Saturday, April 5, 2008

Jihad, Women & Terrorism

What is Jihad?
Under what conditions does Islam allow the use of Violence?
What would you tell the suicide bombers who invoke Islam to Justify their actions?

By Chandra Muzaffar

The term 'jihad' means to exert or to strive in the path of God.

It does not mean 'holy war'. It should be emphasized that there is no concept of 'holy war' in Islam. 'Holy war' was a term associated with the Christian Crusades which seeped into medieval European literature as it maligned and vilified Islam.

It is true that from the early days of Islam, striving or struggling against an aggressor or oppressor on the battlefield was regarded as jihad. But jihad also meant--- right at the outset--- striving to live according to the will of God. Thus, the struggle of a human being to lead an honest life would be a jihad just as a government's endeavor to eradicate corruption would be a jihad.

Seen in this light it is understandable why the Prophet Muhammad described striving against one's own lust as "the greater jihad" compared to victory in war which to him was "the lesser jihad".

This clarification of the meaning of jihad tells us something about Islam's attitude towards violence. War is permissible only if the purpose is to repel aggression or to end oppression. There is an oft-quoted verse in the Qur'an which states, "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression, for God loves not aggressors" (2:190). There are other verses which convey a similar meaning that one fights only if one has been expelled from one's home or if one has been persecuted.

It is partly because of Qur'anic sanction that there is tremendous solidarity among Muslims everywhere with Palestinians and Arabs who are resisting Israeli occupation of their land. In fact, it is not widely known that Muslims even in Southeast Asia began to express sympathy with the Arab cause soon after Zionist colonization of Palestine intensified in the wake of the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Today, the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq has elicited worldwide Muslim condemnation. Like a huge segment of Western society, Muslims are of the view that the occupiers have no right to seize control of Iraqi oil.

Of course, Muslims are aware of other injustices -- such as the oppression of the people of Chechnya and Kashmir -- but at this juncture, Muslim anger is directed mainly at the US and Israeli governments.

While defending oneself in the face of aggression and oppression is legitimate from a Quranic perspective, the religion is also clear about the limits that one should observe in war. The Prophet Muhammad had commanded that those who are not combatants in a battle should not be harmed in any way. Children, women, the old and the infirm should be spared in a war, however just the cause may be. Even animals and plants and any house of worship should be protected.

It is a shame that some Muslims in the name of fighting oppression deliberately target civilians. It is in this context that some of the so-called 'suicide bombers' have brought disrepute to Islam. They have tarnished the moral integrity of their cause.


It is significant that the Qur'an -- Islam's supreme book of guidance and its primary source of law -- does not prescribe any form of punishment for the apostate, a person who chooses to leave the religion. To be sure, it regards apostasy as a sin but the Qur'an does not view it as a crime. It says. "Those who believe, and then disbelieve, and then (again) disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them to the (right) way. (4:137). This suggests that while the apostate incurs God's displeasure because he has committed a grave sin, we human beings have not been instructed to mete out any form of penalty. How the apostate will be punished, presumably in the hereafter, is God's prerogative.

This Quranic approach to apostasy is consistent with its general tone and tenor which respects freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. "There is no compulsion in religion"(2:256) is one of the best known Qur'anic lines. This means that no one should be coerced to join the religion or to remain in it or to leave the religion. The Qur'an also makes that profound observation: "To you your religion and to me mine". (109:6).

Even in the Sunnah -- the Way of the Prophet -- there was no evidence of anyone being punished for exiting the religion in a peaceful manner. If apostates were put to death, it was because they were part of a violent rebellion against the nascent Islamic state. In such circumstances the issue was rebellion and not apostasy per se.

However, as time went on, the jurists came to regard the act of apostasy itself as a crime which was punishable by death. They did not make a distinction between peaceful exit and violent denunciation of the religion through an assault upon the state. This thinking --- which views apostasy as a terrible crime that should be punished through the law---is pervasive within the Muslim community or ummah.

It is a mindset that has to change. The Qur'an's humane and compassionate perspective should inspire Muslims to adopt a different approach towards the question of apostasy.

Instead of punishing the apostate, he should be counseled with civility and kindness in order to persuade him to remain within the faith. If, after counseling, the apostate is still adamant about leaving the religion, he should be allowed to do so. He should have the freedom to embrace another faith or not to subscribe to any religion.


Those who have studied the Qur'an and looked closely at the evolution of Muslim societies in the early centuries know that women enjoyed a wide spectrum of rights some of which their counterparts in the West secured only in the early decades of the twentieth century. A woman had the right to education, to work outside the home, to a just wage, to own and inherit property, to choose her life partner, to keep her maiden name after marriage, to initiate divorce, to re-marry, and to do various other things in accordance with her honor and dignity as a woman and as a human being. It is not surprising therefore that in a number of pre-colonial Muslim societies women played prominent roles in the public sphere. Some of the Queens in what is today the Indonesian province of Acheh for instance were Admirals of their navy.

Nonetheless, in Muslim societies as a whole --- as in other societies--- it was invariably the men, and not the women, who ruled the roost. Male patriarchy has been a constant feature of most societies right through history. It would be unfair to highlight male dominance in Muslim societies as if it was their unique attribute. Besides, some of the gross injustices against the Muslim female which the Western media exposes such as genital mutilation and honor killing are not confined to Muslim societies since these are cultural practices which transcend religion.

What the media should emphasize are some of the positive changes that are taking place in a number of countries largely because of the tireless efforts of courageous and determined women's groups seeking equality and justice for their kind. Even in ultra conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia, women are beginning to be accorded limited but visible roles in the public sphere. It is partly because Muslim women have been asserting their rights and roles that certain dogmatic, often bigoted notions of how Islam should be practiced today, propagated by jurists with a closed mind, have been challenged and demolished.

But the struggle for gender equality will not --- and should not---lead to a situation where the enhancement of the position of the woman results in the decline of the family or the erosion of the moral foundation of society. For Islam, the integrity and cohesiveness of the family institution is fundamental. It should not be sacrificed at the altar of the self-serving interests of the husband or the wife, or for that matter, the child. This is one of the reasons why some contemporary Muslim thinkers are wary of the intrusion of an exaggerated form of individualism into the family fabric. It also explains why many Muslims while cognizant of the importance of male-female equality also continue to emphasize that the husband complements the wife just as the wife complements the husband. This complementary dimension in the relationship between the sexes is beautifully encapsulated in a line from the Qur'an that reads," They (your wives) are raiment for you and you are raiment for them". (2:187).

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.