One of the distinctive characteristics of the times we live in is the overwhelming presence of violence in our societies. Whether it is a bomb going off in a market place, or the hijacking of an aircraft where innocent people are held at ransom to achieve political ends, we live in an age, where the manipulation and loss of innocent lives has become commonplace.
Such is the all-pervasive nature of indiscriminate violence, that “terrorism” is considered as one of the prime threats to peace and security in our societies. The word terrorism came into wide usage only a few decades ago. One of the unfortunate results of this new terminology is that it limits the definition of terrorism to that perpetrated by small groups or individuals. Terrorism, in fact, spans the entire world, and manifests itself in various forms. Its perpetrators do not fit any stereotypes. Those who hold human lives cheap, and have the power to expend human lives, appear at different levels in our societies.
The frustrated employee who kills his colleagues in cold blood, or the oppressed citizen of an occupied land who vents his anger by blowing up a school bus are terrorists who provoke our anger and revulsion. Ironically however, the politician who uses age-old ethnic animosities between people to consolidate their position, the head of state who orders “carpet bombing” of entire cities, the exalted councils that choke millions of civilians to death by wielding the insidious weapon of sanctions, are rarely punished for their crimes against humanity.
It is this narrow definition of terrorism that implicates only individuals and group, that has caused Muslims to be associated with acts of destruction and terror, and as a result, to become victims of hate violence and terror themselves. Sometimes the religion of Islam is held responsible for the acts of a handful of Muslims, and often for the acts of non-Muslims.
Could it be possible that Islam, whose light ended the Dark Ages in Europe, now propound the advent of an age of terror? Could a faith that has nearly 2 billions followers around the world, actually advocate the killing and maiming of innocent people?
Could Islam, whose name itself stands for “peace” and submission to God, encourage its adherents to work for death and destruction?
For too long, have we relied on popular images in the media and in Hollywood films, for answers to these pertinent questions. It is now time to look at the sources of Islam, and its history to determine whether Islam does indeed advocate violence.
The sanctity of human life
The Glorious Qur’an says,
“…And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason.” (Qur’an, 6:151)
Islam considers all life forms as sacred. However, the sanctity of human life is accorded a special place. The first and the foremost basic right of a human being is the right to live. The Glorious Qur’an says,
“…And whoever saves one (human being) – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” (Qur’an, 5:32)
Such is the value of a single human life, that the Qur’an equates the taking of even one human life unjustly, with killing all of humanity. Thus, the Qur’an prohibits homicide in clear terms. The taking of a criminal’s life by the state in order to administer justice is required to uphold the rule of law, and the peace and security of the society. Only a proper and competent court can decide whether an individual has forfeited his right to life by disregarding the right to life and peace of other human beings.
The ethics of war
Even in a state of war, Islam enjoins that one deals with the enemy nobly on the battlefield. Islam has drawn a clear line of distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants of the enemy country. As far as the non-combatant population is concerned such as women, children, the old etc. The instructions of the Prophet (pbuh) are as follows:
“Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman…Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship.”
While Islam in general is misunderstood in the western world, perhaps no other Islamic term evokes such strong reaction as the word ‘Jihad’. The term ‘Jihad’ has been much abused, to conjure up bizarre images of violenet Muslims, forcing people to submit at the point of the sword. This myth was perpetuated throughout the centuries of mistrust during and after the Crusades. Unfortunately, it survives to this day.
The word Jihad comes from the root word Jahada, which means to struggle. So Jihad is literally an act of struggling. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the greatest Jihad (major Jihad) is to struggle with the insidious suggestions of one’s own soul.
When asked, ‘What is the major jihad?’ the Prophet (pbuh) replied: ‘The jihad of the self (struggle against self)’” (Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar). Thus, jihad primarily refers to the inner struggle of being a person of virtue and submission to God in all aspects of life.
Secondarily, Jihad refers to struggle and injustice. Islam, like many other religions, allows for armed self-defence, or retribution against tyranny, exploitation, and oppression. The Glorious Qur’an, says,
“And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” (Qur’an, 4:75).
Thus Islam enjoins upon its believers to strive utmost, in purifying themselves, as well as in establishing peace and justice in society. A Muslims can be never be at rest when he sees injustice and oppression around him. As Martin Luther King Jr. said:
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Islam enjoins upon all Muslims to work actively to maintain balance in which God has created everything. However, regardless of how legitimate the cause may be, the Glorious Qur’an never condones the killing of innocent people. Terrorising the civilian population can never be termed as jihad and can never be reconciled with the teachings of Islam.
History of tolerance
Even Western scholars have rejected the myth of Muslims coercing others to convert. The great historian De Lacy O’Leary wrote:
“History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims, sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” (Islam at Crossroads, London, 1923)
Muslims ruled Spain for roughly 800 years. During this time, and up until they were finally forced out, the non-Muslims there were alive and flourishing. Additionally, Christian and Jewish minorities have survived in the Muslim lands of the Middle East for centuries. Countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all have significant Christian and/or Jewish populations.
This is not surprising to a Muslim, for his faith prohibits him from forcing others to see his point of view. The glorious Qur’an says:
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (Qur’an, 2:256)
Islam – the great unifier
Far from being a militant dogma, Islam is a way of life that transcends race and ethnicity. The glorious Qur’an repeatedly reminds us of our common origin:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Qur’an, 49:13)
Thus, it is the universality of its teachings that make Islam the fastest growing religion in the world. In a world full of conflicts and deep schisms between human beings, a world that is threatened with terrorism, perpetuated by individuals and states, Islam is a beacon of light that offers hope for the future.