How to fight Boko Haram’s savage ideology


Originally published in USA Today and Indianapolis Star

The world has been gripped by the deplorable story evolving in Nigeria about the mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls between the ages of 16 and 18. Their “crime” was simply that they were girls and had the audacity to seek an education.

Meet Boko Haram, the name most commonly used to refer to a sadistic terrorist organization in Nigeria who has shown no reluctance to commit malicious acts of violence and terror against Nigerians for the past several years. Their mission is to instill terror into people through kidnappings, bombings, murders, suicide attacks and prison breaks. Their clear message: you are either with us or against us. They desire to overthrow the government and install a brutal form of government that they brand Shariah — but which has absolutely no relation to the concept of Islamic law found in Islam’s scripture or in the example of its prophet, Muhammad.

Last year, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau cited reasons for its series of kidnappings: “We are holding them for no other reason than that Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities arrested our brethren, they are holding them, they are humiliating them, including women and children.” Their kidnapping of children — namely girls — is a retaliation but also a means to bar young girls from going to school as they consider “Western education” to be inauthentic and thus unlawful according to their ideology.

But to call them abductions does not convey the severity of the situation. The girls were not just abducted; they were enslaved. Monday’s video featured Shekau boasting that these girls are his slaves, and he will sell them. Clearly, the state of emergency Nigeria declared one year ago has failed to bring Boko Haram’s terrorism to an end.

The U.S. government recently offered material support for locating the girls. Of course, the world wants to see these girls rescued, but even if successful, it will only represent a victory of a battle, and not the war. If Boko Haram is unwilling — and the Nigerian government is unable — to end the ongoing streak of injustices, terror and chaos, then more international pressure will be needed.

How can I as a father sit idly by, while other fathers and mothers in Nigeria continue to face the ultimate torture of having their child taken from them and enslaved? How can I as an Ahmadi Muslim man sit idly by while other Muslim men claim Islam as their motivation for committing the most reprehensible acts?

Members of Boko Haram have demonstrated their total disregard for the lives, property, safety and health of the people of their country. It is up to those in government and law enforcement to end their reign of terror and reinstate justice and security in the country. In turn, thought and theological leaders must use education, opportunity and conversation to fight the savage ideology that fuels groups like Boko Haram. Until that happens, we will find ourselves in a perpetual war of guns, chaos and unhappiness. Surely we are a moral people. We can do more to alleviate the pain.


About the author

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Harris Zafar

Harris Zafar serves as National Spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is author of the book “Demystifying Islam: Tackling the Tough Questions.” Harris addresses issues facing Islam and the Muslim world in various media and also elucidates the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s nationwide efforts towards pluralism and understanding. As National Director of Faith Outreach for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, he encourages Muslim youth, in particular, to speak out about the true, peaceful and tolerant teachings of Islam.

Harris is a frequent speaker and lecturer about Islam at conferences, universities, schools, churches and other public events. He has spoken in cities such as London, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Seattle and Portland. Harris is also an Adjunct Professor at two colleges, teaching classes about Islam. He has appeared on several national and local news programs to provide commentary on current issues from an Islamic perspective and to explain what Muslim Americans are doing to combat intolerance.

His approach to religion is based on rational discourse and justice.

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