Why Islam Forbids Terrorism
Weekly Pulse
June 28-July 3, 2008
Even though we have not yet been able to evolve a common definition of terrorism. However, when terrorists strike, we know exactly what terrorism is. Even in the absence of definition, therefore, there is general consensus about at least the target of terrorism: unarmed civilians, who are randomly killed, to strike terror in a general target population. Since terrorists aim to kill and terrorize people, no religion, revealed or otherwise, can condone terrorism, whatever political justifications behind an act of terrorism there may be.

Islam being the last of the three revealed religions, therefore, not only condemns terrorism in all of its forms and manifestations in a highest possible manner, but also awards the severest of all punishments for the perpetrators of terrorism. In Sharia, which is based on Quran and Sunnah, terrorism has no place. The message of Islam is the same as its literal meaning: Peace.

Distorted Reality

Even a cursory reading of the holy Quran manifests clearly as to what the true message of Islam is. Those in the West or elsewhere who try to link Islam with terrorism and portray Muslims as terrorists, in fact, distort the Islamic scripture. Especially they quote the “sword verses” of the holy Quran out of context, by citing only that part which suits their thesis and excluding the words that come before and after such verses.

The good news is that an increasing number of scholars, including those not necessarily hailing from the Muslim world, have started to understand Islam’s real message of peace, tolerance and humanity. They have started to clarify what jihad actually means. Karen Armstrong and John Esposito are two leading Western scholars consistently engaged in this noble effort.

I have had the privilege of listening to both and reading their works. In particular, I find Anthony Sullivan’s argument that terrorism is not only un-Islamic but also anti-Islamic quite impressive. For Islam believes in diversity of religions. It actually took birth in the context of Judaism and Christianity being the prevailing religions of the time. Islam shows a special respect towards Judaism and Christianity because of the common faith heritage. Islam expects the followers of these religions to live an upright life as the wish of the Creator.

The Tradition

The practical manifestation of Islam's conduct vis-à-vis the Jews and Christians, the other two people of the Holy Book and adherents of Abrahamnic religions, is clear from the way the Muslim rulers and people dealt with them throughout the Golden Age of Muslims, which started in the eighth century and continued for several centuries.

In Baghdad under the Abbasids and Andalusia under successive Muslim rules, Christians and Jews not only shared unprecedented levels of prosperity with fellow Muslims, but they also equally contributed to the growth of Islamic scientific and artistic revolution characterizing the Golden Age of Islam. This happened because the holy Quran commanded Muslims to be extremely tolerant of their Jewish and Christian counterparts in religion.

Many of the Quranic injunctions that I cite in this article have also been used by a number of scholars to justify their argument in favour of Islam’s pacifist and tolerant tradition in relations among Muslims and vis-à-vis Muslims’ conduct with non-Muslims. It was, indeed, a spiritually rejuvenating experience for me to consult the holy book and find some additional references on how Islam proscribes the use of violence against innocent, unarmed people, and the sort of strict restriction it imposes with the regard to the Muslim conduct of warfare.

Eternal Call

O, Mankind, we have created you from a male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you before God is the one who is most pious. (Surah 49, Verse 1)

This eternal call from Almighty Allah represents the true spirit of Islam. Islam forbids the killing of innocent people irrespective of their religions or beliefs. The holy Quran clearly commands: There shall be no compulsion in religion (Surah 2, Verse 256), instructing the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) not to force people to convert to Islam, unless they wish to do so by their own conviction.

Islam clearly calls upon all Muslims to defend themselves, but it simultaneously obliges them not be aggressors. Islam is also very clear about the conduct of Muslims in war and in peace. Kindness and tolerance are the main teachings of Muslims in both situations. Muslim fighters are not allowed to harm a child, a woman or the elderly during a military campaign. They are not even permitted to cut down a tree in an enemy’s land.

Sharia’s Verdict

Islam has recommended severe punishment for those who kill or commit mischief throughout the land; terrorists are in this category. This indicates clearly the lawful punishment of those who wage war, and strive to spread mischief in the land. It is a violation of Sharia to kill innocent civilians; to join jihad without the permission of parents; to disobey and fight rulers. Takfeer is subject to a set of conditions and, in absence of these conditions, a Muslim cannot be considered apostate.

It is also a violation of Sharia to kill or bring harm to foreigners who have been legally admitted into Muslim countries (that includes tourists and foreign workers). It is a violation of Sharia to kill “People of the Book” who live in Muslim countries. “Jihad for the sake of God” contained legal religious violations; chief among them is killing based on nationality, skin, colour and sect.

