No One “Hijacked” Islam


Last Thursday, I attended an event hosted by the Muslim Student Association as part of their peace and coexistence week.  The event was about raising awareness and appreciation for the various cultures within the Muslim community.  Muslims read their poems, played music, sang, and gave presentations on Sufism/Islamic spirituality.  There were many non-Muslims in attendance and it was great to hear how previous events during the week had excellent turnouts as well.  As I drove home, I felt like all of us made a huge difference.

When I checked my e-mail that night, a news report about a man opening fire at a military base appeared on the Yahoo homepage.  I prayed, as many Muslim-Americans did, that the shooter wasn’t a Muslim.  The last thing we needed the media to get hyped up about was a Muslim-American murdering fellow Americans in the armed forces.  When the man’s Muslim affiliation was revealed, I was devastated.

My thoughts and prayers went out to the victims and their friends and families.  Simultaneously, as details slowly unfolded and as CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) released immediate condemnations of the incident, I felt like we took one step forward, but then two steps backward.  I am still worried about a backlash on the Muslim community.  Muslim-Americans have been suffering from hate crimes, discriminatory acts, prejudice, and media stereotyping/propaganda since the atrocity on 9/11, and although many Muslim-Americans have been speaking out, polls and surveys have found that negative attitudes and perceptions of Islam and Muslims have been on the increase.

I am not surprised by the Islamophobia that has resulted from this.  It has been going on since September of 2001; what else is new?  In typical Islamophobic fashion, Senator Joe Lieberman called the incident an “act of Islamist extremism.” Despite warnings not to jump to conclusions from Army officials and the President himself, Lieberman concluded:   “There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act,” Lieberman.

In other words, “terrorism” is a term reserved only for Muslims.  Yeah, we’ve been through this lesson before (see my post, “‘Terrorist’ Means ‘Muslim'”).

Conservative author, David Gaubatz, who has labeled President Obama a “Muslim” among other things, explicitly called for “a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.”  If that is not advocating hate and violence against an entire group of people, then I don’t know what is!  Oh, and televangelist Pat Robertson threw in some Lovely words, too:  “You’re dealing with not a religion, you’re dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents [Muslims] as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group.”

Raising suspicion about Muslims, vilifying Islam, and then expecting Muslims to answer or “explain” what happened (as if we have some kind of special “insight” into these things) is reflective of our society’s Islamophobia and inability to use its common sense.  When a White “Christian” man blows up a building in Oklahoma, his religion or race is not put on trial.  As Brian Ross writes:

When a couple of white kids shoot up a school, it is a tragedy, and a search for mental defect. Bring on a shooting at a military base that involves an Arab-American though, and the media does everything that it can to shout “TERRORISM” without really saying it.

Jerry Campbell, the president of the Claremont School of Theology, adds:

As a “Methodist-American,” I do not fear for my safety after a fellow Methodist commits a heinous crime… And the churches of my tradition have no need to renounce the deeds of an outlier when one of our own goes astray.  As a Methodist-American, these are not my realities.  But for Muslim communities, this is their America.

It is a relief to see General George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, expressing concerns for Muslim-Americans, especially Muslims serving in the military.  I have a relative serving in the military and I know these concerns resonate with Muslim-American soldiers deeply.  One of his statements bothered me though (emphases added):

To those members of the United States military who are Muslims, thank you for protecting our nation, thank you for standing up against the people who are trying to hijack your religion.”

It’s clear to me that General Casey Jr.’s concerns are genuine, but I think it’s important to break away from this false notion that Islam has been “hijacked.”  Islam has not been hijacked — not by Nidal Malik Hasan, not by Saddam Hussein, not by Osama bin Laden, and not even by corrupt and wealthy Muslim “leaders” in Muslim majority countries.  Sure, much of the violence committed by those who self-identify as Muslim contain religious symbolism or slogans, but there are many other complex factors that contribute to their violence.  It is not simply religion.

Anyone who has studied Edward Said or postcolonial theory would argue that most of the violence in places like Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan are a result of post-colonialist liberation ideologies.  Palestine is occupied by the oppressive Israeli military, and Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaded, bombed, and occupied by US forces.  It is impossible to imagine such war and chaos without resistance.  The military superpowers cannot stomp the boot of oppression upon the oppressed and expect them to submit without retaliation.  As we have seen, resistance from those parts of the world express themselves in religious manners — shouting “Allahu akbar,” citing the Qur’an and Hadith, and even interpreting the conflict as some sort of “cosmic battle.”  Similarly, there are complex factors to be taken into account when one questions the motives of Nidal Malik Hasan.  They do not justify or excuse his actions, but they make us see a larger picture instead of making ridiculous accusations that the religion of Islam had something to do with it.  Hasan acted upon himself, not because a religion “told him” to do so.  His opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear, but murdering fellow Americans is not the Islamic way of dealing with this situation.  His decision to murder was his own as an individual and his case should be treated as such.

No one has changed the Qur’anic text.  No one has replaced the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, with another religious figure in our Islamic tradition.  Islam, like any religion, can be manipulated and used by extremists for their own radical ideologies, but the actual message of the religion is not closed off to interpretation.  It is open for interpretation, and it has been for centuries.  And perhaps the most important point of all, the overwhelming majority of Muslims — an estimated 1.5 billion people — are non-violent and interpret Islam as a peaceful religion.  How can Islam be “hijacked” when the majority of its followers do not resort to violence?

Muslims have never stopped defining themselves.  Islam is our way of life and no one “hijacks” that from us.  No one bars us from Islam or forces us to change the way we believe about our faith.  Furthermore, our identities are not limited to the stereotypes and Islamophobic nonsense spewed out by bigots and media personalities alike.  I am a Muslim, and I am also an American.  We have multiple identities just like everyone else.  Only now are we hearing about the 20,000+ Muslims serving in the military, but why did we need a horrible act of violence to occur in order for us to see this fact?  Why do we only need to ease fear and  “suspicion” about Muslim-Americans when murders are committed by members of all ethnic and religious groups?

Muslims around the world continue to speak out, as they always have been.  Acclaimed Muslim-American author, Kamran Pasha, has written a brilliant piece called, “The Big Lie About Muslim Silence on Terrorism.” His post includes an extensive list of Muslim leaders and organizations that have condemned violence all over the world.  If we were to accuse the non-Muslim White population of being inherently violent against other races or religious groups over the centuries, media and society would be demanding for their organizations to speak out and condemn the actions of those who share the same religious or racial background.  If we looked at the religious affiliations of those who committed murders, robberies, and other horrible crimes, we would be saying, “Christianity has been hijacked,” or “Judaism has been hijacked,” or “Hinduism has been hijacked,” and so on.

No one “hijacked” Islam.  If anything has been hijacked, it is our own common sense, otherwise we wouldn’t be so quick to generalize about a religion or an entire group of people before a sensible fellow comes along and helps us come to the realization that, “oh yeah, we don’t expect non-Muslim White people to answer for crimes and murders committed by other non-Muslim White people!”

Gee, why didn’t we think of that before?  How’s White privilege, for starters?

15 thoughts on “No One “Hijacked” Islam

  1. “You’re dealing with not a religion, you’re dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents [Muslims] as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group.”

    Interesting that “communists” and “fascists” are conventionally considered opposite political systems, but equally scary words for people who can likely define neither.

    It just goes to show that it’s meant for people who love to arbitrarily and unquestionably follow the words of one person who tells them how to think and act. Wait, Teacher, isn’t that…. ?

    You know, sometimes I still get blown away by the raw and shamelessly callow exposure of very fundamental ignorance. I tend to think that the complex problems we quibble over in talking culture clashes and such are what dominate (i.e. I overestimate the general pop), and then sometimes I realize how much I live in a bubble when I hear something so ignorant and think that for a good piece of the population out there, it could be a result of pure non-exposure… I mean, it’s like some things might really be as simple as introducing a few people to a Muslim person that is not shooting people like they see on the news or tv cuz by gawsh theyda never thunk…

  2. Let me say that I feel for the sense of injustice when something terrible and evil happens in the name of your faith, or (as in the case here) just in the neighborhood of your faith.

    But you should not think you are alone. As an Anabaptist, I belong to a tradition that rejects violence for any reason, that rejected slavery as an institution from the 1500’s, that insisted that no government has any business forcing religious beliefs or laws on anyone. And yet, like yourself, any example of a Christian being intolerant or stupid gets laid at the feet of all Christians.

