The nation’s eyes became fixed on Boston on April 15, when bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
As evidence emerged from the confusion, authorities found the suspected bombers to be two brothers from Chechnya, a hotbed of religious insurgency since Russia’s attempted invasion in the mid-1990s.
Days after the bombing, elder brother Tamerlan was killed in a fire fight with police. Once apprehended, Dzhokhar confirmed the two had indeed committed the bombing independently, and in the name of Islam, prompting reactions from Muslims across the nation.
Closer to home
Dr. Mohammad Khalid Ashfaq is a senior research scientist at Ole Miss. Since immigrating to the United States in 1977, he said he takes part at conferences and presentations whenever possible to spread awareness about the real Islam.
“I’m a member of Kiwanis, which is made up of a diverse variety of faiths, but whenever something like this happens, people ask [Muslims] about it,” he said. “What can we say?”
The Pakistan native said violence committed in the name of Islam is done by those who are not well-versed in it. However, he is hesitant to echo Muslim leaders who decried the brothers as non-Muslims, denying their right to last rites and a proper burial.
“If they are claiming to be Muslim, I can’t say they are not,” he said. “But no religion allows for those kinds of acts.”
Corey Saylor, legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNN that every faith has heretical elements, and it is unfortunate some choose to listen to those elements.
“This is the biggest problem, picking out which parts to believe,” he said. “The Qur’an says ‘enter into Islam completely,’ but there are very few who actually do that.”
Dr. Mahmoud Elsohly, president of the Oxford Muslim Society, said the essential ethical tenets of Islam promote peace. Passages that seem harsh often pertain to how society should operate to maintain peace.
For instance, if someone robs your house, Islam encourages you to forgive that person in your heart. However, it is not practical for the rules of society to simply let the robber off the hook.
“Terrorists use Islam just as an excuse,” he said. “Using certain parts [of the Qu’ran] to justify violence is ignorance. If you look at Islam, the Qur’an, and take it in total, you will see it has always been against violence.”
Not in their Nature
Ashfaq said the guidelines of Islam anticipate human nature, and it is not inherent in anyone’s nature to commit acts like the Tsarnaev brothers did. As a scientist, Ashfaq said environmental factors have a bigger influence on a person than genetics. However, the brothers were raised largely in the United States, the younger Dzhokhar since age 8 and Tamerlan since age 15, far from war-torn Chechnya.
“I’m sure their mother and father are embarrassed, but it is their responsibility to know where their children are and who they are with,” he said. “That’s not a Muslim responsibility, that’s any parent’s responsibility.”
As for what would have drawn a young man like Tamerlan to radical Islam, Elsohly said it was anyone’s guess.
“I think that is the question everyone is wondering,” he said. “What cause could the bombing possibly have served? It didn’t help Islam’s reputation. Was he doing it for the Chechnyans? If so, why do it all the way over here? It served no purpose.”
Ashfaq agreed, noting that even in his home country of Pakistan, extremists commit violence against innocent Muslims in the name of Islam.
The White House announced April 22 that Dzhokhar will be tried as an American citizen, rather than an enemy combatant. As an enemy combatant, the authorities would be allowed more time to interrogate Dzhokhar, but sentiments from the Muslim community have not allowed for much mercy.
“I think he should be taken to task,” Ashfaq said. “Prove he did it and punish him, so others will not be as likely to follow.”
Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal