When I heard yesterday about the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, the same strong words rushed back. But this time I was even more painfully aware of their total inadequacy — because even though I never met Steven, I feel a special connection to him. For Steven and I attended the University of Central Florida, where he studied journalism and was a senior staff writer for its newspaper, the Central Florida Future. And Steven was a freelance journalist reporting on the civil war in Syria, the country where I lived for many years while I was doing my religious studies. I feel very deep sadness for his loss, and I offer my sincere condolences to his family.
No words are strong enough to say what really needs to be said. No denunciation can be delivered with enough power. Some behavior is so beyond the pale that most of us just take it for granted that no human being of sound mind and even a hint of moral conviction could be anything but appalled by such atrocities. But there are exceptions.
Scattered around the world are a relative handful of tragic characters whose hearts are so filled with hate that they’ll not only cheer when their perceived enemies are subjected to such a devil-inspired fate, they’ll actually volunteer to lend a helping hand.
Compared to the world’s total population, such haters are few. But their savagery ensures that their impact is totally disproportionate to their numbers. Their hatred may be based on twisted religion, twisted politics or some other twisted perspective that prevents them from seeing “the other” as truly human and worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.
It’s impossible to denounce such attitudes and such actions too strongly. Especially when the perpetrators — who cloak themselves in the garb of religion, who claim their cause to be righteous, who falsely call themselves the Islamic State — are violating the core values of every faith tradition including Islam, the religion they seek to commandeer as justification for their atrocities. In Islam, their actions are considered as crimes against humanity, for God clearly states in the Quran (5:32): “..if any slew a person …it would be as if he slew all the people..”.
As I watch, listen to and read what reporters and commentators have to say about such savagery, I repeatedly encounter the question: Where are the voices of the moderate Muslims? Why aren’t they saying anything? The facts are, repeatedly we do say something. But the shrillness of the news about such crimes against humanity somehow drowns out our denunciations. Our denunciations go forth, but our words often are not heard.
So just in case there’s any doubt as to where my moderate-Muslim associates and I stand, let me be perfectly clear: We find such actions abhorrent. I apologize only for the fact that — like the rest of civilized society — I can’t find words strong enough to adequately portray the degree of my abhorrence.
Imam Muhammad Musri is president of American-Islam and of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, one of “The Three Wise Guys” on the Orlando-based public radio program “Friends Talking Faith,” and a member of the advisory board of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.