Islam and violence

Article by Siti Aishah Mohd Ali (UWCAC 2014-2016)

Islam is not a violent religion. These days, terrorist attacks are synonymous with Islam. That is why I strongly feel the urge to express the real stance of Islam with regards to violence and war.

First and foremost, let us uncover the meaning of the word “Islam”. Islam means peace and submission and is derived from the Arabic word “salam” which means surrender. From this, we can see that Islam strives to be a religion of peace. In addition, we greet each other “assalamualaikum” which means peace be upon you. We also shake each other’s hands after prayers to signify peace.

In Islam, we believe that the Qur’an is God’s words, “kalamullah” and being brought down to humankind through revelation via angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, the Qur’an is very important in our life and is regarded as the first source of knowledge. Now, let us look into the Qur’an verses that speak against terrorism and violence even though a lot of people perceived the opposite. One example of this is the “Word of Sword”. The Qur’an says:

“Fight in the course of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits: For Allah loved not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch 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 (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward to those who suppress faith.”

“But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (Qur’an 2:190-192)

When studying the Quran, we must bear in mind that it is composed of highly poetic Arabic, hence making it prone to different interpretations. Therefore, it is very important for us to understand the history behind the revelation of the verses. For the above verse, it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad after the Muslims at that time migrated to Medina from Mecca where they faced oppression.1 In the first thirteen years of the prophet’s mission in Mecca, they were prohibited to fight the oppressors that are against Prophet Muhammad’s teachings.2 Thus, this verse was revealed after their migration to Medina to enable them to fight in self-defence when being oppressed by oppressors from Mecca.3 If we continue reading the second verse, we can understand that the main purpose behind every war should be to stop oppression.

There are many more Qur’an verses that speak against violence and for justice, for example:

“Whosoever killed a human being for other than manslaughter and corruption in the earth, it shall be as though he had killed all of human kind, and those who saved the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” (Qur’an 5:32)

“Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan.” (Qur’an 4:76)

“And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly-We have given his heir authority, but let him not accept his limits in (the matter of) taking life. Indeed, he has been supported (by the law).” (Qur’an 17:33)

Islam has been seen in dim light by a lot of people in the world as a result of Muslims who lack knowledge and have weak Islamic teachings misinterpreting the Qur’an verses and committing actions that are inhumane and deemed unacceptable in the name of Islam. Nonetheless, this type of generalisation is indeed very unfair and we must bear in mind that an evil act committed by a person does not mirror the morals of all others from that same belief. Our world, and most importantly the media, should be fairer towards Muslims globally and not just link it to terrorism, oppression or what most people perceived as gender inequality. Let us move our attention to the most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia. For me personally, they are more peaceful than those Muslim countries that have caused major headlines in the world. I also want to stress that we should not forget how culture can influence people and their religions and vice versa. Inhumane acts like honour killings are unacceptable in Islam but people from cultures where this occurs more frequently will surely find it hard to stop. It is even worse if they did it in the name of religion. Muhammad spoke with regards to this in a hadith:

“And if somebody innovates something which is not in harmony with the principles of our religion, that thing is rejected.” (Sahih Bukhari 2679)

Muhammad, for Muslims, is a great leader and is referred to as our role model. In his life, he showed great kindness even to the non-believers. One story that shows Muhammad’s great example was when he was feeding the blind man who always cursed him. When Muhammad passed away, Abu Bakr, the new appointed caliph, continued his act but he was refused by the blind man. The blind man did not know it was Muhammad who fed him and when he realised and heard of his death he cried. 

Moreover, we can see in Islamic history that no blood was shed when the Muslims were taking over Mecca. Other than that, the order set by Abu Bakr (the first caliph in Rashidun caliphate) before sending his army to war clearly emphasise on the peaceful aspects of Islam, although it is now continuously violated by terrorist movements who claimed to be fighting in the name of Islam. These are the orders said by him:

  • “Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path.”
  • “You must not mutilate dead bodies.”
  • “Neither kills a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man.”
  • “Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful.”
  • “Slay not the any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food.”
  • “You are most likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”4

This rightfully explains the real stance of Islam against oppression. We should know that the people who commit violence in the name of Islam are the transgressors and as the Quran says about them;

“Fight in the course of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.” (Qur’an 2:190)

In conclusion, we should know that the inhumane crimes committed by terrorists nowadays are not in line with Islamic teachings. If they knew the Quran well and followed Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, they would have known their actions are wrong. Islamic teachings are based on peace, so let us not generalise that all Muslims are terrorists. Islam is not a violent religion.

1 Why Islam.org, “What about verses in the Qur’an that encourage you to kill non-believers wherever you find them?”, accessed on November 15, 2015, http://www.whyislam.org/faqs/islam-on-violence/what-about-verses-in-the-qur%E2%80%99an-that-encourage-you-to-kill-non-believers-wherever-you-find-them/.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 BBC Religions, “War”, updated August 13, 2009, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/islamethics/war.shtml.

One thought on “Islam and violence

  1. You quote mostly from the Qur’an here, but isn’t part of the problem that the most active Islamist groups today – ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra – are Salafists and so are more inspired by the life of Muhammad from the Hadith (including his treatment, for example, of ‘Asma’ bint Marwan and Kenana ibn al-Rabi, and his conquests of Arabia) more than by the poetry of the Qur’an? al-Baghdaddi has a BA, MA and PhD in Islamic Studies from Baghdad University, and though his Salafist interpretation of scripture might not represent the majority opinion of Muslims around the world or even yours, isn’t it as valid an interpretation as anyone else’s, be they liberal or orthodox, Qur’anists or Hadithist, Sunni, Shia or Sufi, peaceful or, yes, even violent?

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