Weeks after nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted from their boarding school in Chibok, in the northern state of Bono in Nigeria, we are only now hearing condemnation from international and religious leaders. In two videos released in recent days, a group named Boko Haram -- which translates as "Western education is forbidden" -- and its leader Abubakar Shekau took responsibility for the kidnapping, saying "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah."
The girls, Shekau asserts, are God's property. He refers to his actions as God's instructions and in the most recent video, he claims to have converted all of the hostages to Islam. Shekau thus is not a criminal in his own mind, but a missionary charged with purifying society in the name of the Holy One. Taking these girls, who were in their final year of school -- most between the age of 16 and 18 -- was not only his right, but his duty as a devout Muslim.
But he is not a Muslim. He is a depraved street thug who has been allowed the freedom to inflict relentless harm upon Nigeria's people with little recrimination. What he is fighting for is not morality, but ignorance.
As a girl, I learned about the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, from my parents and teachers, and I was told, the same as my brothers, to get my education. Education was not an issue open to discussion; it was considered an important part of our spiritual upbringing. Many parts of the Qu'ran underline this focus:
Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims (both men and women without any discrimination). [Narrated by Ibn Maja in al-Sunan, 1:81 §224.]
Acquire knowledge even if you may have to go to China for it. [Narrated by al-Bazzar in al-Musnad, 1:175 §95.]
The Islam that is named while atrocities are being committed is not the Islam I grew up with, and it is not the Islam that the Prophet, peace be upon him, espoused or lived by. It is a defamation of a culture and belief system intended to engender compassion and peace, knowledge and wisdom, openness and acceptance. I am angered by the way Islam has been torn down. I fear that crimes are being attributed to a religion that has the same name as my own, but which is born in violence and bred by cruelty.
This is not the first time Boko Haram has murdered or pillaged in the name of Islam. The group has been terrorizing Nigeria for years. In 2013 alone the group killed more than 100 school children and 70 teachers and attacked 50 schools. They cite God's mission as one against education of women and girls, but it is clear they know nothing of God at all.
Tony Blair recently called upon Western governments to engage with the Islamic world. He argued the threat posed by a radical view which "distorts and warps Islam's true message" was "spreading across the world" and would ultimately undermine the possible of peaceful coexistence. He did not speak about the girls, or the religious leaders who would be important in defending Islam's tenets -- the way they were intended to be interpreted and shared.
But it is not just Mr. Blair. The religious community has done little to speak up on behalf of Islam or the crimes being committed against its integrity and culture. It was only recently that key voices were added to the dialogue on the Nigerian crisis, finally condemning the actions of Boko Haram and calling for the Chibok girls to be released.
Al-Azhar scholars, who run the main Islamic university in the Arab region, said harming the girls "completely contradicts the teachings of Islam and its tolerant principles." It called "for the immediate release" of the girls.
Our collective silence has let down our daughters and enabled Boko Haram to take them like toys from a playground. It is their cruelty that created this crisis, but it is our complacency that has allowed it to continue.
I can hear the girl's cries in my head at every moment asking, "Where is the outrage? Where is the fire?"
I wish I had an answer for them. I wish I knew why when they needed us, for weeks we did nothing. Why when they asked for us to speak out on their behalf and in their honor, it took us so long to muster up the will to care.