Islamic "Experts" in EgyptAir Crash Need Lessons in Islam

Category: Life & Society Views: 2099

One of the things I remember vividly from the controversial movie released last year, The Siege, was a scene in which a terrorist makes wudhu (ritual ablution for prayer) before setting out on his mission of death and destruction. At the time my sister had written a review of the movie for the Toronto Star and rhetorically asked how people would feel when they saw Muslims muttering something in Arabic and making wudhu in public washrooms. Would they assume that they were about to embark on a terrorist operation?

A similar thought came to mind when I heard that foul play was suspected in last month's EgyptAir crash because the co-pilot had allegedly said an Islamic prayer. The move to hand over the matter to the FBI -- now delayed until Egyptian experts arrive -- came after the Arabic utterances were picked up.

The repetition of such ignorant assertions without any hard evidence as to what was said and in what context ensured that the link was made between Islam and a terrorist act again. Hard to believe that speculation and stereotyping still reigns supreme.

According to media reports, the experts called to interpret the Arabic statements could not agree on their significance. The words have not been released yet, but reports claim that he allegedly said La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah (there is no strength or power except with God), La illaha il-lallah, Muhammadan Rasul Allah (there is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God) or Tawwakaltu ala Allah (I put my faith in Allah). So what? All are common phrases. The fact that he allegedly said one these prayers before the crucial moments has raised concerns about suicide. Why would such a drastic conclusion be made purely on speculation? Is there any hard evidence that is not being disclosed?

If anything, the fact that he uttered these prayers indicates his piety. A pious Muslim would not commit suicide or kill innocent civilians. Only an extremist or a mentally unstable individual would call on God while committing these two heinous sins. No interpretation of Islam could justify killing more than 200 innocent lives and taking one's life. Only extremists would find justification for such acts. There is no evidence that any of the crew were religious extremists or had any mental health problems. Moreover, according to reports, none of the flight crew had any reason to commit suicide.

Simply focusing on the prayers is clearly misguided, as anyone familiar with Islamic culture will attest. Who were the so-called experts relied on by authorities? Some of these self-proclaimed experts appear to lack even a basic understanding of Islamic religion and culture. In fact, one of these experts is quoted in Wednesday's Washington Post as suggesting that the prayer is "suggestive of somebody who is about to take some significant action of some kind."

Nonsense. Anyone with a cursory understanding of Muslims and Islam knows that many -- including non-Arabs -- utter Islamic religious phrases in Arabic from time to time. How ridiculous to speculate that the plane may have been intentionally crashed because a prayer was recited. In fact, as Yusri Hamid, who flew with the pilot and co-pilot, pointed out to BBC News that "any pilot who sees he is heading toward trouble will say religious prayers, whether he is a Muslim or a Christian."

Why are Western intelligence agents so quick to rush to judgement when Islamic symbols or practice are identified? Just last week in Toronto, for instance, a Judge quashed a deportation order against Mohamed Jaballah because he found that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had acted merely because Jaballah was a "pious" Muslim. Why are innocent religious practices and one's exercise of the freedom to associate interpreted as a threat?

The cause of the crash may never be known and all theories must be thoroughly investigated. But authorities must exercise restraint and be responsible in how they handle such sensitive issues. Clearly the media also has to exercise greater responsibility when reporting on unfamiliar cultures or religions. As the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Muslim advocacy group, points out in its media advisory, "the potential for misunderstanding and misinformation resulting from such reporting mandates an extra degree of caution."

Faisal Kutty is a Toronto lawyer and writer and is also a columnist for the Washington Report On Middle East Affairs

  Category: Life & Society
Views: 2099
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