May 16th, 2013
04:33 PM ET

My Take: What Tsarnaev gets wrong about Islam

Editor’s note: Hussein Rashid is a native New York Muslim. He teaches at Hofstra University in the Department of Religion. He is an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, a term member on the Council on Foreign Relations and fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

By Hussein Rashid, Special to CNN

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bomb suspects, reportedly wrote that “an attack against one Muslim is an attack against all” on the wall of the boat in which he was hiding from police last month. Variations of this refrain seem to be common among angry young Muslim men, especially those who are attracted to violence. However, such a view ignores history, religious thinking and contemporary reality. It should be seen as a crass advertising slogan rather than a declaration of belief.

Tsarnaev's quote seems to be based on the idea of a global Muslim community, called the ummah, that has always been aspirational. The Tsarnaev brothers clearly felt that they were being marginalized, and the fact that they did not belong to an American Muslim community further reinforced that belief. So the brothers turned to the idea of the ummah, a historical fiction that has not existed in practice in all of Muslim history. Muslims are too varied to connect to one way of being a community.

What we are witnessing in Syria, what we saw in Egypt or in Iran during the Green Revolution, is that Muslims kill other Muslims for political gain, and the idea of the ummah is broken. There is no sense from the brothers that they would have been able to understand or choose sides in these conflicts.

Suspect: Boston bombing was payback for hits on Muslims 

However, the slogan worked its magic, allowing them to see aspiration as reality and one that they could achieve. Unfortunately, their nemesis became America, including the millions of Muslims living in America.

There is no universal, binding legal command for all Muslims to support each other at all times. Even if there were, throughout Islamic history, it has been observed in its breach rather than in practice.

Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali, was assassinated while praying, and Mohammed’s favorite grandson, Husayn, was murdered after being denied food and water for days. Both of these acts were committed by people who considered themselves Muslim.

Even in the modern period, we see al Qaeda slaughtering thousands upon thousands of Muslims. Tsarnaev may have felt aggrieved by attacks on Muslims, but he sided with a group that wantonly kills other Muslims. He believed the false assumption, shared by extremists and Islamophobes, that one cannot be American and Muslim.

Within Islamic thought, there is not a sense that everything a Muslim does is automatically good. In fact, the Quran calls on believers to compete with people in doing good in the world, and that competition is expressly not limited to Muslims but to all people.

There is also a sense that Muslims must work toward a more just society by encouraging good works and discouraging bad ones and help others to do the same. This last premise is one that seems to have been exercised by the community of the Islamic Society of Boston, which attempted to correct the elder Tsarnaev brother's misreading of Islamic tradition.

Protesting government policies that reduce justice and harm people is an obligation by virtue of being American and Muslim, and it is a right. However, to protest the death of civilians by killing civilians shows a lack of commitment to justice and only a desire for power.

The American Muslim community has a rich history of demanding and working toward justice, including Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Lupe Fiasco and Mos Def. Individuals like Manar Waheed of South Asian Americans Leading Together and Muneer Panjwani of Do Something are actively building a more equitable and just society in America, and they are competing with others to do good.

Tsarnaev may believe that an attack against one Muslim is an attack against all, but he must then question where he sees himself, because on that day in Boston, he attacked Muslims, too. He may have accepted a slogan as faith, but to do so, he had to willfully forget all the varieties of ways one can be Muslim.

For me, and many other American Muslims, faith is believing that you can affect positive change in the world and being willing to commit to do the hard work necessary to build with other people.

Timeline: Boston attack, aftermath

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Hussein Rashid.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam

soundoff (322 Responses)
  1. roe

    he got wrong what all religions make you. believing in something that he shouldnt. and not in man. We are the answers to our problems. not the books. history repeats itself because we believe to much in our history. but how is that we can recall what happened five minutes ago and yet we know what happened five thousand years ago. why because those books say so i guess. whatever im gonna die one day and hopefully on my own terms. not at the hands of some believer in something thats not real.

    May 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  2. Reality

    Only for the eyes of Hussein Rashid who should post the following on all the black/white boards at Hofstra U.

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sihkism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    May 17, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • reality

      previous comments are all bull sh it

      May 17, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  3. The best way to view muslims

    is through the scope of a high powered sniper rifle, set crosshairs on muslims head, squeeze trigger, nothing but chunks, repeat

    May 17, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  4. Wayfaring Stranger

    I see this is not just a belief blog but a belief in nothing blog and an oportunity for people to rag on other peoples beliefs. Use your own head to interperate the ink on paper stuff. Thousand of interpretations by little offshoots of major religious organizations exist. It is up to the individual to figure out the true meaning. It takes one to know one and it is a rare event that anybody knows the hearts and minds of long dead spiritual masters.

    May 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  5. lionlylamb

    The sickening of people's consciousness seems fixated upon religious controversies. To the believers remain faithful and to unbelievers remain faithless for in the end of one's life is where the rubber hits the road!

    May 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  6. Scott

    Muhammad was a dirt bag and Jesus wasn't much better.

    May 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Dan

      Oh? When did Jesus order anyone's death? Totally unfounded statement.

      May 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • DAVID

      Youre speaking in Devils tongue you dont know what youre saying either that youre one of that generation that hate Jesus

      May 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • No more religion

      Dan, if you believe Revelations, Jesus is going to order so many deaths that the river of flowing blood will be a mile deep and five miles long. And that doesn't even take into account the rivers of innocent blood spilled in his name.
      Jesus was an idiot. Despite all the magic attributed to him, he probably didn't even know about soap. All-knowing? Nope.

      May 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • dude

      When did Jesus order anyone's death?

      "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:27 KJV)

      May 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Nice find, dude.

      My problem with Jesus, however, is a much more personal issue. After reading everything he said (or supposedly said), I find the guy to be an arrogant jerk. And I'm basing that purely on the tone he takes with his apostles, at every turn. I wouldn't have followed that pompous ass to the street corner.

      May 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  7. lionlylamb

    As I made mention of earlier, "Which came first, the seeds or the plants"? Does not the kingdom of God reside within the confines of the atomic cosmos as is written on in the Bibles of Christendom? Can it not be deduced that the gods of God who live upon the atomic cosmos set in motion cloisters of atoms to become the seeds for the beginnings of celestial life to be attained not only here upon earth but upon any celestial planetary object found worthy of harboring Life formations of the celestial variations?

    May 17, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  8. lionlylamb

    Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk,

    "Physics" knows not 'atomic cloisters' which did begin the evolutionary journeys of celestially based atomized cloisters of which we are the last-of branches within flowing atomized perceptivities. Our atomic natures are not of randomizations but are of physically cloistered rationalisms atomically perceived.

    May 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • .

      Anther great example of why LL is the belief blog pseudo intellect, just laugh and move on.

      May 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm |

      hinduism , absurdity of a hindu ID thief.

      May 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  9. STFU

    Read between the lines Hussein Rashid, when he wrote "an attack against one Muslim is an attack against all”, he was saying an against him [muslim] was an attack against all [muslims], he was hoping a cavalry of muslims would come to his rescue.

    May 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Death to Islam

      Since he probably had no expectation of rescue, I think you're wrong about that. I think he was trying to be a "martyr" and was expecting death, so he wrote a slogan for someone to shout as they murdered innocent people.
      He thought his religion was a source of strength. That is why he died of terminal stupidity.

      May 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  10. lionlylamb

    Child hooded despotisms reaching adulthoods still cleave towards things and issues of the misaligned. The atomized cosmologies were the first cosmology to be finitely formulated giving rise to the celestial cosmology of profound grandness. The third and finalized cosmology is of the cellular cosmologies of which we are its last branches to be honed.

    May 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Is that LSD your on any good?

      May 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • .

      LL is the belief blog pseudo intellect, their posts are hysterical so you just laugh at them and move on.

      May 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Do birds poop on the fly?

      May 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • FlowerPower69

      Far out man!

      May 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Death to Islam

      Some people should not be allowed on the internet.

      May 17, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Dan


      May 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  11. Big Shiz

    I don't even have to look. I bet the Christian and atheist trolls are having a field day with this one.

    May 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  12. Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

    Mohammed never existed. Just like Christianity, it's as based on a fraud.

    May 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Dan

      "Mohammed never existed. Just like Christianity, it's as based on a fraud."

      You have no foundation for either statement. There is enough evidence for the existence of both that you make yourself ridiculous.

      May 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      You forgot to refute even ONE point he made. And your Jebus was entirely a work of fiction. Get over it.

      May 20, 2013 at 2:00 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    May 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • meifumado

      Like what?

      May 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Hi prayerbot.

      May 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      May 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      May 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • nope

      really... duh

      May 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  14. jeremy

    Honey Badger, OUCH! As much as I detest religion (and I really really do), I cannot ignore the fact the at this point in the game more of the world believes in some god than doesn't. After living and working in 84 countries, many of them absolute disasters, I realized it is better to understand and contemplate one's opposites, or enemies. 4 years as a Royal Marine (Northern Ireland and Bosnia) and then more time as a security contractor (Somalia, elsewhere) has given me better skills and empathy than I had before anyone ever shot at me. I do believe that the natural evolution of us as people has to go from Religion to Science, or we just won't make it. But if you mean to take on everybody and their god arbitrarily, you are in for a bigger fight than I have legs for. Remember that we all used to believe in god, so the natural progression here is in fact one of entropy, we are moving away from it, albeit slowly. By the way, nice pick as Honey Badger.

