Jihad

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What does jihad mean, and what is Islam's attitude toward war?

God chose Islam for humanity’s individual and collective welfare in both worlds. It is based on belief in and worship of God only, alone and without partners. Such belief and worship requires all believers to be concerned deeply with all of creation, whether animate or inanimate. The deeper their belief in and submission to God, the deeper their concern for all creatures. Belief in His Unity means that no one has absolute freedom when dealing with creatures.

Islam means salvation, peace, and submission

Islam is derived from the root s-l-m (salvation, peace, submission) and thus is the expression of God’s Grace flowing in the arteries of the universe. It is the Divine system to which all creatures, except humanity, have submitted willingly. Thus the universe shows no disorder, for Islam is its religion. Everything is Muslim, for it obeys God by submission to His laws. This applies even to atheists or polytheists, for even if people do not believe in God, every part of their bodies follow to course for it prescribed by God’s law.

The principle of Tawhid (Divine Unity) implies the necessity of humanity being in harmony with the surrounding world. The vast universe, including our own world, obeys God and so displays a coherence and harmony. Earth is subject to its own particular set of laws and the general laws of nature, as well as in harmony with other laws governing all phenomena beyond it. Unlike the rest of creation that treads “the path of nature,” we have free will. We have this gift of freedom and its accompanying obligation: to harmonize our life with the rest of nature in the realization that such harmony is the path of our exaltation and progress. This is the path upon which God created human nature:

Set your face to the religion, a man of pure faith—God’s original nature in which He originated mankind. There is no changing God’s creation. That is the right religion, but most people know it not. (30:30)

Islam is the universal order, the integral religion of harmony, and the unique system that harmonizes the physical with the metaphysical, the rational with the ideal, and the corporeal with the spiritual. All dimensions of our earthly life have specific places within Islam’s matrix so that they can perform their own functions and enable us to be at peace with ourselves, our community and nature, and to gain happiness in both worlds.

To harmonize our life with the rest of nature, we first have to realize our own personal integrity by using our free will to keep within the limits established by God. For example, we must restrain our desire so that we do not steal from others, engage in extramarital sex, or use our intellect to exploit others. Rather, we must restrain our intellect with wisdom, and our desire and anger with lawfulness and moderation. Also, since we are social beings, ignoring the limits that God has established can result in wrongdoing, injustice, exploitation, disorder, and revolution.

God does not approve of wrongdoing and disorder, for He wills that we live in peace and according to justice. Thus all believers in and worshippers of the One God are expected to work to secure justice in this world. This task is known as jihad. In English, the most suitable words are struggling or striving.

Jihad: Striving in God’s way

Literally, jihad means doing one’s utmost to realize a goal. It is not the equivalent of war, for which Arabic and the Qur’an use qital. Jihad has a wider connotation and embraces every kind of striving in God’s cause. A mujahid is devoted to his or her cause; uses all physical, intellectual, and spiritual capacities to serve it; employs whatever force he or she can when confronting that which blocks his or her way; and, when necessary, dies for it. All of this is jihad, for it involves striving with the goals of obtaining God’s good pleasure and making His Word supreme.

Jihad’s related principle, that of amr bi al-ma‘ruf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil), seeks to convey the benefits of Islam to everyone and to convince them to abandon all of their evil practices. The Qur’an calls Muslims the model community, one required to communicate the Prophet’s message to humanity and to live Islam, just as the Prophet did: Thus, We have made you a community justly balanced, that you might be witnesses for all humanity, and the Messenger may be a witness for you (2:143).

Aspects of jihad

The first Revelation to God’s Messenger was the command Read! (96:1). As there was hardly anything to read at that time, the intended meaning was that believers should use their intellectual and spiritual faculties to discern God’s acts, as well as His laws related to creating and operating the universe. Doing so will allow believers to purify themselves and their minds of all superstitions and, through observation and contemplation, acquire true knowledge.

We are more than our minds, and thus have many faculties that must be satisfied. While feeding our minds with the Divine signs seen in the universe, we can cleanse our hearts of our sins. Such a balanced life leads to a greater awareness of being seen by God and seeking His forgiveness. This seeking, if sincere and continuous, enables us to break our carnal self’s desire for what is forbidden and to turn it, through prayer, to good deeds.

The command Read! thus signifies an action. Being absolutely pure in spirit and without superstition, God’s Messenger understood that he would have to start his mission by reciting the Revelation and explaining God’s signs to his people. Through this process, he would purify their minds of superstition and their hearts of sin. He would enlighten them, intellectually and spiritually, by explaining the Revealed Book of God (the Qur’an) and the Created Book (the universe) to them:

We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger who recites to you Our signs, purifies you, and instructs you in the Book and in the Wisdom, and also instructs you in what you know not. (2:151)

All people are like raw minerals to be worked upon by the Prophets, who purify and refine them by opening their hearts, ears, and eyes to the truth. Once enlightened, people can understand the meaning of the Divine laws of nature (signs of God’s Existence and Unity) and penetrate the subtle reality of things and events. Only through such guidance can we attain the high status that God expects us to reach.

In addition to teaching the signs, the Prophets also instructed their followers in the Book and in Wisdom. As the Qur’an was the last Revelation to the Last Prophet, God means the Qur’an when He speaks of the Scripture, and the Sunna (the Prophet’s example) when He speaks of Wisdom. Therefore we have to follow these two sources if we want to be rightly guided.

The Prophet teaches us how to purify ourselves from sin, and humanity will continue to learn from him until the Day of Judgment. Many great believers became saints in this way, among them ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, who said that his belief in the Unseen and the essentials of Islam was so firm that his certainty would not increase even if the veil of the Unseen were lifted. If God had not ended the line of Prophethood, such great believers as ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Imam Ghazali, Imam Rabbani, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, Ibrahim ibn Adham and Bishr al-Khafi might have been endowed with Prophethood.

The Prophet’s guidance removed the dark clouds of ignorance from humanity’s intellectual horizon, and the light that he brought from God will cause many more scientific and technological advances to be made.

Believers keep their belief vigorous and active by striving in God’s way. Just as a tree keeps its leaves as long as it yields fruit and is fed by the soil, believers can preserve their vigor as long as they struggle. Those who abandon it become hopeless pessimists, while those who pursue it are always enthusiastic and trying to increase the scope of their activities.

Two aspects of jihad

Jihad has two aspects: fighting against superstition, wrong belief, carnal desire, and evil inclinations in the quest of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment (the greater jihad); and encouraging others to strive for the same goal (the lesser jihad).

The lesser jihad does not refer only to striving on battlefields. Being comprehensive in nature, it includes every action from speaking out to presenting oneself on the battlefield when necessary—but only if it is done for His sake. Speaking or keeping silent, smiling or frowning, joining or leaving a meeting, and all other actions taken to help individuals or communities can be considered part of this type of jihad.

The lesser jihad seeks to mobilize all material facilities and is performed in the outer world, whereas the greater jihad is a personal struggle against one’s carnal self. These two forms of jihad cannot be separated. Only those who defeat their carnal selves can perform the lesser jihad, which, in turn, helps those engaged in the greater jihad.

Those who abandon the lesser jihad are liable to spiritual deterioration and subsequent recovery. Everything praises and glorifies God with each breath and thus is a sign of God’s Existence and Unity, a sign that may guide them to the Straight Path. For this reason, there are as many paths leading to the Straight Path of God as the breaths of all His creatures. Those who return from the lesser jihad can be captivated by such worldly weaknesses as pride, love of comfort and ease, and may think it is time to relax and indulge in such things. This is why the Prophet warned his Companions once when they were returning to Madina after a victory:

We are returning from the lesser jihad to the greater. How-ever, to secure God’s help and protection and to be successful in the greater jihad, in fighting against animal desires and impulses, depend upon supporting His religion. If people want to be safe from going astray, their aim in life must be to strive for God’s sake, and all of their actions, even the simplest (i.e., eating, sleeping, choosing, and training for a job, etc.) must be directed toward this objective. God declares in the Qur’an: O believers! If you help [the religion of] God, God will help you and make your feet firm [in practicing your religion and against Satan, your carnal selves, and enemies]. (47:7)

The Prophet combined perfectly these two aspects of jihad. He displayed monumental courage on battlefields. ‘Ali, one of the most courageous Muslims, stated that the Companions took shelter behind the Prophet at a battle’s most critical moments. For example, when the Muslims experienced a reverse and began to scatter during the first phase of the Battle of Hunayn, the Prophet urged his horse toward the enemy lines and shouted to the retreating Muslims: “I am a Prophet, this is no lie! I am the grandson of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, this is no lie!”

This bravest of all people was also the most devout worshipper of God. He was consumed with love and awe while praying, and all who saw him felt great tenderness for him. He frequently fasted every other day or even several days in a row. Sometimes he would stand almost the whole night in prayer, which would cause his feet would to swell. Sahih al-Bukhari records that once ‘A’isha thought such prayer excessive and asked him why he prayed so much, seeing that God had forgiven all of his sins.  His reply: “Shall I not be a grateful servant to God?”

The Messenger of God sometimes prayed without waking his wife. Such Traditionists as Muslim, Tirmidhi, and Haythami relate from ‘A’isha that once she woke up and saw that the Messenger was not beside her. Thinking he might be with another wife, she became jealous and started to get up. But then her hand touched the Prophet’s feet, and she realized that he was prostrating in prayer, saying: “O God, I seek refuge in Your pleasure from Your wrath, in Your forgiveness from Your punishment, and with You from You. I am not able to praise You as You praise Yourself.”

