In an op. ed. piece for the Jewish Press, I cited from the Qur’an to show that war is an exceptional matter for Muslims, an unwanted obligation to be fulfilled in limited circumstances, and for defensive purposes only.
In response, I’ve been denounced and accused of being a Trojan horse, the wolf trying to devour Little Red Riding Hood, of not being a Muslim or being the worst kind of liar, misguided, deceiver, of practicing taqiyya, of disseminating propaganda with the intention of deceiving Israelis & Westerners, of using jihadist tactics in disguise, etc.
The most moderate reaction has been that I am young, naive… and don’t know my religion and the real world.
Despite the criticism, I stand behind my words, and I say further that Hamas or any other Islamic group that uses violence against civilians is doing wrong according to the Qur’an and that Jews, Christians, and Muslims must and can live co-exist together in harmony and peace. The reactions to my statements have been along the following lines: “What about the jihad verses in Qur’an? What about taqiyyah? What about abrogation of the verses which counsel peace?”
Let me clarify these misconceptions about Islam so that there is no excuse for warmongers and those who wish to shed oceans of blood.
War and violence in the Holy Books – Admittedly, there are commandments about war in the Qur’an, and those verses pertain to self-defense. The Tanakh and the Gospel also contain provisions about war and violence, and there are verses full of killing, especially in the Torah. The passages about war in those are, just as with the Qur’an, in regard to self-defense. The Torah and the Gospel command peace and love, and contain commandments about love and affection too. A person of love will interpret that in one way, and a cruel person in another. One can interpret it truly if one looks at it sincerely. For instance the Gospel speaks of blood up to the manes of the horses; it speaks of nobody being saved apart from 144,000 Jews. These are actually metaphorical and must be elucidated within the general tone of the Gospel, which is one of love and affection prevailing. But if someone insists on interpreting it in terms of violence, if he adds additional things to it out of his own mind, then a climate of violence will of course ensue. But a real Jew or a real Christian would never murder innocent people simply because there exists verses regarding killings in their Holy Books. In the same way, people who will look at Islam and the Qur’an through the eyes of love will not come up with violent interpretations.
Dictators against Prophets’ divine message – Let us not forget that the Prophet Mohammed was a prophet who sought to spread the pure faith of the Prophet Abraham, which is faith in God, the One and Only and ascribing no equals to Him, in a pagan society which had been dominated by idol worship. Like many prophets whose names appear in the Tanakh, the Prophet Mohammad has been commissioned for transmitting the message of God. It was impossible for the prophets to make any concessions on this, and they carried the true message, even at the cost of their own lives, to the most extreme leaders of their times and the most perverse communities. Conveying this message sometimes meant to oppose the tyrant Nimrod, as in the case of the Prophet Abraham, and sometimes to oppose dictators such as Pharaoh, as with the Prophet Moses. At all such times, believers found opposition from people who sought to take their lives. Despite circumstances where no one enjoyed freedom of expression, all the prophets communicated God’s message without regard to the cost. And this is no different in Islam as well.
War (qital) and jihad are not the same – The basic claim of the accusations and reactions trying to portray Islam as violent -God forbid- is that there are verses about jihad in the Qur’an and that these speak of killing. First and foremost, jihad and war are entirely different concepts: Jihad is not synonymous with holy war, as some misguided people think. Jihad means rather exertion, which is to strive, to make effort toward some object identified to the will of God as revealed in the Qur’an. Some worthy objects of jihad include strife against one’s egoistic passions, or to make an intellectual challenge against irreligion, radicalism or fanaticism. One convinces people with scientific and intellectual evidence. To expose the signs of God’s existence, to convey His revelation, to explain the malice of atheistic ideologies etc… These are the legitimate objects of the “jihad” for a Muslim, not beating someone about the head, killing someone or forcing a person to embrace Islam as an act of coercion.
There is also war or combat (qital) in the Qur’an. Whereas jihad is an affirmative duty to confront falsehood with the truth of God, the verses that command war in the Qur’an apply to situations in which a Muslim is called to respond to aggression. In such situations God describes what Muslims may be allowed to do for their own self defense. For instance, if Muslims come under attack; if, their lives, possessions and honor are threatened, if they are being killed and if there is no alternative but to fight, then it becomes obligatory and lawful for Muslims to defend themselves and to come to the aid of the innocent.
