Dr. Zuhdi Jasser speaks at a press conference supporting the NYPD's anti-terrorism programs.
Islam’s holiest month, Ramadan, is a time for intense personal and community reflection. As we abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset, we are given an opportunity to feel a new level of gratitude for our blessings, as well as to share more of what we have with the less fortunate. No denials, no excuses.
As Americans, we are free to accept or reject any tenet of our individual religions. Individuals are also free to reject faith entirely without fear of state reprisal. As a practicing Muslim, I fast during Ramadan, observe the five daily prayers, give to charity, read Qur’anic scripture, and adhere to a range of guidelines prescribed by my faith, such as abstinence from alcohol and pork.
I have practiced my faith not just as a civilian, but also as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. I have never experienced any conflict between my American identity and my Muslim faith. If anything, the fact that we have the freedom to practice any religion or none makes me freer to practice my faith with sincerity than I would be in any Muslim-majority society where a particular interpretation of the faith is coerced. In many Muslim-majority societies, the fast is enforced by law or social coercion, prayer times are mandated, and work schedules are modified during the month of Ramadan.
As a Muslim, I must ask myself: Is a coerced practice of Islam as meaningful—and as rewarded by God—as one freely chosen? The logical answer is no, that in order to sincerely practice one must have the choice not to. “Doing good works” requires no personal fortitude if no other option exists.
Freedom of religion is the first right in the US Constitution because without it, no other right can stand. The Founding Fathers, who espoused a range of personal views when it came to God and faith, shared a common commitment to individual liberty. It was their vision that America would be a nation wherein faith would be a matter of personal choice and the expression of it an inalienable and protected right. It is this understanding that my family embraced as patriotic Americans the moment they arrived here in the 1960s to escape the persecution of Syria’s Baathists.
Contrarily, while it is certainly true that anti-Muslim bigotry exists—including efforts by some to prevent the building of mosques and to restrict our religious rights—it is also true that we Muslims, like all Americans, are protected by the United States Constitution and a whole host of laws protecting our civil rights.
Further, Muslims are not alone. Other religious minorities, in fact, continue to face a much higher level of persecution than we do. According to the FBI, 66% of hate crimes against religious groups over the last decade targeted members of the Jewish community, while 12.1% of these crimes targeted Muslims.
Some Muslims point to the rise of “anti-sharia” legislation as an indicator of the oppression of Muslims in the United States. Indeed, bills like the one proposed in Tennessee have been far too broadly written, seeming to make any gathering of Muslims an illegal act. (This bill was later amended).
Yet, on the other hand, those bills which did not explicitly identify sharia but more appropriately targeted those foreign laws which violate American standards of gender equality and religious freedom (like the Michigan law) were in fact supported by many Muslims, including our American Islamic Leadership Coalition. On either side of this debate, the American system is designed to give us room to comfortably support or actively dissent against policies and people who fail to fairly represent us.
Because issues related to Islam and Muslims are so often in the media, individuals with malignant intentions, including both anti-Muslim bigots and Islamist supremacists, will do everything in their power to exacerbate tensions and stoke fear in their respective bases.
In this month of atonement, we Muslims must honestly reflect upon the reality of the global scope and scale of religious repression done in the name of Islam (Islamism). Sure, Muslims have every right to advocate for our own civil liberties, but we must not be hypocritical.
We must use our freedoms to protect, from the threat of Islamism, the values upon which this nation was founded: individual liberty for all people. We Muslims have a unique responsibility to be at the forefront of efforts aimed at countering the encroachment of Islamism in our private and public institutions, including courts. These efforts needn’t restrict freedom of speech for Islamists; in fact, it is both un-American and dangerous to push abhorrent speech underground, where it can easily foment into radicalism.
Many Americans struggle with how to react and are rightfully concerned about the growing reach of political Islam at home and abroad by nations and movements empowered by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). There is no getting past the fact that the militants of Al-Qaeda, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, and the Taliban and the larger theo-political movements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat Islamiya share the anti-freedom ideology of Islamism.
Some rush to condemn anything associated with Islam, from the construction of mosques to the wearing of the hijab (headscarf). Of course, while these things have been manipulated by Islamists, they are not “Islamist.” Rather, they are things Muslims also use and wear as part of our personal faith practice. Conflating personal faith practices with theo-political movements, activists and lawmakers run the risk of both empowering Islamists and contradicting core American values.
