(Originally written on December 2009)
This open letter to Anwar Awlaki was written as a response to his promotion of terrorism, in particular the 2008 Fort Hood killings, which he praised. It is an attempt to offer a point-by-point rebuttal. If left unchallenged, it is possible that some other youth who respect him as an Islamic scholar may act on his false theology of anger.
Awlaki was killed by U.S. forces on September 30, 2011 along with another Muslim American. His assassination was without a due process of law, which violates the U.S. constitution's Fifth amendment.
Anwar Al-Awlaki was not just another unknown engineer gone wild like Osama bin Laden. He was an imam, an author and narrator of several popular audio recordings on the Prophets, peace be upon them. Young American Muslims listened to his audio CDs.
Although Awlaki is dead his message must continue to be refuted. It is for this purpose we are publishing this open letter to him written almost two years ago.
I am a volunteer Imam in Chicago who has studied Islam under some honorable Islamic scholars. I confess to condemning terrorism in all forms. I have given sermons doing just that in front of several hundred Muslims. I am, therefore, one of those you have accused of treason against my faith.
I am also an open and public opponent of wars. I have marched in downtown Chicago along with my peace partners, Muslims and non-Muslims, to object to the war on Iraq. I will be doing the same to oppose the war on Afghanistan this weekend insha Allah.
I pray that Allah guides you and those who think similarly to the path of saving lives and saving humanity instead of encouraging the killing of unarmed human beings. I pray that you understand the true path of Prophet Muhammad’s struggle to establish peace and justice, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him.
Please consider the following points as a rebuttal of your views supporting the killing of civilians and unarmed individuals. These are meant to clarify, for those who listened to your tapes and Cds, held you in esteem, and were influenced by your theology of anger and hate:
1. You have praised those who have killed civilians and the unarmed. One specific example is General Nidal Hasan of Texas, calling him “a hero”. However, a hero does not kill unarmed people. The real heroes in this tragedy are those police officers who rushed to save lives including that of the injured killer. This is the honorable path, which terrorists don’t know. This is the path, however, which our beloved Prophet followed and preached. It is codified in the Islamic law of war. This is the path of Saladin. Here are the four examples of heroism those two police officers demonstrated:
- First, they bravely faced the armed killer who had already killed 13 people and injured 30.
- They followed the code of honor by not killing the alleged perpetrator when he was down. (Remember that the Prophet prohibited killing of injured people even in the case of war.)
- Third they made a complete effort to save the alleged killer’s life by taking him to the hospital immediately.
- They followed due process of law by arresting the alleged murderer instead of taking revenge on the spot.
Only an extremely sick and confused person can open fire on unarmed people and visit strip clubs, while considering himself a “soldier of God.” Many killers in America and around the world are essentially psychologically disturbed people who express their anger and despair by blowing up a building in Oklahoma or New York or storming a church to kill pro-abortion clergy.
Since you have narrated an audio CD about stories from the Prophet’s lives and another about the Companions of the Prophet, I ask which Prophet or which Companion killed unarmed people? Who among them visited strip clubs while claiming to be a Muslim?
Responding to U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with terror is not Halal. The rules of war in Islam are routinely violated by those influenced by your views that all life is fair game in opposing occupation.
Remember that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, stood up facing the Kaba saying “O God I have nothing to do with it” upon hearing that one of his soldiers had killed a civilian. He repeated this statement thrice before offering compensation to those non-combatant non-Muslims who were killed by one of his commanders, Khalid bin Walid, in the battle of Hunain. He then paid compensation, including for the killing of one of their dogs. That is the Prophet of Islam. God’s peace and blessings be upon him.
2. Terrorism amounts to what the Quran calls “worse than murder” (Quran 2:191). The Prophet, peace be upon him, like all prophets of God, was sent to establish Qist (Quran 57:25). That is justice, fairness, equity and peace. The struggle to establish justice and peace requires peaceful means. That is why the Prophet preferred migration over a fight, despite torture, murder, boycotts, and hunger that Muslims faced in Mecca. He first sent his followers to Habasha (modern-day Ethiopia), then himself went to the town of Taif in Arabia looking for refuge and freedom to preach. He finally settled in Madinah, where a minority promised him security and freedom. The Prophet was so insistent on the use of peaceful means to achieve peace and justice that God, Himself, had to encourage Muslims repeatedly to fight back when their enemies, their opponents in Mecca, came ready to attack them in Medina.
A number of Muslims are so focused on the history of war and battle in Islam they forget that the total time of actual battle in the life of the Prophet were not more than six days. That’s combining all the wars Muslims were part of in his lifetime, but not counting the state of war and siege of his city, Medina. The Prophet would never approve of the methods that you and your partners around the world are adopting to create chaos on earth, which is worse than murder and is killing more Muslim lives and property instead of protecting it.
3. Please note that not a single Muslim was attacked in America despite the fact that the alleged Fort Hood killer was identified as a Muslim through hundreds of TV channels across the country. This is the beautiful ethos of fairness and the sense of justice that we cherish in America, thanks to the vision of our constitutional Founding Fathers and the struggles of civil rights movements. A majority of our neighbors believe that the action of one man should not be generalized to abuse a community. This ethos was on display at its best after the 9/11 tragedy as well, when hundreds of non-Muslims across the country reached out to American Muslims, some of them even defending our mosques. Although Muslims continue to suffer at the hands of government policies and the media‘s bias, our neighbors continue to speak up in support of Muslims. May God bless them.
4. You have accused American Muslims of hypocrisy. This charge is false. We American Muslims have not only peacefully opposed the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, but thanks to the peace movement in our country, a majority of Americans now oppose these wars as well. We fight against these wars through our political process that, despite its problems, is far better than what Yemen has to offer. We have the freedom to rally against wars as I have done. We have the freedom to march against them as we do regularly. We have the freedom to speak against war as I regularly do. I have this right under the American constitution.
I hope, I pray and I work to make sure that our military power is used by our politicians to save lives instead of destroying them as in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not easy on our soldiers. Eighteen veterans commit suicide every day in America. I invite you to get your terrorist followers to work on saving lives as well.
5. I strongly reject and resent your call to American Muslims to engage in “migration from the West”. While all Americans have the freedom to leave America, which country should Muslims to migrate to? To Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive; where immigrants can never get citizenship and their children cannot, by law, get an education beyond high school? To Turkey, where Muslim boys with beards and girls wearing Hijab cannot get into college? Or Taliban territory, where girls cannot be educated, unlike Ayesha, one of the greatest scholars of Islam, May God be pleased with her?
Here in America we have far better freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom to oppose our government through peaceful and just means than any Muslim country I know of.
This does not mean our country is free of all faults. Far from it. We, as citizens, are committed to making America better and we have the freedom and an established process to do so. I know it is painfully slow. It does take time, but America has so far taken more steps forward than backwards. That is how we overcame slavery and other sins of our past.
This is the dynamism of America. We call it the “American dream.” It is sort of difficult to define. It is not just the charm of a better life. It is far more than that. I fell for this dream although I had a better car and a better house in Pakistan. This dream was fulfilled in Madinah when the Prophet declared idol worshipers, Jews and Muslim as one Ummah or community (in Arabic, “ummatun wahidah”) in his Waseeqatun Nabi, which Muslims proudly call the first constitution of the world. This is the dream that kept Muslims, Christians and Jews working together in peace creating civilization for centuries, in Baghdad, in Spain, in Timbuktu.
This is the same dream that give birth to the medical Madrassas and bimaristans in Khurasan and Cairo, which, through Sicily, led to the development of universities and medical colleges in Europe. This is a similar dream that is kept alive today by America. The dream to build for the benefit of all.
6. I don’t know why you don’t like democracy. While Googling to search for your statements, I saw one of your comments posted on a site saying that “Democracy is an un-Islamic system and we as Muslims should have nothing to do with it.” I will write separately on this topic since I have heard this from many activists for the group Hizbut Tahrir as well. But let me tell you this: the American constitution even gives us freedom to speak against democracy. That is why while I give Friday sermon after Friday sermon encouraging Muslims to vote, I find Hizbut Tahrir’s workers standing right outside the mosque, handing me their fliers against voting. I don’t agree with them but I respect their right to express their opinion. Neither our mosque nor our government stops them from distributing these fliers because of the democracy that you hate. Also, remember that diversity of opinion and respect for different opinions is a hallmark of Islam and Islamic history. It happened at the time of Prophet Muhammad and even after his death.
