On Wednesday 2nd December 2015 an article appeared on the daily express entitled ‘Islam: Why should I care?
Having read this article and looked at its contents carefully, we wish to declare that the information presented by the author has created a false and erroneous impression in the minds of people about Islam.
The author has looked at tiny factions of militant groups who are involved in lots of wicked acts, and presented them to the readers as a representation of Islam and Muslims. This, we feel, is disappointing on his part, and as a minister of religion and a student of law, he should have taken the time to do a proper research on Islam and Muslims before presenting an inaccurate image of Islam.
While depicting an untruthful picture of Islam, the author quoted a verse of the Holy Quran of Chapter 2:191 which stated ‘And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter’.
Through this verse, the author attempts to tell readers that the Quran is a book that orders Muslims to kill non-Muslims wherever they find them. This inference however, from the verse is absolutely inaccurate, faulty and unsound. In fact, it is totally absurd.
The author handpicked a verse of the Holy Quran, and without investigating its context and background, presented it as a teaching of Islam, which was totally wrong.
Like other Holy Scriptures, verses must be understood in their respective context and the causes surrounding their revelation. An important part of studying Holy Scriptures which includes the Holy Quran, is to know when and why certain verses were revealed, and whether an order/instruction is ‘general or confined’; ‘specific or nonspecific’.
The above verse like other verses of the Holy Quran, has its own background. History tells us that when the Prophet Muhammad(U.W.B.P) was commissioned as a prophet to invite the people towards belief in One God, His Prophets, Angels, Life after death, Resurrection, the Day of Judgement and Paradise and Hell, they all turned against him. They tried their best to stop this message by ridiculing him, stoning him, and ostracizing him. Notwithstanding the pressures placed upon him, the message continued to spread until people started to accept the belief of One God and His prophets. When this happened, the people in Makkah became angry and in an effort to stop this message, they began to persecute and torture the Prophet Muhammad as well as his companions who had accepted his message. They flogged them day and night. They beheaded them. They made them lie on the hot burning sand of the desert and placed huge rocks on their chests, saying to them, ‘Give up the belief in One God or swelter and die’. They were stripped off their upper garments, and burning embers were placed on their backs. Chains were placed around their necks and they were dragged like animals through the streets of Makkah. They were tied to trees and pillars and were beaten until they became unconscious. These acts of persecution and torture continued for 13 long years in Makkah. During this time, the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (the early Muslims) never retaliated, nor did they fight back. They humbled themselves and took the merciless persecution with patience and forbearance, with the hope that it will soon end.
When tortures and sufferings had reached their limit and the Makkans did not desist from their gruesome actions, the Prophet Muhammad and his companions then decided to migrate to a nearby land. This intention to migrate, brought a sense of relief and joy in the hearts of the Muslims who looked forward to live a life of peace and security. This however, did not occur. When the call to migrate was given, the Makkans became like vultures, hunting day and night for those who tried to migrate. Some who were caught were slain immediately, others were brought back to Makkah to undergo agonising pain and suffering, and some were shackled, chained and imprisoned. Eventually, the Prophet Muhammad and a number of his companions managed to escape their hands and successfully arrived in Madinah. Here, they envisaged a better life and saw that they would now be safe from the atrocities of the Makkan life. This however, did not happen. The Makkans became furious that Prophet Muhammad and his companions had slipped away from their hands. They now made a firm resolution to openly attack the Muslims in Madinah and finish them altogether. They were determined to do this, and so, their persecution to the Muslims started again, even though the Muslims had migrated to a new land called Madinah which was a separate city from Makkah that had its own governance. The Makkans then waged wars, one after the other, with the firm determination to slay every man, woman and child who believed in One God. The Prophet Muhammad (Upon whom be peace and blessings) along with his companions (the early Muslims) were now caught in a situation. They had already lived under severe persecution for 13 long years, and now, when they dreamt of a life of safety and peace, were being attacked again. This was the state of affairs, and it was in this situation when they became victims of cruelty and oppression, the above verse of Chapter 2 verse 191 was revealed. The verse granted permission to the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims to defend their lives, their properties, their women and children, and their faith. The verse though, does not stand on its own, instead, it is directly connected to verses 190 and 192. One will get a proper understanding of this message when one looks at the three verses together.
In verse 190, the Quran states, ‘Fight in the way of God, those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed, God does not like transgressors’ (Chapter 2 verse 190).
This verse made it clear that the instruction of fighting given in verse 191 is not general to everyone, but it was confined only to those of the Makkans who attacked the Prophet and his companions. The verse also states, ‘and do not transgress’. This means that they were not allowed to go beyond the limits prescribed. Hence, based on the situation that confronted the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims at that time, they were allowed to fight only those who came to fight them and had attacked their families. They were not allowed to fight anyone else apart from these people. This means that they were not allowed to fight those who did not take part in the battle, like the women, the children, the old, the priests and monks and others devoting themselves to religious pursuits, the physically handicapped and those who work for the opponents who did not take part in the fight. The Prophet Muhammad himself gave such instructions to those going for holy battles. He said to them, ‘Do not fight the women and children’ (Bukhari, Muslim). He also said, ‘Do not fight anyone old and weak, any child or any woman’. (Abu Dawood). Instructions were also given that Muslims must not fight those engaged in their religious activities, the monks, the priests, those employed by the opponents who come to fight and anyone who does not take part in the fight. (Tafseer Al Qurtubi)
In verse 191, the allowance was given that wherever they caught their opponents while fighting on the battle field, they were allowed to kill them, because their opponents were attacking them with the intention to kill them. Hence, it was all about protecting one’s life before another person destroys it.
Verses 191 also said, ‘and turn them out from where they have turned you out’. Here, the Prophet Muhammad was given the allowance to turn out the Makkans from the places which they were turned out from.
This verse was revealed after the Makkans had broken the peace treaty (at the place called Hudaibiyah) which they and the Prophet Muhammad had mutually agreed upon. The Prophet and the Muslims were also stopped and blocked from visiting the Kaaba to perform the smaller pilgrimage. With this treacherous conduct, the Makkans could not be trusted, and the Muslims became worried as to what they would do if the Makkans became aggressive and attacked them on their future journey to Makkah. In this situation, the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims were granted the permission to meet the challenge and fight the Makkans if they became aggressive and came out to attack them. They were also allowed to turn out the Makkans from where they were driven out.
It is to be noted also, that when the Prophet Muhammad (UWBP) and the early Muslims were driven from their native land of Makkah, the Makkans who opposed them seized their properties, lands, wealth and houses; they actually stole it from them. Because of this, the Muslims who migrated to Madinah could not claim their properties, houses and wealth which they left in Makkah. On account of this wickedness from the Makkans, the Muslims were granted the allowance to take back what was taken from them, and also expel the Makkans from the houses which rightfully belonged to them.
The verse also stated, ‘tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter(fighting)’.
This part of the verse explained that the oppression and cruelty which the Makkans brought about by persecuting, killing and torturing the Muslims for many years, are worst than the fighting which has now been allowed for the Muslims (in order that they may protect their lives and properties). They should therefore, not look at the fighting which is done by the Muslims to defend themselves. Instead, they should look at the years of agonizing pain and sufferings which they inflicted on the Muslims. What they have done of ‘tumult and oppression’ on the land, is far worse than the fighting which has been allowed.
The topic of discussion does not stop at verse 191, instead, it goes on to verse 192 and states ‘and if they cease, then indeed God is Forgiving and Merciful’.
This verse made it abundantly clear that while fighting, if the Makkans (the opponents) stop the fight, then the fight must not go any further, and both parties are not to cause harm to each other.
These three verses put together (190, 191, 192), as well as the backdrop of these verses give a clear understanding as to what happened in the past (1436 years ago), that brought about such allowance. Incidents of this nature are not unique to Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims. Instead, almost all prophets who came with the message of believing in one God, were persecuted and ridiculed by their nations. Many were made to suffer at the hands of their opponents, and some were even slain while they preached the message of truth. In fact, the Holy Scriptures of each religion mention a great amount of holy battles that took place between the prophets and their opponents. Therefore, it is not difficult for any person to understand the reason surrounding those verses which were quoted.
