Yesterday afternoon in a busy shopping mall in a Nairobi suburb, a group of Somali terrorists waged war on hundreds of innocent people. Current estimates place the death toll at 68 – including three Britons – with a number of people, who may be hostages or in hiding, still unaccounted for. The reason for the attack is stated as being in response to Kenyan military operations in southern Somalia, where around 4,000 Kenyan soldiers have been fighting militants since 2011. According to the BBC website:
The attack began at about 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT) on Saturday, when the militants entered the Westgate centre, throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. A children’s day was being held at the time – children are among those reported killed. Some witnesses said the militants told Muslims to leave and said non-Muslims would be targeted.
It is not my intention to go off on any sort of anti-Islamic rant because I do not believe that this atrocity is in any way representative of the doctrine of Islam, however there is no escape from the fact that Islam is being used as a mechanism for terrorist acts more and more often.
I do not blame true Muslims for this and although my knowledge of Islam is not great, I believe those who truly understand Koranic scriptures when they state that Islam is a religion with a central message of peace. I do not believe that a majority of Muslims support acts of terror perpetrated in the name of Islam or that these people consider non-Muslims as “infidels” to be wiped off the face of the earth.
I do however believe that the time has come for Muslims who do not wish their faith to be misused or defiled to address the issue which is set to become the greatest threat to their religion. The world will be a poorer place if the terms “Muslim” and “terrorist” become synonymous but each time that Islam is misguidedly implicated in atrocities such as happened yesterday, that possibility comes closer in the narrow minds of an increasing number of blinkered people.
So then, is it now time for Muslims to reclaim their own faith – regardless of sectarian differences – and for them to speak as one, that they do not want Islam to be seen as a religion of violence, intolerance and hatred? I suggest that perhaps that time is drawing closer and maybe it is time that Muslim religious leaders, politicians and academics took ownership of the problem that is staring them in the face and reminded all Muslims what their own faith is all about.
The solution does not rest with anyone else. Criticism from non-Muslim sources will have no impact whatsoever. It has to come from within Islam itself and perhaps a wholesale rejection of fundamentalist doctrine and complete condemnation of terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam is the only way this calamitous tide of hatred and violence can ever be turned – even if that means redefining and reclaiming what it means to be a Muslim.
As with every other right-thinking person, my deepest sympathies lie with everyone caught up in this shocking incident and I hope the attackers feel the full weight of the punishments applicable under Kenyan law.