Democracy, at this point in time, is the best system available to select our leaders and to dismiss them instead of engaging in a violent takeover of a government and assassinating a bad leader and his progeny to remove him from the throne. Democracy is a human development just like the engineering innovations, which you might have studied in Colorado. It is a human system with flaws and faults. However, at this moment, it is comparatively speaking, the fairest system of government in the world . Compared to democracy, we have primarily authoritarian and corrupt governments in the Muslim world, which are far from fair, transparent or just.
If you don’t like American democracy please invent an Islamic democracy as the late scholar Syed Abul Ala Maududi would call it, but don’t try to bring back the system-less process in which you must kill a leader to get rid of him. This is what Christians, Jews, Muslims and others used to do for a good part of human history. Many countries still do it unfortunately. What is wrong with moving towards a system that allows for a change in government peacefully, as the Prophet came to power peacefully in Medina, and one that spares bloodshed and misery to thousands of human beings? I think this is much closer to the practice of the Prophet, who hated injustice and the killing of the innocent.
If Muslims can adopt the use of paper from the “Buddhist” Chinese and the zero numeral system from “idol worshiping” Hindu Indians, what is wrong with borrowing an electoral system of democracy from the “People of the Book”, Christians from, for example, Switzerland, who for hundreds of years have had no history of war and have never colonized any Muslim country or land.
Maybe you can make democracy better as your forefathers improved algebra or as Muslim economists today are developing Islamic economics.
I do, however, respect, the right of self-determination for all people. I don’t think America has a right to impose its system on any country and I don’t think you have a right to create “little bin Ladens” in our country either. America has consistently improved its systems and processes. We are not done yet and we have no plans of stopping.
Remember this: at one time blacks were not even considered human beings in America. Today our president is black.
The first caliph after the Prophet, Abu Bakr, chose not to exercise power as leader of the Muslims for six months until he received news that the people of your country, Yemen, had agreed to his leadership. During the Prophet’s lifetime and in the period within 100 years after his death, Muslims practiced freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and people’s right to choose their leadership.
There are Halal, peaceful ways of opposing war waged by our government that others have chosen. Former Muslim American heavy-weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to be deployed to Vietnam to fight. Today, there are American soldiers who are abiding by their conscience, refusing to fight in Iraq by fleeing to Canada. That is far superior to killing civilians, unarmed people who included a pregnant woman and the unarmed parents at Fort Hood who left behind 16 devastated children.
In your lifetime, you questioned the loyalty of American Muslims to the faith and their country. Let me be the first to tell you that we are Muslims first when it comes to our faith. Period. And we are Americans first when it comes to our country. Period. As good Muslims, we believe in speaking the truth whether it hurts terrorists abroad or warmongers at home. A good Muslim, as I understand it through the Quran and the path of the Prophet, has to be a good citizen. A believer is connected to God’s creation in service and to the Creator in worship. If one set is absent, the other is probably not there either. (Quran 107)
7. I, however, do agree with you on one point you had said: “It is becoming more and more difficult to hold on to Islam in an environment that is becoming more hostile towards Muslims.” Muslims in America have indeed faced many problems during the last several years including the PATRIOT ACT, secret evidence, and growing Islamophobia. But I believe you and your Muslim and non-Muslim partners are responsible for feeding a good part of this Islamophobia. You may understand what I mean by your Muslim partners, I hope, but let me spell out what I mean by your non-Muslim partners. I mean people like Christian preacher Pat Robertson, who calls Islam violent and called for the U.S. to treat Muslims "as we would members of the Communist party, or members of some fascist group." He says:
“Islam is a violent, I was gonna say religion but it's not a religion, it's a political system. It's a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination. That is the ultimate aim. And they talk about Infidels and all this, but the truth is that's what the game is. So you're dealing with a, not a religion, you're dealing with a political system. And I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents as such, as we would members of the Communist Party, or members of some fascist group.”
Do you see some resemblance to the way you talk and he does. You guys almost mirror each other. It is not coincidental though. Tariq Ali calls it a “clash of fundamentalisms.” It is preachers like Robertson and Rev. Franklin Graham in America and Osama bin Laden and yourself abroad, who survive themselves but whose ideologies kill. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. They have difficulty seeing human beings as one beautifully diverse creation of the same Merciful God. They don’t see our common humanity as all mainstream scholars of Islam and Christianity do. They would rather have ongoing fights and wars instead of working together to create civilization.
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anwar_al-Awlaki_sitting_on_couch,_lightened.jpg