Why I Won’t Condemn ISIS

Because doing so only feeds the ubiquitous floating distrust of Muslims.

Because when you ask Muslims to condemn or denounce heinous actions, ideologies or groups what you’re saying is that you don’t trust any Muslim. Because you’re saying that I can’t be trusted until and unless I vocalize dissent against an individual, an action, an ideology or a group that claims to do something in the name of a shared identity. Because no one asks where the moderates of anything else are but I need to constantly provide a Rolodex of names in a futile attempt to satiate not a sincere curiosity but, often, just a rhetorical question with a poor point.

If I condemn ISIS, I am – in essence – condemning myself: I am condemning myself and my communities to the continuation of the never-ending onslaught of suspicion, dehumanization and interrogation that is far from unique to us (especially when living as minorities) but is the most public.

And while I’m tired of people in my communities constantly partaking in and creating public campaigns to put up a good face of our religion, condemn this group or that action and issuing this statement and that letter – I can’t actually be angry with them. I can’t blame them for wanting, so badly, to not have to hear the same questions again and again, day in and day out. I can’t blame them for trying to show how they practice, envision and know Islam to an audience that only sees in black banners and white script.

But while I can’t be angry with them, I am angry. At something I can’t always articulate but it never leaves my mind.

What we need is not the pacification of Islam vis a vis campaigns and rhetoric that are antithetical to our tradition and propel Jihad as only and primarily an internal struggle. What we need are not hashtags, videos, social media campaigns and signs that make it clear that whatever the current Muslim boogeyman in the news is doing has nothing to do with the rest of us who share belief in the same religion. What we need is not an ever-changing litmus test of who is Muslim and who isn’t Muslim enough based on what makes our religion and us look bad. What we need are not open letters to questionable groups that serve maybe more as a public relations strategy than any actual engagement and debate meant to thwart unfettered violence.

What we do need are internal campaigns to fix the broken parts of our communities; to reach those who feel disenfranchised, angry and powerless when they see their kin in their cities and around the world under fire, under surveillance, under suspicion and under clouds of blood and bombs. This isn’t about so-called “counter-radicalism” but about making sure the particulars of our community are healthy so that the whole can be healthy. If one part hurts, the whole feels the pain.

And we need more than publicly, poorly slapped on bandages.

We may not find throngs of young Muslim men fleeing in the hundreds to fight in Syria and Iraq, but we will find many men and women in our communities who will sympathize with groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS – not for a love or propensity towards violence, but because they, too, are searching for answers they’re not getting in their mosques, in their homes and in their communities.

And aside from those who sympathize with such groups and ideologies, there are those remain conflicted: they see familiar verses and traditions used in a way that makes sense and they do not know how to respond. They don’t like the images they see nor agree with the rhetoric – but how do we respond when we don’t even know where to start to find an answer? How do we retrieve the lost worshippers who’ve seen their mosques go from communal places of worship to sectarian fronts for wars thousands of miles away?

Pushing entire groups of people outside the fold of Islam – in other words doing exactly what it is that forms the basis of the ideologies we want to reject – is not a productive foundation on which we can heal our faith and build ourselves. It is not how we deal with the problems we’ve yet to even diagnose despite their tangible presence. Aside from the legal conditions necessary to declare someone outside the fold of Islam – sorry, President Barack Obama does not suffice – we cannot deny that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are part of Islam.

Islam beyond just a religion, that is.

They may not be representative of the faith, its principles and creed but they are working within the framework of Islam as they understand it and interact with it. And they are also part of a long tradition of similar groups, ideologies and individuals who ultimately were met with defeat because they just were not sustainable because they were not representative of the principles, beliefs and spirit of Islam.

So, I will not condemn ISIS and I will not name, to whoever asks, the names of the moderates. I will not issue letters in the papers explaining this and lauding that and I will not sit at a table where the host with one hand praises my attendance and with the other denigrates my position in my society.

I will, however, speak on my own terms and not with the neatly placed talking points meant to pacify and remind me of where I should sit and where I should stand.

