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Memo to Mr. bin Laden: Give Up!

How does an American Muslim respond to the threats of Osama bin Laden?

February 14, 2003

How does an American Muslim respond to the threats of Osama bin Laden?

On February 11, 2003, a tape-recorded message from Osama bin Laden urged suicide attacks against the United States and "operations that cause so much harm to the enemy in the U.S. and Israel." The following is an American Muslim's response to that message.

Mr. bin Laden,

In the name of God, The Most Merciful, the Most Benevolent.

I begin by reciting some important principles of Islam to remind you that there is more to Islam than just a call to arms.

1. Islam was sent as mercy to humanity (Quran 4:79).

2. Do not make mischief on the earth (Quran 29:36).

3. People, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know one another. The noblest of you before God is the most righteous of you. (Quran 49:13)

4. There are among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) upstanding nations that recite the message of God and worship throughout the night, who believe in God, who order honor and forbid dishonor and race in good works. These are the righteous. (Quran 3:113-114).

I am writing this to make it clear that there are Muslims in America and in the world who despise and condemn extremists — and have nothing to do with bin Laden and those like him for whom killing constitutes worship.

Islam was sent as mercy to humanity — and not as an ideology of terror or hatred. It advocates plurality and moral equality of all faiths (Quran 2:62, 5:69). To use Islam as a justification to declare an Armageddon against all non-Muslims is inherently un-Islamic — it is a despicable distortion of a faith of peace.

One of God’s 99 names in the Quran is “al Salam” which means peace. Thus, in a way Muslims are the only people who actually worship peace. Today, this claim sounds so empty — thanks to people like you, Mr. bin Laden.

You and those like you are dedicated to killing and bringing misery to people wherever they are. God blessed you with the capacity to lead and also endowed you with enormous resources.

You could have used your influence in Afghanistan to develop it, to bring it out of poverty and underdevelopment and show the world what Islam can do for those who believe in it. You chose to provoke and bring war to a people who had already been devastated by wars.

Yes, many innocent people lost their lives in America’s war on Afghanistan — and many more might lose their lives in Iraq. This is indeed regrettable.

But we must never forget how the West is divided over this — and how nations and people within nations are agonizing in Europe and in America over this decision to go to war in Iraq.

While many Americans and Europeans oppose the war, Muslim nations have already agreed to cooperate in this war. No Muslim leader has tried to play the role of a statesman on this issue.

It is a tragedy that there is not a single Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter or Nelson Mandela in the entire Muslim world who would stand up and speak for justice!

Before we rush to condemn America, we must remember that even today millions of poor and miserable people all across the world are lining up outside U.S. embassies — eager to come to America, not just to live here but to become an American.

No Muslim country today can claim that people of other nations and other faiths see it as a promise of hope, equality, dignity and prosperity.

Yes, we American Muslims will continue to challenge the Bush Administration's proposal to wage war against Iraq. We want regime change in Washington — as well as in Baghdad. But that is an intramural affair.

Once the war is declared, make no mistake Mr. Saddam Hussein and Mr. bin Laden, we are with America. We will fight with America and we will fight for America.

We have a covenant with this nation. We see it as a divine commitment and we will not disobey the Quran (9:4). We will fulfill our obligations as citizens to the land that opened its doors to us — and promised us equality and dignity even though we have a different faith.

I am sure Mr. Bin Laden, you can neither understand nor appreciate this willingness to accept and welcome the other.

Sure, at this moment of anger, frustration and fear, some in America have momentarily forgotten their own values.

I am confident that, God willing, this moment of shock and insecurity will pass — and that America will once again become the beacon of freedom, tolerance and acceptance that it was before September 11.

On that day, Mr. bin Laden, you not only killed 3,000 innocent people — many of whom were also Muslims. But you also signed the death warrants of many innocent people who will die in this war on terror. Many more people will live — but will suffer the consequences, the pain and the misery of war.

Before September 11, the United States was giving aid to Afghanistan — and was content to wait for the Iraqi people to free themselves and the rest of the world from their dictator.

On that day, you changed the rules of the game and Muslims in many places are suffering as a direct consequence.

When the Prophet Muhammad (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions fought in the name of Islam, God made them victorious and glorified them in this world.

They made Islam the currency of human civilization for over a millennium. You and your men on the other hand face nothing but defeat, global ridicule and contempt.

You will run and hide like rats in caves and dungeons. You live in the dark. Your faith neither enlightens you — nor enables you — to live in the light and you have made Islam the currency of hate and violence.

Let me tell you that I would rather live in America under Ashcroft and Bush at their worst — than in any “Islamic state” established by ignorant, intolerant and murderous punks like you and Mullah Omar at your best.

The United States — the Patriot Act not withstanding — is still a more Islamic (that is, just and tolerant) state than Afghanistan ever was under the Taliban.

Finally, remember this: Muslims from all over the world who wished to live better lives migrated to America and Muslims who only wished to take lives migrated to Afghanistan to join you.

We will not follow the desires of people (like you) who went astray — and led many astray from the Straight Path. (Quran 5:77).

I conclude by calling upon you, Mr. bin Laden, and your al Qaeda colleagues and Saddam Hussein to surrender to international courts — and take responsibility for your actions and protect thousands of other innocent Muslims from becoming the victims of the wars you bring upon them.

This essay is adapted from a letter that the author published in IJTIHAD, on February 12, 2003.