A year after the events of 9/11, it is still the extremist Muslim most often pictured in American media. Terrorist groups like Hamas and al Qaeda are on center stage, while the peaceful, hard-working, community-oriented Muslims in places like Kansas City are largely ignored.
The voices of mainstream Muslims are available in their own publications, on the Internet if one looks, and even sometimes in the popular media. Their voices speak of outrage at the events of 9/11, of the need to focus on Islam’s core values, of passion for peace and justice, and of concern about discrimination. In the days after 9/11, every major Muslim group in the United States condemned the attacks.
The leaders of nine Muslim American groups wrote to President Bush: “It is a time for all of us to stand together in the face of this heinous crime. We hope that the perpetrators of these crimes will be apprehended immediately and swiftly brought to justice.”
The Muslim Students Association released a statement on Sept. 11 saying that they joined “national, regional, and local Islamic organizations in unequivocally condemning the senseless attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”
Islamic teacher Hamza Yusuf, director of the Zaytuna Institute in California, said in October 2001: “September 11 was a wake-up call to me. I don’t want to contribute to the hate in any shape or form. I now regret in the past being silent about what I have heard in the Islamic discourse and being part of it with my own anger.”
He spoke frankly about the terrorist attackers of 9/11 in September 2001, calling them “enemies of Islam … mass murderers, pure and simple.” He continued: “There’s no Islamic justification for any of it. It’s like some misguided Irish using Catholicism as an excuse for blowing up English people.” He also challenged Muslims to “reject the discourse of anger and move to a higher moral ground.”
Professor Ziauddin Sardar urged: “Muslims are in the best position to take the lead in the common cause against terrorism. … They are a part of our body politic. And it is our duty to stand up against them.” He continued: “To Muslims everywhere I issue this fatwa (opinion based on Muslim law): any Muslim involved in the planning, financing, training, recruiting, support of or harbouring of those who commit acts of indiscriminate violence against persons or infrastructure of states is guilty of terror and no part of the Ummah (Muslim community). It is the duty of every Muslim to spare no effort in hunting down, apprehending and bringing such criminals to justice.”
In his commencement address on June 6, 2002, at Harvard, Zayed Yasin spoke of being both a practicing Muslim and a citizen of the United States: “Both the Quran and the Constitution teach ideals of peace, justice and compassion, ideals that command my love and my belief. Each of these texts, one at the heart of my religion and the other at the heart of my country, demand a constant struggle to do what is right.”
Yasin condemned the corruption of the word jihad by terrorists. He described true jihad as “the determination to do right, to do justice even against your own interests.” The true meaning of jihad, he said, causes one to struggle on a personal moral level to do right and to struggle on global scale for justice “for people of all ages, colors and creeds.” Thus there can be an “American Jihad” as “we turn our struggle to the war against oppression, poverty, and disease.”
Muslim Americans are divided in their support for U.S. foreign policy in the wake of 9/11, according to the Hamilton College Muslim American poll. While 40 percent call the U.S. response a “war on terrorism” another third are concerned that it is a “war on Islam.” American Muslims are also worried about detention of Muslim Americans after 9/11. Two-thirds described the detentions as “an unwarranted abuse of civil liberties.” They also report increased discrimination and harassment.
Sixty percent report anti-Muslim incidents in their communities after 9/11, while only 21 percent recall earlier incidents. Still, American Muslims polled regarded these actions as those of a bigoted minority. Seventy percent regard Americans as “friendly” or “neutral” toward Muslims.
James Browning is senior pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.
For more Muslim reflections on 9/11, see: