The last 24 hours will have been an emotional roller coaster ride for the people of London. Following the elation of winning the right to hold the 2012 Olympic Games, at least 7 deadly explosions have brought death and tears to this jubilant city.
The Olympic win promised to be an enormous boost to the East End, home to many impoverished groups including sub-continental Muslim migrants. Now these same migrants and their brethren in communities across the Western World will once again be asked to explain and prove their loyalty.
And how should London Muslims respond? Should they hide behind the catch-cry of discrimination? Should they remind fellow citizens that Muslims are just as English as their countrymen and women are? Or should London Muslims act sensitively to allay fears and uncertainties?
London Muslims are victims of these attacks just as much as other Londoners. They share the natural feelings of vulnerability, besieged by what appears to be yet another attack by extremists using Islam as an ideological weapon.
When western citizens are kidnapped by extremists with Muslim-sounding names, the reputation of Islam is hijacked. When western citizens are murdered and executed, Islam is also being murdered and executed. When western citizens are the target of injustice, Islam is treated unjustly.
Islam is an Arabic word that means ‘peace’. How can peace be established with bombs and suicide attacks and kidnappings? How can peace be spread through killing peaceful civilians?
Islam is a word that also means ‘surrender to God’. Our Lord never taught us to kill and maim civilians. Our God never taught us to harm people who do not harm us.
The English people recently delivered a severe blow to their government over its involvement in the Iraq invasion and occupation. Even before the war, perhaps the largest anti-war rally was held in London. The hearts of English men and women are on the side of the victims, of innocent Iraqi and other children , women and men who die each day across the Muslim world.
London has provided sanctuary to hundreds of Muslim refugees and dissidents fleeing repressive Muslim regimes. For over a decade, London was home to the late Abdul Majid Khoi, one of Iraq’s most senior religious figures. Muslim dissidents and activists speak their minds more freely in London than perhaps anywhere else in the world.
The time has come for these English Muslim dissidents and activists to raise their voices and condemn the attacks on the city that has provided them with freedom and sanctuary.
One of the best remembered incidents from early Islamic history is the story of repressed Muslim refugees fleeing from Mecca to Abyssinia at the orders of the Prophet Muhammad. This small band of Muslims sought protection and refuge from a Christian King, known in Islamic tradition as Najashi.
Notwithstanding strong submissions from the Meccan authorities and support from his advisers, Najashi granted the Muslims a fair hearing and natural justice. Following an impassioned speech by the Prophet’s cousin, Jafar, Najashi orders that the refugees be granted sanctuary for as long as they wished to remain in his kingdom.
The Christian kingdom of Abyssinia proved a safer place for Islam than the Arabian peninsular. While the Prophet and his remaining disciples faced famine, exile and war, his cousin and some 70 other Muslims enjoyed peace and security under the auspices of a Christian king.
London is to many Muslims what Abyssinia was to these early Muslims. And just as the King of Abyssinia granted the early Muslims a fair hearing, natural justice and security, so has London done the same.
The Mayor of London has been a prominent supporter of human rights for Muslims, particularly for Muslim women struggling against discrimination based on dress. The English Parliament has welcomed Muslims such as Lord Ahmed and Baroness Uddin into its hallowed halls. Muslims are free to participate at all levels of English society.
The nation that cheered for its cricket team even when captained by one Nasser Hussein deserves to feel secure in the knowledge that its Muslim citizens openly and publicly condemn the perpetrators of these attacks. Muslim Englishmen and women must echo the condemnation of terrorist acts and ideologies already expressed by prominent English Muslim scholars such as Tim Winter and the late Martin Lings.
The time to speak is now. Muslims must speak out now. Or else they will be condemned by their silence. And at a time of terror-induced pain and tears coming so soon after Olympic elation, English Muslim silence will speak louder than any detractors’ words.
(The author is a Sydney lawyer.)
© Irfan Yusuf 2005