I still remember why I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. I wanted to be part of a brotherhood of men dedicated to the service of our country. I was young, 19, and in college. I was a good student — but I knew this wasn’t going to cut it.
At the time many told me it was a foolish decision, but in January 1997 I enlisted anyhow. My father, who is a Muslim missionary and theologian, fully supported and approved of my decision. For as an Islamic scholar, he well knew Prophet Muhammad’s commandment to all Muslims, “Loyalty to your country of residence is part of your faith.” Thus, in enlisting in the Marines, I was fulfilling my obligations as a United States Citizen, and as a Muslim. I felt empowered knowing that no contradiction existed between the two.
Today I am an honorably discharged Marine who proudly served five years active duty in the United States Marine Corps. Serving my country remains among the highest honors I’ve been blessed with. Thus, I was that much more horrified, angered, and saddened at the loss of life of my four brothers-in-arms in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
This senseless loss of life became even more incomprehensible when I learned that the alleged shooter appears to have been a Muslim. But I see nothing Islamic in this act of terrorism. I see only the actions of a sick and twisted individual. No difference exists between the Chattanooga terrorist, the terrorist Dylann Roof who allegedly killed nine innocent black Americans in Charleston last month, or James Holmes, the terrorist convicted of killing 12 innocent people in a Colorado theater several years ago.
And as I reflect on the Chattanooga attack, I can only wonder how anyone who is Muslim, especially one living in the United States, can even think about such despicable acts? Islam leaves no room for terrorism, and only permits fighting in self-defense to protect freedom of religion for all people. What this terrorist committed represents his own personal barbarity — nothing else.
In fact, individuals like the shooter have no religion. Islam holds human life sacred at the highest level. The Holy Quran has likened the killing of an innocent life to killing of all of mankind. Rather than holding loyalty to country as part of his faith, this terrorist engaged in violence against the very people sworn to protect him from harm.
He attacked my fellow human beings, my fellow Americans, my fellow Marine brothers. While this terrorist might have been inspired by ISIS, I follow the true Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who loudly declares, “From cover to cover, the Holy Qur’an teaches love, affection, peace, reconciliation and the spirit of sacrifice. Hence, if anybody portrays Islam as an extreme and violent religion filled with teachings of bloodshed, then such a portrayal has no link with the real Islam.”
My message today is not to non-Muslims living in America. They know where I stand, and I still have my Marine Corps dress blues to prove it. My message is to my fellow American Muslims. I say to you that we know better than anyone that the Chattanooga terrorist does not represent any of us. We know the frustration we feel when people label us for his act of terrorism. I say to you to keep your head up and walk proud. Continue to follow Prophet Muhammad’s example of compassion, service to humanity, and love for all, hatred for none.
And I have one final message. That is, my thoughts and prayers go out to the Marine brothers’ family members and friends. This indeed is a sad day for our country. While I mourn, I am also proud and honored to be associated with the same Marine Corps brotherhood as those brave souls who departed from us today.
And I’m reminded once more why I joined the Marines.
Sergeant Tayyib M. Rashid served in the United States Marine Corps from 1997 to 2002, when he was honorably discharged. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimMarine.