“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace...” -The Qur’aan, 25:63.
“...whoever kills a soul for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely...” -The Qur’aan, 5:32.
These are the verses strung in my heart. They are lucid and eloquent, holy and upheld against manipulation. These words from the Qur’aan comfort me in times when nothing else can. These are words that soothe me when melodically recited in prayer or silently in my mind, the ones that help me make sense of this world.
As a UCF student and a Muslim, I felt shock and exhaustive anger that terrible day when the so-called ISIS cruelly beheaded Steven Sotloff; “so-called,” because its name is nominal. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything that September Tuesday when I received the chilling news. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would happen again.
My mother and sister held me as I sobbed in their arms. Buried inside me that day was the harrowing thought, “How could they do this in our name?”
My Muslim identity does not oppose my American identity. They harmonize each other, and I am proudly, gratefully American, Egyptian, Muslim, human. In the end, we are all just human.
But it seems Sotloff’s murderers do not see it that way. Instead, they slayed their own dignity, and chose false ideology and deceit over the clear verses in the Qur’aan that stand as a timeless witness against what they did.
No matter what they do, no matter what justification they lean upon for the comfort of following their own sick whims, they will never be able to harm any soul more than they harm their own.
And they will never be able to suppress the selfless craft that is journalism.
For each candle I handed out the night of the vigil honoring his life, I thought of every dead Syrian child’s soul that Sotloff’s work helped shed light upon.
I thought of all my friends and family who still hold beloved roots in the now-ravaged country, of the Libyan revolutionaries whose story would have gone untold if not for Sotloff’s words, of the Egyptian protestors who felt wronged and stigmatized, of the Syrian families who starved in the midst of war and waited for hours in line just for bread — all whom I think of as my brothers and sisters abroad, and all whose voices were channeled by the freelancer’s words.
And not just by his words, but also his courage — courage that prized and magnified truth. Sotloff’s reporting reflected that principal ethic in Islam: truth. It’s emphasized in this saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “Forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you; and speak the truth even if it be against yourself.”
Speak the truth even if it be against yourself.
It is bitterly ironic that the cowards claim to have done this in the name of Islam, while Sotloff’s work revered one of the epitomes of Islamic virtue.
And I can only hope to live up to that virtue, to that high standard he left behind.