Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Anwar al-Awlaki: The Jim Jones of Islam

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

As a Muslim and as an American, let me say this loudly and clearly — Anwar al-Awlaki is a servant of evil and a traitor both to Islam and to America. He is intent on misleading the world by spreading the lie that Islam permits the killing of civilians. It does not.

Prophet Muhammad forbade the killing of non-combatants and reacted with horror when he heard of civilian deaths on the battlefield. In order to expound his own political agenda, Al-Awlaki is defaming the Prophet and the global Muslim community, which rejects terrorism. And in the process, he is revealing himself to be a modern Jim Jones – a narcissist creating a death cult.

In 1978, Jim Jones led 900 of his devoted followers to mass suicide by forcing them to drink cyanide mixed in a fruit beverage. The term “drinking the Kool-Aid” has since become synonymous with people who blindly follow their leaders to their doom. And it is clear that al-Awlaki’s followers are very much drinking his brand of Kool-Aid. Indeed, the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was apparently a follower of al-Awlaki before he turned on his fellow soldiers in an orgy of murder. Like Jim Jones, al-Awlaki has remarkable charisma and uses it to lead his followers down a very dark path.

I say all of this with great grief. Al-Awlaki was once a highly regarded Muslim scholar who taught a message of peace and brotherhood. But his story is like that of the archetypal villain of the movie Star Wars – Anakin Skywalker, a defender of justice, who devolves into Darth Vader, a monster who cares only for his own twisted quest for power.

I have never met al-Awlaki, but those who have tell me that in his early days as a preacher, he espoused a moderate Islam based on scholarship and appreciation for Muslim history. Yet after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, al-Alwaki began to change. He began to see the world in a binary “us versus them” outlook – the hallmark of fundamentalism. After being detained by the Yemeni government in 2006 (apparently under American pressure), he appears to have left his moderate past behind him and embraced a dark vision of Islam at perpetual war with America – and became its most passionate scholarly advocate.

Al-Awlaki’s story could be dismissed as the sad tale of a good man who became lost. And yet his personal moral decline has greater consequences. For he built up a widespread and devoted following among Muslims in his heyday – and is now in a position to brainwash many of his followers into following his own descent into darkness.

When I have publicly criticized al-Awlaki, I have received emails from his devotees saying that he is being “set up” by the US government. And yet when I ask them what they mean by this, there is always pin-drop silence. His followers seem to want to believe that the good, charismatic man that they adore is somehow being falsely portrayed in the media as a villain as part of some “Psy Ops” manipulation game. And yet when I ask if someone else is posting his increasingly radical and extremist sermons through his website (a CIA agent posing as al-Awlaki, let’s say), there is more silence. It is as if his followers want to keep clinging to the man he once was and selectively ignore his recent calls for the murder of civilians in the name of Islam.

Like Jim Jones, a personality cult has formed around al-Awlaki. It is a personality cult that is blinding his followers into a series of non-sequiturs and conspiracy theories that allow them to overcome the cognitive dissonance of reconciling the good scholar they once knew and the deranged and hateful man he has become.

There is a word for that kind of personality cult in Islam – idolatry. If there are any Muslims out there that believe that a man should be followed unquestioningly, even when his words violate basic Islamic teachings, then they have committed shirk, the worst sin in Islam – ascribing a partner to God. They have given their devotion to a false god, a fallible human being rather the infallible Creator, the Merciful and Compassionate, the Lord of the Worlds, whose moral commandments cannot be rationalized away by men.

I was sickened and outraged by al-Awlaki’s recent video, where he rationalized terrorist plots to blow up airplanes, saying that the deaths of civilians are just “a drop of water in the sea.” Similar rationalizations were used by pre-Islamic Arabs who practiced female infanticide, burying their newborn baby daughters alive. Such innocent lives were also simply “drops in the sea” for a pagan culture obsessed with male progeny. But when the Holy Qur’an put an end to this barbarism, it said that on the Day of Judgment, the innocent girls will rise from their graves and confront their murderers, and God will ask: “For what crime was she killed?” (Surah 81:8-9) And then the murderers’ excuses will vanish and they will be flung into Hell.

The God of the Qur’an is the God of life, of mercy, of justice. A God that says “no soul shall bear the burden of another” (53:38) when confronted with moral relativists that believe in “guilt by association” and collective punishment.

If Muslims wish to find a true example in their history of a noble warrior, they should turn away from this false teacher al-Awlaki and look at the example of Saladin, the great Muslim leader who conquered Jerusalem in 1187 C.E.

In my new novel, Shadow of the Swords, I show how, despite calls for collective punishment against the Christians of Jerusalem for the crimes of the Crusaders, Saladin showed mercy to the populace. He let the Christian population remain unmolested and gave them freedom of worship and pilgrimage to their holy sites. When Richard the Lion Heart led the Third Crusade to expel the Muslims, Saladin treated his enemy with stunning generosity. When Richard fell ill, Saladin sent his personal doctor to tend to the enemy king. When Richard’s horse was killed in battle, Saladin sent his personal horse to his adversary as a gift.

Saladin’s acts of honor and wisdom single-handedly shattered the negative image that many Christians held of Muslims. And for this, he is lauded by both Christian and Muslim historians as a true statesman and moral leader.

I ask any follower of al-Awlaki – which is the greater example you wish to be associated with? The example of your “teacher” who calls you to turn into monsters without empathy? Or Saladin, who reminded the world that Islam stood for justice and moral restraint, not barbarism and rationalization of murder? If you have any hesitation about the right answer here, then you have left your religion and become the very evil that anti-Muslim bigots have long claimed Islam represents.

The confusion al-Awlaki has created among Muslims is in many ways far more insidious than that of his fellow madman, Osama Bin Laden. For Bin Laden does not claim to be – and is not – an Islamic scholar. Bin Laden’s calls for attacking the West are not steeped in Islamic scholarship, but in a rather crude “eye for an eye” philosophy that says since Americans are killing Muslim civilians, Muslims have a right do the same in return to American civilians. Bin Laden has little understanding of, or interest in, Islamic jurisprudence, primarily because he finds its rules against murdering civilians to be inconvenient. Therefore Bin Laden’s appeal is really based on an emotional bait-and-switch. Get Muslims riled up about all the injustices they have experienced so that they follow him – and not ask too many questions about the justice of his own movement.

But al-Awlaki’s brand of evil is far more sinister. As a trained Muslim scholar, he is an expert in perverting traditional Islamic teachings with strange analogies that have no historical basis, such as his self-serving argument that Americans elected and pay taxes to a government that kills Muslims, so all Americans are complicit and are lawful targets of revenge. Aside from the fact that this is a nonsensical leap of logic, it ignores what Prophet Muhammad himself did when faced with the opportunity for collectively punishing a population for the crime of its leaders.

In my novel Mother of the Believers, I discuss how, when the Prophet defeated Mecca, he was in a position to unleash vengeance on the city that had driven him out and killed his family and friends. And yet the Prophet, to his enemies’ surprise, instituted a general amnesty and not only forgave the general populace, which under al-Awlaki’s argument was complicit in Mecca’s war against Islam, but also its leadership that organized the war. The lords of Mecca – including the villainous queen Hind, who had cannibalized the Prophet’s uncle as an act of terror – were forgiven and incorporated into the new Muslim state as leading citizens.

So I ask the followers of al-Awlaki again – what vision of Islam do you wish to follow? The false Islam of collective punishment claimed by your “teacher”? Or the magnanimous Islam of mercy and wisdom lived by Prophet Muhammad?

Al-Awlaki’s credentials as a former religious scholar are troubling and dangerous. But it should be noted clearly that al-Awlaki does not represent the face of mainstream Muslim scholarship. In fact, in his own country of Yemen, there is a remarkable Muslim scholar who has dedicated his life to defeating extremism – Hamoud al-Hitar, a Yemeni judge who deprograms terrorists by teaching them the truth about Islam.

Judge al-Hitar is living proof of the power of true Islam to defeat the false Islam of the extremists, of light to overpower darkness. Al-Hitar works with the Yemeni government to counsel Muslim extremists who have been brainwashed by men like al-Awlaki. He talks to them about the Holy Qur’an and traditional Islamic law, and demonstrates to them – line by line, point by point – why terrorism is a violation of Islam’s basic teachings. Remarkably, al-Hitar has deprogrammed over 300 extremists and is said to have even won over high-level Al-Qaeda agents, who have repented and turned on their leaders.

Al-Hitar served as the basis of a character I wrote for an episode of the Showtime television series Sleeper Cell. A clip from that episode has been uploaded onto You Tube and has become a global phenomenon, for it shows how a Muslim scholar like al-Hitar argues with – and proves wrong – an al-Qaeda extremist.

I ask the followers of al-Awlaki to look at the clip and let the truth of its arguments – coming straight from the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad – touch their hearts.

If you still prefer the false words of your “teacher” over the truth of Islam’s message of peace and beauty, then there is no hope for you, any more than there was for the many misguided souls who followed Jim Jones to their destruction.

With the forces of evil now cloaking themselves in the garb of righteousness, there are two paths before the Muslim community. One of light and one of darkness. And of this moment, the Holy Qur’an says:

“God is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. But of those who reject faith, their patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the Fire, to dwell therein.” (2:257)

My fellow Muslims, the choice between light and darkness is yours.

The Mosque by Ground Zero: A Lesson from the Crusades

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Nine years after September 11, 2001, we are still facing one fundamental question. Who is our enemy? There are two answers. One based in the truth. One based in a lie.

One answer is that Islam itself is the enemy of America and Western civilization. That all Muslims are terrorists, or at least sympathetic to the use of terrorism to advance their political agendas. After years of hearing news stories about Muslim terrorists from the shoe bomber to the underwear bomber to the Times Square bomber, it is completely understandable that many Americans find that answer to be a simple statement of obvious fact.

It is an understandable perspective. And it is a complete lie.

The truth is that our enemy is actually a small group of radical, sociopathic and extremely dangerous individuals who happen to call themselves Muslims. The vast, vast majority of 1.5 billion Muslims have nothing to do with this extremist death cult that makes a mockery of their faith. This global Muslim community is in fact our most effectively ally against these monsters that seek to destroy both America and mainstream Islam – it was a Muslim vendor that tipped off the police about the suspicious SUV in Times Square, a fact that remains unknown to most Americans.

Of course, the lie is easier to believe and requires one only to sit back and look at the surface of events, rather than take the time and effort to dive beneath the stormy waters of the news to learn what is really going on in this world. Truth is a treasure that is often buried in a minefield of complex facts that is just too much trouble to explore for most people. And so the lie continues that Islam itself is the enemy, that Muslims are collectively responsible for the handful of terrorist serial killers that claim to be one of them.

The conflict between the truth and the lie is now reaching its apex in the public sphere of the media, which profits from the Manichean worldview of “us versus them.” The announcement by the Cordoba Initiative, a progressive, peaceful Muslim group, that it plans to build an Islamic Center two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York has finally brought this conflict out into the open.

Predictably, politicians and media blowhards are seizing on this development to cry out that “the terrorists have won.” Congressman Peter King (R-NY) calls the plans for the mosque “offensive and wrong.” Brian Kilmeade on Fox & Friends asked whether it was “almost taunting to put a community center right by the attack perpetrated by a group of extremist Muslims.” And Steve Doocy (also on Fox) questioned whether the mosque’s presence was “a great insult.”

These are also the same individuals in the media who have perpetuated the lie that Muslims are not speaking out or fighting against terrorism. So when a progressive Muslim group like the Cordoba Initiative arises, its existence is problematic for the black-and-white worldview of the Islamophobes. When a Muslim group stands tall and says it rejects terrorism and wants to create an Islamic Center dedicated to building bridges of love and community between people of faiths, its existence provokes outrage. For the very presence of a progressive, peaceful mosque near Ground Zero invalidates the claim by both the Muslim fanatics and their mirror images among the anti-Muslim bigots that America and Islam are enemies.

I promise you, Al Qaeda and its supporters have no love for the Cordoba Initiative, which they view as a bunch of weak, liberal Muslims who are putting out the fire of their twisted vision of jihad and replacing it with calls for brotherhood with “infidels.” I know this from personal experience. After I published my first novel on the birth of Islam, Mother of the Believers, I received death threats from Muslim extremists, who see me as a traitor and apostate, using my position in the media to promote peace rather than a war of civilizations. And at the same time, I have been flooded by emails from Islamophobes who like to believe that I am some kind of sleeper agent infiltrating Hollywood to promote a false vision of a peaceful Islam while hiding my true “Islamist agenda.”

So I understand the pain of the organizers of the mosque, who are now forced to defend their integrity from all sides. Good people like Daisy Khan, whom I know and admire, and progressive Muslim leaders like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who must endure insults from extremists in all camps that do not wish to see a mosque dedicated to supporting peace and fighting fundamentalism.

But let me make one thing clear — as an American, I really do understand why there is outrage over the building of this mosque near Ground Zero. I remember walking around in a daze that terrible day in 2001 when fire rained from the sky, trying desperately to get in touch with family and friends in New York to see if they were alive. I know that most of those who express revulsion to the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero are coming from an authentic place of sincere emotion. They naturally equate the terror of September 11th with Islam, because the murderers themselves that day did that.

But I also know that these monsters had no more to do with my faith than the Crusaders did with true Christianity.

And it is instructive to look back to the Crusades, another time Muslims and Christians were trapped in a “holy war” whose legacy would poison relations between these two religions of Abraham for centuries. When we examine the history of the Crusades, we find remarkable parallels with events in the news today. A civilization that was the global leader in art, science, education and culture was forced to repel vicious attacks from impoverished and backwards countries, led by fanatics targeting innocent civilians in the name of God. But in those days, the advanced civilization was Muslim and the terrorists were Christian.

In my upcoming novel, Shadow of the Swords, I examine the Crusades from a Muslim point of view. I begin with a terrifying memory of the First Crusade in 1099 C.E., which remains very much imprinted on Muslim cultural history. A time when Christian warriors descended on Jerusalem and slaughtered its 70,000 inhabitants – men, women and children. Muslim civilians were butchered in the name of Christ, along with Arab Christians who had the misfortune of being dark skinned and looking like “the enemy.” The Jews of Jerusalem were herded by the Crusaders into the city’s main synagogue and burned alive. According to the Crusader’s own chroniclers, the streets of Jerusalem ran with blood in rivers.

