One of the gravest consequences of the recent wave of terrorist atrocities attributed to the so-called Islamic State – the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai, the bombing of a marketplace in Beirut, and now the shootings and bombings that have ripped through Paris – is that it empowers those who argue that these actions are sanctioned by Islam. Inevitably there will be those who claim that these atrocities are the direct result of Islamic teachings. I devote this essay to refuting such claims.
There are those who will question this choice. They may ask, why not write about the hypocritical double standard in the western media that doesn’t see the thousands of civilians killed by “jihadis” in Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia or Iraq as constituting those nations’ 9/11 or 7/7? Why not write about the misguided violence of the United States that has directly or indirectly led to the death of upwards to a million civilians in Iraq alone and created the instability that made the rise of ISIS possible? Others are writing about those and related issues, many, like Baraka Blue, in highly commendable ways.
As I travel throughout this country, however, I hear of uninformed young people who are leaving Islam, because they think that the sort of violence visited upon innocents by ISIS, Boko Haram, the Shabab and their ilk is somehow connected to their religion. That being the case, I feel I have a responsibility before God to help provide them with information that may begin to clarify the situation. Hence, my decision to write on this particular issue.
To begin, the above-mentioned attacks all involved three critical acts: murder, suicide and disregarding the sanctity of public space. All three are strictly forbidden in Islam. To begin with the murder, the Qur’an contains the following powerful statement concerning the gravity of taking innocent life, “On account [of Cain murdering Abel] we ordained for the Children of Israel [and all subsequent communities] that whoever takes a life, other than retribution for murder, or spreading murderous corruption throughout the land, it is as if he killed all of humanity…” (5:32).
The great Muslim theologian, Fakhruddin Razi, gives the following insightful explanation of this verse:
“First of all, the intent of the simile drawn between killing a single person and killing all of humanity is to emphasize, in the strongest possible terms, the gravity of murder. Specifically, just as anyone would view the extermination of the entire human race as extremely grave, similar gravity should be attached to the murder of a single individual.
“Secondly, if all of humanity knew that a single individual intended to wipe them out, there is no doubt that they would defend themselves in a way that would prevent him from succeeding in his vile quest. Likewise, if they knew that he intended to kill a single individual, it is incumbent on them to exert their absolute utmost, collectively, to prevent him from killing that person.
“Finally, when a person has made up his mind to murder someone he has given preference to the call of his passion and anger over the call to obey God. When this happens, killing anyone will suffice. In his heart is a conviction that he will kill any eligible person. (al-Tafsir al-Kabir, verse 5:32).”
Reflect on the wisdom of the Qur’anic condemnation of murder, and Imam Razi’s explanation, in the context of the three attacks mentioned above. Anyone on the face of the earth could have been on the downed Russian airliner. Anyone on the face of the earth could have been visiting Beirut when the bombing of the marketplace occurred there. Just as any tourist from anywhere on earth could have been killed in Paris. The murderers, as described by Imam Razi, literally made the blood of anyone on Earth lawful, in their perverse view.
Imam Razi also emphasizes the un-Islamic nature of such violence when he mentions that the killer “…has given preference to the call of his passion and his anger over the call to obey God.” In other words, a person who kills indiscriminately is rebelling against God. In the case of these recent atrocities, the killer’s purported anger over the atrocities committed by western militaries, Shiite militias, the racism, angst, and alienation experienced by those “jihadis” who may live in or originate from western countries or a number of other grievances leads to their rejecting the divine command to preserve and protect innocent life. Hiding behind the flag of Islam to cover such rebellion only compounds its odiousness.
Such actions, as we are arguing, have nothing to do with Islam. They are the desperate acts of misguided individuals who are allowing themselves to be used to advance a demonic political agenda. They are the perverse acts of individuals who are allowing their perception of injustice to trump the requisites of justice. True justice can never be established in ways that contravene God’s law. Murder is murder and terrorism involves murder – pure and simple. Both are strictly forbidden by Islam.
Turning to suicide, it is also categorically forbidden in Islam. In his work, Kitab al-Kaba’ir (Book of the Major Sins), Imam Dhahabi usually lists the sins he will discuss without any additional commentary. He says, for example, “Murder, Sorcery, Leaving the Prayer, etc.” When he mentions suicide, however, he adds, “…It is among the gravest of all major sins.” Why is that? The answer can be found in the following narrations.
God commands in the Qur’an, “Do not kill yourselves. Surely, God is merciful unto you” (4:29). The Prophet (peace upon him) mentioned:
“There was among those who preceded you a man who suffered an injury and then became anxious. He grabbed a knife and gashed his wrist. His blood flowed out until he died. Almighty God then said, “My servant has hastened ahead of me in taking his life. Therefore, I have made Paradise forbidden for him” (Bukhari and Muslim).
In another Hadith we read:
“Whosoever kills himself with a knife, that knife will be in his hand in Hell and he will continue stabbing himself in the stomach, while in the midst of Hellfire, forever and ever. Whosoever kills himself by drinking poison, his poison will be in his hand and he will continue to drink it while in the midst of Hellfire, forever and ever” (Bukhari and Muslim).
