Albuquerque – the way forward

It is the purpose of the Juma Khutba for the Khateeb to speak about current critical issues and help to put them in perspective to chart a course going forward. Today the most critical issue in America is the tragic series of murders in Albuquerque and the even more tragic haste with which this is sought to be labelled as Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict. It is essential that we understand what happened and be clear in our minds about what we need to do, because we are all answerable to Allah.

We first had news about the murders in Albuquerque and just as we were trying to deal with that shock, someone who should have known better than to act on pure speculation of the worst kind, decided to label it, ‘Shia-Sunni’ conflict. The truth is that as of today, August 19, 2022, this is speculation and nothing more. However, people react to speculation as if it were fact and that leads to a whole new narrative, about which the only real thing that can be said is, that it is false.

I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with an elderly Hindu priest about the rise of Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. Having grown up in India in a society which didn’t think along sectarian lines, most of my friends were Hindus and to make a long story short, we lived in each other’s homes. I have written about those times in my book – From India to the Indies – for this very reason; that those times need to be remembered. I asked him why ‘suddenly’ today we have Hindu-Muslim conflict. He answered very simply. He said, ‘In the old days, if two boys fought in the playground, they would say, “Ram and Rahim fought in the playground.” Today they say, “A Muslim attacked a Hindu or vice versa.” That is the difference. And that is the reason for the conflict. Not what happened, but how it was interpreted and projected based on hearsay and speculation. A sectarian conflict was literally created where it didn’t exist. I believe this is a real danger in this case also. There is no Shia-Sunni conflict. But irresponsible statements and wild speculation, especially by so-called ‘leaders’, can create a conflict where none exists. I wish this were something benign, but it isn’t. It is potentially dangerous and must be stopped in its tracks before it does real damage. I call on the leaders of National Muslim organizations to take a stand to ensure that we stay with the facts and don’t jump to conclusions. First the facts.

  1. The first thing we know is that one man allegedly killed four men.  This is what the Police Chief, who is investigating the crime has to say about it. I applaud his maturity. The case is still being investigated.

The Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina is quoted in the article as, “Medina told reporters Tuesday the department did not want to label the shootings a hate crime or attribute the actions to a serial killer because “it would’ve been irresponsible for us as a police department to say that and further drive fear into a community that was already in fear.” “We still don’t have any indication that either of these topics or labels would’ve been appropriate,” Medina said.

I wonder what those who are calling it a Shia-Sunni conflict know that the police who are investigating the crime don’t know? If they have information – not speculation – they should share it with the police. The police say that it would have been ‘irresponsible’ for them to give the crime labels. I applaud and highly appreciate their dedication to facts and reticence in speculation. I wish our so-called Muslim leaders, had displayed the same level of maturity, and followed what the Qur’an says so clearly and remained silent until the facts became clear. The Qur’an warns us and says:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِن جَآءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌۢ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوٓا۟ أَن تُصِيبُوا۟ قَوْمًۢا بِجَهَـٰلَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا۟ عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَـٰدِمِينَ

Hujuraat 49: 6   O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.

‘Adi ibn Hatim (R) reported: Rasoolullah said, “The greatest propensity for good or evil in a man lies between his two lips”, i.e., his tongue. [Ibn Ḥibbān]

Ibn Umar (R) reported: Rasoolullah said, “Whoever restrains his tongue, Allah will cover his faults. Whoever controls his anger, Allah will protect him from His punishment. Whoever apologizes to Allah, He will accept his apology.” [al-Ṣamt li Ibn Abī Dunyā]

It is incumbent on us to guard our tongues and ensure that we only speak the truth after verifying it. Rasoolullah told us that if a man came complaining about another man that he had attacked him and blinded him in one eye and we could see that indeed he had been blinded, we should still not conclude that he was the victim until we checked the situation of the other man. It is possible that the one claiming to be a victim had attacked the other man first and had blinded him in both eyes. To speak without verifying facts is not from Islam and apart from being highly inadvisable, it is also very dangerous. Finally, I want to remind myself and you about the Hadith:

Jarir b. Abdullah (R) reported that some desert Arabs clad in woolen clothes came to Rasoolullah. He saw their sad plight and great need. He (Rasoolullah) exhorted people to give charity, but they showed some reluctance until (signs) of anger could be seen on his face. Then a person from the Ansar came with a purse containing silver. Then came another person and then other persons followed them in succession until signs of happiness could be seen on his (blessed) face. Thereupon Rasoolullah said, “He who introduces a good practice, and someone follows him, he (the originator) will be given the reward of the one who followed him without reducing the reward of the follower in the least. And he who introduces some evil practice, and someone follows him, he (the originator) will be given the punishment of the one who followed him without reducing the punishment of the follower in the least.”

  • The second thing we know is that the murderer has a history of domestic violence, problems of mental health and apparently an addiction to violence. His religion has nothing to do with his actions. His religion, i.e., Islam, doesn’t preach murder but as is obvious from his actions, he doesn’t care about what his religion allows or not.  

To quote from the NYT article: Coming from a culture where women largely stayed at home, he grew enraged with his wife as she was learning how to drive, grabbing her hair, and kicking her out of the car, according to one of several reports of domestic violence the police were called to investigate. A security camera showed him slashing the tires of another woman’s car outside Albuquerque’s largest mosque, and he was banned from coming back to their place of worship.

This is the behavior of a highly erratic man who has no control on his anger and his victim is his own wife who is presumably not Shia.