Nothing brings about more of Almighty Allah’s wrath and His retribution than the spilling of blood and destruction of property without right. Jihad in Islam is a compulsory command that is ongoing and eternal, but the “jihadists” have perpetrated numerous errors, ultimately reaching the level of detestable actions. A man was promised paradise for providing a thirsty dog with water; a woman was promised hell for denying her cat any food (Hadieth). How could anyone then assume that Islam is capable of terrorism?

Unfortunately, misinterpretation of the Islamic teachings and the adoption of extremist positions of intolerance have been and continue to be used as the ideological foundation for various terrorist groups which are misusing the name of Islam to commit acts of terrorism, and al-Qaeda is no doubt a leading name among such groups. Its use of children, women and handicapped in Iraq especially to conduct suicide bombings is un-Islamic. Al-Qaeda/Taliban actions such as burning victims and using poppies/drug trade in Afghanistan to fund their terrorist activities are equally un-Islamic.

Limitations of Jihad

Islam does permit, and at times requires, Muslims to defend themselves, their families, their religion and their community from aggression. The earliest Quranic verses dealing with the right to engage in a defensive jihad, or struggle, were revealed shortly after the emigration of holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers to Medina in flight from their persecution in Mecca.

At a time when they were forced to fight for their lives, holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is told: Leave is given to those who fight because they were wronged—surely God is able to help them—who were expelled from their homes wrongfully for saying, ‘Our Lord is God’. (Surah 22, Verse 39) The defensive nature of jihad is clearly emphasized in the holy Quran: And fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.” (Surah 2, Verse 190)

The holy Quran also provided detailed guidelines and regulations regarding the conduct of wars: who is to fight and who is exempted, when hostilities must cease and how prisoners should be treated. Most importantly, the holy Quran emphasized that the response to violence and aggression must be proportionate. However, Quranic verses also underscore that peace, not violence and warfare, is the norm.

Permission to fight the enemy is balanced by a strong mandate for making peace: If your enemy inclines toward peace, then you too should seek peace and put your trust in God (Surah 8, Verse 6), and Had God wished, He would have made them dominate you, and so, if they leave you alone and do not fight you and offer you peace, then God allows you no way against them. (Surah 4, Verse 90)

Sword Verses

As I have stated above, some scholars try to misinterpret the word of the holy Quran by citing its “Sword Verses” out of context. These versus call for killing unbelievers, such as When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush? The fact, however, is that the above passage is followed and qualified by, But if they repent and fulfill their devotional obligations and pay the Zakat , then let them go their way, for God is forgiving and kind. (Surah 9, Verse 5)

The same is true of another frequently cited such verse: Fight those who believe not in God nor in the Last Day, Nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, Nor hold the religion of truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book… However, what is not cited is the following line: until they pay the tax with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Surah 9, Verse 29)

Punishing Terrorists

In the perspective of Sharia, therefore, terrorism is a crime against humanity and warrants capital punishment. Spreading terror by way of random killing, injuring people, sabotaging public and private property and doing mischief in the land is a crime.

The holy Quran says: The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified, or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or they be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter. (Surah 5, Verse 33)

The holy Quran continues: The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter. (Surah 5, Verse 32)

And when he turns away (from you O’ Mohammad, pbuh), his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle, and Allah likes not mischief. (Surah 2, Verse 205)

But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of lawful enjoyment in this world; and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corruptors). (Surah 28, Verse 77) And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein; and the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him. (Surah 4, Verse 93)

People of the Book

The holy Quran commands Muslims to be extremely tolerant of their Jewish and Christian counterparts in religion. The holy Quran says: And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians—and who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord.” (Surah 2, Verse 148; Surah 22, Verse 67)

The holy Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) gave priority to seeking reconciliation and peace with Christians and Jews as well as with other opponents and enemies. The holy Quran strictly forbids the commission of any terrorist activity including bombings, hijackings, and endangering peoples' lives, be they Muslims or non-Muslims. These crimes are described in the holy Quran as Gunah-e-Kabira.

As stated before, just as religious extremists in other faiths, including Judaism and Christianity, have misused their religions and misinterpreted their religious scriptures to justify acts of terrorism, some extremist organizations in the world of Islam, including al-Qaeda, have also misused the name of Islam and misinterpreted the word of the holy Quran to justify their acts of terrorism.

It should be sufficiently clear from the preceding discussion that Islam forbids terrorism in the strongest terms and there are severe punishments prescribed for those who indulge in bringing harm to other innocent human beings which is the primary motive of all acts of terrorism. Making any religion, least of all Islam, the basis for perpetrating crimes against fellow human beings is an abhorrent and heinous act that should be condemned by all people belonging to all religions and faiths.

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