Understanding rage, and its antidote

By Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib | September 20, 2012
The Malaysian Insider

SEPT 20 — Just days ago, I was asked over a dinner conversation with several interfaith practitioners: “Why are Muslims such an angry people?” The riots over the film “Innocence of Muslims” was certainly on their minds. It took me a while to respond.

First, there is an unstated presumption that most, if not all, Muslims are prone to anger.

Second, a string of incidents from recent decades seems to suggest that any form of provocation to the Muslim faith is sure to lead to riots and vengeful killings across the Muslim world.

Who could forget the death fatwa issued on British novelist Salman Rushdie for “The Satanic Verses”, which denigrates the founder of Islam, Mohammed; and a similar response to the Danish Jyllands-Posten’s cartoon in 2005?

It seems as if provocations directed at Muslims have heightened in the last few years. In 2008, Dutch film-maker Geert Wilders released his movie “Fitna”, which depicted the Quran as evil and promoting hatred and violence.

Two years later, Terry Jones, pastor of a small church in America called for a Quran-burning day that sparked worldwide protests and violence.

Yes, perhaps Muslims have a legitimate basis to feel angry. There is a sense of injustice felt when hate-speech is disguised in the garb of free speech. More so, when there is rising Islamophobia perpetuated by extremists in Europe and America. The shocking massacre by Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik who held anti-Islam views is a case in point.


Yet, I also feel unease over the way some Muslims have responded to these provocations.

The worldwide violence that occurred in cities ranging from Islamabad to Jakarta to Sydney ironically reinforces the very stereotype that the low-budget film “Innocence of Muslims” seeks to perpetuate: That Islam is a religion of violence. Never mind that the film is crude and aesthetically hopeless; no serious viewer would find it convincing, only an already warped and prejudiced mind.

When American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in Benghazi, Libya, during protests over the film, it raised the whole issue of what some have been calling the “Muslim rage”.

This face of Islam — that of vengeance and violence in the face of provocation — is alien to me. How can a person proclaiming daily the invocation “In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate” spout so much hate and violence in a single breath?

How does one call oneself a follower of “Islam” — a derivative of the Arabic root word “salam”, meaning “peace” — yet be so willing to commit acts of violence at the first instance of provocation? There is a disjuncture between the acts of these Muslims and the tradition of Islam that more than a billion Muslims around the world have been brought up in.

If one claims to protect the dignity of the beloved Prophet Mohammed, why not take a leaf or two from the manner in which Mohammed treated those who hurled insults at him? Never had the Prophet acted in ways other than compassion.

In one instance out of the many, he tended to a Jewish woman when she was too ill to continue hurling garbage at him. Even in the capture of Mecca, he provided amnesty and granted forgiveness to his enemies among the Quraysh tribe bent on destroying him. “Keep to forgiveness,” God commanded Mohammed, “and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.”

If such was the ethical quality and mission of Mohammed, why do those who claim to be his most ardent believers not display the same mercy and compassion in the face of adversity?


The answer, I believe, lies in the tumultuous relationship that the Muslim world has had with some of the forces that shape modern global society.

First, there is the baggage of colonialism that continues to haunt the Muslim psyche. A people once dominated and relegated to an “inferior status” in the ladder of civilisation will eventually subvert that very narrative and adopt a diametrically opposite set of categories — that of its own “superiority” and the “bankruptcy of the West”.

Anti-West sentiments are part of the burning coal for Muslim reactionary movements. The occasional insults to Islam are mere triggers to a deeper trauma resulting from centuries of domination and humiliation.

Second, post-colonial developments in the Muslim world have not brought reprieve but further injury. The failure of democratic ideas and social justice to take root across many Muslim-majority countries was a further blow to the psyche.

This would eventually take the form of erratic displays of rage and anger — a way, as social psychologists would impute, of not dealing with one’s own inadequacy, frustration and exclusion from being part of a creative process for positive social change.

Third, the ascendancy of extremists within the political institution of democratic governments in Europe and America, as well as within the Religious Right dominated by Christian conservatives, exacerbate the situation through their drumming of Islam as the antithesis of Western civilisation, an enemy of modernity and an evil religion out to dominate the world.

Such views unfortunately inform or eventually seep into many of the policies that determine how Western governments deal with the Arab Muslim world.

The result can only be a pitting of two contrasting ideologies — the “clash of civilisation” thesis promulgated by American political theorist and consultant to the US State Department, Samuel Huntington.


The question posed at the dinner table led me to re-examine what has gone wrong within the Muslim world today. I do not see the vengeful and violent act of several thousand Muslims across the globe as representative of the Islamic faith.

To me, there is no such thing as an exclusively “Muslim rage”. There is only rage, which is a type of violent anger that all humans are capable of. And to understand this rage is to delve into the nexus of history, politics and even psychology. Theology cannot answer why some Muslims respond with anger and violence.

One cannot solve the problem of extremism through mere appeal to “right Islam” as opposed to “wrong Islam”. One must dig deeper for the solution, and it is not just about having the “moderates” speak up. It is about ensuring that peace-loving people of all persuasions find each other and provide mutual support in an increasingly volatile and polarised world.

Extremists tend to feed off each other. The last thing we want is for them to dictate the terms of engagement for the rest of us. We must reach out to the progressive elements within each faith community, and build bridges to strengthen the common good for all of us.

In this, there is hope and joy that might quell the hate and anger within all of us. — Today
* Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib is an interfaith activist and a programme consultant with the Muis Academy, an institution of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore that provides niche programmes in Islamic learning and contemporary issues in Islam.

  1. #1 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 11:12 am

    /// To me, there is no such thing as an exclusively “Muslim rage”. ///


  2. #2 by Saint on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 11:50 am

    Dear Imran, if your reading this, please just think over this question. List down the last three instances when the the Hindus, Buddhist, Taoist, the Jains, the Christians or the Jews went on a rampage just because one of their prophets were insulted. Sorry you are in a denial mode like all other Muslims, but softer.

  3. #3 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 11:54 am

    No such thing as muslim rage?

    True. We also hv umno rage.

  4. #4 by Dipoh Bous on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 12:06 pm

    I’ve yet to come across any other faith which considers killing oneself (as in suicide bombing) as ‘mati syahid’…

    I am soooo lucky to be an atheist…hahahaa

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 12:58 pm

    Imran talks of understanding rage. Lets talk about it. Forget about issues relating to intensity of rage and whether its manner of expression is proportionate or not against the party that is responsible for the provocation. What about explaining the nature of rage that is directed at parties not directly or indirectly responsible or accountable in any way for and are entirely unconnected to the acts of provocation? What for eg have Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya (or German Consulate attacked) got to do with producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (aka Sam Bacile)? What about suicide killings or 911 that killed innocent civillians, whether religious or atheists? Can “baggage of colonialism” and unhappy “post-colonial developments” explain or justify that? Imran speaks about “erratic displays of rage and anger — a way, as social psychologists would impute, of not dealing with one’s own inadequacy, frustration and exclusion from being part of a creative process for positive social change. The fundamental question to him is: who should be responsible for or be blamed for one’s own feeling of inadequacy, frustration and exclusion from being part of a creative process for positive social change? Others or oneself?

  6. #6 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 3:06 pm

    Wot? Wow. There are a billion muslims in the world. That must be good news then. At least I did not see a billion people protesting away and vowing to inflict violence on the americans. In other words, I must be seeing only a vocal – no, extremely vocal – minority. In that case the majority muslims must be quite peaceful people.

  7. #7 by Taikohtai on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 4:08 pm

    He who conquers a thousand is great but he who conquers himself is the greatest (Lord Buddha).

  8. #8 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 6:08 pm

    I have heard a whole list of reasons of why and my biggest problem is that the explanations are not cohesive – there don’t seem to be an agreement of why even among Muslms themselves.

    What is particularly jolting especially when you learn a former felon Egyptian Coptic Christan is really the one who is behind the video. I find the reason given so far UNJUSTIFIED for the over 30 deaths especially the death of US Ambassador to Libya..

    Honestly, the responsibility lies with Muslims no matter what the reason are..

  9. #9 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 8:30 pm

    Honestly, DAP has to put in place a replacement plan for Ngeh. What he did was simply NOT SMART…Its not the first time he has done a boo-hoo. His ability and potenial is simply LIMITED..DAP Perak should be able to do better..

  10. #10 by Cinapek on Friday, 21 September 2012 - 12:33 am

    “..Theology cannot answer why some Muslims respond with anger and violence…”

    Absolutely. Couple of days ago it was reported in the news that a suicide car bomb went off in Kabul killing twelve people, all Afghans and all Muslims. But the pepertrators claimed they were taking revenge for the anti Islam film. What revenge? All those that were killed were Muslims. IF they want revenge, go to the US and kill the guy that made the film, not innocent Afghan muslims.

    am really confused.

