As I sit down to write this piece, I am convinced that I won’t be the umpteenth Muslim to engage in the now-so-common an exercise by Islamic scholars and Muslim leaders all over the world to defend their Faith and community against the onslaught of their detractors and enemies, and the headwinds of a biased section of international media and overzealous TV news channels in certain countries. This sense of dejection makes me feel that my own attempt in this direction will be just another voice added to those of many others from the Muslim Ummah globally.
This is because numerous Islamic scholars and Muslim leaders have devoted their time and energy in countering such anti-Islam and anti-Muslim propaganda over the past several years, but their attempts have proved to be a voice in the wilderness due to a lack of powerful platforms or media outlets for them to spread their word.
For quite some time, and especially since the unfortunate incidents of September 11, 2001, in the United States, Islamic scholars and Muslim leaders around the world have been pushed into a corner to defend Islam and its followers against claims and accusations of terrorism – an exercise that has consumed much of their energy, time and resources which could otherwise have been utilised in preaching Islam’s precepts and message of peace to those misguided Muslim youth who have indulged in terrorist activities.
Anti-Islam feelings have existed for decades, if not centuries, and attempts to degrade Islam and Muslims have been made by their enemies from time to time. However, such negative sentiments are now at their peak thanks to a biased section of the media which not only airs the views of Islam’s detractors who project it and its followers negatively, but also projects an image of the Faith and its followers that is far from truth.
In the seventies and eighties, Muslims who practised their Faith with devotion and propagated it were dubbed “Islamic fundamentalists”, and those among them who raised their voice against anti-Islam propaganda or organised even peaceful protests and demonstrations were dubbed “Islamic extremists” or “Islamic militants”.
Now, “Islamic terrorism” has become a buzzword for political leaders and the media. The derogatory term implies any act of terrorism perpetrated or suspected to have been carried out by Muslims. And the term “Islamic terrorist” is used to describe the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.
Unfortunately, due to biased reporting in the media and the actions of some ignorant and misguided Muslims, the word “Islam” has become almost synonymous with “terrorism” and a section of Muslims are branded as “terrorists”.
Terrorism is, in fact, a global phenomenon and its perpetrators have existed in each society, community and country. In recent times, terrorist activities have taken place with regular intervals in various parts of the world — from Northern Ireland to Serbia, from Spain to India, from Palestine to various European countries, from Sri Lanka to Myanmar, and from Central America to the United States. The people involved in these heinous crimes have been from different religions (Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism), ideologies (Communism, Maoism), nationalities and territories. But unfortunately none of them are identified by their religion or nationality, except Muslims and Arabs.
Although religious feelings did play a significant role in many of these conflicts and acts of terror, the media blames the individuals and does not apply religious labels there simply because it is assumed that such barbarous acts have nothing to do with the teachings of these religions.
But unfortunately whenever a misguided Muslim commits a heinous act, he is labelled by the media an “Islamic terrorist”, and whenever something happens involving a Muslim, the media often tries to put the blame on Islam and not the misguided individual. Reflecting on these facts, one can certainly conclude that there is a double standard and bias in the media.
However, when one tries to analyse the situation, the question that comes to one’s mind is: Does Islam encourage terrorism? The answer is: CERTAINLY NOT. As emphasised by numerous Islamic scholars and Muslim leaders, Islam totally forbids the terrorist acts that are carried out by some misguided people in the name of Islam. It does not condone attacks on innocent people, nor does it allow one to take law into one’s own hands, and says that trial and punishment must be carried out by a lawful authority and a knowledgeable judge.
All religions have cults and misguided followers, so it is their teachings that should be looked at, and not the actions of a few individuals. However, in the case of Muslims, any militant activity carried out by them is mistaken to be always synonymous with “jihad”, or “holy war”, implying a war waged for spreading Islam.
In fact, a great deal of misunderstanding prevails, especially in the West, with regard to the concept of “jihad” in Islam. The Arabic word “jihad”, which is often translated as “holy war” by the Westerners, simply means “struggle”. The word for “war” in Arabic is “harb”, not “jihad”. It also defies logic that a war can be holy?
“Jihad” is, therefore, far from being synonymous with “war”. Its meaning of “war undertaken for the propagation of Islam”, which according to European writers is supposed to be the significance of “jihad”, is unknown to the Arabic language and teachings of the Holy Quran.
Actually, the word “jihad” is derived from “jahd” or “juhd”, meaning ability, exertion or power. Nigerian scholar Dr I.A. Alani Seriki says in his book The Interpretation Of “Jihad” In Islam that “jihad” is also used in the sense of exerting one’s power and ability without implying any sense of war. In Shariah terminology, this word is also used for war (Jiahad-bis Saif), with the object of bringing an end to oppression and aggression against Islam. Its object is not to “propagate Islam”, but to remove those tyrannical forces which are inimical to Islam and are not prepared to give all a fair deal.
It is most shocking that even many research scholars in the West have not taken the trouble of consulting a dictionary of the Arabic language, or of referring to the Holy Quran, to find out the true meaning and significance of “jihad”. They have thereby invariably misstated the facts and thus opened the doors for baseless objections and uncalled for criticism of the tenets, beliefs and values of Islam.
The propagation of Islam is, no doubt, a religious duty of every Muslim, who must follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but the spread of Islam by force is a thing not consonant with the theory and practice of Islam. The Holy Quran, in fact, says the reverse of it in the clearest terms: “There is no compulsion in religion”, the reason being: “The right way is clearly distinct from the wrong.” (Chapter 2: Verse 256)
Dr Seriki further states that the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet emphasised jihad for noble and hard work and not sitting idle like stagnant water but moving swiftly like the flowing currents of oceans. The Quran says: “Those of the believers who sit idle other than those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah conferred on those who strive with their wealth and lives a rank above the sedentary. To all Allah has promised good, but He has bestowed on those who strive a great reward above the sedentary.” (Chapter 4: Verse 95)
Jihad also stands for performing noble deeds for elevating moral character and refinement to attain nearness to Allah and achieve His guidance as the Quran says: “We shall guide those who strive in Our cause to Our paths (of acceptance and nearness). Verily Allah is with those who do good.” (Chapter 29: Verse 69).
In this chapter, Allah Almighty has laid the greatest stress on remaining fearless and steadfast to uphold the banner of Truth (Haq) and has mentioned such achievements of the past prophets and messengers who faced all hardships with firmness and confidence and ultimately Allah blessed them with success as stated in the Quran: “And whoever strives, strives only for himself, for verily Allah is altogether independent of his creatures of the world.” (Chapter 29: Verse 6).
Striving in the way of Allah and struggling with the greatest power and ability in the cause of Justice and Trust, unmindful of life and wealth or even family and children, is an achievement of high order and excellence as the Holy Quran expresses: “And strive in the cause of Allah with the endeavour which is His right. He has exalted you and has laid no hardship on you in religion (Deen) the faith of your father Abraham.” (Chapter 22: Verse 78).
Jihad is also used for striving ceaselessly to remove ignorance and disseminate knowledge, learning and science. Islam has given top priority to knowledge and pen but Muslim masses are groping in darkness.
It also stands for enlightening the people with best refinements and human behaviour and conduct of life. Every individual should be replenished with his own culture and the current scientific and technological advancements and progress. “Call them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the best way.”(Chapter 16: Verse 125).
According to Dr Seriki, this jihad for knowledge occupies a dominant position in the Muslim ethos and has worked as a torch-bearer of knowledge during the heyday of Muslim civilisation. Jihad with wealth also plays an important role in reawakening the people to spend the way of Allah in the right channels for the good of mankind.
One of the Ahadith (Sayings of the Holy Prophet) also relates that a great jihad is to stand boldly and with confidence for justice and equity before a tyrant and aggressor. (Trimizi). In this context the world jihad is not used exclusively for fighting. Once the Prophet said: “Haj is the most excellent of the Jihad.” (Sahih Bukhari).
Jihad includes the service of Islam in any form — by speech, pen, writing, teaching wealth or medicine.
When the Holy Prophet reached Madinah, the Muslims were forced to struggle for their very survival against a series of armed attacks by their enemies who became bolder and bitterer in opposition and mustered all their forces to wipe out the followers of Islam. The Muslims were obliged to take up arms in self defence. This struggle was termed as Qital (war) as clarified in the following verse when permission was given to fight: “And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you and do not be aggressive; verily Allah does not love the aggressor” (Chapter 2: Verse 190). This clearly shows that aggression was strictly prohibited.
Thus jihad is a life-long mission for the Muslims to fight against all evils – socio-economic, cultural, educational and political dogmas; superstitious and mythological concepts; and enlightenment, refinement, scientific progress, dignified character and honest actions, says Dr Seriki.
By S.K. Husain. [Opinions expressed in the article are exclusive of the writer, The Policy Times bear no responsibility and authenticity of the content. The Policy Times bears no legal sanctity and accountability on the content.]