Islamic Perspectives


Aggression on Iraq as an Emotional Experience for Muslims

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(April 2003)


The American attack on Iraq created in me and many other Muslims almost every type of emotion ? sadness, anger, hope, faith, and a desire to act frustrated by a feeling of helplessness.


Sadness was felt for those thousands of Iraqi children, women and men who were either killed or crippled for life. Everyone has heard of the example of the twelve-year old boy who lost both his parents and both his arms, but there are hundreds of similarly tragic stories that the media simply did not have time to cover, especially in the USA and Britain where governmental propaganda and other more ?important? issues of war took priority.


Anger was felt at the fact that the mightiest and wealthiest country in history first imposed a dictator on a small country, then weakened and impoverished it by sanctions and weakly air raids for more than a decade and then without any valid reason and in disregard of the international law and world public opinion attacked and devastated it. A seemingly quick end to the war, although seen by some as a vindication of Bush-Blair aggression, in reality only proves that Iraq posed no real threat to the USA or Britain and hence that the war was a violation of international law.


There was anger also at the fact that the Anglo-American invaders were quick to secure the oil fields but did nothing to safeguard the museums and libraries containing priceless artefacts and books, hundreds and even thousands of years old. When it came to bombardment high-tech weapons of destruction were used, but in registering data about thousands of prisoners and providing information to worried families not even an ordinary computer was made available.


There was anger because there is promise that Iraq will be democratic, but when the question arises, what if the Iraqis choose to become an Islamic state, many Americans talk of preventing such an eventuality. Yet one of the invading countries is a Christian state in theory and the other in practice. Britain?s secular head is also the head of the Church of England and the American president in the grip of evangelical Christians and he himself often makes decisions on the basis some type of communication with God.


There was also anger at Muslims themselves. Why for the past few centuries have we been so inactive and devoid of foresight that while nations around us were moving from strength to strength, we have been moving from weakness to weakness, as a result of which other countries keep attacking us? And why did we allow traitors to become our rulers and kings who would sell Islamic and Muslim interests to maintain their rule and who would often help the Americans and the British -- by making their lands, sea ports, and airspaces, and sometimes even money available to them -- to attack any Muslim country that will not appease the imperialists?


Finally, there was anger at those Iraqis who seemed to welcome the Anglo-American invaders and waving the foreign flags. It is not blameworthy that Iraqis should feel relief at the fall of a dictatorial regime, but to welcome the invaders is as shameless as to accept  dictators, especially invaders from those countries who have been responsible for the death and disease of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children through sanctions.


Along with feelings of sadness and anger, there was also feeling of hope.


Hope was felt because a vast majority of Iraqis did not welcome Anglo-American invaders any more than they accepted Saddam. Tens of thousands demonstrated saying ?No to America, no to Saddam?.  They instead wanted Islam. The British and the Americans have used these demonstrations to their advantage by saying that they are a manifestation of the freedom that the Iraqis now have. What they will not say is that there is another infinitely better alternative to bloody, expensive, and illegal wars for promoting democracy in the world: do not support the dictators. But I doubt very much that the Americans and the British will learn this lesson. Indeed, I venture to predict that other Arab dictatorial regimes, far from being next targets for change, are now safer than ever before because the Americans and the British have seen what comes out when you remove a dictator from a Muslim country: dreaded religion of Islam.


Hope was felt also because humanity demonstrated that it has at least as much potential for good as for evil. It not only produced the war mongers in Washington and London, but also protestors for peace and good sense, even in Washington and London. From East to West tens of millions came out to call on the Americans and the British governments to stop their crazy war machines and respect the international law. And as the common people opposed war, so did some of the governments that traditionally go along with whatever the USA says: France, Germany, Russia, and even Canada.