  11. #11 by Cinapek on Friday, 21 September 2012 - 12:39 am

    “…DAP has to put in place a replacement plan for Ngeh…”

    Agree absolutely. Ngeh may have apologised but the damage has been done. More than once he has put his foot in his mouth. If he has nothing constructive to say , I suggest he just keep his mouth shut. Gaffes like these not only destroys his own credibility but it also damages DAP’s multiracial/ multireligious declared position.

    When Najib’s aide made that infamous “Chinese prostitute” remark in Malacca, he was forced to resign to avoid damaging Najib and BN’s position. Likewise DAP should take similar action in Ngeh’s case.

  12. #12 by megaman on Friday, 21 September 2012 - 1:59 am

    Honestly, there’s truth to Ngeh message.

    He is merely asking the question of whether the Malaysian Muslims have got their priorities right.

    Why making such a big fuss over a film made overseas when their own brethren here are breaking every Muslim laws by committing corruption, bribery ? And with so many bigger obvious problems at home BUT nobody seems to do anything about it !

    It’s like Kuman di seberang laut nampak, gajah di depan hidung tak nampak.

    As for the global Muslim community, when a small group of extremists make huge noises and got heard, the rest must make bigger noise and condemn their actions.
    Otherwise, these extremists will be seen as representing the global Muslim.

    Rather than condemning their actions and preventing further incidents of such nature, explaining their motives and rationalizing it is the same as cordoning their actions.

    No civilizations in this world do not have dark periods in their history. You fall, you pick yourself, shake off the dust and start again.

    Muslim civilization seems to have fallen and instead of picking itself up and learn from the past, it just keep whining in the mud, blaming everyone else except itself for the situation it is in.

  13. #13 by monsterball on Friday, 21 September 2012 - 9:56 am

    How can all Muslims get their priorities right…when Mahathir spent 22 years to remind Muslims to fight for their rights.
    Mahathir is like Hilter…good in speaking….even a bird can rest at his hand..if he wants to.
    I say…millions of Muslims were “drunk” with Mahathir’s racists sentiments.
    It is the massive corruptions….the umno B arrogance and sickening mentalities…as if they own Malaysia to do as they like…for years…that awakened millions of Muslims to walk the right path against the evils that Mahathir and his umno B party is doing.
    It’s the TRUTHS that will make umno B vacate PutraJaya.
    It’s Malaysians that will decide…making race secondary matter.
    It’s a country with much more smart Malaysians..and that makes con-fedence man like Mahathir con jobs..out-dated.

  14. #14 by sotong on Friday, 21 September 2012 - 5:24 pm

    A very small minority is giving a bad name to the religion but the majority, as usual, is not doing much to totally discredit this small group strongly and publicly.

    These trouble makers are always looking for trouble for whatever reasons eg. misguided, hatred, frustration and etc…..hiding behind religion to express it.

  15. #15 by Loh on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 10:07 am

    I recall reading something like : In Islamic teachings, It is not acceptable to make other people pay for the sins of sinners. Here we see organized actions to condemn the wrong of one group of persons. Is it efficient to have millions of persons telling the group of persons they were wrong?

    There is a dish quite popularly known as “Buddha jumps over the wall” It is to show that the dish is so delicious that Buddha would jump over the wall to savour it. That can be said to be an insult to Buddha, if Buddhists care to interpret it as such. The restaurant should have been burnt down, to follow the actions of those who would die for their religion. But since that does not happen, and Buddhists do not feel slighted.

    Galileo had to suffer because what he said did not conform to the belief of the religious leaders of that time, four hundred years ago. After 400 years of human development, have humans not developed to accept that people have their own views on things? It is quite a different matter to outlaw a different political views such as communism in a not truly democratic countries. In a democracy, the people shall choose based on informed reasoning; it is believed that over time people should be able to think.

  16. #16 by Loh on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 10:19 am

    ///‘We want real, systematic, organised and planned change and not something that will lead to greater uncertainty,’/// Najib, Malaysiakini

    After having ruled for more than half a century, BN now says that it has changed so that voters can expect them to do the right thing. If BN knew how to do the right things, it would not have taken them so long to realize that it has to change; yet he knows not where to change. Of all the slogans about changes, BN has not removed two important sins: institutionalized corruption and racism. NEP has been converted to institutionalized racism, and yet Najib would not end it when it should have stopped two decades ago.

    Has Najib made any fundamental change to improve governance in the country? He has not, and now he uses more public funds to buy votes. He plays money politics using government funds for his political benefits.

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