Spirituality hijacked by terrorism this Eid
08-Jul-2016


The last ten days of Ramadan are charged with spiritual importance for Muslims around the world, who intensify their prayers, alms giving and charitable good deeds during this time seeking the forgiveness of God. However, this year this time of spirituality has been hijacked by terrorist attacks, with an epidemic of suicide bombings, including in the Islamic holy city of Madinah. While these attacks are universally denounced by normative Islam, including Saudi scholars, it must be acknowledged that Islamist terrorism does attempt to present itself in religious and ideological terms, and those who arrange and participate in such attacks believe strongly that by doing so they will gain acceptance and forgiveness to be closer to God, particularly in auspicious times such as the holy month and Eid festival. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia holds honorary stewardship of the Two Holy Mosques, which are revered by all Muslims, and the attacks in several sites in the Kingdom, including Qatif, Jeddah and the holy city of al-Madinah al-Munwara, where the Prophet Mohammed is buried, clearly indicates that these terrorists seek to strike a blow at one of the most powerful Islamic states in the world, and to discredit Saudi Arabia in terms of its capability to defend holy sites. 

According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the attacker in Jeddah only killed himself after detonating an explosive device, although policemen (likely to be the target) were injured in the attack. 

In Al Qatif a suicide bomber attempted to launch an attack at a mosque but failed, killing himself in the process, according to an official with knowledge of the event. There were no injuries.

In Madinah, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said four security officers were killed and five others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his vest outside one of Islam’s holiest sites. 

With all condolences for the victims of these terrorist acts, their relative failure in terms of inflicting widespread damage (compared to similar attacks in Iraq for instance) reflect the strong protection and effective management of security by Saudi Arabia. Indeed, in the case of Madinah the bomber was detected by checkpoints as a potential threat and was being apprehended by security forces when he detonated his bomb, which undoubtedly minimized the impact of the crime (compared to if he had entered the masjid, where thousands of worshippers were breaking their fast). 

Nevertheless, these attacks demonstrate the radicalisation of terrorists under religious influences, and in response a massive reaction took place around the world, with the hashtag #PrayForMedina going viral as Muslims responded with outrage and horror to the attack. This is striking as it presents a sharp divergence between the vast majorities of normal young Muslims (and others) who were outraged by these events, while the perpetrators were likely radicalized by similar online methods. 

The notion of suicide bombing is fundamentally contradicts with the central Islamic ethos against the destruction of life and the ethics of warfare. The first attempt to legitimize it were fatwas in support of the Palestinian resistance as a means to mount a defense against invading forces – this was widely condemned by the majority of scholars but the death cult of suicide bombing has since become an intractable poison in the politics and life of the whole Muslim world and beyond, and young people have become the main victims of the propaganda of this cult, a wolf in the sheep’s clothing of anti-colonialism and Islam.

To remove the religious ‘justification’ of these outrages, Muslim neighborhoods, families, friends and communities must take serious action to combat such threats by presenting the normative Islamic and humanitarian traditions that so clearly condemn the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. While groups such as Daesh can apparently usurp ethnic, political and socio-economic grievances to dupe young people into committing murderous crimes, Muslims and other people across borders, nationalities, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds can collectively find solidarity and defend humanitarian values as manifest in the #PrayForMedina reaction, to cut the roots of terror.


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