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Saving Our Muslim Youth from the Disease of Radicalism

Words cannot describe the sadness and horror so many Muslims felt this weekend – a weekend when they, like other Americans, gathered with their families to give thanks – when they heard the news that a 19 year-old Muslim from Oregon tried to detonate a van filled with explosives among a crowd of innocent Americans celebrating the holidays.

This event comes on the heels of another video recording by the extremist terror leader Anwar al-Awlaki encouraging the killing of Americans.

As an American Muslim educator, who has been actively working against violent extremism in the Muslim community for the past 7 years, I am thankful that it was someone from the Muslim community who initially alerted law enforcement to this individual when they saw signs of concern. This follows an excellent pattern of cooperation between Muslim congregations in the US and law enforcement officials wherein at least one-third of potential incidents were averted through active Muslim vigilance and self-patrol.

At the same time, this incident demonstrates that we have more work to do in the Muslim community to root out the attraction to the violent extremist ideology among some Muslims. Although, it would be impossible to root it out 100%, I believe we have to do more both locally and in the online world to destroy the roots of this disease of extremist radicalism. With this audio – and its written transcript – I hope to encourage other Muslim intellectuals, callers and scholars to take a stronger online presence to counteract those whom we have no access to in our local communities.

In this targeted audio, I wish to address those young Muslims out there who are either sympathizers or supporters of radical extremist Muslim figures. Of course, such individuals would disagree with this characterization and instead imagine these people to somehow be freedom fighters or courageous heroes who stand up to the oppressors of today. I fully intend to show you that you are wrong in this belief.

Firstly, Ibn Taymiyyah has correctly said, “One of the fundamental principles of Islam is to bring benefit (maslahah) to society, or at least to increase it if it cannot be complete – and to reduce harm to the greatest degree possible.” Amongst the many evidences for this principle are:

يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ

Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties.  [2:185]

عن أبي سـعـيـد الخدري رضي الله عنه ، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال : لا ضرر ولا ضرار

Narrated Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allah (saas) said, “[In Islam] There should be neither harming nor returning harm.” [Ibn Majah]

And also from the Seerah, we see the Prophet (saas) considering the consequences of his decisions such as in the treaty of al-Hudaybiyyah. Despite being upon the right and despite his capability to fight, some of the Companions asked why they should accept the humiliation of the conditions of the treaty, yet Allah called it a manifest victory (فَتْحًا مُبِينًا).

Yet we can see that the consequences of the extremist plots today are far from bringing any benefit or goodness either to the Muslim society or the general human society as a whole.  Let us consider just some of the consequences of each and every plot since 9-11. They have led to 2 destructive wars, the enactment of several governmental policies that have created both civil and legal hardships upon Muslim and non-Muslim alike, the imprisonment of countless young men and women and a general rise in anti-Islamic sentiment and actions in this country and in other Western nations that has even led to the abuse and burning of the Quran.  Someone even attempted to burn down the Islamic center in Oregon where the alleged young Somali extremist sometimes prayed. Can anyone in their right mind consider this to be for the good of anyone? How many people have left Islam or come to doubt it as a result of these acts?

Next, to characterize the conflicts of today – or the statements of their leaders – as a war against Islam is not a fair accusation. Among the reasons that this is a very unfair accusation are that firstly, though some of their leaders have made statements against the Islamic religion, others have not, and in fact some have gone out of their way to say they are not against Islam. President George Bush may have made several questionable remarks in his time, but he was also the first president to go to a mosque to deliver a speech in which he praised Islam. President Obama has followed suit by speaking to entire Muslim societies when he delivered speeches in Egypt and Indonesia.  Leaders in both the FBI and DHS have worked cooperatively with Muslims in this country to address concerns and sensitivities.

Secondly, these countries that are sometimes characterized as warring against Islam see themselves only as helping one group of Muslims against another group of Muslims, but not fighting all Muslims in total.  For example, how could we characterize the US as fighting Islam when they were the ones that helped to establish a shariah court system in Afghanistan and also  helped to liberate that same country from the clutches of communism?

