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Islamic Ideology ( 8 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Jihad and Islam: Shattering the Myths

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

9 September 2015

Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as though he had killed all of mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. (Qur’an 5:32)

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)

Islam, Muslims and Qur’an have become subjects of major concern to the world media, religious groups and people, especially after the events of 9/11. Many articles and books have been written about a religion followed by over one billion people worldwide, some of which saw in Islam a separate civilization that will inevitably clash with the current dominant western civilization, but some were more optimistic, showing interest in a constructive debate, seeking understanding.

 However, many of these writings continued to perpetuate misinformation and repeat the same common misconceptions, thus giving a distorted picture of what Islam is about, and what the Qur’an actually says. When a  gunman attacks a mosque in the name of Judaism, a Catholic guerrilla sets off a bomb in an urban area, or Serbian Orthodox militiamen rape and kill innocent Muslim civilians, these acts are not used to stereotype an entire faith. Never are these acts attributed to the religion of the perpetrators. Yet how many times have we heard the words 'Islamic, Muslim fundamentalist etc.' linked with violence. References to Islam dominate our headlines, airwaves;, computer screens and political debates .We are inundated with terms such as Jihad, Fatwa, Madrasa, Taliban ,Wahhabi, Mullah, Martyr, Mujahidin. Policymakers must recognize that, more often than not, the terrorists the world should fear are motivated by political and socioeconomic — not religious — concerns.

"There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur'an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam."[1] So announces the acclaimed writer on monotheistic faiths, Karen Armstrong.

This quote sums up the single most influential argument currently serving to deflect the accusation that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant: All monotheistic religions, proponents of such an argument say, and not just Islam, have their fair share of violent and intolerant scriptures, as well as bloody histories. Thus, whenever Islam's sacred scriptures—the Qur'an first, followed by the reports on the words and deeds of Muhammad (the Hadith)—are highlighted as demonstrative of the religion's innate bellicosity, the immediate rejoinder is that other scriptures, specifically those of Judeo-Christianity, are as riddled with violent passages.

More often than not, this argument puts an end to any discussion regarding whether violence and intolerance are unique to Islam. Instead, the default answer becomes that it is not Islam per se but rather Muslim grievance and frustration—ever exacerbated by economic, political, and social factors—that lead to violence. That this view comports perfectly with the secular West's "materialistic" epistemology makes it all the more unquestioned.

Politics in so called” Muslim countries" may or may not have any Islamic basis.  Often dictators and politicians will use the name of Islam for their own purposes. One should remember to go to the source of Islam and separate what the true religion of Islam says from what is portrayed in the media. The media has sensationalized the views of a small percentage of violent extremists as the legitimate understanding of Islam as a community seeking global domination by force. Public debates on terrorism focus intensely on Muslims. But this focus does not square with the low number of plots by Muslims, and it does a disservice to a minority group that suffers from increasingly hostile public opinion.

 Factors such as anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure, and becoming a hero have all been implicated in case studies of radicalisation. Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an “us versus them” mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent “the enemy”, but they are not the drivers of radicalisation. If radicalisation to violent extremism was solely a matter of religious belief, then we would have to assume that alternative religious interpretations could steer people away from violence.

Unfortunately the answer is not that simple. Attempts to engage young people who are becoming involved in violent extremism through religious discussion have had little success.  It's not just religious ideology that causes problems – state-imposed atheism was a defining feature of brutal 20th century regimes led by Stalin, Tito, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot among others, which resulted in the suffering and murder of millions. Tens of thousands of Russian Christians alone were executed for their beliefs by atheists’ intent on purging religion from the Soviet Union.

Yet it's true, religion has been a major feature in some historical conflicts and the most recent wave of modern terrorism. Religion has taken on extra significance today because globalisation is challenging and changing everything. Religious identity not only survives but can take on heightened significance when national and political alliances break apart, as happened in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, when Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs were divided along Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim fault lines.

Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because religion doesn't dominate everyday life in the West, whereas Islam is considered a 'way of life' for Muslims and they make no division between secular and sacred in their lives. ”Islam, in a word, is a religion of peace: that is its aim and goal. Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defence, in defence of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. But it also lays down strict rules of combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock.

The distorted images of Islam stem partly from a lack of understanding of Islam among non Muslims and partly from the failure by Muslims to explain themselves. The results are predictable: Hatred breeds hatred, just as love engenders love, and too often we take on the colouring of our enemy until we are caught in a vicious circle. Ignorance of Islam exists both among Muslims and non Muslims. Non Muslims, ignorant and misunderstanding Islam, fear it. They believe it threatens their most basic values. Fantasy, conjecture and stereotypes replace fact and reality. Similarly Muslims have their own misconceptions. They, reacting to the hate and fear of non –Muslims, create a kind of defensive posture within their societies and a combative environment built on militant rhetoric. In this heat and misunderstanding, the voices of peace and tolerance are drowned. We need sanity in all quarters to let the truth prevail.  .In our goal of achieving this objective, the media can play a very critical role.

It is unfair to symbolize Islam with extremism.  Before condemning the Qur'an and the historical words and deeds of Islam's Prophet Muhammad (SAW) for inciting violence and intolerance, Jews are counselled to consider the historical atrocities committed by their Hebrew forefathers as recorded in their own scriptures; Christians are advised to consider the brutal cycle of violence their forbears have committed in the name of their faith against both non-Christians and fellow Christians. In other words, Jews and Christians are reminded that those who live in glass houses should not be hurling stones.

There is widespread agreement among   Muslims   that media reports involving them are  selective, biased, stereotypical and inaccurate .If you want to know how many times Muslims   condemned violence and extremism just Google "Muslims against terrorism" or "Muslims Condemning ISIS" or any similar words and you will be surprised by the thousands of Muslim institutions, scholars, and governments that are condemning and fighting terrorism while assuring everyone that this does not have anything to do with the peaceful message of Islam  . The majority of Muslims are moderate, peaceful people who have been affected by terrorism and violence more than non-Muslims. But the media is not interested in this positive news. It has constructed its own stereotype of a Muslim and uses selective stories to reinforce this stereotype. It is an unfortunate fact that through the actions of a minority, Islam and Muslims have become closely associated with terrorism. As a result, Muslim citizens or residents   have come under increased scrutiny, with questions being raised about identity, multiculturalism and loyalty to the state. Throughout the world there seems to be a widening divide between religious and nonreligious perspectives, each resorting to labels such as fanatic, infidel—or worse. There is also a more encouraging phenomenon: progressive religious groups are bridging the gap between religious and nonreligious thinkers by forming coalitions to combat injustice, poverty and violence.

One of the most sensitive issues that confronts the Muslims the world over is the place of Jihad and martyrdom in Islam. Jihad has been a tenet of Islam since its inception in the 7th century. While some Muslims consider Jihad as a psychological or inner struggle, the widely-held contemporary understanding is a violent confrontation based on ideology. That is, Jihad is viewed as a holy war, waged against infidels or apostates, and considered by participants as a religious duty. Contrary to most Western assumptions Islam enjoins peace and permits aggression only in self defence. Jihad is a war against aggressors and not violence against innocents and the old, women and children in particular. You cannot even do violence to trees during a Jihad. It is said that the troops of Imameddin Zengi, the Sultan who began to reverse the Crusader’s tide and was widely admired for his Jihad, walked in such a straight  file through fields that not an inch of crop damaged. In words quoted by Prophet Muhammad in one of his last public sermons, God tells all human beings, "O people! We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another" (Q49: 13)--not to conquer, convert, subjugate, revile or slaughter but to reach out towards others with intelligence and understanding.

