When cold-blooded murder is looked at as a matter of “difference in opinion” by Muslims, and thugs are considered to be on an honourable mission of Jihad, we shouldn’t be shocked that not only non-Muslims, but also some Muslims are abandoning what seems like a mad religion. To make matters worse, even Muslims who are appalled by the gruesome actions of these criminal bandits in Syria feel apprehensive when they read a condemnation of their actions by a fellow Muslim. For some reason they feel conflicted between their desire to get rid of Bashar Al Asad and his gang, and their shocked incomprehension of how bloodbaths like this one in Jarabulus could take place.
Many have been so blinded by their desire to get rid of Al Asad that they no longer have any principles, religious or otherwise when it comes to this issue. OK, may be they have one principle: accept anything and everything so long as the person doing it claims it’s for Jihad to get rid of Al Asad. It’s chaotic insanity.
The only verses and Hadiths these criminals know about Jihad relate to the rewards awaiting the one who participates in it and the station reserved for the martyr. All kinds of sensationalist posters and videos glamorizing young “Mujahideen” dressed in military gear or suicide vests, holding or kissing a Quran, donning black headbands with the Arabic inscription for the Islamic declaration of faith, and the black flag in the background.
For a people who claim to be upholding Quranic teachings, it’s odd that when it comes to Jihad they choose to ignore what the Quran has to say about it and follow in the footsteps of non-Muslims in their violent attempts to make political change. Take suicide bombing like the one that happened recently in a residential district of southern Beirut for example. The first suicide bombing in history took place on March 13h, 1881 by Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a member of the “People’s Will” left-wing movement. His attack was the finally successful attempt to assassinate Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Here’s an interesting fact about Hryniewiecki: he was born into an impoverished family and his formal study was in mathematics. His goal was purely political. The suicide note he wrote the night before his attack read:
‘It is my lot to die young, I shall not see our victory, I shall not live one day, one hour in the bright season of our triumphs, but I believe that with my death I shall do all that it is my duty to do, and no one in the world can demand more of me.’
This mathematics degree background is actually a pattern that seems to repeat itself with Muslim criminals who claim Jihad to be their motive. It’s no longer anecdotal evidence, but an empirically confirmed pattern that engineers are three to four more times likely to become terrorists than those studying finance, medicine, or science. The study released in 2009 by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog that looked at this phenomenon corrected for national enrolment number to account for the popularity of this field among Muslims. They also accounted for the necessary technical expertise required to make their bombs, and after addressing other caveats came to the conclusion that the most likely explanation is the mindset among engineers, which has trouble with ambiguity and compromise (You can read the paper here if you’re interested).
We have a bit of a conundrum when it comes to Jihad. On the one hand, it’s part of the Islamic teachings. No Muslim can renounce that. But it must also be made very clear that no Muslim can deny that Jihad has a whole legal framework surrounding it that explains what it is, when it becomes obligatory to fight, who can go, the rules of engagement, etc. It’s not without significance that the first verse permitting military engagement in response to oppression was not revealed until Prophet Muhammad was in Medina and a sovereign state for Muslims was established. The issue here is that the one able to declare it is the state, not the individual. The rulings of military engagement are so restrictive that to let random people loose would result in atrocities such as the ones committed by these criminals in Syria.
Some Muslims take exception with calling the men who go to Syria “criminals.” Even if they accept they’re mistaken in their efforts, they point to their intentions and give them the benefit of the doubt. The problem with that is if you break a law and stand before a judge, you can’t exonerate yourself from punishment by appealing to your noble intentions or claiming you didn’t know the law. You still receive a criminal record and you technically become a criminal in the eyes of society. Islam has a legal framework, and it’s part of Islamic teachings that one does not undertake an action for religious purposes except after they know the rulings pertaining to it. Failing to comply with this does not grant one immunity, especially if their actions lead to loss of innocent lives.
Those who have already been brainwashed by Jihadist criminal propaganda, or who have lost their sight and moral compass as a result of what they’ve seen happen in Syria get extremely upset with this position. The usual responses range from quoting verses and Hadith out of context to give legitimacy to criminals’ actions in Syria, to responding with the rewards of martyrs (of course without actually defining what defines a martyr). Some will attempt to speak of “nuance” and “complexities in the north vs. south regions of Syria,” while others bring up Al Asad and his atrocities to ask, “How come you don’t talk about Bashar?” As if there’s a difference in opinion about Bashar. He’s a monster who needs to go. No one with a sane mind is confused about him. It’s the twisting of Islamic teachings by criminals and their supporters that’s leaving sane people confused. When you have random people getting butchered coupled with a screaming “Allahu Akbar,” one has to wonder whether this barbarism is really part of Islam.
So let me state this as clearly as I possibly can: no one here is talking about Jihad only meaning struggle against the lower desires of the self. No one is denying that Jihad in military terms, when properly understood to lift oppression is part of Islam. No one is denying that Al Asad has to go or that the Syrians need help to get rid of him. What is clear, however, is that at the beginning of the Syrian Revolution we had two sides: the oppressor and the oppressed. Now we have multiple sides, most of which are criminals, and all of those who claim to be on an “Islamic” mission are anything but that.
As Muslims, we really need to re-examine our perspectives of how we view politics and the sanctity of human life. Islam is a religion that teaches the upholding of principles and stating of Truth even if it’s against oneself. Nuance, complexity, and scholarly discussions have their time and place. But on the whole, politics and scholarly arguments are supposed to be a means to serve humans. Unfortunately, and as Syria is clearly beginning to show us, for many Muslims humans have become the means to serve political ends. If you require “nuance” and “scholarly” analyses before you call atrocities for what they are, know that your education has killed your heart. If there’s a time to separate between the actions of Muslims and what the Quran has to say, there’s no more pertinent time to do so than now.