Tracing Boko Haram’s Atrocities: Are They Muslims?

Abubakar Shekau - Leader of Boko Haram (Photo:
Abubakar Shekau – Leader of Boko Haram (Photo:

This article aims at eradicating myths surrounding Islam in this time when Islamophobia is germinating lateral roots on the ground. I believe that everything that has been twisted or distorted can be revealed in another form that will probably open the hearts of individuals who are seeking the truth.

The rise of terrorist groups like Boko Haram (western education not allowed) in Nigeria, Alshabaab (The youth) in Somalia and others is the greatest weapon by which Islamophobia has extended so far. Ironically, the reality of these groups has nothing to do with Islam.

Muslims around the world have both denounced Boko Haram’s savagery and stated that Boko Haram’s actions are in no way sanctioned or supported by Islamic principles. Leaders of major American-Muslim organizations, leading clerics in Saudi Arabia, Canada and Nigeria and all Muslim leaders around the globe have criticized the actions of Boko Haram as well as other terrorist groups.

In New York City, three Muslim-American, Imam Shamsi Ali, known for his interfaith work with Rabbi Marc Schneier, Russell Simmons and others, expressed his anger that political terrorists like Boko Haram invoke Islam as the reason for their heinous crimes.  Imam Ali called the Boko Haram leaders blasphemous for claiming the Qur’an sanctions their violence against innocent people, since it’s not only contrary to everything Islam stands for but also it’s a crime against God and humanity.

Daisy Khan, founder of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, called Boko Haram’s kidnapping of schoolgirls a horrendous crime that violates every major objective of Islam.  Khan explained that nowhere does the Quran ban women from getting an education or support in any way kidnapping women and selling them as slaves, as Boko Haram has claimed. Khan described Boko Haram actions as not being a mistaken interpretation of the Quran, but a sheer fabrication of what it actually states.

The media say Boko Haram are aiming at introducing Islamic regime in Nigeria. However, the fact that these terrorists slaughter more Muslims than people of any other faith has invalidated that statement. A State Department report found that more than 90 percent of the victims of these types of terrorists have been Muslims. And in the case of Boko Haram, just a few months ago, they attacked two mosques in Nigeria, murdering more than 65 Muslims.

This leaves us with a number of questions: How can this group introduce Islamic regime by killing more Muslims than others? What is the purpose of attacking mosques if the group is entirely Islamic?  Why the media is generalizing the atrocities committed by a certain group to the entire Muslim community?

In Nigeria, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, who is the President General for Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, stated that Boko Haram sect has no doctrine that resembles that of true Muslims.  “We have said it times without number that any act that breeds violence like the one being exhibited by Boko Haram has no basis in Islam.

“As you are aware, our religion, Islam stands for peace as its name denotes. So let us remain peaceful always, so that we may live a peaceful life here and be accommodated in the home of peace in the life to come.” ( clarification made at the formal opening of the annual Islamic Vacation Course, organised by the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria)

“The attitude of Boko Haram contradicts the teachings of Islam; the judgment in Islam for anybody that kills his fellow being is death. “Anybody that understands this principle will not kill his fellow being.’’ (The Chief Imam of Lead City University, Ibadan, Abdulrahman Muhammed-Liawal, Nigeria)

It is very troubling to see the double standard employed by our media when they cover terrorists or extremists who are Muslims when compared to those of other faiths. For example, Christian militias who are killing Muslims, burning their houses and evicting them in Central Africa Republic, hundreds of violent attacks against abortion clinics, from fire bombings to doctors being murdered. These militants are no doubt inspired by their religious views, but we don’t hear the media refer to them as “Christian terrorists.”

Why don’t the media use the term “Christianists” to describe extremists like the Westboro Baptist Church, Christian militias in Central Africa Republic or Bryan Fischer of the powerful Christian organization the American Family Association?  It is time that the media become more responsible with their use of terms like “Islamist,”  “Islamic extremists,” and the like.

Why do we see so many instances of people claiming they are committing violent acts in the name of Islam?

As Imam Ali explained: “These terrorists use the name of Islam to support their political agenda because it’s a powerful, emotional tool to recruit and inspire followers.” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, added that these militants use the “banner of Islam” to further their own political agenda with zero regard for the principles of the faith.

What is the impact of using the word “Islamist” to describe radicals who are Muslim?

Words matter, as Imam Rauf commented, By seeing the word “Islam” embedded in “Islamist,” people will naturally, but mistakenly, believe there’s some connection between the actions of Boko Haram and Islam. In the case of Boko Haram, it’s clear that their actions are not predicated in any way upon Islam and are in fact diametrically opposed to the tenets of the faith then simply call them what they are: Terrorists, murderers, and killers with a political agenda.