“We cannot remain silent when such atrocities are perpetrated in the name of Islam. The sanctity of human life is a supreme value in Islam and nothing is worth the cost of a human life. Such heinous acts of murder and violence are dishonourable and betray any expression of faith in Islam.” These were the words of scholar and imam, Dr. Rashid Omar, commenting on an escalating crisis in Northern Iraq, where Islamic State (IS) rebels have embarked on a brutal campaign against the local Christian, Kurdish and Yazidi minorities.
On Wednesday, the Vatican re-issued a call for Muslim leaders to speak out against the group’s actions. Since their unexpected rise, IS has declared parts of Northern Iraq and Syria to be an Islamic ‘caliphate’, ruled by the groups leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Dr Omar, acknowledged that while Muslims were somewhat distracted by events in Gaza, the community were still unequivocal in its condemnation of IS. He rejected suggestions the Muslim community were intentionally turning a blind eye to the atrocities in Iraq, noting a large number of organisations that have already come forward to highlight the issue.
However, Dr Omar, who is a scholar in religion, conflict and peace-building at the University of Notre Dame, called for a more sustained condemnation from the local community, towards the persecutions and brutal treatment of the non-Muslim minorities in the troubled region. He stressed the importance of the community standing up against groups like IS, who were committing atrocities under the banner of Islam.
“We have a very important responsibility to disassociate ourselves from this, to say that this is not in our name, and this is not what Islam is all about,” he said.
He also urged the community against presenting itself in a sectarian manner, saying it was easy to defend a group from ones own religion or ethnicity, but it was far more difficult it to condemn them.
“For example, the Jews who are coming out and condemning the Zionist state of Israel is in fact very commendable. It is not easy for one to stand against your own, and that is the kind of witness that is also required,” he said.
Despite his view on the issue, Dr Omar was stern in his belief that the current conflict was a result of “an unwise decision by the United States to invade Iraq in 2003”. He suggested that invasion provoked the rise of a number of groups, including al-Qaeda.
“What happened is after that, IS broke away from al-Qaeda after the death of Osama Bin Laden, because they did not accept the leadership of the new leader, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri,” he said.
He also tackled the involvement of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who had given its support to rebels groups in Syria and Iraq, which included the IS. He noted a hint of irony, since the Saudi government had just recently pledged $100m to the United Nations towards counter terrorism.
“This kind of geopolitics Muslims must be very weary of. This is the same group that has been supporting the anti-Shia tirade. Of course there are differences between Sunnis and Shias, but when you go about demonising the other, you sink to levels where people’s lives become easy to take,” he said.
The Claremont Main Road Mosque will dedicate its Friday congregational service on 5 September 2014 to denounce the atrocities of ISIS and to pray for the innocent victims in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere who have been brutally murdered and maimed. Immediately after the congregational service will gather in Main Road, Claremont, for a silent vigil.
“We call on all peace and justice-loving people in the City of Cape Town to join us in protesting the actions of ISIS,” Dr Omar urged. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)