Muslims condemning Istanbul victims are no better than IS

Muslims condemning Istanbul victims are no better than IS
Comment: Any judgement blaming the 'immorality' of those killed in a nightclub has no place in Islam, writes Samir Bennis.
7 min read
06 Jan, 2017
The victims and their families deserve our solidarity, not our condemnation [AFP]

Moments after the Istanbul nightclub attack killed 39 people and injured more than 65, opinions on the news and motivations of the attackers were flooding social and traditional media.

The level of reaction here in Morocco skyrocketed when it was reported that several Moroccans were among the victims, with the death of two Moroccan nationals confirmed by the Moroccan embassy.

What was also sad, however, was that, rather than condemning the attack in the strongest terms, and expressing the utter rejection of the killing of innocent people - irrespective of whether the victims were Muslims, Christians, Jews, or atheists - thousands of people took the debate to a whole new level of religious intolerance.

They began asking: "How would those people meet their Lord when their lives ended in a nightclub?"

And what increased the intensity of this rhetoric is that the Moroccan victims were young women who went to Turkey to celebrate New Year's Eve. Given the patriarchal mentality prevailing in Morocco, I do not think the comments would have reached this level had the Moroccan victims been men.

Is this the way Muslims should think of their dead and pray for them? Did these so-called Muslims forget that that one of the basic principles of Islam is to shun mistrust and avoid indulging in prejudice? What happened to those innocent people could have happened to any one of us.

No one has the right to interfere or defame people's choices and orientations. The fact that some people have dared to imply that the victims deserved their horrible fate, simply because they were in a nightclub, puts them on an equal footing with the Islamic State group.

There is no difference between an IS member who kills innocent people in a restaurant or nightclub, and so-called Muslims who rejoice at others' pain instead of paying tribute to them.

It was disturbing to see thousands of comments showing no sign of grieving for the victims, killed in the most treacherous and cowardly of ways, or any sign of solidarity with their families.

Have those "prophets" escaped the misadventures of life?

What many in Arab and Islamic countries suffer from is some sort of schizophrenia - and a dangerous hypocrisy that reflects their extremist orientations when they allow themselves to speak ill of their dead instead of praying for them. This propensity to allow oneself to judge the fate of people, especially in the hereafter, totally contradicts the essence of Islam, as illustrated in the Quran: "Do they distribute the mercy of your Lord?"

"It is we who have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of this world and have raised some of them above others in degrees of rank that they may make use of one another for service. But the mercy of your Lord is better than whatever they accumulate." (Quran 043:31)

If they had the slightest knowledge of their religion, they would not rejoice at the misfortunes of innocent people

There is no doubt that people who pretend to be "religious" - all while going against some of the most important tenants of Islam - do not know much about religion themselves. If they had the slightest knowledge of their religion, they would not rejoice at the misfortunes of innocent people, who by the stroke of bad luck, were in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffered at the hands of a terrorist attack.

One of the major social flaws of many Muslim societies is that people tend to prioritise bogus manifestations of religiosity and stray from the basic principles of religion which relate to social grace, establishing a system of ethics and banishing mistrust.

Read more: Jordanians investigated over hate-speech against Istanbul nightclub attack victims

Once some people perform religious rituals, they begin acting as if they have guaranteed their place in heaven, or as if they have the right to distribute forgiveness to others. From this standpoint, they tend to think that anyone who does not perform religious rituals like them deserves no pity or sympathy from them. Is this not the crux of IS ideology?

From a religious standpoint, these people have a tendency to overlook an indispensable element, which is that the performance of religious rituals would be useless in the absence of graciousness and if treatment of others is not humane, warm, and sincere regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, what counts most for large segments of Muslims today is not how they treat others, but rather more tangible manifestations of religiosity - such as the beard or timely attendance of mosques. That people observe these ordinances does not entitle them to judge others, speak ill of them or assault them. If they are convinced that their acts of worships bring them closer to God, their relation remains with their God, and He alone knows what they hold in their hearts.

How many of us know of people who portray themselves as 'good practicing Muslims' - all the while mistreating their wives and relatives or swindling people?

Likewise, God alone knows the hearts of others, and He alone is entitled to judge them. What is the added value of an individual who makes timely prayers yet does not apply in his daily life those verses which call for tolerance and devotion to one's family, the orphans and the needy, and prohibit taking away people's money away?

How many of us know of people who portray themselves as "good practicing Muslims" - all the while mistreating their wives and relatives or swindling people?

On the other hand, aren't there many who may not be "good practicing Muslims", by societal standards, but have good manners and deal with people with kindness, respect and tolerance?

The presence of individuals in Morocco who hold these superficial beliefs is worrisome. Some of these individuals are "extremists", laying an ideological foundation for potential terrorists, who attack those who don't agree with them. 

There is a great need to root out these ideas by educating people and reminding them that the core of religion is to protect the lives of others, that God has forbidden the killing of people and that human life is sacred - as illustrated in the Quran:

"Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely."

We must emphasise the role that media and universities should play in raising awareness, promoting tolerance and stressing that Islam rejects all tendencies to deem others as infidels solely because they adopt a different lifestyle or do not perform religious rituals.

We must expose our children and sensitise public opinion in Muslim societies to the notion that not everyone who goes to the mosque is a saint and has a guaranteed spot in heaven. Conversely, not everyone who goes to nightclubs or restaurants should be considered undeserving of heaven - as many commented about the victims of the terrorist attack in Istanbul.

We should also eradicate the patriarchal view that our culture imposes on women, and teach our fellow citizens and new generations that women have the right to go to cafès, restaurants and nightclubs, and that those who choose to exercise that right should not be automatically labelled "morally decadent".

Likewise, we should also stress that the ultimate message of Islam is the spread of good morals among all people, as the Prophet (PBUH) says: "I have been sent to perfect good manners."

We must all keep in mind Islam is meant to enhance our manners and improve the way we deal with others, irrespective of their religion, gender, race and orientations.

As the Prophet (PBUH) says, one's faith is not complete until his or her ethics are honourable: "The most perfect man in his faith among the believers is the one whose behaviour is most excellent; and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives."

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a PhD in international relations from the University of Provence in France and his research areas include relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil.

He has published more than 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder of Morocco World News and lives in New York. 

Follow him on Twitter: @SamirBennis

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.