Saturday, October 12, 2013

Misinterpreting Islam

Waris Mazhari
October 10, 2013.

Any attempt to justify violence towards other communities goes against the grain of true Islam

It is absolutely bizarre how, many of those who ardently desire to see Pakistan as an ‘Islamic state’ remain blind to the basic fact that one of the components defining an Islamic state – indeed one of its basic principles – is the safety and security of its non-Muslim citizens. There are three foundational principles that, if absent, cause a territory to cease being considered, in the language of the traditional ulema, a dar ul-islam or ‘abode of Islam’. One of these principles is that its non-Muslim citizens no longer enjoy the same peace and security that they earlier did from a Muslim state. The greatest indication of the success of the political system of any country — be it India or Pakistan or any other — is the security and protection of the rights of its minorities.

Given the fact that ensuring safety and security of non-Muslim citizens is the basic duty of an Islamic state, it is incomprehensible why extremist groups in Pakistan who desire to ‘Islamize’ the ‘secular’ Pakistani state, do not understand that their heinous crimes are tantamount to destroying the very roots of Islamic political ideology. And with crimes such as the Peshawar blasts being committed in the name of Islam, how on earth can we face others and convince them that Islam is a religion of tolerance and large-heartedness, that it does not favour coercion and oppression, that the Quran respects the religious rights of people of other faiths?

The Quran stresses that the enmity of any community must not lead one to behave unjustly with them. Rather, one must behave justly under all conditions. Thus, the Quran (5:8) says:

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear God.”

And according to an early Islamic tradition, attributed by some to Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet, a kafir or non-Muslim government can remain established if it rules with justice, but an Islamic government cannot remain in power if it is oppressive.

Compared with other communities, Christians have a closer relationship with Muslims. This is testified to in the Quran itself which tells Muslims (5:82):

“[…] the nearest in affection to them are those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them; and because they are free from pride.”

In fact it was a Christian monk, Bahira by name, who was the first to predict the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad. In the early period of the Prophet’s preaching mission, several of his followers sought refuge from the persecution of the polytheists of Mecca by migrating to Abyssinia, which was then ruled by a Christian king. This king very kindly provided shelter to these Muslims, who had left their homes to safeguard their faith. In other words, one can say that the first ‘helpers’ or ansars (helpers) of the Muslims in Islamic history were this Abyssinian Christian king and his Christian subjects.

Another indication of the close historical connect between Muslims and Christians is the fact that numerous important and highly revered figures in the early period of Islamic history married women from Christian families. The Prophet Muhammad provided a beautiful example of large-heartedness with regard to Christians by permitting a delegation of Christians from Najran to pray in the Christian manner inside the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.

In the medieval period, Christian scholars played an extremely important role in the evolution of Muslim civilization. The Abbasid Caliph Mamun Al-Rashid (according to some other scholars, it was Harun al-Rashid) set up the ‘House of Wisdom’ or Bayt al-Hikmat in Baghdad, through which a vast number of books in various languages, such as Sanskrit and Greek, were translated into Arabic. This greatly contributed to the flourishing of Muslim civilization. Christians played the most important role in this translation project. The head of the project, Yohanna Ibn Maswah, was a Christian. The man credited with the largest number of translations, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, was also a Christian. Because of the key participation of Christian scholars in the evolution of Islamic civilization, they were looked upon with respect.

Today, it is imperative for Muslims, including the ulema and other Islamic scholars, to establish close and friendly bonds with believing Christians, including and especially the Christian clergy. One reason for this is explained in the Quran, in the verse which we referred to earlier, which talks about Muslims finding Christians closest in affection to them. Another reason has to do with something that the great servant of Islam from Turkey, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1878-1960), referred to in many of his writings. In his Al-Lama‘at (‘Reflections’), he wrote that in today’s times, it is not enough for Muslims to make efforts to promote understanding and unity among themselves. Rather, he stressed, they must go beyond this and establish good relations with pious, practicing Christians, too. The reason according to him, is that Muslims and Christians today face common enemies – atheism, irreligiousness and forces that stand for enmity against God. Together, the two can unite to defeat this common foe. To Nursi, the preservation of religion and religious values demanded that Muslims establish good relations with practicing Christians.

The fact of the matter is that people like Pastor Terry Jones, who recently shot into infamy by burning the Quran, are an exception among practicing Christians, including the clergy. On the other hand, the majority of practicing Christians, including priests, want to have good relations with Muslims. They see this as necessary for human welfare. In this regard, heinous actions committed by some extremist Muslims can only further widen the gulf that separates Muslims and Christians. And this, in turn, can only prove disastrous for humanity as a whole.

It is interesting to note that the Quran includes along with the aims of struggle or jihad, the protection of Jewish synagogues and Christian churches from forces inimical to religion. It tells us (22:40):

“If God did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of God is much invoked, would surely be destroyed.”

But what Peshawar recently witnessed is precisely the opposite of what the Quran says in the above-quoted verse. Instead of a jihad to protect a church, Peshawar witnessed a so-called jihad to destroy a church – yet more proof of how totally anti-Quranic this devastating crime is.
 Read the rest here.
Comment: This is a strongly argued article but the title is misleading.  Those who act in the name of Islam to kill innocent non-combatants, women and children, the young and old are doing so in express contravention of the dictates of Islam.

In other words the Qur'an is so clear about the manner of warfare and how a war can be waged that there is no room for misinterpreting its dictates; violating Islam is a better title.

Wars are not to be waged among civilian populations.  And, it does not matter how vile the enemy may be.  The lives of the innocent are not fair gain.

What happened at the Westgate mall in Nairobi is not made right because Kenyan forces have joined Americans and Israelis to kill innocents in and around Somalia.

What the Kenyans have done is despicable.  Hardly any true revolutionary can ignore how the US has offered trinkets to the Kenyans to join in the mayhem that is their military campaign in Somalia and elsewhere  The Kenyans are not alone among those selling out all Africans in yet another wave of colonialism.

Nevertheless, retaliation under Islam prohibits violence against innocents.  Muslims cannot kill people they do not face in battle and they cannot bomb churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship no matter what.

Muslims also cannot declare war on non-Muslims and other religions for the purposes of defending Islam.

Islam is a religion that invests peace as the normative condition for all relations among all peoples no matter what.  This does not mean that Muslims cannot defend themselves. 

Muslims know that we are under attack.  And we know that Islam is being trivialized as a religion of fanatics and terrorists.  But even while we must defend the Ummah and the religion we cannot allow those who defile us to be our teachers.

Resistance against the machine of oppression must be measured and humane in vision.  Moreover, the struggle must seek peace over violence no matter what.

The vast majority of Muslims irrespective of sect or location recognize this Islamic truism.  Those who defy its injunction do so not in the name of Islam and not in the name of Muslims who adhere to the peaceful principles and tolerance that define the Qur'an.

I say all of this not because I want to exempt myself from finger pointing terrorist hunters or to pacify rabid detractors about the contents of Islam and its attitude toward violence and warfare.

I say it because the Qur'an demands it.

"Peace be upon you" is not merely a greeting Muslims offer - it is an ordained way of life.


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