    All of us need to recognize how we ourselves fail to be supportive. How we fail to understand another’s point of view. How we insist that others should live by our standards rather than question whether or not we are living up to those standards ourselves.

    In that light, I should apologize up front for not immediately standing up for Muslims when I heard about these shootings. Whatever disagreement I might have religiously with Islam, that can and should be put aside when a tragedy like this one occurs, and we should deal with the tragedy as Americans. There is always time to come to an understanding of such an event, and reason to avoid rash statements until such time that an understanding is achieved.

    I hope the best for you in the coming weeks.

  3. Hm.

    a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.

    Scott “Activist” Roeder.

    You’re dealing with not a religion, you’re dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group.

    Timothy McVeigh.

    SIGH. Finally, regarding “hijack your religion”: I move to permanently ban any variation of the word “hijack” from discussion about Islam/Islamophobia, “terrorism” and so on unless it is specificially referring to a hijacking. Really, “violent co-opting” or a similar term would have worked just as well there. (The sentiment would have been as misguided, though.) It is not a coincidence that this term keeps showing up in these conversations. It speaks volumes – VOLUMES – about unconfronted bias on the parts of the speakers. My two cents.

  4. I am speechless. This piece has articulated the concerns of millions so well- Muslims and peoples of conscience of all faiths alike. Thank You Mast Qalander!

  5. I shared the prayers that the Ft Hood shooter wouldn’t be a Muslim and the dismay that he is. I think the fact that he is a Muslim has allowed common sense and rationality to be hijacked in favour of ridiculous proofs that he has been either a jihadist or a crazyman or both for a long period of time. This is a more politically helpful interpretation than what seems to me to be more accurate: he is a man who was functioning well enough to be promoted to Major this last May, had had his research activities scrutinized and found to be normal, was given 2 years of specialty research time paid by the army after he fully qualified as a psychiatrist to continue informing the army on the mentality of the Muslim insurgents they are fighting, and the mental health of Muslim Americans in the Armed Forces; as well as explaining how to prevent unfortunate incidents by Muslim American soldiers who have killed their own (allowing conscientious objector status).

    He seems to me to be a man who tried every honourable way to continue to serve stateside or pay his debt to the army and leave, and was blocked on all fronts. When faced with deployment as a battlefield psychiatrist on battlefields in Muslim lands he had a psychotic break.

    Much rubbish has been written about the presentation he gave in 2007 on his research, yet I have reviewed it multiple times as an academic (research) psychiatrist and find it totally normal. Various people take lines out of context and decide he was unstable and a jihadist then, completely ignorant of what a normal psychiatric presentation reads like. Moreover, they choose to ignore that subsequent to this presentation the military gave him 2 more research years paid, to continue this work on their behalf.

    I agree that the only explanation for the level of idiocy in reporting on this case is latent Islamophobia and ignorance.

    Excellent post!

  6. I found your blog via reading this post over “Racialicious” so allow me to re-post it here again.

    I agree with you that ‘Islam’ has not been hijacked but what is really being hijacked is the people who knows nothing about except from media because of the stereotyping image about even before 9/11.

    Extreme actions done by Muslims is not related to Islam but for their ill interpretations to serve their ideologies. Now who focus on this in the media? Rarely you find so, on the contrary you find highlightings on stupid actions!

    p.s. I also wrote about this couple of weeks ago over my blog.

  7. Wow, what an AMAZING post! I agree with pretty much everything you said!

    “Raising suspicion about Muslims, vilifying Islam, and then expecting Muslims to answer or “explain” what happened (as if we have some kind of special “insight” into these things) is reflective of our society’s Islamophobia and inability to use its common sense.”

    Exactly – I have never understood why I have to explain terrorism, honour killings, or anything else done by other Muslims as though they are assumed to be a problematic part of Islam that needs to be justified. I recently posted about how when a French woman kills her babies it is seen as an isolated case whereas if that had been a Saudi woman, Islam and Arab culture would have been questioned and analyzed.

    I think Edward Said is one of the most brilliant scholars of the 20th century, and to date I haven’t found an argument he made that doesn’t still ring true.

    Again, great post!

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