Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Giving Our Muslims Friends a Break.

Just how are you supposed to respond when someone acts hatefully in the name of the religion you love? I have no idea.

The rise of ISIS and the recent outburst of sectarian violence and the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers have put Islamic extremism on the front pages again. It has also put Muslims in the now familiar position of having to defend their faith or remain silent.  Either choice seems to result in a no win game. 

If you remain silent you run the risk of being accused of assenting to the violence. You are silent not because there is nothing much to say to people who will not listen but because you secretly agree with the evil agendas.  On the other hand, if you defend your faith too loudly, you may be accused of being edgy, nervous and defensive.  If you defend too articulately, you may be accused of cleverly lying to cover up the truth. If you defend too sincerely, it may be mistaken for naivety and stupidity as if, being a western Muslim, you may not even know the evils of Islam first hand. Whether you speak or whether you are silent, you are an accomplice to crime you did not commit.

Whether Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist we have to be boldly honest with ourselves and with others about the atrocities which are done in the names of our faiths. In the world, at this moment, that responsibility falls disproportionately on Muslims. I will let the sociologists, anthropologists, historians and political scientists explain why that is.  There are reasons why at particular times, some groups will use religion to justify violence and cruelty. "Islam" is not that reason.  Anyone who has taken the time to study Islam in any depth or detail will understand that there is not some evil hidden in the DNA of Islam that makes this inevitable. These are rather choices, evil choices that can even strip a beautiful faith of much of its beauty.

Muslims are not the only ones making those kinds of choices. We live in a world where Hindu nationalists march with spears, Jewish settlers sit on hilltops armed to the teeth fueled by an intolerant messianic ideology, Christian preachers frame the “War on Terror” as a new crusade, and goon squads of Buddhist monks burn mosques in Burma. It is clear that Islam has not cornered the market on violent ideologies, and that many of these other violent ideologies are headed in their direction. We, non-Muslims also have a responsibility to address the dangerous ideologies now growing in your own communities and perhaps in our own hearts.

Above all, we have a responsibility to give our Muslim friends and neighbors a break. It is simply not fair or reasonable to hold them responsible for the horrific behaviors of people they cannot control.  Instead of making them come to the defense of Islam, or critiquing their silence, maybe ask them what it feels like to watch the faith you love and cherish dragged in the mud. Ask them what its like to explain to their children, that the faith and tradition they want them to value can be and is horribly misused.  I have been involved with the Muslim community and I have seen their pain and their struggle in dealing with this. I have learned to talk less and listen more. I have learned to listen not just with my mind but also with my heart.  I have no clever answers to the challenge of terror and extremism, not for my Muslim friends and not for concerned non-Muslims. My best answer is to stop looking for the best answers and start looking for the best questions.  My best answer is to share the struggle against evil as best as we can, as friends.


  1. Well written. Thank you

  2. Beautifully said, and poignantly felt by your Muslim readers. Blessings and peace to you, Lee!

  3. Assalamualaykum,
    You cannot imagine how it feels to know that there are at least some non-Muslims, who try to understand our struggle, our jihad, against the misuser of the Islam. It is very hard especially in a non-Muslim country in school to have to defend your religion and almost every word of you is misunderstood.

  4. Peggy (Ryfkah) HorwitzJune 26, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    My brother, you clarify our need to just get along. I teach my students that there is only one race, the human race. If the story of Adam and Eve has any meaning, it should be that we are one family. Even looking at our father Abraham, we have both Ishmael and Isaac, our ancestral brothers. I am grateful for your words of the heart and pray from my heart for peace, the wholeness and healing of our world.

  5. We need to stay strong and support eachother.. thank you for your post :-)

  6. First of all, Ramadan Mubarak to all my brothers and sisters celebrating this holiday. Islam is a religion I respect and Muslims are people I admire.

    As an American, a Jew, a Zionist and one who is created in the likeness of the Creator as is each and everyone here, I say we do not hold Muslims responsible for the horrific behaviors of people they cannot control.

    Rabbi Weissman, I hold you in high regard and appreciate your work and wish you the best success in all you do.

    I ask in humility, how would you view the bloody fight between Catholics and Protestants as they struggled to resolve their differences hundreds of years ago resulting in untold misery to many innocents? Was "Christianity" the reason?

    In the last few weeks I have witnessed Muslims become very vocal about their admission of a battle between violent Muslim sects and the large body of peace loving and respectful Muslims.

    Kasim Hafeez, a British born Muslim of Pakistani descent, related how he was exposed to dreadful images as a student in Great Britain and taught to hate Jews. The emotional images stirred a sense of righteous indignation that led him to travel to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as a young man in order to train as a terrorist. His parents admired Hitler and had hatred for Jews even if they had never come to know any Jews. But on his way to a terrorist training camp, Kasim decided to make a detour to Israel and witness the evils of the Jews first hand. He discovered that he had been brainwashed when he met Muslim Arabs there that told of their freedom and good relations with Jews and people of every faith. He realized then that he could not live as a hypocrite and condemn a people that did not deserve the hatred he had directed at them. He returned to a community in England that rejected him for such attitudes. He started receiving death threats from other Muslims for his outspoken behavior. Unlike the rage he felt as a young man, he says he now is at peace because he is taking the moral path. His message to Muslims is to be honest with themselves.

    As I discussed the ISIS declaration of the Caliphate today on Facebook forums a fight broke out between two Muslims. One was a proud supporter of ISIS. The other a man dismayed by Muslims killing Muslims. The ISIS supporter replied the other did not know what a real Muslim is, and that the Shia are really Jews and needed to be exterminated. The other man publicly rejected this and scorned the man.

    I am confident that each horrific act done in the name of Islam will lead Muslims to decide what Islam shall look like. It is not non-Muslims that are putting Islam to the test.

    In Judaism, we say that even the negative events in our life are capable of being used for good. Joseph was beaten, thrown in a pit and sold as a slave and then later imprisoned in Pharaoh's dungeon unjustly. He understood that what others meant for evil, God meant for good. We always need to search and uncover the good that the Almighty has hidden for us. Many believe that a great time is at hand and these tests and events are conspiring for His will and glory to be revealed on this earth. We are called to prepare a dwelling place for Him here around us. Let us be the ones to work at this noble task.

    Salaam, Shalom and peace unto all.

  7. I agree with your sentiments.

    While Muslims do not need to defend Islam, since it needs no defence, they do have a responsibility to speak up against those Muslims, such as ISIS or the Taliban, who act in ways that are fundamentally non-Islamic.