In The Name of God The Benificent The Merciful



What Koran says about warfare.


In the early years of Islam’s founding, when the religion was under siege, the Prophet Muhammad issued a critical message to his followers.


Having just returned from a minor struggle, Muslims now face a larger struggle, he said. The minor struggle was the battle just fought. But the more important struggle was ahead: the struggle against evil and temptation, the struggle to make a good and just society.


The word in Arabic for struggle is jihad–a word that has haunted Islam for centuries.


Because of horrible deeds done in the name of Islam and the misunderstanding of the concept of jihad, Islam has often been branded as a fierce religion forever poised on the edge of a holy war instead of one that exhorts its followers to live just and tolerant lives.


Mix-up about jihad


But confusion about the concept of jihad is just one of many that have left non-Muslims as well as Muslims with different views of Islam from that provided in the Koran, Muslim’s holy book, in Muhammad’s sayings, or in the teachings of Muslim scholars.


How this came about is not hard to understand.


“There is no Islamic pope, no single authority in Islam that can excommunicate people,” said Matthew Cenzer, coordinator of Northwestern University’s Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa.


That doesn’t mean Islam has been racked by divisive and dissenting views. The religion has largely been grounded on ideas held by the majority of Muslim leaders and scholars. Nonetheless, there have been hard-liners, as in almost every religion, who have stood their ground on the fringes of society.

“The reality is that every single person that reads the text reads through his or her lenses,” said Farid Esack, an Islamic studies professor at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City who studied with some of the leaders of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s rulers, in Pakistan. “It is not helpful, in the case of religious radicalism, to say or to ask where do they get justification for the text, because the reality is they find in the text what they want to find.”


The problem is, the militants’ message finds resonance among angry and frustrated Muslims who do not find the same solace in scholarly wisdom.


Martyr issue


Muslim militants say, for example, that they become martyrs if they commit suicide when carrying out violence. And they expect God to welcome them into heaven.



A few Muslim scholars have agreed with them, but Ebrahim Moosa, a South African-born Muslim scholar and religion professor at Duke University, strongly disagrees.


“The whole idea of a martyr or shahid is that you fight until death and you give your life for God and community. But you don’t go into battle saying `I will die,'” he said. As proof, he recounts one of Muhammad’s sayings about a martyr, who is rejected by God when he arrives in heaven. God tells him: “You gave your life so people could remember you as a cause. You didn’t do it to satisfy me,” Moosa said.


As Moosa and others point out, Islam condones a “just” war and sets down rules on when and how to fight one.


Thus, Muslims can wage war only after all else has failed and they are fighting against injustice, oppression and on behalf of those expelled from their homes.


“If the enemy says, `Let’s make peace,’ then you must make peace with them. You don’t start killing them,” said Aminah McCloud, a Muslim and professor of Islamic studies at DePaul University.


“The Koran says: `Fight those who fight you, but don’t transgress. Do not let the injustice of others lead you to injustice,'” said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law scholar at UCLA.


“The prophet says do not kill a woman or a child, or a hermit, a farmer plowing his field, do not kill a person who is not carrying a weapon against you, do not poison the water wells, do not set fire to the enemy’s camp and do not cut down trees,” he said. “This is not unrestrained, open warfare, this is a notion of proportional warfare.”


Call for consensus


Islam allows only heads of nations to declare war, and they must rely on the advice of religious scholars, said Osman Bakar, a Malaysian-born professor of Islam at Georgetown University in Washington. When people cannot overcome persecution, they are allowed to rise up, he added.


“But it must be based on consensus. It cannot be just the opinions of one man or group,” he said.


When it comes to tolerance, Moosa’s favorite verse from the Koran is about the bee that gathers from all of the world’s fruit to create a rich new blend.


“To me, that says that humans are allowed to take form and create new things,” he said. “How else could Islam have survived for 1,400 years if it wasn’t open to change, creativity and adoption?”

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