Religion of War or Peace?

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Religion of War or Peace?

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In an article on the values of Islam, Time said that “like Judaism and Christianity … Islam honors all humanity-not just believers-as created by God, who is referred to as ‘the compassionate and the merciful’ ” (Sept. 24, 2001). In common with Judaism and Christianity, the Islamic scriptures espouse the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, many Muslims have pleaded with Americans to recognize Islam as a peaceful religion. Indeed, President George Bush stood in a mosque before American Muslim leaders and proclaimed, “Islam is peace.” Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state, added, “The battle is against a radical minority that disgraces the humane aspects of Islam.”

However, such statements may seem jarring when juxtaposed with the terrorist acts of the past few decades, the crowds of cheering Palestinians when the World Trade Center was destroyed, and the bloodstained history of this religion, which spread by conquest (see “The Birth and Spread of Islam,” page 14). Indeed, the word jihad -holy struggle or war-conjures images for many of an entire religion bent on destroying Western civilization.

Yet jihad should be understood in its context. We must realize that Islam itself has undergone many changes in modern times-with particular philosophies coming to the fore while others have fallen into disrepute.

In its entry on jihad, the Encyclopaedia Britannica explains: “Islam distinguishes four ways by which the duty of jihad can be fulfilled: by the heart, the tongue, the hand, and the sword. The first consists in a spiritual purification of one’s own heart by doing battle with the devil and overcoming his inducements to evil. The propagation of Islam through the tongue and hand is accomplished in large measure by supporting what is right and correcting what is wrong. The fourth way to fulfill one’s duty is to wage war physically against unbelievers and enemies of the Islamic faith … Modern Islam places special emphasis on waging war with one’s inner self. It sanctions war with other nations only as a defensive measure when the faith is in danger” (Micropaedia, Vol. 6, 1985).

This is in keeping with Muhammad’s teaching in the Koran: “Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love the aggressors” (quoted by Philip Novak, compiler, The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions, 1994, p. 300).

However, this sentiment was belied by Muhammad’s own aggression against the Meccans and others. In Islam, as in Christianity, fundamentalists and liberals, left-wingers and right-wingers, radicals and moderates all claim to be the true followers of the religion.

Most Muslims would never consider killing themselves in a suicide bombing of inhabited buildings with the resultant loss of thousands of precious human lives. Of suicide, the Koran clearly states: “Do not destroy yourselves. God is merciful to you, but he that does that through wickedness and injustice shall be burned in fire” (ibid., p. 309). Yet suicide bombers, armed with a radical interpretation of Islam, inflicted a massive dose of suffering and death on many innocent, unsuspecting people in Manhattan’s two tallest buildings-including, ironically, several dozen fellow Muslims.

How do they justify it? They argue that the West has already attacked them through cultural imperialism and international policies that hurt Islam worldwide. They see America as the invader of their lands and destroyer of their faith, with Israel as America’s primary accomplice. This makes them, as they see it, martyrs for Islam-for which the Koran does promise great reward.

After the U.S. embassy bombings in 1998, Osama bin Laden contended in a January 1999 interview that Muslims were merely responding to a “legitimate duty to protect their religion against perceived attacks from ‘Jews and crusaders (generally Americans) … Our holy land is occupied by Israeli and American forces … We have the right to defend ourselves and to liberate our holy land … Hostility towards America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded for it by God … Praise be to God for guiding us to do jihad in his cause.’”

This is not the view of the majority of Muslims living in the United States and other Western nations. But, in the poorer areas of the world-much of which is Muslim-many harbor resentment over the affluence of Western life they see portrayed in movies as opposed to their own often-destitute conditions-thus fueling the fire against America. U.S. support for what they see as corrupt leaders in their countries only furthers that resentment.

Anti-American rhetoric in the Middle East is incessant. “For example,” reported The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 20, “the mufti-or chief cleric-appointed by the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat has prayed that God will ‘destroy America,’ while the editor of a leading Palestinian journal has declared: The American ‘murderers of humanity, the creators of the barbaric culture and the bloodsuckers of nations, are doomed to death.’”

Such ranting is not without effect. Continuing in The Wall Street Journal: “Only last November … one of the official Palestinian Authority newspapers reported the results of a poll in which 73 percent of Palestinians supported ‘suicide missions against American interests in the Middle East.’ Is it any wonder, then, that there was rejoicing among the Palestinians over the attacks ‘against American interests’ in America itself … ?”

David Pryce-Jones, senior editor of National Review, properly remarked in The Sunday Telegraph (London): “There are of course many millions of Arabs and Muslims, including Iraqis and Palestinians, who do not rejoice, who repudiate the horror committed in their name … They are as threatened as the rest of the civilized world by Islamic fanaticism” (Sept. 16).

Yet it is a mistake to consign those in favor of terrorism against the West to a tiny, insignificant lunatic fringe. Although they may represent a small portion of the Muslim world, that part is nevertheless all too significant-and rooted in Islamic traditions, in spite of the many who believe terrorist actions violate the tenets of Islam. GN

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