On Saturday, January 15th, a man entered a synagogue in Texas and took four Jewish people hostage. His name was Malik Faisal Akram. He was a British Muslim from a town in England called Blackburn. Akram held the rabbi at gunpoint and tried to demand the release of a famous female terrorist named Aafia Siddiqui, who is being held in a Texas federal prison. During the hostage crisis, Akram held Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker at gunpoint for eleven hours, demanding the release of Siddiqui. In other words, Akram was acting as a terrorist to demand the release of other terrorists. He intentionally chose Jewish people as hostages to hold in ransom for his demand. In the end, Akram was killed by the police in a shootout and the hostages escaped.
After Akram’s death was announced, the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page posted an announcement expressing the hope that: “May the Almighty forgive all his sins and bless him with the highest ranks of Paradise.” Keep in mind, Akram came from their community. He wasn’t just a terrorist to them; they knew him personally. He was friends with people in this town. The post continued by expressing sympathy for his family, “May Allah give strength and patience to his loved ones in dealing with their loss.”
When I saw the post, I sent the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page the following question: “Does the Blackburn Muslim Community believe that Faisal Akram should be rewarded with ‘Paradise’ for taking an American rabbi hostage at gunpoint?” In response, they sent me this message, “A generic post was used for a death announcement of a local individual before we learnt of the exact nature of the incident which had taken place abroad. This post has since been removed.” However, the post has not been removed, the post is still up on their page, with a slight modification, which announces the date of a service in his name.
I have never been to Blackburn, England. The town has a population of 120,000 people, which is roughly the same size as my own hometown. In my hometown, most of the Jewish people in the community know each other. I imagine, most of the Muslim community in Blackburn know each other as well. I know that it is perfunctory for a religious community to send out an announcement when a member of the community dies. I also assume that the same language is generally repeated and it is normal to express sympathy for the family. That being said, Fasial busted into a synagogue and held Jews at gunpoint.
I used to work as a cashier in a used furniture store. One time, I was robbed at gunpoint. I was working in the middle of the day by myself when a slender man came into the store and asked if we sold big-screen TVs. I told him that we didn’t, but he might be able to get a TV at a pawn shop down the street. He responded by saying that pawn shops were overpriced and he was hoping to find a good deal. Our entire conversation was completely routine. He started to walk toward the door and even said, “Thank you.” When he got to the door, he suddenly screamed out: “F*ck!” Then he spun around and pulled out a silver pistol and pointed it at my face. Then he yelled, “Bitch, give me all the money! I want all the money!”
In the movies, there are always scenes when the bad guy pulls out a gun on the hero, and the hero always says something witty about how he is not afraid. That’s not what it is like, I promise. If you think you are brave, then wait until you really believe that someone is going to shoot you in the face. It reduces you to a sniveling pile of rubbish.
Akram pulled out a gun on a group of Jewish people while they were worshipping. He pulled out a gun hoping to kidnap Jews and trade them for a terrorist. This raises the question: Is there any reason that a person can find to defend his actions? If you are a moral person, then the answer is no. Which brings me back to the post by the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page. After it was announced that Akram was killed while in the process of kidnapping Jews, they wrote a post saying that he should be rewarded with “the highest ranks of Paradise.”
It should be noted that, the next day, they finally released a bland post condemning Faisal’s actions. But they still have a statement on their Facebook page saying that he should be rewarded with “paradise.” Rewarded for what? How are non-Muslims supposed to interpret these words? Do these words mean that Akram should be rewarded with paradise for taking part in jihad against Americans? For kidnapping Jews? Or can these words really be seen as a perfunctory statement released for the death of a member of the community? Are these words merely the standard comments wishing that every Muslim be rewarded with heaven?
I understand that it would be very strange to wish that a member of your community be sent to hell, so it does make sense that they would wish for him to be sent to heaven. That being said, it is also understandable that these words would be viewed as problematic by the victims of his crimes. Even more thorny, do these words allude to a bigger problem of anti-Semitism in the British Muslim community? However these questions are answered, it certainly seems inappropriate to write a post calling for Akram to be rewarded with paradise immediately after kidnapping Jews.