By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
04 May 2017
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
A letter allegedly from Osama bin Laden was aired on-line addressed to American people, and later posted by Observer Worldview on November 24, 2002. It explains ‘why they are fighting’ as questioned by many in the Western world, what they are calling them to, and what they we want from them (Americans). The letter is posted by New Age Islam on April 27 last against the following link under the caption:
Possibly the letter has remained unanswered as America does not recognize OBL as any representative of, or spokesman for the Muslim world. Besides, in international politics and throughout history, those wielding absolute power never feel obliged to respond to the grievances of their weak opponents or adversaries, however genuine may be the grievances from their perspective.
This author is, however, obliged to post this commentary, as complete silence to any propositions may amount to admission of the propositions in the eyes of those who support or admire OBM or see much truth in his long list of charges.
My following commentary is of very general nature and is provoked by OBL’s claim under (3.e) that “American people cannot be innocent of all the crimes committed by the Americans and Jews against us” and the argument (3.f) that “whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs.”
In one word, OBL’s letter claims justification of mass killing of Americans by implicating the non-combatant civilians in his long list of crimes committed by America.
The object of this comment is to demonstrate, by piecing together various Qur’anic allusions that by no stretch of imagination can Qur’an justify mass killing or even killing a single civilian, deliberately or in a pre-meditated manner in peace time or times of war.
Since the Qur'an was recorded (orally and on indigenous writing materials) in full light of history and preserved verbatim to this day by an unbroken chain of memorizers, its testimony as tabled below remains above debate.
During the first twelve years of the revelation (610-622), when the Prophet was stationed at his hometown, Mecca, his fellow-Meccans were bitterly opposed to, and enraged with him and found his claims to revelation outrageous and a monstrous lie. Since the prevalent clan ties prevented them from any recourse to violence against him, they captured and persecuted those converts who were weak and helpless (8:26, 85:10).Eventually, they conspired to confine him (to his home) or kill him or exile him (8:30).
And what was the Qur’an’s response to the twelve year- long bitter opposition and persecution?
It commands the Prophet to endure patiently what they (his enemies) say, to ignore their insults and to trust in God (26:217, 33:3, 33:48, 67:29), seek refuge in God (7:200, 41:36) and to wage a peaceful struggle against them (the Meccans) with it (the Qur’an) (25:52).
Come the Medinite period of the revelation (622-632), the Meccans sent powerful armies to Medina during the first three years to annihilate the Prophet and the upcoming Muslim community. These led to the battles of Badr (624) and Uhud (625) which was followed up by a coordinated attack on Medina by a confederation of Arab armies that led to a long but unsuccessful siege of Medina (known as the battle of Trench (627). Each of these encounters posed the Muslims to the risk of extinction. But despite the risk, terror and trauma of total annihilation, the Prophet was never harsh or revengeful. He is seen to be lenient (at Badr) by taking captives (8:67) rather than killing them all as was normative for the era. He was lenient with a faction of his followers (the hypocrites) that deserted him on way to the battlefield at Uhud (3:67), and forgave those who defied his orders and dashed off to collect booty leaving their battle-stations (3:152). He readily exempted others from defending Medina at the Trench war without verifying their excuses (33:13). No doubt, the period saw actions against the native Jewish tribes but those were provoked by repeated treaty violations and sedition that was designed to totally annihilate the Muslim community (33:10-15).
In the year 628 - following the Trench war, the Prophet undertook an unarmed journey to Mecca for pilgrimage. The nomadic Arabs who were weak in faith preferred to stay back (48:11), as they thought the Prophet and the believers would never be able to return to their families (48:12). The Prophet never took any action against them. The Prophet’s company was blocked from entering Mecca, but a peace treaty was signed (628) that stopped all hostilities.
Two years into the Peace Treaty, the Prophet proceeded to Mecca prepared for an armed encounter to take action against violation of Peace Treaty by a Meccan tribe. As the Muslims began to enter the city, the most fanatic among the Meccans harboured intense animosity – the fiery passion of the days of Ignorance, when God sent divine peace upon His Messenger and on the believers, and imposed on them the Word of restraint, as they were entitled to it and worthy of it (48:26). God withheld the hands of the Meccans from the Muslims and the hands of the Muslims from the Meccans (48:24).Thus, Mecca that was the abode of the most hostile enemies of the Prophet for more than two decades was integrated without any bloodshed.
The Prophet would have been within his rights to bring to justice the tormentors and killers of the unprotected converts during the Meccan period, execute the leaders of the tribes who had plotted to kill him, who attacked Medina and broke treaty alliances. But all he is reported to have said to a group of Meccans was: There is no blame upon you today. God will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful (12:92) - words of forgiveness that in the Qur’an, Joseph had spoken to his brothers who had been unjust to him when he was a child.
In the ensuing days, the Meccans came in throngs to the Prophet to embrace the new faith (110:2), and the revelation reminded the Prophet to glorify God and seek His forgiveness (110:3).
Thus, the Qur’an commanded Muhammad to remain humble at the greatest and most unexpected missionary achievement of his life, and to seek forgiveness (for any feeling of arrogance or grandeur that might have assailed him).
Finally over the last two years the Surah Tauba was revealed authorizing the Prophet and Muslim to kill such archetypes of defiance who broke their oaths (treaty obligations) after pledging them, and defamed their religion (9:12) and who had done all they could to drive the Messenger away (from Mecca) and were the first to attack (9:13). Finally, on the day of the Great hajj (631), the revelation gives an ultimatum of four months to the hostile pagans who were repeatedly breaking their treaty obligations (9:1-3). It commands the Muslims to kill them wherever they come upon them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place (take all possible measures as advisable in warfare) after the expiry of the treaty period (9:5) unless they repented, kept up prayer and gave the Zakat (9:5, 9:11). However, the pagans who were honouring their treaty of peace and not helping anyone against the Muslims were to be given time until the treaty term expired (9:4). At the same time, those pagans who sought protection were to be given protection, until they heard the word of God and then to be delivered to a place of security (i.e. their tribal homelands, so that they were not harmed by any other victimized Muslim) (9:6).
The Qur’an reinforces its emphasis on eschewing hatred of erstwhile enemies and being just to them around the same period that the Surah Tauba was revealed:
You who believe, be upright before God as witnesses to justice, and let not the hatred of any people prompt you to detract from justice. Deal justly: this is nearest to heedfulness (Taqwa); and heed God. Surely God is informed of what you do” (5:8).
“... And let not the hatred of a people who (once) obstructed you from (entering the) Sacred House, lead you to be hostile. Therefore, help each other to virtue and uprightness and do not collaborate with each other in sin and enmity. Heed God, and (remember,) God is severe in punishment” (5:2).
“It may be that God will bring about love between you and those of them you (now) regard as your enemies. (Remember,) God is Able (to do anything) and God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (60:7). God does not forbid you to be virtuous and just to those who did not fight you over religion, nor drove you from your homelands. Indeed, God loves the just (60:8). God only forbids you to befriend those who fought against you over religion, and expelled you from your homelands, and backed (others) in your expulsion; and whoever befriends them – it is they who are unjust” (60:9).
NOW COMING TO OBL’S LETTER, the Qur’anic allusions to the Prophet’s mission listed in the letter relate to the closed historical corridor of the Prophet’s mission (610-632) and do not provide any basis or religious justification to:
i) kill innocent people,
ii) cherry pick the Qur’an’s directives to the Prophet engaged in defensive war and act on them in peace time,
iii) treat non-combatant civilians as enemies,
iv) to threateningly ask Americans to embrace Islam[the Qur’an forbids any compulsion in religion (2:256, 50:45, 88:21/22) and asks for inviting others to faith with wisdom and pleasant counselling (16:125)].
Besides OBL’s simulating the role of the Prophet, who only acted upon divine guidance, amounts to appropriating the greatest social, cultural, intellectual and religious revolution in human history that Islam represented into a gory episode of terrorism that was aimed at destroying human civilization. This sounds sweeping and needs a little elaboration.
By the time the Prophet died, he brought practically the whole of Arabia in the fold of Islam – all voluntarily as the Qur’an does not give any evidence of the Prophet forcing a single person to convert to Islam or authorizing the killing of a single person on religious grounds. But by the time, Osama bin Laden died, he probably brought none in the fold of Islam and killed thousands of innocent people on fake religious justification.
In the immediate aftermath of the Prophet’s death, the Arabs were transformed from a group of marauding tribes, languishing in backwaters of civilization with no culture of reading, writing or formal education, no notion of universal justice, human rights, no political identity, and, among other things, no respect or regard for the women and the downtrodden humanity into founders of great dynasties, torch bearers of civilization, champions of art, culture and education, and emblems of justice, equity, human rights, women’s emancipation, and compassion for the downtrodden humanity. What has befallen the Muslim community in the aftermath of OBL’s death needs no elaboration. The Muslim community that was struggling to regain a firm foothold in the post-colonial modern era, has suffered a hard blow. By any civilisational yardstick, the aftermath of OBM’s death has brought great death and destruction to Muslim masses and lands.
So let no one be carried away by OBM’s list of injustices and atrocities befalling millions of Muslims of the world, including women and children and especially the people of Palestine to justify his mission of terrorism or to confuse terrorism with Islam. Islam is a religion of peace and pluralism as expounded at the strength of the Qur’an in the article referenced below. Throughout its history, it has won converts on its merit as a religion that envisions “universal brotherhood of humanity that will allow people of diverse faith, culture, colour and language to live together, to know each other and assist each other, to make life easy and peaceful for all human beings” 
On a historical note Osama assumes the role of the supreme authority in the Muslim world with the mission to remove the leaders who had allegedly become the agents of America and to install Sharia Law across the Muslim world. In other words, he wants to bring about the collapse of American domination and Western civilization and a resurgence of Islamic power and civilization of some two centuries ago. He utterly fails to realize that it is not for a man or a band of trigger happy religious zealots to drastically change the course of history. Human history has a mighty inertia and gargantuan momentum. Any localized eruption of violence or act of terror cannot change its course as much as “a few bushes cannot alter the direction of the wind or a few fishes cannot stem the flow of a river.” (Quoted from Chiragh Dehlvi). Any quantum change in a large swath of land – that is a nation can take long. Europe took more than two centuries to colonize the Muslim lands. They achieved this by explosive growth of knowledge and technology that is the greatest arsenal of nations. Therefore, a tiny band of gun wielding religious zealots or suicide bombers, acutely wanting in knowledge, technology and resources cannot not destroy America – it can only terrorize people for a little while (in historical terms) without making any dent in the course of history. This is not to defend America but to speak the truth which is always bitter. But people who live in delusion can do great harm to themselves and their community unless they come to senses and open their eyes to the realities of life.
Finally, it is worth adding that the Islamic world has seen crises and violence of far greater magnitude than the letter showcases. Beginning with the bloody and prolonged civil war during the transition from Rightly Guided Caliphs to Umayyads, Islamic history is punctuated with catastrophic violence - the bloody transition from Umayyads to Abbaside dynasty; the tyranny of the Kharijites (lasting for almost two centuries), the gradual destruction of Islamic civilizations in Spain, southern European islands, the horrors of crusades and Mongol invasion, the bloody defeats at the hands of colonizers, let alone wars of succession and last but not least, the agonizing demise of Islamic Caliphate (with the collapse of Ottoman Empire). So to project the pre-9/11 era as the worst of times in Islamic history is far from accurate.
Paradoxically, in the year preceding the 9/11, America had authorized NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia – a Christian land, to save the Albanian Muslims from extinction. The bombing lasting some three months (March 24 – June 10, 1999) had destroyed bridges, industrial plants, public buildings, private businesses, as well as barracks and military installations in addition to taking some 500 lives. Given the fact that both Russia and China were opposed to any military intervention and were set to veto any Security Council Resolution for air strikes, America and its European allies’ full scale military action against a Christian land to save a Muslim population from extinction in a faraway corner of Europe completely dismisses the notion of America/ Americans being inimical to the Muslims.
In sum, no matter the sufferings of Muslims under occupied lands and at other regions of the world, it will be utterly wrong to assume that America is an enemy of Islam or all Americans are opposed to Muslims. There is no doubt, about a rising tide of Islamophobia, but a vast section of the American/ Western population does sympathize with Muslims as reflected by their spontaneous protest against President Trump’s Executive Order banning travel to America from seven predominantly Muslim countries , and acceptance of millions of refuges from Muslim lands .Hence OBM’s letter under review has no leg to stand on and is in fact no more than an attempt to appropriate the Prophet’s mission of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation for terrorizing people and repelling them away from Islam, rather than offering peace and compassion and inviting people to Islam.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
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