Is Religion Cause or Cure of Conflict?
by IMAM DR Abduljalil Sajid *
The Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony
Bismillah Hir Rahma Nir Rahim (I begin with name of God the Most Kind the Most Merciful). I greet you with the greetings of Islam (Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakathu (May God’s blessing and peace be with us all.)
Form the very out set, I brought greetings from Farooq Murad the current Secretary General of British Muslim's most representative umbrella body Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the previous Secretary Generals Sir Iqbal Sacranie OBE, Yousuf Bhailok and Dr Abdul Bari OBE.
Living and working together is not always easy. Religion harnesses deep emotions, which can sometimes take destructive forms. Where this happens, we must draw on our faith to bring about reconciliation and understanding. The truest fruits of religion are healing and positive. We have a great deal to learn from one another, which can enrich us without undermining our own identities. Together, listening and responding with openness and respect, we can move forward to work in ways that acknowledge genuine differences but build on shared hopes and values.
It is commonly believed that Religion has been a major factor in most world conflicts. Since 9/11, there is a growing inclination on the part of some politicians, journalists, and others to assert that Islam – or at least a vague hostile ideology – not “terrorism,” is the enemy, and to acknowledge that this includes a war of ideas as well as one of violence. Other say established religions are the main source of conflict in the world because they claim exclusivity and are decisive. Certainly, divine revelation came down to support what is good and defeat what is evil. It is meant to unite all people on the path of mercy; or, in other words, to be cure rather than cause of conflict. Conflict, whether within the family, the workplace or among states and civilizations, is a fact of life.
Let us examine the facts. I can only speak from my faith tradition. Let me begin from the very outset to clarify Islam from Muslim. Most people treat Islam and Muslims as synonymous and mutually interchangeable terms, often saying Islam where they ought to say Muslims and vice versa.
In my opinion the word “Islam” should be used exclusively for the “Way of Life” based upon divine sources: The Book known as Qur’an, “the word of God” and Sunnah, “the proven practices of the Prophet” (peace and blessing of God be upon him). “Muslims” as human beings are free to abide or deviate from Divine Guidance, as they feel fit according to their own conscience. Islam has never claimed to be a new faith. It is the same faith that God ordained with the creation of the first man sent to earth - Adam. Islam confirms almost all Biblical and Hebrew Prophets as the Prophets of Islam and their messages as the messages of Islam as long as they are confirmed in the Qur’an, the Book of Islam. The moral and ethical code of Islam is similar to Judaism, Christianity and many other major world faiths. The only difference is in theology, concepts and practices, in the methods of worship of the One and the Only One God and methodology of how morality and ethics should govern all spheres and aspects of our human life. A Muslim must do good deeds and work for the welfare of humanity in co-operation with others for common good.
Islamic Theory: 3 Ds: 1) Din ; 2) Dunya; 3) Dawla: Islamic way of life can be summarised in three words 1) Din (religion), 2) Dunya (Community), 3) Dawla, (State). Islamic Shariah covers all of these three aspects. From Islamic point of view, life is a unity. It cannot be divided into watertight compartments. Islamic Shariah gives directions to all aspects of life in its entirety. Islamic Shariah is a complete scheme of life and an all-embracing social order where nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking. Therefore there is no separation between state and church. Islamic State is not a theocratic state. Secularism, in Muslims view, destroys the transcendence of all moral values. In Qur’anic words “those who forget God eventually forget themselves” (The Holy Qur’an 59:19) and their individual and corporate personalities disintegrate. Thus, Islam is considered the religion in which, through voluntary submission to God, human beings find peace with themselves and their environment. A Muslim seeks God’s guidance in all matters all the time. There is no contradiction between the divine rights of the individual, anchored in the holy Qura’n, and the core rights as embodied in the Universal Human Rights declarations. Muslims support fundamental human rights, rule of law, division of power with accountability and checks and balances, universal suffrage and eligibility, and freedom of speech and conscience. Islamic Shariah commands its followers to observe the local legal order. Muslims can live anywhere in the world, provided they can fulfil their fundamental religious duties. Muslims must also respect and abide by all laws of the land.
The general theory of Islam begins with a consideration of application of Islamic Shariah (Law) in daily life. Shariah is not a divine Law. It is a human interpretation of the sacred text. According to Islamic teachings, the Creator not only laid down laws governing the natural universe but rules for human conduct in all aspects of life. Unlike natural order, which follows its predetermined laws, mankind has the freedom to rebel and follow its own “man-made” laws, which is, however, a form of unbelief (shirk). Non-submission to the will of Allah is not only an act of ingratitude (kufr) for divine mercies, but also a choice for evil and misery in this world and punishment in the life hereafter. In Islam, all aspects of natural life have been God-willed, therefore, the ultimate purpose of all creation is the compliance of the created with the will of the creator. Islam is neither a purely otherworldly religion nor one that focuses too much on worldly affairs. Muslims seek the best of both worlds. Islam is simultaneously a creed, a set of ethical norms, a social order, and a way of life. Wherever they are, Muslims are expected to actively contribute to the common good and to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in faith, worldwide. Islamic Shariah Law commands its followers to observe the local legal order.