But the annihilation of the civilian population of Jerusalem was not the worst crime of the Crusaders. In the village of Ma’arra, Crusaders cannibalized the local population – eating men, women and children in an orgy of horror that has never been forgotten by the Islamic world. To this day, the Crusaders are referred to in the Middle East as “the cannibals.”

I think any Christian who reads this will be revolted by the sordid story, and will automatically denounce these monsters as having nothing to do with Christianity — even though the Crusaders would have disagreed. To these medieval terrorists, their brand of horror was true Christianity, of which they were proud. Incredible as it sounds, these barbarians sincerely believed they were doing the will of Christ.

The Crusaders were, of course, wrong. And despite the scars these terrorist acts left on the Muslim psyche, Muslims have never blamed the entire Christian community for the actions of these monsters, nor do Muslims today believe that mainstream Christians are of the same character as the Crusaders.

And the proof that Muslims always understood the difference between these vile “Christian” terrorists and true Christianity can be seen in how the Muslims chose to treat the Christians of the Holy Land after the Crusader kingdom was defeated in 1187 C.E. Saladin, the Muslim leader who retook Jerusalem after the pivotal battle of Hattin, was in a position to avenge the horror perpetrated by the Crusaders, not just a century before, but in his contemporary times. For the Crusader kingdom was still led by vicious killers, men like Reginald of Kerak, the Osama Bin Laden of his day. Reginald was a French nobleman consumed with such hatred of Muslims that he launched regular terrorist attacks on caravans passing near the kingdom, massacring civilians without remorse or pity. Reginald even organized a raid into the Muslim holy city of Mecca and was set upon invading Medina and desecrating the grave of Prophet Muhammad until Saladin’s forces routed him.

Reginald’s fanaticism was viewed with dismay by more moderate leaders in the Christian camp, who feared that these extremists tactics would create such outrage that the divided Muslim forces would find common cause and march upon Jerusalem. Their fears proved correct, and Reginald’s savagery gave Saladin the rallying cry he needed to mount a unified military response, which toppled the century-old Crusader kingdom.

When the Muslim army bore down upon the gates of Jerusalem, the Christian population prepared itself for what they expected would be terrifying retribution. And yet, at the moment of his greatest victory, Saladin remembered the rules of war established by Prophet Muhammad over five hundred years before. Instead of doing to the Christians what they had done to the Muslims, he gave the Christian population a general amnesty. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they had turned the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s holiest sites in the city, into a church, and banned Muslim entry into the city. But when Saladin took Jerusalem back, he chose not to do the same to his Christian adversaries. He guaranteed protection for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the right for Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land. Saladin further allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem after Christians had expelled them.

Saladin’s magnanimity was renowned by medieval historians, even among Christians, who were perplexed that an “infidel” would show mercy while the “true believers” had chosen barbarity. Saladin’s example single-handedly shattered many Christians’ negative perception of Islam and made them question whether the cruel and backwards version of Christianity that they was being sold by the Church of the time actually reflected the teachings of Christ.

Saladin’s willingness to overcome the emotional need for revenge and the foolish simplicity of judging an entire community by the action of an evil few marked him as one of the greatest men of history. Saladin was tested by God and history, and he was found worthy.

So now, eight hundred years later, we in America are being similarly tested. We are under attack by a small group of deadly Muslim fanatics. We can choose to use that as an excuse to brand the entire Muslim community as our enemy Or we can follow the best that is in our historical tradition and differentiate truth from falsehood. We can scapegoat a billion innocents, or we can work with those people to unite against a few extremely dangerous and destructive individuals.

How we as Americans choose to react to the planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero will reveal who we are as a people. And the judgment of history will place us either in the company of villains like the Crusaders, who cared not for the difference between the innocent and the guilty, or in the company of noble heroes like Saladin, who are honored even by their adversaries.

I have lived in America long enough to know that despite the Crusader rhetoric in the media, we are a nation of Saladins at heart.

A Muslim Soldier’s View From Fort Hood

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Major Nidal Malik Hasan is a murderer and has brought great shame upon every American Muslim in the armed forces. 

There are currently over 10,000 Muslim soldiers in the U.S. military, men and women who are patriotic and love their country and their fellow service members. Hasan’s evil actions, the murder of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, have now brought those honorable soldiers’ loyalties into question. 

The Islamophobe community on the Internet is trumpeting how Hasan’s behavior is reflective of the threat Americans face from their Muslim neighbors, and how radical Islamists have infiltrated the ranks of our military. Calls for purging the military, and perhaps even the United States, of its Muslim members have already begun. 

