By Nabeel Qureshi
Americans awoke this morning to another terrorist attack — this time in the Brussels airport and subway. These attacks hit close to home. Many of us have flown through the Brussels airport, just as we have vacationed in Paris and visited San Bernardino. Once again images of the injured flood social media channels, reminding Americans of the ever-present reality that it could have been us. How is this happening? Why are people becoming radicalized, and so close to home? I am concerned how little we in the West understand why peaceful Muslims who live among us are drawn into radical Islam.
As a Muslim growing up in the United States, I was taught by my imams and the community around me that Islam is a religion of peace. My family modeled love for others and love for country, and not just by their words. My father served in the U.S. Navy throughout my childhood, starting as a seaman and retiring as a lieutenant commander. I believed wholeheartedly a slogan often repeated at my mosque after 9/11: “The terrorists who hijacked the planes also hijacked Islam.”
Yet as I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad’s life for myself in college, I found to my genuine surprise that the pages of Islamic history are filled with violence. How could I reconcile this with what I had always been taught about Islam?
In February 2015, the U.S. State Department Acting Spokesperson Marie Harfsuggested that a “lack of opportunity for jobs” might be a significant factor in radicalization and terrorism. Alternatively, Suraj Lakhani, a scholar of radicalization in Wales, suggested that the process is driven by religious concerns and a drive to bolster one’s personal identity. He implies that young Muslims ought not be allowed to hear ISIL messages or interact with their recruiters.
Naturally, I agree that interacting with ISIL recruiters is a bad idea, but I believe what the recruiters themselves say sheds the most insight on the radicalization process. ISIL’s primary recruiting technique is not social or financial but theological. With frequent references to the highest sources of authority in Islam, the Quran and hadith (the collection of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad), ISIL enjoins upon Muslims their duty to fight against the enemies of Islam and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.
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