Thursday, November 22, 2007
Islam and Violence
Many non-Muslims, upon hearing from Muslims that Islam is a “religion of peace” take the statement with a grain of salt. With terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and violence frequently being carried out in the name of Islam, one may wonder how is it possible to call Islam a religion of peace? Moreover, when these same “militant Islamists” justify their horrific actions through the verses of the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet, this idea is only reinforced. The question is, if Islam truly is a religion of peace, how can such actions carried out and such crimes committed in its name?
To begin to answer this question one must first make a distinction between what Islam actually says—in the Quran, in the Sunnah, and in the writings of Muslim scholars—and what “Muslims” actually do. Herein lies the disconnect. The fact is that today, the vast majority of these people who claim to be Muslims have never engaged in a deep study of Islam or the Quran. They do not have the knowledge and authority to issue fatwas (religious edicts) or make vast proclamations. In fact, many of these people labeled “Muslim extremists” are really extremists who happen to be Muslim. As the noted scholar Hamza Yusuf said “If you get Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists and Muslim extremists in the same room - they all seem to look very similar.” Deep down, religion is not what really motivates them but rather it is a raw passion stemming perhaps from dreadful economic and political conditions in their countries. And in order to give a more legitimate basis to their ideas, they like to quote out of context from the Quran and appropriate religion to their ends—religion, because in the Muslim world, religion possesses great motive force.
And yet all around the world, qualified Islamic scholars have condemned and continue to condemn such violence and attacks against civilians. “Vigilante violence has never been sanctioned in Islam” states Hamza Yusuf and the scholar Faraz Rabbani observes, “These people are not “Muslim soldiers” but renegades acting on anger and frustration, rather than law and dignity.” In other words, their’s is not the correct understanding of Islam. To mention all of the places in the Quran and the Islamic Tradition condemning such acts of violence and aggression would really require another post, but perhaps it would be instructive to show how easily it is to quote the Quran out of context:
Many militant Muslims who cite the Quran to support their violent actions often use the following verse out of context:
"And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you...And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out..." 2. 190
But here is the passage in its entirety.
"And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah 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 Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors." (Qur'an, 2:190-192)
Still, one may be wondering why it is that violence and extremism are so often associated with Islam and not with other faiths. There are many reasons but one may be the terrible economic and political conditions in Muslim countries. Think of the major hotspots in the world today-- Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur—nearly all of them are in Muslim countries. Unsurprisingly, such extreme situations breed extremism in otherwise normal individuals. Perhaps another reason may be that unlike in Christianity ( and I’m not sure of Judaism), Islam does not have a clergy, or a hierarchically organized, unified body that controls and certifies people to become religious leaders. The system in Islam is far more decentralized, with individual schools and universities bestowing the title imam, with no oversight from some external, universal Islamic body. With the largely terrible state of the Islamic education system, it is not at all difficult for unqualified people to slip through the cracks and be declared religious leaders despite their lacking the requisite knowledge or training.
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