Today there are dozens of families mourning the attack on their loved ones by a fellow-in-arms. And there are hundreds of Muslims at Fort Hood who knew Hasan and are stunned that he would betray their country and their community with such cold, calculated ease. Hasan’s rampage has truly shattered many more lives than we can begin to imagine.

I spoke today with a friend who is a Muslim soldier stationed at Fort Hood. He is a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a recent convert to Islam. He agreed to share his perspective with me if I granted him anonymity. So we will call him Richard.

Richard is exactly the kind of soldier we need to protect our country from those that seek to do us harm. A combat veteran who has served in Iraq, Richard became interested in studying Islam initially as a strategic means of understanding his adversary in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But as he began to study the religion’s teachings, he became struck by how different they were from what was being claimed by men like Osama Bin Laden. 

Instead of a religion of hatred and misogyny, he found an Islam of love, wisdom, and human empowerment. His strategic analysis blossomed into spiritual identification, and Richard embraced Islam just over two years ago. As a “revert” (as Muslim converts like to call themselves, since Islam believes everyone is born a Muslim), Richard was faced with the added challenge of being a soldier in a conflict in which members of his new faith were on the other side.

Richard decided that the best way he could be true to his military oath and his religious convictions was to use his position as an American Muslim soldier to build bridges of understanding. He currently works as a liaison between the U.S. military and Muslim leaders in the Middle East to garner their support against the common enemy – the Islamist radicals who oppose both the American military and the mainstream Muslim community that wants nothing to do with their extremism. Richard has very much been in the forefront of our military’s efforts to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world.

Richard first met Major Hasan in July 2009 when the latter arrived at Fort Hood. According to Richard, there are between 300-500 Muslim families that live at Fort Hood, and everyone in the community is associated with the base either as a service member or in a civilian support capacity. The Muslim community is largely South Asian, hailing from Indian, Pakistani, and other sub-continental backgrounds. The community is prosperous, with many doctors and professionals at its core. The Muslims at Fort Hood live in harmony with their neighbors, and from Richard’s experience, most were happy to be associated with the U.S. military and viewed their work through a lens of profound patriotism.

Richard assumed that the newcomer, Nidal Malik Hasan, shared the values of the other Muslim community members. He found Hasan to be a friendly man who did not initially appear to be a radical, and they bonded as fellow Muslims on the base. Richard and Hasan would often pray together, and during the last 10 days of Ramadan, the two men secluded themselves inside the local mosque for a period of reflection and worship. 

And, fatefully, Richard and Hasan prayed side-by-side at the mosque the morning of the massacre, after they had engaged in a friendly competition to see who could recite the azan, the call to prayer, first. After prayers that morning, Hasan left while Richard and a few others remained behind to recite the Qur’an. Hasan appeared relaxed and not in any way troubled or nervous. 

A few hours later, Hasan fired two guns on his fellow soldiers and forever shattered dozens of lives, as well as the peaceful community of trust and respect that Muslims had built at Fort Hood.

Richard said that he and other members of the Muslim community are struggling to understand how this happened. Looking back, Richard said that he did find some aspects of Hasan’s worldview troubling, but he had no indication that the man was capable of mass murder.

Richard remembered one of his first conversations with Hasan. The newly-arrived army psychiatrist told Richard that he felt the “war on terror” was really a war against Islam, and that perhaps Muslims should not be part of the US military. 

Richard told Nidal that he disagreed. First, he did not believe as a Muslim that the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a grand conspiracy to destroy Islam. And second, even if a Muslim believed that a specific military action was wrong, he could not escape responsibility for it just by resigning from the military. The reality was that his or her taxes would still be used to fund the campaign, and so American Muslims were invested in the situation whether they liked it or not.

Richard’s view as a Muslim was that he had a responsibility to do good in whatever situation he found himself in. He was a Muslim in the American military at a time when the United States was in conflict with areas of the Muslim world. Richard’s role was to do his part as a Muslim by creating new friendships and partnerships between the American military and the Muslim community.

But Hasan clearly did not share Richard’s point of view, and Richard decided not to get into an argument with a fellow solider he had just met. And so the two moved on from their dispute and established a friendship as fellow Muslims in the Fort Hood community.

As Richard got to know Hasan better over the next several months, he found the major to be a pious man who was at the mosque daily. But Richard also began to garner a sense of Hasan’s political views that troubled him. A black-and-white outlook on Islam and life that had no room for nuance or debate. Hasan had apparently attended a mosque led by an imam named Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemeni scholar whose political views Richard disagrees with. 

Awlaki is a controversial figure among Muslims, and has been accused by the Congressional Joint Inquiry on 9/11 of serving as a “spiritual advisor” to two of the September 11 hijackers. While Richard is careful to say that he respects much of Awlaki’s historical scholarship, he rejects his political ideology, which posits a black-and-white, us versus them, view of America’s relationship with the Islamic world.