The True Pacifist Face of Islam

It will be a surprise and amazement to know that at its core Islam is a pacifist creed. Islam is not addicted to war, and Jihad is not one of its "pillars" or essential practices. The primary meaning of the word Jihad is not "holy war" but "struggle". It refers to the difficult effort that is needed to put God's will into practice at every level--personal and social as well as political. Jesus and the Prophet were proponents of peace. Jesus told his followers:"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). Saint Peter, one of Christ's disciples, echoed this message of goodwill by encouraging people to "turn away from evil and do good... seek peace and pursue it". (Peter 3:11) Roughly 600 years after Jesus, Prophet Muhammad revealed his revelations to the tribes of Arabia, where Muhammad was particularly adamant about establishing peace. One of the Prophet's favourite sayings was: "Forgive him who wrongs you, join him who cuts you off, do good to him who does evil to you."

Islam did not impose itself by the sword. In a statement in which the Arabic is extremely emphatic, the Qur’an insists, "There must be no coercion in matters of faith!" (2: 256) Constantly Muslims are enjoined to respect Jews and Christians, the "People of the Book," who worship the same God (29: 46). In words quoted by Muhammad in one of his last public sermons, God tells all human beings, "O people! We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another" (49: 13)--not to conquer, convert, subjugate, revile or slaughter but to reach out toward others with intelligence and understanding.

Why does Islam lay such a great emphasis on peace? Because all the good things which Islam wants to see in human life can be brought about only in peaceful environment. For instance, such constructive activities like spiritual uplift, character building, educational activity, social welfare, worship and prayer can be performed only in peaceful conditions. No peace, no progress; no peace, no development. Due to this great importance, the Prophet of Islam always wanted to maintain peace even at the price of unilateral adjustment

 This is how the Qur’an describes the Prophet as the symbol of grace and gentleness: "Thus, it is a grace of Allah that you were gentle to those [who disobeyed in Uhud]; had you been tough or hard-hearted, they would have surely dispersed away from you" (Q3: 159); "There has come to you a Messenger from among yourself; your suffering grieves him. He is full of concern for your guidance and he is kind and compassionate to the believers" (Q9:128), and "You are a man with high level of character." (Q68: 4)

The Prophet’s miracle was to give to humanity a system of life that provides for all the needs of body, mind and soul, and elevates man’s aspirations towards a sublime ideal. Through his actions, he showed the way to achieve all this in a very simple, direct and truthful manner. He built a state that was dedicated to truth and justice and to the liberation of man throughout the world.

The Prophet's grace is not just for the Muslims and the pious, but for the people of the world: "We did not send you but as a grace to the human society for their guidance" (Q21: 107). Can one transform the Book of such a Prophet to a manifesto for the terrorists and guideline for the warmongering generals? No.

Peace is a moral order of the Qur’an. The   Book states:

        "Making peace is better" (Q4; 128)

        "Fear from the disobedience of Allah's commands and set things straight [without war] among yourselves" (Q8:1)

        "Do not make Allah's [name] an excuse in your oaths for not doing good and acting piously or making peace among mankind" (Q2: 224)

        “Wherewith Allah guideth all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety, and leadeth them out of darkness, by His will, unto the light, - guideth them to a path that is straight.”(Q5:16)

        “But Allah doth call to the Home of Peace: He doth guide whom He pleaseth to a way that is straight”(Q10:25)

        “Only the saying, "Peace! Peace"(Q56:26)

        “These will be granted their reward twice over because they remained steadfast; they repel evil with good, and spend (in alms) out of the sustenance We provided them,” (Q28:54)

        “And when they hear any vain talk, they turn away from it, saying: "We have our deeds and you have your deeds. Peace be to you. We do not desire to act like the ignorant." (Q28:55)

        “Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah, lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation we have made the deed seem fair.” (Q6:108)

        And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (Q21:107)

The Doctrine of Jihad

Jihad is a verbal noun with the literal meaning of "striving" or "determined effort." The active participle Mujahid means "someone who strives" or "a participant in Jihad."It is widely used to refer to the struggle of the individual to live a virtuous life, to uphold religious values in one’s personal life, to help propagate Islam through personal effort by way of personal example and promoting the Faith. A very important and much quoted tradition has Muhammad telling his companions as they go home after a battle, "We are returning from the lesser Jihad [the battle] to the greater Jihad," the far more urgent and momentous task of extirpating wrongdoing from one's own society and one's own heart.

