Terrorism and Extremism

The “Militant” Islam

The “Militant” Islam? (Sheikh Nasir Ahmad) Ask a schoolboy in the West or even a teacher of religious instruction about his knowledge of Islam, and the answer you will get will be surprisingly simple. The answer is almost always the same, and runs like this: “Islam, preached by Muhammad, is the religion meant for the Bedouins and for the primitive conditions of the yore. The Prophet went through the teachings of Christians and Jews and was deeply impressed by them. Thereafter he wrote a book called the Quran. Further, Muhammad spread the new religion by the use of sword, and later the Arabs penetrated into several other countries and converted the people to the religion of Islam by force. The teachings of Islam are appropriate for the conditions of the Middle Ages. Generally speaking, the hallmark of Islam are such out-of-date teachings which do not apply to our times. Its main features are intolerance and fatalism, coupled with religious . fanaticism. Islam is not a religion fit for our latitudes, at least not for the 20th century. This religion of men despises women and allots them a subordinate position in society.” Such and similar information on Islam is also supplied by the standard works on Islam written by non-Muslim authors, and this is the sum-total of knowledge of the average person in the West. The non-Muslim reader is invited to ponder over an important aspect of human life. A shrewd and successful businessman, who is not a religious person, knows by experience that the best way of ensuring the constructive cooperation of his employees is through motivation and conviction. This cannot be achieved by force or mere authority, at least not as a long-term proposition. The clever businessman can sell his goods or services to his clients better only if they can be convinced of their quality in relation to their price. This is so because a wise salesman does not want to sell only once but seeks to build up a wide circle of regular customers. Now, turning to Islam, it has to be noted that Islam is a religion which claims to have its origin in God, and its purpose is to lead human beings to the THE “MILITANT” ISLAM? 15 Creator. How is it possible for a religion with such high ideals to conceive the use of force as a method of its propagation? Can mere force engender inclination toward and love for an idea? And does a good idea at all stand in need of force? Doubts are cast on the truth of a religion which permits the use of force for spreading it. Critics of Islam who maintain that Islam is a religion of coercion, put forth a claim which is a contradiction in terms. They are not prepared to attribute to God the wisdom, intelligence and shrewdness which they readily pre-suppose in a non-religious businessman. Freedom of Religion Nowhere in Islam and in its Scripture, the Quran, is the slightest indication to be found which should suggest that the use of force or compulsion of any sort is permitted in order to spread it. On the contrary, Islam inculcates peaceful co-existence among the followers of all religions. This teaching of Islam extends even to atheists, sun-worshippers, fire-worshippers and idolaters. Muslims are not permitted to use abusive language for the idols of the idol-worshippers lest it should injure the religious susceptibilities of others (6:109). Some verses of the Quran are quoted to refute the accusation of the use of force in the matter of belief: “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error.” (2:257). “Say: ‘O mankind, the Truth has come to you from your Lord. So whoever follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own soul, and whoever errs, errs only against it. And I am not a keeper over you.'” (10:109). “And say: The Truth is from your Lord, therefore let him, who will, believe, and let him, who will, disbelieve.'” (18:30). “And if thy Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou then force people to become believers?” (10:100). These passages of the Quran are crystal-clear and they leave not the slightest doubt. The accusation is wrong, baseless and wholly untenable. It is, more than anything else, the deep-rooted hatred of Islam which has prompted its enemies to fabricate this accusation. Now we examine another verse of the Holy Quran which knocks the bottom out of this unfounded and unsubstantiated allegation. The verse 16 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS refers to a war situation in which the Muslims had been attacked by non-Muslims with the intention of coercing the Muslims to abjure their faith. The Quran says: “And if any one of the idolaters seeks protection of thee, grant him protection so that he may hear the Word of Allah; then convey him to his place of security. That is because they are a people who have no knowledge.” (9:6). The All-Knowing God had, of course, known that at one time Islam would be accused by its opponents of the use of force in matters of faith. This particular verse shows the all-embracing tolerance of Islam and its concern for the upholding of the principle of religious freedom. The situation depicted in this verse deserves our special attention: An enemy soldier fighting against the Muslims decides to desert his own army and to join the ranks of Muslims. In doing so, he leaves the army of an enemy who had persecuted the small, helpless community of Muslims in Mecca for thirteen long years, who was thirsting for their blood and ever keen to make life for the Muslims miserable in every conceivable manner. After the Muslims had left Mecca for Medina, this enemy had indulged in a number of wars of aggression against the Muslims. A renegade from this army could expect from his people nothing less than death-penalty for deserting the army. Even in such a situation the Quran does not say that Muslims should try to force their religion (Islam) on the deserter who was indeed in a situation with little choice. It was clear that the deserter would under no circumstances return to his former army. The Quran lays down as the first duty of the Muslims to grant protection to the enemy soldier. In the second instance, Muslims are told to convey to the fugitive the message of Islam, and thirdly — and this is significant •—• to make arrangements for him to be brought to a place of his choice where he is sure of his safety. If Islam were a religion of coercion and compulsion and if it had allowed the use offeree, then the Muslims would never have let this golden opportunity of converting an enemy to Islam by use of threat, blackmail or force. It is amazing how the critics overlook this meaning of the verse. Truth is that in early Islam not a single case is known where a non-Muslim was. forced to profess Islam. Penalty for Apostacy It may be argued that if the penalty for recanting Islam in a country with Muslim majority is death, then this is also to be construed as indirect compulsion in matters of faith. The answer to this is that as far as the teachings of Islam are concerned, there is no worldly punishment prescribed for anyone THE “MILITANT” ISLAM? 17 who abjures Islam. An apostate may not fear any penalty in a Muslim country so long as the government adheres to the precepts of Islam and does not lay down its own standards and norms. The misguided view that the penalty for apostacy is death cuts at the very root of the teachings of Islam. Two verses of the Holy Quran may be quoted to show the incompatibility of this view with the spirit of Islam. We read: “Surely, those who disbelieve after they have believed and then increase in disbelief, their repentance shall not be accepted, and these are they who have gone astray.” (3:91). If the penalty for recanting Islam were death, how could a person who had abjured Islam, still increase in his disbelief. We read further: “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 path.” (4:138). This unequivocal verse does not admit of any other but the one clear-cut interpretation. It speaks of a Muslim who abjures his faith but after some time he again accepts Islam, then yet again renounces it—and so on. Had a worldly penalty been prescribed for such a person, then the sentence of death would have been executed between the period of his renunciation of faith and his supposed second-time profession of Islam. In other words, the re-acceptance of Islam would become impossible. The tolerance as taught by Islam brought about such a spectacular change in the character and conduct of a people, hitherto ignorant and barbarious, that they came to learn the higher values and respect for human life and sense for human dignity. This teaching placed the inter-human relations on a sound basis which transformed the uncivilised people of the time of the Holy Prophet to highly moral beings with nobler spiritual ambitions. With this teaching of the Quran in the background and the facts of history as evidence, no sane person can ever doubt that the accusation of compulsion is an invention and an insult to the intelligence of man. It is a fact that Islam, 1400 years ago, was not spread by force. It is a fact that it spread in spite of the force which was used to stem its progress. During its second upsurge in our time, in which one speaks of the “re-awakening of Islam”, it is destined to conquer the hearts of the people in an emphatically peaceful way so that no one will ever dream of attributing the idea of violence to Islam. We witness today that Islam is steadily becoming the topic of the day in all parts of the world. This is a phenomenon of our time and it is not happening as a consequence of a political revolution somewhere in the world. Nor is it due to the discovery of oil in a certain region of the world, If is 18 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS rather the result of a quiet evolution which is taking place in the hearts of the people, and with it approaches the time of the fulfilment of a grand prophecy of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be on him), in which he had foretold that Islam would re-emerge at a time when the need is the greatest and that it would solve the problems of mankind also in our times. The modern man, otherwise possessing an analytical mind, is the victim of a big error, a fallacy, when judging the merits of Islam, he does not’take into consideration a basic fact necessary for the appraisal of the teachings of Islam and the conduct of early Muslims. The result is a grievous wrong done to Islam and early Muslims. The basic fact one ignores is this: When after long years the protracted persecution of the early Muslims ended, they were able to create in a short time a Muslim State in which also non-Muslim citizens lived enjoying all civil rights. During the wars which had been imposed upon the Muslims and in which they took part only when they were attacked by the army of their enemies, the warriors in the enemy camp were simultaneously non-Muslims and enemies of the Muslim State. They fought the Muslim army in their two-fold capacity: From the point of view of religion, they were non-Muslims, and from the political viewpoint they were enemies of State. Any punishment they received for their war crimes was just and fair, acknowledged as such even by the enlightened society of the 20th century. Never were they subjected to any pressure for their non-belief, nor were they ever taken prisoners or had to pay ransom for the reason that they were non-Muslims. The Geneva Conventions of our time on the treatment of an enemy found guilty of waging a war, and on the treatment of prisoners-of-war could learn a lot from the conduct of Muslims of the 7th century. The concept of the United Nations Charter and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can in its essential elements be traced back to the teachings of Islam. “Jihad” Now a glance at the much-disparaged notion of “Jihad”, the so-called “Holy War”. The Arabic word “Jihad” has neither the connotation of “holy” nor that of “war”. The translation of the word “Jihad” with “holy war” is arbitrary, tendentious and absurd. The word simply applies to any activity or job which is accomplished with great effort and which calls for striving hard. Maximum effort applied to a task is “Jihad”. Great sacrifice of one’s time, of one’s wealth, of one’s personal honour for a noble cause is “Jihad”. The proclamation and preaching of truth under circumstances involving great risk to one’s life is “Jihad”. To rise against a tyrant in defence of the victims of oppression is “Jihad”. The struggle against one’s own weaknesses, one’s egoism, against the moral decay of the society, against oppression and wrong, against an enemy who attacks one’s country, against compulsion in matters of THE “MILITANT” ISLAM? 19 faith and against the persecution of the innocent •— all comes under the category of “Jihad”. As far as war is concerned, Islam does not permit a war of aggression for purposes of expansion. To understand the term “purposes of expansion” we must go back to the conditions obtaining at the time of early Islam when such wars of aggression were order of the day. Islam simply put an end to the wars of aggression and permitted only defensive war under certain conditions, after all efforts to keep the peace have failed and the enemy imposes war on the Muslim State. Such defensive war is permitted in order to restore the conditions of peace, but not to disturb the peace. This would be clear if we cast a glance at the wars in which early Muslims were involved involuntarily. We pass in review six incidents to illustrate the point. No. 1 — The Battle of Badr The Muslims had been driven out of their home Mecca by force after having been exposed for 13 years to severe persecution and sufferings at the hands of the Meccans. During all this period of persecution, Muslims had not done any harm to anyone. After their migration they had settled down in Medina which lay at a distance of about 380 kilometres from their home-town Mecca. Hardly a year in Mecca, they were faced with an army of at least 1000 well-equipped and experienced soldiers which the Meccans had despatched to Medina in order to rout the Muslims in their new home Medina. To meet this enemy, the refugee Muslims were able to muster merely 313 men with only two horses and a few camels between them. The battle that ensued resulted in a pitiable defeat of the much superior army of Meccans. It is to be noted here, as elsewhere in all the episodes that follow, that the Muslims had not gone from Medina to Mecca to attack the Meccans; on the contrary, it were the Meccans who had chosen to march on Medina to attack the Muslims. This battle is known in the annals of history as the Battle of Badr. No. 2 — The Battle of Uhad The Meccans were determined to avenge their humiliating defeat at Badr. A year later, they marched with 3000 armed men towards Medina, On this occasion, the Muslim army was even less-equipped and was also relatively smaller in numbers as compared with the first clash a year earlier. On the Meccan side there were 700 armours and 200 mounted soldiers. Against 3000 Meccan soldiers there were only 700 men on the side of the Muslims with only 100 armours and only two horses. After a partial retreat of the Muslim army at one point, this battle, too, ended in the defeat of the enemy in spite of its obvious superiority. In the course of this battle, the Holy Prophet personally came under attack with increased threat to his safety, but he displayed an almost superhuman courage in the face of the great danger. Here, too, it 20 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS should be noted that it was the Meccans who had forced the Muslims to come out of Medina and defend themselves. After the name of the scene of the fight, this battle is known as the Battle of Uhad. Shortly after this battle, famine broke out in Mecca. The Prophet opened a fund to furnish aid to the enemy in the latter’s hour of need with this humanitarian gesture, nota bene, for an enemy who had twice waged war of aggression against him, not to speak of the untold sufferings it had inflicted on him and the Muslims during the 13 years of severe persecutions. No. 3 — The Battle of the Ditch In the fifth year of Hijra, the Meccans launched a campaign of hatred and enmity against Muslims throughout Arabia. Several Arab tribes joined an army of the “Confederates” which had collected a force 18,000 to 20,000 strong. This imposing army marched in the direction of Medina and was confident that there could be no escape for the Muslims this time. The entire population of Medina at the time was approximately 3000 souls, all counted, from which a mere 1200 to 1250 strong army could be raised. Muslims had to face an army numerically 15 times stronger than their own number. The unenviable plight of the Muslims was quite obvious. But it so happened that panic broke out among the ranks of the enemy following some unexpected events which they took for bad omen and that led to the sudden and hurried withdrawal of the “Army of the Confederates” without having achieved their object. This episode is known in history as the Battle of the Ditch. No. 4 — Expedition to Syria This fourth incident proves conclusively that the Muslims never took to the battlefield on their own initiative but were each time forced into it. Christian tribes on the Syrian border made preparations for an attack on Medina. They had been incited by Jewish tribes and by pagan Arabs. After waiting for a long time in the vain hope that the army of the enemy would soon withdraw from the border, the Holy Prophet, deeply concerned with the security of Medina, sent out a 3000-strong army to Syria. On the occasion of this expedition the Prophet issued instructions governing the conduct in the event of a war. These instructions do honour to the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war. Muslims were required to fight in a brave manner but not lose sight of the humanitarian aspect. They should not molest any priest or monk or any other person who was occupied with the work of divine service and the maintenance of a house of worship. THE “MILITANT” ISLAM? 21 Women, children and old or disabled persons were to be spared. No tree was to be pulled down nor a building demolished. When the Muslim army arrived at the Syrian border, it learned that the Caesar had come in person at the head of 100,000 of his own soldiers along with a similar number of soldiers of the Christian tribes. It is not difficult to imagine the situation of 3000 Muslims facing an army of 200,000 soldiers under the personal command of the Caesar. They certainly faced sure and utter rout. One General of the tiny Muslim army fell after the other, but finally the brave, small group of Muslims was victorious and the Byzantine army was forced to quit the battlefield by a veritable miracle which happened to the succour of the Muslim army. Islam has been charged with the false accusation that it was spread by the sword. The fact is that it was able to be spread in spite of the sword of its enemies. History supplies ample proof thereof. No. 5 — The Fall of Mecca In the 8th year of Hijra, after his migration to Medina, the Prophet entered once again his beloved and cherished home-town Mecca. He was accompanied by 10,000 of his followers. Yet this mighty army had not come to Mecca to shed blood, to kill and to loot, but to forgive the enemy and to declare that the Prophet was there to forget all their misdeeds and to show mercy to those who had persecuted him and had waged wars against him. This entry in Mecca with such a big force would have been an opportunity par excellence to force upon the vanquished enemy the acceptance of Islam. Yet not a single person was asked to join Islam and no one was threatened with reprisals in the event of default. It is true, though, that a number of Arabs accepted Islam on this occasion, but they did so by their own volition and out of their own conviction. No. 6 — The Battle of Hunain Within a month of the renowned Fall of Mecca, Muslims had again to take to the battlefield to face an army-comprising 70,000 soldiers, near Hunain. After some confusion in the beginning within the Muslim army, this battle, too, ended in a complete victory for them •— which strengthened their faith in Divine help. This brief sketch of the military engagements during early Islam speaks eloquently and refutes in all parts the allegation so often raised that Muslims used force to spread their faith. May the critics and polemising adversaries of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (on whom be peace), use the right angle while judging the teachings of Islam. 22 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS In fairness to the critics and in order to appreciate also their position, it may be useful to quote those passages of the Quran from which the critics draw their wrong conclusions. The Quran says: “Permission (to take up arms) is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged, and Allah, indeed, has the power to help them. — Those who have been driven out of their houses unjustly, only because they said “Our Lord is Allah”. And if Allah had not repelled some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft remembered, would surely have been destroyed. And Allah will, surely, help him who helps Him.” (22:40,41). These verses are very clear in that reasons are enumerated here why Muslims were after all granted the permission to defend themselves. First, because they had been driven out of their homes without any fault of theirs. Secondly, because they were not permitted to believe in God and to worship Him. Thirdly, so that the followers of all religious beliefs — Christians in their churches and monasteries, Jews in their synagogues and Muslims in their mosques — could enjoy the full liberty of conscience and belief and perform their religious services in peace and without let or hindrance. In fact, the religious world ought to be grateful to Islam and the early Muslims who so boldly and bravely stood for the protection of the inalienable right of man to the freedom of religion. We read in the Quran further: “And fight them (the transgressors) wherever you meet them and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing . . . but if they fight you, then fight them . . .” . (2:192). “And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is professed for Allah. But if they desist, then no hostility is allowed except against the wrongdoers.” (2:194). Islam on the Conduct of War The teachings of the Quran are clear-cut and unmistakable. The Quran speaks in sharp terms against every sort of aggression and violence. It pleads for peace and harmony. It goes to the extent of saying that, if in the course of a war the enemy should desire truce, then it becomes imperative for Muslims to stop all fighting, even though there may be a justifiable risk that the desire of peace on the part of the enemy is simply a deceiving manoeuvre and the enemy is seeking only to gain time by using this ploy. THE “MILITANT” ISLAM? 23 It is a mistake of the critics to regard these passages of the Quran as being applicable in normal times and to hastily infer that Islam wants Muslims to kill the non-Muslims. Through the early wars, as has been stated above, Islam provided the world with a charter on peace and war. By using this charter, a war can be prevented and, if it does break out, its scope can be limited and it can be stopped quickly and its consequences can be mitigated. The precepts of Islam with regard to war may be summarised as follows: 1. Fighting is permitted only against those who start hostilities. 2. Those who are not involved in the war effort, must be spared. The fighting is to be directed only against a regular army. 3. Each war operation must be localised in terms of the area and the duration of the operation. 4. Muslims should have respect for all religious practices of the enemy. 5. Children, women, old persons, ministers of religion and civilians may not be molested. They should not be attacked unless they actually join the fighting. 6. The concept of “total war” does not exist in the vocabulary of Islam. The policy of “scorched earth” is detested. 7. All agreements and pacts must be faithfully kept. 8. Fighting should stop immediately as soon as the enemy expresses the desire for a truce. Those on the defensive should not go over to the offensive. 9. A supranational body like the UNO is to be formed with the object of preventing a war by all means and to watch over the world peace. In conclusion, it seems appropriate to quote a passage from the writings of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam: “That is why God Almighty divided the life of our Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, into two phases: one phase of hardships and calamities and sufferings, and the other of victory; so that during the phase of sufferings those high moral qualities might be demonstrated which come into play at such times, and during the phase of victory and authority those high moral qualities might be illustrated which cannot be displayed in’the absence of authority. Thus both these types of qualities were perfectly illustrated in the life of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, by his passing through both these phases and conditions. During the period of trials in Mecca, which extended over thirteen years, the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, demonstrated in practice all the high qualities which a perfectly righteous person should exhibit at such a time, such as trust in God, perfect serenity under sufferings, steady and eager carrying out of duties and fearless courage. Observing his steadfastness, many of the disbelievers believed in him and thus testified that it is only 24 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS one who has complete trust in God who can display such steadfastness and endurance of suffering. During the second phase, that is to say the phase of victory, authority and prosperity, he demonstrated such high qualities as forbearance, forgiveness, benevolence and courage, so that a large number of the disbelievers believed in him through witnessing his exercise of those high qualities. He forgave those who had persecuted him, granted security to those who had expelled him from. Mecca, bestowed great wealth upon those among them who were in need and, having obtained authority over his bitter enemies, forgave them all.” (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, page 111). We owe it to our sense of justice, to our love for historical truth and our desire to enhance understanding among peoples that we do not henceforth entertain this fable against Islam that it preaches violence and the use offeree and is not an advocate of complete freedom of religion. One who claims the contrary, is to be pitied for his ignorance. Terrible and ghastly things are happening in certain countries of the world — in the name of Islam. None of these horrible happenings has the power to shake our conviction that Islam is the religion of peace which has declared the life and the conscience of every person as something inviolable and sacrosanct. Islam should be judged on the basis of its teachings and not necessarily on the basis of the conduct of some of its followers. Where would we stop if we always judged a religion according to the deeds or misdeeds of its adherents? What figure would the Jewish faith cut if we judged it on the criterion of the present-day Jews? How would Christianity fare if we judged the noble teachings of Jesus Christ in the light of the conduct of the Christian nations of the 20th century? Apostle of God If the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect, if the performance of good works will avail in the great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Muhammad was indeed an Apostle of God. (S. P. Scott, History of the Moorish Empire in Europe.)