Paris holds a special place in the hearts and imaginations of seemingly anyone around the world, regardless of faith or background. For anyone blessed to have been able to visit, let alone multiple times like myself, it is truly a beautiful city; a pleasant place to simply be a tourist or just soak in the environment.
Unfortunately, that juxtaposes against the squalor and hopelessness in the banlieues; the suburban ghettos located around the city where the poor and colored scratch out a living in the margins. This topic alone is worthy of its own school of study in a university. Whether it is the welfare state of France acting as an opiate while those citizens brew in economic discontent, or the idea of “Frenchness” seemingly never evolving to include the one-third of French citizens of North and West African origin for several decades now. Some may say today’s events were inevitable, or at least predictable.
But that shouldn’t be the case. Notwithstanding any of this discontent, if a Muslim really knew what the Quran says about warfare, or the example set by the Prophet Muhammad (saw), then we would know that this living situation, no matter how depressing, or even presumably of the victims being partygoers engaging in whatever sin, is far from meriting a violence and death upon anyone.
Extremists, both pro- and anti-Islam, are quick to point to the portion of the Quran that says to kill the idolaters. But neither group recognizes its context; that the land in question (Mecca) was and is regarded as sacred such that any warfare was forbidden by Arab custom, pagan or not, as well as in Islamic belief. Yet, inside Mecca, Muslims were being persecuted and tortured and outside of Mecca Muslims were under attack. Basically, by custom and belief, prior to the verses in question, Muslims could not go on the offensive because their attackers resided in sacred land that was forbidden from attack.
Let’s go further. The first major battle in Islam – the Battle of Badr – was in the context of Muslims attempting to intercept a caravan owned by the Quraish (the primary and most powerful tribe that was attacking the Muslims) in order to regain some of the monetary assets lost when they were forced out of Mecca. The Quraish found out about this, amassed a very large army, met them on the battlefield, and lost. The Battle of Uhud was a sort of rematch that ended in a draw. Then there was the Battle of the Trench, which was a massive attack by essentially all of the non-Muslim tribes across Arabia against the Muslims in Medina.
Badr was a success because so few Muslims beat a force of more than three times its size and better equipped. Uhud was a lesson to Muslims for losing sight of their real source of victory and motivation – God Almighty, not numbers and material. Then the Battle of the Trench was a victory because 1) the Muslims successfully defended themselves against a massive siege and 2) such a disappointment by the Quraish, despite the overwhelming numbers and coordination, laid the groundwork for the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, which created a peace that lasted for years. It was during that peace that Islam saw its most significant growth. This point is important; Islam saw its significant growth not because of warfare but instead because of the time of peace where Muslims were finally free from persecution.
After that peace treaty was broken by the Quraish, when the Muslims marched upon Mecca, there was no battle. There was surrender. By the law and customs laid out in the Quran and tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), the Muslims had shown a level of civility and mercy that the pagans were not showing. The Islamic rules of engagement were radically different from those of the norm of the day to the point that opposing forces had a large incentive to surrender and survive with their lives, their families, their religion, and their homes. This is well documented by Muslim and non-Muslim historians when Umar conquered Jerusalem and Saladin re-conquered Jerusalem. It is also well documented by all sides of the sheer brutality by the crusaders against all residents of Jerusalem (as in, non-European Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims) when they conquered Jerusalem from the Muslims in between Umar and Saladin.
My long-winded point is that Muslims have rules of engagement as revealed to us in the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. I am no scholar but it is clear that gunning down anyone in the streets is not within those rules. Whatever frustration there is about any sins and elicit behavior by people in general should be directed to informing people of a better path. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) spent 13 years in an openly hostile environment preaching about the need to worship one, incomparable deity without partners or associates; to raise the status of slaves, women, and the poor; and to remind the rich that any person is only better by piety and actions and not by material well-being.
Most Muslims today do not come close to doing anything to actively engage and send this same message. Also, judging by the appeal of anyone to commit any act of terrorism, or join ISIS, or Al Qaeda, or to even shrug at these events, too many Muslims don’t know or understand our own history.
For anyone reading this, please understand that it’s not Islam that’s leading to these attacks; it’s ignorance. Pro and anti-Muslim extremists are essentially exchanging the same misguided, incomplete notes on what is Islam. Unfortunately, random people, whether it’s Parisians or Syrians or Iraqis or Pakistanis, are paying the price for this ignorance in the form of bullets and bombs.