Islam and the issue of Terrorism:
An Indian Shia Muslim Perspective
By ‘Khatib-e Akbar’ Maulvi Mirza Muhammad Athar
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
Today, a series of recent tragic developments have given Islam a bad name, causing many people to imagine that Muslims as a whole are bad people who have no respect whatsoever for human life and peace. It is true that behind these developments as well as the mounting anti-Islamic sentiments the world over are the hands of sinister politicians, personal interests, international politics and so on. Yet, simply to state the problem is not to solve it. We must recognize that many people now see Muslims as their enemies, and that Islamophobia, based on erroneous claims, has rapidly escalated throughout the world. These are among the various problems that we are now suddenly afflicted with, and we must seriously consider possible solutions to them.
Respected friends! We generally take great interest in describing or recounting our problems but focus little attention to their solutions. For this we must clearly understand what Islam really is, what it has forbidden us from, what it teaches us to do, and what path we must adopt so that we can succeed in solving our the challenges that we are faced with. In this context, we must examine if the great personages we claim to follow and in whom we have faith have left behind any guidance for us applicable to such a situation as we are faced with today.
For this year’s 10-day majalis for the month of Muharram, I will deal with this issue of Islam and terrorism, about which I have recently devoted much attention to.
All religions teach the need for humans to seek to understand God. Obviously, for us to fully comprehend God is impossible. Even if we were to spend a thousand years seeking to understand God, we would not be able to go beyond a mere drop in an entire ocean. Naturally, then, God will not ask us if we could fully understand Him as He is. Rather, what He will ask is if we have understood Him as much as we could possibly as humans. In the same way, I recognize that my voice is feeble and cannot be heard throughout the world. But, yet, I should try and make it be heard as far as I possibly can. For this purpose I feel it imperative to present the true Islamic position on the issue of terrorism, for I feel that Islam, a glorious religion, is being wrongly vilified.
As far as terrorism is concerned, we (Shia Muslims) have been the brutal victims of terrorism for the last one thousand and four hundred years. Throughout this long period, we have been cruelly oppressed. Indeed, we cannot express the stories of many of the heinous crimes that have been committed against us, for by doing so we might fall prey to those crimes once again.
In this first majlis, I will simply introduce the subject, focusing on the following points: 1. The crimes that have been committed against Islam 2. The teachings of Islam [as regards war and peace and dealing with people of other faiths] 3. The basic mission of Islam 4. How politics has subverted that mission.
The month of Muharram is when the name of the great martyr Imam Hussain and his companions are commemorated, and, naturally, it is essential that I focus on them in my lecture. This is also because it is through the light kindled by these noble and valiant people that we can truly understand what Islam is, for without this light we cannot see through the darkness that characterized the last one thousand four hundred years.
The issue of terrorism has an inextricable relationship with the events of Muharram, for the martyrdom of our heroes at Karbala in the month of Muharram was a result of terrorism. This incident highlights what religion is and what politics is. Had these heroes not been martyred we would have been left without the light to understand the truth. It is this incident that has provided us proper guidance to understand what true Islam or true religion is, and to appreciate the teachings of religion and the principles of politics.
In today’s majlis I wish to deal with the truth of Islam and the truth of religion. From this you can gauge what true Islam has done for humankind, and how people have sought to twist it to serve their own personal interests and how rulers and false mullahs have tried to misinterpret it. You will be shocked to learn how the very spirit of Islam has thereby been sought to be subverted, and used for legitimizing gross oppression, thereby completely undermining its universal message, which has been confined owing to the proliferation of numerous sects. God does not belong to any particular sect. It is not that God has made only some people and that others have been made by Satan. No, all humans have been created by God alone. This means that they all belong to God. This is the universal message of Islam, which has been narrowly confined by the mullahs for their own political motives.
In actual fact, Islam’s message is for all human beings. It is not restricted by sect, region, ethnicity, language, race or colour. However, people have not understood it properly. They have not seen its true face. Instead, for the last several hundred years, people have seen a sort of ‘Islam’ through the lens of monarchy (mulukiyat), and so they have not been able to see its reality. Hence, my focus will be on the true Islam, the Islam that is so compatible with human nature and life, and on how, over the last fourteen hundred years Islam has been grossly misused for political purposes. We must identify and recognize the faces of those who have misused Islam for their political ends. It was this that led to the oppression, and, finally, the martyrdom of Imam Husain in Karbala in the month of Muharram.
As I had mentioned yesterday, the topic for this year’s Muharram majlis is Islam and Terrorism. I have chosen this theme so that our children and youth do not fall prey to the wrong propaganda about Islam that is so widespread all over the world today. At the very outset let me clarify that my intention is not to abuse or belittle anyone.
The word ‘Islam’ is related to the world taslim, which means peace. Islam is peace. It also means submission, to bow one’s head and completely and unconditionally to submit to God. In other words, Islam’s message is that of peace as well as total surrender to God. The religion of Islam, the religion of peace and submission to God, has been taught by all the prophets of God, from the first of them, Adam, to the last, the Prophet Muhammad. Its focus is on how human beings should lead a proper life, how to live in peace and security and how to serve and obey God.
Since all the prophets taught the same religion, of peace and submission to God, it is wrong to brand many of those who follow earlier religious traditions (as taught by prophets prior to the Prophet Muhammad) as kafirs. The image of Islam has been grossly distorted by politics. This is the main problem that Islam has been faced with, because it is politics that led to some people being branded as kafirs or disbelievers and others as Muslims or true believers, some as good and others as evil. And because the image of Islam has been thus distorted, people have been unable to appreciate its reality. Islam became a prisoner of the interpretation of the fake mullahs. And the fake mullahs were puppets in the hands of monarchs. In the Arabic language a mullah means one who is knowledgeable, a highly qualified scholar. But, those who simply dress up like scholars of religion and act as intermediaries between religion and rulers are derisively referred to in Urdu as Kath Mullas or fake mullahs. Such people do not have proper knowledge about Islam although they claim to. They simply serve as agents of monarchs. From its very inception, Islam has had to face the calamity of such people.
Religion insists that its place comes first and that it must be obeyed at all costs. Rulers make the same claim. Inevitably, therefore, there is almost always a clash between religion and politics. Religion sees all human beings as equal. It makes no special concessions for the rich or for rulers. On the other hand, rulers want to make exceptions to the rules of religion to suit themselves, but this true religion will never accept. In this situation appears the fake mullah, whose task is to twist religion to suit the rulers. Islam has suffered from this malady from its very first day. In this way the fake mullahs have sought to narrow it down, destroying its universal appeal and message, and sundering it into different sects.
The fake mullahs tried to restrict the message of Islam. But, then, God is not the Lord of Muslims alone. He is not just the Lord of those who worship in mosques. God’s true slaves are found throughout the world. But the fake mullahs sought to conceal this. The Quran refers to God as the rab or Sustainer of all the worlds. But the narrow-minded fake mullahs sought to present Him as the Sustainer only of the Muslims. Similarly, the Quran refers to the Prophet Muhammad as a mercy (rahmat) to all the worlds, but, sadly, Muslims claim him as theirs alone.
Friends! I have until now been unable to understand this mentality of claiming God and the Prophet as belonging only to one’s own community, and seeking to deny access to them to others. This is a reflection of how Islam has sought to be narrowed down. One factor for this has been the role of monarchy and despotism, causing Islam to get a bad name. When Islam was dressed in the garb of mullahdom it appeared as badly stained. This was caused by the nefarious nexus between fake mullahs and despotic rulers.
True religion stresses absolute truth, while politics is based on sheer opportunism. Religion is based on truth, while rulers typically regard their own aims as truth. A monarch will never accept being turned into a slave and sold in the market. But a truly religious person will accept even that, if, under duress and oppression, he is turned into slave, just as the Prophet Joseph allowed himself to be sold in the slave-market in Egypt. This did not make a difference to his prophethood. A ruler will never agree to be tied up and thrown into a fire. A person who is subjected to this sort of treatment will not be called a king. But, the prophet Abraham passed through even this deadly torment and still retained his status of friend of God. To tire of the oppression of one’s opponents and flee one’s land in the dark of night is not something that a king would do. But this is precisely what the Prophet Muhammad did, despite which he remained an exalted prophet. From these examples you can understand that while these are not things that rulers will ever accept, true religion has no problems with them.
This shows that the mentality of religion and that of politics are diametrically opposed to each other. There have been very few cases of truly religious people serving as rulers, and in such cases politics always had to bow down before religion. This was the case with prophets who were also rulers, such as David, Solomon, the Prophet Muhammad. It characterised the last years in the life of Imam Ali and a few months in the life of Imam Hassan.
Friends! Islam is religion, not government. If Islam meant governmental power, then the Prophet Muhammad had the greatest right to be conferred with the title of Emperor. Yet, he was not given such a title. Rather, as we testify when we pray, the title that he was given was that of ‘slave of God’. This proves that religion takes pride in servitude, in humble submission to God, not in power and ruler-ship. And servitude, or total submission to God, was a defining characteristic of the Prophet and his family. This servitude reaches higher and higher stages till such a time comes when God Himself addresses his slave, instructing that soul that rests in a peaceful state to return to Him and join the ranks of His true servants. This is precisely what happened when Imam Husain was martyred in Karbala.
As I had mentioned earlier, Islam is a religion of peace. It teaches human beings to live with each other in peace and to help one another. In fact, it even exhorts its followers to respect the rights of animals, trees and inanimate objects. Friends! As I had explained yesterday, the greatest tragedy is that people have failed to understand the reality of Islam. That religion which is today being accused of fomenting terrorism is not the real Islam, for Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.
The true Islam is that which is taught in the Quran, and which was explained by the Prophet Muhammad and the Imam Ali. Only if we seek to understand Islam through these sources can we realise what it truly is. While today governments might rate the life of a single human being as being equal to a few lakh rupees, Islam assess its value as equal to that of the whole of humanity. As the Quran says, ‘We ordained […] that if anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.’ (Quran 5:32).
Likewise, the Prophet Muhammad declared that he alone can be considered a Muslim or true submitter to God whose hands and tongue cause no harm to anyone. He does not oppress anyone, nor does he say bad things about others. In other words, a true Muslim is he who controls his hands and his tongue. A person whose hands or tongue are not under control is not a Muslim.
The Imam Ali expressed a similar view. In a letter to Malik Ashtar, whom he had appointed as Governor of Egypt, the Imam Ali wrote that he would find in Egypt two types of people: his brethren in faith or fellow Muslims, and others. He was to help both of them, the former on account of their common faith, the latter on account of their common humanity.
Friends! The Imam Ali taught us to cooperate with other human beings on account of our common humanity. This is what true Islam, as understood from the Quran, the Hadith and the Nahj ul-Balagha of Imam Ali teaches. But Islam goes beyond this. Today, there are a number of groups working for the cause of animals, but this was taught by Islam fourteen hundred years ago. It taught us that we should offer water to a thirsty animal rather than using it for ablutions before prayers if need be so that the life of that creature could be saved. In the same spirit, the Imam Ali sent letters to his agents appointed to collect the zakat levy, which also applied to cattle, to treat the animals under their charge kindly. Some of our [Shia] Imams even mentioned animals in their wills, instructing their inheritors to look after their animals well and feed them properly. Just before being martyred, our fourth Imam, Zain ul-Abidin, instructed his son and successor Muhammad al-Baqir, to take good care of his horse for he had travelled on it 25 times to perform the Haj, adding that he had never hit it hard.
Islam also respects the life of plants. According to a Hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, if a person plants a tree this action will be entered into the record of his deeds as a source of merit because a tree provides benefit to people. Likewise, the Imam Ali encouraged people to develop gardens. He forbade people from cutting down green trees. He also insisted on due concern for the earth. He instructed that when revenue is being levied on land, the portion of the revenue that is the due of the land should be given to it so that it could retain its fertility.
By mentioning all this I want to convey to you what the basic teachings of Islam are, and what it lays down with regard to human and animal life and even the earth. These are far as the teachings of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad and the Noble Imams are concerned. However, as I mentioned before, the great tragedy that struck Islam was that it was captured by the forces of monarchy and despotism. Hence, the evils of monarchy were wrongly attributed to Islam. Islam was captured by those whose aim was to rule. In this way, those who hungered for power gave Islam a bad name.
After the Prophet Muhammad shifted to Medina, he was blessed with leadership of the city. But this was not equivalent to governance of the sort exercised by the despotic Emperors of those times, such as the neighbouring Sassanians in Iran and the Byzantine kings in the Eastern Roman Empire. The mosque of the Prophet was built over a small patch of earth. It had no trace of regal pomp and wealth. Yet, its religious majesty was such that monarchy was forced to bow before it. People who visited the mosque from other lands would go back and report about the Prophet that they had met a simple and pure soul who wore ordinary clothes and who would sit on the floor, like any ordinary person, but who had won the hearts of vast numbers of people, in striking contrast to worldly rulers.
When, at the head of an army some ten thousand strong, the Prophet took over Mecca, which was then populated mainly by non-believers, he proclaimed a general amnesty, for Mecca was where the Kaaba stood. God had made the city a place of peace and safety. It was evening when the Muslim army arrived near Mecca, and so it was decided to spend the night out of the city and enter it the next morning. To get a view of the army, the Prophet’s long-standing enemy and chief of the Bani Ummaiyya clan, Abu Sufiyan, climbed up a hillock with his Muslim friend and uncle of the Prophet, Abbas ibn Abdul Mutalib of the Bani Hashim clan. Surveying the vast army of the Muslims that had spread out below, Abu Sufiyan, who was a hardened unbeliever, addressed Abbas, saying that his nephew, the Prophet, had become a powerful king. At once the Muslim Abbas retorted that his nephew was not a king but a prophet. This is to say that the unbeliever Abu Sufiyan described as monarchy what the pious believer Abbas saw as prophethood.
The next morning, when the Prophet and his companions entered Mecca in victory, Abu Sufiyan hypocritically recited the kalima, the Islamic creed of confession, to save his life and pass off as a Muslim for his own selfish political purposes. I am not alone in saying this. This claim has been made even by such well-known [Sunni] scholars as Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi and Dr. Taha Husain. And that marked a major turning point in Muslim history, when two types of Muslims emerged: those, like Abu Sufiyan, who sought to use and misinterpret Islam for their own political power; and others, like Abbas, who were genuinely and sincerely committed to Islam’s prophetic mission.
Friends! Unless we carefully examine this phenomenon we will continue to fall prey to numerous misunderstandings. True religion insists that one should not take to the wrong path under any circumstances, while for those who hanker after political power whatever enables them to achieve their goals is considered to be right. Hence, those self-styled Muslims, who considered Islam to be all about power and used it as a means to acquire power, spared no effort in twisting it to suit their nefarious purposes. On the other hand, those who rightly understood its mission refrained from any such actions. In other words, the moment monarchy and lust for power entered Islam, the moment those whose mission was to grab power began wrongly interpreting Islam to achieve their sinister goals, the image of Islam began to deteriorate. This has continued till this day, so much so that many people mistakenly accuse Islam of being synonymous with terrorism.
To counter this image, Muslims must develop and present before others such character as would win their hearts, and desist from any sort of terrorism. Till such time as Muslims remain wedded to the history of Muslim kings they will not be able to openly denounce terrorism. They must remember that the period of Muslim monarchies has gone. They must now desist from identifying themselves with them. Let them live in the real world. Islam has all the solutions, but provided it is the true type of Islam, not political Islam. The genuine Islam is that which has no conception of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, a law and a means to make human beings truly human and to encourage people to be of service to others and destroy their egos.
How long will Muslims continue to remain stuck in the memory of Muslim kings? Till when will they go on taking delight in harping on the history of Muslim rulers? This is gravely damaging the true Islamic mission. Extricating themselves from the clutches of the history and legacy of Muslim monarchs, Muslims must internalize and present to others, through their personal example, the noble character of the Prophet.
Islam, as I mentioned earlier, is a religion of peace. When the Prophet entered Mecca victorious he held a white flag in his hand. In the past, when a monarch conquered a city, its inhabitants would hold up white flags to beg for peace, while the conqueror would vent his anger on the people and reduce the city to ruins. The Prophet could easily have done that when he captured Mecca , especially since the Meccans had so brutally persecuted him and his followers, unleashed numerous wars against them, and had slain many Muslims, including members of the Prophet’s family. Yet, when the Prophet entered Mecca in triumph he did not set about taking revenge. Rather, holding a white flag in his hand he entered the city and declared a general amnesty for the Meccans, including even for those who had taken shelter in the house of his inveterate foe, Abu Sufiyan.
But this noble face of Islam was later distorted by self-styled Muslim monarchs. This is a tragic story. Monarchs started constructing minarets filled with the heads of people they had slain, laid to waste entire cities, drowned their streets in human blood and turned human lives into mere playthings. They were wrongly lionized as great conquerors and heroes, and because of this Islam got a bad name.
As I had mentioned earlier, Abu Sufiyan twisted Islam to project it as a means for acquiring political power, while Abbas remained faithful to Islam’s actual prophetic mission. The same issue was played out in the battlefield in Karbala . By this time, among the Muslims there had emerged two groups—those who used Islam to grab power, and those who were firmly wedded to its true spirit and mission. These two groups were represented at Karbala in the form of the Bani Ummaiyya and the Bani Hashim respectively. The tyrant Yazid was from the Bani Ummaiyya clan, and the Imam Husain from the Bani Hashim. Yazid was the grandson of Abu Sufiyan, while Husain was the grandson of the Prophet. Those who hungered for power, who were vast in number, were solidly behind Yazid. Those who remained true to the Prophet’s mission numbered only 72, and they were with the Imam Husain. But, hundreds of years after the Battle of Karbala, the former have now all being forgotten, condemned by history, while the latter, who were cruelly martyred, are still remembered, loved and commemorated till this very day.
Islam is a religion, or what in Hindi is called dharam, but, unfortunately, some people converted it into government, power and despotism for their own vested interests. When these people grabbed power they wrongly claimed that their rule was synonymous with Islam. And, when they went to war they wrongly declared that they were engaging in jihad. Because of this, they were spared any blame, while Islam got a bad name.
To repeat a point I had made earlier, Islam is the religion that was preached by all the 1,24,000 prophets that God had sent to various peoples all over the world, beginning with the Prophet Adam and ending with the Prophet Muhammad. The aim of this religion was to establish peace and security in the world, to make people proper human beings and to establish a virtuous society free from oppression. But, this mission was sabotaged by those who used a distorted version of what they wrongly called Islam to bless and legitimize their tyrannical rule. And so, when their political empires began expanding , when they began building opulent palaces and tall towers and filling their coffers, people were falsely led to imagine that it was Islam that was being strengthened and glorified. And when these empires fell, historians wrongly described this as the fall or decline of Islam.
But, in actual fact, this was no decline of Islam at all, for Islam remained the same. The prescribed number of daily prayers, the number of days specified for fasting in the month of Ramzan, the rules governing the Haj, the number of chapters in the Quran and so on remained the same. So did the truth of the Prophet and the unity of God. These all did not change or decline at all. How, then, can it be said that the collapse of the Muslim empires represented the decline of Islam? This wrong claim is made because people wrongly equated the rise and flourishing of Islam with the emergence and spread of Muslim political power and Muslim dynasties. Islam cannot decline, for it is a truth, and truth never declines. If all the human beings of the world become good Muslims, it would not represent rise of truth or of Islam, but, rather, the rise of human character. Similarly, if all humans turn immoral, it would not represent the decline of Islam or the truth, but, rather, the decline of human character. Thus, one can neither say that Islam experienced a rise nor a fall.
It is wrongly claimed that the Prophet spread Islam with the Quran in one hand and an unsheathed sword in the other. But, undoubtedly, there were monarchs who wrongly claimed to be Muslims and misinterpreted Islam to expand their political realms. In actual fact, the Prophet spread Islam through the Quran, and his mission was carried forward by the Ahl-e Bayt, his family. When people let go off the Ahl-e Bayt, their hands grasped naked swords and wrongly shed the blood of innocents, including of the Ahl-e Bayt themselves.
The basic problem is that the actions of self-styled Muslims were mistakenly taken to represent Islam. True Islam did not spread by the sword, but, rather, through the character of the Prophet and the Ahl-e Bayt. They won the hearts of people through their character. True religion aims at changing people’s hearts and minds, and this cannot come about through force. The mission of religion can never be to change anyone through force. The Quran very clearly states that there can be no compulsion in matters of religion. People can be guided only by convincing them of the difference between right and wrong. This is what Islam teaches. After distinguishing between right and wrong, Islam leaves it to the free will of every individual to choose which path he or she wishes to adopt.
Since Islam does not countenance coercion in matters of religion, wherever such coercion exists or existed one can be sure that this was not as a result of true Islamic teachings. True religion exists where freedom of conscience exists. This principle was well illustrated in the battle of Karbala . On the one hand was the tyrant Yazid, who had assembled an entire army to seek to force Imam Hussain and his followers to accept him as the leader of the Muslims. On the other hand was Imam Hussain, who granted his followers to freely go where they wanted, leave him if they so desired. The former represented irreligiousness, the latter the spirit of true Islam.
Friends! There is no question of any sort of force being used in Islam to compel people to believe. Islam cannot be identified with tyrannical [Muslim] monarchies or the lust for power. Yet, and unfortunately, tyrannical monarchs have routinely raised the banner of Islam for their own protection. By using a religious garb they were able to instill fear in the hearts of people, and scare them with the threat of hell-fire if they disobeyed them. They falsely claimed to be the ‘Shadow of God on Earth’, and instructed people not to go against them, for this, they said, would earn God’s wrath. All this was because these rulers wanted to protect their own selves.
Friends! You will find in Islamic history two types of characters: one, those who, when Islam is being attacked, stand up to take the blows on themselves in order to protect the faith; the other, those who, when faced with attack or threat, shield themselves with Islam, so that Islam is attacked but they are saved.
