On 14 August, a
man drove into cyclists and pedestrians outside the Houses of Parliament, in
what is being treated as a terror attack.
In 2017, there
were two similar attacks in the nation’s capital, which killed 13 innocent
people and the Manchester Arena bombing which left 22 dead.
There can be no doubt in the minds of
right-thinking people that these were nothing more than cruel, senseless and
baseless acts designed to inflict pain and suffering.
As a British Muslim, it breaks my heart to
witness these depraved actions being carried out in the name of a perverse and
selective interpretation of Islam. According to a survey commissioned by
Islamic Relief in 2015, 12% of people associated terrorism with the word
“Muslim”. In the wake of attacks since then, it would hardly be surprising if
that figure has grown. And yet, the very term “Islamic terror” is an oxymoron.
“Terrorism” is a relative neologism;
“Islam”, a word incidentally derived from the Arabic for “peace” and “submission
to God”, is very clear about the sanctity of life. In fact, such is the value
of a single human life in Islam, that the Qur’an equates the taking of one life
with killing all of humanity. So, how on earth, whatever their creed, colour,
race, religion, gender or sexuality, could the murder of innocent civilians in
acts of terror, be justified by Islam? Simply, it can’t.
Terrorists are wrong about Islam. The
Qur’an does not justify unwarranted acts of violence or aggressive war. It does
not advocate compulsion in religion or forced conversion; it demands tolerance,
integration, the promotion of justice and opposition to oppression. So why
then, do a relatively small group of Muslims around the world continue to carry
out evil atrocities against innocent people? The short answer is ignorance.
The vast majority of Muslim people,
especially those living in the West, who are afforded opportunity and
education, are sufficiently clued-in to the teachings of Islam to be able to
identify the kind of disinformation and “fake news” propagated by terror
organisations like ISIS. Sadly, the majority of those who are successfully
radicalised, tend to come from communities where unemployment and depravation
are the norm and extremist recruiters exploit their naivety by deliberately
misquoting and manipulating religious texts to justify their barbaric
Of course, it’s very easy to write an
article or blog and throw around such glib hypotheses as “we need to do more”
or “education is the key”. But the million dollar question is how? Although we
already know that terrorism is not a true representation of Islam and that the
vast majority of Muslims living in the West do so peacefully and in the spirit
of western ideals, many others do not. And, at risk of sounding like a
religious passage, terrorism begets Islamophobia and Islamophobia begets
terrorism – a vicious and destructive cycle.
Astonishingly, 90% of referrals to the UK
Government’s Prevent strategy lead to no further action, the reason for this
can only be that referrals are made either too flippantly or with insufficient
knowledge. We’ve all read the tabloid stories about Muslims being removed from
planes after “suspiciously” speaking their native language, and indeed the
latest furore about the dress adopted by many Muslim women. The reality is that
too many of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, simply don’t know how to
recognise extremism – the difference between radical and often cultural
practises and those of everyday, moderate British Muslims. For every one of
these incorrect referrals, an innocent person is investigated by the state to
which many of them belong.
It’s not sustainable, it’s not fair and it
perpetuates tensions. By letting terrorists define Islam we allow them to win
twice, physically and societally. It is vital, in order to quell both
Islamophobia and the anti-western tides, that Muslims and non-Muslims are
taught the difference between radical and moderate Islam. By explaining how
moderate Islam is compatible with British values (and it is!), it will help
reduce Islamophobia and create a greater sense of belonging for Muslims in
Britain, and debunk some of the common myths about Islam – on gender rights,
female genital mutilation, so-called “honour-based” violence, and so on.
So, glib it may be, but actually, the
answer to reclaiming Islam has to be education across the board, from schools
and universities, to the probation service and police force. We, the Muslim
community, have a duty to ensure that opportunities for radicalisation do not
exist; that our brothers and sisters around the world are equipped with the
knowledge and understanding they need to challenge those who seek to pervert
the true meaning of Islam and spread hate. And to ensure too, that non-Muslims,
our fellow, Western citizens, know what we’re about and have the tools they
need to recognise fanaticism and put a stop to the cycle of Islamophobia –
societal unease – radicalisation, for good.