Richard’s own study of Islam has revealed that such a harsh dualistic approach to religion is very much against the history of Islamic thought and practice. Indeed, debate is central to the Islamic tradition, and mainstream Muslims have always understood that true faith requires openness to nuance and subtlety. In my novel, Mother of the Believers, which tells the story of Islam from the perspective of Aisha, Prophet Muhammad’s wife, I discuss how the early Muslim community engaged in profound debate and discourse in the search for truth. An embrace of subtlety and intellectual sophistication is inherent to the Islamic tradition.

But this kind of subtlety is anathema to fundamentalists of any religion or ideology, who are incapable of seeing other points of view. And the backlash against my book by Muslim fundamentalists reveals the deep-seated fear that such people have of mainstream Muslims’ efforts to take back the discourse from those who cannot accept shades of grey in life and faith.

Richard does not know how heavily Hasan was influenced by fundamentalist thinkers like Awlaki. But the major’s views were definitely troubling. Richard described an incident where Hasan made some anti-Semitic comments about Jews as a nation being “cursed by God” in Islam. Richard responded that the Qur’an does not condemn any group of people collectively, and that no one is born “cursed” by their ancestry. 

Indeed, even though there are verses that are critical of some Jews who were political opponents to Prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an states very clearly that it is speaking only in relation to those who do evil, not those who do good, and that God judges people by their actions. (3:75-76). Another verse is even more explicit:

“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Christians and the Sabians — any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)

When Richard made this point, Hasan became flustered and simply responded that as a “revert” Richard clearly did not know Islam as well as he did, someone who had been raised as a Muslim. But from Richard’s point of view, Hasan was simply regurgitating cultural attitudes and prejudices and cloaking them in the form of religion. And in the process he was blinding himself to what Islam actually taught.

A second incident that revealed the hints of radicalism inside Hasan’s worldview took place when Richard once asked a group of Muslims on the base whether they would consider the Taliban to be members of “Ahl-as-Sunna,” the Arabic term for those who follow the Prophet’s tradition and life example. It is a short-hand among many Muslims to denote those who are “mainstream” versus those who are “misguided.” Hasan became angry that Richard could even ask such a question, but the other Muslims rose to Richard’s defense, pointing out that the Taliban are a patchwork of a variety of groups, many of whom are clearly way out of the mainstream Islam as practiced by the vast majority of believers. Richard was taken aback by Hasan’s sudden anger at what had been seconds before a friendly discussion.

Perhaps most troubling are Hasan’s views on suicide bombing. The major has posted his opinions on the Internet, suggesting that he viewed at least some suicide bombers as the moral equivalent of soldiers who throw themselves on grenades to save others. Readers of my work will know that I have stated very clearly and with deep conviction that suicide bombing is a violation of Islam’s basic rules of war (and I have received death threats from radicals who disagree with me).

Richard shared my views, and when Hasan attempted to rationalize suicide bombing in a conversation, Richard told him in no uncertain terms that suicide is forbidden in the Qur’an (4:29). An argument ensued, and then an Islamic scholar who was present told Hasan that Richard was right. Suicide cannot be defended under traditional Islamic law, regardless of efforts by some modern scholars to rationalize it. Hasan was unhappy to hear this point of view, and the men decided to change the topic.

I asked Richard whether he believed that Hasan was motivated by religious radicalism in his murderous actions. Richard, with great sadness, said that he believed this was true. He also believed that psychological factors from Hasan’s job as an army psychiatrist added to his pathos. Hasan had spent months listening to horror stories from returning soldiers about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it had hardened his position on these wars. The news that he would be deployed overseas to Iraq, to a war that he rejected, may have pushed him over the edge.

But Richard does not excuse Hasan. As a Muslim, he finds Hasan’s religious perspectives to be fundamentally misguided. And as a soldier, he finds Hasan’s actions cowardly and evil. Hasan was not being sent into combat – he would have been working in a secure office in the Green Zone far away from the life and death dangers that Richard and his fellow combat veterans face every day. For Richard, a Muslim convert and patriotic soldier, Hasan’s actions were those of a sinner and a villain, one who will be held accountable by the U.S. justice system in this world, and by Allah in the Hereafter.

Listening to Richard’s perspective, I felt many emotions. Sorrow that good men and women like him will now have to defend their patriotism from those who want to use one madman’s actions to target an entire community. Pride that Muslim soldiers like Richard continue to do their duties with honor, despite the two worlds they are forced to straddle.

And hope. That despite the clouds of evil that seek to hide the truth, the message of Islam, a faith of love, wisdom and community, will always shine through.

Thank you Richard for your service. May Allah bless you and all your fellow soldiers who risk their lives daily so that people of all faiths can be free in the United States of America.

