The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is an opportune moment to reflect on how the terrorist attacks skewed the world’s perceptions of Islam. Followers of the monotheistic religion and its five pillars of faith have found themselves feared, maligned, abused and misrepresented. Is it time for a new perspective?
It wasn’t just planes that were hijacked on that apocalyptic day. The faith of over a billion people was commandeered by a handful of Muslims with violent and regressive tendencies. The keepers of that faith are still struggling to wrest back control and rid themselves of the shame visited upon them. It can’t be easy to pursue devotional and contemplative spirituality in a world that has branded you a Wahhabi extremist.
It’s true the annals of history bear witness to a horrendous litany of holy wars, bloody crusades, pogroms, torture, inquisitions, jihads and terrorism, all enacted in the name of religion. But that’s because religions are, and have always been, vulnerable to corruption through politicisation and militarisation, and, sometimes, through stupidity and ignorance, spores of illiteracy and superstition giving rise to the mould of negative tribalism.
When such things happen, religious leaders – popes, bishops, rabbis, mullahs, ayatollahs, imams, etc – are obliged to step into the arena and confront with courageous and unambiguous conviction the extremists who jeopardise the wider acceptance of their faith. Failure to do so leaves them exposed as mere apologists, custodians of a creed stripped of its spirituality, preaching scriptures that others interpret perversely to justify bellicose and barbaric behaviour.
The supremacist ideology of the Qur’an draws the sharpest distinction between those within the religion and those without. Muslim leaders can redefine the role of Islam and make it harmonious with the rest of the world, but, in order to do so, they must address that self-absorption. They must publicly denounce violent jihadists and promote compromise, tolerance and reconciliation. They must advocate a more equivocal interpretation of the words of Muhammad and engage with non-Muslims in the name of humanity. It hasn’t really happened yet. Ten years on, perceptions of Islam remain skewed.