There have been several recent examples cited as evidence that Islam has a violent belief system and that Muslims, therefore, are a scourge that need eradication. Many saw the killing of three innocent Israeli teens through this filter of a violent Islam.
Iraq is allegedly in the midst of centuries-old violence involving Sunni and Shia Muslims, which has been described as a clash of religions. However, if we follow the idea that the faith of the perpetrators is the problem then we will be looking in the wrong place for a solution. In reality, these are examples not of faith teachings being the source of conflict but instead being the tool for criminal acts and political actors using faith to excuse illegal activity or galvanize the masses.
The narrative that religious teachings are the problem distracts us from the more obvious societal ills such as lack of education, employment, security, resources and hope.
Look closely at Boko Haram. The belief that Boko Haram of Nigeria is an Islamic terrorist organization has tainted what is otherwise a much-needed awakening about human-rights violations occurring every day in many parts of the world. Instead of focusing on the massive criminal enterprises that purvey humans and weapons almost without consequence in Nigeria and many other countries, we misplace focus on going after a religion and using the term “Islamic terrorism.” This distracts us from ever solving the real issues at play.
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The International Organization for Migration estimates global human trafficking at between a $7 billion and $12 billion industry. This makes the slave trade third behind drugs and weapons. Instead of some pretend religious motivation, is it not more likely that Boko Haram’s motivation is money? Its demand shortly after taking more 200 innocent children was to release their comrades held by the Nigerian government. This included an infamous arms dealer known as “the Human Butcher” who was arrested just a few weeks before this set of kidnappings. The Butcher possessed grenades and AK-47s. This is what we should be discussing and trying to solve. Weapons and human trafficking are lucrative industries for thugs. Boko Haram are thugs, not theologians.
Boko Haram’s leader cannot Cite to any religious reason to kidnap children and forcibly convert them to Islam. In fact, the Islamic holy book, the Quran, states the opposite — that there is no compulsion to believe in God. Everyone who cites religious motivation for criminal conduct is quickly denounced by those of that religious ideology as not speaking for the religion.
Christians, Jews, Hindus and others have all committed criminal acts and cited their faith as a catalyst. It is not the religious doctrine that truly drives them; it is either some other agenda or being misguided about their own faith. This is no different in the case of Muslims.
Muslim organizations in America have issued statements condemning the acts of Boko Haram as criminal, the killings of innocent children in Israel as disgusting and the violence by both Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq as not in line with Islamic theology.
There is opportunity in today’s world of technology and resources to address real problems. However instead of being able to come together and solve an immediate crisis and place a spotlight on the real issue, instead of recognizing thugs want to make money and don’t care how they do it, we are calling thugs “Islamic terrorists” as if they are driven by some well-thought-out theological position.
If you want to hear Muslims denouncing criminal acts in the name of Islam, just listen to them. By focusing our efforts and debate on solutions to poverty, illiteracy and basic human rights we can do more together than separately.
Khurrum Wahid is a Miami-based criminal-defense attorney and co-chair of Emerge USA, a national civic engagement and youth leadership development non profit founded in South Florida.