Featured Islamic Concepts and Beliefs

Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad

Introduction It is a great privilege for me to say a few words on the concept of Jihad vis-à-vis the concept of peace in Islam. It has been averred that Islam is the most misunderstood religion in the world. I concur with this statement. It is indeed unfortunate that people have not been able to understand the philosophy of Islamic teachings in relation to peace. One of the main areas of misunderstanding has been the concept of Jihad. The concept of Jihad has been so completely misconstrued and falsified that it has taken a negative connotation. It is indeed very sad that people have failed to recognise the beauty of Islam in this regard. Islam, to my mind, is like a very beautiful diamond, a diamond of peace. From whichever angle it is viewed, it is absolute peace, pure peace and nothing but peace. However, there has been a lot of distortion of true Islamic teachings. Therefore, I would first like to express and share with you my views on the concept of peace in Islam before I explain the true meaning of the word ‘Jihad’. Islam and Peace What makes Islam a religion of peace? The very name of Islam is something very unique. It is the first time in the entire history of religion that a reli- gion has been given a name which literally means “peace”. The word ‘Islam’ has two connotations; firstly, it means 45Review of Religions – December 2002 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad The following article is a keynote speech delivered by Maulana Ataul Mujeeb Rashed, Imam of the London Mosque, at the Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Mauritius, on 14th September 2002. Among the several respected dignitaries present on this occasion was His Excellency, Karl Offman, President of the Republic of Mauritius. submission to the will and command of Allah and s e c o n d l y, it means peace. Furthermore, Islam is a reli- gion which has been established by Allah Almighty. Allah has various attributes and one of His attributes is As- Salaam, that is, the one who bestows peace. One who believes in Islam is called a Muslim. The definition of a Muslim is ‘one who is entirely at peace with himself and who promotes peace in s o c i e t y.’ A more beautiful definition of a Muslim has been given by the very founder of Islam, the Holy Pr o p h e t Mohammad(saw). He is reported to have said: ‘A Muslim is that person from whose hands and from whose tongue all people are safe.’ (Bukhari) In the true sense of the term, only that person can honestly and truly be called a Muslim who does not cause any harm to anyone. There are other points worthy of note. The greeting of Muslims is ‘Assalamu Alaikum’, that is, ‘peace be upon you.’ This is to be shared by all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The place where Islam originated from, Mecca, was known as B a l a d – u l – A m e e n, meaning a city of peace. The Holy Quran was revealed to the Holy Pr o p h e t( s a w ) by the angel known as R o o h – u l – A m e e n, that is, the angel of peace. Finally, the title that was bestowed upon the Holy Prophet of I s l a m( s a w ) by his opponents, prior to his claim to prophethood, was Al-Ameen meaning that he is the most trustworthy and the most peaceful person on earth. No Compulsion in Matters of Faith It should be pointed out that Islam has made a very open declaration, a declaration for all times, addressed to all peoples. The Holy Qur’ a n clearly states: There should be no compulsion in religion. (Ch.2: v.257) 46 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002 The verse goes on to explain the reason for this. It says: Surely, right has become distinct from wrong. (Ch.2: v.257) When you have reason and logic on your side and when you are in possession of the persuasive and beautiful teachings of Islam, you need neither force nor coercion. Islam does not permit the use of force to convert anyone. The Holy Qur’an declares: 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) Islam upholds and guarantees freedom of choice, the freedom to profess, propagate and practise religion. Anyone who chooses to believe will be rewarded accordingly and anyone who chooses not to believe will not be compelled to do so. Recantation from Islam There are some Muslims who, unfortunately, believe that if a person enters into the fold of Islam and later recants, the punishment of such apostasy is the death penalty. According to the teachings of Islam, there is no worldly punishment to be meted out for recan- tation from Islam. The punishment, if any, is to be given by Allah Almighty not by man. Freedom of conversion into, and recantation from, Islam both constitute the acid test of the declaration: ‘no compulsion in religion.’ It cannot be a one-way freedom—the freedom to enter Islam but not to leave it. Equality of Mankind There are some other teachings that prove beyond any doubt that Islam is a religion of peace. One of the prominent teachings of Islam is the concept of equality of mankind. Islam concedes no privilege on account of birth, family, cast, class or any other factor. There is no discrim- ination between human beings 47 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002 whatever their language, nation, race or creed. Islam seeks to establish an egalitarian society based on the practical expression of the truth that all men are creatures and servants of the same God and must, for His sake and for the purpose of winning His pleasure, live together as brethren. Respect for all Religions Islam further enjoins belief in the founders of all major religions and belief in the books revealed unto them. This, in fact, is one of the great distinctions that Islam enjoys. The view is held that all major religions were, at their inception, based on truth and still contain many excellences. Islam categor- ically rejects the attitude which maintains that no religion other than one’s own holds the key to salvation. All major religions are respected and held in high esteem. Muslims are obligated to hold in honour and respect the places of worship of other faiths. Deep reverence must also be shown to their founders and holy personages. The Charter of Freedom It can be clearly seen that Islam is a religion of peace and it inculcates tolerance towards peoples of all faiths and nations. In this regard, I want to present to you a very important historical docu- ment. This was the great Charter of Freedom given to Christians by the Holy Founder of Islam(saw). This monumental piece is unprecedented in the history of mankind and is an epitome of the entire spirit of the Islamic concepts of tolerance and peace. It states: ‘This is the document which Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, God’s Pr o p h e t , Warner and Bearer of glad tidings has caused to be written so that there should remain no excuse for those coming after. I have caused