Comment: To be (Muslim) or not to be?

I told him that “Allahu Akbar” used to mean “God is great,” but today it means violence, blood and terrorism.

Belgian soldiers and a police officer control the documents of a woman in a shopping street in central Brussels, November 21, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Belgian soldiers and a police officer control the documents of a woman in a shopping street in central Brussels, November 21, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In France, terrorists with suicide vests are killing innocent people in the Bataclan Theater, while in America, time continues to crawl yet speed by, its passage reflected in the millions of eyes glued to smartphone screens, where news of the horror in France is merely a headline to read and a link to share.
As I sat in my home in the Bronx Friday, I found myself in pain as I watched this horror on the television.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but notice my own clock’s ridiculous behavior. The clock, which hangs above the television, sits next to a picture frame in which there is a letter from French President Francois Hollande. This frame is surrounded by other frames holding letters from various other leaders (recently I have received letters from various world leaders in support of my Anti-Islamic State campaign). I asked myself how it could already be 4:00 p.m. The clock shouldn’t be able to move, I thought, because the clock in my heart has stopped moving. I felt like my clock was ruled by the terrorists of Islamic State (IS), and that it was slowly tick-tocking its way through the AK-47 bullets. Eventually, the clock fell to the ground, and with it fell President Hollande’s letter.
I left home reluctantly and walked to the subway to get to Baruch College; I had classes to teach, and I was running late.
As I was riding the train to school, images of the shooting kept flashing in my memory. I kept recalling the four terrorists shouting “Allahu Akhbar” as they mercilessly shot hundreds of people. Eighty-nine people were killed in the theater alone. At least 129 people were killed in the attacks. While we were watching the events on the television, my three-year-old son Isaac asked me what “Allahu Akhbar” meant. Albert, my 12-year-old son, responded: “Remember, Isaac? Grandma said ‘Allahu Akhbar’ means that God is great.” I corrected Albert right away. I told him that “Allahu Akbar” used to mean “God is great,” but today it means violence, blood and terrorism.
I told him that it means something like “I’m about to kill as many innocent people as possible.”
The train screeched to a halt, and my mind returned to the present. As I entered the college, the security officer who usually greets me in the lobby asked for my ID and asked where I was going. After this encounter, I stepped into the elevator. With each floor I ascended, I felt like I was being pushed forcibly up. It was as if IS itself was operating the elevator, as if the group was somehow contributing to some conspiracy to kill me for launching the Anti-Islamic State Campaign.
And while this particular conspiracy may have just been in my mind, something worse happened when I entered the classroom. Soon after I began lecturing, one of my students stopped me and asked, “Professor Bari, are you a Muslim?” In light of the events in Paris that day, as well as the Charlie Hebdo attack in France in January, the question did not surprise me. Seventeen people were killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and even though some time has passed, I am still weeping for them. I’ve never seen such horror before in my life. This weeping has created a hole in my heart, one that I’ve been trying to fill ever since. This hole is what prompted me to write the article “I’m Muslim and I’m Charlie,” but it is also what has motivated me to campaign against IS in every possible way. I’ve launched websites and written many articles, including “Terror of Islamic State,” to promote my anti- IS campaign and to eradicate this evil group from the world. Yet it seems that I have failed completely. IS seems to be stronger than ever. It’s attacked many countries recently, including France, Russia and Lebanon, and has unleashed a horror that the world hasn’t seen since the Second World War.
I wanted to explain this all to my class. I wanted to tell them that I’m not a bad Muslim, that in fact I had devoted myself to destroying IS. However, I didn’t say any of this, because I didn’t think it would be appropriate to make this kind of political statement in a math class.
Instead, I looked at the student who had asked if I was Muslim, and I said “Let’s focus on what’s relevant to our class today. Today’s topic is related rates, which is the most difficult topic in calculus. In fact, many students fail calculus just because they don’t understand related rates.”
It seemed that my response had made the student angry.
“You’re going to fail me just because I’m not Muslim?” he asked, his voice full of anger. At this point, I thought that I was losing the class completely. Thankfully, one of the students at the back of the class came to my rescue, informing the class that she had read every single one of my articles, and she was familiar with my anti-IS campaign.
I was then able to teach for the next two hours.
Still, at the end of the class, I heard him whispering to another student: “There is no such thing as a good Muslim.”
The author teaches mathematics at CUNY Baruch College and physics at AMS. His anti-IS website is: