America needs Islam — not to convert people to the religion, but as the antidote to the toxic and threatening ideology of ISIS.
Bombs cannot destroy ideas. Decapitating the leadership of ISIS will not stop violent extremism. Our efforts to dismantle al-Qaeda by killing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (which is now ISIS) by killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not deter other groups from rising in an environment of tyranny and weak central governments.
This is the message we as American Muslims can convey to Muslims worldwide in isolating ISIS: it is based on the Islamic theology of life against cults of death. It is also founded in the Quranic tradition of advancing civilization, not destroying it. Let us examine the contrast between Islam and ISIS.
ISIS calls people to death. Islam responds to the Prophet who calls you to life (8:24) and calls for serving the public interest (3:104).
The purpose of religion and the prophetic tradition of all Abrahamic faiths is to advance civilization and raise the standard of justice and equity in our societies along with pursuing what is beneficial and preventing what is harmful to people.
ISIS coerces and punishes Muslims who are accused of not attending prayers. Islam is no compulsion of religion (2:256).
I saw a YouTube video of Muslim extremists caning two men in the center of town because they did not attend Friday prayers. It is a form of religious policing, an anathema to the Prophet Muhammad’s warning that we cannot use religion to deny the rights of other people and be excessive in shoving religion down the throats of communities.
ISIS spreads cruelty. Islam is spreading mercy (21:107).
The Prophet is assigned the role in the Quran as a mercy to all the worlds: the world of the environment or the world of politics or the world of the needy or the world of the disadvantaged. ISIS spreads cruelty. Its beheading of Westerners is a glimpse of its treatment of all people. It is detestable.
ISIS executes people under the rule of their iron fist. Islam is establishing the rule of law (16:90).
Like Judaism, the law is central to the faith, and it requires human interaction with scripture to develop and secure rights on the following: life, mind, faith, property and family. Those are the five goals of Islamic law, agreed upon with unanimity by all Islamic scholars. ISIS nullifies this important tenet in jurisprudence and executes people under the rule of their iron fist.
ISIS confronts others and spreads intimidation Islam is engaging others (16:125).
God tells us to invite others and work together in enhancing and beautifying society, and He admonishes us to do that in a constructive way with wisdom. ISIS confronts others and spreads intimidation and fear. It cares not for the opinions of others. It only wants to pulverize and create a puritanical state based on its twisted interpretations.
ISIS is locked into the past. Islam is looking to the future (28:83).
The future belongs to the God-conscious, whether it refers to the Children of Israel in their liberation against Pharaoh or the followers of Jesus in their plight to preserve the Word of God, the Gospel. God tells us to look forward and persevere with patience during current challenges. ISIS is locked into the past. It only sees what it cherry picks from a revised history. It only wants power without responsibility to serve humanity.
ISIS is based on hate and vengeance. Islam is forgiving and persevering (16:127).
The Prophet Muhammad warned his followers never to hate people but respond to evil out of love for God. Patience and perseverance can supply Muslims with the fuel to overcome oppression without being oppressive themselves. Too many times we have seen revolutions in the Middle East replace tyrants with other forms of tyranny. Hence the need to step back and connect with God is important to create positive change.
ISIS responds to evil with evil. Islam is repelling evil with goodness so those with whom there is animosity become your close friends (41:34).
Tyranny and occupation are rampant in the Middle East. The Islamic response is limited to what is just and not deviating towards transgression. God warns us that a response to evil cannot be evil. Instead, the Quran calls for Muslims to engage in social not religious conversions, from fear to friendship, from separatism to interdependence.
The Prophet Muhammad, who was a head-of-state as well as a prophet, established a society that is the model to all Muslims. That state was declared a sanctuary, protecting and securing all members of his community including non-Muslims. He said that the Jews were a community alongside the Muslims. They had their religion and the right to practice their customs and religious laws. Fourteen hundred years later, the advancement of civilization made by Islam remains idealistic to all Muslims today. At the very least, let these ideals can extinguish the venom from ISIS.
That’s the message that needs to be conveyed to Muslims worldwide in order to isolate ISIS from Islam and provide Islam as the antidote to the ideological distortion of ISIS and its destructive ambitions. That’s the substance in countering the narrative of violent extremism. It needs a vehicle and that’s where media, government and civil society can help.
Salam Al Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. Salam written extensively on Islam, human rights, democracy, Middle East politics, and the Muslim American communities. Salam also works as an advisor to several political, civic and academic institutions seeking to understand the role of Islam and Muslims in America and throughout the world. You can learn more about Salam’s work at http://www.mpac.org Salam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.