Charlie Hebdo, and Murder in the Name of Islam?

The news concerning Muslims engaged in terrorism, mayhem and murder in the name of defending Islam is non-stop and point to a serious crisis that is yet to be addressed. Every day a river of blood is flowing across the world with Muslim names attached to it both victims and perpetrators alike. Is this Islam or the Qur’an is the question by many including Muslims.

The attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo offices that killed 12 must be added to 37 murdered in Yemen on the same day, 153 young children and teachers slaughtered on December 16th, 2014, in Peshawar’s Army Public School by Pakistan’s Taliban-Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, non-stop massacres and kidnappings by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the relentless violence and beheadings by ISIS in Iraq and Syria: most if not all claim to act in defense of Islam. I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that Islam has nothing to do with all of this but indeed some Muslims acting in their human capacity who are responsible in part for it.

Let’s be clear that every time someone claiming to murder in defense of Islam, it is Islam that is being killed in people’s consciousness and in doing so manages to tarnish a magnanimous tradition 1400 or more years in the making. At times, I don’t know the Islam that is being projected or introduced for it has no immediate correspondence to what we read and teach on a daily basis at Zaytuna College. Islam, as a tradition, does not need defense and I am certain that it will survive our own ill-conceived claims to extend protection to it. Furthermore, while I am for sure offended from attacks directed at the Prophet and it is natural to take offense, however the response to it is not murder and slaughter, since doing so only affirms the intolerance epistemic directed at Islam and the messenger.

Certainly, what we are witnessing today is not a defense of Islam with its vast and complex moral and ethical tradition, as those quick to murder claim; rather an attack on its foundation. In reality, the individuals, groups and organizations acting in various parts of the world have embraced a dumbed-down literalist, modern nationalist and secularized materialist manifestation of religion. In this context, Islam and religion are reduced to a functional equivalent and a constitutive ingredient in forming an imagined modern state vested with power and certainly an exclusive dominion over law coupled with a singular and narrow interpretation of religious texts. It is utterly wrong to assign blame to Islam of old and assert that this is the pre-modern imposing itself on the modern world. Far from it being Islam of old: this is modernity and religion put at the service of constructing a national identity through might and power.

I like to focus on roots and epistemic problems rather than simply on events and actions in isolation. Actions producing violent events are first born and located in the mind then are given outer forms by individuals and groups once acted upon within time and space. Epistemologically speaking, the Muslim today is a modern colonial subject, secular and material person that utilizes religion and text to preserve and constitute a national identity in an imitative nation state structure within a rapidly changing and violent globalized world.

Consequently, the arduous and nuanced search for meaning in God’s revelation is transformed within the confine of a distorted modernity into a search for an identity and power through the instrumentalization of selected sacred text and imposing it in a hegemonic manner on all including those outside of Islam. What is arrived at in this process is not Divine purpose or will but a mere grotesque and ill-thought-out human interpretation that confused the chase after temporal power with the spiritual endeavor.

A profound difference exists between “the end justifies the means” approach and Islam’s ethical and moral tradition that demands virtuous and noble engagement in the world. Surely, one would immediately point out that the world is a dark place and ethics and morals no longer hold sway; thus what we are asking or talking about is good in theory and written books of bygone years but Muslims today are dying, their resources are stolen and made refugees all over the world, therefore a different and modern reformed path is needed.

Mind you that I am not one that says or accepts that Muslims should not have power or agency in this world but on what epistemic basis and conditions to achieve and articulate it is the fundamental question. “Blood is not an argument” and being good at killing, murder and mayhem does not produce an ethical and moral foundation for the society. Certainly, we can account for colonialism, exploitation and invasions in the Muslim world but if the answer to contemporary conditions is to replicate the methods and approaches directed at ‘us’ then we failed Islam and the Prophet, indeed, is no longer the role model we claim him to be.

More to the point, the Islamophobic industry in Europe and the US are happier the more such murderers in Paris, Yemen, Iraq, and Nigeria authenticate with violent actions their distorted and racist views of Islam and the Prophet. Yes, we can and should counter the mischaracterization of Islam and Muslims but doing so by taking the higher grounds, appealing to people’s good nature and embracing a more inclusive worldview is the right answer.

Killing in the name of Islam is un-Islamic and God and His Prophet are not served or defended by it. All life is sacred and saving a life is akin to saving all of humanity is the Islam of 1400 years ago. The question is what happened and if those who read the sacred text and are entrusted to believe in the sacredness of life are themselves snuffing with ease the lives of innocent people then we have a serious problem on our hands! We have arrived at a calamity of the modern and secularization of religion since the sacred and profane are of equal value in thought and actions. The only measure of meaning for the religious has become power. We are successful in religious terms if we are powerful not meek! Thus, Islam becomes reduced to power and Muslims of this religious epistemic worship a materially self-constructed God, the world. Islam has been turned upside down with this epistemic and for sure this is the real crisis that deserves utmost attention.