Every religious act, such as performing the Salah regularly day in and day out for a whole lifetime or fasting for fourteen hours in hot climate requires a Jihad; in fact, the whole of life may be said to be a constant Jihad between our carnal and passionate e soul and the demands of the immortal spirit within us. It was in reference to this profounder meaning of Jihad that the Prophet said to his companions after a major battle in which the very existence of the early Islamic community was at stake, “verily ye have returned from the lesser Jihad to the greater Jihad”. and when one of the companions asked what the greater Jihad was ,he answered, ”to battle against your passionate souls(Nafs),”Islam, therefore, sees Jihad as vigilance against all that distracts us from God and exertion to do His Will within ourselves as well as preserving and re-establishing the order and harmony that He has willed for Islamic society and the world about us .In  this context the word Jihad for Muslims retains quit positive religious connotations of personal devotion toward betterment. It is also routinely used in colloquial Arabic simply to mean “I’ll make an effort, do my best”. That is the “great Jihad ‘”or personal Jihad, as defined by the Prophet.

“Lesser Jihad “as defined originally by the Prophet, came to refer to military efforts in a context of military struggle in which the key obligations were defence and preservation of Islam and the Ummah. Since the fledgling Muslim community in Madinah was under siege from pagan forces from Makkah over repeated years of battle, the defence of the community was central to many Qur’anic revelations and personal concerns of the Prophet. But as the early Muslim community stabilized, it moved into a phase of military expansion. As Islam spread, it encountered other states and empires with which it fought for control over vast regions.

The hard-line   and classical Islamic scholars have however overemphasized the military construct of Jihad. The Qur’an’s exhortations to Jihad in the military sense are sometimes brutal in tone but are so hedged by qualifiers that Muhammad clearly doesn’t espouse perpetual war against unbelievers, and is open to peace with them. The formal doctrine of military Jihad — which isn’t found in the Qur’an, and evolved only after Muhammad’s death — does seem to have initially been about endless conquest, but was then subject to so much amendment and re-interpretation as to render it compatible with world peace. Meanwhile, in the Hadith — the non-Qur’anic sayings of the Prophet — the tradition arose that Muhammad had called holy war the “lesser Jihad” and said that the “greater Jihad” was the struggle against animal impulses within each Muslim’s soul.

The term Jihad in many contexts means "fighting" (though there are other words in Arabic that more unambiguously refer to the act of making war, such as Qital or Harb). In the Qur'an and in later Muslim usage, Jihad is commonly followed by the expression fi Sabil Illah, "in the path of God." The description of warfare against the enemies of the Muslim community as Jihad fi Sabil Illah sacralised an activity that otherwise might have appeared as no more than the tribal warfare endemic in pre-Islamic Arabia. After the Qur'an, the Hadith (reports on the sayings and acts of the prophet) is the second most important source of Islamic law (Shari'a). In Hadith collections, Jihad means armed action; for example, the 199 references to Jihad in the most standard collection of Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, all assume that Jihad means warfare. These figures formed one distinct interpretation of Jihad as war and Ibn Taymiyya and his followers formed another.

For the jurists, Jihad fits a context of the world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim zones, Dar al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (Abode of War) respectively. This model implies perpetual warfare between Muslims and non-Muslims until the territory under Muslim control absorbs what is not, an attitude that perhaps reflects the optimism that resulted from the quick and far-reaching Arab conquests. Extending Dar al-Islam does not mean the annihilation of all non-Muslims, however, nor even their necessary conversion. Indeed, Jihad cannot imply conversion by force, for the Qur'an (2:256) specifically states "there is no compulsion in religion."  It is also true that several Hadiths are unauthentic and can be recognized by  their conflict with the Qur’an .Thus while analyzing the concept of Jihad in the backdrop of Hadith literature we must remember the that peace, tolerance ,justice and mercy remain the defining emblems of the Qur’an..

