Debates About Religion And Identity

Are Western Civilians Legitimate Targets in War?

Osama Bin Ladin’s February 23, 1998 fatwa says, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.”

Some American Muslims have responded to Osama Bin Ladin’s call. For example, in October 2004, an American Muslim from New York, James Elshafay, pled guilty to conspiring to blow up a New York subway station. In November 2007, an American Muslim from Illinois, Derrick Shareef, pled guilty to plotting to attack a shopping mall with hand grenades. In January 2009, an American Muslim from New York, Bryant Neal Vinas, pled guilty to providing Al Qaeda with information that could have been used to attack the Long Island Rail Road. In April 2010, an American Muslim from New York, Zarein Ahmedzay, pled guilty to plotting to bomb the New York City subway system. Ahmedzay told the judge that he planned to bomb the subway to pressure the U.S. military to withdraw from Afghanistan. In June 2010, an American Muslim from Connecticut, Faisal Shahzad, pled guilty to attempting to set off a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square. When the judge asked Shahzad whether he had realized that his car bomb could have killed children in Times Square, Shahzad said, “It’s a war. I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. On behalf of that, I’m revenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.” The judge said that civilians in Times Square did not have anything to do with American foreign policy, and Shahzad replied, “The people select the government. We consider them all the same.” Shahzad told the judge he was a “Muslim soldier.” Shahzad said he chose a warm Saturday night in May 2010 for the bombing, because he knew that Times Square would be more crowded on a warm weekend night, so more people would be injured or killed. Several other American Muslims (and Muslims of other nationalities) have been convicted of plotting attacks against targets inside the U.S.

Many American and European Muslim scholars and organizations have repeatedly condemned attacks on civilians since the 9/11 attacks. Following the London bombings, the Fiqh Council of North America issued a fatwa stating, “Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram — or forbidden.” Read the rest of this entry »

According To The Qur’an, When Are Muslims Required to Fight, And Against Whom?

There are verses in the Qur’an instructing Muslims to use force in some circumstances. Along with being a religious and political leader, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a military leader. So when does Islam require Muslims to use force?

Are Muslims required to use force if they are attacked, or if other Muslims are attacked? Are Muslims required to use force to spread Islamic rule? Did the Prophet initiate violence, or did he only respond to it?

Muslims have answered these questions in various ways throughout Islamic history. Some Muslims have argued that Islam requires fighting when Muslims are physically attacked, or when Muslims are prevented from practicing Islam, or when Muslims are prevented from teaching others about Islam. Other Muslims have argued that Islam requires Muslims to fight until the world has come under Islamic rule. (This is different from forcing people to convert to Islam.)

The Prophet himself fought in various circumstances after migrating to Medina. Early on, based on commands from God, the Prophet fought the Meccan pagans who had forced Muslims to leave Mecca. Later on, based on commands from God, the Prophet fought some other pagans and some People of the Book. Some Muslims argue that God’s commands to fight applied only to the holy land of the Arabian Peninsula at a time when it was necessary to solidify the foundation of the new Islamic state, and that these commands cannot be used to justify fighting today. Other Muslims argue that these commands to fight apply everywhere for all time.

The following is a sampling of Qur’anic verses, translated by Yusuf Ali, relating to when Muslims should fight. (All of these verses were revealed after the Prophet left Mecca; Muslims were not permitted to use force before they left Mecca, despite the physical and economic oppression they faced while they lived in Mecca.) Read the rest of this entry »

Can American Muslims Talk About 9/11?

While many Americans of various faiths have opposed the U.S. government’s domestic and international “War on Terror,” American Muslims who have expressed their criticisms and doubts about these policies have often had their loyalty questioned.

Many Americans wonder why a large number of American Muslims oppose monitoring mosques and Muslim charities, phone wiretapping and airport profiling. Is it because American Muslims are unwilling to tolerate any personal inconvenience or intrusion on their privacy, even if it makes the country safer? Is it because American Muslims sympathize with terrorists, and they don’t want terror plots disrupted?

And many Americans wonder why many American Muslims opposed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Is it because American Muslims put the safety of their fellow Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq over the safety of their fellow Americans here at home? Is it because American Muslims want al-Qaeda to have bases it can use to strike America again? Read the rest of this entry »

Should American Muslims Join the American Armed Forces?

Al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11 (and before 9/11) in response to American support for Muslim dictatorships in the Muslim world, American support for Israel, and direct American military involvement in the Muslim world (including in Saudi Arabia and Iraq) dating back to the first Gulf War. After 9/11, the U.S. withdrew its troops from Saudi Arabia, but it continued all the above-mentioned policies. Furthermore, the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. military has supported efforts to defeat Muslim insurgents in other regions, like the Philippines. The U.S. military may also attack Iran due to a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Al Qaeda continues to threaten further attacks against America. For the foreseeable future, the U.S. military will be fighting in the Muslim world.

There are 1.4 million Americans serving in the American armed forces. Since 9/11, in preparation for wars in the Muslim world, the U.S. military has actively recruited American Muslims who speak the languages of the Muslim world and who understand the cultures of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Out of an American Muslim population of approximately 6 million, between 5,000 and 20,000 American Muslims currently serve in the American armed forces. (Some were already Muslim prior to joining, and others became Muslim after they were already in the military.) Hundreds of American Muslim soldiers have been involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

Should American Muslims join the American military in larger numbers? Or should all American Muslims get out of the American military? Read the rest of this entry »

Did Tarek Mehanna Have A Religious Obligation To Fight American Troops In Iraq?

In April 2012, an Arab-American Muslim from Massachusetts, Tarek Mehanna, was sentenced to seventeen-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of (among other things) traveling to Yemen in 2004 so he could get training to fight against U.S. troops in Iraq. (Several American Muslims have been convicted on similar charges.)

Mehanna’s case has renewed a debate among some American Muslims: If the U.S. invades a Muslim country, whose side are American Muslims supposed to be on? What religious responsibility do American Muslims have to assist Muslims whose country is invaded by the U.S.?

At his sentencing hearing, Mehanna told the Judge, “I watched as America then attacked and invaded Iraq directly. I saw the effects of ‘Shock & Awe’ in the opening day of the invasion – the children in hospital wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking but of their foreheads (of course, none of this was shown on CNN). I learned about the town of Haditha, where 24 Muslims – including a 76-year old man in a wheelchair, women, and even toddlers – were shot up and blown up in their bedclothes as the slept by US Marines. I learned about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire to their corpses. I just want to point out, as you can see, Muslim women don’t even show their hair to unrelated men. So try to imagine this young girl from a conservative village with her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by not one, not two, not three, not four, but five soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I read about the drone strikes which continue to kill Muslims daily in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Just last month, we all heard about the seventeen Afghan Muslims – mostly mothers and their kids – shot to death by an American soldier, who also set fire to their corpses. These are just the stories that make it to the headlines, but one of the first concepts I learned in Islam is that of loyalty, of brotherhood – that each Muslim woman is my sister, each man is my brother, and together, we are one large body who must protect each other. In other words, I couldn’t see these things beings done to my brothers & sisters – including by America – and remain neutral. My sympathy for the oppressed continued, but was now more personal, as was my respect for those defending them. … So, this trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s not extremism. It’s what the arrows on that seal above your head represent: defense of the homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when they say that you don’t have to agree with my beliefs – no. Anyone with commonsense and humanity has no choice but to agree with me. If someone breaks into your home to rob you and harm your family, logic dictates that you do whatever it takes to expel that invader from your home.”
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