Diagnosing the Sectarian Disease

June 20, 2014

Rights cannot be restored except by force,” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall in Egypt. “So we chose the ammunition boxes and not the ballot boxes.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) possess the political impetus that Sunni tribal leaders and infamous Baath party henchmen couldn’t provide. Although its military doctrine remains quite severe, their branding of how to build a state (including setting up an electricity office, a Consumer Protection Authority and operating a post office) has allowed ISIS to mushroom into the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit. Their “soft-power” governing tactics have allowed their presence in cities already wreaking havoc not only in Iraq, but also inflaming conflict in a region already plagued by sectarian strife.

When the U.S. failed to act more robustly on the moderate factions in Syria, it allowed ISIS to roar into an already fragile Iraq. When we ignored the forethought necessary to contain this violence, we allowed it to bleed east into an even larger sectarian battleground for Gulf donors and Iranian militias. Now, the proxy war has expanded its bloodstains with philosophies that entertain the priority of ammunition boxes over ballot boxes, baring the heavy reality that our reluctance to champion justice in Syria has authorized injustice throughout the region.

So how do we move forward when an extremist group so heinous that even Al-Qaeda has divorced itself from, suffocates the Middle East? As Muslims across the globe welcome the holy month of Ramadan at the end of this month, shakes of disconcertion accompany the propitiatory rituals tainted by violent extremists. A month dedicated to empathy, unity, and humility by featuring steadfast God-consciousness has now been politicized into a sectarian bloodlust performing as an affront to Islam and Muslims alike. From an American Muslim vantage, it is witnessing the consequences of our inaction in Syria, and our overreaction in other places like Iraq, that should, and does, inspire action against this extremism. 

Five years ago, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) first brought together American Muslim leaders to sign onto the “Intra-Faith Code of Honor” to address the increasing sectarian violence abroad and, most importantly, ensure that American Muslim communities are not divided or infected by international events. The Code of Honor reads, in part: As American Muslims who live and struggle together in harmony and cohesion, and who agree that the challenges of the future should supersede the problems of the past, we are eager to offer any help and join hands with all those who wish well for our Ummah (community) toward stopping this vicious cycle of violence in the Middle East, which is abhorrent to all Islamic values and principles.”

The vile work of ISIS cannot and should not dictate how we deal with our fellow humans; indeed we must ensure that communities are immune from the depraved sectarian disease that seeks to destroy us all. Let us confess as Muslims that outside sinister forces have succeeded in creating division in the Muslim world and in Muslim communities throughout the world because we have not heeded, let alone applied, the Quranic mandate to prevent sectarianism.  The Quran clearly warns us against cutting our religion to pieces and different sects.  But the reality is that forces for divisiveness are erupting in the Middle East and can impact American Muslims.  This Ramadan, let us call for intra-faith reconciliation before we can be effective in inter-faith reconciliation.  Let us call for peace within Islam, pray for it, repent for failings, and amend our actions to uphold the Quranic mandate of tawheed (Oneness of God).  

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