Numerous descendants of the Prophet were brutally slain while trying to defend Islam. Their killers, who resorted to terror in the name of Islam, did so simply in order to defend themselves. Why was the noble Imam Ali, who was faithful to God and the Prophet, and who served the needy and the poor, killed? Why did many people bear enmity and hatred towards him? It was because he was a faithful follower of the Prophet and foiled the attempts of the Prophet’s enemies to kill or harm him simply because he exhorted people to give up idolatry and to worship the one God instead. The truth of the matter is that people began opposing Ali because he had protected the Prophet from their attacks. And those people sought to attack the Prophet simply because he proclaimed the one God, He alone who is worthy of worship. And, to stir up hatred against Ali, the friend of God, these people began delivering speeches against him in the mosques, in Friday sermons and in public gatherings.
This is the crux of a long and bloody story. Islam is viscerally opposed to monarchy and despotism. And that is why many members of the family of the Prophet were brutally slain by tyrannical rulers who falsely claimed to be Muslims. These members of the Prophet’s family were noble people of high character, who dealt kindly even with their enemies. But they were slaughtered simply because, following true Islamic teachings, they opposed monarchical despotism, which tyrannical rulers wrongly sought to legitimize as Islamic. This is the tragedy that Islam has for long faced.
If Yazid, the murderer of the Imam Hussain, had simply called himself an Emperor it would have been an entirely different matter. An Emperor can claim to follow any religion. He can belong to any community. He who grabs power can call himself an Emperor. The character of an Emperor is not taken as a model for people to emulate. Even today there are numerous Muslim monarchs, but no Muslim considers them models to follow or imitate. The question arises as to why Yazid, who had become a monarch, went on to declare himself to be the Leader of the Believers (amir ul-mumineen) and the Caliph of the Muslims (khalifat ul-muslimeen) and demanded that his name be taken in the Friday sermons in the mosques? Why did he want to force Imam Hussain to accept him as the amir ul-mumineen and the khalifat ul-muslimeen, as the leader of Islam and the deputy of the Prophet? Had Yazid been accepted as such, what would have happened to Islam?
In actual fact, it was Ali who was the amir ul-mumineen and the khalifat ul-muslimeen, because he was designated as such by the Prophet himself. He had made great sacrifices for Islam and served the Prophet faithfully. But in a short span of fifty years after the passing away of the Prophet, the tyrannical forces of monarchical despotism, represented by Yazid, played a cruel game. Yazid was known for his irreligious ways, for his regular bouts of drinking, for grabbing the wealth of the poor and so on. When such a debauch and cruel tyrant claimed to be the leader of the Muslims, you can imagine what others might think about ordinary Muslims. How can we ever accept the sort of Islam that Yazid stood for or represented? If the shariah was what Yazid championed, how can anyone ever hope for salvation? We must rise above the party-line and critically examine this issue. How could anyone ever consider Yazid to be the amir ul-mumineen, the khalifat ul-muslimeen, the successor of the Prophet? How can one consider the sort of Islam that he championed to be the true Islam? No, the true Islam was that championed by his enemy, the Imam Hussain and his followers, who numbered just 72, and who were brutally slain by Yazid and his army for championing the truth and speaking out against Yazid.
As I had earlier mentioned, some ambitious people sought to convert Islam into a doctrine of despotism in order to suit their own purposes and even resorted to terror, for which Islam was wrongly blamed. These people falsely claimed to be working for the cause of Islam. When they grabbed power, they blessed it as ‘Islamic’, and when they set out to wage war they falsely claimed to be engaged in jihad. This represented a gross misuse of religion for promoting the personal interests of these tyrants.
And this tradition continues even today. Consider, for instance, the wrong use of the term and concept of jihad. Many people have misused the notion of jihad for promoting their own interests. When some countries went to war with others they labeled their wars as jihads. And there are those foolish ones who constantly raise slogans of jihad, thereby giving Islam a bad name. It is tragic that the Muslim world remains silent on this misuse of the concept of jihad. It is the duty of the leading Muslim ulema to openly declare that this is not jihad at all but, rather, is actually a means for some selfish people to promote their own interests. Yet, sadly, even these leading ulema remain silent.
Friends! Sometimes one thing gets so muddled up or mixed with another that is becomes very difficult for people to understand a particular matter. When a person fights against another, he seeks an excuse or a support for his action. For instance, suppose I have a plot of land, and my neighbor starts building a wall along the line dividing my land from his. I begin to fear that the wall might take up six inches of my land, and so I start fighting with my neighbor. I cannot garner much support if I fight in my own name. At the most, in that way I can get the help of a few family members and some friends. Many of my friends might refuse to come to my assistance, thinking it to be none of their concern. So, at once I change my strategy. It so happens that my neighbor is a non-Muslim and I am a Muslim, so I immediately start raising Islamic slogans. I start crying hoarse, ‘Oh Muslim brothers! A non-Muslim is grabbing the land that belongs to a Muslim.’ And, in this way, I at once succeed in turning the matter into a religious battle. Because of my appeals to religion, Muslims rush to my rescue. Then, they start shouting Islamic slogans and in a short while they come to imagine that Islam itself is under threat. And so, what started off as a dispute over six inches of land becomes a massive battle involving Islam. All because my six inches of land were under threat, and I converted it into an issue of Islam being allegedly under threat. I dragged Islam into the whole affair simply to save those measly six inches of land! And, in this way, I was able to attract hordes of Muslims to rush to my assistance.
In precisely the same way, people have converted their own personal conflicts, disputes over property, over power, politics and governance into what they project as Islamic causes or issues. Islam has earned a bad name in exactly this unfortunate way.
Friends! Let me clarify the distinction between war and jihad. Jihad is a form of Islamic worship and service of God. Jihad does not simply mean wielding a sword and attacking the enemy. The first stage of jihad is to engage in battle against one’s baser self or ego. This sort of jihad should happen on a daily basis, from the moment one awakes to the moment one goes to sleep at night. Early in the morning one is woken up from slumber by the muezzin’s call to prayer. One’s heart says, ‘Go back to sleep’, but one’s inner voice insists, ‘Get up and say your prayers.’ At once a jihad starts. What the heart says is the utterance of the army of the disbelievers; what the inner voice suggests is the suggestion of the army of Islam. The battlefield of this jihad is one’s body. The jihad continues. If one goes back to sleep, the Muslim is defeated and disbelief is victorious. If one gets up and prays, the flag of Islam flies high and disbelief is vanquished.
Islam tells us that Muslims must first engage in jihad against the evils within our own selves, against our bad habits, against the habit of lying, against the habit of not praying regularly, against engaging in acts that God and the Prophet have forbidden. This jihad is called the jihad al-nafs or the struggle against the baser self. First vanquish your own baser self and become a true Muslim. After this, you can ascend to the second stage of jihad, that of sacrificing one’s wealth, the jihad-e maal. Human beings love wealth and money. Give up that love, and spend your money instead on building mosques and Imambargahs, water fountains for the public, assisting orphans and widows and the poor. This is the second type of jihad. If you sacrifice your wealth in this jihad-e maal for causes such as these you have succeeded. If you do not, you have failed in your jihad.
The third jihad is the ‘jihad of the sword’ (jihad ba-saif). A true jihad of this sort can never be offensive. It can only be defensive, fought in defence when one’s religion is being attacked. If the attack is not on Islam as such or if the attack does not pose any threat to Islam, fighting back in defence cannot be called a jihad. One must here make a crucial distinction between an action that might be a threat to Muslims and that which might threaten Islam. The two are very different. Islam is the name of a religion, and Muslims are those who follow that religion. Always maintain and recognize the difference and distinction between these two words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’. As an Indian, I can say that if all the Muslims of India are slaughtered it is true that Muslims would thereby be under threat, but even after this it would be wrong to claim that Islam was under threat.
Friends! Jihad of the sword can only be waged when Islam, as distinct from Muslims, is under threat. Islam is the religion preached by the Prophet Muhammad. If we Muslims all die, still the religion of Islam will remain. It can never die. Hence, one must use the phrase ‘Islam is in danger’ very carefully and not in a loose manner, as is often the case. And, it must not be forgotten, jihad by the sword can be engaged in only to defend Islam, if the need so arises, and not for any offensive purpose.
Let me illustrate my point with the help of examples from the life of the Prophet. The Prophet engaged in several jihads, the most famous of which are the jihads of Badr, Uhd, Khandaq and Khaibar. The norms governing jihad must be based on these four major jihads in which the Prophet participated, because the Prophet’s actions exemplify Islamic teachings. Now, as emerges from his conduct in the course of these jihads, true Islamic jihad does not allow for killing innocent people or for humankind to be disgraced. Jihad is not the naked display of raw power. The Prophet explicitly commanded his followers before every jihad never to initiate the fighting, and to restrain from war as long as their opponents remained peaceful. He ordered them that in the course of jihad they must never hunt down any opponent fleeing from the battlefield, never kill the injured, never rob a woman of her modesty, and never harm children. He instructed them to provide protection to their opponents if they sued for peace, and not to kill them. A true Islamic jihad must abide by all these rules.
Look at the matter from another angle. Carefully examine the jihads of Badr, Uhd and Khandaq. These three jihads were fought in the vicinity of Medina. In these instances, the disbelieving Meccans had marched all the way towards Medina in order to attack the Muslims. This clearly shows that these three jihads were fought by Muslims in defence, in the face of offensive actions of the disbelieving enemies. They were by no means offensive wars. The case of the battle of Khaybar was slightly different. In this case, the Muslims went all the way to Khaybar from Medina because the disbelieving enemies had holed themselves up there and had started killing Muslims one by one. If the Muslims had not marched to Khaybar, the disbelievers would have continued killing Muslims. In other words, in order to quash this challenge to peace the Muslims were forced to head to Khaybar to take on their enemies. This cannot be considered an offensive war unleashed by the Muslims.
In order to properly appreciate the philosophy of jihad, one must consider various developments that occurred in the course of these battles. In the aftermath of the Battle of Badr, the Prophet agreed to release the Meccan prisoners of war if they were able to pay a certain sum for their freedom. Those who were unable to pay this sum but were educated were to be granted freedom if they could spend a year teaching Muslim children how to read and write. The job of a teacher carries much prestige. A teacher can even beat his students. A teacher exercises an enormous influence on his students’ minds. It is a mark of the great importance placed on education in Islam that the Prophet allowed for even non-Muslim enemies to teach Muslim children and gave them the honored status of teachers. In fact, these non-Muslims were those who had physically engaged in war against Islam and the Prophet. Those prisoners of war who could neither afford the ransom nor teach children were to be given freedom after a year doing physical labour.
The Battle of Uhd also powerfully highlights the fact that jihad does not mean to wield a sword in one’s hand and go about indiscriminately killing others. During the battle, Imam Ali, who was then a young man of a little more than 26 years of age, confronted a powerful enemy. Imam Ali asked him to accept Islam, but the man refused. Yet, Imam Ali did not draw out his sword. This shows that religion is not another name for emotionalism. Rather, true religion is based on reason, reasoning and careful thought and deliberation. Wild emotionalism has no place in true religion. Hence, when the man refused to accept Islam, Imam Ali did not rush to kill him, for the Quran very clearly states that there can be no compulsion in religion. Had Imam Ali slain the man on the spot it would have meant going against this Quranic dictum.
