The following article is based on a keynote speech delivered (and subsequently revised) by Maulana Ataul Mujeeb Rashed, Imam of the London Mosque, at the 47th Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Mauritius on 13th December 2008. This was a special gathering held during the Khilafat Ahmadiyya Centenary year. Among the several respected dignitaries present on this occasion was His Excellency Sir Aneerood Jugnauth, President of the Republic of Mauritius.
Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Honorable Minister of Education and Culture, Lord Mayor Of Port Louis, Honourable Members of Parliament, Mayor of Quatre-Bornes, distinguished dignitaries, brothers and sisters, Assalamu ‘Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhu, May peace and blessings of Allah be upon all of you.
I consider it a great honour and distinction for me that I stand here today as the representative of the Centre of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community to join you in the Centenary of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya, the religious system of leadership in the Ahmadiyya Muslim community being celebrated and hosted by the Jama’at in Mauritius. Also it is an honour for me to share with you some of my thoughts on the very pertinent subject as to what is the message of Islam, the religion of peace which is badly misunderstood by people in this age and time.
The fact remains that establishing peace is one of the most ardent desires of mankind today. But unfortunately it is not to be seen anywhere. There are wars being fought in many places. Also there are so many other problems and grave crises which mankind is facing and all the people are very keen to find the path to eternal peace so that they can live and enjoy their lives here and also when they go back to their Creator.
Islam presents the real peace for the whole of mankind. We do not claim that Islam is the only religion which presents peace nor do we claim a monopoly on the truth. We do recognise that all the true religions were taught and sent by God Almighty, they brought the message of peace as they all originated from the same Fountainhead which is a source of peace of all times. But Islam is very distinguished because the very name of Islam literally means peace. It presents the message of peace with full clarity and profound wisdom. Islam means submission to the will and command of God and through following its teachings, people can enjoy the peace of all times.
Unfortunately, Islam nowadays is being equated with the religion of terror, a religion of blood-shed, and some people, a large number of them, actually consider it a religion which promotes hatred between people and people and between nations and nations. The fact is that Islam is the greatest proponent of peace and the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) was the greatest champion of peace for all times, promoting the cause of peace for the whole of mankind.
There are two main sources of understanding about Islam. The first one is the Holy Qur’an which is the scripture of Islam, the verbal revelation from God Almighty given to the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw). It has been described as guidance for the whole of mankind (Holy Qur’an, Ch.2:V.186). The Holy Qur’an has also been described as “Rahmah” (Ch.16:V.90) which means mercy.
And secondly is the noble example of the holy founder of Islam Prophet Muhammad(saw). He was the embodiment of peace and was declared as ‘a mercy personified for the whole of mankind’ (Ch.21:V.108). Unfortunately on both these counts, the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw), people have not really understood what they mean.
For example, not too long ago, a Member of the Parliament in Holland made a statement that according to his understanding (it is of course incorrect) half of the Holy Qur’an should be thrown into the sea. Why? He said: “I believe that the Holy Qur’an promotes war and hatred and bloodshed and terrorism.” Is there any greater allegation that can ever be attributed to the Holy Qur’an which is an embodiment of peaceful teachings? Actually the Holy Qur’an promotes nothing but peace, harmony and respectful coexistence of mankind.
Today I would like to present some statements from the Holy Qur’an to substantiate that the Holy Qur’an is actually the message of peace, far from being the message of hatred, violence and bloodshed.
First of all, the Holy Qur’an has to say: “There is no compulsion in matters of religion” (Ch.2:V.257). It categorically declares that people of the whole world are totally free to choose their faith, whichever they like, to which they are happy to subscribe. And there is nobody on earth who can in any way compel anybody or force anybody to accept the religion of Islam. The Holy Qur’an declares that the freedom of belief is the basic right of all human beings. They can believe in any religion they like and they can become the member of any faith they choose.
The Holy Qur’an states:
And say, ‘It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve. (Ch.18: V.30)
How emphatically it has been mentioned that Islam is a truth manifested: people who would like to believe it, let them believe it and those who do not like to believe it, let them deny it. There is no compulsion of faith. People are given a free choice; so Islam does not have any instrument of coercion or compulsion to convert any person into the fold of Islam.
Then the question comes that if a Muslim would like to leave Islam, what will happen to him? There is an erroneous belief attributed to the Holy Qur’an; some people, including unfor-tunately some Muslims, think the Holy Qur’an says that such a person should be beheaded. The reality is just the opposite of that. The Holy Qur’an mentions nowhere that the punishment of apostasy is to kill that person. The Holy Qur’an states:
Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor will He guide them to the way. (Ch.4:V.138)
One can imagine that if the punishment of apostasy had been killing, then how is it possible that a person who renegades can come back into the fold of Islam for the second time? If the punishment was death, as they say, then there remains no possibility for such a person to come back to the religion of Islam. But the Holy Qur’an clearly states that it is quite possible that a Muslim who leaves his religion for some reason may come back to his faith if he so desires. The choice and option is always there. There is neither any punishment for apostasy nor any element of compulsion to force a person in any way to accept Islam and then remain a Muslim throughout his life
According to Islam, religion is a matter of choice. If people are happy with the truth of Islam and they are fully satisfied, by all means, they are most welcome to come and join Islam; but if they decide not to do so, then there is no compulsion and even if after joining Islam, they would like to leave, they may leave. God Almighty will see to this matter in the life to come but nobody has the authority to dispense any punishment for apostasy.
The next question very frequently asked is regarding the punishment of blasphemy in Islam. This is yet another great allegation raised against Islam. It is asked that if someone commits a blasphemy against God Almighty, the Holy Prophet(saw) or the Holy Qur’an or, for that matter, any sacred thing in Islam by using a foul language or showing disrespect in any way then what is the punishment for that? It is said and believed by many people, including unfortunately many Muslims, that the punishment for blasphemy is death. Such an assertion is totally incorrect.
The Holy Qur’an mentions nowhere that the punishment for blasphemy is death, nor even a lesser punishment. As a matter of fact, there is no worldly punishment for this crime. No doubt, according to Islam blasphemy is a crime, very despicable and offensive, but the punishment of that is entirely in the hand of God Almighty. He may punish the culprit here in this life or later. We believe that every person is going to stand accountable before God. On the Day of Judgment, God Almighty will see to it, but He has not authorised anybody in this life to give any punishment whatsoever. I quote here a reference from the Holy Qur’an:
You shall, surely, be tried in your possessions and in your persons and you shall surely hear many hurtful things from those who were given the Book before you and from those who set up equals to God. But if you show fortitude and act righteously, that indeed is a matter of strong determination. (Ch3:187)
There is no mention of any punishment here. God Almighty says that various hurtful things will be said about you. Muslims are only asked to show patience when a blasphemous act is committed against them in any way. But there is no mention of any punishment.
The Holy Qur’an further states:
And he has already revealed to you in the Book that, when you hear the Signs of God being denied and mocked at, sit not with those who indulge in such talk until they engage in some other talk; for in that case you would be like them. (Ch.4:V.141)
Allah Almighty says that when people indulge in committing blasphemy, the only action required from the believers is that they should not keep company with those people and do not sit with them any longer. It should be noted that the punishment for blasphemy is mentioned nowhere.
Another question which bothers the minds of many is regarding the Islamic teachings about the dealings with the followers of other religions. Does Islam teach the Muslims to show respect and kindness towards them?
The Holy Qur’an provides ample guidance on this matter. It states:
Say ‘O People of the Book! Come to a word equal between us and you – that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah.’ (Ch.3:V.65)
This is the spirit of cooperation that Islam has inculcated among Muslims that you invite the followers of other religions to come together on common grounds and work together for the achievement of mutual respect and dignity.
On the same subject, the Holy Qur’an further states:
And help one another in righteousness and piety but help not one another in transgression.’ (Ch.5:V.3)
It is worth noting here that Islam has not mentioned in this teaching of cooperation, any consideration of religion. If the invitation is extended to you to join in performing a good deed for a noble cause, the Holy Qur’an says that you should always accept that. Such an invitation may be from a Jewish person, a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist or the follower of any religion or even from an atheist; Islam requires the Muslims to come forward and cooperate. They should simply see the cause for which they are invited; they should not see who is inviting them to do that.
Islam has given a golden principle which can be followed and benefited from by all mankind. Islam teaches that all dealings should always be based on justice. The Holy Qur’an states:
O ye who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is aware of what you do. (Ch.5:V.9)
This makes it abundantly clear that Islam enjoins its true followers that, even with their enemies, they should always behave justly. Is there any possibility that such a religion which promotes this beautiful teaching of harmony and cooperation, can ever promote violence or hatred against other people?
At this point, let me mention a very important piece of advice given by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi. He has explained this fundamental Islamic principle because the very purpose of his coming was to revive the teachings of Islam and to project the real import of the teachings of Islam for the whole world. Explaining the true spirit of cooperation and help for other people, He said:
It is our principle to have sympathy for the whole of mankind. If a person sees that fire has broken out in the house of a Hindu neighbour, and he does not get up to help put it out, I tell you truly that he is not of me. If one of my followers sees a Christian being killed and he does not go to rescue him, I tell you truly that he is not of us…. I say it on oath and in truth that I have no enmity with any people…. If anyone abuses me, I refer my plaint to God and not to any other court. Despite all this, it is our obligation to have sympathy with the whole of mankind.” (Siraj-e-Muneer, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 12, p.28)
Let us take another important question which is generally raised by many people. They say that while Islam does not promote violence, war or hatred against other people and does not approve of any aggression to be done against other people, if other people take the initiative and start the aggression against the believers, then what should be done?
Once again I refer to the Holy Qur’an for the answer. It states:
And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors (Ch.2:V.191)
The permission to fight back is the basic human right. It was given to the Muslims when actually they were attacked. When the prophet of Islam was forced to migrate from Makkah to Madinah, the people of Makkah did not leave him and his followers in peace. Rather they attacked him time and again; and almost all the battles took place in the vicinity of Madinah. This clearly indicates as to who the aggressor was.
It should be noted that even this permission to fight back in self-defence was granted to the Muslims, for the first time in the history of Islam, when actually they were under attack. They were permitted to defend and protect their honour, property, life and religion. The Holy Qur’an stated:
Permission to fight back is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged – and Allah indeed has power to help them. (Ch.22:V.40)
Even in case of this permission, look at the humane and magnanimous teachings of Islam: that this permission should never be misused to cross all limits. The Holy Qur’an categorically states:
Whoso transgresses against you, punish him for his transgression to the extent to which he has transgressed against you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. (Ch.2:V.195)
Islam, being the greatest champion of peace, has made sure that even the reaction and response to the aggression does not go beyond justified limits. Although Muslim are permitted to fight back the aggression, it instructs them that as soon as the aggressors stop their hostilities and wish to go for a cease-fire, Muslims, whether they are winning or losing, are required to agree to discontinue their defensive action. The Holy Qur’an states:
But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors. (Ch.2:V.194)
I have presented here only a few examples of the teachings of Islam as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. This establishes clearly that Islam has nowhere mentioned any teachings promoting terrorism or war against other people.
One point must be added here to clarify a misunderstanding. Some people nowadays commit various acts of terrorism, unfortunately, in the name of Islam. I would say that these are only a few handfuls of people who are betraying their own religion through their actions which are diametrically opposed to Islam. As such, they are the defaulters who are doing a great disservice to their own faith. Those who commit these atro-cities and acts of terrorism against other people in the name of Islam, should never be allowed to hijack the beautiful name of Islam nor taken as ambassadors of Islam. They are the violators and deserve to be strongly condemned and severely punished for the acts of aggression and tarnishing the beautiful image of Islam.
As a matter of fact, the definition of a true Muslim, according to a saying of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) is that a Muslim is he from whose hands and tongue, other people do not fear any sort of harm or danger. It establishes that only a peaceful person can be truly a Muslim and the people who commit atrocities, aggression and other barbaric acts, even if committed in the name of Islam, do not deserve to be called Muslims.
To say that a Muslim is a terrorist or to use the ill-conceived term of ‘Muslim Terrorist’ is certainly like putting light and darkness, fire and water or death and life together. How can you put white and black together? they are completely opposite to one another. Islam has got no room for terrorism and the whole concept of terrorism is totally alien to the teachings of Islam.
The example of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) in this regard is very brilliant and most excellent. He was the ambassador par excellence of peace for the whole of mankind. He never initiated any war throughout his life. He was the one who always tried to establish peace between warring people. But when the opponents launched aggression against him and attacked Madinah, he was left with no option but to take up the arms in self-defence. Most of such defensive battles were fought in the vicinity of Madinah which proves that, far from being the aggressor, the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) was always the victim of aggression.
Finally I would like to say that the message of Islam is actually a message of peace for the whole of mankind. This fundamental essence and spirit of Islam is beautifully epitomised in the motto of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: Love for all; hatred for none.
All members of the world community, whatever religion they may belong to, are invited to come and study the spirit and message of Islam as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. It is an open invitation for all to come and seek light from the peaceful message of Islam. I assure them all that, through this eternal light given by God, they will be able to illuminate their hearts. With their hearts filled with Divine light and peace, they will be able to establish peace around them.
So let us all work together for the establishment of peace. Let us join hands together. We should all work together for the noble cause of establishment of peace so that we can really live and enjoy a peaceful heaven on earth. May Allah enable us to do so. God bless us all. Ameen.