Islam Is Against All Forms of Terrorism and Extremism

Posted on June 2, 2007


Source: ISNA Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Extremism Task Force

Against Terrorism and Religious Extremism: Muslim Position and Responsibilities

I. Our Position on Terrorism

Humanity lives today in an interdependent and interconnected world where peaceful and fair interaction, including interfaith and intra-faith dialogue, is imperative. A grave threat to all of us nowadays is the scourge of religious and political extremism that manifests itself in various forms of violence, including terrorism. In the absence of a universally agreed upon definition of terrorism, it may be defined as any act of indiscriminate violence that targets innocent people, whether committed by individuals, groups or states.

As Muslims, we must face up to our responsibility to clarify and advocate a faith-based, righteous and moral position with regard to this problem, especially when terrorist acts are perpetrated in the name of Islam. The purpose of this brochure is to clarify a few key issues relating to this topic, not because of external pressures or for the sake of “political correctness”, but out of our sincere conviction of what Islam stands for. To this end, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), an Islamic juristic body, issued a fatwa or religious ruling on July 28th, 2005 which affirmed its long standing position on this issue, and was unequivocal in its condemnation of terrorism by stating: “Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism.” Stating that it was issued “following the guidance of our scripture, the Qur’an, and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him”, the religious ruling confirmed the following salient principles: [1] All acts of terrorism, including those targeting the life and property of civilians, whether perpetrated by suicidal or any other form of attacks, are haram (forbidden) in Islam. [2] It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or prohibited violence. [3] It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to undertake full measures to protect the lives of all civilians, and ensure the security and well being of fellow citizens. Significantly, a similar declaration against terrorism has been issued by religious scholars and leaders in the United Kingdom on July 15th, 2005.

Irrespective of the legitimacy of grievances relating to aggression or oppression, terrorism is the epitome of injustice because it targets innocent people. Ends do not justify means, and innocent civilians should never pay the price for the misdeeds of others or be used as pawns in settling political or military conflicts. Muslims are bound by the Qur’anic prohibitions of taking an innocent life [Qur’an: 5:32; 17:33], considered as one of the gravest sins in Islam. Furthermore, the Qur’an clearly demands that Muslims act justly and impartially, even when dealing with an enemy [4:135, 5:8].

II. Clarifying Related Issues

i. Jihad is not to be equated with terrorism.

Contrary to common perception and mistranslations, the word jihad does not mean “Holy War” or war that is justified by differences in religious convictions. The Arabic equivalent of “Holy War” is never mentioned in the Qur’an. There is nothing “holy” about war, and it is described in the Qur’an as a hated act [2:216]. The Qur’anic Arabic term jihad and its derivatives mean, literally, to strive or exert effort. These terms are used in the Qur’an and Hadith [prophetic sayings] in three specific contexts: first, in addressing inward jihad or the struggle against evil inclinations within oneself [Qur’an, 22:77-78; 29:4-7]; second in the context of social jihad, or striving for truth, justice, goodness and charity [25:52; 49:15]; and third, in the context of the battlefield, which is often referred to in the Qur’an as Qital [fighting]. Combative jihad is allowed in the Qur’an for legitimate self-defense in the face of unprovoked aggression or in resisting severe oppression, on religious or other grounds [2:190-194, 22:39-41]. No verse in the Qur’an, when placed in its proper textual and historical context, permits fighting others on the basis of their faith, ethnicity or nationality.

Several stringent criteria must be met before combative jihad can be initiated. To begin with, as a “hated act”, war should only be undertaken as a last resort after all other means have failed. Next, jihad cannot be randomly declared by individuals or groups, but rather by a legitimate authority after due consultation. Finally, the intention of Muslims engaging in combative jihad must be pure, not tainted by personal or nationalistic agendas. But even during a wartime situation, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) laid down clear guidelines of humane behavior on the battlefield. These guidelines forbid the targeting of non-combatants, specifically the elderly, children, women, un-armed civilians and clergy, and the destruction of infrastructure. [Sunan Abi Dawood (Bab Al-Jihad), also Tareekh Al-Tabari].

Whereas war should be undertaken as a last resort to prevent a greater wrong, the ideal and general rule of Muslim behavior is peaceful co-existence with others in kindness and justice [60:8-9]. Indeed, the Qur’an recognizes plurality in human societies, including religious plurality, as part of God’s plan in creation [10:19; 11:118-119]. This is why God calls for peaceful and respectful dialogue, not forced conversion whether through war or other forms of coercion [2:256, 3:64, 16:125, and 29:46].

It is unfortunate that both extremists and detractors of Islam who distort the meaning of jihad propagate a false concept of jihad through expressions such as “jihadists”, “Islamic terrorism”, or references by terrorists to jihad. Such stereotyping and the use of terms such as “Islamic terrorist” are as unfair as referring to Timothy McVeigh as a “Christian terrorist”, or claiming that abortion clinic bombers committed acts of “Christian terrorism”. During the course of Muslim history, as has happened with similar norms in other societies and civilizations, the above rules of jihad were violated at different times and in differing degrees. However, the fact remains that Islamic teachings are to be based neither on the actions of some present or past Muslims, nor on past or present misinterpretations, but rather on the moral principles embodied in Islam’s primary authentic sources.

ii. Islam does not consider people of other faiths as “infidels”, and does not advocate violence against them.

First, the term “infidel” refers loosely to “someone having no religious faith, an atheist”. This word and its meaning are totally incompatible with the Qur’anic statement that the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] believe in the same universal God as Muslims [29:46]. Moreover, the term infidel is not a correct translation of the Qur’anic term “Kafir”, which means, literally, to cover up or to reject [a belief which is incompatible with one’s own]. It is used in the Qur’an in various contextual meanings: some are neutral, where farmers are called Kuffar since they cover up the seeds with soil [57:20], some are positive, like rejecting or disbelieving in idolatry [2:256, 60:4], some refer to the rejection of the belief in God, and others refer to rejecting a particular prophet [s] while confessing belief in God.

Second, nowhere does the Qur’an call for violence against anyone merely on the grounds that he/she rejected Islam [2:256, 88:21-22, 6:107-108, 42:48]. All verses cited by the users of a “cut-and-paste” approach to claim otherwise, such as [9:5, 29,123], refer to a historical reality when groups or nations from various religious backgrounds engaged in hostilities and aggression against the nascent Muslim community during the Prophet’s (p) time. Understanding that historical context and careful textual analysis leave no doubt that the permission to fight back had nothing to do with the religious convictions of these groups or nations, but was due rather to their aggression and gross oppression; it was a state security imperative. Even if some Muslims have disregarded these clear Qur’anic limits, Islam provides no justification, and cannot be blamed, for such actions.

Third, it is a disingenuous and misleading tactic to focus exclusively on verses that deal with the contingencies of legitimate self-defense, and to ignore the repeated and consistent statements in the Qur’an that emphasize the sanctity of human life [5:32], respect for human dignity [17: 70], acceptance of plurality, including plurality of religious convictions [5:48, 11:118], peaceful co-existence with all [60:8-9], universal and unbiased justice even with the enemy [4:135; 5:8] , universal human brotherhood [49:13] and mercy to all creation [21:107]. The Qur’an is a whole and cohesive book, and should not be interpreted in a piecemeal fashion.

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Another version of ISNA’s ATAEC brochure can be downloaded in the French language.
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