In other words, he will suffer both the torment of Hell and the torment of the pain of the act that precipitated his death, for the rest of eternity. Another Hadith is extremely relevant here because it not only condemns suicide, it also denounces the egregious act of excommunicating other Muslims, a practice widely used by “jihadis” to rationalize the murder of other Muslims. We read that the Prophet (peace upon him) said:
“Cursing a believer is like killing him. Whoever excommunicates a believer is like his killer. [As for] one who kills himself with something, Almighty God will kill him with it on the Day of Resurrection” (Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi).
Of course, despite the strength of these condemnations, fatwas justifying suicide bombings have appeared in recent years. They are all based on a false analogy. Namely, they mention that suicide bombers are like those Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace upon him), who launched themselves into the thick of a battle knowing they faced certain death. However, as we mentioned, the analogy is false because those who went into a battle facing certain death were killed by their enemies. None of them killed themselves. The suicide bomber kills himself. When we add the crime of murder to the horrendous abomination that is suicide, we can understand why virtually every Muslim scholar condemned the bid’a (innovative practice) of suicide bombings when it first appeared among the Muslims.
After the initial rejection of this tactic, many scholars subsequently accepted the rationale that desperation, in terms of Muslims lacking alternative means to “strike at the enemy,” justified its use. The Qur’an, however, reminds us that desperation is not a characteristic of believing folk. When Jacob sent his sons back into Egypt to search for Joseph and Benjamin, he counseled them, “…and do not despair of the Mercy of God. Verily, no one despairs of the mercy of God except disbelieving people” (12:87).
To argue that Muslims, owing to their desperation, have no choice in advancing their political agenda than to sneakily kill and maim as many innocent people as possible, in restaurants, mosques, theaters, marketplaces, shrines; on public transportation, etc., is to argue that Muslims have adopted the desperate tactics of disbelieving folks. Contrary to this view, here is always a choice. One of those choices is patience. When people are weak, sometimes patience is their only weapon. When Yasir’s family was being tortured in the early days of Islam when the Muslims were weak, the Prophet (peace upon him), did not counsel them with an underground campaign to kill innocent members of the Quraysh. He counseled them with patience. He advised them, “Be patient, O family of Yasir! You have been promised Paradise.” Hence, by prophetic standards, patience is the weapon of the weak. Terrorism is the weapon of the desperate.
Muslims did not innovate the concept of total war. Muslims did not innovate weapons of mass destruction. Muslims did not innovate the practice of suicide bombings. Additionally, Muslim legal writings are not replete with instructions as to how to justify the killing of as many civilians as possible. The opposite is the case. Our legal manuals speak at length on how to avoid the targeting of civilians and noncombatants. To allow the actions of psychopathic murderers to redefine our religion is unacceptable and must be challenged.
Concerning the removal of the sanctity that affords the protection of life in the public square, the following Qur’anic verse should suffice, “Rather, the sole recompense for those who wage war against God and His Messenger and strive to work corruption on earth is that they be killed, crucified, their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. Disgrace is theirs in this world; and in the Hereafter they will have a great punishment” (5:33).
The exegetes agree that the phrase, “…to work corruption on earth,” mentioned in this verse, refers to crimes against public order. Is there a greater crime against public order than indiscriminate murder committed in public places? As for the punishment for the perpetrators of such a heinous offence, the popular exegete, Ibn Kathir, says:
“This verse is revealed concerning varying situations, as has been mentioned by Abu ‘Abdullah al-Shafi’i. [He says] we were informed by Ibrahim b. Abi Yahya, on the authority of Salih al-Taw’ama, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas concerning crimes against public order. If the criminals kill and take wealth they are to be killed and crucified; if they kill and do not take wealth, they are to be killed and not crucified; if they take wealth and do not kill, their hands and feet are to be cut off from opposite sides; if they frighten people, [but neither kill nor take wealth] they are to be exiled from the land” (Tafsir ibn Kathir, verse 5:33).
Again, how can anyone argue that crimes against public order are sanctioned by Islam when they are condemned by the Qur’an in such strong terms? Those seeking true explanations for “jihadi” violence should look away from religion and seek psychological, sociological or political explanations. Those areas would more likely provide the keys to both the true causes of and the effective cures for this particular scourge.
This is a brief overview of the teachings of Islam concerning murder, suicide and the sanctity of the public square. All of these teachings are discarded or distorted by “jihadis” to justify their dastardly deeds. Their actions, however, should not be allowed to define our religion. Contrary to currently circulating claims, Islam has a sound basis for constructively engaging the modern world. It is our responsibility to educate people about that foundation and to make sure that it is the firm ground that we build our lives and societies on.
In conclusion, we pray that Almighty God blesses all of us to do everything in our power to stop these deepening cycles of insane violence before we all fall, headlong, into the morbid abyss they are creating. This is the demand of our time. This is the challenge of our age.