The Struggle for the Soul of Islam

It has been five years since the day of infamy that we all refer to as 9/11. On that day, 19 men in the name of Islam brought death to more than 3000 New Yorkers and terror into our daily lives. The terror of 9/11 did not end there. More terror was unleashed in Bali, Sinai, Amman, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Mumbai and London. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Muslims stand as part of the global community to commemorate the lives lost and pray in recognition of the calamity, pain and suffering it has resulted in for those who lost their loved ones.

9/11 is no longer a mere date. It has entered the history books as the beginning of something new, a new era where “the full wrath of the United States” was unleashed in a “crusade” to “rid the world of evil-doers.” In this post era, 9/11 has become a catalyst and pretext for other forms of terror. Under the banner of a global war on terror, ill-conceived and ill-fated military campaigns, interventions, and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been justified. In the name of joining the global war on terror, states have mobilized dysfunctional and hypocritical definitions of human rights to justify the systematic sacrifice of countless human lives in Palestine, Lebanon, Darfur, Indonesia and Chechnya. In the fight against terrorism, domestic, administrative and legal regulations, embodied in the so-called “Bill C-36,” remodeled after the “USA Patriot Act,” has been enacted to erode the very pillars of our Canadian democracy and liberty.

In this post 9/11 era, terror has been unleashed, both in the spoken word and in military might, against Islam and Muslims. Set into motion by a discourse that demonizes the Muslim as Other, Islam has once again been turned into the very epitome of an outsider that must be expelled or radically remolded by the U.S. And so a new discourse was introduced. 9/11 was no longer just a “crusade” to “rid the world of evil-doers,” it also became project of spreading Western democracy and the rule of law in the Muslim world, albeit a project initiated in and through violence. Terrorism is now fought in the name of democracy. And yet, this fight has in fact led to a distinct weakening of political and civil societies in the Muslim world and to a weakening of the principles of democracy and liberty on the home turf. Democracy and the rule of law have ironically, though predictably, taken a far more severe battering at the hands of their defenders than by their attackers. More than 50 Iraqis die everyday, Lebanese children were killed while they were asleep and many more Muslims are dying faceless and nameless. We only know them as “collateral damage.”

Today we as Muslims stand as part of the global community to commemorate the lives lost in 9/11 and those lost post 9/11. Today, we as progressive Muslims condemn with the same breath the crimes against humanity enacted in the name of the war on terrorism and the crimes of humanity enacted by the suicide terrorist attacks in New York, Bali, Sinai, Amman, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Mumbai and London. The hijackers of 9/11 not only hijacked planes and lives, they also hijacked the very soul of Islam as a breathing, living, compassionate and liberating force that has stirred the hearts of women and men for over 1400 years.

The so-called jihadi movement must be criticized and countered not as a natural product of Islam, but as an illegitimate heir to an Islam inspired not by compassionate teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet, but born and bred in the dungeons of anti-democratic post-colonial states whose despotic rulers have preserved power by undermining civil society and institutions, and expounding anti-human and anti-humanist visions of Islam, while at the same time crushing the very few options to engage in discourse and manifest dissent inside and outside the mosque.

This so-called jihadi movement is nothing but a misguided and ill-fated political response to the long history of colonialism and forced globalization that has placed the West in position of superiority in relation to the Muslim world and has paved the way for American hegemony in the region.

The so-called jihadi movement’s control of sexuality, archaic definitions of gender, the oppression of political, religious and ethnic minorities, and the suppression of voices of dissent, are sad, misguided and false attempts to return Muslims back to a time/space of authenticity, when no such return is possible or even desirable if constructed in terms of excluding of women from public space including the mosque, attacks on gays and lesbians as sinners (as manifest in public hangings in Iran and Iraq, whippings in Saudi Arabia, accusation of blasphemy and apostasy in places such as Pakistan), and the stoning of raped women in Somalia.

This so-called jihadi movement is not the vision of Islam that many of us hold dear. In this post 9/11 era, we as progressive Muslims stand with the global community to commemorate the lives lost in 9/11 and to remind us all of those no less precious lives lost post 9/11 by reasserting the humanist tradition in Islam that liberated slaves and women, that prescribed justice and mercy as the foundations of faith, that scorned racial and ethnic bigotry and recognized the Divine in the faiths of others.

The resurgence of progressive voices in the house of Islam in the post 9/11 era, symbolized in an avowed “Not in my name” and “Not in the name of my God,” are paving the way to a renewed concept of democracy that will resurrect the liberating spirit of Islam.