Ultimately, while we need the support of non-Muslim allies, the primary responsibility of reform falls on Muslims ourselves. This Ramadan, we should reflect on how Islamism itself restricts our religious and civil liberties, and how it promises to poison interfaith relations and our engagement with broader American society.
During Ramadan, we feel the lack of sustenance in the daylight hours, reminding us how central food and water are to our ability to survive. We should use this month to reflect on the fact that religious liberty, protected by a secular government, is the primary if not the only guarantor of our own religious freedoms.
As American Muslims, we have not only the privilege of living in this great nation but also a tremendous responsibility to use our freedoms in such a way that we empower others to be free. By making efforts to celebrate and advance American ideals of liberty and freedom as we do at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Muslims can help to advance an urgently needed message: that liberty-minded Muslims are the solution to both combating radical Islam and to eliminating the poison of bigotry.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. He is the author of Battle for the Soul of Islam. Dr. Jasser served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy and was Staff Internist for the Office of the Attending Physician to the U.S. Congress. Jasser was the narrator of Clarion Project's film "The Third Jihad" about the threat of Islamic extremism in the U.S.
Islamic State imam in Mosul preaches jihad. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)
I just spent the better part of the day reading and listening to sermons by the leaders and jihadis of the new “caliphate” in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State (formerly “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”).
I did so in the vain hopes of learning something “new.”
But it was absolute déjà vu—taking me back to a decade ago, when I was reading and translating the Arabic writings and speeches of al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, as collated in The Al Qaeda Reader.
Now as then, it’s the same Koran verses; the same hadiths of Islamic prophet Muhammad waging and praising jihad; the same threats of hellfire for the munafiqun (hypocrites or lukewarm Muslims); the same carnal rewards in the now or hereafter for those who join the “caravan” of jihad.
Consider for instance the following opening words of a recently released short video from the Islamic State titled, “There is No Life Without Jihad”:
If you wish to know the way to glory and power, to goodness, security and joy, you must learn that there are no rights without jihad, no justice without jihad, no dignity without jihad, no security without jihad, no future without jihad, no life without jihad, no life without jihad.
After this rather hackneyed opening, one Abu Muthana, a jihadi from Britain, appears quoting some more of the usual Koran verses, hadiths, and ulema, in this case, Imam Qurtubi, who wrote that “jihad gives life.” Finally he summarizes the goal of the jihad—in case anyone is still not sure—namely, to fight until “the law [Sharia] of Allah is implemented and the caliphate restored.”
To reiterate, there is little new or original in the videos and communiques from the Islamic State. Just static Islamism.
If one turns to the speeches of other Islamic and jihadi groups around the world—from the African groups such as Boko Haram (Nigeria) and al-Shabaab (Somalia), to Asian groups such as Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) and the Islamic Movement (Uzbekistan)—it’s the same thing, same themes, same scriptures, same quotations, same exhortations, same condemnations. Only their temporal circumstances and vicissitudes of victory or defeat differ.
While the Western mentality, so used to seeing and hearing about the “latest” or “newest” fad, may deem the Islamist approach as static or insipid, it is, quite the contrary, immensely effective for its purposes, and thus dangerous.
Consider: It’s the same exact message—of supremacism, hate, and violence, capped off with divine sanctioning—repeated over and over again, from a myriad of sources and organizations, all of which claim authority.
One can think of few better ways to brainwash and indoctrinate young and impressionable minds—to the point that they eagerly embrace death, including through suicide (AKA “martyrdom operations”).
Nor is this message of jihad, conquest, and death-to-the-infidel, limited to the verbiage that transpires among terrorist organizations; instead, this sort of rhetoric has spread far and wide, thanks to modern technology—including the Internet and social media—and the rich Gulf States, chief among them Saudi Arabia, which have seen to it that the jihadi books and passages being quoted are available to all and sundry.
Indeed, and has been demonstrated repeatedly, such jihadi rhetoric is regularly used in mosques all throughout Europe and America—explaining why an inordinate amount of jihadis in Syria and Iraq, such as Abu Muthana, the aforementioned “Brit,” are in fact from the West.
If the West, in the name of “religious freedom,” is still too fretful to monitor and ban such sermons, in Egypt—a Muslim nation in the heart of the Islamic world—the post Muslim Brotherhood government has come to understand the necessity of outlawing “certain” kinds of sermons and preachers from the mosques, specifically, those about jihad against infidels and apostates.
