At a nice Friday night dinner in Istanbul, my friends and I had just been discussing the stability of the Middle East; the refugee crisis; the challenges of child rearing; and the latest health regimens by nutritionists. Then the evening was interrupted by a phone call informing us of the Paris attacks. We all rushed to the living room to watch the news and make calls to those we know in Paris. The scene could have taken place anywhere in the world. But I happened to be with an all-Muslim crowd, from various parts of Turkey, whose horror and shock upon hearing the news were compounded by the fact that the terrorists claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.
We all knew that those terrorists did not represent us as Muslims. And every one of us knew that we would pay the price for their actions. Some froze and kept on saying, “this is really bad – this is really bad.” Some started crying. Some started praying for the safety of their French friends — the teenage son of one was at the soccer match. I kept on writing to all of my friends in France, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.” Beyond my horror at what I was witnessing on TV, I was extremely embarrassed that this was done in the name of my religion – a religion that I cherish for its beauty.
The next morning a few other friends gathered to catch up with the news, to hear the confirmation that it was ISIS members, the attackers’ shouts of “God Is Great” as they shot at people, and Holland’s declaration of war. We all felt frozen in this horror –paralyzed. In truth we were as frightened by Daesh or ISIS, as every French person would be. Moderate Muslims are as much targets of ISIS as Westerners are. Yet many in the West lump all Muslims into one definition of the religion — one provided by ISIS who, at most, represent .001 percent of the entire Muslim population.
Moderate Muslims not only espouse values of liberty, justice, freedom, and equality for all but believe these to be pillars of our religion. The Muslim majority is caught between dread of ISIS and dread of Western anger, fear and prejudice. And that anxiety is often leading to silence. We are dumbfounded by the horror and by the claim that it represents the essence of Muslim religious identity. There is also the shame that this is perpetrated by people who recite prayers that are familiar to all Muslims. The proper use of these prayers is to show love and gratitude for God, not to cause harm to anybody.
These feelings and thoughts have been circulating among Muslims all over the world. The shame, the embarrassment, the fear, are all leading to silence or, at best, whispers that this is not us. Muslims are made vulnerable by the instability of the region, the attacks on any individual who defends what is seen as a Western value or principle, and ISIS aggression. Indeed, ISIS threatens violence for anybody who opposes them, including comedians and actors in countries like Saudi Arabia who have received serious death threats for exposing ISIS atrocities.
Unless and until moderate Muslims reclaim the religion and state loud and clear from within civil society, religion, business and the political community that this is not our religion, not our understanding of it and not our practice of it, we will be accomplices in letting terrorists like ISIS define us. And Muslims will pay the price for this, both in terms of the quality of our lives and our safety. Muslims must break the silence of fear in order to protect the religion itself from any further deviation and corruption by those who are using it to serve their own particular political agenda. It is time not only to speak out for all Muslims, it is time to scream: Not In My Name. The Islam I know is a religion of peace not a religion of terror.
Indeed I am profoundly sorry for all the French people. What happened is a violation of every principle I know of Islam and of humanity.
Zainab Salbi is an author and media commentator and the founder of Women for Women International — a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving women survivors of war. Salbi is an editor at large for Women in the World who travels around the Middle East and North Africa, reporting on the intersection of Middle Eastern and Western cultures. For more information on Salbi’s work visit www.zainabsalbi.com.