Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 10: Militant elements)

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The growing talk of militancy and the use of force which we hear, needs to be carefully analyzed before we can understand the importance of this bizarre phenomenon. The narrow, non-tolerant attitude is certainly becoming more popular with the Muslim ‘clergy’ in almost all Muslim countries. The responsibility for this mainly lies on the shoulders of Saudi Arabia, which is attempting to capture the imagination of the whole Muslim world and seems resolved to spread its political influence under a religious guise. As it enjoys the unique advantage of being the custodian of the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, it is certainly in a position to exploit this situation to its best advantage.

The religious philosophy of the Saudis emanates from Wahabism, which draws its inspiration from the non-tolerant world of medieval Islam rather than from the more understanding and benign Islam of the time of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The spread of Saudi influence is aided by Saudi petro-dollars and the colossal size of Saudi bank balances in major banks throughout the world. It is to the credit of Saudi Arabia that part of the interest accruing from these colossal investments is being used to form channels of aid from Saudi Arabian coffers to the poorer Muslim nations with sizable Muslim populations. More often than not, this aid is provided not to boost their ailing economies, but to build mosques, training schools and institutes producing scholars of a Saudi brand.

Hence, wherever you follow the flow of Saudi aid, you will also observe a rapid increase in the narrow, non-tolerant attitudes of Muslim ‘clergy’. No doubt, when the Christian world hears these voices roundly condemning all non-Islamic values and preaching jihad (that is, holy war), against non-Islamic governments, they are led to believe that the talk of this holy war will readily be translated into actual belligerency. What is happening is in fact completely different.

The Muslim ‘clergy’ talks highly about holy wars and the utter destruction of non-Islamic forces. What they actually mean by non-Islamic forces is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist forces. According to their view, all Muslim sects other than their own are either no Muslim in their character or hold to doctrines that render them liable to earn the wrath of Allah and His true servants. The real enemies of Islam, as they discern them, are not non-Muslims but some sects of Islam within the world of Islam. The awakening militant tendencies are much more directed by Muslims of one sect against Muslims of another sect than against non-Muslims. This is why so much stress is laid by them on capital Punishment for Apostasy. That is their weapon against Muslims who differ on some doctrinal issues from the majority sect of a country. These sects are, in fact, dealt the death-blow in two steps—first, their doctrines are declared to be non-Islamic, which earns them the title of apostates; and second, the doctrine of death being the penalty for apostasy, they are considered liable to be executed.

A neutral observer will agree that this growing militant tendency is creating disorder among the Muslims themselves and that it is responsible for generating extreme hatred in the hearts of adherents of one sect against the adherents of another. No one who has even a remote understanding of modern warfare can imagine a real threat from so-called ‘Islamic’ militancy. Of course, there is danger in these growing tendencies and one is bound to be perturbed by them. The danger from ‘Islamic’ militancy is a threat to the world of Islam itself; it is an inward-looking threat which is destroying the peace of Muslims everywhere. All the intolerance, narrow-mindedness and bigotry which we observe in the Muslim world today is playing havoc with the peace of the Muslim world.

Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 9: Khomenism)

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There is a long history of growing Iranian consciousness of its exploitation and enslavement by foreign powers of one type or another. Despite the fact that a very large majority of Iranians are Muslims.  One cannot ignore the fact that Iranians have never been able to forget or forgive the conquest by Arabs of their homelands. Although the wounds appeared to have been healed long ago and many potent factors such as commonality of religion and common enmity against other countries have played an important role in cementing the Iranians to the Arabs, it cannot be denied that there is still an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the Arab domination of Iran for the past few centuries. One must also bear in mind that in the pre-Islamic era, Iran could boast one of the most powerful and illustrious civilizations ever to have influenced mankind anywhere in the world. At the inception of Islam, the Arabs knew of only two worlds—that in the West, dominated by the Roman Empire, and that in the East, commanded and governed by the Chosroes of Iran. The memories of that remote and glorious past, though subdued to some extent by the strong influence of Islamic brotherhood, could not entirely be wiped out. There always has been along and lingering shadow of the great Iranian civilization in the hearts of Iranian intellectuals.

The long history of Iranian-Arab feuds and Iranian punitive excursions into Arabia also left ugly and irritating scars on the Arab minds which even the great healer, time, could not obliterate. This is only human. People throughout the world may sometimes find it difficult to dissociate themselves from the past or to forget injuries and insults to their honor. Such chapters of history are never permanently closed but are opened again and again.

Let us now turn to more modern times It is not against the Arabs alone that the Iranians have been nursing their grievances. During the Second World War, the Iranians were subjected to a worse kind of domination by predominantly British forces. Whilst in the Arab case there had at least been the redeeming factor of a common cultural and religious bond, in the case of the British the chasm between the ruler and the ruled, rather than narrowing grew wider. Nor could it be bridged by any social, cultural or religious similarities.

After the decline of British influence there followed an era of indirect control and subjugation of Third World countries by the major powers through stooges and puppet regimes. It was in this period of neoimperialism that the Iranian protégé was transferred from the British lap to the American lap. The Shah of Iran thus became a symbol of American imperialism which supported conflicting ideologies to its own as it does today, for example, in Poland, Nicaragua, Israel and South Africa.

The fuel of hatred which was ultimately sparked off by the Khomeinian revolution was not only a product of American oppression but had been accumulating for centuries, like the subterranean reserves of oil and gas. The important point to note is that this hatred was not essentially religious in origin. If Khomeini had not exploited the hatred in the name of Islam, some communist leader would certainly have exploited it in the name of social justice. Whatever religious or irreligious name was given to the revolution, the underlying forces and factors would remain the same.

I have pointed out many times to those who regard excesses committed by Khomeini against some of his own people, and acts of revenge perpetrated in other countries, as Islamic in character that Islam as a religion has nothing to do with the expression of Iranian dissatisfaction. In a manner of speaking, the West should treat Ayatollah Khomeini as their benefactor rather than as their enemy. I say this because I am quite positive that if Khomeini had not exploited the situation and given it an Islamic face in order to support and perpetuate a junta of Muslim ‘clergy’, the situation would most certainly have been exploited by Iranian leaders of leftist inclination. The same Iran which we see as green sprinkled with red today would have instead appeared to us entirely red. It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear to the West—could be seen as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in this perspective.

It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear —could be seen politically as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in political perspective.

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Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 8: Examining Terrorism [Iranian Revolution])

PreviousPart 7

Let us turn to some particular illustrations of terrorism in order to diagnose the underlying maladies. We shall begin with Iran and see how Khomeinism came to be born. It is common knowledge that in the days of the Shah there was great prosperity. The highly ambitious industrial and economic development plans augured a bright future for the country. But can man live by bread alone? As far as Iranians under the despotic rule of the Shah were concerned, the answer was an emphatic ‘No’. They wanted to have a responsible share in the running of affairs in their own country. They could no longer just be satisfied with full stomachs. Their hunger for self-respect, dignity, their craving for freedom and liberation from a highly regimented system of oppression made them continuously restive and volatile. This situation was ripe for a violent and bloody revolution.

If the nature of this imminent revolution had not been essentially Islamic, it would have been a communist revolution and could have been even bloodier and more extreme. The turmoil which was to shake Iran from north to south and east to west was a natural and inevitable consequence of a long political oppression.  The negation of fundamental human rights and liberties, were also a subversion and exploitation by a great Western foreign power. Iran was aware of the fact that the despotic regime of the Shah was fully backed, supported and sanctioned by the government of the United States of America. The people’s hatred and urge for revenge did not stop at the toppling of the Shah’s regime and the destruction of all internal forces which in one way or another had been responsible for the maintenance of the monarchy.

The consciousness of American support had brought out the Shah the very worst of his despotic tendencies. He had been held in awe to begin with, but gradually awe gave way to terror. The fear of revolt stiffened his attitude even more with the passage of time. Gradually a police state of the worst type came to be born in Iran. With the passage of time Iranians became aware that the police state was fully and unequivocally supported by the government of the USA. The Shah played the part of a mere puppet whose strings were tied to the subtle, manipulating fingers of the USA. This, as it was mentioned above, led to a situation ripe for revolution motivated by a consuming fire of hatred.

The situation was capitalized upon by Ayatollah Khomeini. The ideology which he propounded to give color and complexion to his revolution was Shi’a Islam. But was it really the love of Shi’a Islam which generated hatred against the USA, or was it the name of Islam a mere facade to hide the underlying motives? Had Khomeini not raised the banner of Islam, would there not have been a revolution in some other name? Is it not a fact that had Khomeini not exploited the situation and given it an Islamic color and complexion, the same situation of hatred could have been equally exploited by a non-religious philosophy such as nationalism or scientific socialism?

In fact Khomeini outpaced forces which were coming fast at his heels and a given time might have overtaken him and all he stood for. That is why the situation in Iran became extremely complicated and confused. The basic urge of the revolution was not against communism or any leftist philosophy, but was aimed at the Shah and his mentors.  Though because there was a real likelihood of leftist leadership taking over the reins of revolution from Khomeini, he had to fight on three fronts simultaneously. After toppling the Shah, he not only undertook to eradicate and exterminate all supporters of the former Shah, but also to root out American influence wherever it was suspected to be. That in itself could have lent support to the leftist ideology, which if permitted to flourish unchecked, might have succeeded in snatching the power from Khomeini’s hands and replacing the Islamic ideology with Marxism-Leninism.

Fortunately for Ayatollah Khomeini, he was shrewd and powerful enough to wield the double-edged sword of Islamic ideology not only against American rightism but as effectively against Russian leftism.

But when all is said and done, it is clear that whatever else it was, it certainly was not Islam which guided and instructed the Iranian revolution. At best, you can if you wish, call what happened and is happening in Iran Khomeinism. The real forces at work are not truly and essentially religious in character. Political powers have exploited the reaction of the Iranians against the Shah to achieve purely political ends.


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Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 7: Islamic Terrorism?)

PreviousPart 6

Many intellectuals today relate Islam closely to terrorism. Sadly, one cannot deny that on many occasions some Muslims are found involved in terrorist activities either on behalf of a group or on behalf of a country with a predominately Muslim population.

Are there not equally, other groups involved in terrorism and subversion throughout the world? Would it be fitting to label all brands of terrorism by using the same principle which gave birth to the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ creating a list of Sikh terrorism, Hindu terrorism, Christian terrorism, Jewish terrorism, atheist terrorism, Buddhist terrorism, Animist terrorism and pagan terrorism?

It is not easy to close one’s eyes to various brands of terrorism which unfortunately flourish all over the world; in fact, it is impossible for an observer not to be aware of the persecution, bloodshed and murder, often in the name of some purported ideal or noble cause. Terrorism is a global problem and needs to be studied in its larger perspective. Unless we understand the forces behind the violence, we shall not be able to understand why some Muslim groups and states are turning to terrorism to achieve certain objectives.

I am fully convinced that almost every form of communal violence witnessed in the world today, wherever that is and whatever cloak it wears, is essentially political in nature. Religion is not the exploiter; it is itself exploited by internal or external political interests.

For instance, we find terrorism generated by racism—but that, in the final analysis, is essentially political in nature. There are other small expressions of terrorism born out of rebellion and hatred against prevailing social systems and cultures. These are generally regarded as acts of madmen and anarchists. There is a special kind of terrorism which is related to the Mafia’s struggle for supremacy; this terrorism is directed by certain factions against other factions within the Mafia. Obviously, this terrorism is really a power struggle and therefore political.When we examine so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’, we discover political forces working behind an Islamic facade.  More often than not, the real manipulators and exploiters are not even Muslims themselves.

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Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 6: Freedom of belief)

PreviousPart 5

‘For you your religion, and for me my religion.’

[Ch. 109 v.7]

The verses quoted above clearly indicate that Islam tells its followers to tolerate other religions around them. The Holy Qur’an teaches Muslims to respect other people’s beliefs. Even within Islam there is no constraint or force. Every man’s belief is his own and no Muslim has the right to denounce that. As the Qur’an says:

‘There shall be no compulsion in religion.’

[Ch. 2 v. 257]

This principle of no compulsion was reiterated after the victory of Badr [Ch 3. v.21] and again in ‘Al-Ma’idah’ (The Table Spread with Food), which is the last revealed chapter. By the time Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s authority was fully established, not only in Medina but also in Mecca, it was vital to emphasize that the Prophet’s only role was to convey the word of Allah.

‘Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and be on your guard, but if you turn away, then remember that the duty of our Messenger is only to convey the message clearly.’

[Ch. 5 v.93]

And finally:

‘The Messenger’s duty is only to convey the message. And Allah knows what you reveal and what you hide.’

[Ch. 5 v.100]

These verses clearly emphasize the fact that religious belief is a personal matter. It is God alone, not the state or the religious authorities who knows what one reveals to God or what one hides.

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Islam: Religon of Peace (Part 5: Recantation under Islam)

PreviousPart 4

The concept of apostasy, as it existed in medieval Christianity and expounded by the Muslim scholars of today, is a total alien to Islam. There is not even a word for it in the Arabic language. There is no doubt that some early Muslim scholars of law (fiqh) considered recantation from Islam to be a capital offence, but their definition of ‘Muslim’ was so broad that no one calls himself a Muslim could be called a recanter.

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) gave us two definitions of a Muslim. At the time of the first census of Medina, the Prophet said:

Write down for me the name of everyone who calls himself a Muslim.

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Bab Kitabat al-Iman al-Nas)

On another occasion the Prophet said:

‘Whoever prays as we pray and turns to our Qiblah and eats what we ritually slaughter is a Muslim; He is Allah (God)’s responsibility and my responsibility. So do not put Allah in contravention of his responsibility.’