Of course, such a move sounds extremely “anti-freedom” to the liberal mentality; the New York Times bemoaned it, without considering that such a clampdown on sermon topics actually combats terrorism and saves human lives. For example, the overwhelming majority of attacks on Egypt’s Christian Copts occur on Friday—the one day of the week Muslims congregate in mosques to hear sermons.
Ultimately, however, such a move from Egypt—an Islamic nation—is an indicator of just how problematic unregulated (i.e., jihadi) sermons can be: if “moderate” Muslims are fearful from the repercussions of “radicalized” sermons, shouldn’t we “infidels” be even more wary of them?
In the end, there’s good news and bad news in all this: the good news is that one need not be familiar with the constant communiques, videos, and messages emanating from this or that jihadi group—for they are all recycled, all the same. To hear one, is to hear them all.
The bad news is that, due to the severe lack of common sense and censorship in the form of political correctness that plagues the West, the rhetoric of jihad and its unvarying message of hate remains wholly unintelligible.
If the jihadis, like parrots, are forever repeating each other—and compelling other parrots to join them—Western leaders and politicians, like ostriches, are forever sticking their heads in the sand, lest they acknowledge the cacophony of hate surrounding them, and us.
Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013). He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. Mr. Ibrahim's dual-background—born and raised in the U.S. by Egyptian parents —has provided him with unique advantages to understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets.
ISIS prisoners moments before their execution.
The world is ablaze in an orgy of jihadi terror and war in the lands of Islam and no one seems to know what to make of it, let alone how to resolve the crisis.
The brutality of this mayhem was best captured in a deeply disturbing video released on the Internet by jihadis fighting for the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
It shows a bearded, young ISIS fighter in full battle gear posing for the camera with a decapitated head in his hand.
On cue from the cameraman, the jihadi fighter lifts the head, turns towards it and says, "Hello, my name is John."
Both men then break into laughter, after which the cameraman derisively remarks, "Why doesn't John look like he died of natural causes?"
The decapitated head is then thrown to the ground as another ISIS man can be heard off camera joking: "This guy died of natural causes by a knife ... It cut his throat", to which the cameraman guffaws, "Natural causes - the mujahedeen ... Natural cause for an apostate," before chanting the Islamic battle cry, "Allah O Akbar."
This desecration of a dead body is not an isolated incident.
Just last year the Taliban were filmed playing football with the decapitated heads of beheaded prisoners - fellow Muslims.
And while much of the Islamic community is in a state of denial, blinded to the atrocities being committed by their co-religionists across the globe, the rest of the world watches in shock.
In Kenya and Nigeria Islamists are targeting Christians while in Iraq and Pakistan they are killing Shia Muslims, who Saudi-funded clerics have designated as "Kaffirs'", non-believers in Islamic disguise whose founders, they falsely claim, were Jews.
The apologists among us claim these atrocities are not part of the Islamic rules of war, but that does not withstand scrutiny.
The fact is, no less a person than the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was beheaded in battle by fellow Muslims on Oct. 10, 680. His decapitated head was paraded in the streets of Damascus.
The eminent Egyptian Islamic reformer of the 20th century, Ali Abd al-Razik, writes in his book Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority that within a year of Prophet Muhammad's death, political disputes among the Muslims were settled by public beheadings.
Raziq writes about one incident of early Islam when the celebrated Muslim general Khalid Ibn Walid made a cooking pot out of the decapitated head of another Muslim general, Malik ibn Nuwairah, after defeating him in a battle and beheading him as a POW.
Fortunately, Canada is the only western country that has a critical mass of liberal Muslims honest enough to acknowledge the fact that not all of our history is as unblemished as our parents and clerics wanted us to believe as children.
The slaughters we read about in Syria, Kenya, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan have common factors.
They're the same ones that feature in the so-called honour killings and female genital mutilation of girls in the UK, Canada, America and Europe, as well as in much of the Arab world and Africa.
The sooner we Muslims acknowledge this truth, the better equipped we will be to join the rest of humanity as partners in peace for our common good.
If not, we may well end up in the scrap heap of history.
Tarek Fatah, is a Canadian writer, broadcaster and anti-Islamist Muslim activist. He is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.