BY SAFDAR HAYAT PAKISTAN AMBASSADOR TO THE PHILIPPINES
THIS refers to the article titled, “What does jihad or holy war really mean but killing all non- Muslims?” (The Manila Times, June 10 and 11, 2017). In his column, Mr. Mauro Gia Samonte quoted an article sent to him by Ka Fred Galvez about his encounter with a Muslim “scholar.” According to Mr. Galvez, the Muslim “scholar,” responding to his questions, agreed that most Muslim imams and clerics of Islam have declared a jihad (holy war) against the infidels of the world and that by killing an infidel they are assured of a place in heaven. That all followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of their faith so they can have a place in heaven. He narrated a long dialogue which I have no intention to reproduce here. Having read the article I can only say that either the person mentioned as a Muslim “scholar” was not a scholar at all or the whole story was nothing but a concoction. I challenge both Mr. Mauro and his friend to produce any evidence from the Koran in support of their assertion.
The article, in fact, betrays their sheer lack of knowledge about Islam. They seem to be influenced by the media stereotyping of Islam. This is the common problem among those introduced to Islam only through the media. They generally believe that the Koran is a book of jihad and jihad to them is an attempt to achieve one’s goal by means of violence. But this idea is based on a misunderstanding. Anyone who reads the Koran will easily appreciate that its message is all-encompassing. Hence, it contains commandments regarding one’s duties to his God, his family, the society etc. Likewise, it contains commandments governing not only the time of peace but also of war.
Jihad properly understood
It is true that jihad is one of the teachings of Koran. However, the concept of jihad needs to be properly understood. Literally, it means to strive and struggle. In Islamic context, it means to strive in the way of God. Jihad has different forms, such as, struggle against evil inclinations within oneself (Koran 22:77-78, 29:5-7), struggle in defense of truth, justice and goodness (Koran 49:15, 16:11-10). War is only one of the way to strive in the way of God. True, Islam preaches jihad but there are certain conditions under which it is to be proclaimed. Everyone is not allowed to proclaim jihad on his own. The Koran says, ‘Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but do not start the hostilities God loveth not the aggressors.” (Koran 2:190)
It is true that there are certain verses in the Koran, which if taken out of context would appear offensive. For instance, ‘Slay them wherever you find them…’ (2:191). Such verses are often quoted incomplete and by referring to such verses, some people try to give the impression that Islam is a religion of war and violence. The complete verse goes like this: And slay them wherever you find them and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the sacred mosque unless they fight you there but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress. But if they cease, Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful. (2:191-192). This and other similar verses were revealed during a war period and need to be seen in their proper perspective. They do not represent the general message of Islam.
When a state is threatened or invaded every government is duty-bound to defend its land and people at all cost and Muslims are no exception. However, as regards jihad (holy war), it may be noted that only a legitimate and representative authority can declare military jihad, and the decision to declare military jihad is often taken seriously. Muslims are required to rise up, defend Islam, end the occupation of their land, end all kind of injustice, tyranny, oppression, and anarchy, and restore freedom and justice.
Islam does not promote violence
The following verse totally negates the impression that Islam promotes violence, “He does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you because of your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. God only forbids you to make friendship with those who have fought against you on account of your faith and driven you out of your homes or helped others to do so. Any of you who turns towards them in friendship will truly be transgressor.” (Koran: 60:8-9)
As already mentioned, Koranic commandments are all-encompassing. It is because Koran was not revealed in a book form all at one time. In fact, it was revealed from time to time, according to circumstances, over a period of 23 years. Hence, the Koranic verses encompass almost all aspects of one’s life, including war, and a Muslim is duty-bound to follow the teachings of Koran in every aspect of life.
This division of commands into different categories is natural and is found in all religious books. For instance, Jesus Christ (peace be upon him)said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10.34) It would not be right to conclude that the religion preached by the Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) was one of war and violence, for such an utterance relate purely to particular occasion. Whereas, generally the Christ (peace be upon him) taught peaceful values, such as the building up of a good character, loving each other, helping the poor and needy, etc.
The same is true of the Koran. When the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) emigrated from Makkah to Madina, the idolaters were aggressive towards him, leaving him no option but to take up arms. Had it been the general teaching of Islam, non-Muslims would not have existed side by side with Muslims in the early Muslim empires. The fact that the Prophet Mohammed was termed a “mercy for all mankind” (Koran 21:107) proves that he had come with the message of peace.
In fact, like Bible, the predominant message of the Koran is peace and care and loving God, justice, care for the neighbor, care for the stranger etc. In the Bible, it is mentioned, “thou shalt not kill.” In Koran we have, “whoever kill another surely he kills the whole humanity. And whoever saves the life of another surely saves the whole humanity.” These are words of peace, words of faith, words that can save the world if we can take them to heart. Muslims regard human life as a gift of God that must be returned to Him or be laid down for a just cause. This belief is not much different from what Jesus taught, when he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13), or if need be for God.
To have differences among people is a sign of vitality, dynamism, and healthy competition. Therefore, Islam is resolutely against killing of innocent people. The fact of the matter is that the Koran teaches the Muslims peaceful co-existence with others in kindness and justice. It recognizes plurality in human societies, including religious plurality. This is the reason it commands respectful dialogue, not forced conversion.
Muslims main target of terrorist attacks
If one looks at the Muslim world today, a preponderant number would appear to be espousing the principle of peaceful co-existence as laid down in the Koran. Those who do not, form the tiniest minority and are either those led astray by wrong propaganda or are those who in pursuit of their nefarious designs misinterpret the Koran. The need of the time is not to focus on this tiny group of people who are violent. Instead, we should focus on the millions of Muslims who are living in a peaceful manner whose concerns and families are not so different from their Christian brothers. They should not be maligned for the acts committed by the tiniest minority.
No doubt the terrorists have targeted many non-Muslims. However, the statistics show that Muslims form the main target of the attacks perpetrated by the terrorist. If their cause is really for the sake of Islam why would they target the Muslims? In my country, Pakistan, they have attacked people offering prayers in mosques, people attending funerals, young children in schools, people in the market including children, women, and the old people, etc. Which religion, creed or faith condones such violence? Had Islam preached violence it would not have attracted more than a billion adherents and would surely have vanished from the face of earth long ago.
The need of the hour is to bring together different faiths by highlighting their commonalities. Once we come on common ground, the differences will be relegated to secondary position. And mind you, the commonality among us are much more than the differences. Let’s avoid negative thinking as it will engender nothing but anger and lead to chaos and confusion. In the context of the Philippines such an approach will only make the situation worse, especially when the country is faced with one of its most trying moments. Moreover, in a society where knowledge about Islam is rather sketchy, portraying an incorrect impression of Islam is not advisable.