We woke up recently to yet another horrific terrorist attack at the hands of ISIS's radicals - this time the target was the airport and a subway station in Brussels. Yet again we saw countless images of victims and frightened people of Belgium flood our TV screens and social media posts.
People around the world were yet again left dumbfounded wondering how and why this is happening. As an Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada, I often hear the question that why does ISIS carry out these attacks and how are they able to recruit local Muslims? More importantly, why would any sane adult Muslim willingly sign up for this cult of death? Why are people becoming radicalized and thereafter carrying out these attacks?
A clear problem has to be acknowledged and addressed within the house of Islam. It is undeniable that a number of clerics and mosques around the world impart an extreme interpretation of Islam to their adherents. This results in radicalization and attraction to groups such as ISIL, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
The internet and social media has provided another platform for this purpose. This propaganda and hateful teachings can also be found online. No direct contact or communication is needed anymore. We recently saw a 27-year-old born in Montreal, Ayanle Hassan Ali, facing charges for allegedly stabbing members of Canada's military in Toronto and then claim that, "Allah told me to do this, Allah told me to come here and kill people". This of course is extremely worrisome, but completely contrary to how an everyday Muslim perceives his or her faith.
While I agree that the aerial bombings and use of force will curb the ability of radicals to conquer more land and influence people, it must be understood that ISIS, at its core, is also an ideological movement that needs to be defeated and dismantled. This is where Canadian Muslims and Muslims worldwide have a leading role to play. To deny this equates to being dishonest to both your country and faith.
There are a number of principles that can be looked upon to counter this radical mindset. We know that violence and terrorism is often carried out in the name of Jihad. If we do not strongly oppose this and shun those clerics preaching it, this problem will not go away. Equality of women, freedom of speech, opposing blasphemy laws and freedom of religion and conscience for all are just some of the fundamental rights that we can reinforce and unite upon to dismiss the propaganda of radicals.
It is also essential that the Western nations do not support Muslim countries who, sometimes directly or indirectly, aid extremism. Just for the sake of our own economic gains, the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia and their support of extremist Salafi Islam shouldn't be ignored. Just because Turkey is an essential part of NATO, it shouldn't mean that it can use or aid ISIL militants against the Kurds without facing any consequences. Without justice, how can we hope to establish peace?
While addressing hundreds of political and social leaders, the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, stressed upon the need for absolute justice while dealing with such an international crisis. In the recently held Peace Symposium in the largest mosque (Baitul Futuh) in Britain, he said:
"Whilst it is claimed that all possible efforts are being made to eradicate terrorism and extremism, the evidence does not substantiate this claim."
He went on to say:
"The solution remains, as I have already said, to act with justice, and leave aside all vested interests. The critical importance of cutting the funding and supply lines of extremist groups is vital. For example, a special investigative report published in the Wall Street Journal recently stated that Daesh was acquiring huge quantities of US dollars from auction being held by Iraq's central bank. Those same dollars were being provided to Iraq directly from the federal reserves in the US."
I was appalled to notice that the hashtag of #StopIslam was trending worldwide on twitter for a number of hours with millions around the world contributing to it. I do not believe that worrying about terrorism at the hands of Muslim extremists is the same thing as Islamophobia. However, blaming over a billion Muslims for these acts of terror is certainly atrocious and potentially very dangerous. Majority of Muslims do not fall under this category and are themselves frequently targeted and killed by extremists.
This is especially worrisome given the rhetoric we have seen from some leading presidential candidates in the United States. We have seen calls to completely ban Muslims from entering the United States from Donald Trump, while Ted Cruz has suggested to "empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
While I hope that Americans will make the right decision in their national election later this year, I know that Muslims at home feel proud that Canadians have repeatedly refused to give into hysteria. We saw this after the Paris tragedy when many came out in support following attacks on Muslim women in Toronto area and following the arson attack on Peterborough mosque.
This is important because division and hatred within our own ranks would only help ISIL pursue its goal; to generate hostility between Muslim populations and the broader societies they live in and thus being able to recruit more disintegrated youth.