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the Name of Allah the Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Advice to Muslims in the Wake of Terrorism

By the Time,
Surely, man is in loss,
Except those who believe, and do righteous deeds
and call one another to truth, and call one another to patience
Holy Qur'an 103:1-3


I am writing this in the week following the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the attack on the Pentagon, but the advice applies to any situation in which Muslims receive negative attention in the press (deserved or undeserved). Allah Subhannahu Wa Ta'aala has instructed us to do what is right and to forbid what is wrong. And the Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed his companions (may Allah be pleased with them) to offer naseehah, or good advice. This short essay, then, is intended to offer such naseehah.


Having worked in a large institution (a hospital) for quite some time, I have come to notice a phenomenon that I find to be quite troubling. That is, oftentimes, people merely regurgitate what they hear on the news. Whether it is about OJ Simpson, the World Trade Center, who wore what to the Grammy's, or some national leader's latest dance with the devil, it does not matter. Everyone has an opinion. And most often, the opinion is that projected by the media.

This phenomenon is not unique to the non-Muslims. And this I find even more troubling. Regurgitating what the news media has to say about a particular issue opens the Muslim up to grave sins. Backbiting, slander, wasting time, and vain, useless talk are all sins which lead to the Fire. The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned us that most of the dwellers of the Hellfire will enter it because of their tongue. Allah Ta'aala says:

Do not backbite each other. Would any of you wish to eat the meat of your dead brother?! No, you would abhor it. Holy Qur'an 49:12

The Muslim, then, must beware. The Prophet (peace be upon him) defined backbiting as saying something about your brother that he would not want you to say. When his companions asked him, "What if what we are saying is true?" His response (peace be upon him) was that even then, it constitutes backbiting. If it is not true, it is slander. These are both horrendous sins.

Now what if we apply this concept to the news regarding Osama bin Laden? Personally, I know nothing about him. I know nothing of what our media alleges. And I am in no position to verify it, nor can I examine the circumstances. Furthermore, Allah Subhannahu Wa Ta'aala warns about the fasiq (liar, evildoer, etc):

O you who believe! If a fasiq comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you should harm the people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done. Holy Qur'an 49:6
Should we not consider the television a fasiq? That being the case, regardless of my opinion of what happened, I am in no position to safely (in the eyes of Allah) comment. Sure, I can say that, in general, the Islamic laws regarding war do not allow the killing of women, children, elderly, crippled, animals, or fruit-bearing trees. I can say that even though Islam has dealt with trials as severe as the Mongols, the Crusades, and the European/African Slave Trade before, Muslims confronted those tribulations with dignity and with a sound approach - they did not target innocent civilians. But I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on each situation or on specific individuals. The point is that we must all beware of regurgitation and beware of speaking without knowledge.

Prayer for the Dead

In the days following the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, numerous interfaith prayer sessions popped up across the US (ironically after President George Bush called for Friday as a day of prayer, already a day of prayer for Muslims). While this interfaith cooperation is a nice gesture and may have helped to limit the backlash against Muslims, it should be exercised with caution. For example, we are not permitted to pray for the dead amongst the kufaar. Yes, we mourn the loss of life. Yes, we wish their families and their young children the best. We can cooperate in matters of charity to the living, assist with the rescue efforts, give blood, etc. But we should not pray for their dead. The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself, was not permitted to pray for his own dead uncle.

Cognitive Dissonance

Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance postulates that when a person is presented with evidence contrary to his or her worldview/position/stance, that he or she will experience a cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is an internal, unpleasant state of tension, which, according to Festinger's theory, the individual tries to resolve by one of two methods: (1) increasing the number of consistent cognitions (ie rationalizing away the inconsistencies and focusing on that which is consistent) or (2) decreasing the number of inconsistent cognitions (ie actually changing one's belief or attitude or worldview).

This is an important concept for Muslims to understand (whether the theory is correct or not) simply because many people believe it. In fact, I would think that most Muslims who have ever talked to a Christian about Christianity would believe that cognitive dissonance was at work when they rationalized away the concepts of being "saved" or the trinity, etc. So most of us are at least familiar with it.

You are Muslim. Terrorists are Muslim. How do you justify the fact that you share common beliefs? How do you explain that, huh?

I bring up cognitive dissonance here, because I fear that in circumstances such as these (following acts of terrorism, media coverage of war against a Muslim majority nation, etc) some Muslims may feel an internal strife, a religious or spiritual crisis. But this should not be the case. One of the beauties of Islam, indeed one of the things that attracted me to it, is that it appeals to both emotion and reason, to mind and spirit. It makes sense. It is simple. It is just. And it is true. If ever we feel a cognitive dissonance of sorts in relation to Islam, alarm bells should go off, warning us that we do not have enough knowledge regarding that particular subject or situation.

And, it is important to realize that the best social psychologists in the world are in media and advertising. They know cognitive dissonance well. They know how to instill it. When the time comes to slander and divide the Muslims, their best weapon is the television. So, if something does not sit right with your heart regarding Islam, then either you do not know enough or you have been deceived.

Continue Planting It

The Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said that if the Day of Judgment happens upon you while you are planting a seed, continue planting it. There are tremendous lessons in this for the Muslims. We were created for a purpose. Allah Ta'aala says:

And I (Allah) created not the jinn and men except that they should worship Me (Alone). Holy Qur'an 51:53
In our worship of Allah, be it at the workplace, through da'wah, activities with our families, or the acts of prayer, paying zakat, or hajj, we must keep on with our mission.

We are not a people who wait. We know that the Mahdi and Prophet 'Eesa (peace be upon them) will come near the End of Time, but we are not a people who sit around and wait for them to show up. We have to continue serving our purpose: praying, providing for our families, doing good, forbidding wrong, fighting oppression, etc. Ultimately, when we stand alone before Allah, we will be asked about what we did, not what anyone else did. We will not be asked what Osama bin Laden did. Although, we will be asked if we backbit him. We will be asked if we spoke without knowledge. We will be asked if we supported tactics or strategies that harmed innocents. So stop it. Don't fall into their traps that divide the Muslims and cause us, individually and collectively, to fall into sin. They will plot and they will plan, but Allah is the Best of Planners.

In Short...

  • Beware of spreading news brought to you by a fasiq. It could lead to backbiting, slander, lies, exaggeration, and division amongst the Muslims.
  • Avoid simple regurgitation without reflection, contemplation, and critical thought.
  • Assume the best in our Muslim brothers and sisters.
  • Fear none but Allah.
  • Understand that if you begin to experience cognitive dissonance regarding religious issues, it invariably comes from a lack of knowledge regarding that particular issue or from deception.
  • Straighten the lines and close the gaps. Avoid division in our prayer ranks and in our dealings with fellow Muslims.
  • Do not be afraid to say "I don't know".
  • Avoid phrases like "people who say they are Muslim."
  • Question the media's version of cause and effect.
  • Inform yourself about Islamic laws regarding conduct in war.
  • Read about and practice sabr (patience, poerseverence, etc). It is a characteristic of the believers and it is a quality much needed in times of fitna, especially, the fitna which is yet to come.

    Allah knows best.

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    Last Update: 9/10/02