Why Suicide Bombings Violate Islam

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The evil of suicide bombings must be defeated by Muslims, as it violates every tenet of Islam.  In the past week, at least 150 people were killed in Iraq in a wave of suicide bombings which have torn apart any illusion of security in that tragic country. 


As a Muslim, as a human begin, I am filled with horror at images of men, women and children torn to shreds by the madness of people who turn themselves into incendiary devices.  And I am filled with outrage and fury at the diabolic forces that seek to present this monstrous, murderous, terrorist activity as somehow sanctioned by my faith.


Let me put this in as simple terms as possible.  Suicide bombings, indeed all forms of terrorism, are rejected by mainstream Islam, and always have been. 


The Holy Qur’an says it in very clear, without any ambiguity:


“Do not kill yourselves, for truly God is merciful.  And if any do that in rancor and injustice, soon shall We cast them in the Fire. ” (Surah 4:29-30)


The Qur’an makes it clear that there are rules to human conflict and limits that must be followed:


“And fight in the way of God against those who fight you.  But do not transgress the limits. Truly God does not love transgressors.” (Surah 2:190)


As I discuss in my new novel Mother of the Believers, traditional Islamic law established very clear rules of war based on the practice of Prophet Muhammad and his early followers:  Do not kill civilians.  Do not kill women and children.  Do not harm priests of of other religions.  Do not destroy the environment.


Abu Bakr, the first leader of Islam after Prophet Muhammad, gave these commandments when Muslims were fighting the forces of the Byzantine Empire, which had sought to destroy the new religion and killed the Prophet’s ambassador:


“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules to keep by heart: Do not commit treachery, nor depart from the right path. You must not mutilate, neither kill a child or aged man or woman. Do not destroy a palm tree, nor burn it with fire and do not cut any fruitful tree. You must not slay any of the flock or herds or the camels, save for your subsistence. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them to that to which they have devoted their lives. You are likely, likewise, to find people who will present to you meals of many kinds. You may eat; but do no forget to mention the name of God.”


Muslims always took great pride in the fact that they acted honorably, even in war.  They looked with contempt upon the warriors of Europe, who slaughtered civilians mercilessly during the Crusades.  When Saladin defeated the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem and took the holy city, he spared its Christian populace and pointedly said: “We will not do to you what you did to us.” 


His comment was in reference to the First Crusade, where Christian “holy warriors” massacred tens of thousands of civilians upon taking Jerusalem in 1099.  Muslims were slaughtered en masse, the Jews of Jerusalem were locked into its main synagogue and set on fire.  And Arab Christians were murdered by their co-religionists for the sin of having dark skin and looking like the enemy.  The Gesta Francorum, a Crusader chronicle of their activities, proudly notes that the “the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.”


In the town of Ma’arra in Syria, the Crusaders committed the ultimate atrocity — cannibalism.  As Crusader chronicler Radulph of Caen wrote: “In Ma’arra, our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.”


To this day, the Crusaders are referred to in the Muslim world as “the cannibals of Ma’arra.”


The Muslims looked at this kind of atrocity committed in the name of God as unworthy of any great religion, and held themselves above such monstrous behavior.


So how is it possible that its modern equivalent, the mass murder of civilians through suicide bombings, should now be done in the name of Islam?


In Dying to Win, Robert Pape, a scholar at the University of Chicago, analyzes the history and motivation of suicide bombers.  Many people who read the book will be surprised to learn that suicide bombing was a tactic that was first used regularly by Hindu terrorists known as the Tamil Tigers.  One of the most prominent victims of this tactic, Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, was killed on May 21, 1999 by a female suicide bomber from the Tamil Tigers.  According to Pape, Gandhi’s murder marks the first use of the “suicide vest” which has become the tool of suicide bombers throughout the world today.


A full chronology of the history of suicide bombing among Tamil extremists can be found at:


(A warning that the link contains graphic photos of the carnage caused by suicide bombers.)


One of the greatest tragedies of modern Islam is that Muslim extremists began to adopt this horrific tactic of suicide bombing over the past two decades.  Palestinian militants, arguing that they had no other effective way to combat Israeli oppression, began to adopt these tactics, and the image of the “Muslim suicide bomber” began to take hold in the media .


I remember at the time most Muslims I spoke with expressed disgust at these horrific acts, but some added the caveat — “What else can these poor people do?  They have  no tanks or jets to take on Israeli tanks and jets.  This is their only way to fight.”


My response then and now is that Islam is a religion that has established rules of war for a reason.  Human conflict is perhaps inevitable, but unless there is a sense of morality among warriors, even among the warriors of the oppressed, human beings will descend into monstrosity.  The nobility of a cause is forever tainted when dipped in the blood of innocents.  The argument that Israeli military activities kill countless Palestinian civilians, so Muslims are free to target their civilians in response, is not an argument that is supported by the noble spirit of Islam.  As Saladin pointed out, the Muslims would not inflict on the Christians the atrocities that the Crusaders had inflicted on their victims, simple because we as Muslims were better than that.


