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-defence. 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 presented the Divinely inspired religion—whether
Judaism, Christianity, or Islam—as a way of life that encourages “killing
for God.”92 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]
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
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 war-mongering 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.