TERRORISM'S TRAGIC FALLOUT LEAVES CANADIAN MUSLIMS FEELING GUILTY-BY-ASSOCIATION
Elmasry, September 14, 2001
Never in my life have I felt so much apprehension and
fear, anger and despair, shock and disbelief, such as I -- and countless
Canadian Muslims -- experienced during the early hours of Tuesday, September
As I watched the unfolding horror on television news with
my wife, we saw surreal images of the smoke column engulfing the first
tower of the World Trade Center; then minutes later, live on camera, the
unbelievable scene of yet another giant passenger airplane smashing into
the second WTC tower and instantly exploding in a blazing inferno. "Oh
my God!" we cried out in utter disbelief. But after that, there were no
more words to describe the indescribable, only tears, and the beginning
of profound sadness, anger, and fear.
As those terrible morning hours slowly passed and the
tragedy multiplied in rural Pennsylvania and Washington DC, with the deliberate
crashes of two more airliners, I called my American sister and her husband
in Atlanta to ask about their well-being and that of their four children.
And in between, I prayed earnestly, hoping against hope
that these unspeakable horrors would not be revealed as the diabolical
work of ignorant, insane Muslims, compounding their heinous sins by attributing
them to acts of faith.
At the Canadian Islamic Congress, we went public as quickly
as possible to unequivocally condemn these massive airborne terrorist attacks
on the U.S. and appealed to Canadian media professionals to refrain
from accusing and stereotyping specific faith and cultural groups as posssible
Muslim scholars and spiritual leaders around the world
responded similarly, with categorical statements that criminal terrorist
acts are sins that have no place or endorsement in Islam and could not
be committed by any true Muslim. World-renowned authority, Prof. al-Qaradawi,
asserted that "any sane Muslim who abides by Islamic laws would never have
caused this," adding that acts of terrorism are crimes that [are] distinct
from nationality or religious background and must be treated as such.
As the nightmare of Tuesday progressed and the extent
unparalleled tragedy seemed to grow by the hour, I fielded
media requests for interviews, not all of them impartial,
Because most media people and government officials were
so quick to
link these skilfully orchestrated disasters to the expertise
influence of militant Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden,
I and all
Muslims were clearly "marked" as guilty-by-association.
In the midst of this condemning atmosphere, I tried to
do my religious
and theological homework, starting with the most basic
question of all:
What does Islam's core scripture, the Holy Qur’an, say
I almost knew the answer by heart, but it was a comfort
and strength to
read throughout our Qur'an that God created all of humanity
great, single soul (4:1, 6:39, 6:98, 7:198), and that
emphasizes the equal value of all human lives, irrespective
nationality, gender, religion, etc. And the Qur’an is
its teaching that, in killing one innocent person, the
sinner is as
quilty as if all humanity had been murdered (5:32). The
Qur'an, in other
words, teaches zero-tolerance of deliberate, pre-meditated
The same Qur'anic verse celebrates instead how great a
deed it is when a
person helps to save even one other human life because
that is like
saving all of humanity. Yes, the Qur'an does permit self-defense
not unique in this respect, but it does so from within
a deep foundation
of teaching the sacredness of human life and the severe
God that awaits anyone who kills the innocent (6:151,
I have known, understood and loved these teachings almost
from the time
I could listen and speak. But now, after having lived
proudly in Canada
for more than three decades, I find myself having to
defend them, and to
repeatedly remind those who should know better, that
the very name of
the religion I practice is derived from the word "peace."
terrible and saddening irony!
But that is my reality now. During the past 48 hours,
waves of blatant
and cruel anti-Islamic language have been spewed indiscriminately
news and op-ed pages and throughout broadcast networks
in this country,
endangering not only their implied Muslim "targets,"
but all Canadians.
Acts of stabbing, vandalism, physical attacks, verbal
psychological abuse have been reported by frightened
Muslims to many
community and spiritual leaders. A Christian CIC employee
receiving an anonymous telephone call, condemning her
"your Muslim terrorist friends..."
Worse still, some Muslims have already received death
Canadians and Americans alike lash out in unfocused anger
they perceive as being co-responsible.
The true reality is that Canadian Muslims are grieving
as deeply as
everyone else and we in fact grieve a double tragedy,
for even as we
mourn the lose of lives including the lives of Muslims
we are also
forced to look over our shoulders.
We live during these terrible hours and days after Tuesday's
attacks in constant fear of being found guilty-by-association,
because of North America's prevailing ignorance about
Only time can tell when, or if, this swelling wave of
fear within the Canadian Muslim community will subside.
But one thing is
for sure: the ghastly crimes committed this week against
neighbours will leave deep psychological and spiritual
scars on every
Canadian -- Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
May the God of peace, justice, and wisdom give healing
to all victims
and their loved ones. May our collective authorities
exercise true and
appropriate justice upon those, wherever and whoever
they are, who
committed Tuesday's despicable crimes.
And finally, may God grant to all Canadians the wisdom
not to find me, my family and all Canadian Muslims guilty-by-association.
Elmasry, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University
of Waterloo is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.