With all the recent news of bombings and violence in parts of the Muslim world — Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan — I felt compelled to write a response to the violence. Like anyone else, when I hear that someone has been killed, especially in a context of war and terrorism, I am deeply saddened and troubled. I know that I have grown up in a faith that strongly condemns the killing of innocent people and yet that is not the message that is communicated to the world. On the news, it seems easier to blame the perceived “violent” nature of Islam, rather than understanding the multiple factors involved and how (whichever) religion is manipulated to achieve certain ends. Though, I reiterate, this is not Islam as others have pointed out. It is too easy to lose sight of the majority of believers and focus on a few and their problematic use of faith.
In Islam, there are guidelines to almost every aspect of life. There are core values that every Muslim should live by. Every effort to maintain a level of civility in a society should be made. Chaos and uncontrolled violence disrupt the fabric of a society and therefore should be contained. What this really translates into is a set of rules for how people should interact with each other, disagree with each other, seek justice from one another, and respect the humanity of the other.
In the Qur’an, there are many verses that lay out the framework for these core values. In chapter 49, verse 13, the Qur’an states:
“O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.”
This verse highlights the fact that diversity is part of God’s plan and that the mode of interaction should be peaceful — a process of increasing our knowledge of each other. Moreover, the common origin underscores our common humanity. That’s why in chapter 5, verse 32, God states:
“… if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land-it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”
The Qur’an does not specify any one group; rather, the statement applies generally.
If there is a wrong done to another, there are guidelines for attaining justice for the injury. In chapter 42, verse 40:
“The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto: but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God: for He does not love those who do wrong.”
The message of this verse is that a person has the right to seek retribution for a wrong done against them, but because there is a possibility to transgress it is better to forgive and leave judgment to God. This is further emphasized in chapter 5, verse 8, the meaning of which is:
“O you who have attained faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any one lead you in to the sin of deviation from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do.”
This does not mean be passive, but that one should be highly conscious of God, especially in matters of justice. In addition, the scholars have been very clear that even in war children, women, and unarmed people cannot be killed. Also, crops cannot be burned, means of livelihood cannot be destroyed, captives cannot be tortured, and dead bodies cannot be mutilated under any circumstances.
Since there is extensive evidence in the Qur’an of the attitude of Islam towards violence, I personally become frustrated by distorted understandings of Islam, no matter where they come from. There is nothing inherently violent about Islam. If anything, I would argue that tolerance and peace are at the heart of Islam. It is important to always go back to the source before passing judgment.
Do you think a religion can be inherently violent? What is your understanding of Islam’s position on violence? How can the image of Islam as violent be alleviated? Please share your thoughts.