Continuity of Message: The Holy Qur’an repeatedly points out that its core message is not new and the relations between Muslims and “the followers of earlier revelations” are one of the same in essence. Islam is the same religion from the same God, the creator of Adam and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “Say: We believe in God and that which God revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and tribes and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and to the other prophets from their Lord; We make no distinction between them, and we have surrendered ourselves to the will of God.” (Qur’an 3:85). Muslims believe in God whom, like Arab Christians, they call “Allah” – the God of Abraham and of all other prophets – is considered One and Unique, not limited by time or space. Allah is the uncaused caused of all beings, defeating any attempt at definition: transcendent and immanent, just and merciful. It is Allah who in his Omnipotence created the Universe and shall maintain it until doomsday, the day of Last judgment. Every Muslim believes that man, since he enjoys free will, is responsible for his actions and accountable for them on the Day of Judgement. Muslims, male and female alike, share the same task in life: To recognise God, to serve God and obey his commands. This will also help to assure equality, freedom, justice, compassion, and prosperity on earth. In my humble opinion religion should build bridges not erect walls between human beings.
Relationship between God and Human: The human, like all of Allah's creations, is in a state of total submission (Islam) to the will of Allah. The difference between humans and other creations, however, is that we have been given the ability to choose. When our minds submit to Allah, then we would have completely submitted to Allah, and we would be referred to as "Muslims." At this level of total and complete submission, the relationship between Allah and the human is one of a complete peace. It is an Islamic characteristic to have complete obedience to Allah and acceptance of His will and commands. It is also an Islamic characteristic to acquire a unique feeling of satisfaction, fulfilment, and content as a result of this obedience and acceptance. The relationship between Allah and us humans in Islam is a direct one, with no mediators. In this direct relationship, we recognise that there is no other party that can help, give, take, support, provide, or grant forgiveness but Allah. In such a direct relationship, we do not associate any other deities with Allah. Moreover, our faith and submission to Allah become complete and pure. Islam teaches that all humans are born sinless. We are only responsible for the sins we commit intentionally. Recognising our human nature, Allah the Most Merciful, accepts our sincere repentance and forgives our sins. Islam also teaches that true belief and righteous deeds are two key elements for one to attain Allah's pleasure and satisfaction. It takes both elements to establish health individuals and healthy societies. Muslims believe the life on this earth is only a transition period that precedes the latter life. Winning the latter life is the goal of every Muslim. This is achieved through gaining Allah's satisfaction through believing in Him and following His commands and prescriptions. The reward for those who gain Allah's satisfaction and forgiveness is Heaven, and that for those who strayed is Hell. Muslims are advised by Prophet Muhammad to work for this life as if we are living forever, and work for the latter life as if we are dying tomorrow. This saying highlights the balance that Muslims are to work towards achieving in their life on earth.
Duties of Muslims: Muslims are required to observe religious rules in the community and establish an Islamic State to achieve man’s righteousness. It is the duty of every Muslim to cooperate with others for seeking the common good. It is the duty of an Islamic state to establish a just social order based on principles of harmony, respect, freedom and dignity where all human beings are accepted with all of their differences. Diversity is not only recognised but also appreciated in Islamic Society. Muslims can discharge this responsibility collectively by establishing an Islamic State with power to command (amr) and prohibit (nahy). Thus Islamic State is an indispensable condition of Islamic life in the true sense of the word “Islam”. However, Muslims living in minority situation has no duty to establish an Islamic State. Muslims are part of Global community (Ummah). Muslims living as majority has religious duty to establish an Islamic State to establish Peace and Justice with an authority to enjoin Good and prohibit evil “Amar bil Maroof and Nahi a’nil Munkar (3:104; 110; 9:71).
Religious Foundations for Diversity and Pluralism: Through my reading of the sacred text of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, I have come to conclusions that are relevant to the application of the Qur'an to contemporary society, particularly with regard to democracy and pluralism. First, one of the core principles of Muslim belief is shura, which means consultation. This was how the Prophet consulted with his companions on making decisions for his society. In the Qur'an, shura is mentioned twice, as a fundamental belief, just like prayer, and as a practice, according to the time in which one lives. In our times, genuine shura means genuine pluralism of points of view, and democracy. Second, this view of shura changes the concept of Jihad, which we hear so much about from the fundamentalists.
The foundations out of which an Islamic perspective on any topic should arise are nothing less than the authentic sources of Islam, the Holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him). Both the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith embrace and affirm Ikhtilaf, i.e. differences in belief, perspectives and viewpoints, as being natural and an essential part of the human condition. A denial of the right of others to hold beliefs and views, which are different and incompatible to one’s own, is tantamount to a denial of Allah himself. In the Holy Qur’an, chapter 10, verse 99, Allah, the Sublime, declares:
“If your Lord had so desired, all the people on the earth would surely have come to believe, all of them; do you then think, that you could compel people to believe?”
And again in the Holy Qur’an, chapter 11, verse 118, Allah, the Sublime, declares: “And had your Lord so willed, He could surely have made all human beings into one single community: but (He willed it otherwise, and so) they continue to hold divergent views.”
Both of these verses establish the principle of freedom of belief, thought and _expression in Islam. At the conclusion of the first verse, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is himself reproved for transgressing this principle by being over-enthusiastic in convincing others with regard to the truth of Islam. Thus the Qur’an stresses that the differences in beliefs, views and ideas of humankind is not incidental and negative but represents an Allah-willed, basic factor of human existence. The challenge which the principle of freedom of belief and thought in Islam holds for us is to develop clear ethics and find mechanisms to manage and deal with the differences of beliefs and theologies that exist. This is the challenge that religious pluralism holds for us. All basic freedoms (freedom of Religions, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from fear (prejudice and hatred) and freedom from want (hunger/starvation) have been guaranteed by God Al-Mighty to all creations irrespective of their place of birth. Islam plays great importance to human dignity and civil society based on rule of law.
Diversity recognised, appreciated and celebrated: Islam presents the concept that all human beings are equal and we are equal because we are all creatures of God with no distinctions of colour, race or country, or tribe or clan or anything else. One would find that fanaticism is generated in the last analysis either from any of these false prejudices, when you try to group humanity into certain watertight compartments. One cannot change the colour of his skin; one cannot change his place of birth. If one believes in any of these standards, then rational fusion of the human race is not possible and you become intolerant towards others.
In Islam, the rational fusion is possible for whatever tribe, you come from, from whatever race you come, whatever colour you may have, whatever territory You might be born in, whatever language you speak, you are one, you can be one. You belong to one race the human race, the one family the human family. You belong to one brotherhood. Diversity among fellow human beings must be recognised, appreciated and valued in all aspects of life. The majority community is always judged by the way it treats its minority community.
Islam’s respect for people of other Religions or people of no faith: We can build our society only be built on a sure foundation of mutual respect, openness and trust. This means finding ways to live our lives of faith with integrity, and allowing others to do so too. Our different religious traditions offer us many resources for this and teach us the importance of good relationships characterised by honesty, compassion and generosity of spirit. Islamic teachings offer a clear and comprehensive code of conduct for encouraging and strengthening these relationships.
Islam teaches Muslims to be kind and just in dealing with people of other religions. "As for such as do not fight against you on account of (your) faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably" (The Holy Qur’an 60-8).
"Because of this, then, summon [all mankind], and pursue the right course, as thou hast been bidden [by God]; and do not follow their likes and dislikes, but say: ‘I believe whatever revelation God has bestowed from on high; I am bidden to bring about equity in your mutual views. God is our Sustainer as well as your Sustainer. To us shall be accounted our deeds, and to you, your deeds. Let there be no contention between us and you: God will bring us all together - for with Him is all journey’s end" (The Holy Qur’an 42:15).
Islamic law protects the privileged status of minorities and this is why non-Muslims’ places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city and under 500 years of the Muslim Moors in Spain, Christian Churches and Jewish institutions flourished. Also, during the 14th century in Anatolia the Christian Armenians preferred the rule of the just Muslim Ottomans rather than the harsh rule of the Byzantine empire. There is a popular saying which exemplifies this; "Better the Sultan’s Turban than the Pontiff’s Cap". Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.
The Role of Faith/Religion: Faith brings joy and hope to millions of people in the world. Religion is a social force that can be harnessed to build bridges or manipulated to erect walls. Living and working together in today’s multicultural, multi-religious and multi faith society is not always easy. Faith communities have huge human and financial recourses. Faith motivates its followers for doing good deeds such as raising funds for good causes, helping elderly and needy people in our communities and motivating their followers to tackle many social issues in our society. Religion harnesses deep emotions, which can sometimes take destructive forms. Where this happens, we must draw on our faith to bring about reconciliation and understanding. The truest fruits of our faith are healing the wounds of the past and being positive to construct trust and fellowship between different people. We have a great deal to learn from one another, which enriches us without undermining our own identities. Together, listening and responding with openness and respect, we can move forward to work in ways that acknowledge genuine differences but build on shared hopes and values.
The need of Inter-religious Dialogue: The famous German theologian Prof Hans Kung once said, “No peace among nations without peace among religions, and no peace among religions without dialogue between the religions”. In the document the Caux 2002 Dialogue: An honest conversation among concerned Muslims and non-Muslims on Peace, Justice and Faith I added, “No peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness and compassion”. Among many prerequisites of meaningful dialogue are active listening, honest conversation, accepting the other’s vision whether agreeing or disagreeing, and acknowledging the other’s pain. In today’s world there is a dire need of inter-religious dialogue. There are common values that human beings share irrespective of religion, nationality or ethnicity. These values include the sanctity of life, freedom, equality, respect for human rights, international humanitarian law, commitment to cultural and religious diversity, human dignity, human development, democracy, the rule of law, and equitable access to the earth’s resources and equitable distribution of power.
Religion: Bridge building or Wall Erecting? We should see religion as a total way of life anchored in faith in God and expressing itself in ethical conduct at the individual and social level. Justice, love and compassion - values that are highly cherished in any religion - rather than form, ritual and symbol, should propel this way of life. Since these values are universal, religion, which serves as a conduit for them, should also be preached and practised in a genuinely universal manner. This is what one expects the practitioners of the religions to do in the coming century to counter the challenge of globalisation. They should discard the narrow, exclusive concept of religion, which often confines virtue and goodness to one's own kind. Justice and compassion in this exclusive approach seldom transcends one's own religious boundaries. We should eliminate forever such religious exclusivism. In a sense, certain aspects of globalisation may make it easier for us to put across the universal, all-embracing message of religion and its core values. Given the worldwide reach of the media we have today, for the first time in history the opportunity exists to convey to humankind as a whole the universal essence of each of our religions. Instead of allowing narrow-minded bigots to monopolise the airwaves, why shouldn't men and women with a universal outlook state their case through the global media infrastructure? Even more important, societies everywhere, as we have observed, are becoming less and less exclusive and more and more multi-religious.
It is as if social reality itself is forcing us to get rid of our exclusive attitudes and develop a universal orientation to our religion, which will be more accommodating of ‘the other’. Indeed, one gets the feeling that each and every society is slowly, often painfully, beginning to realise what "humanity as a single family" means. Perhaps this is the path that nations must take for a universal community founded upon our common humanity to emerge. It is a community that globalisation will never be able to achieve. When such a universal community of different religions and peoples bound by their common humanity becomes a reality, we will understand what the illustrious mystic, Jallaluddin Rumi, meant when he wrote, "The lamps are different but the light is the same." In brief, religion motivates its followers to do good deeds such as charitable work and encourages doing common good for the betterment of all humanity.
What causes Wars if not Religions? Pride is one of the biggest causes of wars. Man can’t stand to be put down in any way shape or form. Sports stars many times get mad and fight over trivial things. It is more prevalent now than it ever was before. Hatred is another major cause of war. Many hate for different reasons. Some hate because “those people” have it better than we do. Some because they have oil and we want it, (reminiscent of the current war in Iraq according to many people). Nation against nation only for the goal of being called the best nation. There are many other reasons, which I will not even try to detail but I will try and make a list.
I am sure there are many more reasons for wars that I haven’t thought of.
Extremism and terrorism condemned by Islam: Islam does not preach nor condones any form of terrorism or any acts of violence. Various terms are often used in the media, which promote a negative image of Muslims in political conflicts around the world. The terms fundamentalist and militant Islam are Western constructs, which promote negative stereotypes and have no relevance to Islam. The distinction must be made to be fair to the innocent pawns caught up in the crossfire that these conflicts are politically motivated and usually involve organisations unrelated to Islam but linked to political factions within the society. There are extremists in any society and this is where the violence has often stemmed from. Such activities cannot and must not be linked with any religion. Islam stands for peace and harmony like most ordinary and peaceful people of the World.
Islam advocates patience and moderation in difficult and trying situations. Allah exhorts Muslims: "Help one another in noble actions and pious duty. Help not one another in sin and transgression" (The Holy Qur’an 5:2). "Nay, seek (Allah’s) help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who are humble. Who bear in mind the certainty that they are to meet their Lord, and that they are to return to Him" (The Holy Qur’an 2:145). "For, Allah is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good" (The Holy Qur’an 16:128).
Religious Extremism: Islam is religion of moderation. Holy Qur’an defines Muslims as the well -balanced middle nation model for others (2:143) and advised them not to follow extremism in religious interpretation (4:171, 5:77, 22:78). The Holy Prophet warned Muslims: “Beware of Extremism in your religion as people before you were destroyed themselves because of their extremism”, “Do not be hard upon yourself in your opinion in the matter of faith”, “Always choose easy way in your religious way on matters of faith. Certainly religion is easy” (Collection of sayings of the Holy Prophet by Ahmed, Nisai, Al-Hakim and Ibne Maja). In my humble opinion Islam believes in a civil Society based on rule of law, anyone who creates chaos (Fitna or Fasad) in the society through terror can be treated as harabi (waging war against the society) and should be brought to justice accordingly by legal process. Islam and terrorism are contradictory terms opposed to each other. Islam condemns and rejects all forms of terror, killing without due process of law, injustice, corruption, tyranny and oppression. There is no justification for the usage of terms such as ‘Islamic terrorists’. The Holy prophet of Islam said, "By God, he is not a true believer, from whose mischief his neighbours do not feel secure."(Bukhari, Muslim)
Roots of violent Extremism and Fanaticism: There are Muslims who claim to be religious but try to impose their views over others by force or violence. They forget that Islamic teaching advocates the fundamental principle to respect for individual freedom of conscience and belief. Islam believes that freedom of belief is a basic God given right to all human beings. Extremism and Fanaticism is alien to Islam. However there are a few verses of the Holy Quran, which have been interpreted in such a way that some Muslim may take a view to impose their views over others. For example The Holy Qur’an commands Muslim to live and rule their lives according to the revelled message of God. If any Muslim does not decide according to the Holy Qur’an then he is not only wrongdoer, a rebel, disobedient but a non-believer also (5:44- 47). These verses were interpreted by some that if a Muslim ruler has completely abandon the Islamic Law then it is legitimate to disobey him and change him by force. They also believe that, as Islam does not make any distinction between communities of believers and the Islamic State - because the State is simply a political arm to establish common good, it is important that Islamic Law must be established within Islamic societies. Due to their political ends they establish effective ways to promote their views by every means available to them.
In my opinion, fanaticism, terrorism and extremism are symptom of a problem, not the actual cause. In order to combat and eradicate these evils totally our long-term goal should be to eliminate the underlying social and political causes which breed them. We must continue fighting against Racism (colour or cultural), Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, and bigotry in words and deeds in all aspects of our society. Paralleling our actions against terrorism, we must have equally vigorous efforts to enhance freedom, human dignity, justice and humanitarian values. Some of the possible factors behind the violent terrorists acts may include:
1) Hatred, hurt and prejudice
2) Fear and powerlessness
3) Occupation and domination
4) Injustice and suffering
5) Corruption and greed
6) Oppression and Control
7) Dictatorship and total authority
8) Debt, poverty and hunger
9) Frustration and helplessness
10) Dislike of inclusive Society and above all
11) Discrimination and Islamophobia
There is a new type of terrorism, which has emerged recently in the forms of arson, bombing and sabotage in the name of saving the environment, ecology and animal and zoological kingdom. Racism (colour or cultural), anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, bigotry must be in words and deeds. I am glad to note that from the very beginning the British Prime Minister together with the American President made it clear that Islam and the Muslim Community are not to blame for the tragedy. We are dealing with fanatic individuals who have behaved in this most abhorrent and abominable manner. This is not a crusade or conflict between Islam and the West. Rt Hon Tony Blair said: “Blaming Islam is as ludicrous as blaming Christianity for loyalist attack on Catholics or nationalists attack on Protestants in Northern Ireland”.
Extremism and terrorism condemned by Islam: Islam does not preach nor condones any form of terrorism or any acts of violence. Various terms are often used in the media, which promote a negative image of Muslims in political conflicts around the world. The terms fundamentalist and militant Islam are Western constructs, which promote negative stereotypes and have no relevance to Islam. The distinction must be made to be fair to the innocent pawns caught up in the crossfire that these conflicts are politically motivated and usually involve organisations unrelated to Islam but linked to political factions within the society. There are extremists in any society and this is where the violence has often stemmed from. Such activities cannot and must not be linked with any religion. Islam stands for peace and harmony and, like most Australians; Muslim Australians are ordinary and peaceful people. Islam is a religion of peace and there is no place for extremism in the religion. Those who die in extremist activities are not martyrs, but criminals.
