by Mehlaqa Samdani
The carnage that took place during Easter Sunday celebrations in Sri Lanka was a terrible reminder of the havoc violent extremism can wreak in communities around the world. While details are still emerging and nobody has yet claimed responsibility, Sri Lankan authorities blamed the attack on a local extremist group, National Thowheed Jamath, with possible international links that made the coordinated attacks possible.
This attack on the Christian community by a group of Muslim terrorists should serve as a reminder to Muslim religious and political leaders around the world that more vigilance is needed around the activities of preachers who incite violence against religious minorities, who propagate archaic and insidious interpretations of scripture, and who radicalize vulnerable minds to commit the kinds of atrocities that took at least 310 innocent lives over the weekend.
We know that local Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka were aware that National Thowheed Jamath espoused violence towards non-Muslims and had even turned over documents about the group to local law-enforcement three years ago—while intelligence officials failed to act on this information, this is exactly the kind of proactive efforts needed from Muslim leaders and governments around the world.
As Mehdi Hasan points out in The Intercept, here in the U.S. it is difficult to talk about the persecution of Christians by Muslims as it feeds into growing Islamophobia. However, as Hasan emphasizes, we cannot overlook the fact that of the top 10 countries where Christian communities are most persecuted, 7 are Muslim-majority. It is time we in the Muslim community reckon with this intolerance, violent and otherwise, and find ways to address it.
In January 2016, more than 300 religious scholars from around the Muslim world gathered in Morocco to sign the Marrakesh Declaration as a response to growing violence against religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. This was a document based on the Charter of Medina promulgated by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that promoted equal citizenship for all and upheld the rights of religious minorities in 7th century Medina. Just as Muslim immigrant communities in Europe and the United States advocate for the preservation of their civil rights and liberties, they must call on their countries of origin to implement the Marrakesh Declaration, and ensure that religious minorities are protected from societal, legal, and political discrimination. The Quran has a clear message for Muslims:
“Believers! Be upholders of justice and bearers of witness to truth for the sake of Allah, even though it may either be against yourselves or against your parents and kinsmen, or the rich or the poor: for Allah is more concerned with their well-being than you are. Do not, then, follow your own desires lest you keep away from justice. If you twist or turn away from (the truth), know that Allah is well aware of all that you do” (4:135)
We Muslims would do well to follow our own scripture, and begin to address the injustice those among us commit.