In the past week, we witnessed two events and two characters. One event marked the passing of an American Muslim legend and the other marked yet another terror attack on America by a Muslim loner.
One event brought us all together and the other event threatens to rip us apart.
One character stood against injustice in spite of great threat, harm and loss to his own self and the other character caused injustice, harm and loss to all.
One character sought diversity, freedom of faith and championed individual rights and the other character spewed hate at others and violated our collective rights.
One character was so loved that Muslims across this country, including in this mosque, gathered in throngs and cried at his funeral and the other character will have a hard time finding a Muslim mosque to bury him.
Both these characters called themselves Muslims
The question though is: Did they both belong to Islam?
To answer this question, I want to talk about two worldviews: that of Muhammad Ali and that of terror.
First, let us discuss the worldview of Ali.
Like Ali, there are 1.6 billion people worldwide who belong to the religion of Islam and who call themselves Muslims; 23 percent of the world population and nearly one out of four humans alive is a Muslim. These people live in every country on Earth. In the United States, there are six million to seven million Muslims and by 2050, Muslims will form the second largest faith-based group in the country.
Who are we?
We are the entrepreneur who is pioneering new technologies at local startups, we are the executive at the largest area companies, we are the cab driver who takes you to the airport, we are the doctor and the nurse who will treat you in the ER, we are the teacher who teaches your kids in school, we are the check-out person at your local grocery store, and we are your everyday neighbor.
What do we believe in?
We believe in one benevolent God, Allah in Arabic, who is most merciful toward His creation. We believe that God instructed humankind over time through prophets.
We believe the teachings tell us how to lead a life that is centered around the worship of God, around the family and around the community. We believe that the teachings of Islam above all preach peace — for the name Islam itself means peace!
We believe that this peace is peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with our fellow believers, peace with our neighbors and peace with the rest of humanity. It is no coincidence that one of the most oft-repeated verse from the Quran reads “O you who have believed, enter into peacefulness, the whole (of you).”
This is the Islam that the vast majority of the 1.6 billion people worldwide is familiar with. This is the Islam that all of us here know, understand and practice. This is the Islam of Ali.
Now, let us look at the worldview of terror.
Terrorism is the carrying of violent acts that aim to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or that aim to affect the conduct of a government. By its very definition, terrorism is the antithesis of Islam as it seeks to disturb peace.
The question then is why are so many Muslims engaging in terror?
To approach this question in a facile manner seeking a simplistic answer could be both erroneous and dangerous.
The underlying root causes of terror often span a range of personal, psychological, societal, economic and political issues. Credibility is given to these underlying causes by narrowly selecting pieces of evidences from the 14th-century history or the expansive teachings of Islam. The real problem then is: those who engage in terror often cannot detect the veneer, i.e. Islam, from the underlying root causes.
It is no surprise then when we hear the terrorists whether in Orlando or Brussels or Paris are often disaffected youth with profligate lifestyles and little formal religious education.
It further causes issues when pundits and politicians cannot, or will not, differentiate between the underlying rotten root causes and Islam itself. When they keep insisting that the two are one, they are too being myopic and parochial in their understanding of this problem.
What is at stake here?
First clearly terrorism threatens all of us, our lives, our freedoms, our rights and our future.
Second, terrorism is a scourge on the Muslims abroad. At least 1.3 million Muslims have been killed and nine countries devastated by the ongoing war on terror, creating the largest number of refugees in the world after World War II.
Thirdly, this worldview of terror threatens Islam itself. It spawns hate, generates fear, and feeds the vicious and never ending cycle of violence.
In the past few days, we lived through such fear right here in our mosque. On Sunday an anonymous caller tipped the Redmond police about a potential but credible threat to this facility.
The Redmond police, the Redmond Fire Department, the FBI and other local and federal law enforcement agencies deployed immediately to ensure the security of our community. Under their watch, 350 of us prayed safely. We have also received an outpouring of support from people everywhere.
There is no room for terror in Islam.
How then do we ensure that it is the Islam of Ali and not the worldview of terror that prevails?
That task is one that we, as humanity, must all shoulder.
First, we must come together as one voice and denounce in absolute terms these terrorist acts. We must stand together whenever diversity, tolerance and individual liberties are threatened. We must come together when minority groups – whether LGBTQ, black, Latinos or Muslim are threatened.
Second, we must not tolerate deviant ideologies. We should not tolerate pundits and politicians associating and conflating Islam with terror. We should identify people with mental and personal issues and help provide the right assistance.
Third, do not be discouraged by all setbacks we face.
Ali said, “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”
May God bless all of you.
Mahmood Khadeer is president of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, a mosque and community center in Redmond.