I also felt some hope at the thought that just as centuries ago the Mongols, after devastating Baghdad became Muslims, the time may not be too far when the ?modern day Mongols? will also submit to the message of God. The present world order rests on very weak foundations. The United Nations may have a reasonable charter but it cannot improve or enforce it and the mighty nations have just reinforced in a powerful way the principle that might is right. The world needs a strong international order built on justice and rule of law. To this end it needs the message of the Qur`an.


Accompanying hope, I felt feelings of faith arising in my heart. A little sober reflection showed me the power and wisdom of God at work in the recent Iraqi affair. It was God creating a collision between a hard-headed national dictatorship and an equally hard-headed international dictatorship1 in order to provide means for the destruction of both. The dictatorship of Saddam has of course already fallen. The international Anglo-American global dictatorship has also sowed the seeds of its own fall by acting in defiance of the international law and of the will of almost the whole of humanity. These seeds must come to fruition at the appointed time set by God.


This working of the power of God is visible in another way. Remember the Islamic revolution in Iran, about twenty four years ago? Saddam was prompted by the Americans and their allies among the Arab dictators to attack Iran in order to defeat the revolution or at least to stop it at the Iranian borders. The Arab rulers provided or promised money and the Americans helped him acquire weapons including chemical weapons ? yes the same weapons of mass destruction that seemingly lie behind the latest aggression against Iraq. War did not go well for Iraq until the use of chemical weapons that Saddam acquired with American knowledge and help. After the death and maiming of millions of people Iranian advance was halted and Saddam was saved. But now by the hands of the same Americans and Arab rulers for whom Saddam once fought against Islam, God has brought him down and the Islamic revolution may have finally crossed the borders where it was once meant to be stopped. Such is the amazing working of the power and wisdom of God.


Another emotion experienced by Muslims is a desire to do something. This emotion was, however, frustrated by a feeling of helplessness. Our rulers, who derive their strength from outside, have not left the people with avenues for any actions aimed at defending our lands, culture and religion and as a result desire to act does not get channelled in meaningful directions. But it is of paramount importance that we overcome this feeling of helplessness and create our own avenues of constructive action. Such action should be of two types: 1) action that makes Islam and Muslims stronger, e.g. helping those Muslims who need help, pursuing knowledge and research in all fields etc.; 2) action to oppose the Anglo-American hegemony through peaceful political means.


This second type of action is required even if the Americans and the British fulfill their promise of creating a democratic Iraq. Hegemony is wrong in itself even if once in a while it does some good. Indeed, even the greatest evil can have some very good consequences. For example, for the West the worst example of evil is probably Hitler. But Hitler?s actions expedited the development of science and freedom for Asian and African countries from colonial powers.


It should also be remembered that if the Americans will move to real freedom for the Iraqi people, it would be only because the war was fiercely opposed by the rest of us and because they are still under a close scrutiny by the world2, so that they have a real need to justify their actions before the international community. This opposition and scrutiny should continue with undiminished vigor if some good results of an evil and clumsy aggression are to be ensured.


Some discussion with the readers


The above thoughts inspired some comments and questions in some readers. Here I share with the rest of the readers some of those comments and questions along with my responses:


BR. NABEEL: Firstly I would like to comment on your article on Iraq, which I found quite good, in terms of reflecting upon the emotions that Muslims felt around the world.  I am living in the UK, and to be quite honest what you stated in terms of the feelings of this ummah, I can not but agree with most of what you said.


However, you concluded by suggesting that Muslims feel desire to do something, and then you stated the 2 steps.  I was hoping you can elaborate on that a bit more.  We can see Muslims across the globe calling for the unification of their countries, and the end of American aggression around the world, and this desire is ever stronger. However, what practical steps can an individual Muslim do in this current climate of intimidations?


MY RESPONSE: Thank you for raising an important question. I have dealt with this question at some length in another article, although perhaps not in exactly the same way as implied in your formulation. The article, ?Building Muslim Strength?, is found on this website.


MARIE: Peace! Thank you for your article. I am a Caucasian, undergraduate psychologist. I am an online peace activist. I am not a Muslim but I felt all the emotions you described so well in your article.


I find interesting that you mentioned "God's hand at work" in the present world events...The earth definitely needs a clean-up! The day Iraq was invaded, I felt the helplessness and anger deep inside. So much had been done to stop the slaughter from happening! The US were invading despites international opposition... I could not believe it. I felt the anger too. I was angry because no country was trying to stop them now that they were in there killing thousands of Iraqis. I felt that US had gone in, with the world just standing horrified but passive. I stopped all activism for over a week because I felt so helpless.


Then, thanks to other activists and especially the Muslims, I realized that we could not give up. More than ever, we need to continue our peace work, to avoid such a crime to repeat itself in the future. This must never happen again.

MY RESPONSE: It was good to know about you. One of my delightful surprises during this Iraqi affair has been to find out that so many people like yourself in Canada and all over the world feel the same way about many things as I do.


I agree with you completely that "we need to continue our peace work, to avoid such a crime to repeat itself in the future. This must never happen again." We need to also turn our attention to another crime that has been going on for over fifty years ? the usurpation of the land of the Palestinians followed by their racist and brutal repression.


BR. ABDUL MALIK: I have just read your excellent article on Iraq. I too hope that Muslims all over the world will learn their lessons and that this catastrophic event will prove to be the lightning from the skies to wake them from their centuries old slumber. Indeed, your hope about a repeat of the aftermath of Halaku's destruction of Baghdad in the 13th century CE, reflects Iqbal's thought: 

hay ayaan fitnae taataar ke afsaaney sey

paasbaan mil gaey kaabay ko sanam khaaney sey

The ummah needs to make renewed efforts to propagate the true tenets of Islam to the whole wide world, in the modern idiom, to have a true impact. And as rightly pointed out by you, we need to put our own house in order first.


MY RESPONSE: Thank you for your comments on my article on Iraq. I do totally agree with you that we need to do dawah to the whole wide world.


We also need to equip Muslims to resist aggressive Christian missionary work. The other day I heard on BBC News how thousands of Muslims are converting to Christianity in countries of the former USSR such as Tajikistan.


ABDUL MALIK: It is unfortunate that the ideological void in the Muslim areas of USSR (and elsewhere) is being filled by Christian missionaries, carrying funds and modern tools of communication, augmenting their efforts with worldly rewards, and fully backed by their governments. This has been part of the Western colonial tradition. They are busy in all the Central Asian states, Afghanistan (even Pakistan), and now in Iraq. The Muslim world is fighting a rear-guard battle and appears to be withdrawing everywhere, as Muslim elite are only interested in material gains for themselves and our governments repress true Muslim dawah. At the same time, such work as there is almost entirely reflects a knowledge base that was stratified several centuries ago, with the doors of ijtihad shut firmly and shored up. These efforts lack the resources and intellectual capacity to challenge the organized onslaught of modern Crusaders. We have indeed forgotten the purpose of our existence as an ummah: ?You the best community raised for humanity. You command what is right and forbid what is wrong?. Nevertheless, all efforts must continue where possible, both individually and collectively.


MY RESPONSE: I am at the same wavelength as you regarding the importance of dawah and the limitations we face. I think in order to do dawah more effectively we should do some networking via the internet. This means the following steps: a) develop a list of those Muslims who are in some way active in the dawah work; b) establish communication between them; c) develop and implement some common plans of action.


BR ABDULLAH, ?Defender of the Pure Faith?: In your recent essay, you wrote that the Saddam regime (with the help of the US and Britain) stemmed the tide of the Islamic (i.e., Iranian) revolution, but now the dam has been broken and the Islamic revolution is flowing westward once again, which seems to please you. Can you please explain to me why we Sunni Muslims (if you are indeed a Sunni Muslim) should rejoice at the westward expansion of Shiism? I for one do not wish to see the expansion of Shiism, a corrupt sect of Islam, whose misguided adherents worship ?Ali and his grandson Hussein instead of Allah exclusively.


