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First Quarter 2000

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Does the Islamic concept of Jihad undermine peaceful co-existence?
Do Muslims love war in comparison to those of other faiths?

The misconception that because some Muslims have been involved in various forms of violence, aggression and terrorism, Islam, and particularly its concept of Jihad, encourages hostility and discourages peace, has led to a lot of unnecessary mutual animosity.

The basis for this kind of judgement would not be fair, whether applied to Islam or to Christianity, or indeed any other religion. A way of life or religion, and its various terminologies, are not to be judged by the actions of its followers who may disobey or be ignorant of their true teachings. Rather, a religion or religious concepts should be judged by the actual teachings of religious scriptures. It is therefore more reasonable to assess Islam by the teachings of the Qur'an and the sayings and deeds (Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The same principle should be used in evaluating any religion. Otherwise, one could say that Christians, for example, fought each other in the First World War (about 18 million people killed), and the Second World War (about 32 million killed). They also carried out the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in Japan), killing thousands of innocent civilians. For centuries they organised the Crusades, the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from Africa to America, the colonization and exploitation of African and Asian countries and the genocide of the native Americans and Australians. In our own time, we have witnessed bombings and killings between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the Mafia criminal organizations of Italy and America, the Colombia drug wars, the "ethnic cleansing", murder and rape of the Bosnian Muslims, the ongoing brutality in Chechnya - supported by the Russian Orthodox Church - and the apartheid system of South Africa. Christians are also involved in the ever-growing rates of often heinous crimes and violence in countries of the world with Christian majorities, such as the United States, Europe and even southern parts of West Africa.

Would we be right to conclude that this violence by some Christians is a reflection of some of the teachings of Christianity? That Joseph Stalin, who was an orthodox Christian, and Adolf Hitler, who was Roman Catholic, were representative of their respective faiths?

Christians would certainly find that unfair, even if the perpetrators of some of these actions claimed to act in the name of Christ. Furthermore, violence is not just done in the name of religion or God, but also in the name of "national security", "national interest", "communism", "marxism", "capitalism", "freedom fighting", "social order", "ethnic purity", "neo-colonialism", "peace", etc.

God only knows how many million children in Iraq have lost their lives in the name of "economic sanctions" and "democracy". As with any other religion or way of life therefore, Islam is not to be judged by what some so-called Muslims do, when it is clear they are going against the teachings of Islam. The Qur'an teaches: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (Q.2:256), "Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching" (Q.16:125), "O you who believe, stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves or your parents or your kin or whether it is against rich or poor" (Q.4:135) and "..if the enemy inclines towards peace, do also incline towards peace, and trust in Allah for He is the One that hears and knows all things" (Q:8:61).

Islam therefore does not teach the use of force and the abandonment of peace and just relations.

But what about "Jihad"? First, let us understand the meaning of the Arabic word "Jihad" in the Islamic context.

Jihad on its own simply means "to struggle", "to exert effort" or "to strive". Jihad in Islam basically refers to the unceasing effort which an individual must make towards self-improvement and self-purification. It also refers to the duty of Muslims both at the individual and collective level to struggle against all forms of evil, corruption, injustice, tyranny and oppression, whether this injustice is committed against Muslims or non-Muslims. In this context it may include peaceful struggle or if necessary armed struggle.

"Jihad" is sometimes translated as "Holy War", but this is not correct. "Holy War" translated into Arabic would be "Harb muqaddasah" which appears nowhere in the Qur'an or Hadith. "Holy War" is a purely non-Muslim mistranslation of the term "Jihad". Muslims are not to commit aggression or to initiate violence "for God does not love the aggressors" (Q.2:190). If, however they are attacked, they have the right to resist and if necessary to fight to overthrow tyranny and oppression, so that people can live in freedom and with their basic human rights.

The conditions under which it is permissible to revert to armed force in Islam are:

a) when all attempts at reconciliation have been exhausted;
b) preventing imminent attack;
c) defence (of self or others) (Qur'an 22:39);
d) against oppression and tyranny Qur'an 4:75, 2:190-193 "Fight...those who fight you, but do not commit aggression..."

Even if war or armed struggle becomes unavoidable, there are
conditions to be observed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade the killing of non-combatants (women, children, old people, monks etc.) and destruction of properties, farms etc. Some Christians believe in pacifism, that is, non-resistance to aggression, but the mainstream of Christianity has always upheld the right of self-defence and the concept of a "just war" - which is why Christian churches still train and post Chaplains to the armed forces.(See also Jn. 2:15, Heb. 11:32-34 on militancy and fighting respectively.)

There is therefore agreement in principle between Christianity and Islam on the need to resist evil and aggression. And if it comes to the actual track record of the oppression and violence committed by so-called "Christians" and "Muslims", the actions of "Christians" as listed above over the past 1,000 years indicate a far worse record of aggression than anything done by "Muslims".

Lastly, some people have questioned the promise of God in the Qur'an that those who are killed while engaged in military jihad will go to Paradise. Given the above conditions for a just war in Islam, one may ask where else should God put a person who has died fighting to protect truth and justice? One notes the double standards in popular media presentation of violence by "fundamentalist Muslim", "fanatics" and "extremists". Whereas, in contrast, other acts of violence such as bombings of innocent people by IRA Christian fundamentalists are portrayed simply as IRA Bombings without the "Christian" tag. Likewise, daily murders committed by notorious East-Asian gang-rings are reported without the "Buddhist" tag.

Let us all be fair and judge a religion by its teachings and not by the behaviour of human beings whose actions are in defiance or ignorance of the religions they claim to follow.

 

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