I Weep for Shrum and misguided Muslims

Saleem Ahmed, Ph.D.
Director, Pacific Institute for Islamic Studies


Joel Shrum, 30, an American development worker living in Yemen with his wife and two children, was recently gunned down in Taiz for allegedly “proselytizing Christianity” (CBSNews, March 18, 2012). A text message reportedly circulated by mobile phone in Yemen said that “holy warriors” had killed “a senior missionary” shortly after the teacher was shot dead Sunday by two gunmen on a motorcycle.
I weep for the loss of this precious life; I also weep for the headlong fall of some Muslims down the bottomless pit of insanity, emotionalism, paranoia, and super-charged zealotry. Even if Shrum were proselytizing, there are at least three major reasons why I believe his killing was un-Islamic and outright murder:

1) Islam grants unconditional freedom of religion: Let there be no compulsion in religion (verse 2.256), declares the Qur’an in no uncertain terms. Besides, if proselytizing was a capital punishment, the multitude of Muslims who speak about Islam in churches, synagogues, temples, schools, and elsewhere, in America, Europe and other non-Muslim areas, could have been similarly killed over the past decades. Are we then to assume that, by providing freedom of religion, non-Muslims follow this Qur’anic command better than some Muslims?

2) God has granted humans freedom of choice. If it had been God’s will, they (humans) would have believed . . . Will you then compel mankind against their will to believe? (verse 10.99). We cannot force humans to believe or disbelieve. Islam was neither spread by the sword, nor can it be taken away by the sword. It was not the invading Muslim armies who converted non-Muslims forcefully; it was the Sufis who came later and inspired non-Muslims to convert.

3) Gunning down an unarmed person who did not threaten them physically in any manner has to be called misguided murder – and against the valor of Islam’s martyrs and religious warriors. Regrettably, I believe the “holy warriors” responsible for Shrum’s murder are neither “holy” nor “warriors”. It also shows these “holy warriors” believe their religion is so fragile that it has to be guarded by violence. What a slap on the faces of all those who have converted to Islam voluntarily – and after much soul-searching!

While the faith of Muslims is not shaken by such un-Islamic acts, I wonder how many non-Muslims — who had been attracted by the peaceful, broad-minded and loving nature of Islam – might have given up the idea of converting after hearing of such violent actions of some misguided Muslims?

What can we, the American Muslim community, do? At a minimum, we should, in our homes and mosques, express our pain on hearing of all such actions; let our imams give sermons against such insanity. Let us not defend individuals merely because they claim to be Muslims – but rather defend Islam, which explicitly forbids these deplorable actions. We should explain to non-Muslims that such acts violate Islamic principles of peace, justice, and tolerance. Finally, we should also share our feelings with our loved ones who may reside in these countries, those who are trying to resist the spread of fanaticism. Let them know that American Muslims are with them in spirit and Islam. And finally, let us win zealots over by this beautiful Qur’anic verse: Invite all to the ways of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and discuss with them in ways that are best and most gracious (verse 16:125). Let us remember that every non-Muslim is a potential Muslim. The question is: what have we done to invite him/her to the Right Path?
Lastly, it is the onus of our religious scholars to find an enlightened way to explain why peace-inspiring verses in the Qur’an (followed by majority of Muslims) exist alongside other verses which zealots misconstrue and use for spreading violence. These scholars must find an objective way to explain, for example, why verse 5.5, which declares Muslims can eat and intermarry with ‘People of the Book’ (Jews and Christians), and verse 5.51 which declares “Do not trust Jews and Christians”, exist in the same Surah. The same inconsistencies exist in other holy texts, including the Bible, and we must implore our scholars to embark on a rich and dynamic discourse about how calls for peace and war can exist in the same breath as well as what they mean for Muslims living in a modern, pluralistic world.
Merely explaining that what Muslims do should depend upon the situation is no explanation at all. Obviously, majority Muslims have different interpretations of the situation from those of the above-mentioned “holy warriors”.

If the current unfortunate situation can compel Muslims to do ijtihad (introspection) and move ahead in a proactive and progressive manner, some ‘good’ would come out of this unfortunate situation.
Let it not be said that we only sat and shrugged our heads, but did nothing to show our pain and sorrow.

Thousands of innocent Muslims are being killed in the civil and political strife plaguing several Muslim countries today. We weep for all of them.

One Response to “I Weep for Shrum and misguided Muslims”

  1. letters from santa claus Says:

    I do enjoy the manner in which you have presented this particular concern plus it does offer me personally a lot of food for thought. Anyway, thank you for this superb piece.

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