Large Banner Ad
Small Banner Ad

August 14, 2016

Why the double standard in dealing with crimes committed by Muslim extremists?

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

More by this author...

The world recently witnessed the shock of two heinous crimes committed by Muslim extremists, one the grisly murder of a French priest, the other an attempted assassination of a senior imam in Egypt.

The death of Father Jacques Hamel in July was widely reported by international media and rightly condemned by political and religious leaders everywhere. But the other, the latest in a series of attempts on the life of Imam Dr. Ali Gomaa drew scant attention earlier this month from the same world leaders. In fact, Canadian Muslim leaders didn’t even voice a word.

Is this double standard in dealing with terrorist murders and attempted murders politically motivated?

Do Canadian and other Muslim leaders feel they must rush to condemn extremist atrocities against clergy from another religion, but not when it involves their own?

Perhaps they are trying to distance Islam from the murder of a Catholic priest, but feel powerless to stop repeated attempts on the life of a Muslim cleric.

Historically, the tragic fact is that Muslim extremists have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. Internal terrorism is not a new phenomenon:  from earliest times, extremists within Islam have repeatedly turned to violence, killing whoever disagreed with them and labelling the victims “infidel” (unfaithful, or apostate).

Even Omar and Othman, second and third Khalifs respectively, and direct successors to Prophet Muhammad, were not immune from assassination. And the fourth Khalif, Ali, was killed in a civil war that split the Muslim world into opposing Sunni and Shia sects that remain unreconciled to this day, 1400 years later.

Many of us recall the shock of hearing or reading about how a pair of domestically radicalized Muslim youth burst into a Rouen church on July 26 and in front of a traumatized congregation slashed the throat of 84-year-old Fr. Jacques Hamel as he presided over Mass.

Just days later on August 5, while going to perform Friday prayers, Imam Dr. Ali Gomaa, former Grand Mufti of Egypt was shot at by four Muslim extremists. In this latest attempt on his life, they missed Gomaa but wounded one of his bodyguards.

These latest terrifying incidents underline with increasing urgency that Muslims everywhere must change the narrative: in the face of today’s reality it is not enough to repeatedly proclaim “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Muslims have far too often taken the route of top-down violent regime change. It has never worked in the past, it isn’t working now – Syria alone is proof – and it will never work in the future. Violence to effect change was never taught by the Prophet. Never.

Generations who have grown to adulthood believing in the heresy of violence may well be lost to it, but children are the hope of breaking this hideous cycle of extremism.

Muslims who truly want change must teach their children the Prophet’s guidance and practice, that real change happens from the bottom-up with patient and gentle work, not violence.

Over his 23 years of spreading Islam in Arabia, Prophet Muhammad spent more than half of that time, 13 years, changing individuals through patience and example. Only during the final decade of his work did he begin teaching the laws of the faith, again introducing them gradually and with understanding.

Early in his mission, the Prophet’s peers offered him the prestigious and powerful position of Chief of the Tribes, but because that would mean giving up his work teaching people about Islam, he utterly rejected it.

The Qur’an relates that when the king of Egypt mistreated the Hebrews, God did not instruct Moses to incite an uprising and assassinate him, or fight the Egyptian army, or (if such a story happened today) blow himself up in the middle of the royal court. Having been raised as a prince and trusted as a member of the king’s inner circle, Moses held great potential power to effect change through violence. But he didn’t, because his faith taught otherwise.   

Instead, as reported in the Qur'an, God told Moses and his brother Aaron to appeal to the ruler “in the most gentle way” to cease oppressing the Hebrews, or let them leave Egypt. After a series of increasingly powerful supernatural signs and wonders (which play also a major role in the Judeo-Christian account of the same story), the king relented. Moses never had to raise his voice, let alone a weapon.

Prophet Muhammad taught that humans were meant by divine will to be different and to evolve in diverse societies, cultures, and expressions of belief, so he never judged or condemned them individually. Rather, he offered Islam as one of several kindred variants to the religion of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The rights of all their followers were totally respected and protected. It is no accident that the world’s oldest churches and synagogues still stand in lands where the population is predominately Muslims, especially Egypt and Syria.

The Qur’an also states clearly that in addition to sending prophets for peoples of the Middle East, “God has sent prophets to every nation,” which can be understood as a universal declaration that includes Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas as well.

Today Muslims must renew their mandate to teach peace by example and firmly reject those who claim to be spiritual leaders of Islam, yet call for the use of violence to achieve regime change.

At the top of the list is Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric living in Qatar who went on record early in the five-year-old Syrian conflict, urging Muslims worldwide to fight against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad. He also called on the US to supply the Syrian rebels with arms. Both Muslim extremists and the Americans answered his call, each for their own reasons.

Today, we know only too well the results. Millions of Syrians, including women and children, have fled as refugees while their once-beautiful country crumbles under overwhelming death, destruction and misery. And Syrian violence, along with its refugees, has spilled over into Europe.   

Dr. Al-Qaradawi is also part of the tragic double standard that plagues the Muslim world. He continues to advocate violence as a means of change in Syria, Egypt and Libya, but has condemned recent outbursts of extremism in the West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

Why advocate violence at all? And why choose to support it in some places and not others? This is not what the Qur’an teaches and is not worthy of spiritual leadership.

The example of Dr. Al-Qaradawi reveals the uncomfortable truth that Muslims alone cannot reduce the trend of extremism in their midst.

It will take a broader global effort, for it is not Muslim terrorists who manufacture arms; they are imported mainly from the US.

And it is not the typical Muslim terrorist who pays for those weapons; someone else does that as well, someone who is often far from the actual violence.

And someone has to inspire them. Someone has to provide communication technology, intelligence, and social media distribution of ideology. Someone has to facilitate the recruiting of new fighters and keep supplies of fresh ammunition coming.

And above all, someone has to propagate the notion that they are “opposition forces” or “pro-democracy fighters” not terrorists when they kill women, children, and their own countrymen.

Will the horrific crimes being committed worldwide by Muslim extremist’s end anytime soon? Not likely.

But continuing the double standard in dealing with them will not help reverse the trend. Neither will the current Muslim education system, its preaching institutions, or its spiritual leaders.

As I wrote this, many cities in Canada were marking (far too quietly) the annual August 9 observance of National Peacekeeper’s Day. It is a moment in which to appreciate that true peace is an achievement above and beyond the competing agendas of politics, religion, economics, and individual power-mongering.

In his statement on today’s ceremonies, Prime Minister Trudeau reminded all of us:

“Canada has a long and proud history of peacekeeping. For decades, brave Canadian women and men have put themselves in harm’s way to protect the world’s most vulnerable civilians – including women, children, and marginalized groups.”

There are no double standards in those words.

*  *   *

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, an Egyptian-born Canadian, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo.

  • Think green before you print
  • Respond to the editor
  • Email
  • Delicious
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • StumbleUpon
Subscribe to the E-bulletin

M. Elmasry

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel