Guiding principles for dealing with global conflicts (The Bond)

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of the Islamic Society of Kingston’s newsletter, The Bond.

At any given moment, it seems that there are acts of aggression and injustice going on around the world. In many cases, they happen to be against our brothers and sisters in faith.

When these acts are committed by those who we consider to be outside forces (such as other countries or people of other faiths), we find that the Muslims are usually united against the aggression and injustice. Efforts to support victims normally receive broad support.

However, when the source of conflicts is from within, we find that our communities become easily polarized, either along ethnic, political or sectarian lines. Not only do these cause major divisions in the arena of conflict, they also spread around the world and even affect communities such as ours.

With the ease of communication found today, especially through social media, many of us find ourselves in the midst of debates, discussions and protests. Sometimes in the midst of all the anger and frustration, it appears that the fact that the “others” are also human beings – let alone fellow believers – is lost. This leads to the approval and even the promotion of violence against innocent people. This is totally unacceptable.

There are a few principles that should guide us, as human beings and as Muslims, regardless of what type of conflict we find ourselves in.

Firstly, the killing or injuring of innocent people – especially those who are not causing physical harm to others or their property – cannot be condoned or accepted, regardless of who it is committed by and regardless of the faith, ethnicity or political affiliation of the victims. Whether they are peaceful protesters or police officers who are simply doing their jobs (such as directing traffic, protecting property and so on), the innocent must always be protected and those who harm them must be denounced.

Showing carelessness towards the life and well-being of innocent people is a very serious matter, which we have been warned about in the Qur’an and in the teachings of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Even disregard for the property of others is unacceptable, especially places of worship such as mosques and churches.

Al l of this can be counted as aggression and oppression, and the Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) has given us a stern warning regarding oppression:

“Beware of oppression, for verily oppression will be darkness on the Day of Resurrection.” [Reported by Muslim]

Sometimes, our affiliations (ethnic, political, sectarian or other) lead us to become oblivious towards the mistakes committed by our own “side” and we start downplaying and supporting actions or oppression and aggressing that are clearly unjust.

Allah instructs us in the Qur’an:

And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” [Qur’an – 5:2]

Allah also tells us clearly:

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.” [Qur’an – 5:8]

Even our opposition or dislike towards a group of people should not lead us to diverge from being just. If the side we are supporting commits acts of aggression, we must not pass it off as something acceptable.

Everyone makes mistakes and there all types of people on practically every side.  Rogue elements, the ignorant, troublemakers and those who cannot contain their emotions are present almost everywhere. We must be realistic and must not expect perfection from everyone on the side we are supporting, nor project our side as being perfect.

Also, in the Qur’an, Allah gives us an important principle regarding any news that we receive: Verify it, especially if it leads you to pass judgement and take action against others. Just because something is reported on the news or is recounted to us by someone on the ground doesn’t necessarily mean it is exactly as reported, especially when it involves putting blame on others. In complex conflicts, there can be many elements involved with differing interests.

For example, if there are reports that innocent people were killed due to a bombing, the act itself should be condemned, regardless of who carried it out. One should be cautious about laying blame though, especially if those being accused are denying responsibility. After all, making false accusations, without any evidence, is also a very serious crime.

Propaganda and deception are a big part of most conflicts, so most news should be taken with a grain of salt. It could be as reported or there could be more to it, so be careful and don’t just accept everything you hear, read and see.

Finally, let us remember the advice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):

Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say [something] good, or he should keep silent.” [Reported by Bukhari, Muslim and others]

Thus, before we speak in any exchange, we should ensure that we are offering words of goodness that are likely to be meaningful and beneficial. Otherwise, we are better off remaining silent.

Political differences regarding the best way forward for a community and nation are nothing new. In Islamic history, such differences can be traced back to soon after the passing of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

But as civilized human beings and especially as Muslims, we must always be guided by the principles of justice, goodness, righteousness and must not be blinded in either support or opposition.

May Allah unite the hearts of the believers in goodness. May Allah shower His mercy and forgiveness upon all our innocent brothers and sisters who have lost their lives. May He grant peace and security for the innocent everywhere and protect their homes, properties and places of worship. May Allah bring true peace, justice and stability all over the world, particularly in Muslim countries – ameen!

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Ramadan: A time for fasting, and feeding others (Kingston Whig-Standard)

By Sikander Hashmi

For many of Kingston’s Muslims, today’s lunch will be their last for the next 30 days.

Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, begins tonight. For healthy Muslim adults, that means absolutely no food, drink or sex between dawn and sunset. The pre-dawn meal (called suhoor) will be taken before 4 a.m. and the fast-breaking meal (iftar) will be at sunset, just before 9 p.m. Since Ramadan is also the month of the Qur’an, special nightly prayers will be offered during which a portion of the Qur’an will be recited from memory. This way, recitation of the entire book will be completed by the end of the month.

With Ramadan occurring in the summer months nowadays, staying healthy and hydrated is a top concern for many Canadian Muslims. Those who are unable to fast – due to illness or infirmity, for example – are exempt and can make up fasts later when the days are shorter. If that’s not possible, they can feed the needy as expiation.

But even many Muslims who are able to fast are increasingly thinking about feeding others during the holy month. Ramadan is not just about fasting. It’s also the month of charity, patience and mercy.

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Opinion: What we lose when privacy is gone (Montreal Gazette)

By Sikander Hashmi, Special to The Gazette

EDISON, N.J. – As I write this piece, I know editors at this newspaper will read it before it goes to print. But is anyone else going to gain access to it before it’s made public? Big Brother perhaps?

That’s quite possible. Information leaked by Edward Snowden, the American who previously worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and most recently as a contractor for the National Security Agency, indicates that emails, photos, chats, social-media sites and practically all Internet activity have been monitored by the NSA since 2007. Officials have sought to reassure Americans that the authorities are only focusing on foreigners, which includes Canadians like myself. Even if I weren’t physically in the United States, authorities could legally read through this article the moment I composed the email to the editor — even before I hit send, because I’m using the email service of a U.S. company.

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Violent radicalization: Not a big problem, but a serious one (The Bond)

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of the Islamic Society of Kingston’s newsletter, The Bond.

Over the past two months, headlines have been dominated by incidents that have been linked to Muslims. The question being asked by many of our neighbours and fellow citizens is: What is happening to Muslim youth in Canada?

The in-depth media coverage and reports from security agencies suggest that there is a huge problem with youth in the Muslim community turning into violent radicals. However, statistics suggest otherwise.

Academics and other thinkers point out that out of just over 1 million Muslims in Canada, there have been approximately 20 reported cases of youth participating in local or overseas terrorism in the past two years. That’s 0.00002% of the Muslim population.

As of yet, there appear to be no academic research studies that point towards a widespread problem. The simple fact is that many Canadian Muslim youth, perhaps even the majority, are much like other average Canadian youth: studying, working, playing sports and video games, and embracing popular culture. Some youth, from practically all backgrounds, can sometimes end up falling prey to the culture of crime, guns, gangs and drugs. Unfortunately, that also holds true for some Canadian Muslim youth.

However, the fact that the statistics do not point towards a widespread problem of violent radicalization should not be taken to mean that the problem, no matter how statistically small, is trivial. As Canadians, we want all of our youth – whether Muslim or not – to stay out of trouble and lead productive lives. The fallout from such cases has a negative effect on all Canadians, including Muslims.

The Muslim community should do its part to address the problem, as should others.

People often ask about the “path to radicalization.” It’s a complex issue but the simple answer is that there is no one answer. It appears that the decision to become a radical, and then to commit criminal acts, can be influenced by a number of factors.

The former head of MI5 in the UK, Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, told a 2010 inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war: “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam.”

For sure, anger over Western involvement overseas, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan where over 75,000 innocent civilians have been killed as a result of wars and attacks (easily passed off as collateral damage), often provides the oxygen for violent radicalization.

The anger felt by youth as well as adults over such atrocities must be channeled positively and constructively. Furthermore, the sooner Western governments and citizens can distance themselves from these wars, the better. Unfortunately, the memories of death and destruction likely will not be erased any time soon. In the future, any overseas involvement should be weighed very carefully as it can have severe and lasting negative consequences.

The negative reaction to this anger is sometimes legitimized through the misapplication of religious teachings. This where the Muslim community must work to ensure there are local faith leaders and scholars, who understand life and its challenges in Canada and who can contextualize Islamic teachings, actively reaching out to youth. On top of availability, they must be friendly, approachable, non-judgmental and appear to be credible. This will provide a solid alternative to those preying on our youth under the guise of religiosity and to material on the Internet offering incorrect and misguided advice to Muslim youth in the west.

Finally, Muslim youth in Canada must be clear about their identity. They are Muslim by faith, Canadian by nationality and should be proud of both (without being conceitful). They should be encouraged to build a strong Islamic identity by practicing their faith to the best of their ability and to build a strong attachment to their country through civic engagement and by continuing to care for the well-being of their country and their fellow citizens.

Alienation of youth, through bullying, discrimination and racism, can also lead to a search for belonging. That search can lead to the wrong place sometimes. Efforts to address these ills, particularly amongst youth, must continue.

Expecting the Muslim community to control every single member of the community and be responsible for their conduct is unrealistic, naive and unfair. Such expectations are not thrown on any other community and shouldn’t be put on to the Muslim community either.

We must do our part. Others should do theirs as well.

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Opinion: ‘Oh, no, I hope it’s not a Muslim’ (Kingston Whig-Standard & London Free Press)

By Sikander Hashmi

The moment I saw my Twitter feed light up with breaking news alerts about a terror bust last Monday, my heart sank. I was worried not because I wanted a potential terror plot to go ahead, but because April had already been a difficult month, and the last thing I needed to hear was that there had been another potential terror threat.

First there was the revelation that two young Muslim men from London, Ont. had allegedly travelled to Algeria and taken part in an attack on an oil refinery in mid-January. Both were reportedly killed. There was the expected barrage of questions, concerns and criticisms regarding our communities that I was still dealing with.

The Boston Marathon bombings were particularly difficult. To watch fellow human beings go through such a sudden and terrifying event was heart-wrenching. It reminded me of the many civilian deaths and injuries occurring almost daily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other parts of the world. Except this time, it hit a lot closer to home. I was born in Montreal, have lived in Toronto and have relatives in New York, so Boston is a city I can identify with.

The “oh no, I hope it’s not a Muslim” moment came and went quickly, as the suspects were soon identified as Muslims. Only a few days had passed since the terrible bombings, and the overall sadness, concern about violent radicalism and fear of backlash hadn’t dissipated. The latter was so strong that last Friday, as I prepared to leave home to lead our weekly prayer service, I actually considered saying proper goodbyes to my wife and two young children in case something terrible happened and I never returned.

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Also: Authorities must work to build Muslims’ trust

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