Seldom do I reply to such tragedies as we saw today in London. Not because I am not bothered by them but mostly because I do not wish to politicize loss of life. But I do become weary of the world and its non-stop dirge of violence, as was also seen in NYC with James Jackson, white supremacist and vet, who traveled all the way from Baltimore to New York City in hopes of creating a publicity storm when he murdered Timothy Caughman. I can only offer these words in hope of giving hope to those who feel all hope is lost:
مَنْ قَتَلَ مُعَاهَدًا لَمْ يَرَحْ رَائِحَةَ الْجَنَّةِ، وَإِنَّ رِيحَهَا تُوجَدُ مِنْ مَسِيرَةِ أَرْبَعِينَ عَامًا
“Whoever kills the one with whom there is a social contract will not smell the scent of Paradise though its fragrance is perceived from a distance of forty years.” — Prophet Muhammad
I chose to translate the Arabic word “mu’ahad” as “social contract” because in essence, any Muslim who comes to live in a non-Muslim country has entered into a social contract of mutual cooperation and benefit. Such actions are an abomination and violation of that.
Of course the case will have to be investigated, but if it does not prove to be a cause of mental health (something rarely afforded to Muslim perpetrators of violence), then it points to what I feel the problem: a lack(ing) of Islam, not a problem because of it. Many Muslim youth have been misled as to how they ought to process their grievances with the world (perhaps equally import is for to know that some of their grievances are legitimate, others not). I feel that if there was an actual encouragement for them to (a) read the Qur’an and (b) embody it1, a message coming from religious leadership, we might actually begin to tackle this issue.
الَّذينَ إِذا أَصابَتهُم مُصيبَةٌ قالوا إِنّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنّا إِلَيهِ راجِعونَ
“Those who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we will return’.” Qur’an, 2: 156
Part of what makes this difficult is the point from which western secular democracies depart when they view what is perceived to be religiously motivated violence. William Cavanaugh echoes this in his book, The Myth of Religious Violence,
“The idea that religion has a tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of churches to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East.”2
Particularly grabbing is Cavanaugh’s insights in the root or essence of violence in the modern world, including acts of violence committed by religious groups or individuals. Immediately after the tragic attack in England, Londoners took to the streets, rightfully angry, and began drawing swift conclusions from the event stating that such violence has been ongoing for 1,400 years, unarrested.
What Cavanaugh brings to our attention is that this violence is not “transhistorical and transcultural”3 but is in fact locally situated to its environs. A cursory study of Muslims living in various non-Muslim countries will show the vast majority amply assimilated; clearly the problem is more complicated than simply “they hate us for our freedoms”.
My feelings that the heart of the issue will never be solved by sidelining and excluding meaningful religious leadership. This is all too often the case as secular societies seek to “tame” religion and “restrict its access to public power”4, even if that power is to simply communicate effectively to disenfranchised individuals who, because of modern technology, can greatly amplify their capacity to inflict harm on the world.
1. Cavanaugh , William T. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
2. Ware III , Rudolph T. The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa (Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
3. Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence.
4. Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence.