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Islam and Terrorism


It is unfortunate that Islam, the religion of peace, hope, harmony, goodwill and Brotherhood had been badly tarnished by the perpetrators of various terrorists acts and barbarism as seen in recent years.

The purpose of this presentation is to set forth the teachings of Islam so that manifestations of various terrorist acts are fully exposed in the light of Islamic teachings under whose shelter these activities are being committed.

  1. Diplomatic immunity and ethics of war in Islam
  2. Islamic Jihad
  3. Peace and international relations in Islam

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY AND ETHICS OF WAR

According to the Islamic Holy Book - the Quran, God has bestowed honour on every individual irrespective of skin colour, race, nationality, etc. Freedom is one of the great favours of God and its deprivation is a great misery. Under the Islamic dispensation, no one can be made a captive without a just cause. Prisoners can only be taken in the event of a regular declared war or battle and not for any other reason or under any other pretext. The Holy Quran specifically states:

It does not behove a Prophet that he should have captives until he engages in regular fighting in the land. If you take captives, except in regular fighting, you will be regarded as desiring the goods of this world, while ALLAH desires for you the Hereafter. And ALLAH is Mighty, Wise (8:68)
This verse cuts at the root of not only slavery practice in years gone by but also demolishes any supposed justification of modern day hostage-taking and hijacking of innocent people not involved in actual combat.

In his farewell address the Holy Prophet of Islam gave special instructions regarding good treatment which should be meted out to prisoners. The Holy Prophet said:

O men, you still have in your possession some prisoners of war. I advise you, therefore, to feed them and to clothe them in the same way and style as you feed and clothe yourselves ..... To give them pain or trouble can never be tolerated.
More specific commandments on the ethics of war and treatment of prisoners are contained in the fifth verse of the forty-seventh chapter of the Quran. This comprehensive verse can be paraphrased as follows:

"When engaged in a regular battle, it should be fought bravely and relentlessly. War can be continued till peace and freedom of conscience are established. Prisoners are to be taken judiciously. Free men cannot be deprived of their liberty without a just and reasonable cause. When war is over, prisoners should be released as an act of favour or on taking ransom or by negotiating a mutual exchange."

In the history of Islam all these methods have been used for releasing prisoners. A novel method to get release was that the educated prisoners could teach reading and writing to those who were illiterate, in lieu of ransom.

This verse further strikes at the roots of those who would justify modern day terrorism in the name and under the banner of Islam.

Envoys are privileged people in the Islamic system. They enjoy full personal immunity. They are not subject to political ransom, no matter how worthy the cause may be, and to kidnap them is a heinous crime. They must not be killed, molested or maltreated. There are numerous instances from the Holy Prophet's life which illustrate the application of these principles.

Thus Islamic scriptural commandments and the precepts of the Holy Prophet of Islam concerning diplomatic immunity are free from ambiguities. In a nutshell, taking hostages and maltreating envoys and private citizens in any shape and form is totally foreign to the teachings and doctrines of Islam. In other words, the philosophy of Islam totally rejects terrorism.

CONCEPT OF JIHAD IN ISLAM

Through the actions of some elements, the western world visualizes a wrong concept of Jihad (Holy War). The word Jihad conjures up the vision of a marching band of religious fanatics with savage beards and fiery eyes, brandishing swords and attacking the infidels.

Jihad in Islamic terminology means to make an effort, to endeavour and to strive in a noble way. Over the centuries this meaning of Jihad has been obliterated or at least diluted. The critical juncture in the Islamic world requires reviving and recapturing the true and pristine meaning of Jihad.

Jihad can be divided into two broad categories. First is Jihad-e-akbar. This is Jihad against one's own person to curb sinful inclinations, i.e., purification of self. This is the most difficult Jihad and hence in terms of rewards and blessings is the highest category of Jihad.

The second is Jihad-e-asghar. This is Jihad of the sword. This is communal Jihad and presupposes certain specific conditions. The Quran speaks of fighting only against those who first attack Muslims and this is the very condition laid down in other verses of the Holy Quran as well. The so-called verse of the sword in the Islamic scripture is often taken out of context as if it inculcates an indiscriminate massacre of all unbelievers. The Quranic words such as kill whatever you find them apply only in cases where the enemy has first attacked Muslims and apply to those unbelievers and enemies who break their oaths and firm agreements. They do not apply to unprovoked wars and battles. To interpret these verses in any other manner would be a travesty of the lofty ideals of Islam. There is not a single instance in the life of the Holy Prophet where he offered the alternative of the sword or Islam to anyone.

