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Fighting ISIS Includes Standing Up for Human Rights

09/18/2014 12:49 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:57 EDT

Last week in Calgary, a woman attacked Imam Soharwardy by trying to hit him twice with her car. She got out of the vehicle and shouted obscenities at him reserved for Muslims, calling him a "terrorist" and a "threat".

It is disconcerting to note that an Imam, who founded the first anti-terrorism NGO - Muslims Against Terrorism and who, despite death threats, is actively working against terrorism in general and ISIS - Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in particular, is subjected to a hate crime.

Is the woman who attacked Imam Soharwardy motivated by fear perpetuated by hatemongers? If so, then those who project their bastardized version of Islam have succeeded in causing rifts in community relationships.

However, some who have been personally affected by the terrorist group ISIS refuse to give into hate. Such people refuse to conflate societal ills with religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Mike Haines, whose brother was butchered by ISIS, while calling for accountability of radical ISIS recruits, also referenced verse 41:34 from the Qur'an for the message, 'Repel evil with that which is better'.

Likewise, Calgary based Christianne Boudreau, whose son was killed in Syria fighting for ISIS, is setting up a local chapter of the German group 'Hayat' (which means life in Arabic), to work for the de-radicalization of youth.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama have rejected the "us versus them" narrative espoused by ISIS. Referring to ISIS, Cameron asserted "they are not Muslims, they are monsters".

By doing so, according to Professor Alan Noble, such leaders are isolating ISIS and delegitimizing their motivation behind terrorism. This is parallel to Imam Soharwardy's position that terrorist groups like ISIS need to be isolated and collectively thrown outside the pale of Islam.

Muslim leaders across the globe have strongly condemned ISIS. In doing so, some paid the ultimate price. Yet, some news pundits and bloggers continue to associate ISIS with Islam. It is not unusual to find online comments like "Muslims and Islam needs to be wiped from Earth".

This suggests that for some people, even Sheila Musaji's overwhelming database of Muslim voices that have, through the years, consistently condemned incidents of extremism and terrorism may not be enough.

Rtd. Bishop John Shelby Spong has stated that words shape consciousness and therefore words have consequences. It should therefore not surprise us that according to the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, 60% of Canadian Muslims have continued to encounter racism since 9/11.

How can Muslims of all sects - Sunnis, Shiis, Ismailis, Ahmadis, Sufis, and all stripes - LGBTQ, feminists, environmentalists, pluralists and animal rights activists - be justifiably associated with zealots who exploit Islamic texts to suit their political agenda?

At the same time, it is acknowledged that the takfiri (excommunication) mindset has long exacerbated schisms and destroyed lives in the Muslim world. For example, countries like Pakistan where hate fomented by radical preachers has instigated persecution of vulnerable minorities including Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis.

It is important to recognize that while not all those with a takfiri attitude are terrorists; all terrorists have a supremacist and exclusionary mindset. It is the reason a plural approach to Muslim texts, accepting dissent and respecting the spiritual path of others must continue to be nurtured to an extent.

We do not wish to become what we hate.

It is the diversity of Canada that keeps Muslims here strongly united against terrorist and supremacist ideologies. Universalist Muslims, who uphold religiously plural, gender equal and LGBTQ affirming values, invite Canadians of all stripes to express solidarity with all who oppose ISIS, extremism and bigotry.

This includes Muslims like Imam Soharwardy and both Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims and David Liepert of the Calgary Islamic Chamber Institute, who were recently part of a Calgary Muslim Summit on Preventing Criminal Radicalization through Youth Empowerment, in the fight against terrorism.

Universalist Muslims also invite news pundits, bloggers and online commenters to reject armchair negativity of Muslims and Islam. It is only in uniting together that such critics have common ground with Muslims in their opposition to ISIS. The alternative - blaming and attacking all Muslims for the crimes of ISIS, is to assist ISIS in fulfilling its goal.

In order to defeat ISIS, we need to understand that far from fearing death, terrorists are willing to embrace it. While a military response can kill terrorists, it cannot destroy their ideology. But that ideology can be defeated by supporting human rights in Muslim countries.

Critics of Islam usually ask 'where are Muslim voices against ISIS?' The tired response is, 'they are here'. Perhaps, the question that needs to be asked is, 'where are critics of Islam when Muslim human rights activists are persecuted in the Muslim world?'

Conservative Muslims strongly denounce terrorism. But do they stand up and speak out for human rights that get trampled every day in Muslim countries? Critics have the right to question why Asia Bibi, a poor Pakistani Christian, remains in prison for over five years for false blasphemy charges. Why does silence persist on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan?

Critics of Islam and conservative Muslims can jointly undertake efforts to stand by Muslims who are being persecuted for asserting their voices for human rights in Muslim countries.

They can urgently stand up for secular Saudi freedom of conscience prisoner Raif Badawi, who has recently been sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison. Lashes will begin on Fridays starting next month, while his wife and three children helplessly await news here in Canada.

They can raise their voices for Saudi human rights activist Walid Abu Al Khair, head of the Saudi Human Rights monitor, who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on sedition charges and for Egyptian human rights activist, secularist and feminist, Mahienour el-Masry, who is in jail for asserting the freedom to protest.

Muslim activists assert their voices at great personal cost. Recently, Pakistani lawyer Rashid Rehman who tried to defend a University lecturer against blasphemy charges was murdered. His killer remains on the loose.

By standing against ISIS in Manitoba, Edmonton, Calgary and throughout Canada, Muslims echo, 'O Canada, we stand on guard for thee'. While such steps are necessary, lasting change will only occur when both critics of Islam and conservative Muslims stand against exclusionary attitudes.

Tolkein evoked through Gandalf, 'Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love'.

Indeed, the words of the Prophet's cousin - Imam Ali cannot feel more urgent than now, 'people are either your brothers in religion or brothers in humanity'.

We must choose humanity.

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