The specific Qur’anic commandment to “kill them wherever you find them” (Q2:191) has nothing to do with everyday life, though. Rather, it is applicable to a combat situation during a war fought in self-defence. The Qur’an clearly states, “And fight in the cause of God against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, God loves not the transgressors. And kill those, wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they have driven you out.”(Q2:190)

 The Qur’an says, “God only forbids you, respecting those who have fought against you on account of your religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and have helped others in driving you out, that you make friends of them.” (Q60:8)The Qur’an admonishes Muslims not to make friends with enemy combatants or their aides during an active wartime. It’s a strategy any sane military leader would endorse.

Specific Conditions for Jihad

About Jihad, there are some conditions and limitations that can be divided into three groups: First, if the enemies of Muslims want peace, Muslims have to accept that offer. The second condition: without a valid reason, such as oppression or a war against a Muslim country, the Muslim country cannot wage war. The last condition is that Muslims cannot harm civilian people, animals and the environment.

          The first condition, which gives to Muslims the responsibility of to accept the offer of peace of enemies, can be understood through the verses of the Qur’an:

“… Therefore, if they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then Allah gives you no excuse to fight them.”(4:90) and “If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in Allah. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.”(Q8:61)

          As the second limitation, war cannot be waged without a valid reason. There should be oppression or an attack upon the Muslim country to wage a war. About this, the Qur’an says: “Permission is granted to those who are being persecuted, since injustice has befallen them, and Allah is certainly able to support them” (22:39) and “Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors. …And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against transgressors” (2:190,193)

In the light of these evidences, it can be said that if there is oppression, Islam takes responsibility to prevent it. This is not against peace, obviously. Moreover, not to prevent a cruelty is unjust and against peace; because the rights of the people under oppression must be protected by other people.

          The third limitation for Jihad is that innocent civilian people must not be under attack by Muslims. In other words, Islam protects the life of innocent people. The Qur’an says about this: “… You shall not kill – Allah has made life sacred – except in the course of justice…” (Q6:151 and Q17:33) and “… 

Through these verses, and by Islamic rules, the lives of innocent people are protected. In addition to this, spiritual, faithful and devout Muslims, since they believe in the Last Judgment, cannot easily make oppression upon other people; they fear Allah and they know well that everything they do in this world will be examined and asked one by one in the Hereafter.

The Qur’an is read, and its voice is heard, by people with each one’s conscience. The pacifists and the terrorists read the same text, but present fundamentally different interpretations. It is important to consider the reader and interpreter of the Qur’an. The voice of Qur’an heard by Islamic fundamentalists is not the same as the voice heard by progressive Muslims.  The fundamentalist ideology has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the terrorists who emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate the violence.

Radicalisations of Islam

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) condemned extremism with the greatest severity. Today’s Muslims have a greater need to be reminded of this than ever before, as they do of his saying that ‘anger burns up good deeds just as fire burns up dry wood.’ The process of radicalization process has several stages, but   there is no linear progression from one stage to the next. The satanic countries should understand these stages and act to limit radicalization of our youth, no matter how small the number might seem. This is the least we expect from them even as we continue our efforts of engaging with the misguided youth. Where young men and women are constantly made to feel they are not part of society, when they see themselves as pushed out, and harassed in various ways, it creates a societal wound in which the infection of Islamic extremism can fester.

 This is, in fact, how extremisms of all kinds propagate themselves. Muslim extremists and right-wing racists share more than the fantasy of their own cultural supremacy: they are, in a sense, interdependent – predicated upon the existence of a demonised enemy. Both seek to recruit people to their own side through creating narratives of fear, hate, and resentment, of ‘us and them’. By tearing the wound ever wider, they seek to grind the infection of their world view even deeper into the flesh. It’s a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing hatreds. Just as the sense of otherness builds from interactions which are felt as exclusionary, unjust and humiliating, interactions which are inclusive, fair and respectful can introduce a contradiction in their stark worldview and provide a reminder of our shared humanity. Simultaneously they have to be exposed to the authentic teachings of Islam so that they understand what their true faith all about is.

