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I Say Allahu Akbar. I Am Not A Terrorist.

03/11/2017 7:03 PM IST | Updated 03/11/2017 11:14 PM IST
Karim Shamsi-Basha
My sister Mimi prays at her house in Damascus.

 I grew up saying “Allahu Akbar” numerous times every day.

And no, I wasn’t, and am not, a terrorist.

I wasn’t someone who blew buildings up, killed people or shot a missile from my rocket launcher. As far as the West is concerned, those are the events associated with the saying when something bad is about to happen. People of the West are terrified of the phrase.

I was a Muslim boy trying to pray as many times as he could amidst a life of love and peace, in a home that did not condone any terrorism. My father was a poet who read me love poetry instead of nursery rhymes. He uttered the phrase when he prayed. If love existed in the form of a man, it was my father.

“Love everyone,” was the phrase he uttered almost daily. To him, there was not a problem he couldn’t solve with love.

Allahu Akbar

The saying literally means God is the greatest. It is required of all Muslims to say several times during prayer, which is demanded five times a day. On the average a Muslim ends up saying it hundreds of times. The words are also used as a celebration of life: When a baby is born, when a couple marry or when a veteran returns home safe.

The word Islam means surrender. You’re supposed to surrender to God and worship him. Love, mercy and compassion are uttered several hundred times a day by any Muslim when they say Besm Allah Alrahman Alraheem, In The Name Of God The Merciful The Compassionate. That saying is uttered before you do anything.

So when and why is the phrase Allahu Akbar used as a battle cry, when a terrorist is about to kill someone? The latest incident was the horrific act in New York when the terrorist shouted the phrase before the police shot him, and after he killed eight people and injured many more.

For the majority of Muslims, to shout God’s name as you killed the innocent is an abomination. Muslims no more want innocent people killed than anyone else. So why is the phrase used by terrorists?

For the same reason ISIS and Al-Qaida exist: The misinterpretation of Islam. When you use religion as the motive for you actions, you have the power to appeal to the masses. It’s a brain washing if you will. The terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th are no different than any suicide bomber in Israel/Palestine, are no different that the one who mowed down bicyclists in New York. They are people who misunderstood and misused the religion. They are sick and twisted and evil.

The phrase is to remind Muslims that God is supreme. That’s it. It was never to be used as a battle cry during horrendous actions furthering political agendas with evil motives.

My heart sank when I heard the terrorist shouted the saying after the attack. I will never understand the link between Islam and Terrorism. The Islam I grew up amidst condemns such actions. It preaches love and peace and tranquility and feeding the hungry and clothing the poor and sheltering the homeless. One of the five main requirements of Islam in addition to prayer and fasting is to give a percentage of your money to the poor.

Is There A Difference?

To me, there is no difference between the terrorists who shout Allahu Akbar when committing a crime and those white nationalists and racists who shouted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville ― Virginia recently.

Here’s where the double standard hurts: When that man killed 58 people in Las Vegas, the word terrorist was not uttered by anyone. Why is it only attached to people who claim Islamic affiliation?

The Quran was brought down to Muhammad in the seventh century. The verses which preach war and fighting were contextual and apply to the time when he and his followers had no choice but to fight back, or die. It is no different than the Old Testament which contains many verses preaching war and killing.

In Deuteronomy Chapter 2, Verses 32-37, Moses is told to kill men, women, and children:

“And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Siphon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us.”

How is this any different than what’s in the Quran? And why are Muslims judged by a different prism? Most of the Quran preaches love and harmony and helping those who have not. Take this for example:

“And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him (saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you.” [76:8-9]

Any ancient religious book can be misunderstood and misrepresented. The Ku Klux Klan said the Jesus was the first Klansman. They burned crosses to spread their ill will. How is that any different?

My Sister

Karim Shamsi-Basha
My sisters Mimi, right, and Rowaida.

My sister Rowaida lives in New York. We chatted last night when I wanted to make sure her head covering was not causing any problems. In the past when terrorists committed atrocities in the name of Islam, women with head coverings were profiled. She said everything was fine, and prayed for those people affected by the terror.

My sister prayed for them.

She is a teacher and her husband is an architect. All they want is food, water, and a roof over their heads, and for their children to thrive. They have four: a computer scientist, a doctor, a physical therapist, and a pharmacist. They love like anyone else, and they have compassion and mercy and empathy like anyone else.

The covering on her head says two things: Modesty and humility.

A Wish Or Two

I have one wish, well maybe two.

The first is for my children to thrive and go through life without any judgment based on their last name.

The second is for this world to know that Muslims mean no one any harm. The people who mean harm are as far from Islam as the KKK is far from Christianity.

My religion is love.

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