The Companions also combined jihad’s two aspects in their lives. They used to spend their nights praying. Ibn Hanbal relates that once two soldiers had to take turns praying while standing guard. An enemy soldier, understanding this situation, shot a shower of arrows at the praying soldier, who continued to pray even though he had been hit. After he finished his prayer, he woke his fellow soldier. Seeing his friend bleeding profusely, this man asked why he had not woken him up sooner. The Companion replied: “I was reciting Surat al-Kahf, and did not wish the deep pleasure I found therein to be interrupted.”

They were very sincere in their deeds, for they constantly disciplined themselves in order to attain God’s good pleasure.  During his caliphate, ‘Umar once interrupted his own sermon with: “O ‘Umar, you were a shepherd taking care of your father’s sheep!” When asked why he had said that, he answered: “I remembered that I was the caliph, and became afraid of feeling proud.” One time, when asked why he was carrying a sack on his back, he replied: “I felt some pride, and wanted to get rid of it.”

Only such people can obtain the desired results from their jihad. Those who retain their pride, self-regard, and insincerity most likely will cause great harm to the cause of Islam and never obtain the hoped-for result. Jihad requires both self-control and preaching the truth, as well as overcoming our carnal desires and animal impulses and encouraging others to do so to obtain God’s good pleasure. Neglecting the former produces social anarchy; neglecting the latter engenders laziness. The Prophet expresses jihad’s two aspects as: “The eyes of the two people will never witness the fire of Hell: the eyes of soldiers who keep guard at frontiers and on battlefields, and of those whose awe of God causes them to cry.”

In Surat al-Nasr, the Qur’an describes both types of jihad: When the help of God comes, and victory, and you see people entering God’s religion in throngs, then glorify the praise of your Lord, and seek His forgiveness; for He is Relenting, Merciful (110:1-3).

When the believers sincerely pursued the lesser jihad on the battlefield, against those who sought to prevent their worship of the One God, or their enjoining good and forbidding evil, God’s help and victory came and people started embracing Islam in throngs. At that moment, the Almighty decreed that His praises should be glorified and His forgiveness sought. As all success and victory are from God, only He deserves our praise and worship.

Stages of jihad

After he received the first Revelation, the command Read!, God’s Messenger returned home in great excitement. His wife Khadija wrapped him in a cloak, and he slept enwrapped by people’s suffering and his heavy responsibility. Then God told him:

O enwrapped one! Keep vigil the night long, save a little (a half of it, or diminish a little, or add a little), and chant the Qur’an in measure. For We shall charge you with a weighty word. (73:1-5)

The short period between the first Revelation and the beginning of his public preaching of Islam, marked by such verses as these, was a time when God’s Messenger began to prepare himself to deliver the Qur’an to humanity. He was to keep night vigils and recite the Qur’an in measure, for impressions are keener and recitation more penetrating during the night.

Striving in God’s way means, in addition to conveying the Message to others, struggling with the carnal self in order to build our genuine spiritual character, one overflowing with belief and inflamed with love. Our individual struggle continues until we die, and the collective struggle continues until the Last Day.  So, soon after God’s Messenger received this order, the following verses were revealed:

O enshrouded one, arise and warn! Your Lord magnify; Your robes purify and defilement flee! Show not favor, seeking worldly gain! For the sake of your Lord, be patient! (74:1-7)

This is how God told the Prophet that it was time to preach Islam. He began with his nearest relatives and, after receiving the verse: Warn your tribe of nearest kindred (26:214), he preached to his tribe. This was followed by public preaching and the predicted reactions: derision, threats, torture, very tempting bribes to stop, and boycott.

In Makka, God’s Messenger never resorted to or allowed retaliation, saying that Islam was meant to unite—not to divide—people. Amir ibn Rabi‘, the Muslim envoy to the defeated Persian commander at Qadisiya (636), said Islam came to bring people out of the darkness of unbelief into the light of belief, to free them from servanthood to servants in order to make them servants of the One God, and to elevate them from the pit of Earth to the height of heaven.

Islam, which literally means peace, salvation, and submission, came to establish peace in our inner world by causing us to be at peace with God and nature, the world and the universe. Thus peace and order are fundamental in Islam, which always seeks to spread in a peaceful atmosphere and rejects force as much as possible. Islam never approves of injustice and condemns bloodshed:

Whoever slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain or corruption on the Earth, it shall be as if he or she had slain all of humanity; and whoever saves a person’s life, it shall be as if he  or she had saved all of humanity. (5:32)

Coming to eradicate injustice and corruption, and to unite heaven and Earth in peace and harmony, Islam seeks to call people with wisdom and fair exhortation. Force is resorted to only when those who desire to maintain the corrupt order they built on injustice, oppression, self-interest, exploitation, and usurpation of others’ rights begin to resist it. Thus, Islam allows force if unbelievers, polytheists, or those who make mischief and corruption on the Earth try to defeat Islam and block its spread. Being a God-revealed religion of truth, Islam aims to secure human well-being and happiness in both worlds and therefore has the right to present itself to the people.

