Sep 14 2014

Why Don’t Muslims Condemn Terrorism?


By Ramy Osman
September 2014

This question is frequently posed by non-Muslims in the media and in public forums. At times it’s non-Muslims asking each other this question. And at times it’s a question posed to any Muslim they encounter. Rarely is the questioner genuinely wondering why they haven’t seen Muslims condemning terrorism. More often than not, the questioner is attempting to vilify Muslims as a whole.

There are many assumptions that a person makes that contribute to them actually posing this question. One of the most popular assumptions is that terrorism is an exclusively Muslim thing. Another assumption is that most Muslims are either complicit with terrorism or are in approval with its tactics. Some people assume that Islam actually teaches its adherents to commit terrorism; Or assume that the actions of a few (thousands) is a reflection on the whole (almost 2 billion).

I will not try to address these assumptions. When someone makes these assumptions, it’s an indication that they have other (hidden) issues which are triggering their question. Argumentation and evidence simply won’t work as a response. Someone posing this question is as absurd as someone asking “Why don’t men condemn rape?”, or “Why don’t white people condemn murder-suicide?”, or “Why don’t Latinos condemn drug cartels?”, or “Why don’t poor people condemn thieves?”. There’s something behind these questions that the questioner isn’t saying. It’s as if they’re trying to make a statement without actually making the statement. It’s as if they really want to say, “Muslims accept terrorism”, or “Men accept rape”, or “Whites accept murder-suicide”, or “ Latinos accept drug cartels”, or “Poor people accept thieves”. These statements are absurd. And these statements would expose anyone who says them to be an ignoramus. So instead of making such an ignorant statement, people instead hide behind a foolish question.

So how does one respond to someone asking “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism”? Make it about yourself. Re-imagine the question to be “Why don’t you Muslim condemn terrorism?”. This simplifies the question, removes any abstraction, and immediately makes their assumptions irrelevant. By making it about yourself, your response would be short and simple; “I have nothing to do with terrorism” or you can say “I personally condemn terrorism”. And there you have it. A Muslim has just condemned terrorism.

When you make the question about yourself, you empower yourself to handle the question with confidence. You’re under no obligation to mention elaborate statistics, or to quote verses of the Qur’an or statements of Muslim scholars, or to give a list of Muslim websites or organizations that condemn terrorism. Just speak for yourself. If you want, you can say something like “I never voted for bin Laden”, or “I never raised funds for Al Qaeda”. These types of answers might make the questioner angry, where they might say, “I never said you were a terrorist, or that you support terrorism”, etc. That’s good. They shouldn’t have asked such a foolish question to begin with. Maybe they’ll get the point, or maybe the conversation will end there.

Of course you can always answer the question by saying “Muslims do condemn terrorism”. But don’t get your hopes up that this’ll work. A quick retort is almost always “Well show me who. I never see Muslims condemning terrorism”. Don’t waste your valuable time trying to prove anything to them. If they try to make excuses about what other Muslims are doing, then your response is “I have nothing to do with those other people”.

But maybe the person you’re talking to isn’t satisfied that you’re answering only for your own actions, and that you don’t want to answer for the actions of others. Maybe the questioner thinks that someone (like yourself), who isn’t implicated in any terrorism, has a responsibility to explain why other people (who are also not implicated in terrorism) don’t condemn terrorism. If that’s the case, then your response should be, “Go ask them”. This way the questioner will continue on their endless journey of encountering Muslims who condemn terrorism only to ask them why other Muslims don’t condemn terrorism.

Such an open-ended question as “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?”, must be modified by you in some way in order for it to be answerable. The question must be modified and made to be directly connected to something tangible. If you choose not to modify the question to be about you, then the only other option is to modify it so that it’s about a specific Muslim organization or about a clearly identifiable group of Muslims. Your Initial response would be “What do you mean?”, “Which Muslims are you talking about?”, or “Can you please be more specific?”.

If the questioner agrees to make the question about someone specific, then you can simply say “Go ask them”. This way you’ve successfully redirected their question away from you, and you’ve proven a point that there’s no need for you to account for the actions of others. If you don’t redirect the question, then you’ll need to know something about that specific organization/group of Muslims, or you’ll need to direct the questioner to someone who can speak about that specific organization/group of Muslims.

But whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be pulled into discussing an abstract and unanswerable question.



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  1. Phillip Slepian

    Strawman alert! The real question that makes most Muslims squirm is not “why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?”, but rather “Why to do Muslims submit to a belief system that approves of terror and violence as tactics to be used to expand that belief system?” When asked in this form, no implication is made that individual Muslims are terrorists, support terrorism against non-Muslims, or refuse to condemn it.

    Then, of course, is the issue of the word “terror” itself. Just as many Muslim leaders quickly condemn “terror against any innocent civilians” without bothering to explain what, in their view, constitutes an “innocent civilian”, so, too, does defining terror differ from one culture to another. When we see the beheadings of journalists (who, it is likely, actually sympathized with Muslims, and may have even converted to Islam), we in the West would describe that as acts of terror. Yet, to the jihadist, it is merely defense of the Uma, which will encourage the departure of Western “colonizers”. In the Muslim mind, no act or terror has been committed.

    The question, when properly re-phrased, is in no way “unanswerable”. So, now, I ask you, Ramy, to explain to me whether or not normative Islam requires jihad, including in the form of violent holy war, against infidels or not:

    “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).

    I know, I know. I am taking this out of context, or it was abrogated, even though there is no such thing as abrogation, or something. Nevertheless…

    Remember, when you converse with non-Muslims, you cannot hide behind phrases such as “innocent civilians”, or define terror as only those actions which harm the Uma. The meaning of the words matter.