The fact is that the role of religion in radicalisation (and deradicalisation) is grossly overestimated. There is actually no empirical evidence to support the claim that religion (any religion) and ideology are the primary motivators of violent extremism. The revelation that wannabe foreign fighters prepared for battle by reading copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, underscores this. The point has also been made by some of the world’s most renowned scholars of terrorism who agree that other factors play a much larger role.

Radical Jihad has not been global for long. Even the "Afghan Arabs" who fought the Soviets in the 1980s generally saw themselves as training to confront enemy regimes back home. It was not until the mid-1990s that Osama bin Laden launched the globalist strategy of giving priority to attacking the "far enemy" in the West. Later still, Ayman al-Zawahiri reversed his long-standing concentration on the "near enemy" (the Egyptian regime), joined forces with bin Laden, and became number two in the al Qaeda hierarchy. Still, not all Jihadists went global. Many, especially in Egypt, the principal case studied in this book, deplored the move, fearing that taking on the American superpower would jeopardize their very existence. Others, beaten down by the Egyptian regime, were simply prepared to close down their violent resistance. Al Qaeda has never had the support that many observers in the West believe it has, and it may well have been en route to even greater marginalization but for the new opportunity offered by the U.S-led invasion of Iraq.

 This policy has empowered fundamentalist clerics by naming them official spokespeople for Muslim communities that are, in fact, divided and moderate. The most logical explanation of how radical Islam has taken hold lies in    the saga of how Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses -- originally just an opportunistic effort for Khomeini to gain a political advantage in Iran -- managed to spark fundamentalist religious confrontation and, ultimately, Jihadist terrorism. The causes of extremism do not lie in religious tradition: most radicals are neither religious nor traditional. Nor do they lie in hostility toward Western foreign policy, about which most   Muslim radicals care relatively little. In most cases Jihadism is a form of youthful rebellion, akin to membership in street gangs or middle-class slumming. It is motivated by young men's antipathy toward their parents and their desire for street credibility -- forces stronger among the better educated. The tragic result has been an increasingly illiberal and divided society, with little cultural space for second-generation   Muslims.

The early chapters (Surahs) from the time when Muhammad (SAW) was in Mecca are peaceful (see 5: 19). At this period the Muslim community was still small and had no possibility to wage wars. Later Suras, from Medina, contain references and instructions to use force against those that oppose and persecute Islam, those that breach their contracts or who deny Muslims access to the holy sites. Initially, force was only permitted in self defence, based on the verse cited above, 2: 190, 22: 39 and also on Q4: 75, Q 4: 84, Q4: 90-1 and Q8: 39 which indicate that when the enemy sues for peace, fighting must cease. Later, in what is believed to have been the final revelation, permission to engage in offensive action is apparently given; when the sacred months are passed, slay the unbelievers wherever you find them (9: 5). See also 9: 123 where the reference to the sacred months is absent, O ye who believe fight the unbelievers who gird about you. 

While the vast majority of Muslim clerics and scholars promote a tolerant and peaceful version of Islam, they compete with a minority of self-declared Sheikhs who promote hatred and violence. These sheikhs are easily accessed on the internet and some amass a following of disaffected youth who are attracted by a sense of injustice and become convinced that Islam not only condones violence, it requires them to take up arms to prove their commitment. They become so influenced by these teachings that they consider any other interpretations of Islam to be completely false; often labelling moderate sheikhs and their followers as apostates and allies of the west. They completely dismiss any alternative religious interpretations and are not even prepared to consider them as part of “true” Islam. The problem of corrupt religion has attracted the criticism of many prophets and saints. The Qur'an censures religious hypocrites:

Among the people there is he whose discourse on the life of the world pleases you, and he calls on God as witness to what is in his heart, yet he is an unyielding and antagonistic adversary. When he turns and leaves, he walks about corrupting the earth, destroying crops and livestock – God loves not corruption (Q2:204–205).


