In Montmartre, overlooking Paris.
Gaëlle Dupont and Cécile Chambraud

PARIS — The terror attack against Charlie Hebdo has deeply shaken Muslims in France, and their dread is twofold. They fear not only for their own safety but also that the shooting might make it even more difficult for them to take their place in the national community, that it will fuel the rising Islamophobia that they've been denouncing.

"As a Muslim, I'm very affected by what happened," 47-year-old Abderrahim Aabid says at a gathering outside the town hall in Aulnay-sous-Bois for a moment of silence. "What they did has nothing to do with Islam. That's just barbaric."

Other Muslims who answered calls from religious associations and town hall officials to stand in unity against terror use similarly strong words to describe the terrorists, who were finally killed by police Friday: "thugs," "maniacs," "miles away from our religion."

They were neither readers nor admirers of Charlie Hebdo and its cartoonists. Still, "If you don’t agree with a drawing, you must reply with a pen. In this country, we are free," says Abderrahim Aabid.

"We've known the slaughtered cartoonists since we were kids," says Karim, a forty-something business owner. "Nobody was forced to buy Charlie. Plus, they were quite harsh on the Pope too, weren't they?"

Patriot, above all

Karim is Muslim, though non-practicing, but he says French, above all. "I've never felt so French in my life. It's the first time ever that I'm singing "La Marseillaise,"" the French national anthem. Outraged, he wants to stand together with the rest of the population. "The only reaction possible is to stay united so that the situation doesn't degenerate," he explains.

Many foresee and fear difficult days and weeks ahead, and Djamel predicts that Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party will gain from it. Says Aabid, "We're six million Muslims, and there's maybe 600 nut cases. Should we all pay for them?"

But not everybody is so certain about whether they should participate in the wave of support for the victims. "I hesitated before going to the demonstration on Wednesday," says 35-year-old Foued A. in Marseille. "I wondered whether I belonged there. I didn't want to face all the looks. This attack will make life even harder for Muslims in France. The discrimination that we endure every day will only worsen."

Online homage to Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman killed Wednesday.

Many Muslims feel that terrorism and Islam are increasingly being conflated, though many intellectuals are doing their best to stop this trend. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Muslim French "officials" condemned the massacre, and the various Muslim associations and institutions gathered in the Paris Grande Mosquée, calling on imams across the country to condemn "violence and terrorism" in their Friday prayers. They are urging believers to join Sunday's commemorative gatherings.

"We're shocked by what happened," says Same Debah, president of an association that fights against Islamophobia in France. "The Muslim community feels a heavier weight on its shoulders now."

Said Branine, founder of news website, says Muslims are unanimous in their condemnation "but also extremely worried that the stigmatization will be proportional to the impact of the attacks."

Hanan Ben Rhouma, editor of, says, "The predominant feeling is one of shock and disgust. But immediately after comes the anxiety, the fear of a violent backlash."

At least four mosques, or buildings located near one, have been targeted in attacks since the dramatic events of Wednesday morning — in the western city of Le Mans, in Port-la-Nouvelle in the south, in Villefranche-sur-Saône near Lyon and in Poitiers. "Muslims are an integral part of this show of emotion and coming together," Branine says. "They belong there. But will they be accepted?"

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Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.
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