Brother, it is better to pray for the expansion of true Islam, that is, the Islam of the Qur`an and the way of Prophet Muhammad.


MY RESPONSE: I will be happy to answer your question if you first tell me what ?true Islam? is. Sure, true Islam is defined by the Qur`an and the Sunnah. But the Qur`an and the Sunnah have to be interpreted and implemented. Which individual or group or country represents the true interpretation and implementation of Islam? Answer this question for me and I will answer your question.


BR ABDULLAH, ?Defender of the Pure Faith?: True Islam is an Islam that puts the worship of Allah first and not the worship of one's ego or intelligence or knowledge of Islam. An Islam that puts the Qur`an first and not the corrupted ahadith. An Islam that respects the full God-given rights of our sisters rather than using corrupt Hadith literature to oppress them. An Islam that respects freedom of worship within and without Islam. (For example, if I choose not to shave, that is between me and Allah and not some bearded mullah a la the God-cursed Taliban. Or, if someone chooses not to go to Friday prayers, that is between him/her and Allah and not some bearded mullah a la the God-cursed Taliban.) An Islam that comes from within and not imposed by some God-cursed bearded self-important mullah. If people looked to their own faults, they would be too busy to be concerned with the faults of others. That is the essence of jihad! An Islam that limits halaal and haraam to the Qur`an alone! and not to the corrupted Hadith literature. After all, Allah and Allah alone is the Law-Giver, not Muhammad! peace be upon him. The Qur`an enshrines this principle when relating the story of Muhammad forbidding himself honey. Which is to say that those who say music and singing are haraam are seriously misguided.


MY RESPONSE: There are important views that I share with you -- caution in the use of hadith (see the Sacred Hadith Project on this website), extremely low priority for such practices as keeping a beard, full recognitions of the rights of women in Islam etc. Yet there is an important difference, which is exemplified by your tone and your designation of yourself as "defender of pure faith". This makes you in my eyes not much different from the Taliban or the Ayatollahs whom you loathe and curse. The Taliban and the Ayatollahs also think that they have ?pure Islam? which they have to defend. Like you they also think that Muslims with other interpretations of Islam are either deliberate corrupters of Islam or stupid and should not be given any love or value or appreciation. This makes you incapable of being objective towards Muslims who do not share your interpretation of Islam. For example, you do not see that most Shi?ahs do not worship ?Ali.


I also have strong views on what Islam teaches but I give others the right to have their own version of strong views. Wherever there is strong commitment to Islam I value that. Therefore, even if I am not a Shi?ah I am pleased that Shi?ah Islam has some possibility of advancing in Iraq. The Qur`an provides a basis for this attitude, which should therefore be a part of your ?pure Islam?. In a battle between Persian pagans and Christians the Muslims sympathized with the Christians and rejoiced when they became victorious. The Qur`an considers this perfectly acceptable (30:1-10). If Muslims could rejoice at the victory of Christians because they were closer to Islam than the pagans, they can also rejoice at a possible victory of the Iranian Islamic revolution because it is closer to Islam than the secularist, nationalistic, tyrannical Baath party. Of course, I will prefer to see the day when a version of Islam better than that of the Sunni Taliban and Shi?ah Ayatullahs will lead the world, but for now I am happy at the prospect that a Shi?ah Islam may replace the Baathists.



Note 1
Saddam is Bush as a national dictator; Bush is Saddam as an international dictator. The only difference between the two is that since the world is much larger than Iraq, Bush?s global power is more limited than was Saddam?s power within Iraq. True, Bush has been chosen by a certain percentage of the Americans, a very tiny fraction of the world population upon whom he imposes his will. But Saddam also had the loyalty of a fraction of the population of Iraq whom he rules by decree. In fact, the percentage of Iraqis supporting Saddam was probably much higher than the percentage of the world population supporting Bush. [Up]


Note 2
This is shown by the example of Afghanistan which is not moving towards freedom and democracy. [Up]