Killing in the name of God cannot be abided

Khaleel Mohammed

Last week, in Peshawar, Pakistan, after careful planning, a Taliban group entered a school and slaughtered 132 of its pupils.

If something of a similar nature had occurred in the United States, the world would have reacted with utter disbelief, and had the perpetrators not been brought to swift justice, the country would have spared no expense in hunting down the killers.

Why, then, has the incident been all but forgotten, and the killers still brazen enough to threaten further acts of terror?

The answer is rather simple: The appalling frequency of this madness in Muslim-majority nations has desensitized the rest of the world’s citizens to its horror.

It is not that senseless murder does not occur in the United States. After all, we have had our Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and other examples of wanton violence. The difference, however, is that while the criminal acts in the U.S. are not generally committed in the name of religion, almost every single act of mass murder committed in the Muslim-majority countries has been — and continues to be perpetrated — in the name of God.

Instead of effective condemnation by Muslim leaders, acts of coreligionist violence are often met with double-talk that boggles the mind. As a professor of religion, and as a Muslim, I am often answered with the most puerile polemic when I confront those who apologize for Muslim atrocity.

I am told, for example, that the perpetrators are not true Muslims, or that the actions of a satanic few ought not tarnish the image of Islam.

Or I am told about the much bloodier history of Christianity, with its Crusades and its handling of presumed heretics within its fold.

The fact of the matter is that no Muslim has the right to say who is or is not a “true” Muslim, and that the murderers don’t give a jot about if others consider them as adhering to Islam: as far as they are concerned, they are acting in God’s name.

Sadly, the actions of a few, when they become so horrendous and impact so many, will be the yardstick that people use to measure the values of a religion.

As far as Christianity goes, no researcher denies that faith’s bloody past. Muslims would indeed learn much from a careful study of that past rather than misuse it as a polemic tool. Christian nations left their religious bloodletting when they chose secularism over theocracy and made the separation between church and state.

Christian preachers today focus on Jesus as the prince of peace rather than some instrument of violent change. Those who seek to promote violence are discredited and debunked by their coreligionists.

In contrast, many majority-Muslim nations, adhering to some vision of return to an irretrievable past, still govern through theocracies that, in the modern world, are basically fronts for institutional tyranny and oppression.

Muslim leaders seem to have a problem decrying violence when it occurs in the name of God. And thus, the very nation that has produced such wonderful paragons as Professor Fazlur Rahman, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Mukhtar Mai and Malala Yusufzai can see these figures sidelined, never mentioned by leaders, while at the same time the mullahs defend and sometimes praise the powerful and murderous Taliban.

Christian-majority nations have benefitted from reformation — the realization that theocratic rule belongs to the past. Muslim groups don’t speak of reform.

They, instead, generally speak of revivifying a time when rule by scripture and the religious elite gave Islam dominance over the rest of the world.

The fact is that such a past exists only in the imagination. It was not scripture and the religious elite that gave dominance, for there was always a battle for power. The religious elite were always marginalized, and the greatest advancement of Islamic glory came when there was something akin to modern secularism, i.e., that science and research was done by scholars from the different religions and governance was done by those who focused more on administration than by insisting on a vision of Islamic righteousness.

Muslim leaders, here in the United States and abroad, have to come to grips with reality.

There will never be any return to any heyday for Islam. Right now, they need to focus on reform and secular governance.

Without those, they will obliterate themselves through fighting with each other over who truly represents a God that increasingly appears to be some imagined monster ordering cosmic bigotry than an actual being in whom progress and admirable values are sought.

Mohammed is a professor in San Diego State University’s Religious Studies department.

Posted January 11, 2015. This article was published in the U~T San Diego on December 25, 2014. It is posted here with the author’s permission.