“I was horrified just like everyone else,” River Forest resident, Charles Muhammad said as he remembered his reaction to the July 7 terrorist bombings in London. “I was shocked and appalled as were my family and Muslim friends.”
Rehan Siddiqui, a chiropractor who lives in Forest Park, recalled having a similar response. “I was disgusted,” he said. “It’s unbelievable that somebody would use the name of our religion to justify killing innocent people.”
For Siddiqui, the bombings hit close to home. “Actually,” he said, “my brother-in-law lives in London, and he almost passed through King’s Cross exactly where one of the bombings happened. The reason he wasn’t there is because he was tired and did not catch the bus he wanted on time.”
“I had a very personal reaction,” Muhammad continued. “I visited London for the first time last year, and it was such a delight. In London you have the coming together of so many cultures. It was beautiful. And someone was trying to destroy that, trying to divide us against one another. These were not true Muslims. The definition of a Muslim is one who is obedient to God. These were some young persons who were under the control of some maniacal alliance.”
“For a Muslim the killing of innocent people is anathema,” Siddiqui declared. “Even the term Islamic extremist is an oxymoron, because the number one thing in Islam is to avoid extremes, to have moderation, to work for consensus.”
He went on to explain the Muslim concept of jihad. “That’s a long discussion,” he began, “because the word has been so misconstrued and used for incorrect political purposes. Jihad means struggle. The biggest jihad, according to Islam, is the struggle with our own selves. It’s the constant struggle to do good in our lives.”
Siddiqui said that political struggle is at the very end of the list of kinds of jihad in which a Muslim might engage, and then it can only be to protect your own family or to fight for the cause of God.
Charles Muhammad added that if the decision to engage in political jihad is made, Islam teaches very strict rules of engagement. Even trees are not to be harmed during warfare, and certainly not innocent women, children and the elderly.
Siddiqui refuted the idea that Islam promises suicide bombers that they will be rewarded for their martyrdom in paradise. “Suicide is one of the biggest sins,” he said. “At funerals it is our custom to pray for the forgiveness of sins for the person who has died, but we’re not allowed even pray for a person who has taken their own life. We don’t take suicide lightly.”
Both men conceded that Muslims in the Middle East do have some legitimate grievances stemming from the Nineteenth Century colonial domination of the area. But they were adamant that the ends don’t justify the means in the case of terrorism.
Siddiqui compared terrorism to a person who bombs an abortion clinic in the U.S. The bomber claims he’s against abortion because it takes away human life, and then kills people in his attempt to stop abortion.
Muhammad added, “We have to fight the good fight. We in the Civil
Rights Movement achieved dignity. We worked this thing out together.
Now, the Palestinians have a just cause. But they are destroying the justice of their cause when they engage in terrorist actions. The ends do not justify the means.”
Rehan Siddiqui reported that he has experienced no hostility since the bombings, but his wife, who wears a traditional head scarf and a long outer dress, “gets a lot of looks.” On the whole, however, he has received much more support than hostility.
“People in this area,” he said, “are for the most part very open-minded. People haven’t thrown rocks at us. On the contrary, after September 11, for example, business people in Logan Square, where my office is, came to me and asked me if I was OK. The landlord of my building, who is orthodox Jewish, came down, asked if people were treating me alright and told me to let him know if anything was wrong.”
Both men believed that the harassment that has occured around the nation has come from ignorance and stereotypes perpetuated by the media. But they lay the blame for the misconceptions largely on their own community.
“The fatwa against suicide bombing that was issued a couple weeks ago by the Islamic community of North America,” Muhammad said, “was fine, but we shouldn’t have needed a special fatwa. It’s right in our religion. If these imams [Muslim leaders] would have been doing their job long ago, we wouldn’t have needed a fatwa.
Siddiqui agreed. “I think it’s our responsibility to reach out to people and say ‘listen, we’re not what you think we are.'”
Siddiqui believes that the way forward is through dialogue. He said, “One of the biggest misconceptions about our religion is that people believe that Islam is spread by the sword and that Islam forces people to convert. The problem with that is that I can’t force you to accept my faith. That’s why dialogue is so important and showing somebody through actions where you are.
“People who want to know more, who are conscientious and aware,” Muhammad concluded, “are interested in dialogue.”