    May 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Chuck

      jeremy, You wrote "After living and working in 84 countries" Your are either a Very Old Person, Or You lived a very short time in these countries. So short, I think they would be considered visits. Which is it ?

      May 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • jeremy

      Chuck, Military service, mining work, foreign service, and family. I am Canadian, spent first 8 years living in Nigeria, school in Switzerland, Norway, Canada and Northern Ireland. I have been based in Peru for 12 years, but will usually do between 5 and 10 countries a year (lots of repeats, I have to go to Chile and UK twice a year for meetings). You are right in that some of the places were 3 or 4 week visits, others a few months. I used to have 4 passports, but down to 2 now.

      May 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • jeremy

      Chuck, sorry, I am 39 in June.

      May 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • jeremy

      Chuck, the number of countries is one thing, did you have a comment on what I wrote? Just interested... Cheers.

      May 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  15. lionlylamb

    Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is (inside) within you

    1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's "building".

    May 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      look ... we can all quote a story book:

      It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.
      – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

      May 17, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Which God?

      Your storybook has no relevance, nor any kind of authority over people.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • meifumado

      And his paths shall be many, and who shall know his name, for he shall be born among us many times, in many guises, as he has been and ever will be, time without end. His coming shall be like the sharp edge of the plough, turning our lives in furrows from out of the places where we lie in our silence. The breaker of bonds; the forger of chains. The maker of futures; the unshaper of destiny.
      -Prophecies of the Dragon-

      May 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Dyslexic doG,

      Which came first, the seeds or the plants? Which likewise came first, animals or the births of animals? Can mankind create seeds from which plants will grow from? Can mankind create from scratch the seeds of manliness and of womanhood? Did not the very beginnings of celestial life, begin by atomic cloistering?

      May 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      W..T..F is "atomic cloistering" ?
      Funny. We all took Physics, and they never mentioned that one.

      May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  16. STFU

    It is already proven Tsarnaevs were wrong, one is dead, other is locked up. case closed.

    May 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  17. Dyslexic doG

    Aaaah, that's the beauty of each religion. There are hundreds and hundreds of little groups, each claiming they have the true interpretation of the religion depending on how this interpretation fits their personal beliefs and their needs to punish others who don't believe the same.

    Apparently you are also able to regard or disregard any lines in your holy books depending on your whims, and still claim that the whole book is the word of God which must be obeyed.

    Anyone claiming that their religion is a peaceful religion is as delusional as an insane person who talks to their invisible friend ... oh ... wait a minute ... now it all makes sense!

    May 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  18. meifumado

    If you know a muslim that preys 5 times a day, Keep an eye on em.

    May 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Obama=Nixon

      Preys on what? Lambs? Rodents?

      May 17, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • HeavenSent Watch 2013

      meifumado preys on old lady camel-toes.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • meifumado

      Only if their hot fake HS

      May 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      We all pray you will stop preying.

      May 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  19. Rocket

    Where Tsamaeu was wrong was when he became Muslim and Islam!!

    May 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  20. Apple Bush

    I was in the supermarket last week and my daughter wanted me to buy some Doritos. They have added a new flavor! "Doritos Locos Tacos" flavor. However they still have "Nacho Cheese Flavor" Doritos. Isn't the taco flavor already the nacho flavor? They have cross branded a flavor that was created from cross-branding the exact product that is sitting on the shelf next to the very product created from it!?!

    I want to see someone walk up and by both "flavors" at the same time like a stupid idiot consumer. Sometimes I really hate the assholes in this country.

    What does this have to with belief? You decide.

    May 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Eventually they may have 30,000+ flavours, but you will have to try each of them and have faith that they remain true to The One Great Flavour!

      May 17, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • sam


      May 17, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • meifumado

      I miss the old Taco flavored Doritos that had no cheese , it was just taco seasoning.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • STFU

      AB, did you mean to say:

      They [muslims] have added a new flavor! "Jihadi Locos" flavor. However they still have " Jihadi Wacko Flavor". Isn't the new Islamic Locos flavor already the old Islamic Wacko flavor?

      May 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Death to Islam

      meifumado, they still have the old taco doritos. They aren't exactly the same as they used to taste, but close. Go shopping.

      May 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.