In response to the man’s reply, the Imam Ali said that he was free to accept or reject Islam. That was a matter of his own concern. Then, he offered the man a second option—that he and Ali both would desist from fighting or oppressing each other, that they would both continue to freely follow the religion of their choice and that if the man’s heart refused to accept the Prophet he was free to do so. But, the man refused even this offer, and insisted that he would slay Imam Ali. This man was a member of an army that had waged an offensive war against the Muslims, and consistently refused Imam Ali’s offer of what, to use a contemporary phrase, be called a no-war pact. After this, naturally, the time came for the man and Imam Ali to physically confront each other.
It so happened that Imam Ali was seated on a horse, while the man was standing on the ground. The man said that they could not fight in this way, and that Imam Ali must dismount from his steed. The Imam willingly did so. Then, the two began fighting. In a short while, the Imam lopped off the man’s legs with his sword. Then, when the man fell on the ground, the Imam pounced on his chest. Just then, the man spat on the Imam. Instead of retaliating at once, the Imam got up from the man’s chest, although one might have thought that he should have chopped the man’s head off at that moment.
The people who had gathered around were surprised at Imam Ali’s behaviour. They were shocked that although the Imam had succeeded in overpowering such a powerful enemy, he had released his hold on him by lifting himself up from his chest. They complained to the Prophet, saying that Ali had made a very grave mistake. The Prophet replied to them saying that they should ask Ali to explain his action himself when he returned.
The people saw Imam Ali walking around, but, after some time, he went back and slew the man. Later, when he was asked why he had jumped off the man’s chest when the man had spat on him, he replied that the man had insulted him by spitting on him, and that this had kindled his anger. He leapt off the man’s chest at once, for if he had slain him then the action might have been motivated by his own personal desire or emotion. That would have nullified the jihad that he was engaged in as a form of worship and service to God, for once worship gets tainted by the urgings of the baser self it is no longer engaged in for the sake of God alone. And, if war is engaged in for the sake of exacting personal revenge it does not qualify to be considered as jihad. What Imam Ali was engaged in was jihad, not war. He leapt up from the man’s chest so that his jihad was not tainted by the urgings of the self. This clearly explains the philosophy of jihad. The man who Imam Ali killed was armed with costly armaments, but the Imam did not carry these off with him, or even touch them, because this was not a war, but a jihad fought in God’s way, in order to earn His pleasure. That is what a true jihad is, not a war that aims at amassing wealth and power.
Friends! The battles engaged in by the Prophet and Imam Ali were true Islamic jihads, not the wars blessed as jihads by fake, self-styled ulema. Those who slaughtered the Imam Hussain were not engaged in any jihad whatsoever, contrary to what they might have claimed, for the Islam that Yazid claimed to stand for was not true Islam.
Friends! A true Islamic jihad is one that is fought solely in the path of God. It is a form of worship. It is regulated by certain rules and regulations, as is specified in the Quran. In our [Shia] community, a declaration of jihad can be made only by the Infallible Imam (imam-e masoom), and if the Imam is in occultation (ghayba), the leading living Islamic jurisprudent (marja-e taqlid) has the prerogative of doing so. Thus, not everyone has the right to declare jihad. And, then, those who have the right to do so can do so only at the right time. Thus, the Prophet felt it was not advisable to engage in jihad while he was still in Mecca, and so he refrained from it. Later on, in Medina, he felt the time for engaging in jihad had come, and he did so. On the occasion of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, he felt that the time for jihad was not ripe, so he put his sword aside. In Hunayn he felt jihad was required, and so he unsheathed his sword. After the demise of the Prophet, Imam Ali felt that it was not the time for jihad, so he put his sword back in its scabbard, but when, at Siffin, he felt the time for jihad had come he took out his sword. Similarly, when, after Imam Ali, Imam Hussain felt the time for jihad had passed he desisted from fighting, but when, at Karbala, he knew the time for jihad had come, he drew out his sword.
Not every war fought by Muslims is a jihad, despite what may have been claimed about them. Wars fought for political power, for wealth and status, cannot be considered to be jihads. Weapons and violence are used both in war and in jihad, but there is a crucial difference between the two. Some things are illegitimate in jihad but are permissible in war, and vice versa. Thus, when Ali got up from the chest of his opponent, it was something demanded by religion, but not by the rules of ordinary war. It is crucial to understand the difference between war and jihad so that the minds of those who constantly raise slogans of jihad can be cleansed and cleared. In this way they can realize that not all wars that Muslims engage in are legitimate jihads.
True mujahids participate in jihad in the hope of martyrdom, not for the sake of saving their lives. Such a true mujahid was Ja‘far, elder brother of Imam Ali, who participated in the Battle of Muta’ and was martyred. When his body was found it was discovered that he had received deadly numerous blows on his chest, but none at all on his back. As long as he remained on the battlefield he kept advancing forward, never turning back. This is how a true mujahid is, a man who does not escape in order to save his own life, but, rather, actively searches for his own martyrdom. I am making this point because my heart is heavy at the thought that very often people raise fiery slogans of jihad but do not observe its rules. If he [probably a reference here to Osama bin Laden, who, along with the Taliban, is said to be notoriously anti-Shia—YS] was truly engaged in jihad, why did he flee from the battlefield so that even now people are still searching for him?
Jihad is that battle wherein the mujahid offers his own life to God. Swords are wielded both in war and in jihad. People lose their lives in both. When a man stabs another with a knife, he tears his body, causing loss of blood. When a doctor performs an operation he also uses a knife-like object and cuts the body of the patient, who loses some blood. Yet, the two actions are entirely different. The former action is illegal, the latter legal. The former is a punishable crime, while the latter is something laudable.
Friends! War can be likened to stabbing someone with a knife, and jihad can be compared to an operation or surgery performed by a doctor on a patient. When an attacker stabs an innocent person he does not care to ensure that the knife he wields is sterilized and that it will not cause his victim to fall prey to tetanus or that his wound will not become septic. Rather, he stabs simply in order that his victim should die. He will not hesitate to use an old, rusted knife for this. On the other hand, when a doctor operates a patient, he makes sure that the scissor or knife that he uses is properly sterilized. He undertakes to operate the patient only when he feels there is no other way to cure him. Only a qualified surgeon can decide whether a patient needs to be operated upon or not. Ordinary people, who have no proper medical knowledge, no matter how many they may be, cannot decide this, but this single qualified person can. This shows that in some matters such as this, consensus of the majority (ijma) has no value.
So, as I was saying, it is only a surgeon who can decide about undertaking an operation on a patient. But, before he begins the operation, he checks several things, such as the patient’s general condition, whether or not he is suffering from diabetes and various other problems, and so on. Both the man who stabs another person as well as the doctor cause slits in a person’s body, but while the former stabs indiscriminately, so as to cause his victim to die, the latter wields his instrument carefully, gently tearing only that much skin on the patient’s body as is needed to make the operation successful and enable the patient to survive and be healthy. While the murderer uses an instrument to kill a person, the doctor uses it to save a person by cutting off that part of his body that has caused his illness.
From this analogy it will be clear that true jihad is like the work of a doctor. It aims at saving humanity, not destroying it. It aims at removing that part of the body that causes the entire body to suffer grievous illness and threatens it with death. By removing that part, the rest of the body can survive and thrive. From this analogy you can understand that true Islam does not aim at destroying innocent people in the name of jihad, but, rather, to provide relief and succor to humanity, like a doctor does. And, just as only a qualified surgeon can decide whether to operate upon a patient or not, in [Shia] Islam only one of the Infallible Imams can decide whether or not jihad should be waged.
The model jihad is that fought by Imam Hussain at the Battle of Karbala in the month of Muharram. In this battle, the grandson of the Prophet fought till his death to save Islam. Imam Hussain explained, in practical terms, the philosophy of true jihad at Karbala, when he and his small band of followers valiantly fought the vast army of the tyrant Yazid, the despotic ruler of a vast empire. The night before the war began, Imam Hussain told his followers that they were free to leave him and go wherever they wanted to. But, they refused, saying that they were ready to sacrifice even their lives for the cause. After the war of Karbala, Yazid was dumped in the dust-bin of history, and everyone now recognizes him as a monster. The world has not witnessed a true jihad again after the jihad of Karbala waged by Imam Hussain and his followers. The wars that were waged thereafter in the name of jihad were mainly for the sake of acquiring power and for conquest and territorial expansion, and so these were not legitimate jihads.
My message to the Muslims is that if they truly love Islam, they must not behave in a controversial manner. Instead, they must present and abide by Islam as taught by the descendants of the Prophet. To non-Muslims, my appeal is that if they sincerely wish to understand true Islam they should search for it not in the Islam of monarchs and despots, but, rather, in the Islam of the martyrs of Karbala. My message to both Muslims and others is that the battle of Karbala in the month of Muharram represents nothing but a war against terrorism. For, thousands of terrorists had gathered together under the banner of Yazid at Karbala in the name of Islam, and they were exposed by Imam Hussain. He proved to the world that the Islam that they championed was not the true Islam. This Yazid’s soldiers also proved through their brutal actions on the battlefield, including against members of the family of the Prophet, the cruelties of which are still recounted by people 1400 years after the event.
At the battlefield of Karbala, Imam Hussain’s innocent six month-old child, Ali Asghar, was dying of thirst. He had not had even a drop of water to drink for three days. The small band of Imam Hussain and his followers had been cut off from water supplies by the enemy army. Taking him in his arms, Imam Hussain approached Yazid’s army, asking them to let him get some water for the baby otherwise it would perish. But, those brutal tyrants refused, and one of them, a man called Harmala, pierced the innocent child’s throat with a deadly arrow and he died.
It is one thing for a single individual to be bad, but it is an entirely different matter if an entire society supports him. When Harmala killed the baby Ali Asghar, the entire army of Yazid remained silent. They did not protest. This shows that Imam Hussain was not set against just a single Harmala but, rather, an entire vast army of terrorists identical to Harmala who had camouflaged their faces under the veil of Islam. They falsely called themselves the Army of Islam, but their actions had actually nothing at all to do with Islam. That is why the Battle of Karbala constituted a jihad, because if the religion upheld by Yazid and his followers was accepted as Islam and this claim went unchallenged, Islam itself would have been in grave danger. That is why Imam Hussain sacrificed his life, in order to explain to the world the true philosophy of jihad as struggle in the path of God and against brutal oppression as represented by Yazid and his followers. The Imam was willing to even face the death of his infant son but would not allow Yazid and his supporters to give Islam and jihad a bad name. Through his practical example at Karbala, Imam Hussain taught us that jihad is not a war for wealth, power and booty, not a means for instilling fear and terror in people, not a path for territorial expansion and conquest. Rather, as the Imam showed, jihad is a means for upholding the supremacy of God’s way, to sacrifice one’s life for God, to defend oneself when under attack but not to engage in any form of oppression while doing so.
Islam does not permit or approve of oppression and terrorism. It does not allow for people to be terrorized by fear. Instead, Islam strives to establish peace. People have been subjected to terror on account of many things—poverty, colour of their skin or whatever—but Islam declares itself the protector of all, including slaves, the poor, the weak and people of dark skin. It boldly announces that the strong cannot oppress and terrorise the weak, free men cannot terrorise slaves, white men cannot terrorise black men. But, when monarchical despotism sought to twist Islam to serve its nefarious ends, the situation underwent a drastic transformation.
