Terrorism in the Name of Religion
Terrorists sometimes commit their acts of destruction or murder in the name of religion, and as reported in the media, when the perpetrators burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery, they shouted "Allahu Akbar," which means "God is Great." Their brutal attack, however, was anything but a religious act. The killing of innocent people is an absolute negation of the true nature and teachings of Islam. If this despicable terror incident has taught us anything, it is that the overall situation in Bangladesh has deteriorated significantly and it is time for the country to wake up. More specifically, it is time for Bangladeshi Muslims to reclaim their faith from the terrorists.
We learnt through the media (see The Daily Star, July 2, 2016) that the terrorists entered the bakery and asked some of the hostages to recite verses from the Qur'an and whoever was unable to do so, was killed. But anyone with minimum knowledge and understanding of the religion knows that Islam forbids the killing of innocent people. Allah SWT says in the Qur'an, "And do not take the life which God has made sacred, except rightfully. This is what He has charged you with that perhaps you will understand" (Qur'an 6:151). Forcing an individual to accept Islam is not allowed either. The Qur'an declares, "There is no compulsion in religion." (Qur'an 2:256). The Qur'an also clarifies this issue, telling us, "And if your Lord willed, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Would you then compel people until they are believers?" (Qur'an 10: 99). The right to believe or not believe is a fundamental human right, enjoined by God, and codified in Islam. And the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said, "All of creation is the family of God, and the person most beloved by God is the one who is kind and caring toward His family."
Perversely, the people indoctrinated by the so-called "Islamic State," and/or similar extremist groups who commit violence and murder -- sometimes through suicide missions -- maintain that their actions benefit Muslims and will earn them paradise upon their deaths. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Fiqh Council of North America's fatwa on extremism and suicide operations point to how deluded these so-called "jihadists" are. The fatwa reads: "Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification for extremism and terrorism. Targeting civilians' lives and property through suicide operations or any other method of attack is haram - or forbidden - and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not 'martyrs.'" The Council also unequivocally says: "It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or prohibited violence."
Literally, "extremism" means, "being situated at the farthest possible point from the centre," and in political or ideological terms, this connotes being out of balance or proportion. In religious terms, it means going beyond what is reasonable and permissible. Muslims are required to be moderate and balanced in religious practice and, in fact, in every aspect of life. This includes being tolerant towards others - be they Muslims or non-Muslims. The Qur'an declares: "And thus We have made you a moderate nation, so that you become witnesses over mankind and the Messenger becomes a witness over you" (Qur'an 2:143). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also said, "Beware of exaggerating in your religion, for those before you were destroyed because of their exaggeration in religion."
Among the factors that lead some Muslims to extremism is weak knowledge of the religion. They prefer to pick up what suits their emotions and desires rather than making the necessary and sincere effort to understand the Qur'an, the sunnah, and the seerah (the life of the Prophet) as a whole. One must remember that no one particular verse of the Quran or instruction of the Prophet is to be taken in isolation, without context, qualification, and nuance.
Another factor that leads to extremism is the lack of patience. As we mentioned earlier, the overzealous young men and their mentors point fingers at the oppression that many Muslims are enduring in the Muslim world due to tyranny and international power politics. They then suggest that their actions and extremist operations will bring an end to this situation. It can be made to sound noble and many frustrated young men find in such ideology "a purpose in life." But these young people are being, in the end, fooled and led astray. There is no "quick fix" to the social and economic injustices that abound, and the various factors involved are not "black and white." They are much more complex than what appears on the face of it. More importantly, there is no solution to the existing situation through adopting countervailing violence and injustice.
The political dictum that "the ends justify the means" is not an Islamic principle. Islam rather mandates that the pursuit of justice must be in accordance with justice. In the Qur'an, God has commanded: "O you who believe, be upright for God, witness in justice, and let not hatred of a people cause you to deviate from justice. Be always just. That is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do" (Qur'an 5:8).
According to a well-known hadith, the Prophet once asked his Companions: "Do you know who is a bankrupt person?" The Companions replied, "A bankrupt person is the one who has neither dirham (money) nor wealth." The Prophet said: "No, the bankrupt one in my Ummah is he who would come to the Day of Judgment with lots of prayers, fasts, and charities; but he had also offended a person . . . slandered another . . . wrongfully took the wealth of another person . . . shed another's blood . . . So Allah will take the rewards of his good deeds and give them to those who had been victimised by him. If all of his deeds were finished before their dues were paid . . . then their sins will be taken and imposed on him . . . and consequently, he will be thrown into the Hellfire." (Sahih Muslim).
As part of their indoctrination process, the self-styled "jihadists" propagate the idea that democracy is shirk (associating others with Allah), for it incorporates "man-made laws." According to them, a Muslim can and should follow only "God's law." To press this point, they cite a Qur'anic verse that reads, "Rule is only for Allah" (Qur'an 12:40, 6:57). Interestingly, like the Kharijites of the Seventh Century, extremists' reference to the Qur'anic verse is correct, but the meaning and conclusion they draw from this is wrong. The Kharijites misinterpreted this verse to support their rejection of human arbitration in disputes, but the Qur'an states more than once that arbitration is indeed lawful and helpful (see 4:35). By the same token, to refute the extremists' arguments against democracy, one scholar has very eloquently stated, "He who says that democracy is disbelief, neither understands Islam nor democracy" (quoted in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, February 5, 1990). To elaborate this point, the scholar has said, "Yes, democracy is based on the principle of the people's rule and yet this does not contradict the principle that says that the rule is only for Allah on which Islamic jurisprudence is based. It rather runs counter to the principle of the individual's rule on which dictatorship is based." At the heart of democracy is trusteeship and accountability, which is also an integral part of Islamic teaching.
The challenge we face is how to counter and dismantle the misrepresentations of Islam by misguided zealots, miscreants, and foolish young people. First, we have to bring back religious discourse to the mainstream, and disseminate Islam's authentic teachings by all possible means. The rhetoric of violence, coercion, and all terroristic attempts to control people must be confronted and discredited. Second, we have to make sure that our youth are not alienated. They need to be guided and nurtured with care and wisdom. Parents, in particular, must be aware of their children's daily lives, their friends, social media connections, use of the internet, and their views on religion and contemporary issues. Third, the children need to be advised by teachers, the ulema, and the media to not be fooled by those with extreme views. They should be taught that extremism leads to bigotry, brutality, and political and social madness, contradicting the core Islamic doctrines and the way of the Prophet (PBUH). Terrorists are the enemies of Islam, of reasonableness and decency, of Muslims and humanity at large. They are destined to be defeated in this life and given their due recompense in the hereafter. Let's do our part to correct those who are already misguided and to prevent more Muslims from falling into their clutches.
Terrorism is a global challenge and we are passing through a critical time beset with confusion, tribulation, and suffering. But we can only dispel the darkness by spreading the light of truth and wisdom. As Muslims, we are supposed to live among people as flowers, not as thorns. The message is crystal clear in the prophetic tradition. Once some companions urged the Prophet during a time of great persecution, "Pray to God against the idolaters and curse them." The Prophet replied, "I have not been sent to lay a curse upon people but to be a blessing to them" (Sahih Muslim).
The writer is a political scientist and faculty of a private university.