Pagan rule and self defense – In order to understand the Qur’anic prescriptions to war, it is necessary to understand the historical context in which the commandments came. The revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Mohammad was delivered over a period of 23 years. The first thirteen years of this period passed in Mecca, where Muslims lived as a minority and faced much oppression under a pagan rule. At that time, the Arabian peninsula was dominated by Bedouin Arab tribes who wandered about looting, robbing and murdering as a manner of life. They were hooligans that murdered, got drunk and enjoyed killing people. They made war against the Prophet Mohammad and against anyone who followed his teachings. When they were warned not to murder, they kept on murdering. Despite the fact that many Muslims were harassed, dispossessed of their homes, abused, tortured, and even murdered, Muslims strove to co-exist without resorting to any violence and always called pagans to peace. As a matter of fact, the Muslims dug trenches in the Khandaq war as a defensive strategy to avoid conflict as much as possible. They also emigrated (hejira), and ran away from them, but even then the aggressors pursued them.
In sum, nowhere in the Qur’an are Muslims commanded to wage wars of aggression, and certainly not as a means for to propagate Islam. If a community does not attack, and behaves normally, then naturally, there is no call to war. The obligation to war is and remains a limited, unwanted obligation, applicable only to repel attack.
War commandments – It is not an easy thing to decide to wage war, and Prophet Mohammad was undecided, worrying about whether he would be committing a sin. As the aggressors in question are human beings, he felt a responsibility of conscience and was unable to make a decision. Under these circumstances, God commanded the Prophet Mohammad to kill the polytheists wherever he finds them. However that is a commandment delivered within a context of an ongoing war, not as a method for the propagation of Islam. God commanded: “… Whenever they are made to revert to hostility, they fall headlong into it. Therefore, if they do not keep aloof from you, nor offer you peace nor restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them, wherever you find them. Against these We have given you clear authority.” (Qur’an, 4:91)
In this same vein, the Qur’an commands blockade and taking prisoners as a peaceful means of neutralizing a potentially aggressive community (Quran, 9:5). But if a blockade or taking prisoners are not possible, then killing is permissible only as a last resort.
Verses special for a particular time – In addition, some of the verses that are in regard to the strategic wars are specific to that particular period. There is clearly no such situation at the moment. For instance God informs “if they do not accept conditions of agreement”, that refers to a special circumstance. Regarding a battle, God says, “Behold! they came on you from above you and from below you,” (Qur’an, 33:10) and describes a a particular situation. Additionally, there are verses that refer to Prophet Mohammad in particular, and verses specific to a particular event. However a Muslim reads with wisdom and takes lessons from whatever is described in the Qur’an, just like a Jew would read the battles in the Torah with meditation.
Commandments for specific situations and general situations are different. The general commands are orders that are valid until the Day of Reckoning. For instance, God informs us to say, “Your religion is to you, our religion is to us.” (Qur’an, 109:6) This is a general verse. In another verse He says “There is no compulsion in religion,” (Qur’an, 2:256); this is also a general verse. And there certainly is no meaning such as to kill disbelievers or people from other religions, God forbid. It is required that a clear and general command should exist in the Qur’an, but there is no such verse or no general command that is still binding to this day.
Taqiyyah – Taqiyyah is a word which is used to describe justifiable deception on behalf of Islam, and once again, self willed people have pressed this concept to their own purposes. First, as a general matter, taqiyyah only applies in a specific situation where a person is coerced to renounce Islam under the threat of violence. Under that exceptional circumstance, it is acceptable to renounce Islam with the mouth, while not actually doing so in the heart or the conscious mind. However, the notion that taqiyyah represents some broad license to commit “pious fraud” against non-Muslims is wholly incorrect. Just as the object of any truly Islamic jihad must be circumscribed to the revealed will of God in the Qur’an, likewise there can be no truly pious act of deception that conflicts with God’s command.
Abrogation – Some people suggest that the verses sent down during the Meccan period and those sent down during the period of Medina are different, and that verses about peace have been annulled. Those claims are unfounded. All the verses of the Qur’an are valid, from beginning to end. It is disbelief to speak of the annulment of any of God’s commandments. These are ideas some people have invented for themselves, and therefore have no validity whatsoever. No commandment in the Qur’an can cease to apply. It is not acceptable to annul a verse on the basis of fabricated hadiths and of historical information. It must be kept in mind that no hadith (saying of the Prophet Mohammad) can conflict with the Qur’an. If it does, it is not an authentic hadith.
Evidence only from the Qur’an – There is no need to look to another source when the verses of the Qur’an are so explicit. All kinds of stories appear in various historical sources, and every society has its own stories. There is the history of the Umayyad, the Abbasid, the Iranians etc., and they are all very different. We do not know what is objectively true in ancient history, therefore they are not evidence against Islam. About the hadith resources; the criteria of its authenticity is its coherence with the Qur’an. Most strife and conflict has been the result of misinterpretation and misinformation of history. That is also why the Islamic world is fragmented at the moment. The false fabrications of people today or in the past are of no concern to us; the person who applies things wrongly is in manifest error. If people have falsely made things up, their actions have nothing to do with religion itself.
In addition, the Qur’an is a whole and every verse expounds one another. So any verse from the Qur’an should be interpreted within the spirit of the Qur’an. If somebody picks one verse from the Qur’an and tries to implement it out of its context or without the knowledge of the general spirit of the Qur’an, he might practice it falsely. Most of the time, even with the explicit statement, there are conditions or exceptions explained. God warns people “Do you then believe in a part of the Book and disbelieve in another part ?” (Qur’an, 2:85)
Protecting unbelievers – In the Qur’an, God says if any unbeliever asks you for protection, give them protection and escort them to a place where they are safe (Qur’an, 9:6). Thus, Muslims have the responsibility to protect even the unbelievers when they seek protection. This means a Muslim may have to give his life to protect the unbelievers and this is a must in the Qur’an. How can one claim that a Book which makes it a rule for Muslims to protect the unbelievers would make it a rule for them kill everyone if they do not believe? And there is no point in claiming otherwise because they have the right to live as unbelievers as God says there is no compulsion in religion.
Social life with the People of the Book – According to the Qur’an, Christians and Jews, are people Muslims can marry, live with, and eat with, as People of the Book. Under Islam, one person has a Christian wife and another a Jewish wife; one person worships at the synagogue, another at the church and yet another at the mosque. Meanwhile, they all live in peace. This provision alone is more than sufficient evidence that Muslims are bound to live together with Christians and Jews in a climate of peace and love. If a Muslim trusts and loves a woman enough to eat what she cooks, and enough to raise his children, why would he want to kill her? Which part of a true book would advise Muslims to kill their wives? Therefore, the entire idea that Muslims are authorized to kill Christians and Jews collapses into its own absurdity.
God commands peace – God does not love war. God does not love bloodshed. God does not want people to die by violence. God says in the Qur’an that killing someone for no reason is like killing all of mankind (Qur’an, 5:32) and He further says the punishment for killing someone is eternal hell. The commandments of these verses are quite clear. Almighty God does not want strife and conflict in this world. God says that the essential thing is peace; He tells people to enter the abode of peace (Qur’an, 10:5). He also tells us to hold to forgiveness (Qur’an, 7:9) and to enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil (Qur’an, 9:71); He does not tell us to kill and slaughter. That must not be forgotten.
In Conclusion – I am a devout believer who strongly believes that the message of Islam, Judaism and Christianity is the same: Peace. The vision of all the Abrahamic religions talk about the coming of a better world, without pain, hunger, hatred and war. I know that in my own religious community, there are fanatics who believe that my religion should fight against those who do not embrace it and force them till they accept. But I disagree with them. What is more I believe that I have far better proof that the radicals distort the true meaning of my religion. Therefore I say, let us unite against terrorism, radicalism and bigotry, and help each other by building bridges accross the rift that the radicals work so hard to dig.
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