Friends! Let me elaborate as to how Islam has forbidden terrorism, based on the teachings of the Quran. A crucial distinction must be made here between terrorism, punishment in retaliation and struggling for one’s rights. Terrorism is oppressing innocent people. Revenge or retaliatory punishment is to give the criminal the punishment that is due to him for his actions. So, if I murder an innocent person, I should be punished for the crime. This is what the Islamic law of qisas or retaliation says. But, if my brother is punished instead of me for the crime that I have committed, it would constitute terrorism, oppression and injustice. Islam stresses that the oppressor must be suitably punished for his actions, but in no way should innocent people be punished for them. That is why the Quran says that no person can bear the burden of another’s actions. That is to say, if I have murdered somebody, my brother cannot be held responsible for the crime that I have committed. If I am killed because I have killed someone else, that is to be considered as the punishment that I deserve. But, if my brother is killed because of my action, it would be tantamount to terrorism.
This point is also made by Imam Ali in his Nahj ul-Balagha. When Imam Ali was brutally attacked while praying in the mosque, because of which he later died, he made out a will, which is included in the Nahj ul-Balagha. Addressing the sons of his grandfather Abdul Mutallib, he wrote, ‘O people of Bani Abdul Mutallib. If I do not survive this wound and I meet my death, do not take up the sword against innocent people, saying that the leader of the believers has been martyred. Beware! Do not touch any innocent people. In retaliation for my death, take action only against the person who attacked me and no one else’.
This is the true Islamic approach, which Imam Ali announced to the world 1400 years ago. To kill innocent people was the way of the inveterate foes of Imam Ali, of despotic rulers, and not of true Muslims.
To his son, Hassan, Imam Ali instructed on his death-bed, ‘My son, Hassan! If I survive this attack I have the right to deal with my attacker in any which way I deem fit, and if I die then you should slay my attacker with just one blow. Do not administer two blows because he has delivered just a single blow on my head, not two.’ This well exemplifies the Islamic principle of justice and fair-dealing, even for a murderer.
I wish Muslim thinkers would present all these facts about true Islam before the world so that the misunderstandings that many people have about Islam could thereby be dispelled. It is time for Muslims to decide whether they want to remain faithful to Islam or to mere human beings. They have to choose one of them. As a result of various developments, including the emergence of various movements, we Muslims have earned a bad name, and others look at us with hatred. Muslims constantly repeat and claim that they have been made the target of conspiracies hatched by others. My point is that this is because Muslims have abandoned the path of Imam Ali, the ‘Lion of God’.
All the religions of the world teach good values. They aim at moulding good human beings. Yet, bad qualities inhere in most persons, even though most people claim to follow some religion or the other. But, this does not mean that if a Muslim commits a robbery, the action should be called ‘Muslim robbery’. If a Hindu commits a robbery it will not be called ‘Hindu robbery’. That is to say, robbery has no religion, and nor does a robber or a murderer. A robber is a robber, a murderer is a murderer. If a Muslim commits a murder, the act will not be called ‘Islamic murder’. If a Hindu commits a murder, the act will not be called ‘Hindu murder’. No, a murderer is a murderer, and it is wrong to associate his act with the religion that he claims to follow. The same applies in the case of terrorism. A terrorist is a terrorist, and to associate him with any religion is wrong. Everybody who commits terrorism must be condemned, but do not associate terrorism with any religion. But, then, the question arises as to why people so often use the phrase ‘Islamic terrorist’.
The international media routinely refers to what it calls ‘Islamic terrorism’. Muslims cannot evade the issue simply by saying that this is because the media is an enemy of the Muslims and that is why it uses such terms. Of course, it is true that this could be one factor. I do not deny this. But there could be something else behind it. While looking out for external causes, we also need to introspect and search within to see if there is something wrong with Muslims that lends weight to the anti-Islamic propaganda. We must admit that we, too, have committed certain wrongs that have given an opportunity to our foes to criticize and condemn us. It is an undeniable fact that some self-styled Muslim organizations and movements that are indeed engaged in terrorism use the name of our Prophet Muhammad or some other such Islamic terms as part of their names, in order to falsely claim Islamic sanction for their acts and thereby bring into their fold potential supporters. They resort to Islamic-sounding labels and false religious arguments to build support for themselves. Consequently, Islam gets blamed for their misdeeds and earns a bad name. This is something that we Muslims must deeply ponder over.
Besides this, Muslims must reflect on what sort of character they actually present before others. We must not get swayed by passionate emotionalism, heated rhetoric and empty sloganeering by self-styled mujahidin. To do that would reflect a lack of serious understanding of Islam.
Friends! It is true that the Indian Muslims suffer several problems, which may be different from those faced by Muslims at the global level. For this, we must seek guidance from the character of the family of the Prophet, the Ahl-e Bayt. If some people [a reference probably to some Sunnis—YS], on account of a long-standing dispute [with the Shias on the matter of the Ahl-e Bayt—YS], do not wish to do this, let them instead emulate the example of the Sufis, who preached the message of love. We all have noble role models to emulate such as these. Present and follow the models of renowned Muslim scholars and intellectuals. Why do you [Muslims] take such interest in the character of Muslim conquerors instead of such personages?
Friends! My complaint is that, unfortunately, Muslims have accepted as their heroes conquerors like Mahmud Ghaznavi, Salahuddin Ayubi, and Aurangzeb. These people were concerned with acquiring political power for themselves. Mahmud of Ghaznavi, who attacked India several times, did not engage in any sort of jihad in the path of God, although he might have claimed so. Rather, he was motivated simply by the desire to conquer India for himself. Nor did Salahuddin Ayubi walk the path of jihad for the sake of God, for he was responsible for the destruction of the [Shia] Fatimids in Egypt. Likewise, the Indian Mughal ruler Aurangzeb was responsible for the destruction of the [Shia] kingdoms of Golconda and of the [Shia] Qutbshahis in the Deccan. So, my appeal to Muslims is that they must seriously ponder on this issue of who they have wrongly come to consider as their heroes. It is wrong to accept people as heroes like this, getting swayed by spurious claims and arguments, which then forces Muslims to later regret their foolishness. So, Saddam Hussain, who was responsible for the death of literally thousands of Muslims and Islamic activists, suddenly became the hero of the [Sunni—YS] Muslims. Is this not absurd? Where are the Muslim intellectuals who should explain these issues to the people? Islam is not so cheap that those who claim to follow it should blindly consider just about anybody who speaks in its name to be its hero.
The true Islamic philosophy cannot be understood from those who have little grounding in it. So, how can just anybody who claims to speak in the name of Islam be considered a hero of the faith? And, then, is it not stupid that when this person himself faces a threat, Muslims start imagining that it is actually Islam that is threatened? Does this not greatly tarnish the fair name of Islam? Does this not cause Muslims to hang their heads in shame? My appeal to Islamic scholars, the ulema, is that they must come forward and uplift and reform the thinking of the Muslims, and teach them the true principles of Islam. Sadly, today Islam has become so cheap that in a cricket match if [a Muslim batsman] scores a six, Muslims start raising Islamic slogans to celebrate! Today, things have fallen to such deplorable levels that the truth of Islam is seen as being decided through a mere cricket or hockey match! We must admit, with full honesty, the nefarious game that is being played with Islam. We must seriously introspect as to how Muslim thought has so badly deviated. To get ourselves out of this situation, Muslims must seek inspiration from the Quran, from the life and teachings of the Prophet, from the character of true men of God who related with love and compassion with non-Muslims too.
We have two aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life before us. The first relates to the Meccan period of his life, when his followers were few in number, vastly outnumbered by his opponents. The second relates to the Medinan period of his life, when his followers greatly outnumbered his opponents in Medina. The Prophet’s behaviour in both phases of his life are a model and inspiration for Muslims. If Muslims live in a country where they are in a minority, they must seek inspiration and guidance from the Meccan phase of his life. Where Muslims are in a majority they should emulate the Medinan phase of his life. The Meccan phase of the Prophet’s life teaches us not to change or dilute our faith despite being marginalized and bereft of political power. The Medinan phase of the Prophet’s life teaches us that having political power must not lead us to oppress others.
Let me cite an instance from the life of the Prophet in Mecca, when his supporters were much less in number than his opponents. An old woman would throw garbage on top of the Prophet every day when he passed under her house. The Prophet did not react. He would simply lower his gaze and walk ahead. He did not fight with her. Nor did he change his route. It could be argued that fighting with her was not possible given the precarious situation that the Muslims were faced with then. But, had he chose to, he could have changed his route. Yet, he did not do this. If he had done this, how would he have succeeded in finally guiding that woman? So, he took the same route, day after day, and met with the same treatment at the woman’s hands.
It so happened that one day, when the Prophet was passing under the woman’s house, she did not throw garbage on him. The next day and the day after that, too, the woman failed to appear. Surprised, the Prophet asked someone what had happened to the woman, and was told that she was sick. At once, the Prophet went to her house to enquire about her health.
When the woman saw the Prophet coming to her house, she feared that he was set on taking revenge on her, and said so to him. Putting her fears at rest, the Prophet replied that he had come to find out how she was doing. The woman doubted what he said, but when she saw that he was not scolding or beating her, she believed him. She fell ashamed of how she had treated the Prophet for so many days. Her heart melted, and she pleaded with him to instruct her in the faith of Islam, for she had realised from his behaviour towards her that he was indeed true.
Friends! The reason why I cited this instance from the life of the Prophet was to impress upon you that true religion spreads only through noble actions and character, through tolerance and large-heartedness, not through anger and hatred. Let the Muslims of India learn from this example from the life of the Prophet in Mecca.
Let me cite another instance, this time from the life of the Prophet in Medina. This was a time when the Prophet had made numerous disciples and had won numerous victories. At this time, it so happened that a group of Muslims came across a poet who used to write poems mocking the Prophet. They bound him up and brought him before the Prophet, telling him that they had caught a man who routinely vilified him. Thereupon, several companions of the Prophet offered to slice the man’s tongue off, but the Prophet refused to allow this.
Just then, Ali appeared on the scene, and the Prophet instructed him to cut the man’s tongue. Ali took the man out of the mosque and untied his hands and feet. A camel belonging to Ali was standing nearby. He told the man to mount the camel and escape as soon as he possibly could. The man did so, fleeing at once.
Some people then went to the Prophet and complained to him about Ali’s action, saying that he did not cut off the man’s tongue, but, instead, had given him a camel and had enabled him to escape. They wanted the Prophet to get furious with Ali. However, the Prophet smiled, and said to them that they would not be able to understand what he had actually instructed Ali to do, although Ali had properly comprehended his order and had rightly acted upon it.
O Prophet of God! If many people did not understand the truth of your teachings in your very lifetime, how will those who came after you passed away understand them properly? Peace be upon the Prophet and his descendants!