It is totally wrong for the author to quote a verse of the Quran out of its context and then try to establish an incorrect message from it.
The author went further to give his own interpretation of long and short Suras (Chapters) of the Quran, and then described some as being in prose and others poetic. We wish to state that this explanation of the author is totally incorrect, and the truth of the matter is far from what he has written.
The author also stated, ‘The world is, in (some) Islamic circles, divided into three spheres, and all non-Muslims are infidels and as such cannot plead innocence when attacked or killed.’ This statement is an inaccurate presentation of the truth of Islam, since readers will get the message from his statement that Islam has such a view. This again, like his previous statements, does not represent or describe the way in which Islam and the Muslims view those who are not Muslims.
The Quran itself, as well as the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, oppose this trend of thought. In the Holy Quran, the Jews and the Christians are respectfully called, ‘People of the Scriptures’, others are called ‘people of the Sabbath day’ and some are called ‘Children of Israel’. Sometimes the Quran appealed to mankind and stated ‘O children of Adam’. This is done to show that all men came from Adam and are thus, brothers and sisters to each other. Therefore, all must live together in love, unity and harmony in a peaceful manner. The Prophet Muhammad (UWBP) also used such words while speaking about others who were not Muslims. It is therefore evident from the two primary sources of Islam, that ‘all non-Muslims’ are not ‘infidels’ as the author described.
With respect to the statement that, ‘non Muslims cannot plead innocence when attacked or killed’, it must be clearly understood that Muslims do not go about attacking and killing people. This is completely against the Holy Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. No Muslim is allowed to do such heinous acts, If any Muslim is guilty of such actions, then he must face the brunt of the law and pay for his deed.
If anyone is accused of something, Muslim or non Muslim, then the Islamic law gives that person the full right to plead innocence and also prove his innocence. Islam recognises and advocates respect for human life, wealth and property, and it is in this context the Holy Quran has stated, ‘Whoever has killed one person, it is as if he has killed the entire mankind.’
The statement made by the author may probably be an opinion of some, but it does not represent the teachings of Islam or the Muslims.
In order to strengthen his ‘point of view’ of Islam, the author presented the statement of ‘Al Badr’ spokesperson, Mustaq Aksari who said, ‘Islam must rule the world, and until Islam does rule the world, we will continue to sacrifice our lives.’
This statement does not represent the Islamic viewpoint nor is it the opinion of Muslims. This seems to be the trend of thought of militants of dissident groups who wish to use the name of Islam to spread tumult on the land. Islam does not preach to the Muslims that they must sacrifice their lives until Islam rules the world. There is no such teaching in Islam. Instead, wherever a Muslim resides, he must live peacefully with all others and must show kindness and goodness to them. Each Muslim, regardless of where he lives, is required to follow the sacred teachings of Islam in his life.
This statement quoted by the author, in our understanding, was done to paint a damaging picture of Islam, when in reality, it is an opinion of a member of a dissident group who does not represent Islam nor the Muslims.
In concluding his article, the author again presents information out of its context, and tries to leave the readers with the impression that Islam is a violent religion. The author presents a hadith (statement of the Prophet Muhammad (UWBP) which states, ‘I have been ordered by God to fight with people till they bear testimony to the fact that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is His Messenger. If they do it, their blood and their property are safe from me.’ (Al Bukhari)
This tradition was quoted totally out of context. The purport of this statement of the Prophet Muhammad (UWBP) was to inform all his companions that when attacked by the Makkans, other tribes and people, if anyone from the other side (the opponents) accepted Islam, then no harm must come to him. No one was allowed to fight him after this, and his property which he came with to the battlefield must not be taken.
