In America, Ramadan 2015 ended how it began—with preventable violence. The month began when an ignorant young man from a radicalized background used hate, easy access to guns and growing racial tensions to murder nine innocent Black Americans. Then, yesterday, as Ramadan neared its end, an ignorant young man from a radicalized background used hate, easy access to guns, and nationalistic tensions to murder four innocent U.S. Marines and wound three others.
Both young men had blogs, replete with confusing, violent, sometimes frightening statements. And many questions need answering—questions we’re not yet asking loudly enough or consistently enough: How did these young men get such easy access to guns? Who or what turned these young men to violence? And perhaps most importantly, how can we learn from these atrocities to prevent them from happening again?
Dylann Roof’s blog shows his struggle to understand race relations. Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez’s blog shows his struggle to understand Islam. Roof’s history shows a confused, violence-prone personality. Abdulazeez’s lone two entries, published on the same day, did not cite any extremist groups, but his April 20, 2015, arrest for DUI indicates a confused, destructive history. Roof’s motivation was self-admitted—he wanted to start a race war. And yet his act of terrorism triggered the removal of the Confederate Flag. While we can so far only speculate Abdulazeez's motives, one thing is clear: we cannot let his actions instigate any more violence, on any level.
Abdulazeez puts forth in his blog that Muslims need to see that the bigger picture of Islam involves war. He writes about three blind men who each touch a different part of an elephant and try to describe the whole elephant based only on the part they touched. In a cruel foreshadowing of his own end, he used violence with the meritless thinking it was any part of Islam.
Abdulazeez shamelessly tries to reason that Prophet Muhammad's companions were generals at some point, and therefore Muslims today should also take up this mantle. His tunnel vision did not let him see that Muhammad's companions were army generals in self-defense only. They defended against aggressors who advanced to wipe Muslims off the face of the Earth.
True Islam rejects violent jihad, whether it be against Muslims or non-Muslims. The Holy Quran 22:40-41 explains that Muslims should fight only in specific situations: “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged,” and to do so to protect “churches, synagogues, cloisters, and mosques,” from attack. True Islam recognizes those generals fought in self-defense for universal freedom of conscience.
Just as Dylann Roof missed that we live in a nation of laws, with courts, based on racial equality, Abdulazeez missed that instead of violent jihad, true Islam champions a bloodless “jihad of the pen” to engage in dialogue regarding matters of faith. The Holy Prophet Muhammad’s life illustrates this belief. When he became the ruler of Mecca, he forgave his former persecutors on the condition that they respect freedom of religion for all faiths—paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Just as white supremacists ignorantly miss the beauties this nation affords them to peacefully educate themselves, Abdulazeez's tunnel vision made him miss countless Quranic verses which condemn those who create disorder in the land. Abdulazeez not only fought during the sacred month of Ramadan, when fighting is prohibited, but also created a ripple of disorder amongst countless lives. Just as white supremacists like Roof adhere to the “us vs. them” mirage, extremists like Abdulazeez continue to overlook the Quranic verse that the killing of an innocent is like the destruction of humanity.
But there’s hope, and the answer rests in dialogue and service to humanity.
Muslims are only as good as their leader. ISIS’s so-called “caliph” is a bloodthirsty leader. He is a “scholar” who calls for the blood of martyrs and everybody else, including the massacre of innocents and enslavement of women. On the other side, we see His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Under this Khalifa, tens of millions of Muslims in 206 nations are united into one community of Muslims and are dedicated to observing justice, engaging in dialogue, and maintaining involvement and service to local communities.
Just as it will take time to root out the Roofs of the world, so too will it take time to root out the Abdulazeezes. At least in the latter’s case, the Khalifa of Islam presents the true Islam that has a proven history of conquering radicalism with peace. Once wayward, disgruntled youth are guided to see the bigger picture, then they will no longer have to guess at what the elephant looks like. We missed the chance with Roof and Abdulazeez. Let’s prevent this from happening to others.