With the assassination of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and the unremitting bloodshed in Iraq and elsewhere, we experience what can only be called violent expediency in the name of religion.
It is known that Islam forbids suicide, and the most conservative Muslim scholars, including Sheikhs Ibn Baz, Albaani and Uthaymeen, issued rulings against the use of suicide bombing and against any type of attack involving civilians. They also made it clear that those who commit such acts are not martyrs, but rather would be accountable in front of God in the hereafter.
The purveyors of such violence ignore the fact that the Prophet Muhammad never allowed the assassination of the political leaders of his time, despite their injustices. Rather, he engaged them in dialogue, and sent them letters and messengers, imploring them to hear his teachings. They fail to reflect on the prophet's kind nature, that he once forgave a Jewish woman who tried to poison him. On another occasion, he encouraged his followers to seek refuge in the land of a righteous Christian king, and live peacefully among them.
It hurts me to see people who claim to be Muslim violating the rulings of Islam. Moreover, in Muslim countries where Islam is prevalent and those who are committed to the faith are known, no one is blamed for another's misguidance, and no one blames Islam for the crimes of a wrongdoer.
But the problem is worse here in the West, when these wrongdoers are regarded as representatives of Islam and of its morals and beliefs. We can contextualize Christian abortion clinic bombers, or Serbian war criminals, as sick individuals who belie the roots of the faith they claim to defend. But can we do the same for Muslims?
A recent study says that although many Americans have heard of Muslims, most know tragically little about Islam, and bear negative views about it. This points to the urgent need for the institutionalized study of Islam, centers for religious dialogue and education, as well as simple communication and neighborly conversation -- things that can go a long way toward clearing up suspicion and lingering doubts.
At the same time, it is essential for Muslims to speak out about the qualities of forgiveness, mercy, and patience for God's justice that are so intertwined with the Islamic ethos. We need to play our part to counter the voices of fragmentation, extremism, and isolation through educational initiatives and raising awareness of sound Islamic knowledge.
One of Islam's central teachings is that paradise is for those who bear adversity with patience, and repel wrongs with that which is better. There will be a day when all those who were oppressed or lost their lives in acts of vengeance will be given their due right in the court of the divine. In this we may find peace and spiritual comfort. Can there be any more just than God?
I encourage you to learn more, and decide for yourself.
Albany Faisal Ahmad is currently pursuing a university degree in Islamic Law in Syria and serves as an imam in the Albany area.