Last week I received my first death threat from a Taliban supporter. I knew when I wrote Mother of the Believers, my novel on the birth of Islam, that this day would come. And yet now that it has, I actually find myself smiling. Because I know that it is the sign of a changing tide. The desperation and madness in the message reveals that the days of the Taliban and their extremist supporters are numbered.
I will quote the email here, sent last Tuesday, June 2nd, through my website at http://www.kamran pasha.com:
"You son of a bitch. Be ready to go to hell and burn there forever inshallah. I swear by Almighty Allah i shall kill you if at all i manage to find you. Change your religion you kaffir. Just to get into good books of non-muslims you will go and offer your wife and even your mother to them. You to hell you infidel bastard"
Crude, but effective.
While I was saddened to receive this personal attack, I was even more outraged that this individual interspersed his threats with the name of Allah, the sacred name of God in the Holy Qur'an. As a practicing Muslim, someone who loves Islam and takes my faith very seriously, this would-be murderer's efforts to cloak himself in Divine legitimacy is the ultimate blasphemy.
But it is also not surprising. The Taliban and their ilk disguise themselves as the defenders of Islam, but in reality their hearts are filled with hatred for their fellow Muslims and for the mainstream body of Islamic thought and scholarship. And their efforts to poison the beautiful heart of Islam and turn this great religion of 1.5 billion people into a backwards and destructive force will fail.
This past weekend, the Taliban bombed a mosque in a tribal area of Pakistan, killing over 40 innocent worshippers. This savage act reveals the true face of these fanatics who deal death to those kneeling in prayer. And it has sparked a backlash that I believe will signal the beginning of the end for the Taliban. Villagers are organizing militias to fight the Taliban, who are seeking to overthrow the government and spread their failed ideology to nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The Pakistani army has been locked in a brutal war to regain control of parts of the country hijacked by the Taliban extremists, but the outcome of the conflict has always depended on the support of Pakistan tribesmen. In the past, the Taliban had assumed that these villagers were allies, or at least had been cowed into submission. But their desperate attack on the mosque reveals that the Taliban are losing not only control of these areas, but also the hearts and minds of the local populace.
"We are Muslims, we pray regularly and read the Koran. We don't want them, they have to go," resident Samiullah Khan told Reuters. "Attacking a mosque is not Islam. They're not Muslim."
That simple statement reveals why the Taliban will fail in Pakistan, a Muslim country of 173 million people who live and practice their faith confidently and in peace, and where fundamentalist political parties struggle to garner 2% of the vote.
A similar phenomenon was experienced in the past few years in Iraq. Al-Qaeda entered the country after the American invasion and began to spread its destructive ideology among an angry populace seeking to fight a foreign occupier. But Al-Qaeda, like its Taliban allies, is by its very nature self-destructive. Instead of rallying a disgruntled Iraqi population to its cause, the group quickly shifted tactics from attacking foreign troops to suicide bombings of mosques and marketplaces, killing thousands of their fellow Muslims.
The end result was "The Awakening" in Anbar, a movement where local Muslim leaders organized to defeat the extremists, whose ugly agenda had been revealed in a maelstrom of blood and carnage. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has lost whatever support it had sought from the Muslim population, and the Taliban are about to suffer the same fate in Pakistan. This has been a pattern that has appeared throughout Islamic history, and the end result is always the same -- the extremists are driven out and mainstream Islam, a religion of wisdom, peace and harmony, reasserts itself, saving Muslim civilization from those who seek to destroy it from within.
In my novel, Mother of the Believers, I detail the rise of the first extremist movement to clothe itself in the rubric of Islam - the Khawarij. These were a group of political rebels who appeared on the scene twenty five years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. At that time, Islam had grown from a tiny and persecuted community in Arabia into a powerful empire stretching from North Africa to Central Asia. It was a time of great political tumult as well, as rival claimants to the leadership of Islam had arisen. Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, had been elected Caliph in Medina, but his authority was challenged by Muawiya, the governor of Syria.
The resulting civil war between these two charismatic leaders would forever split the Muslim community into the sects of Sunni and Shia Islam, the former who believed that leadership should be determined by community consensus, and the latter who believed authority should vest only in Ali and his descendants. But it also led to the rise of a third group, a band of extremists known as the Khawarij, who declared that they alone possessed the true interpretation of Islam.
These fanatics began a campaign of terror thirteen centuries ago that would seem shockingly familiar to anyone who follows the news today. They embraced the idea that anyone who disagreed with their harsh interpretation of Islam was a "kaffir" or infidel, and that their duty was to kill anyone who opposed them (much like the gentleman who sent me that email last week). Khawarij assassins became infamous for organizing coordinated attacks against their enemies all over the Muslim world - a practice that has been adapted by Al-Qaeda and other extremists today.
And it was during one of these coordinated terrorist attacks that a group of Khawarij assassins struck the two rival claimants to Islam's leadership, Ali and Muawiya. The fact that both of their victims had been close to Prophet Muhammad and were heroes of Islam did not matter to these self-righteous murderers. Ali, the Prophet's closest male relative, died of his wounds. The Syrian governor Muawiya survived and founded the Umayyad dynasty that would one day create the glorious Moorish civilization of Spain. And as one of his first tasks as the new Caliph, Muawiya hunted down and destroyed the Khawarij extremists, who had proven themselves to be Islam's greatest enemy.
There is much to learn from this ancient tale that I recount in my novel. The problem of violent extremists inside of Islam is an old one, and their evil actions have consistently been rejected by the mainstream Muslim community and the consensus of Islamic scholars. The Muslim community has been fighting such destructive characters since its very beginning, and will continue to do so until the true light of Islam shines through the dark clouds of extremism generated by groups like the Khawarij, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
But there is a more intimate aspect to this story that reveals the difference between true Muslims and the extremists. According to Islamic tradition, Ali, the victim of the extremist plot, asked his sons to show mercy on his assassin, a man named Ibn Muljam. As he lay dying in terrible agony from a poisoned blade, Ali sent a glass of milk to the captured assassin as a sign of forgiveness. Ibn Muljam refused to drink, assuming that it was poisoned. Ali is said to have shaken his head in sadness when he heard of the assassin's rejection of his gift.
"Why did Ibn Muljam hold a bad suspicion of us?" Ali is reported to have said. "If he had drunk the milk, when the Day of Resurrection came and my foot was on the threshold of Paradise, I would not have entered without taking Ibn Muljam into Paradise too."
For me, these words are more than just a spiritual parable meant to inspire believers about the power of mercy. They reveal an eternal truth about the difference in mindsets between people of sincere faith and people who use religion to dominate and oppress others.
And Ali's words are also very personal for me. I am a sayyid, a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima, who married Ali. I can trace my lineage all the way back to Husayn, their son and the Prophet's grandson, who was similarly murdered by extremists claiming to be Muslim. So I take these words as an admonition, not just from a distant historical figure, but from a man who was my forefather. A man whose martyred blood flows in my veins.
So, in the spirit of my ancestors Ali and Husayn, I respond to the fanatic who wished me death and the fires of Hell. I will not wish for you the evil that you wish for me. Instead, I pray for God's mercy on you, and that He guides you to discover the true beauty of Islam and embrace the loving example of Prophet Muhammad, who was sent by God as a Mercy to the Worlds.
To the man who hates me, I wish you only peace.
Kamran Pasha is a Hollywood filmmaker and the author of Mother of the Believers, a novel on the birth of Islam as told by Prophet Muhammad's wife Aisha (Atria Books; April 2009). For more information please visit: http://www.kamranpasha.com