By Aisha Stacey
Islam and the followers of Islam, Muslims, are very prominent in the media nowadays. Around the world debates rage about various Islamic topics or topics that invariably involve Muslims. Almost continuous media exposure means that there is hardly a person left in the world that has not read or seen something about Islam or Muslims, or both. In addition, most people have an opinion. Many base their opinions on misconceptions or misunderstandings about Islam. Many base their opinions on the actions or words of people who call themselves Muslims but actually have very little knowledge about their religion.
Thankfully, many base their opinions on sound knowledge and research. It is through the mercy of God that the truth of Islam usually reigns triumphant over media speculation and disinformation. However, in a media saturated century it is only fair to ask the question, do all Muslims represent Islam?
The answer is, of course not! Think about it for a minute. Would anyone ask the question, do all German’s represent Germany? Do all Indonesians represent Indonesia? Do all Catholics represent Catholicism, all Hindus, and Hinduism? No, of course not! While one religion or one country is not generally maligned by the action of a few people, this sadly has not been the case for Islam, especially post 9/11.
It is a distressing fact that many great crimes have been perpetrated by individuals, groups, and countries in the name of Islam. When these atrocities occur, it has somehow become the norm to blame the religion of Islam instead of the perpetrators themselves. In 1987 when Sikh gunmen opened fire on Hindu bus passengers in India’s Punjab state, killing 38 people, the media did not declare the Sikh religion to be bloodthirsty and automatically condemn all Sikhs.
In Spain, ETA (the Basque Separatist Movement) has claimed responsibility for more than 800 unlawful deaths since 1968. Even though Spain is 94% Catholic, as is mentioned in the CIA world Fact book, this atrocity was not attributed to Catholics nor is the Catholic Church condemned as a religion promoting violence. If a person commits a crime and then declares himself Muslim, or shouts the words Allahu Akbar (God is Great) this does not make him or her a representative of Islam.
However, knowing that not all Muslims represent Islam does not solve the problem. Just what is this religion called Islam and how is it that many people who declare themselves Muslim misrepresent their own way of life? Unfortunately, many Muslims throughout the world are marginalized and are struggling to overcome colonial and imperial backgrounds. The military conquest, economic exploitation and cultural mutation embedded in the colonialism of the 15th to 20th centuries has left generation after generation of disaffected, poverty stricken and marginalized Muslims struggling to come to terms with a globalized world.
This however is not an excuse for bad behavior or the perpetration of atrocities on the innocent. There are no excuses for crimes like this. Background information does however serve to help us understand why some people commit crimes and atrocities against humanity, against themselves and ultimately against their religion. When we see or read about a person who calls himself or herself a Muslim perpetrating a crime too horrible to contemplate, it is important to understand that this person does not represent Islam. The same can be said of all religions. Throughout history, humankind has used the name of God to justify unspeakable acts.
In Islam it is impossible for one person to speak on behalf of all Muslims, or to act on behalf of all Muslims. When differences arise Muslims turn to the only reliable sources, the Qur’an and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.
One of the problems facing the world today in general and facing Muslims specifically is that unqualified people think that it is possible to read a book, badly translated into a language other than Arabic, and instantly become able to give religious rulings on subjects they really have no knowledge about. People with very little real Islamic knowledge suddenly become experts while the real experts are unable to have their opinions heard. Extreme groups preach extreme ideologies that have no place in the way of life that is Islam. Islam is the middle ground, extreme is not from the teachings of Islam.
When Islam is called the religion of peace it is meant literally. Islam comes from the root word “sa-la-ma”, as do the words Muslim (one who follows the message of Islam) and which among many meanings also denotes peace, security, safety and implies submission and surrender to Almighty God. Peace and security are inherent in the submission to the One God. When a person submits to the will of God he or she experiences an innate sense of security and peacefulness.
Not all Muslims represent Islam and not all Muslims understand and follow their religion. Culture often dictates action. Knowing this, it becomes essential to recognize that just because a person, a group or country is known as Islamic, does not mean that it automatically follows the laws sent down by God. The Qur’an was revealed for all of humankind and Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all of humankind. One person is not more worthy of peace and security than another is. Each person is entitled to sustenance, shelter, and security and if some are denied their God given rights, it is the responsibility of the rest of humankind, to restore those rights, not blatantly take them away.
In the following articles, we will discuss the role of culture and customs, learn what Islam says about violence and war, and see how ignorance overshadows true Islamic teachings.
Islam demands justice, even under duress
Trying to convince people that Muslims are not terrorists, or that Muslim women are not oppressed, or that not all Muslims represent Islam is becoming increasingly difficult. A Muslim man with a bushy beard is presumed to be planning an attack – on something. If a Muslim woman chooses to dress modestly it is taken for granted that she was forced to wear such clothing. Although one can hardly pick up a newspaper or watch the news without hearing something about Islam or Muslims, it is usually a gross misinterpretation or misrepresentation.
Into this volatile mix comes the Muslim himself or herself, sometimes Muslims are their own worst enemies. They often speak without knowledge or even without weighing up the effect of their words. Sometimes Muslims react without looking at the bigger picture. Often they react to the misconceptions without realizing their behavior sometimes affirms the incorrect notions. Not all Muslims represent Islam.
We live in interesting times, and according to an old Chinese proverb or perhaps a western spin-doctor, this is anything but a blessing. Muslims call such a period of time, fitnah (trials and tribulations). Life rushes ahead beckoning us into the unknown but in a strange sort of way it has all been done before. This is not the first time in history that Muslims have suffered from the effects of lies and misrepresentations. However, when the lies and misunderstandings are piled high the truth seekers of this world have a way of finding the gold buried in the dirt. Islam is like that gold, it can lie quietly, and it looses none of its beauty by doing so.
By far the greatest threat to Muslims and the Muslim way of life, now, is the “war on terror” and the subsequent demonizing of Muslims. The mainstream media focuses on the bad behavior of Muslims who more often than not have very little understanding of their religion. The overwhelming majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims condemn acts of terror and the unlawful killing of innocent civilians; so to do the majority of Muslim scholars and leaders, yet unfortunately, the religion of Islam is almost invariably implicated in the thinking and behavior of criminals.
The wrongdoings of Muslims are often used to justify or encourage hatred of innocent Muslims or the religion of Islam itself. Over and over again, verses from the Qur’an are taken out of context and criminals are said to be following Islamic dogma, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. To understand Islam’s stance on violence and war one must refer to the original sources, the Qur’an, and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him. It is not feasible to take one verse from Qur’an and deduce its meaning without reading the preceding and following verses. Fully understanding the depth and subtlety of Qur’an is only possible when one understands the historical context and reason for revelation, as well as in depth knowledge about the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Therefore, what exactly does Islam say about war and violence?
Islam is a religion revealed by God for the benefit of humankind and it wholeheartedly forbids harming innocent people in any way. This includes their bodies, wealth, or honor. Islam teaches Muslims to treat everybody, no matter their religion ethnicity color or social status, with respect and kindness. Islam forbids oppression and safeguards rights and it commands the Muslims to live in peace and harmony and uphold justice even towards ones enemies and even in times of war. It is never permissible to kill a person who is not hostile or who has a peace treaty.
“God does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion nor drove you out of your homes. Verily, God loves those who deal with equity.” (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8)
When Prophet Muhammad sent his companions into battle he said “Go out in the name of God and do not kill any old man, infant, child or woman. Spread goodness and do good, for God loves those who do good.” (Abu Dawud) “Do not kill the monks in monasteries” or “Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship.” (Imam Ahmed) Once after a battle the Prophet saw the corpse of a woman on the ground and said, “She was not fighting. How then was she killed?”
This way of behaving in times of war was further emphasized by Abu Bakr, the leader of the Islamic nation after Prophet Muhammad. He said, “I command you ten things. Do not kill women, children, or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.”
If an enemy inflicts harm upon the Muslims, or drives them out of their homes and homelands then the Muslims are commanded by God to stand up for them, but even under duress a Muslim must behave justly.
“Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but don’t transgress limits; for God loves not the transgressor. And fight them on until there is no more oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (Al-Baqarah 2:190-193)
“O you who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety, and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:8)
The message from Qur’an is clear. The taking of life, any life, unjustifiably, is a grave sin. Both the Qur’an and the authentic teachings of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, are imbued with an overwhelming sense of justice and forgiveness. The message of Islam is for all of humankind, and Islam demands mercy and wisdom in all dealings even in times of war. When atrocities that defy belief and defy the teachings of Islam are committed, it is important to remember that not all Muslims represent Islam.
“We ordained that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:32)
To be continued…
Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.IslamReligion.com.
Aisha Stacey is an Australian revert to Islam. She currently spends her time between Australia and Qatar. Aisha works as a writer at the Fanar Cultural Islamic Centre in Doha, Qatar while studying for an Arts/Psychology degree.
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