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by Islamic Networks Group (ING.ORG)

In the course of our presentations and educational programs, we are frequently asked questions about Islam and its view on terrorism. Here are some of the most common questions and their answers:

1) What is the Islamic stand on terrorist attacks, such as those that took place in Madrid on March 11, 2004, NY on September 11, 2001, and repeated "suicide bombings" in Israel?

Terrorism is highly condemned in Islam. Terrorism, defined as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes directly contradicts Islamic rules which prohibit targeting civilians, even in war. In Islamic law, fighting is to be between armies (combatants), not involving non-combatants, or even infrastructure that affects the lives of non-combatants, such as food sources, water, hospitals, roads, bridges, and other necessities of a civilian population. In fact, "haraba", a Qur'anic term defined as "sowing corruption and chaos on earth", is considered one of the most grievous crimes, subject to severe punishment.

2) Is there anything in the Quran, which encourages the terrorists?

Absolutely nothing in the Quran encourages terrorism. On the contrary, the Quran (Islamic Scripture which Muslims believe is the unchanged word of God) and hadith (Prophet Muhammad's sayings and traditions as recorded by his companions), which are the two primary sources of Islamic law places supremacy on the sacredness of life, security, and peace. Terrorists who base their actions on Islamic law misappropriate Islam, as terrorist anti-abortionists, white supremacists, and certain militia groups misappropriate Christianity.

3) Is there anything in Islam that leads to suicide bombings or terrorism?

Nothing in Islam leads to terrorism or suicide bombings, nor has it ever part of the ethos of Islam's 1400 years of history and traditions. This is a modern day aberration among a few extremists who have taken terrorism as a means for fighting personal wars. Suicide is strongly prohibited in Islam because no one has the right to take away the life that God has given, except God Himself. Committing terrorist acts, which kill innocent civilians, is also prohibited, even during war, especially against women, children, old people, and religious people such as monks and nuns. Even the cutting down of trees, killing animals, and destroying infrastructure are forbidden. In Islam, one can only fight a "just war", which is fought in self-defense, not as an act of aggression and is to be between two groups of military personnel, not with civilians.

4) Where do Muslim extremists get their textual justifications?

Some of the Qur'anic verses which lay out the purpose and nature of war include the following:

To stop oppression: "To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight, because they are oppressed. Verily, God is Capable of aiding them. They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of what is just, for no other reason than that they say, "Our Lord is God." Had God not restrained one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques wherein God's name if oft-mentioned would have been destroyed. God will certainly aid those who aid His cause. (Qur'an, Chapter 22:39-40). Notice the mention of all houses of worship.

In self-defense: "Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits by aggressing; surely God does not love transgressors." (Qur'an, Chapter 2:190.) Notice that permission is given to fight in self-defense, but not to transgress.

Peace is a desired state: "If they incline toward peace, then seek you peace also. And place your trust in God, for God hears and knows all things." (Qur'an, Chapter 8:61).

Muslim extremists get their textual interpretations by taking verses in the Qur'an out of their social-historical context, not considering the time, place, and specific circumstances in which these verses were revealed. The commonly quoted verse that follows must be understood in its proper context, namely during the struggle of the early Muslims against the specific group of Makkans who fought, persecuted and killed them first in Makkah, and then after they established a state in Medina, where early Muslims fought back for the first time. These verses can neither be used to justify killing non-Muslims, nor targeting innocent civilians.

"Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war. But if they repent, and establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, then open the way for them, for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. If any among them asks for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God. Then escort him to his place of security. This is because they are without knowledge."

*Note that even in this social-historical context, not only were the perpetrators given a chance to repent, but that if they sought asylum, it must be granted.

5) What is Jihad?

"Jihad" is often mistranslated as "holy war", a word that does not exist in Arabic. "Jihad" literally means "striving". The greater jihad is described as the internal struggle to avoid negative actions and cultivate good character. The lesser jihad is described as the external striving for justice, in self defense or against oppression, which is a basic human right shared by all people. One can do this in one's heart, with one's tongue or pen, and if these are ineffective, by physically trying to change an oppressive situation, either in self-defense or to defend others against aggression (like the Revolutionary War by the founding fathers against the oppressive policies of the British; or World War II against the aggression of Hitler.)

It is this last type of jihad that Muslim extremists believe they are fighting, which the media mis-translates as "holy war".

6) Who can declare "Jihad"? Can Osama bin Laden declare "Jihad"?

Islam places a great emphasis on order in its political philosophy. Anarchy and arbitrary acts are greatly condemned. Basic principles relating to war are buttressed by these twin considerations. Islam teaches in the Quran: "O You who believe, Obey God, and obey the Messenger, and those in authority amongst you," (4:59). Quranic commentators mention that those in authority amongst you means legitimate political authorities and scholars. These are the people who can rightfully declare war. Firstly, legitimate political authorities can make such a call. Secondly, in their absence, those scholars who are universally recognized by the Muslims for their scholarship and piety. As Osama bin Laden is neither a scholar nor a government leader, he lacks the authority to call for war.

7) Do Muslims, particularly those in America, support Osama bin Laden?

The vast majority of Muslims do not support Osama bin Laden and in fact Muslims here and around the world do not know any more about Osama bin Laden than Americans of other faiths. A few Muslim groups overseas support him because they see him as standing up to America, which they regard as a superpower that is biased against Palestinians, and is harming Muslims in Iraq and other countries.

8) What does Al-Qaeda specifically want in these terrorist attacks?

No one knows for sure what motivates terrorists to do such evil acts. In dealing with the motivations of the perpetrators, we must remember that in the case of the attack on September 11th, they left no statement at all of their aims or purposes nor has any group taken responsibility. There may be unknown contexts. The motivation may have nothing at all to do with supposed religious commitments. Obviously, their intent was to kill many people and disrupt life and human society. According to media reports, in the Madrid bombings, their aim was to punish Spain for its alliance with America in the war in Iraq.

9) Does Islam teach hatred for non-Muslims?

Since Islam considers the diversity of people and nature as God's creation, respect for diversity is commanded. Especially noted in the Quran are "People of the Book", namely Jews and Christians, who were always given a special place in Muslim society. Muslims are commanded to safeguard their right to worship and their places of worship, a command that has been historically followed, as is evidenced by the existence of old churches and synagogues throughout the Muslim world in places like Turkey, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Bosnia. Contrary to the common stereotype, Islam was not "spread by the sword", nor people forced to convert, a fact again born out by the existence of non-Muslim populations throughout the Muslim world. This same respect and tolerance was extended to people of other faiths.

As Bernard Lewis states in his book, What Went Wrong, "Surely, the Ottomans did not offer equal rights to their subjects, a meaningless anachronism in the context of that time and place. They did however offer a degree of tolerance without precedent or parallel in Christian Europe. Each religious community - the Ottoman term was millet - was allowed the free practice of its religion. More remarkably, they had their own communal organizations, subject to the authority of their own religious chiefs, controlling their own education and social life, and enforcing their own laws, to the extent that they did not conflict with the basic laws of the Empire. While ultimate power - political and military - remained in Muslim hands, non-Muslims controlled much of the economy, and were even able to play a part of some importance in the political process."

10) Does the Quran order the subjugation of all non-Muslims?

According to Islamic teachings, the Quran is a revelation from God, which served as the basis for the formation of a sophisticated civilization. Like all other civilizations, Islamic civilization has rules, which govern the interaction of the Islamic polity with other nations and identity groups. Within the Muslim state, non-Muslims are free to continue the practice of their religion. Their forceful conversion is strictly forbidden. Islam teaches in the Quran: "Let there be no compulsion in [accepting] religion!" (2:256). Similarly, the Quran presents a set of teachings, which serve as the basis for a developed system of international relations. For example, Islam teaches in the Quran: "if your enemy inclines towards peace, then reciprocate, and trust in God," (8:61). Hence, we find in the Quran the basis for peaceful relations with non-Muslim nations, including truces, trade, educational exchanges, and other facets of normal life.

11) Are Martyrs guaranteed 70 virgins in Heaven?

This is not an authenticate Prophetic Tradition (Hadith). However, in Islam martyrs are promised a great reward from God, just as war heroes are honored in many societies. However, a Muslim who dies commandeering a plane-load of civilians into a building full of civilians, or blowing up innocent people on trains or buses, jeopardizing the safety and security of Muslims throughout the world, and opening the way for antagonistic forces to slander, denigrate, and vilify Islam cannot be considered a martyr. Terrorists are mass murderers, not martyrs.

12) Should I be afraid of anyone who is Muslim or from the Middle East?

Just as you should not stereotype, or make assumptions about an entire group of people based on their background, race, or religion, it is wrong to think of all people from the Middle East and those who are Muslim as being terrorists just because a few of them commit terrorism. One-fifth to one-fourth of the world's population is Muslim, but only a handful of criminals commit these deeds. This could be compared to asking if we should be afraid of all white young males because Timothy McVeigh was white, or afraid of all Christians because extremist anti-abortionists are Christian, or Irish people because of terror in Ireland. It is important to remember that there are good and bad people in all countries, races and religions.

Copyright Islamic Networks Group (ING.ORG) 2004. All rights reserved.

Source: http://www.ing.org/media_releases/default.asp?num=17