Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Extremists pervert genuine Islam

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How should I condemn thee? Let me count the ways.

Boko Haram's rampage of indiscriminate violence and tyranny has been going on for over three years now in Nigeria, but they've never grabbed international headlines quite like this before. They've bombed churches, killed innocents and done just about everything else in their mad pursuit of establishing Sharia law, but the recent kidnapping and potential sale and slavery of around 200 to 300 schoolgirls has really reverberated across the world.

Naturally, as a common observer, I am saddened. It's heart-rending to think of those families whose innocent daughters are caught in this sick web of fanaticism, let alone the girls themselves.

But as a devout Ahmadi Muslim, I'm more than sad. I'm shocked. I'm upset. I'm frustrated.

It's frustrating because here you have this massive group of about 1.8 billion Muslims on Earth today, and a handful of twisted extremists have hijacked the whole faith, steering the public discourse on Islam. Every inhumane and ghastly crime they perpetrate leaves a mark on the face of Islam, spread across the international stage on global headlines for all to see. "Boko Haram -- Islamic militants." That's how they're described and viewed. The "militant" part is true. The "Islamic" part? Not so much.

It reminds me of an interesting conversation I had with an RCMP officer last year, just before Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially announced the highly controversial Office of Religious Freedom, a ceremony I attended in person.

Waiting for the PM, I started talking to one of the RCMP officers assigned to the PM's security detail. Around that time last year, the RCMP had come under fire -- pardon the pun -- for corruption, so I asked him flat out: "What's going on with the RCMP? Whatever happened to the noble ideal of the legendary Sam Steele? All we hear about now is corruption and scandal. What's that all about?"

He replied succinctly: "Look, you know how many RCMP officers there are in Canada (almost 70,000)? All of them do their job day in and day out with honour, integrity and courage, but when one rotten apple does something stupid, the whole RCMP gets a bad rap. It's like what Muslims go through, a few bad guys spoil it for everybody."

Bingo!

It was a funny parallel, but one that aptly illustrates the point that Muslims really are misrepresented and perceived wrongly.

That's why it's really important to clear the air and proactively let the Canadian public know another side of Islam and of Muslims, especially because our pluralistic society is growing more diverse every day, with Muslims becoming the fastest-growing religious group in Canada. For Canadians to continue to get along with one another and keep Canadian society as harmonious as it has been -- the standard and envy of the world -- it's important for all of us to respect each other. That's why we can't afford Muslims to be perceived as if they have anything to do with these kinds of miscreants, who almost weekly seem to be dragging Islam's name through the mud. For the many people who have cried in frustration for the silent 99 per cent of Muslims to make themselves heard and to make a clear separation between themselves and the extremists, I wanted to enumerate just how anti-Islamic Boko Haram, really is.

Firstly, their very name, which translates as "Western education is a sin," is totally opposed to the fundamentals of Islamic philosophy. The Prophet Muhammad once stated "it is incumbent on every Muslim man and woman to seek knowledge." He even exhorted his followers to "seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave."

How about Boko Haram's abuse of women?

Well, most readers may not know this, but the Prophet Muhammad has given women such a high station that he once stated "paradise lies at the feet of your mothers." That's how much dignity and respect Islam has accorded to women.

But all things aside, surely Boko Haram is at least pursuing jihad in the traditional Islamic manner, right?

Not according to Prophet Muhammad, who taught the true jihad was the one a person waged against his own evil inclinations and moral failings.

And certainly not according to the Holy Qur'an, which states that "whosoever killed a person... it shall be as if he had killed all mankind" (Chapter 5, Verse 33).

So when Boko Haram bombed a church on that fateful Christmas morning in 2011, know that the Prophet Muhammad, 1,400 years before them, once vacated a mosque so Christians could worship in it and enjoy their prayers in peace and with convenience.

That is Islam.

Boko Haram? Again, not so much.


Ahmed Sahi is a journalist and writer based out of the Greater Toronto Area.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2014 A13

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