    Many of us infidels have found it necessary to educate ourselves about Islam in order to defend ourselves from it, for we do not wish to “willingly submit”. I know this makes many Muslims uncomfortable, because the contrast between Judeo-Christian values and normative Islamic values are so stark. But, just as in chess, where you may not turn the board over just because your opponent’s last move has made you uncomfortable, if you try to limit the conversation about Islam with non-Muslims, it will not make non-Muslims less uncomfortable or less fearful of Islam’s true nature. On the contrary, refusal to discuss these sensitive topics, or attempts to change the subject, will only strengthen the resolve of non-Muslims to resist acceptance of Islam into their society on account of the dangers to their own liberties they therefore conclude that Islam poses. The fact remains that there are many truths in Islam that make conversations with non-Muslims difficult. That’s why, in my personal opinion, Islam condones the use of violence if Dawa fails. Violent jihad brings to an end all of those uncomfortable conversations about Islam. In other words, Muslims get to turn the chess board over when an infidel makes a move, or asks a question, that could lead to him winning the game.

    1. ramy

      Red herring alert.
      The topic under discussion here is whether individual Muslims condemn terrorism. The topic is not about ‘How do Muslims (or you) interpret verse 9:29?”. Of course you’ll change the subject because you’re uncomfortable with Muslims condemning terrorism; It goes against your perverted view of Muslims.
      But what really makes you uncomfortable is the concept of blowback. Maybe what you’re scared of is the amount of people who now want revenge against America for all the sabotage, toppling of governments, propping up dictators, killing and terrorizing civilians, torturing/imprisoning non-combatants, that America and its allies have done in Muslim countries. But that’s not the topic of this article either.

      1. Phillip Slepian

        So, Ramy, it’s not okay to say “all Muslims support terrorism”, but it is okay to say “all Americans support intervention in Muslim lands”? Pot. Kettle. Black. But, referring back to the original topic, you are only proving my point when you try to steer my comments back to the original phrasing of your question (“why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?”). My point was that many Muslims seem to demand total control of the conversation. Muslims, and only Muslims, can determine what questions may be asked about Islam, and to whom the questions can be addressed. When any non-believer has a question about Islam, the Koran, or Muslims, (especially if that non-Muslim is discussing something that Muslims would rather non-Muslims not truly understand), he must either be an “Islamophobe” or a misunderstander of Islam. My point was that, when it comes to the interaction of the Muslim world with the non-Muslim world, Muslims cannot control the conversation without inviting ever more distrust and suspicion. If you truly want to have an open dialog with non-Muslims about Islam and its relationship with the non-Muslim world, you may have to field questions that make you uncomfortable, not just questions for which you have prepared answers or methods of redirection (e.g.: “I’m not uncomfortable, YOU’RE uncomfortable” – ha!) And that includes the actual definitions of the terms used in both the questions and the answers. But I guess you feel you don’t owe non-Muslims any answers to questions which you would rather they not ask. That’s a shame, but only solidifies my own impressions of Islam and those who claim to speak in its name.

        1. ramy

          Oh, is it that you don’t like broad generalizations about a group of people? At least you got my point.
          But you’re not really good about staying on topic. Your not even good at knowing what the topic is.
          A question like “Why dont Muslims condemn terrorism” is an incomplete question. When that question is presented as-is, it cannot be answered. Yet, that question is repeated over and over again to Muslims; and Muslims always get bogged down into trying to answer it when in reality they don’t even know what they’re answering.

          The article is telling Muslims to make sure that the questioner specifies what they mean. And if one were to clarify the question and say “Why dont you condemn terrorism”, then all a Muslim has to do is respond by saying that they themselves do condemn terrorism. That’s it. And if the questioner doesnt like that answer, then the questioner can either modify the question again or they can move on to the next Muslim.

          The article also says don’t get into polemics because usually the questioner is only interested in either saying that Muslims are terrorists or that Muslims follow a terrorist religion (kind of like what you’re doing). Don’t get into statistics and politics because it serves no purpose. And don’t get into talking about the Quran (especially if you’re not formally educated in it) because more often than not, the questioner doesnt really care. People should only respond to the question in terms of their own behavior. Not someone elses behavior.

          Even though you went off topic, I’ll answer you anyway. There’s nothing about verse 9:29 that makes me uncomfortable. But you have a hard time telling the difference between what a verse in the Quran says, and how Muslims act upon that verse. There are almost 2 billion Muslims in the world. They dont walk around wondering ‘how can I fight an unbeliever’. And as for me, I only have to answer for my actions, not someone elses actions that’s based on their own interpretation of the Quran.

        2. Phillip Slepian

          Ramy – Thank you for the well-reasoned, thoughtful reply. It is hard to argue with most of it. I understand your intention is to provide guidance for Muslims who encounter that line of questioning, but also, please understand as one who realizes that not all Muslims condone terrorism, those who ask the question may have all sorts of reasons for doing so.

          I could not agree more that the original question is incomplete. That is what prompted most of my reply. Also, I acknowledge there are differing interpretations of the Koran, although any person, Muslim or non-Muslim, might see on encountering 9:29 for the first time something very simple and direct. And of course, there are many authoritative Muslim scholars who interpret that verse, and many others, in their literal sense.

          I do find it difficult, however, to believe that you know what billions of other Muslims are thinking. And, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Americans are not worried about the many Muslims who don’t think about fighting unbelievers (beyond the issue of non-violent forms of Jihad, that is). But if even 5% do think that way, and there is no way of knowing for sure, that can mean millions of violent Jihadists looking to harm me, my family, and my neighbors. But whether the number is 5%, 10%, or even 0.1%, it doesn’t take much to realize that some Muslims do indeed wake up every morning pondering how they can expand the Uma and fight the infidels. Maybe that’s why the question, flawed as it may be, is often asked.

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