While suicide is forbidden, in Islam, martyrdom is everywhere praised, welcomed, and urged: "By the Being in Whose Hand is my life, I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah; then I should be brought back to life and be killed again in His way..."; "The Prophet said, 'Nobody who enters Paradise will ever like to return to this world even if he were offered everything, except the martyr who will desire to return to this world and be killed 10 times for the sake of the great honour that has been bestowed upon him'." [Sahih Muslim, chapters 781, 782, The Merit of Jihad and the Merit of Martyrdom.]

Accepting the cliché that "Islam prohibits suicide" is much easier than explaining exactly where or how Islamic tradition makes suicide prohibited (Haram) .On the rare occasions that Islamic texts are examined, few authors delve into the Hadiths, but some cite the Qur'an. The cited passage is always Sura 4:29, which they claim means "do not kill yourself."

Yet the issue is far from settled. At best, one might argue that Sura 4:29 appears to contain a prohibition against self-slaughter. This view hinges on the word Anfusakum, most often translated as "oneself" or "yourself" while an equally convincing argument can be made that it be translated as "others like one." An examination of the three most common English translations of the Qur'an, those of   Marmaduke Pickthall, and Yusef Ali, alerts readers to potential discrepancies. The phrase in question from 4:29 is the imperative wa-la Taqtulu Anfusakum: Pickthall translation reads, "kill not one another," and Ali's reads, "Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves."

Martyrdom, on the other hand, occupies a significant place in the Islamic discourse. There is a very interesting incident in Islamic history which throws light on the principle of martyrdom.. The account describes the travails of Bara' ibn Malik, a brave and seasoned warrior for Islam. Bara' spent a good part of his adult life seeking martyrdom. This particular episode occurred in a battle against an army led by Musailamah (known as "Musailamah the Liar"), a man who also claimed to be a prophet of God. The battle occurred during the "Apostasy Wars" that closely followed the death of the Prophet. Abu Bakr determined that he should put down the rebellion by force. In a particular battle involving Bara' ibn Malik, the enemy garrisoned itself in a fort and put up fierce resistance. The Muslims were taking many losses because they were unable to gain entry to the fort. Bara' volunteered to be catapulted over a parapet by his compatriots so that he could open the gates to the fort and allow the Muslims to enter  He knew that he faced certain death in this endeavour but he proceeded with the plan anyway, probably out of his desire to be martyred.

 The plan succeeded but, miraculously, Bara' was not killed. He was severely wounded, receiving eighty wounds from strikes of swords. One commentator's account suggests that he was denied martyrdom because he sought aggrandizement rather than the justice of God's cause. He was seeking death not out of his commitment to God’s cause but with a narrow selfish interest of achieving Paradise through illusory martyrdom. His compatriots nursed him back to health. He complained to Abu Bakr about his failure to achieve martyrdom. Abu Bakr replied: "Strive for death and you will live!"  The lesson of this episode points out the differences between battlefield heroism for the sake of aggrandizement and true martyrdom, as well as the difference between suicide and martyrdom in service of the cause. An attempt to lay down one’s life in pursuit and greed of Paradise without making God’s cause as a primary purpose may amount to suicide.

The actions of Bara', although not suicidal, might be seen as heroically self-annihilatory because he knew that he faced certain death in seeking to be catapulted over the parapet. Yet, his actions are condemned because he sought self-aggrandizement through death rather than the purity of advancement of the cause, which might also require his death, but only incidentally or instrumentally. This distinction is important because it focuses on the actor's intention rather than the result of the action.

