By Babatunde Jose
Does the Quran or Muhammad promote violence? Some issues in peace and violence are what we will be looking into in this second part of our discourse on ‘Terrorism and the Curse of Islam’.
In the aftermath of 9/11 when President Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington DC, both to reassure the Muslims in America and to create public awareness against prejudice, he remarked: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” This statement was met with all round condemnation and denigration by neo-cons and even some of the President’s compatriots. They not only criticized him, but vehemently disagreed with his diplomatic stance. … The claim was denounced as dishonest and tantamount to a capitulation to the ‘enemy’ (read Islam) of the American people.” Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, suffered the same abuse and all round denunciation from the neo-con, when he expressed similar views on Islam. As far as the neo conservatives are concerned, Islam is a religion of war and terror and its prophet a ‘terrorist’ (Subhanallah). This, unfortunately has defined neo-conservative conception of terrorism and Islam till today. But, is it a correct reflection of Islam?
In contrast to the above two categories of non-Muslim stance, there are two parallel camps within Muslims. One camp on the fringe has no qualms in taking a public position that Islam enjoins fighting and subduing the non-Muslims, and this is a sublime religious duty. As far as they are concerned, Islam is all about ‘Jihad’, which in their interpretation means a ‘holy war’ to be waged against non-Moslems. Their language is not only fiery, but intemperate and attitudes towards other faiths is belligerent. We have them here too. Illiterate Alfas and Imams who preach hate at every opportunity and poison the minds of their congregants with odious and abhorrent translations of the Quran and misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the Hadith. These are the vermin of Islamic faith and people like them continue to refer to Christians as ‘Kafiris’; instead of the ‘people of the books’ that the holy Quran use to refer to them. They cite the example of the Prophet as to how under his leadership the world of the unbelievers was subdued. Unfortunately, they have read their Quran upside down and have no notion of the history of their religion. A bunch of ignoramuses, they are the cause of much of the altercations between Islam and other faiths. But it does not have to be so.
Repudiating this group of extremist Muslims, is the broader Muslim community that finds an echo of their own position in what President Bush said and they would like the world to know that Islam means peace and Islam is peaceful. Period. This group is very much troubled by the hate-mongering and violent posturing of the fringe extremists among Muslims. Thus, they would like to underscore and highlight the essential dimension of Islam, which in their view is peace.
To present Islam as essentially peaceful or violent, leads to a false and an unacceptable reductionism; and trying to cast Islam in such reductionist framework inevitably leads to either misunderstanding or misrepresentation. Islam, like any other faith should be judged by the tenets of the religion,; its five pillars and the Quran, without taking its provisions out of context and the life and time of the prophet and his ‘Sabes’ placed in the proper historical settings. There is no doubt, Islam like other religions and faiths have undergone various phases in their history. They all went through turbulent and violent pasts. In Christianity, there was the age of the Apostles, and the schism between the various schools of Christendom; there was the persecution of the nascent faithful’s by Rome and the eventual adoption of the faith by Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, leading to the adoption of the Creed and eventual rise of Roman Catholicism; which later witnessed a Reformation as a result of the hereditary paganism of the Papacy and the Mediterranean races; then we had the counter Reformation and the Inquisition; the rise of Protestantism and the variation of faiths; religious migrations and the founding of the colonies of America and the voyages of discoveries, leading to the subjugation of other races and the slave trade and later colonization. All these events were not by any means peace missions, but brutally violent and in modern day parlance, acts of terrorism.
But, they never led to the branding of ‘good old’ Christianity, as a violent and terrorist religion. The history of Muslims, is also similar to that of many other communities and is not devoid of violence and warfare. There have been almost perpetual wars, conflicts, and the attending violence in the Muslim world. During the Prophetic era, the Prophet was at war with all those who fought the nascent Muslim community and the Islamic polity. In the post-prophetic era, the conflicts continued on two fronts. The Islamic polity, which from the beginning was on a pluralistic foundation, continued to be drawn to war with other great civilizations and lesser powers of the time. The Islamic polity subsequently also found another front open: internal schism and conflict; the Shiite and Sunni divide. Contending powers or blocks had internecine conflicts, in most cases completely de-linked and unrelated with the spirit, vision, and precepts of Islam. This still continue today as we witness in the Shiite revolt in Northern Nigeria and in the Middle East. The war in Syria is also not unrelated to this divide.
The transformation from a constitutional, participatory, and accountable form of governance during the period of Rightly-guided Caliphs to its despotic anti-thesis represented a counter-revolution to the revolution ushered in by the Prophet Muhammad. Since this counter-revolution, the establishment persistently purported to preserve the status quo, and oppositions, legitimate or illegitimate, right or wrong, just or unjust, were at the receiving end of persecution and retribution. It is important to note that the political institutions and culture in the Muslim world that evolved subsequently are more rooted in that counter-revolution than in the revolution and legacy of the Prophet.
Both to pursue the external and internal conflicts, the scriptures (the Qur’an and the Hadith) have been used (more like abused) to support a particular position or agenda. Gradually, the edifice of Islam and Muslims was weakened from within, and when the decadent Muslim society faced confrontation with the rising West, not only the Islamic polity collapsed and got dismembered by the victor West, but also the philosophical, juristic, theological and institutional edifice bared itself in terms of its internal incoherence and confusion.
During the colonial expansion of the West, the Muslim world, like any other colony, was ravaged, humiliated, dismembered and subjugated beyond any recognition. Muslims are no less freedom loving than any other segment of humanity. But they are finding themselves subjugated under despotic and brutal regimes that are subservient to, defender of, or dependent on the West. The plight of the people of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and Iraq greatly illustrates the pain and agony of the Muslim world. The overall response to such conditions of course covers the entire spectrum: from rational and non-violent resistance to violent resistance to irrational, fanatical terrorism.
Therefore, if from a cursory reading of the history of Muslims makes people think that this religion is quite violent, the impression can’t be dismissed quite so easily, even though drawing conclusions about Islam on the basis of such impressions is simplistic, one-dimensional, naïve, immature, and inappropriate at best.
To better understand this issue, one needs to recognize that Islam does not teach that if anyone’s one cheek is slapped, he or she should turn the other cheek. Islam is based on Fitrah, the innate human nature. Anyone familiar with the Shaolin temples know that even the Buddhists contributed toward the development of the Martial Arts, as life’s need for self-protection so dictated. The Quran affirms the universal right of self-defense, see Quran 22:39-40. There are however, times when fighting and violence are indispensable even to seek or maintain peace. But, Islam clearly forbids any aggression or committing excesses.
Fight in the Way of God against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits. God does not love those who go beyond the limits. (Quran 2:190)
Without justice, peace is an illusion. That is a human reality. Islam urges and emboldens people to never succumb to injustice. Rather, it instils courage and spirit to offer resistance to any social injustice and work collectively, creatively, and capably toward a just society see Quran 4:135.
This pursuit of justice is not parochial or limited to only Muslims. Indeed, even though it should not be compared to the contemporary standard of human experience, during certain periods of Islamic civilization, non-Muslims, including Jews, found the best protection under Islamic rules and fled persecutions in Christendom to the Islamic polities. In this regards, we would like to quote ‘The Ashtiname of Muhammad’.
Also known as the Covenant or Testament (Testamentum) of Prophet Muhammad, is a document which is a charter or writ ratified by Prophet Muhammad granting protection and other privileges to the Christian monks of Saint Catherine’s Monastery and by extension other Christians during his time. The content of this testament is an eloquent testimony to the perception of the Holy Prophet to Moslem/Christian relations: “This is a letter which was issued by Mohammed, Ibn Abdullah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Faithful, who is sent to all the people as a trust on the part of God to all His creatures, that they may have no plea against God hereafter. Verily God is Omnipotent, the Wise. This letter is directed to the embracers of Islam, as a covenant given to the followers of Jesus the Nazarene in the East and West, the far and near, the Arabs and foreigners, the known and the unknown.
This letter contains the oath given unto them, and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disbeliever and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam. Whenever Christian monks, devotees and pilgrims gather together, whether in a mountain or valley, or den, or frequented place, or plain, or church, or in houses of worship, verily we are [at the] back of them and shall protect them, and their properties and their morals, by Myself, by My Friends and by My Assistants, for they are of My Subjects and under My Protection.
I shall exempt them from that which may disturb them; of the burdens which are paid by others as an oath of allegiance. They must not give anything of their income but that which pleases them—they must not be offended, or disturbed, or coerced or compelled. Their judges should not be changed or prevented from accomplishing their offices, nor the monks disturbed in exercising their religious order, or the people of seclusion be stopped from dwelling in their cells.
No one is allowed to plunder these Christians, or destroy or spoil any of their churches, or houses of worship, or take any of the things contained within these houses and bring it to the houses of Islam. And he who takes away anything therefrom, will be one who has corrupted the oath of God, and, in truth, disobeyed His Messenger.
Jizya should not be put upon their judges, monks, and those whose occupation is the worship of God; nor is any other thing to be taken from them, whether it be a fine, a tax or any unjust right. Verily I shall keep their compact, wherever they may be, in the sea or on the land, in the East or West, in the North or South, for they are under My Protection and the testament of My Safety, against all things which they abhor.
No taxes or tithes should be received from those who devote themselves to the worship of God in the mountains, or from those who cultivate the Holy Lands. No one has the right to interfere with their affairs, or bring any action against them. Verily this is for aught else and not for them; rather, in the seasons of crops, they should be given a Kadah for each Ardab of wheat (about five bushels and a half) as provision for them, and no one has the right to say to them ‘this is too much’, or ask them to pay any tax.
As to those who possess properties, the wealthy and merchants, the poll-tax to be taken from them must not exceed twelve drachmas a head per year (i.e. about 200 modern day US dollars).
They shall not be imposed upon by anyone to undertake a journey, or to be forced to go to wars or to carry arms; for the Muslims have to fight for them. Do no dispute or argue with them, but deal according to the verse recorded in the Quran, to wit: ‘Do not dispute or argue with the People of the Book but in that which is best’ [29:46]. Thus they will live favored and protected from everything which may offend them by the Callers to religion (Islam), wherever they may be and in any place they may dwell.
Should any Christian woman be married to a Muslim, such marriage must not take place except after her consent, and she must not be prevented from going to her church for prayer. Their churches must be honored and they must not be withheld from building churches or repairing convents.
They must not be forced to carry arms or stones; but the Muslims must protect them and defend them against others. It is positively incumbent upon every one of the follower of Islam not to contradict or disobey this oath until the Day of Resurrection and the end of the world.”
Some have argued that the Ashtiname is a resource for building bridges between Muslims and Christians. The Ashtiname urges all Muslims to abide by the treaties and covenants that were concluded by Muhammad with the Christian communities of his time.
If today some fringe Moslems disobey this covenant, it’s not because their actions are sanctioned, but they should be seen for what they are; Looney’s and their actions should not be seen as representing the faith. They should not only be condemned, they should be made to face the full wrath of the law.
In our next discourse, we shall examine the sources of the schism in interfaith relations and the origins of modern day terrorism.
Barka Juma’at and Happy weekend.