In the aftermath of the Orlando murders many Muslims are adamant that they will not apologize for anything. This is a proper stance as our religion does not advocate collective guilt, nor collective punishment. We are informed in the Qur’an, “No bearer of burdens (a sinner) can bear the burdens of another.” No one needs say, “I am sorry” for crimes they did not commit. On the other hand, many are viewing clarifying Muslim teachings, attempting to manage popular perceptions, or condemning criminal actions as unacceptable “apologizing.” Such a view is misguided.
It is fitting, in fact it is imperative, that we announce to the public that acts of vigilante violence, mass murder, wanton mayhem, and targeting innocent people have no place in our religion. This is true if such violence takes place in Muslim majority countries, as happens almost daily in places like Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen, and sporadically elsewhere in the Muslim world. It is especially true for those of us living here in the United States, where there is a propaganda machine in place, which capitalizes on the unique aspects of each massacre to distort basic Islamic teachings, over time with numbing effect. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we do not have the luxury of saying nothing.
Such clarification is especially needed now because nefarious forces are using Omar Mateen’s (and his possible accomplices’) vile actions to further the idea that Islam is a violent, irrational, barbaric religion, and then translate the ensuing fear, hatred and anger into policies, which even now, are having devastating consequences for Muslims all over the world. I have seen firsthand the damage such misperceptions are causing among non-Muslim family, friends, and associates, and I have also seen how welcome clarifying words are.
As for managing perceptions of the religion, ask yourself a couple of questions. Why did the Prophet (peace upon him) announce that a woman walking with him was his wife, Safiyya bint Huyayy? Why did he resume praying for deceased debtors? In the first instance he did not want people to think that the moral character of the Messenger of God (peace upon him) was flawed in any way, as that would have devastating implications for the integrity of the entire religion. In the second instance he did not want people to think that he abandoned his Companions at the time of their deaths. There are numerous incidents of this sort that illustrate the ways in which the Prophet (peace upon him) managed the public perception of himself, his community and his message. Hence, working to ensure that people view Islam in the most positive light is from the prophetic way (Sunnah).
Again, when there is a machine in place that wants to create extremely negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims, we do not have the luxury of remaining silent. A well-known marketing principle states, “Unchallenged perceptions become reality.” We should not even wait until there is some odious, headline-grabbing attack before we begin speaking up to define our reality ourselves. It should be an ongoing process. Hence, far from becoming frustrated and refusing to challenge the memes that are accentuated in the aftermath of attacks such as those in Orlando, Florida, we know what those memes are and we should be relentless in attacking them on a constant, ongoing basis.
As for the condemnation of criminal actions, we are commanded by our Prophet (peace upon him), “Whoever among you sees a vile action, then let him change it with his hand; if unable to do so, then with his tongue (condemn it); if unable to do so then let him hate it in his heart, and that is the lowest level of faith.” What could be viler than a Muslim (nominal or not) committing mass murder of innocent people at a time when this country, in fact the world, is celebrating the life of an American Muslim hero –Muhammad Ali? I do not know who is calling the shots of criminals like Omar Mateen, I serious doubt if they are Muslim, but, God-willing, I will condemn those crimes as long as they continue to occur. May Allah protect us.