A Need to Look Inward

Muslims are already introspecting and will continue to condemn terrorism but   a prudent advice for those abetting terrorism by tormenting the entire Muslim community would be: Rather than sifting through Muslims' religious texts, theological tracts and medieval polemical disputes, those agonizing over the "problem" of Islam would do well to ponder the concrete reality of real, living Muslims and seek to fix it rather than striving to fix Islam. Meanwhile we have to continue our efforts in promoting the true message of Islam in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah and not allowing the message to be misperceived .There are saner ways of redressing injustices. The solution lies in reconciliation and not confrontation.

The youths who have strayed into terrorist activities feel that the present generation of Muslims as the one who have woken up to what is going on in the world. Their  sense of anger over the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya and so on are shared by many Muslims and non-Muslims alike there are  countless public and voluntary sector initiatives aimed at giving Muslims a voice in this regard, not to mention the thousands of people who joined demonstrations against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no excuse for channelling these frustrations through incendiary groups. Surveys have revealed that most radicalized youths   have a distant relationship with their fathers. The process of open and honest communication must start at the cradle, before a sense of grievance festers into something hideous that produces more such youth.

One of the worst aspects of contemporary Muslim societies is the tendency of some Muslims to abrogate to themselves complete wisdom, and their insistence that they know the essence of true Islam and that their interpretation is the only true and correct one and everyone must submit to their interpretation. This is like saying that there is only one way to be a Muslim; all other ways of being a Muslim are not only wrong but should be subjugated. This is a totalitarian tendency that can only lead to a totalitarian society.

 Many moderate Muslims do not accept the theological interpretations and justifications offered by terrorist outfits for many of their bloody acts .But they do accept that times are perilous for the Muslim world and that mere surrender to the west is not an option either .They may abhor the action, but also find it the only available response, the “weapon of the weak”. Muslim societies may deeply regret such actions and fear involvement by their sons and daughters in it, but also find it “understandable “that these things should be happening under current conditions, and hence hard to personally condemn those who take violent action in response to events, societal acquiescence to such violent response is at least as important a factor in the perpetuation of terrorist acts as the existence of violent individuals themselves.

A multitude of measures are necessary to counter violent extremism, including education, economic assistance, job opportunities, integration, addressing grievances, engagement in social activities, and much more. But to successfully combat this long-term, Western power must act on a number of fronts to set the stage for reconciliation. De-radicalisation needs more than programmes and projects it will require changes in the everyday interactions between people – in smiles, favours, and acts of kindness; in actions which are rooted in a refusal to accept the ‘us and them’ narrative peddled by extremists on all sides. We need to make greater efforts to combat injustice and exclusion through all means, from the highest level of government to our own everyday behaviour, to make sure we all share in a sense of belonging, justice and feelings of respect within our society. This will reduce the appeal of the extremist narrative. Wounds this deep need stitches: but we can all be a part of the healing process.

Reconciliation must begin by recognizing and admitting to past mistakes. Regardless of the extent of the West's abuse and exploitation of Arab resources and people, acknowledging its long history of misguided policies is critical to establishing a dialogue that is still largely missing in the strategy of countering violent extremism. Public debate isn't just a footnote in democratic theory, it is a powerful tool. If we want to fight extremism, of any kind, we need to be able to fight it on its own terms. We need to familiarise ourselves again with religion, instead of taking refuge within the safe confines of secular ideals. The void has become filled with radical voices, unchallenged on the territory secularists chose to abandon.

Those who seek to inflame passions will continue their brazen incitements, hoping that Muslims will take the bait. They can then say, “See how violent the Muslims are.” The incitements will remain unabated; but Muslims must stop reacting and instead respond to the evil with something that is civil and intelligent, that which puts the bigotry to shame. In fact, the Quran itself commands Muslims to “repel evil with what is better” (Q 41: 34). The Quran also says: “O you who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do” (Q5: 9)

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Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and journalist. He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He received an Honorary D Litt at the World Congress of Poets at Istanbul in 1991. He is author of several books on Islam including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar. He writes regularly for several international publications and was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur.