By Dr. Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui
(Translated from Urdu by New Age Islam Edit Desk)
October 3, 2014
Surah Ash-Shura was revealed in Makkah. The time of its revelation has been fixed as after Hazrat Hamza embracing Islam and before Hazrat Umar converting to Islam. During that period, Muslims were being severely persecuted and tortured. Despite this, they had not got the permission for retaliatory violence as we have indicated above. They got permission for retaliatory violence or war when Muslims had attained the status of a powerful entity. Retaliatory violence cannot remain confined to the human and ethical limits Islam wants it to.
Violence and Terrorism
When some people or some group that is not in power and lives under the rule of a powerful entity resorts to retaliatory violence, the violence will sooner or later assume the form that we call terrorism today. Killing opponents without distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, not sparing even women, children, the old people, destroying property, resorting to inhuman methods of killing like burning, slashing organs etc has been summarily prohibited by Islam as we will discuss later.
Now take a look at the present situation. On the one hand, there are nation states that have big armies thanks to the national resources, are equipped with the latest weapons for warfare and possess all the resources for causing large scale violence and bloodshed. On the other hand, there are individuals or groups that do not have the authority without the permission of their governments to keep even ordinary arms, leave aside acquiring latest weapons of warfare. It is not possible for these individuals and groups to keep an army. They cannot even organize a volunteer militia.
So whenever they decide to use violence against their own country or against any other country while living in their own country, they will have to adopt secret modes of operation. As a result, they will not be able to adhere to the norms Islam makes mandatory while attacking their opponents because they can neither choose their own battlefield nor the time for war. They are compelled to make secret preparations and use whatever opportunity they get to strike at the enemy. They cannot reach the fighter planes. Therefore, they target passenger planes. Soldiers and uniformed combatants are out of their reach, so they kill ordinary citizens. They cannot reach the military installations of their enemies, so they attack commercial centres and so on.
The ‘organisation’ that resorts to such retaliatory violence is much different from and smaller than the ‘organisation’ that comes into operation under the leadership of states in power because powerless groups are destined to possess a limited organization. The history of secret organizations in the world tells us that they do not operate under one leadership for long, nor is the grip of any leadership on their activities in the field as strong as is that of organized state armies of the opponents. Every task has its limitations and compulsions. The compulsion on the retaliatory violence of individuals or groups (in retaliation to the state violence and terrorism) is that it finally takes the shape of terrorism. This issue is important that if these groups or individuals shun violence, what should they do? How should they defend themselves and achieve their objectives?
But before that we should come to the conclusion that terrorism is not permissible. As we have mentioned earlier, Islam regulates retaliatory violence under its lofty human and ethical objectives that are presented along with certified documentation as under:
“when Hazrat Abu Bakr dispatched army towards Syria, he said to the commander of the troops, Yazid Bin Abi Sufyan:
“I command you to follow ten instructions:
Do not kill any woman, child or old person;
do not cut any fruit giving tree;
do not ruin any populated land;
do not cut any goat or camel except for necessary consumption;
do not burn beehives or disturb them;
do not be dishonest with war booty
and do not show your back in the battlefield.”
---- (Mouta Imam Malik)
Destroying property, buildings and crops comes under the category of causing mischief on earth which has been strictly prohibited.
“And to [the people of] Madyan [We sent] their brother Shu'ayb. He said, "O my people, worship Allah ; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. So fulfil the measure and weight and do not deprive people of their due and cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. That is better for you, if you should be believers.”(Al Araf: 85)
“And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption. “(Al Baqarah: 2: 205)
During the last 20 years, the policy of aggression against the US, Russia, Britain, France or any foreign power in different regions of the world or the violence resorted to in retaliation to their policies against Islam or Muslims or the violence resorted to by them against their open violence has also passed through the same thorny ways from which Islam has prohibited Muslims to tread. Particularly, during the last few years, many innocent lives have been lost and urban installations have been destroyed due to the violence perpetrated against the US in Indonesia, Philippines, Yemen, Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia and in the US itself.
On a comparatively low scale and in a small number in our own country, this retaliatory violence has taken the form of terrorism. These actions were a transgression against the limits set by Islam about the use of violence. This violence that is perpetrated can neither be defined as defensive nor as a means to remove mischief. It can also not be claimed that this violence is done as a punishment that any authority gives to any criminal. Moreover, the retaliatory violence committed by the Muslims in present times has practically taken the shape that transgresses the Islamic limits of use of violence.
Attacks on embassies, kidnapping of airplanes, attacks on tourist buses were carried out and women, children and the old people were killed. A huge number of properties were destroyed. This in itself is sufficient reason for these activities to be called unacceptable. Whether these activities have produced any results will be discussed later but definitely the image of Islam in the eyes of the world has taken a beating. All kinds of acts based on transgressions of ethical limits, ruthlessness and cruelty are being carried out in the name of Islam that is a religion of reformation, compassion, kindness and fraternity. These acts are highlighted by the media creating hatred and fear of Muslims in the minds of people. For a community that asserts that its mission is to be the guide of the humanity, there cannot be a greater loss or setback.
Violence in the Present Situation
After stating the principled stance of Islam on violence and defensive or retaliatory violence, we would like to ascertain with reference to special situations if violence can be resorted to or not. There are four special situations before us. In Muslim majority countries, torture and persecution meted out to Islamic circles by the government; those independent Muslim areas that have been annexed by any non-Muslim country by use of force and is being controlled with the help of violence; Muslim minority in non-Muslim majority democratic countries where they are subjected to aggression; and the last, the latest violence by the US and its allies against Muslim countries, groups and individuals.
1- A prominent example of the first situation is Egypt. The persecution of Muslim Brotherhood that started in 1954 continued in one or the other form. Much has happened during this period, an analysis of which is not possible here. The history of Egypt was repeated in many Arab countries. The right opinion is that the state violence against Islamic groups should not be retaliated by the Islamic circles in Muslim countries, rather peaceful struggle should be made for the restoration of human rights and for the establishment of justice. Since arguments have been put forward in favour of this stance, we will avoid going into its details in this article which aims to focus on the fourth situation.
2- Second problem is with the independent Muslim countries which have annexed by some non-Muslim power forcefully in a one sided operation and does not withdraw its forces from there despite the pressure from the world public opinion and the UN. A prominent example of this situation is Palestine. The battle of the Palestinians against Israel comes under the category of defensive war which we have termed as the appropriate use of violence as is evident from the related verses of the Quran. In this situation, every method and strategy should be adopted that brings an end to this aggression and the Muslims get back their territory. Now this has to be decided by the people concerned as to when and to what extent armed jihad can be adopted and to what extent other possible methods can be depended on. This is not a disputed issue calling for a debate.
Dr Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui is a leading Indian Islamic scholar, whose specialisation is Islamic Economics. Recipient of the King Faisal Award for Islamic Studies, he has taught at the Aligarh Muslim University and the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)