It must be understood that when the Prophet Muhammad (UWBP) and his companions were attacked and had to defend themselves in battles, there were many people of the opposing side who accepted Islam. Sometimes an entire tribe accepted Islam. This occurred on account of the truth which became manifest to them when they actually met the Prophet Muhammad face to face. Before this, they simply accepted the false information given by the Makkans about the Prophet, and so, joined forces with them. However, when they actually met him and found out about his message and truthfulness, they were won over to Islam and accepted Islam even while they were in a state where they came to fight against him. The question arose among the companions (early Muslims) as to what should be done. Should they continue to fight against these people and take their valuables as spoils of war, since they came out with the sole intention to fight the Prophet Muhammad, or should they leave them alone? It was in this situation, the Prophet made this statement where he taught them that if they are in a religious battle with their opponents, and people accept Islam, then they must stop the fight and leave them. They cannot harm them nor can they take their valuables as spoils of war. Similar other instructions were given in the Quran and teachings of the Prophet (UWBP), that if while fighting, the opponents wanted to enter a peace agreement to end hostility, then the peace agreement must be accepted and fighting must stop. In a like manner, if the opponents surrendered while fighting, then the fight must stop and no harm should be done to them. So, it is in this context, such statements have been made. One must try to understand the context and the background of verses of the Quran and teachings of the Prophet (UWBP), instead of handpicking specific verses or traditions to establish a bad impression of Islam.
The author finally stated, ‘Thankfully, not all Muslims take their religion as seriously as the militant groups, but…’.
We find this statement to be very offensive to Muslims, and an insult to those who take their religion seriously. The author tries to bring across the message that those who have turned to violence and have killed people innocently, are the only ones who have taken their religion seriously. As for those who are not militant and do not take part in violent actions, they are not serious in Islam. This is a serious blunder on the part of the author who has tried to portray ‘serious and true Islam’ as a religion which calls its adherents to violence, cruelty and ‘war like’ behaviour, while in reality, the opposite is the truth.
We wish to mention that Islam has categorically stated that those who take their religion (of Islam) seriously, are non-violent in behaviour, peaceful in conduct and are kind to all around them. They live in peace and spread it to one and all. They live their lives in obedience to their Lord, fulfilling all rituals and worship, and also meet the requirements of being good to humanity. They are conscious of their words and deeds and so, do not cause harm to the life and property of anyone. The Prophet Muhammad (UWBP) made this teaching very clear when he said, ‘A Muslim is one from whose tongue and limbs other Muslims are safe, and a true believer is one from whom the lives and properties of mankind are safe.’ (Mishkaat)
It means that a true Muslim is one who does not cause harms to the lives and properties of others, whether they are Muslims or not. Serious Muslims are those who love for others what they love for themselves. They are respectful to the elders and those who are in authority over them. They are merciful and compassionate to others, and are kind and charitable to those in need. A serious Muslim is very conscious of his religion and so, he seeks the correct knowledge and practices it. Due to his seriousness about doing the ‘right thing’ in his religion, he does not allow himself to be drawn towards deviated trends and practices. As for those who are not serious about their religion, they do as they please without seeking to find out what is wrong and right. They follow their emotions and are easily hauled towards that which seems to be agreeable, adventurous and attractive to them. People who are not serious about their religion are only interested in fulfilling their selfish desires. They are not concerned about the welfare and safety of others. Hence, they go about fulfilling their personal desires by attacking the lives and properties of others in a careless, reckless and remorseless manner. These are the people who join militant groups and propagate violence as part of Islam. They are not from the true and sincere Muslims, and are not from among those who take their religion seriously. Instead, they are people who follow their base desires and seek to fulfil their personal interests. The author therefore, must be thankful to those who take their religion seriously, for these are the Muslims who promote peace and goodness among people.
In conclusion, we wish to state that the information presented by the author is incorrect and misleading. It is damaging to the religion of Islam and a false portrayal of Muslims. We hope in future writers like the author will research Islam properly before writing articles which misrepresent Islam.
Mufti Waseem Khan
Darul Uloom Trinidad & Tobago
Institute of Tertiary Islamic Studies
(Article can be found in Pg.50 (Saturday 4th December 2015), Daily Express News Paper).