Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Making of Muslim Terrorists

Denial, is a common reaction among many Muslims to any news of terrorist acts committed by Muslims. At first the reaction will be: "a Muslim could not have done that", then to: "how can a Muslim do such a thing?", and finally the conclusion: "it must be a conspiracy!"

I was in Joensuu, Finland (barely two weeks since my arrival) when 911 occurred. I was first told of the attacks on the World Trade Centre when I came to the masjid on that day for evening prayers. And to be honest, when my Muslim brothers were talking about the attack, most of them were expressing a genuine feeling of jubilation. Yes, in jubilation that America was attacked in its own soil, and to a large extent, proud (not shame) that it was allegedly done by our fellow Muslim brothers.

It is always difficult for me to explain terrorist acts committed by Muslims. On one hand, I feel the need to explain this is not what Islam propagates while on the other, I cannot deny the atrocities committed by my fellow Muslims. Often, my arguments were defensive but ultimately, a point that I would vehemently defend is, blame the Muslims who committed these crimes, don’t blame Islam. Hence, there are in fact only Muslim terrorists, not 'Islamic' terrorists!

I’ve travelled across a few cities in Western Europe and in almost all of them, managed to spend some time at the masjids and talked with members of the local Muslim communities. In all these places, there were always groups of young, angry and high-spirited Muslims who displayed strong animosity towards America and the entire Western–kafir civilisation, and often times, wished and prayed for their total destruction.

From where does all this anger come from? My background in psychology propels me to focus on a more micro perspective, specifically in relation to the social psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance; a psychological discomfort that arises as a result of inconsistencies between one’s self-concept and behavioural actions.

Any Muslim who has experienced a deep sense of religious awakening, would very likely come across some of the well-known ahadith (Prophetic traditions) emphasising on the importance of ukhuwwah (Islamic brotherhood) and unity. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The Muslims are like the limbs of a man, where if the eye hurts the whole body feels pain and if the head hurts, the whole body feels pain and suffering." And in another hadith emphasising on the responsibility of a Muslim to another, the Prophet said: "Whoever does not take an interest in the affairs and problems of the Muslims, he is not of them. And whoever's state is such that, each morning and evening, he is not loyal and earnest to Allah, his Apostle, His Book, the Islamic ruler and towards the Muslims as a whole, he is not of them."

Muslims who learn and internalise lessons from these narrations would feel a deep sense of connectedness, an emotional-spiritual bonding with Muslims all over the world across different countries and continents. Such feelings often transcend relations based on citizenship, race and ethnicity. It is with this deep and intense feeling of brotherhood that many Muslims began to develop a strong sense of sympathy toward Muslims inflicted with hardship and struggles. Hence when they hear and read about the sufferings of Muslims in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, they would ask themselves firstly: "have I done anything to help my Muslim brothers and sisters?", followed by the painful question: "what can/should I do to help them?"

For some, the behavioural reaction would be making some donations to charity funds for the suffering people. But for some others, that would not be enough. They would think that a Muslim should be able to do more than that. And when the hardships experienced by Muslims in these areas are associated with struggles against a non-Muslim enemy, the call for jihad will soon be heard. When this happens, many Muslims would respond positively to the call seeing it as a legitimate way to harmonise their self-concept as a devout Muslim responsible for defending his/her Muslim brothers, and their behavioural reactions from one which was docile and passive to a more active and confrontational approach. Armed with religious justification, these Muslims would thereon rally behind any groups whose ideology resonates with their newly found confrontational attitude. Being confrontational means to do whatever that is necessary to destroy the enemy which include resorting to committing acts of terrorism.

So, coming back to the common reactions among Muslims mentioned in the first paragraph, yes, Muslims are capable of becoming terrorists. In fact, it won’t surprise me if some of the terrorists in the recent Mumbai attack are neither Indians nor Pakistanis. They could very well be Muslims from the UK or any other Western countries, whose minds have been indoctrinated with intense hate and animosity. A book published last year The Islamist by Ed Husain, a British Muslim and former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, outlines the author’s journey towards radicalism and explains how such an ideology can and have inspired acts of terrorism.

Conspiracy? The only thought I have along this line stems from the question, 'where these people get their weapons from?' There can’t be that many countries in the world that manufacture weapons. And weapons are also not cheap. Thus, the burning question in my mind, if most of these struggling Muslim communities don’t even have enough to cater for their basic needs, how did they get all these weapons?

Allahu'alam (Allah knows best)

In view of the need for Muslims to strive for the cause of Islam and to protect and defend our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, are there other means to fulfil it other than through violence and terror? Something for all of us to think about...

Ma'as salam.


fatmax said...


When you mentioned "Armed with religious justification", it caught my intention to reply to this post.

While the basic premise is to defend the weak and the needy as well as for pride and glory, the over consumption of a belief coupled with improper digestion of that belief is what i can concur about any terrorist regardless of their background. Whether their belief is being justified or not, i would say that the terrorist are actually missing the main point; seeking clarification before acting. Undeniably, the Muslims gets more attention nowadays when it come to mass killing. Sad but true, a chapter of the world history book has been created just for the Muslims to fill it in.

While there are many means to achieve pride and glory, i'm not so sure whether desperate individuals would listen to unemotional person for an advice. i'm not being a pessimist however with what we are being feed through the mass media, i dont see any room for us to educate the population about the important of using their conscience consciously. probably we can start by revamping our education system again focusing on emotional development that tackles both parents and children as well as the teachers. its a brief proposition that would require further investigation.


Zaki Samsudin said...

Brother Fatmax,

Thanks for your comments.

The question of 'what terrorists want?' has been discussed by various experts and researchers on terrorism. I'll try to present some of these analyses in future postings on terrorism.

On your suggestion to educate the society to use their conscience consciously; it's a great idea which in fact is one of the key issues in all peace education programmes. Education is defintely a key area but how exactly this can be done does not have a straight-forward answer. It would certainly be interesting to talk and discuss more on this.

Nur said...

You have changed your blog title. Why?

I thought Pax Islamica sounded nice

Zaki Samsudin said...

Salam Sister Nur,

Why I changed my blog title?

A few weeks ago, I received a long email from a friend who said the term 'Pax Islamica' has its origin from orientalism, used most often in writtings on the history of Islamic civilisation.

Very recently, while surfing in the internet for information on militant groups suspected to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks, I came across a group whose goal is to establish 'Pax Islamica in India'. (can't seem to be able to find the page again after that)

So, in light of the above, the reasons for the change are, (1) I do not and will not write much on history, and (2) I don't want to in anyway be misconstrued as propagating any kind of political revolution.

Or maybe I'm just a bit paranoid...

Scooper said...


I have posted my reactions to your piece here.