Contrary to stereotypes, Islam advocates numerous non-violent and peace building values and expects Muslims to live by them. These values are supported by the Holy Qu'an and the sayings of the Holy Prophet' Hadith. One of these values is the duty to pursue justice (The Holy Qur'an 5:8). Another is the necessity of doing good by struggling against oppression and helping those who are in need. A third such value is that all humans are God's creation, have sacred lives, and thus are all equal (The Holy Qu'an 7:11). Islam grants no special privileges based on race, ethnicity, or tribal affiliation. Moreover, all Muslims are to respect and preserve human life (5:32). Islam also calls for the quest for peace, which is a state of physical, mental, spiritual, and social harmony (The Holy Qu'an 5:64). Other verses stress the importance of tolerance and kindness to other people (The Holy Qu'an 16:90). Looking at the life of the Prophet, one notes his use of non-violent methods to resist those who persecuted him; the Prophet never resorted to violence or force. Peacemaking and negotiation are considered more effective than aggression and violent confrontation. In fact, the Arabic meaning of the word Islam itself connotes peace. Another virtue in Islam is forgiveness (The Holy Qur'an 23:96). Muslims are urged to live in harmony and peace with all fellow humans.
Islam advocates patience and moderation in difficult and trying situations. Allah exhorts Muslims: "Help one another in noble actions and pious duty. Help not one another in sin and transgression" (The Holy Qur'an 5:2).
"Nay, seek (Allah's) help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who are humble. Who bear in mind the certainty that they are to meet their Lord, and that they are to return to Him" (The Holy Qur'an 2:145)."For, Allah is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good" (The Holy Qur'an 16:128).
Avoid Extremism and Do Not Go to Extreme always be moderate: The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
"Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Hadith 38)
A group of three men once asked how the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) worshipped. When they were told of the Prophet's religious practices, they began to view their own worship as insufficient. One of them said: "I will offer prayers throughout the night forever." The other said: "I will fast throughout the year and will not break my fast." The third said: "I will keep away from women and will not marry forever." The Prophet came to them and said: "I am more submissive to God and more afraid of (displeasing) Him than you (are); yet I fast and break my fast, I sleep and I also marry women. So he who does not keep to my (moderate) tradition in religion is (not one of my followers)."(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Hadith 1)
Exposing Extremists on their Own Grounds: In their efforts to expose the extremists among Muslims, the counter-terrorists run the risk of buying into the same distortions of the Qur’an that feed terrorism. They interpret the Qur’an just as the terrorists do and thereby lend them support, when they should be attacking the terrorists’ distortion of their own religion. For example, terrorists like to deny that they are terrorists by claiming that the word terrorism is subjective. They claim that their enemies to attack political opponents use the term indiscriminately. It would be more effective to accuse the terrorists of hiraba, which is the classical Arabic word for terrorism and has a precise definition.
The term hiraba refers to public terrorism in a war against society and civilization. In legal terminology it is defined as “spreading mischief in the land,” but its precise meaning, as defined by Professor Khalid Abou el Fadl, is “killing by stealth and targeting a defenceless victim in a way intended to cause terror in society.” This is the Islamic definition of terrorism. It is the very opposite of jihad. A cognate word, from the common root hariba meaning enraged, is harb, which means enemy or war, as in Syed Qutb’s Dar al Harb. In order to counter the extremists, one must hoist them by their own petards by using classical Islamic terminology to show that they are frauds. There is no such thing as Islamic terrorism, but there have always been Muharibun or Muslim terrorists. And there is no such thing as “holy war,” certainly not as a translation of jihad, but there are extremists who claim that their extremism is holy, when in fact they are only exhibiting the supreme sin in Islamic thought, which is arrogance. Arrogance is incurable, because arrogance denies itself.
The Muslim terrorists are Muharibun, guilty of hiraba. Classical jurists state there can be no greater evil and no greater sin, other than blaspheming against God. If there is to be a clash both within and among civilizations, the major cause will be not Islam or any religion, but the extremists in every religion who commit hiraba. They have a name, and to name an evil is to expose it for what it is. The extremist Muslims recite and distort various portions of the Holy Qur’an to support their extremism, of which three are their favourites. The first is Surah al Ma’ida 5:51,
which has been translated by the six major translations of the Qur’an into English, namely, Arberry, Pickthall, Dawood, Yusuf Ali, Ahmad Ali, and now El-Halali/Khan, as follows: “O, you who believe [in the message of Muhammad], do not take Jews and Christians as friends. They are friends to one another, and the one among you who turns to them is of them. Truly, God does not guide wrongdoing folk.”
The extremists like to give the term awliya the meaning of friends, when, in fact, it means much more than that. The singular, wali, means guardian, one to whom one entrusts one future and one’s faith. Wali is one of the 99 names of God that Muslims often recite. A cognate meaning of wali, with emphasis on the first syllable, and also one of the names of God, is “ruler,” one to whom one submits.