(Ibid., Kitab al-Salat, Bab Fadl Istaqbal al-Qiblah)

On the contrary the radical Muslim scholars, supporting dictatorships and autocracies in Muslim countries, have added various qualifications to the Prophet’s simple definition. According to the Holy Qur’an, no Muslim has the right to declare any other Muslim an apostate. The Chapter ‘Al-Kafirun’ (The Unbelievers), revealed that in the early period of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s ministry, is a direct statement of policy on the subject of freedom of conscience. The Prophet was asked to tell unbelievers there was absolutely no meeting-point between their beliefs and his. As they were in complete disagreement, not only with regard to the basic concepts of religion, but also with regard to its details and other aspects, there could not possibly be any compromise between them. Hence, the Qur’an says:

‘For you, your religion, for me, my religion.’

(Ch. 109 verse 7)

The first verses after migration where the subject of freedom of conscience was discussed, is in Al-Baqarah (Ch 2. The Cow). The 257th verse of the chapter contains the clearest pronouncement on the subject:

‘There shall be no compulsion in religion. Surely guidance has become distinct from error, whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress and believes in Allah has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.’

This is the confident declaration of a prophet who has organized a colony in a town where his power is supreme. Lest the subject of jihad be misunderstood, Muslims are told that true virtue lies in good works and good faith (Ch.2 v.255–258) and the Majesty of God is called to mind in the Throne verse (Ch.2 v.256). The commandment of ‘no compulsion in religion’ comes immediately after the Throne verse. Readers of the Qur’an might have thought God wanted Muslims to spread Islam by force, because of its call to fight the enemies and to offer special sacrifices to Allah.  However, the verse tells Muslims in no uncertainty terms not to resort violence in the name of conversion.

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Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 4: Contradictions about expansion of Islam)

PreviousPart 3

Many scholars, writers and historians have studied Islamic history, as it turns out, there are conflicting views about the way in which the message of Islam was spread around the world.  Some claim that the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) went on the offensive and converted people by the force of his sword. Objective historians however clearly disagree with this fact, they recall all the battles that the Prophet (peace be upon him) fought in defense. The expansion of Islam was due to the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) spiritual and moral power.

Nevertheless, the view that Islam was spread with force is, unfortunately, held by some Muslim leaders and clerics. Like the orientalist, they divide the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) into Meccan and Medinite periods. They view that at Mecca, the Prophet was weak and powerless but once he gained power, he resorted to the sword, according to their school of thought. The Late Mr. Maududi (an Islamic scholar) writes it in his book as follows:

Mr. Abul-ala-Maududi

Mr. Abul-ala-Maududi

…he used every possible means of communication, but his people refused to accept Islam. When every method of persuasion had failed. The Prophet took to the sword.

It is a very unfortunate statement, coming from a Muslim scholar who is ranked very high in many parts of the Muslim world. His phraseology appears to glorify Islam, but in reality it endorses the accusations made by the critics of Islam. George Sale wrote:

When the followers of the Prophet increased in number, he claimed that God had allowed him to attack the unbelievers so that idolatry be destroyed and true religion be established.

Other critics of Islam such as R. Dozy, Aloy Spranger, Dr. Pfander and Henry Copey followed the same line of attack on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). If you compare the two statements (that of Mr. Maududi and Mr. Sale), one will sadly conclude that Mr. Maududi and Mr. Sale are in agreement.

In contrast, we find writings and assertions from non-Muslims about how this orientalist view of spreading Islam with sword is baseless and distorted. Pandit Gyanandra Dev Sharma Shastri while expressing his views about the expansion of Islam says:

The critics are blind. They cannot see that the only sword Muhammad wielded was the sword of mercy, compassion, friendship and forgiveness—the sword that conquers enemies and purifies hearts. His sword was sharper than the sword of steel.

The father of modern India Mahatma Gandhi writes in Young India:

The more I study the more I discover that the strength of Islam does not lie in the sword.

Another non-Muslim scholar, Dr D. W. Leitz, in rebutting this false charge, based in his argument on the Qur’an itself. He said:

All these arguments, advanced to prove that the purpose of jihad was to spread Islam by force, are contradicted by the Qur’an. The Qur’an says that the purpose of jihad is to protect mosques, churches, synagogues and cloisters.

It is terrible to know that Muslims scholar portrays Islam in a violent way, while non-Muslims see Islam as a tolerant, compassionate and friendly religion. Unfortunately, this is not the first time religion is used to gain political power, it has been there in Christian era and the era of Jews, it is utilized as a weapon to make armies of men who are totally in the dark about their religion. Qur’an makes it very clear what is the status of the Prophet of Islam and his followers.

Remind them for thou (O Prophet) art an admonisher. Thou art not at all a warder over them.

Al-Qur’an Al-Ghashiyah(88) Verses 22-23

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