04 December 2005

Why Islam and extremism do not go together

Why Islam and extremism do not go together

25 November 2005

OF LATE, the world has been furiously debating why some people in the Muslim lands are turning to violence and whether Islam supports the use of violent means to achieve ends. This debate would be incomplete and flawed without looking at the fundamental teachings of Islam. Allah says in the Holy Quran:

"There is no coercion or compulsion in the Deen (religion). The right way now stands clearly distinguished from the wrong. Hence he who rejects the evil ones and believes in Allah has indeed taken hold of the firm, unbreakable handle, and Allah (Whom he has held for support) is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. —Quran (2:256)

These verses of the Holy Quran are clear in commanding the believers that there is no coercion or use of force in Islam. That is, you cannot coerce someone to embrace the faith or accept a particular viewpoint. One quick look at history over the last 14 centuries is proof that Muslims had no systematic sanction or compulsion to convert people to Islam. The above quoted verse signals the way of Allah and the freedom that He has given to each and every sane individual to pursue the path shown by His messengers or go their own way.

Muslims have honoured this commandment and have been careful in not forcing their faith or viewpoint on the world. The best examples are found in Spain, India and Eastern Europe. Muslims entered with armies and conquered them, yet these countries remained a non-Muslim majority. On the other hand, Muslim armies never entered Sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia etc., and yet these countries embraced the faith and are now Muslim majority countries. Even today —in the 21st century —when there are no Muslim armies roaming North America or Europe, millions of people are taking to Islam of their own will.

History also shows that from 638 to 1917, the Muslims and Jews have been each other’s friends and also protectors at times. During the period of the Inquisition in Spain, Muslims and Jews suffered together and protected each other. Whenever the Jews faced hostilities in Europe, they fled to North African Muslim-ruled countries, or to the East where the Turks ruled and found the much-needed sympathy, support, rehabilitation and a welcome mat.

Similarly, Christians and Muslims have been living together in peace all over the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and many other countries. One example of the Christian-Muslim harmony is found in the Orthodox Church, which had its headquarters in Constantinople before 1453 when Muhammad II conquered it for the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople was the seat of the Orthodox Church and it remained so throughout the Turkish rule. Even today, Constantinople continues to be the seat of the Orthodox Church.

Ironically, many around the globe today hold a tainted view of Islam and a greater majority is unaware of Islam’s glorious past. The literal meaning of Islam is peace and submission. Thus associating the great faith with violence is a great injustice to Islam and its followers. But then the contemporary situation in Muslim world appears to link Islam with violence. Anti-Islam forces love to refer to the cherry-picked Quranic verses to suit their interpretation that Islam preaches violence, not peace. Unfortunately, the ignorant masses of the West have been raised believing that Islam breeds violence. The Western media only reinforces these stereotypes about Islam and Muslims in a bid to check the growing popularity of the faith in the West.

So how should we approach Islam to understand its true message and teachings? The answer lies in an understanding of the Holy Quran.

Here are the ground rules that are crucial to a true understanding of the Quran.

A Quranic verse should be read (a) in the context of the surrounding verses, not in isolation, (b) in the context of its revelation, which may be found in the Hadith (Prophet’s sayings) collections, and (c) in the context of the whole Quran. A fourth requirement frequently presented is to see the words, terms and phrases used and as understood by the Companions of the Holy Prophet and the immediate generations after them. It simply means reading various commentaries of the Quran of the classical period and studying how they were understood and explained a given verse or a passage of the Quran. Ignorance of Arabic is not an excuse because in the 20th century, quite a few commentaries of the holy Book in English and most language have appeared and the commentators have taken into account the interpretation of earlier commentators.

Those who quote Quranic verses with the objective of criticising them and Islam do not meet any of the above given requirements. Yet they interpret Quran according to their own whims and fancy. These people are not driven by any genuine desire to study and understand the holy book but by their prejudice and malice. Allah is certain to help all those who seek the Truth and guidance.

Abid Ishaq can be reached at thelinguist75@yahoo.com

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