By Hesham A. Hassaballa
April 27, 2005
Ever since the attacks of September 11, an intense amount of scrutiny has been placed on Muslims in general and Muslim belief in particular. Quite a few people want to know whether Islam sanctions what happened on that dark, but sunny morning of September in 2001. Quite obviously, the answer is “no.” There can be absolutely no justification in Islam for what happened then, or what has happened since then across the world.
When I try to point this out, I am constantly reminded by Muslims about all the sins committed by the “West” toward the Muslim World for the past 200 years. The “West,” they tell me, has colonized Muslim land, stolen Muslim resources, divided Muslim societies, and despite having physically left the land, continues to control the Muslims through its support of brutal, puppet dictatorships. Yes, individual Western governments – called the “West” by my Muslim detractors – have committed terrible crimes on Muslim soil. This cannot be denied. It also cannot be denied, however, that individual Muslims have also committed terrible crimes on Western soil. My detractors in the West never cease to remind me of this, labelling these individual Muslims as “Islam.”
Yet, despite whatever wrongs the Muslim World has suffered, never can innocent life be taken in revenge. Never can innocent Westerners be killed in retaliation for the sins of individual Western governments. Never can one decapitate an American contractor in Baghdad as retaliation for the American invasion of Iraq. Never can one wrong be rectified with another wrong. How can I say this? The Qur’an tells me so:
“Believers, stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others toward you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Qur’an 5:8)
“…let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear God, for God is strict in punishment.” (Qur’an 5:2)
This statement, “Let not the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice,” is perhaps one of the most – if not the most – profound statement in the Qur’an. No matter what has been done to you, God says, you are not allowed to commit injustice. The ends do not justify the means. There can never be a “free for all” against those who hurt us. The amazing profundity of the statements in 5:2 and 5:8 are even more greatly appreciated when one realizes when they were first revealed to the Muslims: soon after the conquest of Mecca.
The biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) details the horrific abuse meted out to the early Muslim community in Mecca for their acceptance of the message of Islam. The Muslims were attacked, tortured, even murdered for their beliefs. The situation was so dangerous that the Prophet sent dozens of his companions, including members of his own family, to Abyssinia for asylum. The Prophet (pbuh) himself, as we all know, did not escape the abuse and torture of the Meccan oligarchy, surviving a number of assassination attempts in Mecca. When the Meccans finally expelled the Prophet (pbuh) to Medina, their hostility towards the Muslims did not relent. It was unending bloodshed and war until almost the very end of the Prophet’s ministry. Even after the signing of the Hudaybiyyah Pact, Quraysh’s vicious hostility did not wane, and it was their blatant violation of the terms of the agreement that led to the conquest of Mecca in 630 C.E.
Now, with the Muslims in power in Mecca, there was widespread fear of a brutal massacre in revenge for all the evil done to the Muslims by the Meccans. In fact, some of the Prophet’s own companions shouted out loud: “Today is a day of slaughter! Today, God will abase Quraysh!” God, however, had a different opinion. He told them: “never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.” Even though, O Lord, they attacked us, killed us, tried to murder our Prophet, and expelled us from our homes? “Yes,” replied the Lord. “Even though they once shut you out of the Holy House,” said the Lord, “you cannot commit injustice. You cannot be transgressors.”
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) embodied this Divine principle with his actions toward the Meccans after the conquest of the Holy City. He asked the Meccans, “What do you think I am going to do with you?” They replied, “You are a noble brother, son of a noble brother.” They were terrified, of course. The Prophet – being the Prophet – told them, “Go about your way in peace.” When he heard his companion tell the Meccans, “Today is a day of slaughter! Today, God will abase Quraysh,” he became very angry and said, “Today is a day of mercy! Today, God will honour Quraysh!” Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.
Even before the conquest of Mecca, when the Muslims accidentally killed Amr ibn Al Hadrami during one of the Sacred Months, God did not condone injustice. After Amr was killed, Quraysh spread the rumour that the Prophet no longer held the Sacred Months as sacred. God sent down His reply:
“They will ask thee about fighting in the sacred month. Say: ‘Fighting in it is a big sin…” (2:217).
God did not condone the slaying of Amr in the sacred month, despite the fact that the Muslims were unjustly expelled from Mecca, and the property of the Muslims left behind in Mecca was unjustly seized by the Meccans. Just because the Meccans declared all out war against the Muslims, that did not give them the right to kill them during the sacred months. Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.
This principle also needs to be understood by we Americans. Despite what they did to us on September 11, it does not give us the right to kill innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan in revenge. It does not give us the right to torture detainees in Iraq or Afghanistan. It does not give our government the right to trample on the civil liberties of its citizens in the name of “fighting terrorism.” Whenever I read about allegations of U.S. soldiers beating or killing Iraqi detainees – or even raping Iraqi women – in the back of my mind, I worry that these actions are being committed in revenge for 9/11. It must never be so. Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.
This is not condoning the injustice committed against Muslims or the acts of terror inflicted upon Americans across the world. But, we can never let those ugly facts lead us to do wrong. As the Qur’an says,
“Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour.” If they kill our women and children, it does not give us the right to kill their women and children. This applies whether the “they” are Muslim terrorists or American soldiers. An “eye for an eye,” is not appropriate here. We must always remember the words of 5:8: “never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.” It is perhaps the most profound statement in all of the Qur’an.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006.