Thirdly, America has not made religious hardships in the practice of Islam upon Muslims living within its boundaries, nor the Muslims in lands in which they have a dominant military presence. Examples include the acceptance of Islam by large numbers of servicemen in the Iraq wars, the sensitivity courses run by American agencies to educate their personnel on Islam, and that over half of US foreign aid goes to Muslim nations. Many Muslim preachers have rightly said that one can practice Islam more freely in the US than you can in a number of “Muslim” countries.

The real issue here is that America – as other countries and empires have done from time immemorial – is acting internationally upon its strategic interests.

As far as America is concerned, some are confused as to whether or not they are bound by the laws of the land. Yet there is no doubt that the Islamic religion commands believers to obey the laws of the land they live in, even if it be one ruled by non-Muslims.  Muslim scholars consider citizenship, or an entry visa, to be a covenant (‘aqd) held between the citizen, or visa holder, and the state; an agreement which guarantees security (amaan) in exchange for certain obligations such as obeying the laws of the land. We must remember that covenants are considered sacredly binding in Islam.  Allah commands us in the Quran:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَوْفُوا بِالْعُقُودِ

O you who believe! Fulfill your obligations. [5:1]

Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir of this ayah, “Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and others said that `obligations’ here means treaties. Ibn Jarir mentioned that there is a consensus for this view. Ibn Jarir also said that it means treaties, such as the alliances that they used to conduct.”

And later in the same surah Allah states:

وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. [5:8]

Ibn Kathir states the following in regards to this ayah, “… do not be driven by your hatred for some people into abandoning justice, for justice is ordained for everyone, in all situations. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Zayd bin Aslam said, “The Messenger of Allah and his Companions were in the area of Al-Hudaybiyyah when the idolators prevented them from visiting the House, and that was especially hard on them. Later on, some idolators passed by them from the east intending to perform `Umrah. So the Companions of the Prophet said, `Let us prevent those (from `Umrah) just as their fellow idolators prevented us.’ Thereafter, Allah sent down this ayah.”

This issue is of critical importance in two predominant circumstances today: 1) where someone considers terrorizing or making war against their fellow citizens, and 2) when an American citizen or legal resident goes overseas to join a foreign army.  This second case has happened in three distinct places in the most recent past; Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan.  Yet some Muslims have been deluded into thinking that they “need” to do this in order to “help” their fellow Muslims. First, let us consider the following hadith:

حَدَّثَنَا حُذَيْفَةُ بْنُ الْيَمَانِ قَالَ

مَا مَنَعَنِي أَنْ أَشْهَدَ بَدْرًا إِلَّا أَنِّي خَرَجْتُ أَنَا وَأَبِي حُسَيْلٌ قَالَ فَأَخَذَنَا كُفَّارُ قُرَيْشٍ قَالُوا إِنَّكُمْ تُرِيدُونَ مُحَمَّدًا فَقُلْنَا مَا نُرِيدُهُ مَا نُرِيدُ إِلَّا الْمَدِينَةَ فَأَخَذُوا مِنَّا عَهْدَ اللَّهِ وَمِيثَاقَهُ لَنَنْصَرِفَنَّ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ وَلَا نُقَاتِلُ مَعَهُ فَأَتَيْنَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَأَخْبَرْنَاهُ الْخَبَرَ فَقَالَ انْصَرِفَا نَفِي لَهُمْ بِعَهْدِهِمْ وَنَسْتَعِينُ اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِمْ

It has been reported on the authority of Hudhaifa ibnul-Yaman who said: Nothing prevented me from being present at the Battle of Badr except this incident. I came out with my father Husail (to participate in the Battle), but we were caught by the pagans of Quraish. They said: “(Do) you intend to go to Muhammad?”  We said: “We do not intend to go to him, but we wish to go (back) to Medina.”  So they took from us a covenant in the name of God that we would turn back to Medina and would not fight on the side of Muhammad (saas). So, we came to the Messenger of Allah (saas) and related the incident to him. He said: “Both, of you proceed (to Medina); we will fulfill the covenant made with them and seek God’s help against them.” (Muslim)

Here the Prophet (saas) prevented Hudhaifa and his father from participating with him so that they wouldn’t violate their promise that they gave to the pagans of Quraish. How much more are we then obligated to fulfill our trusts in the convoluted times of today? Secondly, we must also understand that each of these battles today is not a battle to raise up the banner of religion, but a civil war in which the true purpose is unclear – and we are forbidden from entering into civil wars where Muslim kills Muslim which is the overwhelming outcome in each of these three war zones.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ

عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَنَّهُ قَالَ مَنْ خَرَجَ مِنْ الطَّاعَةِ وَفَارَقَ الْجَمَاعَةَ فَمَاتَ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً وَمَنْ قَاتَلَ تَحْتَ رَايَةٍ عِمِّيَّةٍ يَغْضَبُ لِعَصَبَةٍ أَوْ يَدْعُو إِلَى عَصَبَةٍ أَوْ يَنْصُرُ عَصَبَةً فَقُتِلَ فَقِتْلَةٌ جَاهِلِيَّةٌ وَمَنْ خَرَجَ عَلَى أُمَّتِي يَضْرِبُ بَرَّهَا وَفَاجِرَهَا وَلَا يَتَحَاشَى مِنْ مُؤْمِنِهَا وَلَا يَفِي لِذِي عَهْدٍ عَهْدَهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُ

On the authority of Abu Hurairah that he heard the Prophet (saas) say, “One who defected from the obedience to the ruler and separated from the main body of the Muslims – if he died in that state – would die the death of one belonging to the days of pre-Islamic ignorance (would not die as a Muslim). One who fights under the banner of a people who are blind to the cause for which they are fighting, or one who gets angered for a sectarian cause, or calls people to a sectarian cause, or fights for a sectarian cause – if he is killed in this manner, he dies as one belonging to the days of pre-Islamic ignorance. Whosoever attacks my community indiscriminately killing the righteous and the wicked among them, not refraining from hurting the believers due to their faith and one who does not fulfill the covenant made with those who have been given a pledge of security – he has nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with him.  (Muslim)

How do we help the oppressed and downtrodden in these times you might then wonder? We help them by calling upon Allah with our sincere du’a remembering the authentic hadith:

عَنْ مُصْعَبِ بْنِ سَعْدٍ عَنْ أَبِيهِ

أَنَّهُ ظَنَّ أَنَّ لَهُ فَضْلًا عَلَى مَنْ دُونَهُ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ نَبِيُّ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنَّمَا يَنْصُرُ اللَّهُ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةَ بِضَعِيفِهَا بِدَعْوَتِهِمْ وَصَلَاتِهِمْ وَإِخْلَاصِهِمْ

Narrated Abu Mus’ab ibn Sa’d that he at one time believed he was more honorable than some of the other Companions of the Prophet (saas) whereupon the Prophet (saas) said, “Indeed, Allah aids this community (Ummah) by the supplication, prayer and sincerity of its weak ones.” (Nasaa’i – Saheeh)

How will this happen you might wonder? When we ourselves return to the obedience of our Creator by calling to that which is good.

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ

Allah does not change a people’s condition unless they change what is in their hearts. [13:11]

Instead of neglecting Allah’s command and fighting against the rulers, have we not turned to consider our own sins and our own distance from Him? If these people who fought against their rulers and who attack innocent and unaware civilians in such a cowardly manner by sneaking up on them to detonate hidden weapons – if these people were upon the truth then where is the victory? Where is the help of Allah? Instead we only see more difficulties following their actions – and this is nothing but the result of sin and disobedience to the rule of Allah. In the noble hadith we read,

قَالَ حُذَيْفَةُ بْنُ الْيَمَانِ

قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا كُنَّا بِشَرٍّ فَجَاءَ اللَّهُ بِخَيْرٍ فَنَحْنُ فِيهِ فَهَلْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ هَذَا الْخَيْرِ شَرٌّ قَالَ نَعَمْ قُلْتُ هَلْ وَرَاءَ ذَلِكَ الشَّرِّ خَيْرٌ قَالَ نَعَمْ قُلْتُ فَهَلْ وَرَاءَ ذَلِكَ الْخَيْرِ شَرٌّ قَالَ نَعَمْ قُلْتُ كَيْفَ قَالَ يَكُونُ بَعْدِي أَئِمَّةٌ لَا يَهْتَدُونَ بِهُدَايَ وَلَا يَسْتَنُّونَ بِسُنَّتِي وَسَيَقُومُ فِيهِمْ رِجَالٌ قُلُوبُهُمْ قُلُوبُ الشَّيَاطِينِ فِي جُثْمَانِ إِنْسٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ كَيْفَ أَصْنَعُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنْ أَدْرَكْتُ ذَلِكَ قَالَ تَسْمَعُ وَتُطِيعُ لِلْأَمِيرِ وَإِنْ ضُرِبَ ظَهْرُكَ وَأُخِذَ مَالُكَ فَاسْمَعْ وَأَطِعْ

Narrated Hudhaifa ibnul Yaman, I asked the Messenger of Allah (saas), “no doubt, we had an evil time (the days of Jahiliyya or pre-Islamic ignorance) and God brought us a good time (the Islamic period) through which we are now living. Will there be a bad time after this good time?” He (the Prophet) said: “Yes.”  I said: “Will there be a good time after this bad time?” He said: “Yes.”  I said: “Will there be a bad time after good time?” He said: “Yes.”  I asked: “How?”  Whereupon he said: “There will be leaders who will not be led by my guidance and who will not adopt my ways. There will be among them men who will have the hearts of devils in the bodies of human beings.”  I asked: “What should I do if I should live to see that time O’ Messenger of Allah?”  He replied: “You must listen to the ruler and carry out his orders, even if your back is flogged and your wealth is snatched, you must still listen and obey.” (Muslim)

قال شارح الطحاوية : ” أما لزوم طاعتهم وإن جاروا ، فلأنــه يترتب على الخروج عن طاعتهم من المفاســـد أضعاف ما يحصل من جورهــم ، بل في الصبر على جورهم تكفير السيئات ، ومضاعفة الأجور ، فإن الله تعالى ما سلطهــم علينا إلا لفساد أعمالنا ، والجزاء من جنس العمل

Ibn Abil-‘Izz al-Hanafi states on this issue: “And as for obeying the Rulers, even if they commit oppression, then this is because the evils and harms that arise on account of rebelling against them are numerous times more than that which occurs as a result of the oppression of the Rulers themselves. Rather, in having patience over their oppression there is expiation of sins, and a multiplication of the reward. For Allah did not empower them over us, except due to the corruption in our actions, and the recompense for an action is its like (al-jazaa’u min jins al-’amal).” Thus if we don’t like our rulers, then we should look into the mirror to see what we don’t like in our own selves!

Hence, it is upon us to strive in seeking forgiveness, repenting and purifying our actions. Indeed, Allah (swt) has said,

وَمَا أَصَابَكُمْ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُو عَنْ كَثِيرٍ

And whatever affliction befalls you, then it is from what your hands have earned, yet He pardons much. [42:30]

And His (swt) statement:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُوَلِّي بَعْضَ الظَّالِمِينَ بَعْضًا بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ

And thus do we turn some of the oppressors against others on account of what they used to earn. [6:129]

Ibn Kathir quotes in regards to this ayah, “A poet once said, ‘There is no hand, but Allah’s Hand is above it, and no wrongdoer but will be tested by another wrongdoer’.”

Hence, if the subjects (of a state) wish to save themselves from the oppression of the tyrannical ruler, then let them abandon oppression themselves. And from Malik bin Dinar (who said) that it has come in some of the (previous revealed) Books of Allah:

I am the King of the dominion, the hearts of the kings are in my Hand. So whoever obeyed me, I made them (the kings) a mercy over him, and whoever disobeyed me, I made them a vengeance upon him. So do not occupy yourselves with reviling the kings, but rather repent and I will make them compassionate upon you.

So our condition today as an Ummah is deplorable – we have abandoned tawhid on the greater societal scale, we are politically impotent, morally corrupt, devoid of manners, backward in the fields of science and technology – and this is the fault of each and every one of us. We have no other road to salvation except to turn back in repentance to Allah and strive harder to be on the character of our beloved Messenger (saas). Killing innocent people and espousing extremist ideology is only distancing us further from Our Lord and from His Mercy.

As for Anwar al-Awlaki and those who spread his ideology of terror and extremism, I call them sincerely back to the path of cooperation upon good and piety. I ask you by Allah to remember all the good that you did while you were here in America – your lectures on the Prophets, the Companions and the Hereafter resulted in the repentance and rectification of many people. You met many good people here in America – some who accepted Islam, and others who supported our causes even though they may not have followed our beliefs. How can you justify killing such innocent people who have done no wrong? I implore you by Allah to consider what you had accomplished in the past and compare it to the record of death, destruction, humiliation and misery you have led people to since you have gone on the path you are currently on. We believe that you are a person of intelligence and that if you consider this you will certainly repent for what you have been saying and return to the true path of moderation and righteousness. If not then you shall be guilty on the Day of Judgment for grievous sins and for misleading many by your words. I further warn people from listening to your words and being influenced by you until you repent.

I close by reminding all my brothers and sisters of some words that are worth their weight in diamonds, words that one cannot ignore and ideas that must be considered carefully. I begin with the words of our beloved Messenger (saas):

عَنْ طَرِيفٍ أَبِي تَمِيمَةَ قَالَ

شَهِدْتُ صَفْوَانَ وَجُنْدَبًا وَأَصْحَابَهُ وَهُوَ يُوصِيهِمْ فَقَالُوا هَلْ سَمِعْتَ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ شَيْئًا قَالَ سَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ مَنْ سَمَّعَ سَمَّعَ اللَّهُ بِهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ قَالَ وَمَنْ يُشَاقِقْ يَشْقُقْ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَقَالُوا أَوْصِنَا فَقَالَ إِنَّ أَوَّلَ مَا يُنْتِنُ مِنْ الْإِنْسَانِ بَطْنُهُ فَمَنْ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ لَا يَأْكُلَ إِلَّا طَيِّبًا فَلْيَفْعَلْ وَمَنْ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ لَا يُحَالَ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ الْجَنَّةِ بِمِلْءِ كَفِّهِ مِنْ دَمٍ أَهْرَاقَهُ فَلْيَفْعَلْ

Narrated Tareef Abi Tamima: I saw Safwan and Jundub and his companions when Jundab was advising them. They said, “Did you hear something from Allah’s Messenger (saas)?” He said, “I heard him saying, ‘Whoever does a good deed in order to show off, Allah will expose his intentions on the Day of Resurrection (before the people), and whoever puts the people into difficulties, Allah will put him into difficulties on the Day of Resurrection.” The people said (to Jundab), “Advise us.” He said, “The first part of the human body to rot (after death) is the stomach, so he who can eat nothing but pure food (Halal and earned lawfully) should do so, and he who does as much as he can that nothing intervene between him and Paradise by not shedding even a handful of blood, (murdering) should do so.” (Bukhari)

So ask yourselves – do you really expect that Allah will reward you for creating so many difficulties for so many people? Are you safe from the Hellfire when you have not only attempted to shed a handful of blood, but indeed barrels of blood? Consider the wise words of the great Tabi’ee Mutarrif ibn Abdillah who was asked by the Khawarij why he didn’t join them in their battle and he replied:

لأن يسألني الله تعالى يوم القيامة فيقول: يا مطرف ألا فعلت، أحب إلي من أن يقول لم فعلت

“For Allah to ask me on the Day of Judgment, why didn’t you kill someone is far more beloved to me than for Him to ask me why I killed someone.”

And Allah knows best.


Credit: I would personally like to thank my dear teacher and friend Sh. Waleed Basyouni for his time, mentoring and assistance in developing much of this post, yet I have no doubt that it could be better. Whatever among these points could have been said better, more concisely or more fluidly is through no fault of anyone but myself and for this I seek Allah’s forgiveness and ask His help to make me better and more useful to His creation.

Request: I encourage and freely give my permission that the text and accompanying audio be used – without modification – by any Islamic school or center to be distributed among their members for the benefit of protecting our young and old, our new Muslims and those who have grown old in Islam, from the threat of violent extremism. To download, please click here.

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