"Whosoever kills an innocent human life, it is as the killing of all humanity. Whosoever saves a human life, it is as saving all of humanity."The event of September 11th defied language. As an American Muslim, I stood aghast after the attack on my fellow citizens--up to 15% of which may have included U.S. Muslims. And as an ER doctor on duty in New York City that day, I treated victims and relief workers whose suffering was incomprehensible, as all suffering by innocents is.
--Qur'an (Islamic Revelation)
Shortly thereafter, I reached ground zero. Unfortunately, I could contribute little, due to the scant number of survivors recovered. Tears fell many times at the scenes that followed. Ironically, some were tears of relief as I observed American Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis, those of the Baha'i faith, and others side by side, selflessly helping with relief in any form.
From my diagnostician's perspective, the tragedy joins others as a horrible symptom that has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with corrupt sociopolitical and economic agendas that result in endless cycles of pain and violence. These have plagued civilization since the dawn of history, of course. But in modern times, we face the horror of more quantitative damage as media manipulation, industry, and technology can be used to inflict suffering upon innocents on an unprecedented scale.
The underlying causes of these symptoms is what must be challenged and defeated. It is the struggle against a behavioral cancer; against a barbaric viciousness recessed in the human psyche; against a darkness that makes any sane individual ashamed of belonging to the human species; against a suffocating, malignant and constricting egoism. These in turn manifest as fanaticism, reactionary hysteria, and elitism.
When these qualities overcome an individual or group, they ultimately lead to mass crimes against humanity in the name of an ideal. And we can recognize these same deadly elements in the backlash acted out in "retribution"--with people targeted solely on the basis of skin color or dress.
The struggle against these dangerous facets of the psyche is the way of the prophets, saints and sages in all traditions. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) called this struggle against those dark elements found within your own self the Greatest Jihad. "Jihad," a very misunderstood term, does not mean holy war--there is no such concept in Islam. It literally means "struggle." This struggle, this Greatest Jihad, is not being waged often enough and the consequences are disastrous.
I feel that the hosts of heaven, the angels and the souls of the great spiritual masters that have tread this earth, protest and weep over the actions of humanity during this past century. The Qur'an says angelic beings protested when God created humans, asking why He would create a being which would do mischief and shed blood. Divinity responded, "I Know that which you do not." This knowledge related to the Godliness within all humans, which now, more than ever, we need to search for and retrieve.
It is categorically clear that no authentic way of life based upon submitting to peace and divinity allows indiscriminate slaughter; be it in the form of massacre and pillaging, genocide, enforcing foreign policy that directly leads to famine and death in whole countries, using weapons of mass destruction, incinerating entire cities via nuclear assault, or any other means of mass killing. You can label these as effects of modern warfare, collateral damage, or terrorist acts, but the final common denominator leaves us with the horrific suffering of innocent people.
These acts have nothing to do with Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any other religion or peaceful ideology. This is true no matter how eloquently the criminals speak, how many times the word "God" and religious phraseology emerge from their mouths, or how often they use the terms "justice", "freedom", and "national interests." The long beards and flowing robes or the clean-cut articulate impression of neat-fitting suits should not fool those committed to peace. At the same time, the military response to the tragedy of terrorist attacks may further fuel a cycle that causes innocents to suffer terribly.
Islam is defined, in essence, as that perennial way of peace that began with Adam and evolved through the messengerships of the prophets Noah and Abraham, referred to in the Qur'an as "Muslim"--that is, one who is at peace with divinity and therefore all of creation. The way of Islam evolved with hundreds of prophetic luminaries, including those mentioned in the biblical traditions such as David, Solomon, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, John, and Jesus. May Peace be upon all of them. The message of all was to live in a state of Islam thereby earning the title of Muslim in the Qur'anic sense. These sentiments are also echoed in the words of Ahura Mazda, Buddha (may Peace be upon them), and in the Hindu tradition. Thus the Qur'an as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him), who crystallized the way of the Muslim, embraces all that is authentically divine and true in all other religions. It asks for all to converge on what is common to all good people.
Islamic tradition reminds us that those most beloved of God, such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (Peace be upon them), suffered tremendous persecution, deprivation, hostility, and loss, including the loss of loved ones. We cling to the example of their strength and resolve, with the knowledge that ultimately they were in the right, and they received the ultimate tranquility. Good and innocent people throughout the ages walk on this path. They are no strangers to being oppressed and injured by those willing to do anything to further their own agendas.
The Qur'an asks us not to view those who are slain in the way of God as dead. The Qur'an insists they are alive on a higher level of reality imperceptible in time and space - in proximity to eternal beauty. The ways of God are many; honest work to provide for yourself and family is one of the ways blessed by God. Thus those killed as a result of this catastrophic crime, and their loved ones, may earn this Divine Proximity. One of the common phrases in the Islamic world that is used to comfort those in loss and in grief is "May your struggle, trial or hardship be for you a source of nearness to God, and a source of spiritual growth and purification."
Those who struggle with hardship and loss have a very intimate relationship with God in the Islamic tradition. They are asked in the Qur'an to try and assume a state known in Arabic as "Sabr." This term has as its related meaning notions such as patience, perseverance, steadfastness, resolve, fortitude: "keeping your chin up." The Qur'an proclaims "God is with those in Sabr" and, in another instance, "God loves those in Sabr." This should not at all be confused with passive resignation, as the Qur'an explicitly commands us to work and struggle against agents of misfortune, oppression and tragedy.
Indeed, Islamic traditions counsel us unconditionally to offer aid and support to the victim and bring to justice the victimizer, no matter to what label or group either may belong. American Muslims support all efforts to accurately identify and mete out justice to those responsible for heinous crimes like the terrorist attacks.
The prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) advised his companions to guard the interests of the oppressed, the weak, and the victimized; he further paraphrased an inspiration (separate from the Qur'an, which is direct revelation) dictating "look for God among the victims, the poor, weak, and the disenfranchised."
Right now in America, there is an acute need for emotional and spiritual "doctoring." As the Reverend Billy Graham so eloquently stated at the National Prayer Service, there are no easy answers to the mystery in the relationship between God and human tragedy, suffering, and hardship. As Islam exhorts all people of faith to join together in common good and spiritual counsel, we offer that which in our tradition deals with those who suffer loss. It is no coincidence that the messages found in the Qur'an are found in other authentic traditions.
"From God we originate, and unto God do we return." These Qur'anic verses, so similar to Christian sayings, comfort those who grieve. They are constant reminders for the innocent--those taken advantage of and hurt--that during our lifetime or in the hereafter joyous recompense lays with God. And the verses warn those who engineer conditions of oppression and commit acts of injustice that they, too, will stand accountable to God.