Qari Asim: Poisonous narrative of IS must be countered

THE highly co-ordinated murderous attacks on public sites in Paris have shaken the world.

Like everybody else, my first emotion is: “Oh my God, that’s absolutely terrible.” This is quickly followed by the hope that the heinous crime, whatever it might be this time, has not been committed in the name of my religion.

As a Muslim, I am absolutely 
repulsed at the carnage caused by the terrorists. The fact that the perpetrators espouse rhetoric linking their senseless murders to Islam disgusts me even further.

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The terrible shootings and savage murders are not only an attack on the people of France, but an attack on all of us. Through their evil actions, the militants have shown that they have no regard for God or humanity.

There is absolutely no room for any suggestion that this type of callous, cold murder of civilians is in any way justified by the teachings of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad has said that whoever kills a non-combatant individual will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.

Accordingly, Muslims must not only continue to condemn and disassociate themselves from the acts of militants, but continue to pro-actively challenge the spectrum of extremism through education, engagement and the empowerment of vulnerable young people.

There need to be increased efforts to counter the poisonous narrative the terrorists espouse. The simple fact is that there is no conflict or crisis – whether it be Syria or Afghanistan – that justifies taking innocent lives and causing mayhem and destruction in the world.

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However, the suffering that terrorism causes to Muslims must also be acknowledged. Muslims have lost more lives than any other community through terrorism worldwide. Muslims have also been killed in this wave of terror attacks, as was the case with the shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices earlier this year, and with the terrorist attacks of 7/7 in London.

The toxic ideology that the terrorists propagate is so twisted that they mercilessly and indiscriminately kill children, women and innocent civilians with no regard for the sanctity of life or indeed for the identity of their victims.

The terrorists want to create a climate of fear, anger and suspicion and exacerbate tensions in our multi-faith and multi-cultural societies; they long to create insular and authoritarian communities. The anger and frustration that the attacks have created are completely understandable. So is the desire to retaliate – Francois Hollande declared the attacks an “act of war”.

Our response must be forceful but measured. More innocents must not be killed in Syria and Iraq due to this provocation by IS. Past events show that their most fertile recruitment grounds are those torn apart by conflict. Our values of tolerance, civil liberties and freedom must not be compromised.

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IS wants to provoke people so that there are more anti-Muslim verbal and physical attacks, resulting in some Muslims feeling that they can only truly be ‘at home’ in the pseudo-utopian state.

Depressingly, there are already reports of increased hostility, racism and prejudice towards Muslims in the wake of the Paris attacks.

The heinous crimes of the terrorists must not be allowed to destabilise the good relationships between faith groups and communities in the West. By allowing relationships to be fractured, or in the words of President Hollande, bringing the “return of walls and barbed wire to Europe”, we are doing the work of the terrorists who want to create a “them against us” culture.

They want to put an end to the spirit of welcoming refugees in Europe as it exposes the fallacy of their claim that they have created an ‘Islamic caliphate’ to which all Muslims should migrate. In reality, Muslims are fleeing from the so-called Islamic State, and risking their lives in the process.

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It is more important than ever that the solid relationships that communities have built are used to help defeat terrorism and build stronger communities.

For my part, I will not accept hatred, violence or the dehumanisation of others. As a Muslim, a Briton and a human being, I will not stay silent on attacks on our societies in the name of my faith. I will continue to bridge gaps between communities because the only thing that can replace hatred is understanding and compassion, and the counter narrative to violence must be peace.

Qari Asim MBE is a senior imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds.