety presented here, it is clear that a convergence exists on the point of condemnation. The attacks in Turkey are mentioned forthrightly by some, and quite rightly given the general double standards of the media on this point. It is important to remember that just as European deaths are worthy of our outrage, so too are the deaths of others who have not received the same degree of attention.

Written statements

Al-Azhar University: “Al-Azhar strongly condemns these terrorist attacks. These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam,”

Imams Online: “The atrocities committed in Belgium and Turkey showcase the continued need for communities to come together in the face of violence. It cannot be that we continue to live our lives in a state of fear that sees families and innocent people afraid to go about their daily lives because they may be attacked by gunmen or become a victim of a bombing.”

“As religious leaders and members of the community, it is important to continue praying for the safety and security of all people and work hand in hand to bring about a lasting change that sees the eradication of hate and violence in our world.”

“The likes of daesh that commit such atrocities do so with a false allegiance to Islam and its core tenets. It shouldn’t be that the actions of a misguided few tarnishes a whole community that continues to distance itself from such crime.”

Yasir Qadhi: “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

“Today, in a dastardly act of cowardice, militants set off explosives in crowded places in Belgium, killing and injuring dozens of people. The world reacts in rage. Global condemnation. Constant news coverage. World leaders hastening to see who can issue the harshest statements before the others. Hashtags like ‘‪#‎BelgiumUnderAttack‬‘ go viral. All of which is good, and completely and totally expected.”

“Barely a few days ago, in a dastardly act of cowardice, militants set off explosives in crowded places in Istanbul, killing and injuring dozens of people. The world reacted with silence. No condemnation. News coverage buried in the fine print on the back pages. No major leader said anything. Hashtags like ‘‪#‎IstanbulBombing‬‘ attempt to generate more interest but fail miserably. All of which is bad, and, in light of past experience, completely and totally expected.”

“All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Omar Suleiman: “Within the last few weeks, Ankara and Istanbul saw disastrous terrorist attacks in city centers which garnered little media attention. Today we see the same carnage in Brussels. Once again, depraved human beings striking in populated places that should be safe for innocent families to live in peace. People should not have to worry about suicide bombers, gunmen, or drone strikes as they go about their daily lives in airports, marketplaces, banquet halls, etc. The madness must stop. Praying for the victims of todays attacks and the ones that are ignored on a daily basis.”

Suhaib Webb: “Prayers and concerns for the victims of today’s carnage in Belgium. ISIS and other criminal groups must be opposed at every level.

“Do not kill (or harm) the innocent.” Qur’ān

ISIS and its followers are not coming out of a vacuum. Those who sympathize with their ideology and back it financially must be opposed and held responsible.

Let’s us not forget the attacks that took place over the last few weeks in places like Turkey, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria. The horror today is a shared horror that has laid greater siege to the Levant than anywhere else. Selective anger is not acceptable in any situation.”

Tariq Ramadan: “The condemnation of these acts must be renewed and it is absolute. Still and always. We express our deep sympathy to the victims’ families.

Rather than responding with emotion, without moderation and in quite a dangerous way : “We are at war!” or with an empathetic impulse, understandable but ineffective: “I am Brussels”, it is time to work together against extremist violence. What kind of religious discourse must be held ? Who can and should hold it? Who are the partners in this fight against terrorism? What are the political reasons (international and national) that can help us understand (without any justification) the current drift? What are the priorities and concrete steps we should take? What are the respective responsibilities of both the states and the civil societies?

These issues are critical and require a commitment on several fronts as well as powerful alliances of diversified competences rather than angry or saddened reactions. We must dare, all of us, confront our respective contradictions, our cowardice sometimes, and, so often, our lack of courage.”

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