37 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Condemn ISIS

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  3. there is a famous hadith that summarizes beautifully what you are trying to say (may not be 100% accurate):
    “there will be a time when a man who is walking is better than he who is running, a man standing is better than he who is walking, a man sitting is he who is better than he who is standing and lying down is better than he who is sitting”
    I THINK what this hadith is trying to say is that in the time of fitna and chaos and confusion, it is better to stay silent and fight the quite fight. Your relationship with God is a sufficient battle/struggle/jihad as it is. I may be completely off here but this is my understanding..

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  10. It’s difficult to get past the opening line of your post — “Because doing so only feeds the ubiquitous floating distrust of Muslims” — simply because by NOT condemning ISIS you are, in effect, providing silent consent for their barbaric actions as well as feeding “the ubiquitous floating distrust of Muslims” to a far greater degree than any condemnation … You write, “Because when you ask Muslims to condemn or denounce heinous actions, ideologies or groups what you’re saying is that you don’t trust any Muslim.” No, I don’t believe this is correct. On the contrary, while any reasonable person would “condemn or denounce heinous actions, ideologies or groups” there are vast swaths of people who harbor the mistaken idea that ISIS represents all Muslims. It’s difficult enough for non-Muslims to discuss this issue intelligently and gather vinformation and perspective; statements like “we cannot deny that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are part of Islam” make it all the more difficult, and have the effect of strengthening the perceived bond between ISIS/AQ and Islam, taking one step closer toward viewing them as one and the same … Finally, I would submit that no reasonable person wants to tell you where you should stand; many, however, reasonably want to know where you do stand.

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  12. All athat is needed for evil to flourish is for good men (and women) to remain silent. 9/11/01 is not that far away from the American psychie and should be respected. Not speaking up implies that you give consent to the actions of others, Speak up, if for no other reason than because you are American and you know what ISIL is doing is evil and has to be stopped.

  13. When will you have your own courage to speak out what you believe in ISIS. Keepin silent means you agree with them.

  14. ISIS kills any one non ISIS; now is that what Islam mean? Say it yes or not. If not you are just like ISIS. Do you know how many women killed and rapped by ISIS? Are you telling me you are supporting it? Leaving on side what Muhammed did to many women?
    Abubker

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  17. I DON’T trust Muslims unless they DO express their revulsion to ISIS. Who in the Muslim community should I trust and why? How am I going to know that you do not agree with ISIS unless you TELL ME? So if you want to be defiant, then go ahead, but people from around the world are getting pretty fed up with this.

  18. “Because you’re saying that I can’t be trusted until and unless I vocalize dissent against an individual, an action, an ideology or a group that claims to do something in the name of a shared identity. ”

    Yes that is EXACTLY what I am saying. I speak out RATHER LOUDLY ALL OVER THE INTERNET about my detest for Western raping and pillaging of the Middle East. AS I SHOULD if I don’t want to be considered complicit in that evil.

    However, the MINDLESS adherence to religious dogma carries even more reason to distrust someone who won’t speak out against atrocities committed in the name of a religion that person claims to believe in. Islam is more than a religion, it is a way of life. If a RATHER LARGE group of them are violent animals, then I expect those who share the faith to condemn them loudly. If they do not, how in the world can I EVER trust them?

  19. Well Said Craig Peters

    These Muslims who have “problems” with the statement of condemnation and refutation of ISIS – issued by 126 top scholars – and who are “troubled” with scholars criticising ISIS, have their heads stuck in the sand like an ostrich and do more damage/harm to the Muslim community in the West. They want total silence when it comes to the likes of ISIS, yet you’ll find usually these very same Muslims screaming non-stop when it comes to drones, invasion of Afghanistan, Aafia Siddiqui, Palestine etc etc (I am not implying here that raising concerns over these incidents is “wrong.”).

    If in this world all/many were rational human beings, with good senses, reasonable people everywhere who use commonsense and make sound judgement, then the views expressed by Sana and other Muslims would be fine. The reality, however, is that we live in a world where stupid, ignorant and foolish people abound. Billions possess little or no critical thinking. Billions are irrational and unreasonable. Hence if scholars are to adopt the view expressed by these dissenting Muslims, there would be more chaos, more confusion and more danger for ordinary law abiding Muslims.

    Which course of action by Muslim scholars and organisations would cause more harm?

    A) complete and total silence from scholars/organisations when it comes to ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda / no effort whatsoever to counter their [mis]use of sacred texts / utter no condemnations to calls to deliberately kill civilians / remain silent when Boko Haram kidnaps school girls and claims this act is Islamically justified / scholars declaring they won’t condemn any act violating Islamic teachings by Muslims because they don’t have to condemn these acts since doing so would mean you don’t trust any Muslim scholar / Because if scholars condemn un-Islamic acts by groups [mis]using the name of Islam, then you’re saying that Muslim scholars can’t be trusted until and unless they vocalize dissent against an individual, an action, an ideology or a group that claims to do something in the name of a shared identity;

    B) Muslim scholars/organisations actively issuing press releases and statements clarifying the normative Islamic understanding / condemning acts of wanton destruction by groups claiming to be “Islamic” / qualified and trained Muslim scholars issuing verdicts/statements showing how these groups are misusing texts etc

    Surely, in our irrational world, the latter approach is the best one.

    Certainly, there will be no similar pressure upon Buddhist monks and Christian authorities to condemn acts of terror committed by Christians and Buddhists. That is because not many are likely to conclude that these religions are the “cause” and the “inspiration” behind the vile acts. But whether we like it or not, things are very different when it comes to Islam. That’s just a fact. Silence will confuse the many young among us and will further convey a highly negative impression of Islam/Muslims.

    Verging on the apology is still better than being silent! Therefore, in this unfair environment, our organisations and scholars have to be active and issue statements clarifying matters.

    Yes, ordinary Muslims are not required to “declare” to the citizens of the world that they condemn the act of terror committed by a Muslim they do not know residing in another part of the globe, but organisations and scholars have a heavy responsibility to speak up actively in the face of acts which are making headlines and when the perpetrators are [mis]using Islam. This will also help counter the ignorant young Muslims to some extent.

    “…they see familiar verses and traditions used in a way that makes sense and they do not know how to respond.”

    And how are you supposed to deal with this? By remaining silent and justifying the silence? NO! The way forward is to scholars to become more active, speak up and show how the verses and traditions are being distorted by murderous groups such as ISIS. This is precisely what has been done in the document against ISIS signed by 126 Sunni ulema.

    “Pushing entire groups of people outside the fold of Islam – in other words doing exactly what it is that forms the basis of the ideologies we want to reject – is not a productive foundation on which we can heal our faith and build ourselves.”

    First, these “entire groups” are (numerically) tiny, tiny groups of vigilante organisations here and there – ISIS (which has only recently increased in numbers), Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Taliban, al-Shabaab. Secondl, generally speaking, there is no large scale takfir by normative Islamic scholars against most of these groups – ISIS is an exceptional case where I’ve come across a few ulema declaring takfir against them – and they’re right in my opinion. More commonly, these groups are rightfully declared as “khawarij” by the ulema and out of the fold of the ahle sunnah wal jamaah – the main body of Islam (Sunni Islam).

    “…we cannot deny that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are part of Islam.”

    You need to explain what you mean by “part of Islam.” They are out of the fold of the ahle sunnah wal jamaah, the main body of Islam. As for ISIS, a takfir upon them has strong religious basis. At most, such groups would be a part of the larger Islamic community, but they’re definitely out of the fold of the normative Islamic tradition – a strong tradition with a thousand plus years of scholarship.

    “…but they are working within the framework of Islam as they understand it and interact with it. ”

    They aren’t working “within the framework of Islam.” That’s precisely the point made strongly by the 126 ulema in their recent exposition of ISIS. Khawarij groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and others are just working within the framework which they’ve constructed, lacking scholarship, and which they, wrongly, label “Islam.” But let us be clear, they are completely out of the normative Islamic framework. As you said, “They may not be representative of the faith, its principles and creed …” and this is why they’re outside the framework of normative Islam.

    “…And they are also part of a long tradition of similar groups, ideologies and individuals who ultimately were met with defeat because they just were not sustainable because they were not representative of the principles, beliefs and spirit of Islam.”

