Time and again, following atrocities perpetrated by extremist individuals, we seek someone to blame. Time and again, Islam is purported as the reason, it being a religion of evil, violence, threat, and terror. And yet, time and again, we see the religious leaders taking a stand in expressing the abhorrence of these actions. Having been in Marrakesh just prior to the 2011 bombing of the Argana cafe, and in Eliat, Israel when the Egged bus heading to the seaside resort was shot upon, not to mention reading innumerable stories from blasts in Pakistan, bombs in Iraq, and the ever-present troubles from Afghanistan, I, like many others, have some small sense of the fear felt by those living, visiting, or working in volatile zones. Even today, wandering across the Jmaa El-Fnaa, it is hard to miss the skeletal remains, still in the long, slow process of being rebuilt and re-entering bustling Marrakeshi life. Two years ago, this was a favoured ice-cream spot, but now I took up residence across the plaza, and sat with a mint tea to watch.
At that moment, serendipitously, a gentleman who I had idly been watching walk out of afternoon prayers from the mosque opposite, came and took a seat at an adjoining table. He too ordered tea, and he too looked out across the movement and life of the square. Dressed in a flowing white djellaba, which was what had caught my eye, and looking very cool and collected he sat with poise. I turned back to the scenes unfolding in front of me and thought no more of it.
The gentleman’s djellaba.
Before too long, an altercation snapped me out of my reverie. It seemed that the cafe staff, perhaps under instructions from the wealthy Western patrons, had taken issue with the wandering salesmen bringing their wares for the consideration of those, like me, drinking tea or coffee. These particular young men, there were two of them (from Senegal, later conversations revealed), were selling carvings, beads, and paintings in the style of their Western African origins. Having exchanged, what seemed to me, quite harsh words with the cafe staff, they were asked to leave, quickly.
At this, the gentleman sitting next to me beckoned them over, offered them both seats, and ordered a Coke for each. That, I sat thinking, is how we ought to see Islam. As a religion of acceptance and mercy: the Islam of the Qur’an, not the Islam of Al Qaeda.
Understandably, there is much anger and much fear that surround violent, destructive, extremist acts, and it is natural for us to look for something to blame. Sadly, this is often the religion of Islam, not as a result of legitimate reason, but instead because of misinterpretations, misquotations, and misunderstandings. The Qur’an itself is exemplary of this; Allah is not cited as a God of wrath or revenge, but in 113 out of 114 of the verses, He is introduced as the “God of Mercy”, the texts are not sources of hatred or aggravation, but of hope and solace. Innumerable Muslim scholars denounce the actions perpetrated by terrorists in the name of Allah, foremost amongst them are Shaikh Alfifi Al-Akiti, from Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, who published a fatwa denouncing terrorism, describing suicide bombings as an innovation with no basis in Islamic law, and Shaikh Tahir ul-Qadri, the head of the Awami Tehrik Party of Pakistan, responsible for a 600-page fatwa condemning killing of innocents and condemning all suicide bombers unconditionally, the list goes on. And it is this that I believe it is incredibly important to bear in mind, even when facing the devastation that so many families experience.