I recently attended a library event highlighting Muslim heritage where a gentleman asked, “Would you say that the acts of ISIS represent true Islam and that the rest of the billion-plus Muslim population is in fact deviating from the actual teachings of Muhammad?”
When the coordinator responded with a firm, “No,” the man looked at her doubtfully. He shook his head when others in the group also denied this assertion.
Personally, I found the question truly eye-opening. So many individuals, Muslims and non-Muslims, often point out that terrorists who affiliate themselves with Islam are a tiny minority, whereas the vast majority of 1.6 billion Muslims across the world are peace-loving, compassionate, law-abiding people.
However, what happens when one turns this scenario into the implication, as the gentleman was positing, that the real followers of Islam are the radicalized, violence-prone, be-headers, such as ISIS, and the rest, who reject such people and their craven actions, are simply disobeying their religion, their prophet, their God? The answer, then, is quite simple: something is wrong with Islam, with Muhammad, with Allah.
As a result, we have such statements as “Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas” (Sam Harris) and “There is a problem within Islam” (Tony Blair). These are supported with clipped quotations from the Quran, taking verses out of context or simply mistranslating them, thereby achieving the goal of presenting Islam as a “violent” religion.
According to Karen Armstrong, a renowned author of books on comparative religion, this is a “received idea” from the times of the Crusades, which is being reinforced with the current cycle of violence.
“Islam does not preach violence, it does not preach vicious holy war; it certainly does not condone terror, suicide bombing or anything of that sort. Like all of the great world religions, it preaches compassion and justice, and that is why it has been a success,” emphasizes Armstrong.
Indeed, human life is highly valued in Islam: “…do not take the life God has made sacred…” (6:151). Furthermore, the Quran unequivocally states, “…if anyone kills a person – unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land — it is as if he kills all mankind…” (5:32).
Moreover, Muhammad formally recognized freedom of religion in the Medina Charter more than 1,400 years ago (when no one else was talking about tolerance and pluralism). In 628 CE, Muhammad sent a statement to the monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai, pledging to protect them as his citizens. When Muslims first began to rule Palestine in 637 CE, they invited the Jewish people to return to the Holy Land after 500 years of exile.
And “Allah” does not refer to an exclusively Muslim god. Allah, when translated from Arabic, simply means “The One God.” Interestingly, this name is related to the Aramaic and Hebrew names for God, Allaha and Elohim. Two of the most-repeated attributes of Allah/God mentioned in the Quran are: the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Truly, terrorism is completely against Islam’s inherent beliefs and teachings. So, instead of accepting warped translations and generalized assertions, I invite you to learn about Islam, about Muhammad, about God. Let us collectively fight the vigilante murderers who have hijacked Islam, and thereby add good deeds to counteract the evil they commit.
For a more detailed discussion on terrorism and Islam, please visit: http://www.whyislam.org/jihad-2/jihad/.
Saulat Pervez is content editor for Why Islam, a nonprofit organization of Islamic Circle of North America dedicated to providing accurate information about Islam, dispelling common misconceptions and promoting peaceful co-existence. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call 877-WHY-ISLAM or click http://www.whyislam.org.