    “Long tradition” of khawarijism – where small groups here and there have popped up operating outside of the framework of normative Islam, committing killings and plunder, and which eventually faced defeat precisely because they discarded the normative framework of the deen and were not representative of the principles, beliefs and spirit of Islam.

    Lastly, since you are staunchly opposed to the condemnation of viciously un-Islamic groups such as ISIS by the ulema and prefer silence, why not cease creating fitna and just maintain total silence instead of posing such nonsensical articles?

    We should pray to Allah (saw) to give courage to the ulema and never let them adopt your disastrous views, views which will further tarnish the image of Islam and harm Muslims.

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  21. Anyone who thinks that silence is consent is desperately looking for a scapegoat to hate on.

    That’s it.

    The reason Muslims shouldn’t have to speak out is because we aren’t responsible for them. Just because someone walks around saying “I’m Muslim” doesn’t mean they are under my or any other Muslim’s influence, were chosen as a leader, or were even associated with the rest of us to begin with.

    We are not responsible for their actions, and as such, no one has the right to coerce us into condemning them lest we be seen as “the enemy” and punished for their actions. Basically what I’m getting from some of the responses here is that I, my family, and other innocent men, women, and children of the faith deserve to be harassed, assaulted, or even killed if their voices of opposition are not heard.

    This is disgusting.

    You don’t see Muslims walking up to every non-Muslim in the U.S and U.K. DEMANDING people speak out against the government atrocities overseas, lest they be “the enemy” — and these citizens, in an apparently enlightened and open democracy where they have the power to choose their leaders are policies, are far more responsible than Muslims are for an abstract ideology adopted by people all across the world.

    In other words, we don’t do this because its stupid, immature, and hateful.

  22. I think people shoudl read what she says not what you think she says. She’s not saying that she doesn’t want to speak out, but that she shouldn’t need to do it. Do white people need to speak out not to come of as racists ? Do Christians need to speak out not appear as homophobes ? Shoudl jews condemn Israel when goes overboard (or whatever) ? And so on. She is no way saying that ISIS is ok or good or anhthing .ISIS kills way more muslims than other groups. In fact they kill ALL who do not agree with them.

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  24. “What we need is not the pacification of Islam vis a vis campaigns and rhetoric that are antithetical to our tradition and propel Jihad as only and primarily an internal struggle.”

    May I suggest what you need is to work towards the end of racism internally while you protest it externally?
    Everyone seems to prefer to ignore the flat out racism of the sundry Arab/African/Asian Muslim regimes. ISIS enjoys living to medieval warfare standards including enslaving women and raping and killing kaffirs. The PLO way back in the 70s made a point of killing Jews (and of course fellow travellers) even when in their 80s and a wheel chair. The supposed targetting of Enemies of Islam is a modern reinvention of the Ismaili strategy of the Assassins (asymetric warfare). The second shooting in Paris was not aimed at nasty supporters of Islamophobia but at Jews.

    You can’t live very long anywhere in the Middle East without without noticing the endemic racism of the culture. Usually it is justified religiously, but often admitted as a pure tribal/family bias.

    It’s handy to blame the West and “Intervention” for the a swath of the world’s problems but the activities of ISIS, and the ease with which they have been able to implement them, suggests an internal problem.

    Frankly I don’t care if you bother to speak out or not. This problem is unlikely to be solved in my lifetime. But feeling hard done by that an external society thinks poorly of your culture is unlikely to change as long as the donations to organizations like ISIS contintue to flow from North America…

  25. hamduillah I agree with every thing u said most muslims think it but are to afraid to say it

  26. This is psychotic, is you seriously think that not condemning ISIS in any way is a good reflection for muslims.

  27. The attitude of this author is going to hurt the Muslim community. There are people who genuinely do not understand Islam, who are uneducated about it, and who may ask in the spirit of true inquiry. Just because someone asks a QUESTION does not mean that they’ve made an ASSUMPTION. Many people ask questions because they DON’T KNOW. Answering their questions without getting indignant will help dispel those prejudices.

