Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective April 16-30, 2008)
Islam is being invariably associated with terrorism both in media as well as in political circles, especially in Western countries. When they hear it being condemned by Muslim theologians, it is celebrated as something unusual. It is strange irony of both misunderstanding and motivated propaganda that if a small band of Osama’s followers give call for jihad, it is taken as authentic Islamic call and if it is condemned by mainstream Islamic theologians, it is accepted with mixed feelings of celebration and skepticism. The mainstream condemnation of terrorism is somehow not accepted with conviction.
When the Darul Ulum Deoband, a leading Islamic seminary in Asia, held an anti-terrorism conference the media spotlighted it and number of articles and editorials were written in mainstream media. There was underlying skepticism that how thousands of ‘Ulamas and imams could gather together in such large numbers, to denounce terrorism. In fact when media unceasingly targeted Islam for terrorism, these ‘Ulamas thought it necessary to do so to convince their non-Muslim friends that Islam does not stand for terrorism.
In fact it was hardly necessary to do so as all Muslim theologians know fully well that there is no link, whatsoever, between Islam and terrorism but due to such continuing attacks, Muslim theologians had to issue a declaration condemning terrorism. Let it be noted that not only Osama bin Laden but not a single leading member of Al-Qaida is a qualified theologian. They are all modern educated youth or politicians. Among Taliban too, there is no theologian of any credible standing. Some of them may be product of madrasas in North West Frontier province of Pakistan but they never went for higher Islamic studies. They never got beyond preliminary Islamic education. It was their political bosses who decided course of action and formulated policies invoking ‘jihad’ to justify their acts of terrorism.
Never any major theologian ever justified acts of terrorism. One of major Islamic thinker and theologian from West Asia issued any fatwa approving of terrorism as jihad. Yusuf Qardawi, a well-known theologian and highly respected by orthodox Muslims, condemned terrorism and suicide bombing killing of innocent people. A conference of leading Muslim scholars also condemned suicide bombing as un-Islamic. Qur’an is so clear on the issue along with hadith literature that save on political grounds, no one can approve of acts of terrorism.
There are in all 41 verses in Qur’an on jihad and not a single verse uses it for war or violence. In early twentieth century when terrorism, like today, was not the issue, a noted scholar of Islam Maulavi Chiragh Ali wrote a scholarly book on Jihad and showed that not even once word jihad has been used for war or violence in Qur’an. It is really a landmark work for those who want to understand meaning of jihad in Qur’an.
The prophet of Islam (PBUH) himself never fought any war of aggression; he fought battles only in defense. Most of the battles Prophet fought was in and around Madina where he had migrated to, to escape severe prosecution from his and Islam’s enemies in Mecca. It is opponents of Islam who attacked Madina and Prophet fought back. He followed the injunction of the Qur’an, “And fight in the way of Allah those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely Allah does not love aggressors. (2:190)
This Qur’anic verse is self-explanatory and does not need any elaboration. How prophet could have violated this injunction from high on in his own lifetime? The real problem is that one fails to distinguish what is theological and what is political. Many Muslims had their own political interests and they conveniently invoked doctrine of jihad for their political project as Osama bin Laden has been doing in our own times.
The invocation of jihad for political purposes is post-Qur’anic development. The Prophet would have never approved it. Those who kept away from political struggle for power like Sufis, gave jihad a very different meaning. According to Sufis love and peace is the basis of Islam and jihad is spiritual struggle to control ones desires. In other words real jihad is war against ones own desires, as it is selfish desires which require human beings to resort to violence.
In fact Sufis always kept themselves away from political power struggle and believed in leading peaceful life and emphasized doctrine of sulh-i-kul (total peace and peace with all). Since they never involved themselves in political power struggle they led simple life and busied themselves in suppressing their desires and tried to achieve what Qur’an calls nafs mutma’innah (i.e. peaceful and satisfied soul). This could be possible only if one controlled ones desires.
It was Sufi Islam, which was most popular among the masses, as Muslim masses also had nothing to do with wars for political domination. Sufis believed in controlling themselves rather than control others. One needs violence only when one wants to control others, rather than oneself. Since Sufis controlled themselves they avoided violence and politicians desire to control others and hence justify use of violence.
All empire builders use violence and then justify it in the name of religion or patriotism or security. America today uses violence on largest scale imaginable and causes havoc because it wants to control whole word for its material resources. It attacked Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam before, only to control oil and other resources. And as Vietnamis were forced to fight in their own way now Osama and their followers are fighting against America.
Of course there is big difference between Vietnam’s fight against American aggression and Osama bin Laden’s use of violence. Vietnam was a country and it was defending itself and Osama is a fugitive from Saudi, represents no country and leads a group founded by him al-Qaida and uses hit and run tactics and involves innocent citizens in his attacks. Osama has not been authorized by any country, much less by any religious authority, to attack All leading theologians always condemned him for his terrorism.
The problem with media is it never goes in depth. It has no time for it. Its news is related to events and particularly negative events. What we call investigative journalism is rare and again in depth analysis appeals to intellectuals, not to average readers. Then add to this hostile attitude, political agenda of certain vested interests, Zionist lobby in USA and USA’s own justification of war of aggression against Muslim countries and one can understand why western media projects Islam as religion of jihad and terrorism.
There is great need to understand various parallel trends in the Islamic world today. Media reporting and statements of certain political leaders has developed a stereotype that Muslims are essentially jihadis and united in their fight against non-Muslims. When we are hostile to a community or a nation, we homogenize it and look for negative traits ignoring diversity and complexities.
It is no different when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Since theologians tend to speak of Islam and not Islams, a message goes that there is one single understanding of Islam and all Muslims fall in line with this theological Islam. Sociological and cultural differences in understanding of Islam is totally ignored. Apart from Sufis there are several Muslim sects who do not approve of use of violence as integral part of Islam.
It would be of great interest to know that among all other Islamic sects Isma’ilis consider jihad as one of the seven pillars of Islam (generally Muslims believe in five pillars) as at one time in history Ismailis were involved in long struggle for power with Abbasids and yet today Ismaili communities throughout the world are most peaceful communities. This clearly shows that violence is political, not religious necessity.
Christians too, despite Biblical doctrine of love and presenting other cheek if slapped on one cheek, came out with the theory of ‘Holy War’ during crusades and the Geeta pronounced concept of dharmayuddha. We find so much violence in Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand. Thus it would be seen that all religions talk of love and peace and all religions permit use of violence in defense. But the followers often misuse the concept of defensive violence for aggressive purposes.
Media may have its own compulsions, politicians may have their own needs, but scholars should not buy their formulations. They must fight their own prejudices and go for in depth understanding of issues. Intellectuals and scholars should be committed to quest for truth as peace and non-violence is not possible without truth. Gandhiji insisted on truth and even said truth is God in order to promote peace and no-violence.
War needs propaganda for its justification and propaganda is based on half-truths and outright lies and peace needs truth and nothing but truth. It is quest for truth which brings peace of soul – nafs-i-mutma’innah or shanty. Desire for controlling others and political power creates unrest and violence. Today Middle East is a war torn zone as it sits over unlimited source of oil. It is control over oil which tempts America to attack Arab countries and people like Osama indulge in reactive violence. Terrorism is reactive violence whereas state violence is active violence. Thus terrorism is not all about jihad but reaction to American violence for its lust for oil.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism