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Jihadist preachers in our backyard

There are imams in North America calling for violence against non-Muslims

A copy of the Quran sits on a table at the Islamic Center of East Lansing in East Lansing, Mich. Associated Press/Photo by Al Goldis

Jihadist preachers in our backyard
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After Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, massacring Israeli civilians and committing atrocities against women and children, Israel retaliated and has shown unrelenting determination to destroy Hamas.

However, after more than three months of military operations, two realities have emerged.

First, many seemed to forget what triggered the conflict, and they began placing immense pressure on Israel to stop its military operations—even though its political and military goals have not yet been accomplished. Second, there is an alarming rise in Muslim preachers of jihad in the West who openly incite violence against non-Muslims.

Three examples of these jihadi preachers are worth noting, one from Canada and two from the United States.

On Dec. 3, the Muslim Youth of Victoria, Canada, posted a video of a Friday sermon delivered by the Islamic scholar Younus Kathrada. Titled “Jihad and Martyrdom,” the sermon explained that jihadists are the norm in Islam and they should never be labeled as extremists. For Kathrada, calling jihadists “extremists” is wrong as it makes Allah himself extreme. Jihadists simply apply his commands. To encourage his Canadian Muslim audience to wage jihad against non-Muslims, Kathrada states that, “Martyrs will receive seventy-two virgins in paradise, and nobody has the right to mock this [claim].” He concluded, “We will see who has the last laugh. May Allah make us martyrs, grant victory to the Mujahideen [appliers and executers of jihad], and curse the Jews.”

Thus, in our backyard in Canada, there are believers of Islam who enjoy Canadian benefits and resources, yet openly incite their fellow Muslims to seek martyrdom by waging jihad for Allah’s sake. This “jihad,” to be sure, isn’t fulfilled by a simple preaching of loving speeches, but by the application of violent attacks and seeking martyrdom.

If this isn’t alarming enough, there is more.

In the United States in December, Michigan Islamic scholar Ahmad Musa Jabril appeared on a video commending and celebrating acts accomplished by Hamas and exhorting his Muslim audience to wage jihad, as he blamed the U.S. for the “genocide in Palestine.” A few weeks earlier in Wisconsin, Imam Alhajie Jallow, in his weekly sermon, commented on the Oct. 7 attack. “Our brothers in Gaza are heroes; only jihad can bring glory and victory to the Muslims,” he said. “The Jews will be killed, executed by the Muslims.”

These three imams are not ignorant zealots who know nothing of Islam and its tenets. Rather, they are educated Muslim clerics who serve communities of Muslims in non-Muslim lands. This should be alarming for policy makers and everyone who seeks to live in peaceful communities. Their rhetoric can hardly be ignored as it constitutes national threats. Thus, while the international community has largely begun to blame and pressure Israel to stop fighting, Muslims in the West are exhorted by educated clerics to adhere to Islam and begin waging jihad, in fighting non-Muslims everywhere.

For many Muslims, though Hamas’ actions are horrific, they are justified as they are serving Islam’s goals.

But is jihad really bad news for non-Muslims? Indeed it is.

Linguistically, the term jihad means striving for Allah’s sake. As an Islamic term, it’s an exclusive theological concept that is supposed to be cherished and valued by every Muslim. While most progressive Muslims—especially in the West—may claim that jihad is all about self-piety and self-control, and has nothing to do with fighting, this is incorrect at best and misleading and dishonest at worst.

In an important Sunni Muslim website that is devoted to defining Islamic concepts and rulings, we are told that, “The main goal of jihad is to make the people worship Allah alone,” and that Muhammad declared, “I have been commanded (by Allah) to fight the people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

Muhammad reportedly said that Muslims are “the best of peoples for the people, as you bring them with chains on their necks till they embrace Islam.” Thus, for Muslims, Muhammad’s example requires waging wars against non-Muslims until they embrace Islam. Clearly, jihad isn’t just a call for self-control, self-reflection, or for living peacefully in coexistence and mutual respect with non-Muslims.

Against this backdrop and in relation to the Israel-Hamas war, it’s not difficult to understand that Muslim preachers in the West sense the urgency to fight against non-Muslims wherever they are, as they view Muslims in Palestine as under siege. For these preachers, Hamas cannot be blamed in any way, because Muslims are united and unified as one body. For many Muslims, though Hamas’ actions are horrific, they are justified as they are serving Islam’s goals.

This is the alarming reality now in the West. If lawmakers in the West don’t pay attention to preachers of hate and violence, it might be too late to control the horrific consequences in our lands. Our families and loved ones who reside in the West cannot afford cultural ignorance about jihad or its preachers.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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