One of the distinctive characteristics of the times we live
in is the overwhelming presence of violence in our societies.
Whether it is a bomb going off in a market place, or the
hijacking of an aircraft where innocent people are held at
ransom to achieve political ends, we live in an age, where
the manipulation and loss of innocent lives has become commonplace.
The word terrorism came into wide usage only a few decades
ago. One of the unfortunate results of this new terminology
is that it limits the definition of terrorism to that perpetrated
by small groups or individuals. Terrorism, in fact, spans
the entire world, and manifests itself in various forms.
Its perpetrators do not fit any stereo-type. Those who hold
human lives cheap, and have the power to expend human lives,
appear at different levels in our societies.
The frustrated employee who kills his colleagues in cold-blood
or the op-pressed citizen of an occupied land who vents his
anger by blowing up a school bus are terrorists who provoke
our anger and revulsion. Ironically however, the politician
who uses age-old ethnic animosities between peoples to consolidate
his position, the head of state who orders “carpet
bombing” of entire cities, the exalted councils that
choke millions of civilians to death by wielding the insidious
weapon of sanctions, are rarely punished for their crimes
It is this narrow definition of terrorism that implicates
only individuals and groups, that has caused Muslims to be
associated with acts of destruction and terror, and as a
result, to become victims of hate violence and terror themselves.
Sometimes the religion of Islam is held responsible for the
acts of a handful of Muslims, and even for the acts of non-Muslims!
Could it be possible that Islam, the light of whose influence
ended the Dark Ages in Europe, now pro-pound the advent of
an age of terror? Could a faith that has over 1.2 billion
adherents the world over, and over 7 million in America,
actually advocate the killing and maiming of innocent people?
Could Islam, whose name itself stands for “peace” and “submission
to God”, encourage its adherents to work for death
For too long, have we relied on popular images in the media
and in Hollywood films, for answers to these pertinent questions.
It is now time to look at the sources of Islam, and its history
to determine whether Islam does indeed advocate violence.
The sanctity of human life
The Glorious Qur’an says:
"… take not life, which God hath made sacred, except
by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that
ye may learn wisdom." [Al-Qur’an 6:151]
Islam considers all life forms as sacred. However, the sanctity
of human life is accorded a special place. The first and
the foremost basic right of a human being is the right to
live. The Glorious Qur’an says:
"… if any one 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 any one saved a life, it
would be as if he saved the life of the whole people." [Al-Qur’an
Such is the value of a single human life, that the Qur’an
equates the taking of even one human life unjustly, with
killing all of humanity. Thus, the Qur’an prohibits
homicide in clear terms. The taking of a criminal’s
life by the state in order to administer justice is required
to uphold the rule of law, and the peace and security of
the society. Only a proper and competent court can decide
whether an individual has forfeited his right to life by
disregarding the right to life and peace of other human beings.
The Ethics of War
Even in a state of war, Islam enjoins that one deals with
the enemy nobly on the battlefield. Islam has first drawn
a clear line of distinction between the combatants and the
non-combatants of the enemy country. As far as the non-combatant
population is concerned such as women, children, the old
and the infirm, etc., the instructions of the Prophet are
as follows: “Do not kill any old person, any child
or any woman”, “Do not kill the monks in monasteries” or “Do
not kill the people who are sit-ting in places of worship.” During
a war, the Prophet saw the corpse of a woman lying on the
ground and observed: “She was not fighting. How then
she came to be killed?” Thus non-combatants are guaranteed
security of life even if their state is at war with an Islamic
While Islam in general is misunderstood in the western world,
perhaps no other Islamic term evokes such strong reactions
as the word ‘jihad’. The term ‘jihad’ has
been much abused, to conjure up bizarre images of violent
Muslims, forcing people to submit at the point of the sword.
This myth was perpetuated during the centuries of mistrust
during and after the Crusades. Unfortunately, it survives
to this day.
The word Jihad comes from the root word jahada, which means
to struggle. So jihad is literally an act of struggling.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the greatest
jihad is to struggle with the insidious suggestions of one’s
own soul. Thus jihad primarily refers to the inner struggle
of being a person of virtue and submission to God in all
aspects of life.
Secondarily, jihad refers to struggle against injustice.
Islam, like many other religions, allows for armed self-defense,
or retribution against tyranny, exploitation, and oppression.
The Glorious Qur’an says:
"And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those
who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? - Men,
women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue
us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise
for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from
thee one who will help!" [Al-Qur’an 4: 75]
Thus Islam enjoins upon its believers to strive utmost, in
purifying themselves, as well as in establishing peace and
justice in the society. A Muslim can never be at rest when
she sees injustice and oppression around her.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We will have to repent
in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions
of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good
Islam enjoins upon all Muslims to work actively to maintain
the balance in which God created every-thing. However, regardless
of how legitimate the cause may be, the Glorious Qur’an
never condones the killing of innocent people. Terrorizing
the civilian population can never be termed as jihad and
can never be reconciled with the teachings of Islam.
History of Tolerance
Even Western scholars have repudiated the myth of Muslims
coercing others to convert. The great historian De Lacy O’Leary
wrote: “History makes it clear, however, that the
legend of fanatical Muslims, sweeping through the world and
forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races
is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians
have ever repeated.”
Muslims ruled Spain for roughly 800 years. During this time,
and up until they were finally forced out, the non-Muslims
there were alive and flourishing. Additionally, Christian
and Jewish minorities have survived in the Muslim lands of
the Middle East for centuries. Countries such as Egypt, Morocco,
Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all have significant
Christian and/or Jewish populations.
This is not surprising to a Muslim, for his faith prohibits
him from forcing others to see his point of view. The Glorious
"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out
clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God
hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks.
And God heareth and knoweth all things." [Al-Qur’an
Islam - The Great Unifier
Far from being a militant dogma, Islam is a way of life that
transcends race and ethnicity. The Glorious Qur’an
repeatedly reminds us of our common origin:
"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male
and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that
ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other).
Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he
who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge
and is well acquainted (with all things)." [Al-Qur’an
Thus, it is the universality of its teachings that makes
Islam the fastest growing religion in the world. In a world
full of conflicts and deep schisms between human beings,
a world that is threatened with terrorism, perpetrated by
individuals and states, Islam is a beacon of light that offers
hope for the future.