To hold him up as if he represents Sunni Muslims and to call his murderous actions a Shia-Sunni conflict is to insult all Sunni Muslims in America. I don’t think we deserve this. I believe that those who were so quick to speak without facts and speculate and label, must admit their highly irresponsible speech and actions, and seek forgiveness. And that all those who allowed themselves to be fooled, must regret their foolishness, and wait for the police to find the evidence of what really happened and why, before jumping to conclusions. As they say, “Don’t ASSUME. If you do, you make an ASS of U and ME.” National Muslim organizations must take a clear stand on this and hold these people accountable. I say this with great emphasis because while there is no Shia-Sunni conflict as we speak, it is possible that if these so-called leaders make their speeches claiming that there is a conflict, their followers may well make their words come true and we will all suffer the consequences. If there is something that must be nipped in the bud, this is it.

  • The third thing is that as we know, of the two men who were killed most recently, one was a Shia and the other a Sunni and the Janazas (funerals) of both were conducted in the Sunni masjid in Albuquerque and both were buried in the Muslim cemetery side by side. That doesn’t look like a Shia-Sunni conflict to me at all. On the contrary, I would quote this as evidence to the contrary, that there IS NO Shia-Sunni conflict in America.

The fact is that for whatever reason, it is one of the beautiful things in America that people come here from conflictful situations and places but in America they live as friends. Whatever people may feel in their hearts, in public they live together in harmony. Long may this remain.

If I take all the historical evidence of Shia and Sunni Muslims living in America, all I find is evidence of not just peaceful coexistence but of friendships, collaboration, worshipping together, and being buried in the same cemetery. In our masjid we have several Shia brothers and sisters who worship with us regularly and participate in all our activities. In all America, I can’t find a single instance of any Sunni saying that the Shia should be hated or killed. Nor of any Shia saying that about Sunnis. I can’t find a single instance of any Imam, Shia or Sunni giving a sermon preaching hatred for the other and promoting murder. Calling this a Shia-Sunni conflict is in my opinion, totally unsubstantiated, uncalled for, unjustified and dangerous.

How many times have we heard our Imams mentioning Islam’s position on the sanctity of human life where Allah said:

مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًۢا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَآ أَحْيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

Ma’aida 5: 32   If anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.

Allah said, ‘Person’, not ‘Muslim’. Islam doesn’t differentiate even between Muslim and non-Muslim, let alone between different denominations of Muslims, with respect to sanctity of human life. All human life is sacred in Islam, and nobody has the right to kill anyone. The reference in the Ayah about retaliation for murder refers to someone who is accused of murder and then after due process in law is sentenced to capital punishment by the Judge. Even in retaliation of murder, barring self-defense, which is allowed, a person doesn’t have the right to kill another person because they saw them murdering someone. They must either call the police or arrest the murderer and hand him/her over to the police whose job it is to investigate the crime, present the evidence in court, upon which a Judge will pass sentence. Vigilante action is not permitted in Islam and every human being is protected by Islamic law.

As for anyone who knowingly kills a Muslim, Allah cursed him.

وَمَن يَقْتُلْ مُؤْمِنًا مُّتَعَمِّدًا فَجَزَآؤُهُۥ جَهَنَّمُ خَـٰلِدًا فِيهَا وَغَضِبَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَلَعَنَهُۥ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُۥ عَذَابًا عَظِيمًا

Nisa 4: 93   And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Jahannam to abide therein, and the Wrath and the Curse of Allah are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him.

What we have seen in Albuquerque are the evil actions of one man, based on whatever sick ideas motivated him. To interpret it as anything bigger than that is to speak without evidence and to open the doors to great evil. As I said before, if those who claim that this is a Shia-Sunni conflict have evidence, let them produce it before the police who are investigating the case instead of making false allegations and generalizations.

Having said all the above, we all mourn the loss of life and pray for the families who have been bereaved. We stand together to condemn all violence everywhere, no matter who does it and for whatever reason. Violence doesn’t solve problems, it creates them. Violence is the result of hatred. All hate is fire. All fire burns and the result is always ash. As Muslims we stand with all those who are fighting to protect human life everywhere.

Finally, this is also a call to all of us to consciously speak the language of togetherness and harmony. Though we have no cause to doubt, there are always those who like to create conflict. They speak the language of extremism and division. Let us beware of them and never allow such ideas to take root even fleetingly. Allah ordered us to hold to His rope together.

وَٱعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

A’al Imraan 3: 103   And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (Quran), and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah’s Favor on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace, you became brethren (in Islam), and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His Ayat (signs, revelations) clear to you, that you may be guided.

Allah did not prohibit us from having a difference of opinion. There is ample room in Islam for differences of opinion and for debating about them and discussing and dialoguing to understand one another better. What Allah prohibited is the creation of divisions among ourselves. I remind myself and you that is it possible to have a different opinion about something, yet be the best of friends, working together on a million other matters on which we don’t differ.

Some people may think that this is not possible in matters of religion. But let me remind you that until less than a century ago, blood flowed in the streets in Europe in Catholic – Protestant conflicts. But today, even the idea seems laughable and totally impossible. Though the Shia-Sunni conflict doesn’t exist in America, I will not pretend that it doesn’t exist. It does and very tragically and viciously so, in many other parts of the world. I submit that it is totally unnecessary, except for those politicians who use it to promote their negative and Haraam agenda. Let us ensure that we don’t allow that to gain a foothold in this country and that we remain peaceful. Let us not fan rumors about nonexistent threats and let us not allow the seeds of sectarian conflicts to germinate. I ask Allah for His Mercy.