The Western media and even some scholars sometimes ignore the distinction between these two aspects of Jihad. It must be remembered that the Holy Quran does not make Jihad, the holy war, in context of an article of faith. The sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet render it into a formula for active struggle that invariably and incorrectly tended towards a militant expression. Modern day terrorism is contrary to the purview of the real spirit of the Islamic Jihad.

The presentation of Islam as a crude and barbaric religion which gives itself the right to cause unwarranted human and material suffering and destruction under the guise of Divine authority, is not the kind of Islam we find in the Holy Quran and in the precepts of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him!)

PEACE AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS IN ISLAM

Among the attributes of God, the Holy Quran mentions that He is the Source of peace and the Bestower of security (59:23). The establishment of peace and maintenance of security must, therefore, be the constant objective of all Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Every pursuit and activity which disturbs peace is severely condemned in Islam. We find specific injunctions in the Holy Quran:

And create not disorder in the earth after it has been set in order.... (7:57; 11:86; 29:37)
Mischief and wickedness are condemned in several other verses and Muslims are commanded to work wholly for peace.

Islam draws attention to factors which tend to disturb or destroy peace and order, and deprecates them. Domination of one group by another in the domestic sphere, or of one people by another in the international sphere is a potent cause of disturbance of peace and is therefore strongly condemned. Economic exploitation of one people or country by another inevitably leads to domination by the exploiters, and develops into a potential threat to peace. The Holy Quran prohibits such exploitation and an economy based on exploitation cannot be beneficial in its consequences, nor can it endure.

Islam visualizes an association of strong and stable states allied together in the pursuance of peace, freedom of conscience and the promotion of human welfare. Treaties or covenants between nations may have to be drawn up which should be done in a straightforward language and should not be evaded or repudiated under the temptation of securing some advantage. In case of difficulties and disputes, it is the duty of Muslims to bring about a peaceful settlement and adjustment.

The Holy Quran teaches that God has sent His revelation to all people from time to time. Many of prophets of the Old Testament are mentioned by name and so is Jesus who with other prophets is honoured and revered by all Muslims. Indeed, the Quran requires belief in the truth of all these prophets. Islam is thus unique and distinct in requiring an affirmation in all prophets wherever they appeared and therefore it seeks to bring about reconciliation between the followers of different faiths and to establish a basis of respect and honour among them. The Quran says:

Surely, those who believe and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians - whichever party from among these truly believes in ALLAH and the Last Day and does good deeds, shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon then nor shall they grieve (2:63)
The same message is repeated in 5:70. The basic unity of the followers of all faiths is emphatically stressed in the Holy Quran and the creation of discord and disunity by terrorism or otherwise has no place in Islam.

In the domain of international relations, religion and inter-religious relations occupy an important position. Unfortunately, comparatively little attention is paid to this aspect of human relations. It is assumed that religion is a private matter for each individual and should, therefore, have no direct connection with the political, social aspects of life. This assumption is not justified. Islam being an egalitarian religion, is not just a personal faith, but an all-encompassing codes of values and conduct. Islam is and will be a vital factor in human relations and there is a good ground of hope that it might progressively become more effective in promoting unity and accord rather than continue to be required on the part of religious and political leaders to achieve that goal.

I must conclude by saying that whether peace or war, acts of terrorism are not only condemned in Islam but are also pointedly declared alien to the teachings of Islam which in fact means peace through the submission to the Will of God, the Lord of all human beings. Only through conformity to Divine laws can we hope to achieve the ideal of a secure world free of terrorism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abbot, Freeland. (1968) Islam and Pakistan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Ahmad, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud. (1980). Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Khan, Sir Muhammad Zafrullah (1989). Islam: Its Meaning for Modern Man. New York & Evanston: Harper & Row.
The Holy Quran (Arabic Text with the English Translation by the late Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan: President of the 17th Session of U.N. General Assembly and later Judge and President of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, London; Curzon Press