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Q&A with MSA president
In an interview with The Gazette, Khurram Khan, president of the Western Muslim Students' Association, responded to a number of questions relating to issues that have arisen in the Islamic community following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The Gazette Can you comment on what the Islamic faith says about things like terrorism and violence?
Khan "Islam is very clear on this matter. The Holy Quran clearly identifies where and when force is required. Those examples are very clear and very specific and have exceptional limitations. [In] Islam, there is a leeway for force, but it's very strict. Nowhere does it say you can kill innocent civilians in a conflict. Generally, it has to be a response to an attack or an offensive in response to an oppressive regime. These are justifiable times to use force. Other than that, it's not condoned at all, especially what we label today as terrorism."
TG How do events like those that occurred in the U.S. on Sept. 11 lead to misunderstandings of the Islamic faith?
Khan "There are several mechanisms. First, there's an ignorance or a misunderstanding before the event and that is simply by the people in society who don't make a pro-active effort to learn about other faiths. Secondly, an irresponsible media can make the situation much worse. The media can trigger the emotions of people these emotions may have been latent, but you see them, they flare up here and there."
TG The word 'jihad' is widely considered to be a direct translation for the phrase 'holy war.' What is the true nature of the word 'jihad'?
Khan "Jihad, in literal translation, is the word 'to strive,' 'to struggle.' In Islam, the context of this word is taken in two parts. The greater Jihad (the struggle of the self) means to control your inner desires, your passions, your temptations. The lesser Jihad is to fight for what you believe in if you are attacked; to fight for freedom. It is not 'holy war,' Muslims are in a 'holy war' not against anybody right now. It's a struggle of the self and on the greater level, it is the struggle of a society against an oppressor or an oppressive idea or a people that oppresses a society."
TG While one poll found that 82 per cent of Canadians worry or Muslims living in Canada may become targets of unwarranted racism or personal attacks, numerous incidents have occurred across the country and in London. How do you feel about the backlash?
Khan "The backlash, even in Canada, is a reality. Many people feel insecure going out by themselves, specifically those who are identifiable as Muslim or Arab. Canadians are supposed to be an educated, civilized nation and we understand the actions of one person, whether or not it was indeed someone who was Muslim or Arab, do not reflect the actions or intentions of an entire people."
TG Do you think there is a thirst for blood on the part of the American government?
Khan "[The American government] shouldn't be thirsty they've already had their fill of blood. But I think, in order to stop this spiral of violence, there has to be a leadership role taken by the Americans because they have the power right now."
TG Despite the events of recent weeks, do you believe a lasting, meaningful peace is possible?
Khan "I hope so, but peace can only come with justice and when justice is served, you'll have peace."