    To Teller:
    “Do white people need to speak out not to come of as racists?”
    Race and religion are two different things. Poor analogy.
    “Do Christians need to speak out not appear as homophobes?”
    If they are directly asked, yes, they should answer. And yes, when violence against homosexuals occurs in the name of Christianity, Christian leaders should condemn it.
    “Shoudl jews condemn Israel when goes overboard (or whatever)?”
    Yes, they should, certianly when the question is posed to them, and certianly the wealthy influential ones have an obligation to speak out against Israel’s human rights violations.

    To Asadullah
    “Anyone who thinks that silence is consent is desperately looking for a scapegoat to hate on.”

    Wrong. Silence when you are directly asked the question will be percieved as consent, rightly or wrongly, and you’re not helping the situation by taking this attitude.

    “The reason Muslims shouldn’t have to speak out is because we aren’t responsible for them.”

    Of course Muslims are not responsible for ISIS. Just because someone asks if you support them, doesn’t mean they’re implying you are responsible. Even if you refuse to condemn them, you’re still not responsible.

    “We are not responsible for their actions, and as such, no one has the right to coerce us into condemning them lest we be seen as “the enemy” and punished for their actions.”

    Who said anything about coercing you, or punishing you? Honest inquiry should not be seen as coercion or punishment.

    “Basically what I’m getting from some of the responses here is that I, my family, and other innocent men, women, and children of the faith deserve to be harassed, assaulted, or even killed if their voices of opposition are not heard.”

    I’m sorry that that’s your perception. I didn’t getthat impression from any of the responses that I read.

  28. Here’s an alternate view :

    Sulaiman Daud
    14 November at 10:02 · Singapore, Singapore · Edited ·
    I want to thank well-meaning non-Muslims who, in the wake of these attacks, have emphasised that they have been carried out by a small, twisted minority. A terrorist’s goal is to sow hatred and discord, and by not giving in, you are defeating their plans.

    But I want to say that as a Muslim, I wish that we weren’t so quick to emphasise that this has nothing to do with us. While I personally have never killed anyone and none of my friends and family have ever resorted to violence, radicalism has everything to do with Islam. And the failure to address that out of a well-intentioned commitment to tolerance is making the problem worse.
    ISIS is a Muslim organisation, and it is an Islamic problem. Let me say it again to be perfectly clear. ISIS is a Muslim organisation, and they are a cancer at the heart of Islam. And the problem will not go away until Muslims confront that.

    ISIS attackers scream ‘Allah hu’akbar’ during their attacks.
    ISIS recruits cite Qur’anic verses as justification for the rape and enslavement of women.
    ISIS soldiers kill archaeologists, gay men and women, and people who refuse to convert to Islam because they are blasphemers.

    There are no Christians in ISIS. There are no Buddhists, Jews, Pagans, Taoists, Houngans, Catholics, Wiccans, Hindus or even Scientologists in ISIS. ISIS is a Muslim organisation and they kill in the name of Islam.

    So don’t say that ISIS aren’t ‘true Muslims’ or that they are ‘not really Muslims’. Like any large organisation, ISIS exists in a spectrum. You have the aimless, restless teenager who never amounted to anything in his life and traveled to Syria because he can’t find a job and doesn’t know if the Qur’an is to be read from left to right or right to left. But you also have pious professionals, businessmen, and academics who read their Qur’an cover to cover, pray every day, were seduced into radicalism, and truly believe that the Islamic State’s goal of conquest is a noble one. The so-called ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has a doctorate in Islamic studies.

    So if you feel that Muslims are being oppressed or killed in Muslim countries, I expect you to also be just as outraged by ISIS. Because they have killed more Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Jordan than the entire US army. They have done more damage to the name and reputation of Islam than any Western nation. ISIS is Islam’s biggest enemy, not the US, not Israel or France or Germany or the Russians.
    We have to own the problem. We have to admit that this is a religious problem, and we need to renew our commitment to a secular country which treats all religions equally. I have believed in the importance of secularism all my life, and with every day that passes that belief grows stronger. Religion is no way to govern a nation. Not any religion, and not any nation.
    ISIS is not America’s problem, nor the British, nor the French. ISIS is not Syria or Iraq’s problem. ISIS is a problem for Muslims. And if you can’t admit that, you’re not really a good Muslim either.
    ‪#‎LibertyFraternityEquality‬
    ‪#‎LongLiveTheRepublic‬

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