So touched was the poet by the treatment meted out to him by the Prophet that he appeared before the Prophet the next day and accepted Islam at his hands. He told the Prophet that he had not been able to sleep for even a moment the previous night, having spent the entire night writing a poem in praise of the Prophet. He asked the Prophet for permission to read out the poem. The Prophet gave his consent. The man stood up and read out the poem. That is how that tongue of his that used to vilify the Prophet was ‘cut’, and, in its place, the man received the tongue that praised the Prophet.
Friends! These examples that I have cited should inspire you to follow the noble example of the Prophet. Muslims should present and reflect good morals and character, rather than dreaming of or recounting conquests made by [Muslim] rulers. These conquests were, in actual fact, not made for the sake of Islam, but, rather, for promoting the personal interests of [Muslim] rulers. These conquests did not promote or help Islam at all. Rather, they promoted or helped only despotic monarchy. If Muslims have any concern for Islam, they should be inspired by, and reflect in their own lives, the example of the oppressed, the most noble instance of which was the martyrdom of Imam Husain and his followers at Karbala.
Friends! As I mentioned earlier, Islam is a religion of peace and security. It insists on respect for the life and property of all human beings. It has no relation whatsoever with oppression, injustice and terrorism. Please understand Islam as a religion. Understand it through the Quran, through the teachings of the Prophet and the character of the Ahl-e Bayt. Only then can you understand and appreciate true Islam.
The biggest tragedy that Islam has faced is that rulers have routinely referred to their regimes as ‘Islamic’. They tried to justify all their deeds, even heinous actions, through appeals to Islam. Naturally, then, Islam earned a band name. And, this sinister political game of manipulation of Islam continues unabated even today, causing poor Muslims and Islam to be vilified. The only way out of this is for Muslims to understand and abide by the true teachings of Islam. It is their duty for them to communicate true Islamic teachings to others through noble character. That is what Islamic mission really is. It is not, contrary to what some groups believe, to wear a cap and to keep one’s pants above one’s ankles and set out on tours to do missionary work [a reference here to the Sunni Deobandi Tablighi Jamaat, known for its hostility towards Shias—YS]. No, Islam should be communicated to others through one’s own personal example, by impressing them by one’s noble character, by trustworthiness in one’s dealings and work, by always upholding the truth. Then only will people begin to admire you, and so you can explain to them that you abstain from wrongdoings because the Prophet also abstained from them. You can then tell them that your good deeds and noble character are because the Prophet whom you follow always performed good deeds and led a noble life.
Respected Friends! If you truly want to serve Islam, then serve it through noble character and actions. Islam is not a religion of terrorism. Islam is not a religion of obstinacy, fanaticism and polemics. Islam is not a religion of anger and hatred. Unfortunately, however, the actions of Muslims have given Islam a bad name. This has given the enemies of Islam the opportunity to vilify Islam. Please think seriously over what I have just said.
Friends! There is no room for extremism or compulsion in religion. The Quran very clearly states, ‘There shall be no compulsion in religion’. The path of true guidance has been clearly distinguished from those that lead people astray. The role of religion is to inform people that a certain path leads to goodness and another path to evil. It then leaves it entirely up to people to freely decide which path they want to choose. This clearly means that no one can be forced to accept Islam. No one’s house can be set alight in order to prove the superiority of Islam. No one can be shot dead in order to prove the truth of Islam. Those who commit such deeds in the name of Islam are grossly misusing Islam. They are defaming Islam.
Friends! Whether it be Islam or any other religion, the moment extremism and compulsion creep into a religion it blows up into a major danger, an enormous threat. Politicians then begin to work in tandem with people who regard themselves as religious leaders in order to wrongly use religion for their nefarious purposes. We have seen this tragedy repeatedly taking place all over the world. This still continues even today. Extremism in the name of Islam, oppressing innocent people in the name of Islam, is not true religion. It is not Islam. It is politics, pure and simple. It is the lust for power. We must remember that whenever extremism and oppression have been sought to be legitimized by unscrupulous, power-hungry people in the name of Islam, our religion has received a bad name.
In recent years, some groups have been engaged in acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. We must be clear that this is not Islam. Is prohibiting education [a reference here probably to the fiercely anti-Shia Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan—YS] Islam? Is imprisoning women Islam? Is oppressing people Islam? Is dealing harshly and cruelly with people Islam? No. Definitely not. How can it be when the Prophet Muhammad is himself referred to as rahmat al il alameen or ‘mercy unto all the worlds’?
Friends! This is the complex problem that we are today confronted with. I am constantly repeating the same points because I want Muslims to realize that it is their duty to present the glories and truth of Islam before the entire world, to impress upon them that Islam does not sanction oppression, coercion, extremism and terrorism. We must recognize, as some important [Sunni] scholars have, that, following the death of Imam Ali, despotic monarchism consistently sought to infiltrate into Islam, posing a grave danger to it.
Friends! When Islam was turned into an instrument for bolstering Sultanic despotism, it was the duty of Islamic religious leaders to openly declare that Islam had nothing whatsoever to do with the actions and behaviour of Muslim Sultans. However, for some strange reason that I cannot fathom, they did not care to distinguish the actions of rulers, like the Umayyads, the Abbasids and other Muslim kings and Sultans, from Islam.
The Prophet Muhammad engaged in missionary work for several years. He announced his prophethood at the age of 40, and continued his missionary work till he passed away at the age of 63. This means that he spent 23 years doing missionary work, at the end of which the whole of Arabia turned Muslim in his own life time. He won over the hard-hearted Arabs in such a short time. On the other hand, Muslims ruled India for almost a thousand years. Yet, the majority of Indians did not accept Islam. Why was this so? This was because what was spread in Arabia by the Prophet in those 23 years was true Islam, and what did not manage to spread much in India in 1000 years was because it was politics in a pseudo-religious garb that was sought to be spread by Sultans. If you read history you will realize that some [Muslim] rulers engaged in terror and oppression and even built tall minarets filled with the skulls of people whom they killed. We [Shias] are the worst victims of this sort of terrorism in history. Was not the murder of Imam Ali while he was praying in a mosque terrorism? Was not the brutal slaying of children and women by soldiers in Basra, who were enemies of Imam Ali, terrorism?
When the image of religion becomes unduly harsh and people begin to think in a very narrow and restricted way it becomes a grave danger to that religion. Religion is supposed to create gentleness, not harshness. But, when religion is misinterpreted, it causes people to become harsh and cruel. They become selfish and insular, even hostile to others. This happened early in the history of Islam, starting with the emergence of the Khawarij, who upheld an extremely distorted vision of Islam. They took the name of God and the Prophet and they also read the Quran. But theirs was a distorted form of Islam. They considered everyone but themselves to be kafirs, including even Imam Ali himself. Imam Ali tried to reason with them but they refused to listen, and, after that, they fought against the army of Imam Ali at the Battle of Nahrwan. The Imam fought them because they proved themselves to be a danger to Islam, for, in actual fact, what they upheld was not religion. Rather, they were enemies of religion who had donned a religious garb.
When Imam Ali ordered his followers to fight the Khawarij, some of them stopped and said to him that those whom he had commanded them to fight were reading the Quran. See how the Quran and the Hadith can also be misused! Imam Ali answered his followers, saying that it was true that the Khawarij were reading the Quran, but that the Quran had got stuck in their necks and would not go further down than that. In this way, Imam Ali highlighted the fact of how some people will not hesitate to misinterpret Islam for their own nefarious purposes.
Friends! Try and objectively survey the present conditions of the Muslim world. If you honestly do so, you will have to admit that today the entire worldwide Muslim community is drenched in blood. There is bloodshed and war going on in Palestine, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Yet, despite the fact that we Muslims are ourselves drenched in blood we continue to blame only others for our plight. We must now also introspect and look within our own selves to honestly gauge to what extent we, too, are responsible for this tragic fate. We need to indentify and admit our weaknesses. We need to understand the mistakes we have made and continue to make.
Friends! My intention in saying all this is to inspire us Muslims to reform ourselves, not to promote strife. I want the message to go out to the world that Islam is spotless. If anyone is to blame, it is the [Muslim] rulers, who, in actual fact, have nothing to do with Islam. How long will Muslims continue to go along with political manipulations that are actually destroying their religious objectives and responsibilities? How long will they continue to remain toys in the hands of those who manipulate them? It is true, as I said earlier, that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, so it is tragic when one even hears of Muslims condemning other Muslims as kafirs [a reference here probably to a large number of Sunnis who consider Shia Muslims as unbelievers—YS] or killing other Muslims. They do not even desist from slaughtering other Muslims while they are praying in mosques simply because they follow a different sect, stupidly imagining this to be a great service to Islam. What sort of Islam is this? What sort of religion is this? Today, the Muslim world is passing through a very dangerous phase. Yet, despite all these dastardly acts, people’s eyes have not yet opened.
Because we [Shias] are in a minority, we have consistently been the victims of terrorism and extremism for the last 1400 years or so. Our story is that of a people whose blood has been shed on a massive scale by oppressors. I do not want to recount that tragic story here, but my question is: Does Islam not have even that basic tolerance as to bear ideological and sectarian differences?
Friends! I do not want to delve into our history. I simply want to stress that if anyone wants to know what true Islam is, he or she must not seek to do so by looking at Muslims, because there are both good as well as bad Muslims. There are murderers among Muslims as well as hapless victims of murder. There are oppressors among Muslims as well as victims of oppression. If anyone wants to understand Islam, he or she must not seek to do so by examining the life and character of Muslim kings and rulers, past and present, because kings and other rulers always seek to promote their own interests. If you truly want to understand Islam, do not try to do so through the actions, lives and behaviour of Muslim Sultans and conquerors, because they used Islam for their own interests. They sought to legitimise their despotism with a so-called ‘Islamic’ garb so as to prevent people from opposing or rising up against them. It is just like if I want to commit a crime, I capture a mosque and start living there. Outside the mosque, I put up a big banner, announcing that this is a mosque. So, when Muslims see the banner they will pass by the mosque with respect and awe. Hence, I can carry on with my nefarious plans while sitting comfortably in the mosque.
Friends! Many Muslim rulers unfurled ‘banners’ of Islam of this sort in order to deceive people and win their loyalty, using this to carry on with their dirty political intrigues. Consequently, Islam has received a bad name. That is why it is now incumbent on the Muslims to themselves understand as well as to explain to others what true Islam actually is. They must also speak out against the misuse of Islam, or other religions for that matter, for political purposes, for this can only result in conflict, destruction and bloodshed. It is wholly wrong to mix religion and politics. I do not suggest that Muslims should stay away from politics altogether. Muslims must actively participate in politics to ensure, protect and promote their rights. But, please do not mix religion with politics. Do not play the religious card. Sadly, this practice continues today unchecked, reducing religion into a mere plaything.
Friends! I must frankly state that many Muslims severely lack tolerance for others. This is completely against the Quranic dictum that lays down, ‘Unto you your religion and unto me my religion’. Islam thus clearly states that we should respect the right of everyone to follow the religion of his or her choice. This means that non-Muslims should not be troubled or oppressed on account of their religion. If Muslim Sultans flouted this Quranic law, the blame lies with them, not with Islam. Is it, then, not a cruel irony that despite the fact that the Quran insists on religious tolerance, even for non-Muslims, we [Shia Muslims], who accept God and the Prophet Muhammad, are being targeted and attacked [by Sunni extremists—YS]?
Friends! A terrifying form that this persecution is sought to be justified in a particular interpretation of Islam [probably a reference here to Wahhabism, which is fanatically anti-Shia—YS] that first emerged in a holy land [a reference here probably to Saudi Arabia, on account of it being home to Mecca and Medina—YS] and that is now taught in numerous madrasas in a country neighbouring India [a reference here probably to Pakistan—YS]. This version of Islam has caused much destruction throughout the world. Advocates of this version of Islam inflict cruel punishments on other Muslims who express their reverence for holy personages in a way that they do not approve. What sort of Islam is this that forbids people, Muslims and others, from worshipping according to their religious precepts? The Prophet Muhammad allowed non-Muslims freedom to worship in accordance with their beliefs. Then why do these [Wahhabis] not allow followers of the Prophet [Shias], who are Muslims, to pray according to their religious rules? Muslims must reflect on this ideology that underpins much of the conflict and strife that now prevails in large parts of the world today. Where will this ideology take them? What must be done to combat this vicious campaign of hatred [launched by certain radical Sunni groups—YS] against the Shias that goes to the extent of even branding them as non-Muslims and unbelievers?
We Shias do not need a certificate from these people to prove that we are Muslims. They may keep declaring us to be kafirs. Okay, even if we are really kafirs, when did we ever ask them to certify us as Muslims? Our problem is really unique: Some people are angry with us because we are Muslims. Others are angry with us because we are, in their view, kafirs. As the saying goes, ‘The narrow-minded mullah thought me to be a kafir, while the Brahmin thinks I am a Muslim’.
We Shias are, as I said, victims of a strange tragedy. We are a minority that is being attacked from both sides. We are those Muslims who refuse to believe in terrorism in the name of religion. That is because our history is that of spreading our faith by sacrificing our own lives, rather than by taking the lives of others.
Friends! Every year we commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet and son of Ali and Fatima, in the month of Muharram, who sacrificed his life to protect the glory of Islam. By giving up his own life, Imam Ali saved Islam. He did not do this by killing anyone else. No, he saved Islam by sacrificing himself and his 72 companions at the Battle of Karbala. Our Islam is one of giving sacrifice of our own selves, not one that exacts or causes the sacrifice of others.
The criminal oppressors who fought Imam Ali and his companions at Karbala heaped all sorts of barbarities on them, even on helpless infants. They even blocked their drinking access to drinking water. Can this be called Islamic behaviour at all? Was it not actually naked terrorism? Was not the resistance put up by Imam Hussain at Karbala a battle against extremism and terrorism?
Friends! Religion and political domination are two different things. Unfortunately, [some] Muslim rulers misused Islam for their own purposes. Because of this, Islam got a bad name, as the crimes committed by these rulers were wrongly attributed to Islam itself. Rulers have always used religion as a shield to cover up their crimes and to protect themselves, their power, privileges and status. This has been the story of Muslims for 1400 years. So, today how can we discern what true Islam is? How do we now distinguish between religion and political domination?
I have a very simple solution to this complex puzzle. And that is: true religion is where there is tolerance, soft-heartedness and compassion for other human beings. Contrarily, if innocent people are killed, if the weak are oppressed, that is not true religion. Rather, it is political domination, although it might use a religious garb to legitimize such crimes. It is not true religion, although its proponents might claim it to be such, because true religion can never tolerate oppression and exploitation. God wants people to be secure, to preserve human life, freedom and peace. God does not seek the destruction of human life.
God is our Creator, and true religion belongs to Him. First understand God, and then you can understand what Islam really is. God loves His creatures. You can call Him by various names—Allah, or Bhagwan, God, Parmatma or by whatever other name you want, it is the same. He has created us all, and He is the maker of true religion. If you want to understand God, try and do so by reflecting on your mother. A mother plays a similar role to that of God in some ways. When a woman becomes a mother, she becomes a reflection of some of the attributes of God. God is the creator of the newborn child, and He uses the mother to bring the child into the world. God provides food to the child, using the mother as the means for this. God is the Most Merciful, and the mother reflects some of this mercy in her behaviour towards her child. God is the Nourisher, and the mother also nourishes her child. A mother is not just a woman. Rather, she is a character, a set of attributes. She is the first to agree to the requests of her child, and the last to refuse and get angry. Even if all other people in the neighbourhood and within the family get cross with the child, the mother will not. She will continue to shower her love on it and protect it. Even if she loses her temper, her heart soon melts and she embraces her child in her arms.
Now, the mother’s heart was made by God, and He has emptied an entire sea of love into her heart. This being the case, will not God be even more compassionate towards His creatures than a mother, who is also His creation? Yes, certainly. Naturally, then, the religion that truly comes from God must also be grounded in compassion, love and mercy. In contrast, religion contrived or distorted by those who lust for worldly power will be grounded in oppression, extremism and cruelty. Everyone must ponder on this matter, and not just Muslims alone. Let everyone choose whether to adopt and follow the religion of Allah or Bhagwan or God or, otherwise, the religion of politicians. If you want the religion of Allah or Bhagwan or God, you will find it in the shade of compassion, mercy and love.
Friends! A major tragedy that struck Islam was that while it was the religion of God, politics reduced it into the religion of the mullahs. God is absolute mercy, an ocean of compassion that can never be emptied. But, unfortunately, we [Muslims] completely lack this understanding in our dealings with others. We doggedly refuse to tolerate any differences. We want to impose our views and force others to hold the same opinions as we do. And, if someone disagrees even very slightly with us we get inflamed.
Friends! One of the major reasons for the problems that Muslims are today afflicted with is a certain strand of thinking that has developed in Islam that is extremely intolerant. I do not want to hurt anyone’s sentiments here. I respect everyone’s feelings. But, still, I must respectfully submit that if you believe something to be correct, you are free to follow it, but please do not try to forcibly stop others from believing what they feel is right. I do not say that you must do what I order. No. You do what you feel is right, but let me also do what I feel is right. God has not appointed you as a ruler over me to decide if what I am doing is right or wrong. If what I am doing is right, God will reward or bless me for it. If what I am doing is wrong, I will be punished by Him for it, not you. At the very most, you can simply suggest to me that in your view what I am doing is wrong. Your responsibility stops there. To seek to force people to agree to your religious views grossly violates the Quranic dictum that there is no compulsion in religion.
Friends! Please ponder on the fact that true Islam upholds religious tolerance and acceptance. It lays great stress on ethics and morals. Yet, some [Muslims] have invented an alien school of thought and have given it an Islamic label [a reference to Wahhabism—YS], and an entire country [a reference here probably to Saudi Arabia—YS] is devoted to promoting this school. And, in a second country [a reference probably to Pakistan—YS], madrasa students are being reared on this ideology, which insists that, besides its adherents, all people others are kafirs. This tragic development is giving Muslims a bad name the world over.
To repeat a point I have made several times before, there is no room for oppression and extremism in true religion. A truly evolved person is he who understands and appreciates the worth of human life. What is the use of a religion that does not preach humanity? What is the use of a religion that exhorts its followers to kill others, to wage war against others, to burn others to death? Lamentably, in our age religion has come to be commonly deployed as an instrument to protect rulers and help power-hungry politicians. It is the poor who suffer most from this sinister manipulation of religion. And, then, there are those who fervently believe that they alone are following God’s path, and that the rest of humankind shall be thrown into the fires of Hell so that just a few people—they themselves—can relax in heaven.
Friends! This sort of mentality that has developed is proving to be a great danger to Islam. This ideology is based on the belief that all those who do not subscribe to it are kafirs, doomed to perdition in Hell. This reflects a completely warped interpretation of Islam. The true religion of God, as I said before, can be found only where there is love and goodwill towards others. Where views are sought to be forced on others, through coercion, extremism and oppression, it is definitely not God’s religion. Rather, it is a political gimmick in the name of religion.
This brings me back to the question of true jihad. The sword wielded by truly religious people alone is qualified to be called jihad. Jihad is inseparable from love. Jihad is like a mother who takes her child for treatment to a doctor when he is ill. The child might even need to have an operation. There is no enmity at all involved in this. She arranges for his operation in order to save his life. So, if some of the Infallibles—the prophets and the [Shia] Imams—wielded the sword, it was because of their concern for humanity, an expression of love, and not out of hatred.
Friends! If you want to truly understand the love that underlies true jihad, consider the conduct of Imam Hussain, who expressed love even for his foes who fought with him at Karbala, who denied him and his followers water to drink for three whole days, who slew his children and other members of his family. This is a reflection of the fact that true religion is based on justice, and so when a true jihad is waged it observes the principles and rules of justice. In Imam Hussain’s army of 72 men there was one man, Abbas, who was stronger than the entire army of Yazid put together. Yet, because of his insistence on justice, Imam Hussain did not let him take part in the battle.
Friends! I have been constantly stressing the need to distinguish between religion and politics, between Islam and the wrong interpretation of Islam. We need to ponder over some crucial issues. What is true Islam? Does Islam allow for the killing of innocent people? Does Islam consider human blood to be treated like water? Does Islam exhort its followers to kill everyone who differs from them? There is nothing at all to suggest that such heinous actions are sanctioned by the Quran, the Prophet and the Ahl-e Bayt. So, if anyone commits such terrible deeds in the name of Islam, it means that he is defaming Islam, that he is not a Muslim, and that he is excommunicated from the Muslim fold. It is crucial that the ulema of Islam stand up and announce this boldly to the world, even if they feel that their voice may not be heard by everyone. If thousands of such voices are put together, they will surely make a major difference. The ulema must also work to provide the Muslim public a correct understanding and vision of Islam, one that is based on respect for human life, irrespective of religion. Islam exhorts its followers to protect and save human lives. It does not say that they should protect only the lives of Muslims. No, it says protect all human lives, because it values and respects all human life.
Friends! I would like to cite to you a Hadith attributed to the Prophet that suggests that under certain conditions a man has to think beyond his own religion. The Prophet sternly forbade the burning to death of any living being, including humans as well as animals. The Hadith goes on to say that such an act can be legitimately committed by God alone, the Master of the Fire. So, if any person burns to death any other human, no matter what the latter’s religion, or an animal, he has committed treason against Islam. From this one example, you can appreciate the fact that Islam stresses universal brotherhood. It is our fault that we have not presented this true Islamic perspective before the world, before people of other faiths. It is also the fault of others that they have not sought to understand us properly. They view or judge Islam on the basis of the actions of [Muslim] despots and rulers. This is the warped understanding of Islam that the mass media continues to highlight. They never approached us directly to know what Islam truly is.
Friends! The thing that Islam is most severely opposed to is strife, chaos and conflict (fitna). Fitna is regarded as the worst possible act in Islam. According to a Hadith attributed to the Prophet, fitna is even worse than murder. This is because in a case of murder it is just one person who is killed, while fitna can cause an entire city or even an entire country to go up in flames. In this regard, I would like to appeal to all human beings, irrespective of religion, to reconsider the way they view the entire humankind. As regards their view of Muslims, I appeal to non-Muslims not to judge Islam by the actions of Muslim despots who falsely used Islam as a means to justify their wrong deeds. Their actions were in no way truly Islamic. The future of humankind critically depends on us all living together in peace. The different communities in the world are like different parts of a single body. If a thorn gets stuck in the foot, it causes the entire body to writhe in pain. The head, the highest part of the body, bows down for the sake of the foot, the body’s lowest part, and the hand removes the thorn from the foot. The entire body focuses on the foot and shares its pain. Our human body teaches us a valuable lesson—that no part of our body is superior or inferior to any other. The whole of humankind is like a single body. Naturally, then, for someone to kill innocent people and even rejoice in this barbaric act is a horrendous crime. It becomes even more heinous if this person claims that he was motivated by his religion to do so.
Let me repeat: There is no room for extremism and terrorism in Islam. I want to elaborate on this point with reference to the Battle of Karbala, where Imam Hussain was brutally slain. This battle clearly brings out the distinction between Islam and despotism. The Battle of Karbala was not fought between Hindus and Muslims. It was not a war between Christians and Muslims. It was not a conflict between Jews and Muslims. It was not a battle between Zoroastrians and Muslims. Imam Hussain did not fight against Zoroastrians or Christians or Jews or Hindus or Buddhists or Jains, the major religious communities of his times. Hussain did not fight against any of these people. Then, what was the religion of Yazid? Who was Yazid? He was a Muslim. He was a king. Yazid was a Muslim king, while Hussain was the religious leader of the Muslims.
The battle between Yazid and Imam Hussain was fought some 1400 years ago. It was a war between Muslims themselves. Because of this, till the Day of Judgment non-Muslims will understand that Muslims are of two types, who fight against each other on the battlefield. These types are represented by Imam Hussain, on the one hand, and Yazid, on the other.
Compare the characters of Imam Hussain and Yazid. Imam Hussain entered Iraq and advanced towards Kufa through the Iraqi desert. There, he was confronted by Yazid’s army. He saw that the soldiers in the enemy army were greatly distressed. Touched by their plight, he asked them the reason. They answered that they were very thirsty, that they were dying of thirst. Imam Hussain ordered his followers to give water to the enemy soldiers to slake their thirst as well as that of their animals. Imam Hussain himself gave water, with his own hands, to some of these soldiers to drink. This was the noble character of Imam Hussain, who even slaked the thirst of his enemy’s soldiers in the desert.
These were the same soldiers who, when they faced Imam Hussain and his followers at the battlefield in Karbala, refused to give them water to drink. Imam Hussain’s six-month old child suffered without water for three days. When Imam Hussain asked Yazid’s army to give his innocent child some water, one of Yazid’s soldiers shot dead the child with his arrow.
You can now understand the stark difference in the character of these two sets of Muslims. One group helps their enemies by slaking their thirst. The other refuses to give their opponent’s six-month old child even a drop of water for three days and then brutally slays it.
Friends! Both of these groups were Muslims. Yazid was a Muslim, and so was Imam Hussain. But, believe me, Islam definitely does not have room for both types of characters. Only one of them can be considered Muslims. So, now let the ulema of Islam decide if they want to consider Imam Hussain a Muslim or Yazid a Muslim.
I have a serious complaint against the [Sunni—YS] ulema of Islam. If they had collectively issued a fatwa announcing that Yazid was out of the fold of Islam, this major blot on Islam could have been removed. Yet, political compulsions did not allow them to do so. Because of this, the despicable character of Yazid came to be wrongly associated with Islam. So, if today the whole world accuses [Muslims] of terrorism it is the echo of their own past actions that the Muslims are hearing.
For what purpose has the mission of Muharram been carried down for the last 1400 years? The answer is: So that the world comes to know what the Islam of Muhammad really is, what the Islam of the Ahl-e Bayt is, what the true Islam is, that teaches its followers to behave well even with their foes, the Islam that exhorts its followers to even sacrifice their lives for God and justice. Muharram is not a mere month. Rather, it is a crucial lesson for those who uphold a wrong understanding of religion. If you want to truly understand Islam, understand it from the life and deeds of Imam Ali, who respected humanity. If you want to understand Islam, understand it from the lives of the Noble [Shia] Imams, who related with compassion and love even with their foes.
Let me cite an instance in this regard. Once, a person who was opposed to Imam Hussain passed by him and uttered some bad words. Instead of getting angry or striking him, Imam Hussain stopped and addressed the man with kindness, asking him what the matter was. Was he a traveller with no money left, he asked? If so, he said, he could give him some money. Had anyone threatened him, he wanted to know? Was his life in danger? If so, he said, he would place him in his shelter. Was he hungry? If so, he offered to provide him food. If he was sick, he said, he would help cure him. He had no enmity with the man, the Imam said to him. At once the man fell at his feet, and for the rest of his life remained as his faithful follower.
This, my friends, is true religiosity. Religion’s purpose is to reform human beings, to make them truly human. But, if that which was intended to reform people and society itself gets corrupted, will it not it be the greatest possible tragedy? Surely, the right way to bring people to the right path is not by lopping off their heads, but to explain to them the philosophy and ideology of true Islam.
Friends! I want to reiterate that as long as Muslims continue to love and cling to the Islam of despotic rulers, they will continue to receive a bad name. They will continue to be accused of wrong deeds. They will continue to suffer. They will continue to be embroiled in conflicts. The day Muslims see the light and accept the Islam of the Ahl-e Bayt, peace can begin to be established in the world on its own. This is because the Islam that we express through Muharram is not the Islam of murderers. It is the Islam of martyrs. It is not the Islam of oppressors. It is the Islam of the oppressed. This Islam has no quarrels or conflicts with anyone. This Islam is large-hearted. At the time of the Battle of Karbala, there were very few Muslims in India. But, despite this, Imam Hussain told Yazid’s forces that if they did not like him they should not stand in his way. He would head for India, he said, far away from them, to a land that was well beyond the reach of Yazid. He offered to go to India. If I were present on that occasion, I might have folded my hands and said, ‘O Master! There are no Muslims in India, why should you go there?’ To which the Imam might have replied, ‘Muslims do not live there but surely human beings do!’
But, later, other Muslims came to India, and there were conflicts and wars. Muslim armies invaded the country. l I do not wish to repeat the story of all that happened. Everyone knows this story. But please note one thing—that the practice of the lamentation (azadari) of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom also spread to India. Many non-Muslims also participated in the azadari, mourning the Imam’s tragic death. Even today many Hindus mourn the Imam’s death in the month of Muharram. They also assisted [Shias] in performing azadari. Some people might cynically claim that in the past this was simply a means for these non-Muslims to curry favour with Muslim rulers. But, today these rulers are no more and their descendants live in pathetic poverty. Yet, still the non-Muslims’ participation in azadari for Imam Hussain continues across India till this day. In this way, Imam Hussain brought Hindus and Muslims in India closer together. Let Hindus and Muslims continue to participate in the Muharram azadari together. In this way, they will begin to understand each other better. I wish to state that in India non-Muslims have never opposed our azadari. Wherever it has been opposed, the opposition has been from [some Sunni—YS] Muslims alone.
The Muharram azadari recounts a bloody story of oppression. And, this story has important lessons for India today. Our country has been faced, off and on, by the threat of powerful external forces and some self-styled religious groups. The Battle of Karbala provides a clue to help us stave off both these threats. Yazid had political power, and he also cynically manipulated religion to bolster his power. Yet, Imam Hussain valiantly defied him and fought his army, so much so that today Yazid is widely remembered as a cruel tyrant and a false claimant to religious authority. In fact, his name has become a term of abuse. On the other hand, Imam Hussain continues to be deeply revered across the world. His life and his death powerfully exemplify the true Islamic spirit. They boldly announce to the world that true religion can never bow down before power and wealth. It cannot ever give up its right to transform people’s lives. It insists on upholding the truth and what is right in the face of even fierce odds. Imam Hussain had a band of only 72 followers, but they valiantly fought against Yazid’s army which numbered, at the very least, thirty thousand men, according to writers vociferously opposed to the Imam, or probably many more than that. By bravely fighting the tyrannical Yazid and his army, Imam Hussain sent out a message to the entire world: Do not support oppression under any cost. When oppression and tyranny cross all bounds, turn your face in the direction of the storm and bravely fight.
In a very systematic way Imam Hussain expressed and explained before the entire world the religion of the martyrs of Karbala. The brutal manner in which Abbas, Ali Asghar, Imam Hussain’s six-month old son, Imam Hussain himself, and his many companions were slain by the army of Yazid proved before the world that Yazid’s soldiers were not Muslims at all. In fact, they were not fit to be called human beings. They were fierce beasts in the garb of Islam. Imam Hussain saved Islam from those beasts.
Friends! Today is the last majlis in this series for this year’s Muharram. I have, all this while, being trying to impress upon you that true Islam upholds peace and security, and that it has nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism, oppression and strife. True Islam preaches respect for every human being, crossing religious and other boundaries, based on recognition of our common humanity. It seeks to stop conflicts and bloodshed, not to promote them. The God of Islam is the Lord of all the worlds. He takes care of every human being. He does not oppress anyone. The Prophet of Islam is called as ‘the mercy unto the worlds’ (rahmat al il-alameen). Mercy demands peace and sharing, not shedding blood.
Friends! Islam has not even the remotest connection with the crimes that [Muslim] rulers and governments have committed in the name of Islam in order to legitimize their power. A false Islam has been invented in order to support these tyrants. This false Islam has caused true Islam to earn a bad name. Because this false Islam was championed by most [Muslim] rulers and their armies, the world has seen largely only this sort of so-called Islam, and even today continues to erroneously imagine that this is the real Islam. That is why the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his followers took place at Karbala, in order to highlight the distinction between false Islam and true Islam. The two armies that fought each other at Karbala both claimed to be Muslim. The soldiers of both armies said prayers according to the Islamic fashion. Both raised the same sort of religious slogans. Both had studied the Quran. Both considered God to be one. So, when they had so many beliefs in common, why did they go to war?
The reason was that, in actual fact, their religions were totally different. One group upheld the Islam of the Prophet, while the other represented the fake Islam of tyrannical despots. Every year, commemorations continue to be organized, even 1400 years after the Battle of Karbala, in the month of Muharram precisely so that people can understand the crucial distinction between the Islam of the Prophet and the Islam of tyrannical rulers.
Friends! Our country, India, is like a bouquet that contains a variety of flowers of different colours. When many different types of flowers come together, they form a bouquet. Why do some people want to destroy this beautiful bouquet by setting the different flowers apart from each other or against each other? They are enemies of the nation, even if some of them may claim to be great patriots [probably a reference here to Hindutva extremists—YS].
I appeal to Muslims to seek to understand the true Islam. I also call upon non-Muslims and political parties and governments that routinely demonise Muslims as terrorists to understand this true Islam. To repeat a point that I have made many times before, if anyone wants to understand true Islam, it is not the Islam of tyrannical despots that he should study. Nor should he understand Islam from the brutal actions of these rulers. Rather, it is in the Islam of the martyrs of Karbala that one can find the real Islam. I am confident that those who do this will change their opinions about Islam, and will disabuse themselves of the belief that true Islam legitimizes terrorism.