this document to be written for the Christians of the East and West, for those who live near, and for those of the distant lands, for the 48 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002 Christians living at present and for those who will come a f t e r, for those Christians who are known to us and for those as well whom we do not know. Any Muslim violating or distorting what has been ordained will be considered to be violating God’s Covenant and will be transgressing against His Promise and by doing so, will incur God’s wrath, be he a monarch or an ordinary subject. I promise that any monk or wayfarer who will seek my help on the mountains, in forests, deserts or habitations, or places of worship, I will repel his enemies with my friends and helpers, with all my relatives and with all those who profess to follow me and will defend them, because they are my covenant. And I will defend the covenanted against the persecution, injury and embarrassment of their enemies in lieu of the poll tax they have promised to pay. If they prefer to defend their properties and persons themselves, they will be allowed to do so and will not be put to any inconvenience on that account. No bishop will be expelled from his bishopric, no monk from his monastery, no priest from his place of worship, and no pilgrim will be detained in his pilgrimage. None of their churches or other places of worship will be desolated or destroyed or demolished. No material of their churches will be used to build mosques or houses for the Muslims; any Muslim doing so will be regarded as recalcitrant to God and His Prophet. Monks and Bishops will be subject to no poll tax or indemnity whether they live in forests or on rivers, in the East or in the West, in the North or in the South. I give them my word of h o n o u r. They are on my promise and covenant and 49 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002 will enjoy perfect immunity from all sorts of inconveniences. Every help shall be given to them in the repair of their churches. They shall be absolved of wearing arms. They shall be protected by the Muslims. Let this document not be disobeyed till Judgement Day.’ (Signed: Muhammad, the Messenger of God. (Quoted from Makâtîb-ur- R a s û l [Letters of the Messenger], printed in Beirut, Lebanon) There can be no statement more eloquent which so beautifully epitomises the teachings of Islam with regard to peace and tolerance. The Concept of Jihad Let me explain the true concept of Jihad. The erro- neous interpretation is that of Muslims armies invading other countries and coercing people to submit to Islam. It is as if Muslims, holding the Qur’an in one hand and a sword in the o t h e r, give people the ultima- tum of either embracing Islam or meeting with their death. This is an absolute mis- representation of the concept of Jihad. It has nothing to do with Islam which is a religion of peace. The true import of Jihad is the striving and struggle for the reformation the world, to make it a peaceful place for everyone to live in. The greatest Jihad for a Muslim is the struggle to reform his own self—a struggle against his own ego and against satanic instigations inciting towards evil. If you wage a war against these, according to the teachings of Islam, you would be engaged in what is regarded as the most superior form of Jihad. Spending money for the promulgation and propagation of religion, according to Islam, is also a form of Jihad. Helping the cause of the poor by way of charity is yet another form of J i h a d . One lesser form of Jihad is the right to go to war in self- defence. According to the teachings of Islam, Muslims are not allowed to wage wars against their enemies however 50 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002 wrong they may be. The only circumstance in which Muslims are permitted to take up arms is when the enemy attacks them with the express aim of doing away with their lives, p r o p e r t y, honour and suppressing or wiping out the very religion they profess. Only in that situation does Islam allow Muslims the right to self-defence and no sane person can raise a finger of objection against this. It is interesting to note that even though the Muslims are given this right to self-defence, they are nonetheless urged to try their utmost to establish peace even in the battlefield. Every effort is to be made so that fighting can be avoided. Failing that, conflict is to be pursued only as long as persecution does. If the opponents of Islam lay down their arms then the Muslims are to desist from fighting. The Holy Prophet’s(sa) Precept When sending his followers to defensive battles, the Prophet of Islam(sa) used to admonish them saying although they were compelled to take up arms in self-defence, they should never forget that they were ambassadors of Islam. He would give instructions to the effect that: 51 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002 President of Mauritius, Mayor of Rose Hill, Amir Sahib and Imam Sahib UK speaking at the Mauritius Jalsa Salana • No woman, child or religious leader is to be killed • Anyone not taking part in the battle is not to be killed or harmed in anyway • Places of worship are never to be destroyed or desecrated • A bridge that provides conveyance to people is not to be demolished • A tree that yields fruit or gives shade to people is not to be cut down Conclusion It can now be better appre- ciated how the teachings of Islam promote peace and tolerance. The noble teachings of Islam relating to the concept of Jihad have been completely distorted. Jihad is actually to reform oneself, to improve one’s virtues and to fight against the temptations of Satan. This lifelong Jihad is the greatest Jihad. The lesser form of Jihad is to fight in self- defence against those who seek to annihilate believers and exterminate religion from the surface of the earth. Even in this eventuality, as it has been established, Islam has given beautiful and humane teachings. Islam is a religion of peace and to associate bloodshed, terrorism, suicide bombings and any act of violence with Islam is totally misguided and mistaken. Islam has a message of peace for all mankind. The banner that Islam holds aloft is the banner of peace. By following the teachings of Islam, the whole mankind can enjoy the blessings of peace. My last word, my last sentence, my prayer is: may Allah bless this beautiful universe with everlasting peace for the whole of mankind. Amin About the author: Mr Ataul Mujeeb Rashed is the Imam of the London Mosque and Missionary in Charge UK. He is a scholar of Arabic. In addition to hosting numerous programmes on MTA International, he has in the past served in various capacities, including Amir UK. He has also served in Japan and at the Headquarters as the Central Sadr Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya. 52 Islamic Tolerance and the Concept of Jihad Review of Religions – December 2002