Islam a religion of peace?
Osama bin Laden, the world's most notorious terrorist, has handed Muslims everywhere their worst public-relations nightmare: September 11 as a picture, an embodiment, of Islam. Muslims now have to define themselves in relation to the day of infamy.
Abdulaziz Sachedina, a Muslim scholar at the University of Virginia, says he does not remember ever praying so earnestly that God would spare Muslims the blame for "such madness that was unleashed upon New York and Washington . …I felt the pain and, perhaps for the first time in my entire life, I felt embarrassed at the thought that it could very well be my fellow Muslims who had committed this horrendous act of terrorism. How could these terrorists invoke God's mercifulness and compassion when they had, through their evil act, put to shame the entire history of this great religion and its culture of toleration?"
Every judgment about Islam, all reaction to Muslim doctrine, and each Muslim-Christian encounter are now cast in light of the events of that dreadful day.
Islam as a Path of Peace
There are three distinct interpretations of the events of September 11. The first view is that the terrorist acts do not represent Islam. President George W. Bush best expressed this notion when he said that "Islam is a religion of peace." One of the leading Muslims to echo this is Yusuf Islam (the former rock musician Cat Stevens, who now helps promote Muslim education in England). "Today, I am aghast at the horror of recent events and feel it a duty to speak out," he said in a London newspaper. "Not only did terrorists hijack planes and destroy life; they also hijacked the beautiful religion of Islam."
During an interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium on September 23, Imam Izak-El M. Pasha pleaded, "Do not allow the ignorance of people to have you attack your good neighbors. We are Muslims, but we are Americans. We Muslims, Americans, stand today with a heavy weight on our shoulders that those who would dare do such dastardly acts claim our faith. They are no believers in God at all."
Major Muslim organizations throughout North America, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Students Association, denounced the work of the terrorists. The powerful American Muslim Council issued a press release on September 11, saying it "strongly condemns this morning's plane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and expresses deep sorrow for Americans that were injured and killed. amc sends out its condolences to all the families of the victims of this cowardly terrorist attack."
With the exception of Iraq, Muslim nations distanced themselves from the attack on America. "Iran has vehemently condemned the suicidal terrorist attacks in the United States," Iran Today reported in a front-page story on September 24, "and has expressed its deep sorrow and sympathy with the American nation." The governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen expressed similar sentiments.
Leading intellectuals, who have argued that terrorist acts represent only fringe Muslims, have also promoted the view that Islam is a religion of peace. Edward Said, the controversial Columbia University professor, argued in The Nation that September 11 is an act of cultic religion. Comparing Islamists to the Branch Davidians and the Rev. Jim Jones, he said September 11 is a model of "the carefully planned and horrendous, pathologically motivated suicide attack and mass slaughter by a small group of deranged militants . …the capture of big ideas by a tiny band of crazed fanatics for criminal purposes."