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What was behind the hostage attack in Texas?

A.S. Ibrahim | The answer includes sacred Islamic texts that identify Jews as the “enemy”


Police maintain a presence the day after a hostage attack at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Associated Press/Photo by Brandon Wade

What was behind the hostage attack in Texas?

For Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, this Sabbath was unlike any other. Not one of its members went to worship that day expecting an anti-Semitic hate crime to occur.

In a horrific attack, British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, a Muslim, broke into the Saturday service with backpacks of bombs and held four Jews—including the synagogue’s rabbi—hostage. Akram had arrived legally in the United States in December. The terror continued for more than 10 hours until an FBI SWAT team shot and killed Akram and the hostages escaped unharmed. News reports indicate that mental illness also lingered in Akram’s background.

During the standoff, Akram demanded the release of “his [Muslim] sister” Aafia Siddiqui, who has been known in counterterrorism circles as “Lady al-Qaeda.” By calling her “sister,” Akram indicated their solidarity in Islam.

Akram’s demand reflects his religious zeal and devotion, as Siddiqui is an Islamist terrorist who was convicted in 2010 on seven charges, including shooting at U.S. service members in Afghanistan. She was reportedly involved in al-Qaeda’s plot for a “mass casualty attack” in the United States and other places. The list of her alleged crimes is lengthy. She is currently serving an 86-year sentence at a federal prison near Fort Worth, Texas.

To show his support, Akram demanded to speak with Siddiqui on the phone. In some parts of the Muslim world, and especially in Pakistan, Siddiqui is considered a heroine and a symbol of the oppression of Muslims in the West.

Many Muslims and non-Muslims alike condemned Akram’s actions and identified the attack as an act of terror. It surely was. But questions remain. Why did Akram target a Jewish synagogue? If he desired the release of the Islamist terrorist “Lady al-Qaeda,” why was a Jewish religious service the aim of his attack? Why was it not, for instance, a Buddhist temple? The targeting of the synagogue was no accident.

While there are many unknowns in this story, we can be certain of one thing: For many Muslims, the Jews are their chief enemy, and this hatred is fueled by specific Islamic texts highly revered and honored as sacred.

If Muslims desire to adhere to Muhammad’s commands, it is not simple to dismiss such precise statements.

In the Quran, it is clear that the “strongest in enmity” to the Muslims are “the Jews.” Muslims are instructed to “take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors.”

In Muhammad’s biography, we read that he fought “the three main Jewish tribes of Medina,” after accusing them of being hypocrites and disloyal as they did not believe his religious message. In one case, he seizes the Jews, and “all adult males are executed, and the women and children are enslaved.” We read that Muhammad vowed, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.”

For Muslims, these texts are the holiest. Without a doubt, they drive hostility toward the Jews (and Christians) in many circles. If Muslims desire to adhere to Muhammad’s commands, it is not simple to dismiss such precise statements. This is evident in an example from last year: A Muslim cleric in Canada appeared in a video, openly teaching in his local mosque that “the Jews and the Christians are our enemies.”

Of course, many Muslims, especially in the West, openly declare that they do not hate the Jews or support taking them hostage. Indeed, we can find Muslims who dismiss and ignore these “sacred” texts—some would even claim they never existed.

But the texts and the violence resulting from them remain. The texts cause a huge burden of religious guilt, stored and accumulated in the hearts of many Muslims, as they feel they are breaking sacred commands when they deal positively with the Jews.

Growing up in a Muslim-majority country, I had to take an “academic” course to graduate from university. The course was titled “The Enemy” and focused on the Jews and Israel. All students—Muslim and non-Muslim—had to take this course to graduate.

For many Muslims, it is difficult to avoid the thought that Jews are really the enemy.

The synagogue incident in Texas will not be the last, as long as there is, in Muslim texts, a sacred mandate to oppose the Jews.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim 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 also taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary in the United States, and at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. He authored several books, including 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). He co-edited Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts (Peter Lang, 2018).

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