The extremists support their favourite distortion of this text by ignoring the circumstances of this particular revelation. According to one of the earliest and most famous historians and commentators, Al-Tabari, who died in the third Islamic century, this verse was revealed shortly after the Makkans had driven the Muslims out because Muhammad opposed the profitable pilgrimage of neighboring tribes to visit the many gods set up in and around the Ka’aba. Although the Makkans were much more powerful militarily than the small group of Muslims who emigrated to Madina, the Makkans feared their growing popularity. Therefore the Makkans attacked Madina with a relatively overwhelming force. Since it was the practice then to secure one’s own personal survival and the survival of one’s tribe or clan by making alliances with other tribes, many Muslims started to seek such alliances with Jewish and Christian tribes. This would have split the Ummah or community in Madina and caused the annihilation of the Muslims. In this case, the proper translation of awliya would be protectors or guardians. The extremists among the Muslims today, however, like the translation of “friends” because this supports their ghetto mentality of confrontation with the outside world and suspicion of every Christian and Jew as a enemy. This is the perfect justification for demonising entire civilizations and even one’s next-door neighbor as part of the Dar al Harb. From this it is not a great step to 9/11.
The second favourite distortion by the Muslim extremists, and one pounced upon by those who confuse Islam with extremist Muslims, is Baqara 2:191: “And slay them wheresoever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out.” This is a favourite of the suicide bombers in the Holy Land, whose ultimate aim is to drive the Jewish population into the sea. This selection out of context ignores the immediately preceding verse, 2:190, which reads: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, God does not love the transgressors [of limits].” Again, the historical context is also necessary to put the “slay them” verse in perspective. It does not refer to all non-Muslims and very specifically not to Jews and Christians. The objects of the verse are the mushrikun or polytheists who were driving the Muslims out of their homes in Makkah. By universal definition in Islamic law, Christians and Jews are not polytheists but People of the Book, with whom Muslims are free to intermarry. In fact, these two verses, 2:190-191, are often cited by Islamic jurists as the first instance in which the Qur’an forbid all war and violence except in self-defence and within strict limitations, which were spelled out in other parts of the Holy Qur’an and in the whole body of later scholarship during the classical period of Islamic civilization.
As David Dukake points out in his chapter, “The Myth of a Militant Islam,” in Lumbard’s edited book, Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: “Al-Tabari gives many accounts detailing the limits placed upon the muhajidun [wagers of jihad]. He says, for instance, that the cousin of the Prophet of Islam, Ibn ‘Abbas, commented upon Verse 190 as follows: ‘Do not kill women, or children, or the old, or the one who greets you with peace, or the one who restrains his hand from hurting you, and if you do this then you have transgressed.’ Another tradition related by Al-Tabari comes from the Ummayad Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al ‘Aziz or ‘Umar II [at the end of the first Islamic century], who explained the meaning of 2:190 as:’Do not fight he who does not fight you, that is to say women, children, and monks’.”
The hadith that prohibit exactly what the suicide bombers are doing to innocent Jews in the Holy Land and the suicide bombers did to the Christian women and children in the North Ossetian village of Beslan in the year 2004 are much too numerous to detail, but many are quoted in Dukake’s chapter on “The Myth of Militant Islam.”
Most Muslims are familiar with these many hadith, which is one reason why they are so horrified that any self-proclaimed Muslims would support suicide bombers in the name of Islam. The best way to marginalize Muslim extremists is to turn the tables on them and show that in their ignorant rage they are trying to hijack their own religion.
The third favourite distortion of the Holy Qur’an by those who allegedly base their crimes upon it is Surah al Taubah 9:73: “O Prophet, perform jihad (jahid) against the unbelievers (kafirin) and the hypocrites (munafiqin), and attack them (akhlu).” The Muslim extremists rightly believe that this is directed against Muslims as the hypocrites, but they are clearly distorting the meaning when they say that this verse requires war against all Christians and Jews as unbelievers. The Qur’an does often refer to Christians and Jews as unbelievers, but it distinguishes usually (only a few verses from each other) between those who have a disease in their hearts and those who don’t. In verses 2:105, 5:78, 98:1, and 98:6, for example, it clearly prefaces the term unbelievers referring to the People of the Book with the preposition min, which means “among” the People of the Book. Extremists, like the Hizb al Tahrir, Al-Mohajroon etc whose reason for existence is to institute a global Caliphate to rule the world, deliberately leave out the qualifying adjective “among” when translating this verse, thereby deliberately corrupting the Holy Qur’an. The extremists simply overlook other verses that talk about the Christians and Jews who do not have a disease in their hearts or else they claim that they were abrogated. Especially embarrassing for the extremist Jew haters are verses 113-115 of Surah Ali Imran: “Not all of them are alike. Of the People of the Book are a group that stand (in prayer), rehearse the signs of God throughout the night and prostrate. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and they hasten in (all) good works. These are among the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them, and God knows the God-fearing ones.”
The distortion by the extremists goes even further. They insist on translating the imperatives jihad “Wage Jihad” and ahklut “attack or cause pain” in the sense of offensive military warfare. Perhaps the best translation of the Holy Qur’an, by Muhammad Asad, renders Surah al Tauba 9:73 as: “O Prophet! Strive hard against the deniers of the truth and the hypocrites, and be adamant with them.” Mohammed Asad comments, “The imperative jihad is obviously used here in its spiritual connotation, implying efforts at convincing both the outspoken believers and the wavers, including the various types of hypocrites spoken of in the preceding passages.” He adds that the word akhlut means, “Do not compromise with them in matters of principle.”
The historical context is important in understanding the meaning of such key terms as Ummah or “community” and jihad. Extremists interpret the term community exclusively in reference to Muslims and jihad exclusively in reference to non-Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad first used the term Ummah in reference to all the citizens of Madina, who were Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Perhaps the first reference in the Holy Qur’an to jihad in Surah al Hajj 22:39-40 was to defend Jews and Christians, as well as Muslims.
Prior to the revelation of this verse in Surah al Hajj, the Muslims were told to avoid all violence even in self defence, because their initial task was to purify themselves and not yet to transform society by promoting justice.
Surah al Hajj 22:Verses 39-40 were revealed as the Muslims were leaving Makkah in the migration to Madinah in the expectation that they would be attacked militarily. They read: “Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged – and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them, that is, those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our Sustainer is God!’ For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – in [all of] which God’s name is abundantly extolled – would surely have been destroyed [ere now].” The call to jihad was not for the destruction of other faiths and peoples, but to preserve places of worship for all the People of the Book, including Muslims.
The Constitution of Madina, (622CE) which governed the first Muslim civil community together with the Jews and Christians, spells out the permanent state of common identity as follows: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate! This is a writing of Muhammad, the prophet, between the believers and Muslims of Quraish and Yathrib and those who follow them and are attached to them and who fight along with them. They are a single community distinct from other people. … Whosoever of the Jews follows us has the (same) help and support … so long as they are not wronged [by Muhammad] and he does not help [others] against them. … Between them [Muslims and Jews] there is help (nasr) against whoever wars against the people of this document. Between them is sincere friendship (nas’h wa nasiha) and honourable dealing. …”
Christians were prominent in the jihad waged against the enemies of Islam, because the point of the jihad was not to establish a world populated only by Muslims; it was to create a social order in which the freedom to practice the worship of God was guaranteed for all Muslims as well as for the People of the Book.” He concludes, “Traditional Muslims saw all of life in terms of balance. … It has primarily been certain modernized Muslims, whose influences are not the traditional teachings of the faith, but the attitudes and excesses of modernity (only cloaked with turbans and beards), who have transgressed all limits and discarded the Balance that is true Islam.”
A Forgotten Covenant between Islam and Christianity dated 628 CE : "This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)." (Such were the memorable words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the year 628 CE, when he granted this historic document, also known as the Charter of Privileges, to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians living under Islamic rule, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.) Read more at : Hamidulah,M.(1975), The First Written Constitution in the World, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, and see at: http://www.pat.com.pk/pdf/constitution_madina.pdf and note that this text is taken from A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad — A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1955; pp. 231-233. Numbering added. See at: http://www.constitution.org/cons/medina/con_medina.htm
The Challenge of Transcendent Justice: The paradigm of radicalism and resulting resort to violence as a solution of first resort has passed from the twentieth century, the most violent in human history, into the present one, like a hurricane mutating from a Category Four to a Category Five or beyond the scale to a Category X. In order to address this monumental threat, Muslims, as well as everyone else, need what the British called a “grand strategy” that orchestrates all dimensions of civilisational dynamics. The followers of every religion can best address the impending dissolution of civilization by reviving the core vision of their classical past. This is the vision of a transcendent justice that derives from an ultimate truth beyond the power and authority of human beings.
Among all the legal systems of the world, the principles of transcendent justice have been most beautifully articulated in classical Islamic thought. These constitute a sophisticated code of human responsibilities and corresponding human rights.
Unfortunately, in the Muslim world, especially in its Sunni portion, this enlightened legal system has been dead for six hundred years. Probably not one Muslim extremist in a thousand has ever even heard of the Islamic code of human rights. The task of Muslims in the world today is to revive the best of this classical Islam, just as it is the task of Americans, including American Muslims, to revive the equivalent in traditionalist or classical America. If there is to be a future for civilization, this project of recovering the best of the past in order reliably to build a better future must be a joint venture.
The starting point in reviving transcendent justice and applying it should be recognizing that the transcendent sources in revelation, natural law, and human reason (known in Islamic philosophy as haqq al yaqin, 'ain al yaqin, and 'ilm al yaqin) can be the starting point. The transcendent approach looks upon the details of the law, known in Arabic as the ahkam or rules and regulations, from the starting point of the whole. The details can be understood and intelligently applied only as applications of higher principles. The opposite approach looks at the whole, if at all, from the starting point of the details. In the transcendent approach, analysis takes precedence over synthesis. In its opposite, synthesis takes precedence over analysis, often without any principles whatsoever.
Many centuries of the best Islamic scholarship developed Islamic jurisprudence into an elaborate and sophisticated holistic framework of human responsibilities and rights. The holistic system of Islamic philosophy and its expression in shari’ah thought is primarily educational and inspirational, focused on transcendent justice, in contrast to the positivist systems of tyrannical and totalitarian governance which serve primarily to consolidate the status quo with all of its injustices. The holistic regards the use of any force to assure compliance as a failure of the system, and it reveres non-violence though not to the extent of absolute pacifism. The positivist system, on the other hand, tends to regard the monopoly of violence and its application by the power of established government as rule by law and as the very definition of justice. As some Muslims use the term, justice can even mean revenge.
According to some classical Islamic scholars, seven universal principles of law, known variously as kulliyat or universals, maqasid or purposes, and dururiyat or essentials, best reflect the architectonics of human rights and constitutional law in Islamic thought. The art of these maqasid as part of the science of 'usul al fiqh (especially in the form of istislah) was initiated by the Prophet Muhammad but was first systematically developed by Imam Jafar and Abu Hamid al Ghazali. It reached its zenith in the writings of Abu Ishaq al Shatibi in the later 1300s and then suddenly died out. These universal principles finally were revived again toward the end of the twentieth century, among others, by Dr Sa’id Ramadan of Geneva, Switzerland, who married the daughter of Hassan al Banna, and by their son, Tariq Ramadan, at the beginning of the twenty-first century as part of a movement to marginalize the extremist movements that threatened to hijack religion in all of the world's traditions.
Unity through Diversity with joy and Hope: We have seen that history has not ended and civilisations have not clashed even after 11 September 2001 and Gulf War I or II. Institutions, nations, groups and all decent individuals must work together and shape the modern world as peaceful place. It is our collective responsibly to give the hope and make this happen. We should pledge to increase our awareness by positive thinking in understanding one another. We must pledge to be courageous defenders of peaceful teachings and interpretations of Islam, and to be exemplary peacemakers in our personal, family and social conduct of our lives in order to socially beneficial, peace fostering, bridge-builder and nature-friendly way of life. A religious Muslim person accepts God given diversity in the World. To him, all people (Muslims and others; People of faith or none) are God’s creatures and have equal rights and responsibilities.
The necessity of mutual cooperation and Dialogue: In my faith tradition the Holy Qur'an commands believers for interfaith co-operation "to come to common grounds" (The Holy Qur'an 3:64). As a Muslim I have been ordered to build good relations with all people of the world (The Holy Qur'an 49:13 & (16:40); work for peace everywhere and whenever possible with others (The Holy Qur'an 2:208) & 8:61); cooperate with others in furthering virtue and God–consciousness (5:2); seek and secure human welfare, promote justice and peace (The Holy Qur'an 4:114); do good to others (The Holy Qur'an 28:77) and not to break promises made to others (The Holy Qur'an 16:91). The Holy Qur'an tells believers that those who do good deeds and help others are the best creation (The Holy Qur'an 98:6). The Holy Prophet of Islam made it clear that "Religion is man's treatment of other fellow-beings" (Bukhari & Muslim); and "the best among you is he who does good deeds in serving other people" (Ahmad & Tabrani).
The Prophet of Islam (May the peace of God be upon him) practiced this ideal for interfaith dialogue himself while talking to Jews, Christians and other faith traditions, as well as people with no faith on issues concerning life, death and relevant matters. The Prophet of Islam confirmed this in writing explicitly in the Charter of Medina in 622 CE . The Holy Qur'an not only recognized religious pluralism as accepting other groups as legitimate socio-religious communities but also accepting their spirituality. The preservation of the sanctity of the places of worship of other faiths is paramount in Islamic tradition (The Holy Qur'an 22:40). The Holy Qur'an is full of many examples but time does not permit me to dwell on this.
We need a dialogue of civilisations, not a monologue and not a clash of civilisations. We need to work together on the bases of Golden Rules:
Golden Rule: "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself". It is noteworthy that most religions base their moral code on the highly effective Golden Rule:
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana-Varga 5:18)
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517)
Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do to you (Analects 15:23)
Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not god for itself. Good thoughts, good words and good deed are the bases of good life.
The Christian faith actually uses two complimentary rules: The (ineffective) Biblical "Golden Rule" which proclaims: "All things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). However, the (effective) Ten Commandments are framed in the negative, as all moral codes must be in order to be effective.
Islam: “No one is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” (Sunnah) This moral code is also a version of the Golden Rule. It is very ineffective. It is obeyed very selectively and ambiguously. Clearly, it is based on the unrealistic assumption that your brother has precisely the same needs and wants as you do.
If we wish to live in harmony with others and never give rise to a conflict with others, we must convert the "Golden Rule" into practice: "Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself"..
Global Ethics and Interfaith Dialogue: In 1993, the Parliament of World Religions adopted a declaration called Towards A Global Ethic, affirming that a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the world’s religions and that this core should form the basis of a global ethic. The principles of the global ethic include:
- No new global order without a new global· ethic,
- A fundamental demand: every human being must be· treated humanely,
- Commitment to a culture of non-violence and· respect for life,
- Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a· just economic order,
- Commitment to a culture of equal rights and· partnership between men and women,
- Transformation of consciousness through seeking God Guidance.
Finally, I conclude this with the following admonition of Allah in the Holy Qur'an: "O you who (claim to) believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty (to Allah). Observe your duty to Allah. Surely Allah is well aware of what you do." (The Holy Qur'an 5:8).
Remember, Remember, Remember. Evil is not in the body. Evil is in the mind, therefore harm nobody. Just change the mind.
Lord, You said and your word is true! Love is stronger than hate. O God Almighty, You are peace and from You peace comes. Bestow upon all of us your peace and make our final destiny in your eternal abode of peace. Let there be respect for the earth, peace for is people, love in our lives, and delight in the good, forgiveness for our past wrongs and from now on a new start. '
Saturday 17 July 2010
With Best Regards,
Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid
Imam Brighton Islamic Mission since September 1976;
Chairman Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK (MCRRH);
President National Association of British Pakistanis (NABPAK) since September 1999;
President Religions for Peace UK and Deputy President of European WCRP -Religions for Peace since 2000;
Chairman Taskforce for European Inter-cultural Dialogue since September 2000;
Chairman Muslim Marriage Guidance Council (MMGC) since October 1980;
Chairman Islamic Food and Nutrition Council – (IFANC) since November 1978;
Deputy President and International Secretary World Congress of Faiths (WCF) since 2000;
Adviser to European Council of Religious Leaders/Religions for Peace (ECRL);
Founder (1996) and Adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) Europe and International Affairs Committee (EIAC) since 2006;
Hon Secretary Al-Hijrah Trust UK (A registered Charity NO: 1018850) since 1997;
Link Officer Brighton and Hove Interfaith Contact Group (IFCG) for National and International Inter-faith matters since 2000;
European Representative of World Council of Muslims Inter-faith Relations (WCMIR) since 1999;
Ambassador of Peace status granted by Universal Peace Federation (UPF) since 2000;
* A lecture delivered at London at an Interfaith Conference on 17 July 2010. The conference held in connection with the first official visit to the United Kingdom of the head of Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, His Holiness Olumba Olumba Obu.