A few days ago, I came across three separate items on the Internet that, combined, have not only given me much to ponder but have left me greatly disturbed.
The first item was an article on the Huffington Post describing how a "Buddhist mob rampaged through a town in an isolated corner of Myanmar, hacking Muslim women and children with knives . . . ." The assault may have led to more than a dozen deaths, the article said.
I can't help but respond with indignation when I read about such atrocities. How utterly sick. No one wants to be on the receiving end of such barbarity.
The second item was a provocative opinion piece about the recent events in Myanmar, posted on the SunSentinel website by Rabbi Bruce Warshal. "All religions can be perverted," he wrote, "but there are certain oxymorons that are hard to contemplate, such as a war-mongering Quaker, a religiously zealot Unitarian or a violent Buddhist."
Rabbi Warshal went on to say that if such "hatred can flourish in a Buddhist country, it could happen anywhere. Human frailty is universal. No religion, no nationality, is exempt." His observations are both astute and sobering.
The third item--and by far the most disturbing to me as a Muslim Imam--was a map posted on the website of Open Doors, an organization that "works in the world's most oppressive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution . . . ."
It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, the map of the world provided by Open Doors was even more powerful than that. Not that it told me anything I didn't already know. But it drove the reality home with such force.
The map was color-coded, showing where persecution of Christians was extreme, severe, moderate or sparse. What jolted me was the visual impact of seeing that the countries where persecution was extreme or severe are generally nations with an overwhelmingly Muslim majority, most of them clustered in the Middle East--which is where I was born and grew up.
In fact, Syria, the country where I studied to be an Imam, is where the greatest number of Christian were killed last year--1,213 of them, killed just because they were Christians.
When a people I love, from a region of the world I love, wearing the label of the religion I love, are killing Christians--whom I also love--just because they're Christians, we have a huge problem. And it should be of major concern to every Muslim.
The Islam I believe in--and that the overwhelming majority of the world's Muslims believe in--has no place for such behavior. Such barbarism is the very antithesis of our faith. It violates the direct command of Allah. For we read in the Qur'an: "Let there be no compulsion in religion." Qur'an 2:256
Allah tells us through the Prophet Muhammad: "A person is not a believer till he loves for his brother what he loves for himself".
Terrorists, self-serving power brokers and radicalized mobs aren't truly worried about the commands of Allah and the example of Muhammad when they engage in behavior that should outrage every true believer in Islam. Indeed, it should outrage everyone with moral values of any kind.
A multitude of Muslims have strongly condemned the terrorism, the killings, the persecution perpetrated by these hijackers-of-the-Islamic-faith. And we've spoken up repeatedly. I know, because I'm one of those who have refused to sit by passively. However, we must become even more vocal.
Unfortunately, because our many expressions of moral outrage don't fit the stereotype the media seeks, and because love and moderation are far less effective than hate and extremism in "selling" news, much of what we say never gets reported.
So we must speak up all the more, because . . .
• We need the clear conscience that comes from knowing we're doing all we can to foster a world of peace and harmony.
• Those who are hate-filled need to know that the Muslim majority views their behavior as immoral and anti-Muslim.
• Those Muslims who abhor what's happening, but who are timid and fearful, need to have their perspective affirmed and their resolve bolstered.
• Non-Muslims need to know that so-called "Islamists" aren't examples of the values of true Islam.
It's time for us as Muslims to take our religion back from those who've hijacked and grossly distorted it.