Has Islam been Hijacked?

October 12, 2001

Trevor Matich


The headline on the cover of the October 15th US News and World Report reads:  “Unholy War; How Islamic radicals are hijacking one of the world’s great religions.”

Americans are marginally educated about the Islamic faith.  So now there are news features and Oprah specials to enlighten us to the notion that Islam is a peaceful religion, in which the majority of leaders and followers are appalled by what US News calls a “hijacking” of their religion.

Islam finds itself in an historic opportunity to define itself to an outside world largely ignorant of its tenets.  Because of extended media coverage of decades of terrorist attacks by those who are labeled “Islamic Fundamentalists,” the western world has a basis to associate Islamic teachings and lifestyle with extremists’ hatred and vitriol, with the assumption that Islam itself may teach that the murder of children is perfectly acceptable in the furthering of their spirituality.

Is that association with extremism and terrorism valid, or has Islam truly been “hijacked?”

Light will be shed on that question in the words, the deeds, and any chasm in between, of Islamic leadership and their followers. 

(For this discussion it is understood that, like Christianity, Islam has multiple factions whose degree of literal interpretation of scripture varies.  Referring to both religions, the word “mainstream” will suggest those willing to practice their religion in peaceful coexistence with others of differing faiths.)

First, a little perspective.  Islam isn’t the only religion that extremists have tried to hijack for their own hateful ends.  Examples from Christian history abound. 

In the aftermath of the American Civil War arose the Ku Klux Klan, an evil organization that distorted Christian teachings to justify racist persecution and murder.  When Klansmen called for other Christians to unite behind their cause, some radical clergy and lay people, eager to justify their hatred with misinterpretations of the Bible, answered the call. 

But lawful Christians, along with Americans of other faiths, led the fight to eliminate it. 

Mainstream Christianity eventually rose up to condemn and oppose the KKK; Christians in ordinary congregations, as well as Christians in law enforcement and government, were among those at the forefront of that long-fought and righteous battle.

In another example, some Christians warp Biblical teachings in an attempt to justify the bombing of abortion clinics and the murder of their employees.  But mainstream Christianity goes to great effort to distance itself from such extremism, and to teach its followers why true Christianity has no room for such behavior.

It is true that terrible suffering has been inflicted in the name of Christianity.  But today, would any responsible Christian believer or organization fail to condemn and actively oppose something like a neo Spanish Inquisition?

The point is not that Christianity may be in any way superior to Islam, but only to set the backdrop.  

What response to terrorism do we see from mainstream Islam?

We hear the words of mainstream Islamic political leaders and clerics around the world condemning the terrorist atrocities of Osama bin Laden and his fellow travelers.  However, such words have come from all quarters, and in and of themselves are of limited value—such paragons of humanity as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Palestinian groups Hamas and Hezbollah--who bomb school children in the pursuit of their political agenda--have also expressed regret.

There are two words that describe a response of many words, but few deeds:  “hot” and “air.”  Words alone are all bun, no beef.  So where’s the beef?

The political compliance of Islamic states in the Middle East has been helpful in the United States’ and Britain’s military actions against targets in Afghanistan.  But it only underscores the fact that Islamic states and mainstream Islam at the grass roots level have generally refused to police their own.  

Outside of rhetoric, it appears that they will not take the lead in the struggle against those indiscriminate murderers that may spring from their fonts—a struggle that should be righteous from any religion’s perspective.

Why are Judeo-Christian nations left to take the lead in this struggle, while greater Islam just tosses a few buns our way, apparently tolerating terrorists in its midst?

Headlines scream out to Americans that the great and peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by a few radicals.  If that were true, wouldn’t “hijacked Islam” fight mightily to take back its name and purpose?

Until mainstream Islam at the political, clerical, and congregational levels goes beyond rhetorical support and actually takes the lead in opposing extremism in their ranks, then mainstream Islam may reasonably be considered as supportive of the radicals, not hijacked by them.

Islamic nations must physically imprison terrorists and their supporters.  They must send in their own forces to eliminate terrorist cells and networks in the Middle East and Central Asia, not just provide bases from which sons and daughters of American mothers may issue forth to confront the problem.  

Islam must remove clerics who preach hate, and vigorously rebut the encouragement to current and future murderers issuing from so many of it’s national and local platforms.

Muslim Americans must vigorously, proactively, and publicly root out the hundreds of terrorists in scores of cells who may be hiding in their midst, not just issue communiqués averring their patriotism. 

I hope that the headlines are true.  I hope that Islam is a peaceful religion, one that opposes murder as a means of honoring God.  I hope that mainstream Islamic nations and congregations will take the lead in combating those who would commit atrocities in the name of their religion, just as mainstream Christians opposed the perversions of the KKK and abortion clinic bombers.

But that is not the fruit currently apparent on the tree.

Mainstream Islam has an historic opportunity to define itself to the world.  How will it respond?





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