God permitted His Messenger to resort to fighting only after he emigrated to Madina and established an independent state, because the Muslims had been wronged. These verses are worth mentioning so that the true nature of war in Islam and the reason why it was made lawful will be understood correctly:

(Fighting is) permitted to those who are fought against, because they have been wronged. Surely God is able to give them victory. Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: “Our Lord is God.” If God had not repelled some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the Name of God is much mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. God helps one who helps Him [His religion]. Surely God is All-Strong, All-Mighty. Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay the poor-due and enjoin the good and forbid the evil. And God’s is the sequel of events. (22:39-41)

Given this context, Islam clearly resorts to force only to defend itself and establish freedom of belief. Thus followers of other religions are free to practice their religion. Even many Western writers have acknowledged that Christians and Jews were the most prosperous and happiest when ruled by Muslims.

Islam, revealed by the Lord of the Worlds, the All-Just and All-Compassionate, opposes injustice. The righteous servants of God are obliged to strive for the establishment of justice in life.

Some struggle-related rules

As believers cannot transgress the limits established by God, they must observe the Divine rules prescribed fighting. Among those deduced from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s practice are as follows:

Believers are those from whom God has bought their life and wealth in exchange for Paradise (9:111). They are dedicated to His cause and have the sole aim of gaining His good pleasure. So, those who fight for fame or material gain, racial or similar ideologies, or anything else are not considered as fighters with whom God is pleased.

God decrees: Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. God does not love transgressors (2:190). Believers are to fight only those who do not block the way to the true faith, and are forbidden to resort to unscrupulous methods or the indiscriminate killing and pillage that characterizes all wars waged by non-Muslims regardless of time or place. The excesses alluded to in the verse above are such things as taking up arms against women and children, the old and the injured, mutilating enemy corpses, and destroying fields and livestock.

Force can be used only when it is unavoidable, and only to the extent necessary. When this point is reached, the Qur’an orders believers not to shirk their duty. They must make all necessary preparations, take the required precautions, prepare themselves morally, and attain the spiritual state in which 20 of them can defeat 200 of the enemy:

O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you 20 steadfast men they shall overcome 200, and if there be of you 100 steadfast they shall overcome 1,000 of those who do not believe, because they [the unbelievers] are a folk without understanding and sound judgment. (8:65)

Those who knew that they would meet their Lord exclaimed: “How many a little company has overcome a mighty host by God’s leave! God is with the steadfast.” (2:249)

To attain such a rank, believers should have the strongest possible belief and trust in God and avoid all sins. Belief and God-consciousness are two unbreakable “weapons” and sources of inexhaustible power: Do not faint or grieve, for you shall gain the upper hand if you are true people of faith (3:139) and The end is (best) for the righteous (7:128).

In addition, believers should be powerful against the forces of oppression, for force cannot be ruled out if it is necessary to obtain the desired result. Believers must have scientific and technological superiority to unbelievers so that the latter cannot exploit what force they have for their own selfish benefit.  Islam believes that “right is might,” and must ensure that “might is right” does not become the prevalent attitude:

Muslims must equip themselves with strong belief and righteousness, and with scientific knowledge and the most sophisticated technology. Combining all of these, they then must use them to serve humanity, for belief in God calls for serving people. The deeper one’s belief in God, the deeper one’s concern for the created. When Muslims attain this rank, God will not allow unbelievers to beat them (4:141).

A community is like a body in structure and functioning, and so requires a head with intellect. Thus obeying the community’s head is a must if that community wants to prosper. For example, God’s Messenger was raised amidst people who resembled the scattered beads of a rosary, who were unaware of the benefits to be derived from obedience and collective life. God’s Messenger inculcated in them the feeling of obedience to God, His Messenger, and their superiors, and used Islam as an unbreakable rope to unite them:

O believers! Obey God, the Messenger, and those in authority. If you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to God and the Messenger if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end. (4:59)

O believers! When you meet an army, hold firm and remember and mention God much, that you may be successful. Obey God and His Messenger, and do not dispute among yourselves lest you falter and your strength depart. Rather, be steadfast! God is with the steadfast. (8:45-46)

The Companions’ resulting consciousness of obedience was seen when he appointed the 18-year-old son of his ex-slave as the commander of an army that contained such elders as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman. None of them thought of challenging this order.

