By Kabir Helminski
Certain historical and political factors have led to an increase in extremism and violence in the Muslim world and elsewhere, particularly in recent decades. Let us acknowledge that there are two sides to the coin of terror.
As Ambassador Charles Freeman has recently stated: “We need to face up to the fact that U.S. interventions and other coercive measures have killed as many as two million Muslims in recent decades, one does not need an elaborate review of the history of European Christian and Jewish colonialism in the Middle East or American collusion with both to understand the sources of Arab rage or the zeal of some Muslims for revenge. Reciprocating Islamist murderousness with our own is no way to end terrorist violence.”
The other side of the coin is undoubtedly the cancerous ideology of Islamic extremism that has grown from the soil of Arab Wahhabism, which has received direct and indirect support from the United States over many years. We’re the staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, which has bred a form of Islam that betrays 14 centuries of Islamic law and culture; and in the 1980s we supported with money and arms the administration of Zia ul Haqq in Pakistan which succeeded in making Salafism almost the norm in that once Sufi culture; and of course we funded Al Qaeda in Afghanistan against the Russian occupation of that country.
An intolerant ideology has been unleashed. We should not compound our ignorance by listening to the moronic Islamophobes who ignore history, context, and fundamental Islamic teachings, while promoting an unnecessary clash of civilizations. We should seek, instead, areas of common values, and insist on holding violent extremists accountable for their betrayal of the moral teachings of the Quran that condemn aggression and encourage reconciliation.
A small minority of the world’s one and a half billion Muslims has misconstrued the teachings of Islam to justify their misguided and immoral actions. It is most critical at this time for Muslims to condemn such extreme ideologies and their manifestations. It is equally important that non-Muslims understand that this ideology violates the fundamental moral principles of Islam and is repugnant to the vast majority of Muslims in the world.
Then why does Islam seem to be associated with terrorists and suicide bombers?
So-called “suicide-bombers” did not appear until the mid-1990s. Such strategies have no precedent in Islamic history. The Qur’an says quite explicitly: Do not kill yourselves. [Qur’an 4:29] Risking one’s life in the course of either legitimate violence or non-violence is permitted, even if the probability of death is very high, but deliberately ending one’s life is “suicide” and is never permitted under Islamic law in any circumstances.
Why have not more Muslims condemned those who supposedly “hijacked” Islam?
It is an all too prevalent myth that Muslims have not protested and condemned those who have violated Islam’s moral principles for the sake of their political goals. Not only have the statements and demonstrations against terrorism gone under-reported, in some cases misleading stories have been publicized. Ask any Muslim how he or she felt in the days following 9/11 and you will hear stories of grief, shame, and deep sorrow. Search online for “Fatwas against terrorism” and you will find thousands of pronouncements by Muslim organizations and scholars.
Does Islam justify violence in achieving its goals? When is the use of force justified?
In general, war is forbidden in Islam, except in cases of self-defence in response to explicit aggression. If there is a situation where injustice is being perpetrated or if the community is being invaded, then on a temporary basis permission is given to defend oneself. This principle is explained in the following verses:
Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged - and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them - those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying, “Our Sustainer is God!” For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques - in which God’s name is abundantly extolled - would surely have been destroyed before now. [Qur’an 22:39-40]
The highest justification for a defensive war is for the purpose of defending religious freedom and human rights. This verse also acknowledges Christian and Jewish places of worship as equally worthy of defence because these are places in which “God’s name is abundantly extolled.”
All relevant authorities show that this is the earliest Qur’anic reference to the problem of war as such. It was revealed immediately after the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) left Mecca for Medina. The principle of war in self-defence has been further elaborated in the following verses which were revealed about a year later:
And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression - for, verily, God does not love aggressors. And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away - for oppression (Fitnah) is even worse than killing. [Qur’an 2: 190-191]
The phrase “slay them where you find them” obviously refers to a situation in which a community has already been attacked and is responding defensively. Thus war is permitted when it is defensive in nature. War can only be continued to repel the enemy and must be stopped immediately after the enemy retreats.
Chapter Nine (Surah Tawbah) is the most authoritative chapter on the concept of war in the Qur’an and is one that is abused by both extremist Muslims and those who allege that Islam is a violent religion. However, in verses four and seven of this chapter it is clearly stated that Muslims can only declare war with people who have broken their treaty with them or who have resorted to enmity first. It is also emphasized in this chapter that Muslims must stay loyal to their commitments and never break them, and this applies to all commitments and treaties, not merely to those with other Muslims. It is further stated that if they incline to peace, incline to it as well, and place your trust in God: indeed, He alone is all hearing, all knowing! [Qur’an 8:61]
It has sometimes been asserted that the Quran forbids Muslims to enter into friendly relationships and alliances with non-Muslims. What is the truth of this?
This assertion is based on a misunderstanding of a verse that tells the Muslims of Muhammad’s time not to take as allies those who oppose their religion.
The general principle established throughout the Qur’an is that the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims should be based on peace and fairness. So that there is no ambiguity it clearly and unequivocally states: Allah does not forbid you from dealing kindly and justly with those who do not fight you for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes: for Allah loves those who are just. [60:8]
The Qur’an only restricts relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims as follows: Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support others in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong. [Qur’an 60:9]
To Summarize, In short, the Islamic principle of “jihad” is purely defensive in nature and is not a mechanism to settle a score or for revenge. While the principle of “eye for an eye” is allowed in Islam, it is always suggested that it should be tempered with fairness and compassion and, better yet, it is always recommended that one should forgive one’s enemies.
The Qur’an sets a very high standard for the just defense of human communities and religious freedom. If some Muslims or their governments have not lived up to these principles, it is not sufficient reason to condemn the religion itself. But it is the responsibility of Muslims to oppose those governments or ideologies that violate these principles.
The use of physical force in Islam is permitted only to defend human rights against aggressors or armed occupiers. The requirements for the legitimate use of force in either internal revolution or external war are strict and are clearly spelled out in the Qur’an, the sayings of the Prophet (hadith), and legal texts.
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. [Qur’an 2:190; 4:175, 5:9; 6:151, 22:39-40; 42:41-43]
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. [Qur’an 5:35]
Do not kill women or children or non-combatants. Hadith
The use of non-violence as a strategy to combat evil has been employed in the appropriate circumstances by some of Islam’s greatest leaders. The following verse can certainly justify the strategy of non-violence: Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel evil with what is better. ... And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but persons of the greatest spiritual blessing. [Qur’an 41:34-35]
22% of the world population is Muslim. Whatever the reason, the United States has invaded or attacked at least 12 majority Muslim countries in the last 15 years. The drone warfare and bombing campaigns that define our relationship with much of the Muslim world can only produce an inevitable blowback. Ignoring or worse yet distorting Islamic teachings on a “just war”, and demonizing 1.3 billion people are manifestations of immoral intellectual aggression. There is no inevitable conflict between the so-called “West” and the so-called “Islamic world,” but if we refer to the Quran, there is a significant basis for peace reconciliation.