Terror plot violated profession, religion

The Baltimore Sun

CHICAGO -- The enormity of what happened in London and Glasgow, Scotland, dawned upon me slowly. First there were the two high-end cars filled with explosive materials, parked in the middle of London, that mercifully did not explode. Next, the bizarre report of two people in a burning SUV trying to crash into the main terminal of the Glasgow airport, filled with travelers. Again, fortunately, no one, except the driver, was hurt. Next came the utterly devastating news that one of the people in the SUV was a doctor and both were Muslims. The passenger, Bilal Abdulla, was born in Britain but went to medical school in Iraq. Five other doctors or medical students and one spouse of a physician are being held.

How could those trained in the healing arts plan and carry out such an atrocity? Physicians see illness and pain often and witness the anguish of families at the finality of death. They are programmed to save lives. They take an oath to do so.

Similarly, a correct understanding of Islam should have been a deterrent. Even those who have a cursory knowledge of Islam would have heard the verse, "If you save one life, it is as if you have saved all mankind." This is a universal value shared by all faiths and traditions.

Dr. Abdulla had lived in the violence-filled crucible of Baghdad and may have been filled with hate toward Britain because of the Iraq war. News reports also mention that he may have been influenced by the rhetoric of a radical cleric in Iraq. This cleric would heap praise on suicide bombers and preach that this is a justifiable form of defense.

Such clerics pick and choose verses from the Quran to support their rhetoric. Most Islamic scholars have called this a lethal misinterpretation of the verses. Nevertheless, this tiny but loud fraction of clerics appears to be most influential among young Muslims. But killing innocent civilians is never warranted.

It is tempting to disown them, and others who may yet be indicted in the plot, by proclaiming they are not real Muslims. But that would be a cop-out; they read the same scripture and listen to the same prophetic traditions as I and all Muslims do. But they appear to have unpacked a radically different meaning from them.

Suicide bombing has gained a cult status among some groups. The Tamil Tigers, a Hindu faction fighting the Buddhist majority of Sri Lanka, have a hero status among some Tamils. This is similar to the status of suicide bombers among some Muslims in Palestine and now in Iraq. Those who practice or sanction suicide bombing consider it a form of martyrdom. But suicide by any name is still suicide and is explicitly prohibited in Islam. Injunctions of the Quran and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad prohibit it in unequivocal terms. Similarly, killing of innocents is expressly prohibited. It is not collateral damage but callous murder.

The medical and educational background of these individuals in the London and Glasgow incidents appears to be irrelevant to their actions. And there is really nothing unique about Muslims or Middle Easterners in this regard. The history of other faiths and cultures features plenty of examples of highly educated professionals who were complicit in mass murder and genocide.

I fear that for some people, the actions of those wayward few in London and Glasgow may have shattered the delicate and precious trust between Muslim physicians and their patients. But I am confident that the long record of exemplary service of more than 20,000 Muslim physicians in the United States will overcome the blowback of these crimes.

Muslims of all stripes - liberal or orthodox, moderate or puritanical - recognize the virulent effect of this minority ideology and have condemned it. There are reports that many Muslims in Britain have gone beyond mere expressions of revulsion, anger and disgust and pledged active cooperation with the law. British Muslim scholars have proclaimed emphatically that preventing suicide terrorism is every Muslim's religious duty.

We in the United States need to redouble our efforts to immunize our young against mutant ideologies that romanticize suicide bombing and to encourage political engagement and civil nonviolent protest. This may be accomplished through Islamic teachings for, after all, the Quran says, "If you have taken an innocent life, it is as if you have killed all humanity."

Javeed Akhter is a physician and a founding member of the International Strategy and Policy Institute, a Chicago-based Muslim-American think tank. His e-mail is info@ispi-usa.org.

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