One important point related to jihad is that believers cannot desert the battlefield. They must continue to fight and not retreat flee from the enemy. Concerning this, the Qur’an decrees:

What about Islam’s and other religion’s, as well as modern civilization’s attitude towards war?

Some have tended to criticize Islam for it allows war and even orders it to put an end to the domination of injustice and oppression, help the oppressed and establish a social atmosphere of freedom where the truth can be preached. This critics is completely unjust, for first of all it is not Islam that introduced the war into the human history. Second, if this critics comes from the Christians, Matthew (10: 34-36) records Jesus to have said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have to turn a main against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.” Since Christianity has brought no rules for war, the wars in the Christendom have been much more bloody and ruthless. It can also be said that, apart from the Crusades, Christianity provided a means for the merciless colonization of two third of the world by the Western powers in previous centuries. Graham Fuller and Lesser (Graham E. Fuller, Ian O. Lesser, Kuşatılanlar-Islam ve Batı’nin Jeopolitiği, trans. Ö. Arikan, Istanbul, 1996, pp. 41-42) records that the Christians killed by Muslims during Islam’s history of 14 centuries are less in number than the Muslims killed by Christians in only the 20th century. Christianity began its assaults on Islam when the latter was a still a bud in Madina. The first generation of Muslims had to encounter a Byzantine army of 100.000 soldiers in Mu’ta with only 3.000 warriors in the 8th year of Hijra. One year later, the Messenger had to muster all his power against them, which was recorded by history as the Campaign to Tabuk; and three years later, the Muslim and Byzantine forces encountered once more in Yarmuk, which ended in a decisive defeat of the Byzantines.

As for the Judaism, a few quotations from the Bible are enough to see its position with war and compare this position with that of Islam: “When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them – men, women and children. We left no survivors. But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves... So the Lord our God also gave into our lands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them... We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city – men, women and children.” (Deuteronomy, 2:32-35; 3:3-4, 6) The crimes that have been committed for years by modern Israel are known to everybody in the world.

As for other religions such as those in the south, east and south-eastern Asia, since they lack in the rules to govern the social and economic life of people, they resemble more esoteric philosophies, and yet their followers have not withdrawn from waging wars.

As for modern civilization, it is not Islam which is responsible for the millions of deaths in the Soviet Union and communist China; it is not Islam which caused the Soviet/Russian massacres in Afghanistan and Chechnya and the brutal suppression of freedom movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It is not Islam which is responsible for the killing of more than one million people during France’s war to deny Algeria its freedom. It is not Islam which urged America to its adventure in Vietnam, which cost more than a million lives during the war and many more indirectly since. It is not Islam which caused the death of more than 60 million people, mainly civilians, and forced countless millions more to remain homeless, widowed and orphaned, during and after the two world wars. It is not Islam which is responsible for using scientific knowledge to make nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction with which to intimidate poor and weak nations, and maintain the global hegemony. It is not Islam which is responsible for extermination of natives in the American Continent and Australia. It is not Islam which is responsible for mass massacres in Africa. Islam is neither responsible for world-wide colonialism which lasted centuries and is still continuing in disguise. Nor is Islam responsible for slave trades which cost the lives of tens of millions of people. It is not Islam which is responsible for raising warmongers like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. They were not brought up by Muslims. Likewise, it is not Islam, nor Muslims, that are responsible for the establishment of despotic kings and presidents over the Muslim countries and their oppression, injustices and massacres. It is not Islam which is responsible for modern terrorism, mafia organizations, and world-wide smuggle of weapons and drugs, despite all opposing claims and plots staged to make us believe that it is so.

Islam, which declares, “Peace is what is the best,” aims at establishing peace throughout the world. However, war is a reality of human history. It is a manifestation in the social life of humanity of the inner world of those who have not been able to attain the human perfection in intellect, spirit and morality. Or it is a manifestation of the war between the spirit and the carnal soul, or Satan and the human values of perfection. What is important and necessary is, rather than overlooking a reality in a meaningless idealistic manner, to bring rules to make war just and for the benefit of people in general. It must be like disciplining and training a person or performing, when necessary, an operation on him/her to restore him/her to health after illness or giving the due punishment to a criminal. This is what Islam has done.

Islam does not order war, but allows it on condition that it should be in God’s way and for the defensive purposes. It also enjoins that the limits set by God must not be exceeded. Those limits are related to both the intention and exercise. For example, Islam does not allow any war for ultra motives such as conquering lands or plundering or quenching any thirst for revenge or obtaining any material advantage or satisfying racist inclinations. It does not force anyone to change his/her faith. Rather it wants there to be a social atmosphere of freedom where everyone will be able to use his/her free will to accept any faith he/she desires. It has also set up limitations in exercising it, such as those that follow:

  • Do not betray the agreements you have made.
  • Do not make any plundering.
  • Wrong no one and exercise no torture.
  • Do not touch the children, women and the old.
  • Do not destroy fruit-trees and fertile lands.
  • Do not kill sheep and cattle.
  • Respect all religious persons who live in hermitages or convents and spare their edifices. (Ibn al-Athir, al-Kami fi al-Tarikh, Vol.3, p.227.)

We should also point out here that people have embraced Islam in throngs during centuries while few have left it to accept another faith. Partly because of the complex this has caused and partly because of the prejudices coming from ignorance and dogmatic adherence to their faith, some Westerners have claimed that Islam is a religion of sword and has spread by the force of sword. However, this claim has been refuted even by unbiased Western writers and researchers. The main dynamics of the spread of Islam has already been explained in the 10th chapter of this study. We can only mention the main religious qualities which attracted people to Islam have been:

  • the clarity of the theological doctrines of Islam based on the Divine Unity;
  • rationalism of the Islamic teachings;
  • the complete harmony of the Islamic ideals and values with human conscience;
  • the inclusiveness and comprehensiveness of Islam covering all aspects of physical, mental, and spiritual life of individuals and societies, hence the harmony of religion and life which it has established;
  • the lack of formalism and mediation;
  • the vividness, dynamism and resilience of the Islamic theology, and its creativity and universality, and its compatibility with established scientific facts;
  • the cohesion and harmony of the Islamic principles, and
  • the shortcomings of other theological systems.

To sum up:

  • The purpose for war is never killing people. Just to the contrary, Islam, which attaches great value to life and regards killing an innocent person as if killing the whole humankind and saving a life as if saving the lives of all humankind, aims at the survival of humanity and their finding the truth through education.
  • Even in warfare, Islam is ready to make peace and agreement with the opposing side.
  • A Muslim government remains faithful to the treaty it has made until the end of its term.
  • If the opposing side betrays the agreement, The Muslim government publicly and officially declares to that side that the agreement is no longer valid. Even though it can declare war as soon as the agreement loses its validity, it tends to grant them respite to make a new evaluation.
  • If the opposing side continues their hostilities and do not change their attitude even after the end of the term granted to them, this means that there is a state of war.
  • In order to force the enemy to give up hostilities or defeat them in war, the Muslims must bet powerful enough and remain steadfast. However, the Muslims must always observe the rules of war mentioned above.
  • It should be borne in mind that the expressions in some verses of the Qur’an are aimed at violent peoples who, as it can easily be inferred from the verses themselves, do recognize no rules and laws and do not understand any language other than war. Like some commandments of the Islamic Penal Law, they are also of a deterrent character. These same verses also mention repentance and God’s being All-Forgiving and All-Compassionate, which explains Islam’s purpose for war.
  • Islam never aims by war at killing people and conquering lands. So, when the enemy side inclines to peace and agreement, the Muslims should also incline to them. They should also give asylum to those who seek it and, without giving the least harm to their wealth and souls, convey to them to their place of safety. These are the rules of war openly commanded by the Qur’an and practiced by the Muslims during history.
  • War is a legal matter between nations. Islam is, first of all, a religion arranging the relation between God and humanity and is based on sincere belief. So its main adherents are the sincere believers. However, Islam also orders human individual and social life as a requirement of its basic mission. This relates to its legal aspect and includes the matter of citizenship. The main citizens of an Islamic state are the Muslims. In legal terms, a Muslim is one who professes belief and, as a type of worship demonstrating one’s being a Muslim in order to legally treat him or her as a Muslim citizen, establishing the Prescribed Prayer, and, as the financial duty of a Muslim citizen, paying the Prescribed Alms. Such a one may not be a sincere believer as well; instead, he or she may be a hypocrite. But one who professes belief and establishes the Prayer and paying the Prescribed Alms is legally regarded as a Muslim. So, when an individual or a group of persons at war with Muslims profess belief and establish the Prescribed Prayer and pay the Prescribed Alms, the state of war ends. No one is compelled to believe. One who professes believe and lives in a Muslim society is expected to see the truth and become a sincere believer. This is why even if we know that one who professes belief is in fact a hypocrite, he or she is treated as a Muslim so long as he or she does not declare unbelief and establishes the Prescribed Prayer and pay the Prescribed Alms.
  • Islam is never to apologize to any other religion or ideology or system for its permission to fight. On the contrary, all other religions, ideologies and systems have a debt of apology and thanking to Islam. Islam aims at the universal peace and, as a reality of human history, realizing this peace sometime requires fighting. As declared in the Qur’anic statements that (For though killing is something you feel aversion to,) disorder (coming from rebellion to God and recognizing no laws) is even worse than killing (2:191) and disorder (coming from rebellion to God and recognizing no laws) is even more graver and sinful than killing (2:217), the conditions giving rise to war and disorder are more grievous than killing itself and therefore war is permissible to remove those conditions although it is not something good.

Terror

Although it is useless to discuss whether Islam allows terror, since our consciousness and minds are manipulated for years to make us believe that Islamic belief causes terror, we should saw a few words on this topic. But before Islam’s stand against terror, we should remind that this topic is a new one introduced after 1991 in order to create a new enemy front against the Western hegemony in the world. It is Muslims in the world who have been terrorized for centuries, not who have terrorized others. Those who employ some figures from the Muslim world whom they have trained as terrorists are the same powers that accuse Islam of allowing terror.

Any terrorist activity, no matter who does it and for what purpose, is the greatest blow to all religious and humanistic values For this reason, no one—and certainly no Muslims—can approve of any terrorist activity. Terror has no place in one’s quest to achieve independence or salvation. It costs the lives of innocent people.

Even though at first sight such acts seem to harm the target, all terrorist activities eventually do more harm to the terrorists and their supporters. Although there may always be some who exploit any religion for their interests, Islam does not approve of terrorism in any form. Terrorism cannot be used to achieve any Islamic goal. No terrorist can be a Muslim, and no true Muslim can be a terrorist. Islam orders peace, and the Qur’an demands from each true Muslim that he or she be a symbol of peace and support the maintenance of basic human rights. If a ship is carrying nine criminals and one innocent person, Islam does not allow the ship to be sunk to punish the nine criminals, for doing so would violate the innocent person’s rights.

Islam respects all individual rights and states clearly that none of them can be violated, even if doing so would be in the community’s interest. The Qur’an declares that one who takes a life unjustly has, in effect, taken the lives of humanity as a whole, and that one who saves a life has, in effect, saved the lives of humanity as a whole. Also, our Prophet Muhammad says that a Muslim is one who does no harm with either his or her hand or tongue.

Killing for religion?

Our consciousness is manipulated and entrapped, to some extent, by slogans. Conceptions like democracy, freedom, and human rights are the three most effective slogans used to benumb public opinion and maintain the world’s order. As ideas, even as values, we do not necessarily object to them; rather, we do not approve of them when they are used by certain powers as cruel and cynical deceptions that are as corrosive as chemical weapons.

The world powers usually accept the most ruthless tyrannies for as long as they can manipulate them easily. They seek stability in those areas of a country’s life that allow their economic interests to function and flourish unopposed. But yet they oppose any democratic country that jeopardizes their interests by seeking political or cultural independence. They interfere in such countries’ internal affairs on the grounds of “democracy and freedom,” even though their own human rights’ record is by no means good.

Leaving aside colonialism’s past and present excesses in different guises, we note the continued existence of racial, cultural, and religious discrimination within their own lands. Concessions are made regularly to extremist political parties (ostensibly to prevent greater popularity); the number of crimes and prisoners continues to increase; and physical torture, especially of activists on behalf of minority interests, is unofficially tolerated. Yet they still claim the right to champion democracy, freedom, and human rights wherever they want to—just as long as it serves their own interests and they can justify the use of military or economic force to their own people.

They wage war thousands of miles away to assert their interests in an island, yet do not allow others the same right in an island on their very borders. Western intelligence activities abroad are “heroic,” but somehow become “barbaric” or “terrorist” when used by other countries seeking to maintain or assert their independence and self-defense. In short, the moral or philosophical value of democracy, freedom, and human rights is utterly compromised by the naked and cruel cynicism used to secure their dominion. Such practices remind us of the famous chant in Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

Nothing is so effective against such cynicism as serious and sincere religious belief that can inspire the thoughts and actions that govern life. Therefore it is no surprise that political opinion-formers sometimes take swipes at religion on the absurd claim that religion inspires killing. Recently, Time magazine (December 1995, Volume 146, No. 23) presented the Divinely inspired religion—whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam—as a way of life that encourages “killing for God”. Some extremist groups misrepresent religion as a narrow political ideology and use it to display their hard-heartedness or rigidity, or to  sublimate their inferiority or superiority complexes. However, a system that condemns such actions cannot itself be condemned whenever self-professed adherents use it to justify their reprehensible actions. 

Islam: a mercy for all creation

Religion is a contract between God and humanity, and all of its conditions favor and benefit us. As complex and civilized beings who, in addition to many other things, need a secure coexistence with other people, we seek peace and justice in our individual and collective lives. Just as individual motives differ, humanity’s “collective reason” cannot comprehend the true nature of that necessary peace and justice or how to realize it in practice. The subsequent need for a transcendent reason—religion—therefore was given to us by God. Religion is nothing more than an assemblage of the principles laid down by God for human happiness and security in both worlds and for the realization of justice in practical life.

Since people’s essential nature and needs never change over the course of time, all Prophets preached the same fundamentals of religion. Any differences were confined to secondary matters related to the ever-changing circumstances of life. The religion chosen by God Almighty to ensure individual and collective human felicity in both worlds, and which He revealed through all Prophets, is Islam. Islam means belief in and submission to God, and thereby peace and justice in our individual and collective lives. Judaism and Christianity are names given to the earlier revelations of Islam under Prophets Moses and Jesus, respectively. No Israelite Prophet ever said Judaism. Jesus never claimed to establish Christianity on Earth or called himself a Christian. Christian appears only three times in the New Testament and first by pagans and Jews in Antioch about 43 AD, long after Jesus had left this Earth (Acts 11:26).

Islam can be best summed up in the Basmala, the formula uttered at the start of every good act: In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. The word translated as the All-Merciful is al-Rahman, which denotes God as the One Who, out of His infinite Mercy, protects and sustains, as well as guarantees the life of and provides for, all members of creation without exception. The word translated as the All-Compassionate is al-Rahim, which denotes God as the One Who has special mercy for His good, believing, devoted, and upright servants in both worlds. Moreover, the Qur’an states that the Prophet was sent as a mercy for all worlds [all species of beings] (21:107). A religion so based on mercy and compassion seeks to revive, not to kill.

Unfortunately, modern materialistic thought is fed by modern science’s extreme positivism and rationalism. It therefore reduces life to the physical or material dimension and ignores the fact that peace, harmony, and contentment in this world depend upon human spirituality. A true spiritual life, one based on enlightening the mind or intellect through scientific knowledge and enlightening the heart and refining feelings through belief, religious knowledge, worship, and inspiration, is essential to the Prophets’ preaching. For example, the Qur’an proclaims: Respond to God and the Messenger, when the Messenger calls you to that which will give you life [which will revive you intellectually and spiritually] (8:24).

Muhammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, likens Islam to a perfect work of architecture: All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other, nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure. Therefore, it gives almost as much importance to our physical life as it does to our spiritual life. Islam regards each person as the representative of its kind and as having the same value as all humanity. This is why God condemned Cain, for his unjust murder of his brother Abel introduced murder into history. As a result, he is held indirectly responsible for all killings until the end of time. As this sin is considered so grave, the Qur’an declares that one who kills someone unjustly is just like one who kills all of humanity, and that one who revives someone either spiritually or physically is just like one who restores all of humanity to life either spiritually or physically (5:32).

Clearly, a religion that attaches to such importance to the life of each person will never preach killing for its own sake or glorify it. Islam also does not approve of forced conversions, but rather seeks to remove whatever prevents us from making a free choice of what we will believe by establishing an environment in which all beliefs can be presented freely. Once this is guaranteed, Islam asks us to use our God-given free will to choose and reminds us that we will be held responsible for it, as well as for whatever we did in this world, in the Hereafter: There is no compulsion in religion, as right and guidance have been distinguished from wrong and deviation (2:256).

Who is responsible?

Prophet Muhammad was attacked many times by his enemies, and sometimes was forced to wage war on them. In all these wars, only about 700 people were killed on both sides. Given this, consider the following questions: Was religion responsible for the many millions of deaths in the Soviet Union and communist China? Did religion cause the Soviet massacres in Afghanistan and Chechnya [by Russia], and the brutal suppression of freedom movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia? Did religion kill more than one million people during France’s war to deny Algeria its freedom? Did religion urge America to its adventure in Vietnam, which cost more than a million lives during the war and many more indirectly since?

Did religion or modern civilization, extolled as the most advanced and humane in history, cause the death of more than 60 million people, the majority of them civilians, and force countless millions more to remain homeless, widowed and orphaned, during and after the two world wars? Is religion responsible for using scientific knowledge to make nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction with which to intimidate poor and weak nations?

If the world powers want to impose their new world order in the name of “world peace, democracy, and human freedom,” but in reality for their own political and economic advantage, and give themselves the right to commit such atrocities, surely people claiming to serve God can use the same rationale to clear the world of such atrocities and establish true peace and realize true freedom. But believers do not justify, like modern political cynics do, such atrocities and warmongering in the name of merely political ends. Believers, unlike unbelievers, realize that those actions sincerely undertaken only in the Name of God, the All-Merciful and the All-Compassionate, and that have no other motive and do not transgress God’s limits, can revive truly humane values.

‘Ali ibn Abi Talib presents such an example. During a battle, this noble Companion and future caliph felled his enemy and was on the point of killing him. But at that very moment, the man spat in ‘Ali’s face. To his surprise, ‘Ali released him immediately. Later on ‘Ali explained that the man’s action had made him suddenly angry and, therefore, fearing that his motive for killing the man had become mixed and therefore sullied with his anger, he released him. This enemy soldier later embraced Islam and thus was revived both spiritually and physically.

 

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