Islam is portrayed as a religion of “terror” and “killing”, yet this is just one of the most widely held misconceptions about Islam. Allaah Almighty states unambiguously in the Quran (what means): “Nor take life — which Allaah has made sacred — except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand retaliation or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life, for he is helped (by the Law).” [Quran 17:33]
Based on this verse, it is Islamically unlawful to murder anyone who is innocent of any crime. At this point, we would do well to remember the distinction between the Quran and Sunnah, and the Muslims. Only the Quran and Sunnah are guaranteed to be in accordance with what the Creator desires, whereas the Muslims may possibly deviate. Hence, if any Muslim kills an innocent person, that Muslim has committed a grave sin, and the action cannot be claimed to have been committed “in the name of Islam.”
It should be clear, then, that the oft-used term “Muslim terrorist” is almost an oxymoron: by killing innocent people, a Muslim is committing a grave sin, and Allaah is Just. This phrase is offensive and demeaning of Islam, and it should be avoided. It is hoped that as the general level of public awareness and understanding of Islam increases, people will keep “terrorism” and “Islam” separate from each other, and not use them in the same phrase.
Jihaad or Holy War?
Another misunderstood Islamic concept is that the Creator has imposed `Jihaad’ on us. The term “holy war” has come from the time of the Crusades, and originated in Europe as a rallying cry against the Muslims in Jerusalem. Jihaad is an Arabic word, meaning struggle, but in the context of many verses in the Quran, it carries the meaning of military struggle or war. Allaah gradually introduced the obligation of military struggle to the Muslim community at the time of the Messenger, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The first verse ever revealed in that connection is as follows, (which means): “Permission (to fight) is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed, and most surely Allaah is well able to assist them.” [Quran 22: 39]
This verse lays down the precondition for all wars in Islam: there must exist certain oppressive conditions on the people. The Creator unequivocally orders us to fight oppression and persecution, even at the expense of bloodshed as the following verse shows in which Allaah Says (what means): “And fight in the cause of Allaah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allaah does not love those who exceed the limits. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the reward of the unbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allaah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allaah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.” [Quran 2:190-192]
As one might imagine, the method of military struggle has been clearly and extensively defined in the Quran and Sunnah. Since this is a vast subject, we can simply summarize part of it by noting that it is unlawful to kill women, children, the sick, the old and the innocent. From the Sunnah, we find: Narrated ‘Abdullaah, may Allaah be pleased with him: “During some of the battles of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, a woman was found killed. Allaah’s Apostle disapproved the killing of women and children.” [Al-Bukhaari]
A related misconception about Jihaad is often propagated by Muslims who say that: “Jihaad is only for self-defense of physical borders.” The Quran and Sunnah refute this notion categorically. As the verses cited above show, Jihaad is obligatory wherever there is injustice, and Muslims need not acknowledge imaginary lines around the earth when it comes to upholding this obligation. The Messenger of Allaah, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, has also commented on this extensively in the Sunnah. From the study of the Sunnah, we find: Narrated Abu Moosaa, may Allaah be pleased with him: “A man came to the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and asked: ‘A man fights for war booty; another fights for fame and a third fights for showing off; which of them fights in Allaah’s Cause?’ The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “He who fights that Allaah’s Word (i.e. Islam) should be superior, fights in Allaah’s Cause.” [Al-Bukhaari]
Hence, the Creator obligates us to fight wherever people are being deprived of freely hearing or practicing the Message of Allaah, as contained in the Quran and Sunnah. Sayyid Qutb, a famous Muslim scholar eloquently discusses the notion of Jihaad and self-defense in his book Milestones: “If we insist on calling Islamic Jihaad a defensive movement, then we must change the meaning of the word `defense’ and mean by it `defense of man’ against all those elements which limit his freedom. These elements take the form of beliefs and concepts, as well as of political systems, based on economic, racial or class distinction.”
Judicial System of Islam:
A third major area of misconceptions about Islam is that of the Islamic judicial system, which is considered unnecessarily harsh. This assumption is weak in two respects. First, it presupposes that human beings are more just and more merciful than the Creator, and therefore we can change the law. Second, it is often based on gross oversimplifications of Islamic law, such as saying: “all thieves get their hands cut off!”
The Quran and Sunnah make it clear that the law of retaliation (or equality) governs us for murder and physical injury, but forgiveness is better as the following verses from the Quran show; Allaah Says (what means): “The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allaah: for (Allaah) loves not those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a grievous penalty. And whoever is patient and forgiving, these most surely are actions due to courage.” [Quran 42:40-43]
The Creator ordained the law of retaliation for us, knowing full well that we might question it. In many non-Muslim societies today, there are ongoing debates about the death penalty. In Islam, this discussion is moot: The Creator has decided the matter for us. He has however given us an interesting verse in the Quran, which advises to consider the matter carefully if we want to understand it; the verse says (which means): “And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O people of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.” [Quran 2:179]
Most people are also unaware of the stringent conditions, which must be met for the law of retaliation to be applicable. The Sunnah is full of examples of the Messenger of Allaah, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, showing us when the law’s preconditions were fulfilled. For example, a thief is only liable to lose his or her hand if the stolen item exceeds a certain value, and if it is proven that the item was taken from its normal resting place. Stealing food is not punishable by the loss of one’s hand, and other items are exempt as well. This is just an example of how carefully the law is applied in Islam. Moreover, it must be clarified that penalties in Islam are meant to establish peace and security for the society.
The Sword of Islam:
Finally, another reason advanced for this prevalent misconception is that Islam `spread by the sword’. It should be clear by now that we must always distinguish between the Quran and Sunnah and the Muslims, when it comes to determining what the Creator has asked of us. Allaah has stated clearly in the Quran (which means): “There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever rejects Satan (and what he calls to) and believes in Allaah, he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handhold, which shall not break off, and Allaah is Hearing, Knowing.” [Quran 2:256]
Hence, it is impossible to accept Islam under duress. Even if misguided Muslims were to try to `force’ Islam somehow on others, based on the previous verse, it would not be accepted by the Creator. Historical arguments that try to demonstrate that Muslims did not `convert others by force’ are actually secondary to the argument given above. However, it is worth noting that historically, Islam did spread by peaceful means.
The Message of the Creator was introduced in Africa and southeast Asia by trading Muslims. People started converting to Islam in big numbers when the Muslims liberated them from the clutches of the cruel rulers, who used to tax then heavily and loot precious belongings from them whenever they wished. Today the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. The military expeditions that led to the conquest of large swathes of territory in Europe and central Asia were all marked by tolerance of other creeds and faith.
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