And I warned those who would excuse the suicide bombers as long as they targeted “the enemy,” that in Islam all human beings are brothers and sisters and have rights before God and man.  I predicted that once some Muslims turned their back on Islam’s strict rules of war and went beneath themselves in order “to win,” the wrath of Allah would be unleashed upon us.  If we allowed suicide bombings against non-Muslims, then soon would God punish our sins by unleashing the same horror on Muslims.


Tragically, my prediction came true.  Suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan now kill thousands of Muslims a year, innocent people going to pray or shop in the marketplace.  Their only crime being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


This kind of monstrous behavior is not Islam.  It never has been Islam. And it will never be Islam, no matter what kind of self-serving justifications the terrorists use. 


For those who wish to learn more about mainstream Muslim positions about war, terrorism and suicide bombing, I refer you here:


It is time for Muslims and people of all faiths to stand together in love and justice and end this horrific scourge of terrorism and suicide bombing on humanity.


I look forward to the day that the world will no longer associate such monstrosity with my beloved faith.  And that one day, mankind will believe that Islam represents what its name stands for: “Peace.”



The Big Lie About Muslim Silence on Terrorism

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Today I had to refute yet again the Big Lie that hounds the Muslim community — that we fail to speak out and condemn terrorism.

I was being interviewed by the wonderful radio host Dr. Alvin Augustus Jones about my new novel Mother of the Believers. Dr. Jones is a deeply spiritual man whose show always features uplifting themes and speakers. And he went out of his way to make me feel welcome.

But as a good journalist, he had to ask the question he felt his audience wanted answered — “Why do mainstream Muslims fail to speak out against terrorism?

It is a question that I get almost every single day, and it leaves me flabbergasted. I often respond to that question with one of my own — “Why does the media fail to report on Muslims who condemn terrorism?”

Since before 2001, every single major Muslim group in the United States has been outspoken in their condemnation of terrorism and the murder of innocent people in the name of Islam. And yet the media ignores it. Every single time.

Don’t believe me?

Go to

That site lists links to dozens of major Muslims group and Islamic scholars who have condemned terrorism as a violation of the fundamental moral precepts of Islam.

Want more?

Here’s a compilation of Islamic fatwas against terrorism by Juan Cole, scholar of the Middle East and author of Engaging the Muslim World.

Cole’s list was compiled after Thomas Friedman wrote an outrageous column in The New York Times claiming that “no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama Bin Laden.”

Friedman knew (or should have known as an alleged Middle East expert) that what he was saying was a lie. But he chose to publish this garbage anyway, giving it the full credibility of the Times.

What was so shocking was that Friedman’s column was published on July 8, 2005. But three months before, on March 11, 2005, a group of Spanish imams issued a fatwa against Osama Bin Laden:

So what is going on here?

As one of the few Muslims who has worked inside Hollywood for the past 7 years as a writer and producer, I can only explain this shocking lie that has become a national meme as the product of an intentional media agenda.

There is a real political agenda inside the media itself to keep Islam as the enemy, and to portray mainstream Muslims as a fifth column inside America. The idea that your Muslim neighbors are silently supporting Bin Laden sells newspapers. It captures the attention of viewers of the nightly news. And it furthers the ambitions of politicians who need a rallying point to get votes.

As a Muslim and a patriot I don’t know what more to do except to keep telling the truth every time I get the opportunity.

But I ask my non-Muslim friends this question. How would you feel if your community was being falsely portrayed as being sympathetic to murderers by the media? How would you feel if every single thing you do to condemn and fight such criminals is intentionally ignored? What would you conclude about the character and motivation of people that continue to spread a lie against millions of your fellow human beings?

If you can take a moment to consider, you might get a sense of the true burden your Muslim neighbors carry. The world wants us to be the monsters. When we condemn and fight the monsters, no one notices or cares. It’s like the army telling a soldier who has just survived a hellish firefight that he was never in the war in the first place, and condemning him for his cowardice.

It would be a formula for despair for most people. And yet what is remarkable is that Muslim groups continue to patiently work against terrorism in accordance with their faith, even though they receive no credit for their deeds. They are secure that everything is in the hands of God. And, as the Holy Qur’an says, that the light of truth will never be put out by the mouths of liars.

Last year, I attended the Pilgrimage to Mecca, a powerful, life-changing event that I chronicled on my personal blog at

One of the most remarkable stories that I heard when I was there was the tale of Abraham, who Muslims believe founded the first settlement at Mecca with his son Ishmael. The Angel Gabriel appeared to him and told Abraham to climb a mountain and call mankind to God.

Abraham was incredulous, and responded that there was no one in the barren desert valley except him and his family. Who would hear the call?

And Gabriel smiled and said: “Just call mankind to the truth. God will make sure it is heard.”