Whether it is a bomb going off in a market place, school, religious centres, or the hijacking of an aircraft where innocent people are held at ransom to achieve political ends, we live in an age, where the manipulation and loss of innocent lives has become common place. Such is the all-pervasive nature of indiscriminate violence, that “terrorism” is considered as one of the prime threats to peace and security in our societies.
Rightly or wrongly, majority of Nigerians today are not happy with the bombimbs in the country. For sure, anyone who understands the teachings of Islam will not relate the distinctive characteristics of the times we live in - the overwhelming presenceof violence in our societies to an islamic mission. But, surprises to read that the Boko Haram sect had allegedly claimed responsibility of several bombings, in an attempt make the non-muslims accept islam.
However, the word terrorism came into wide usage only a few decades ago. One of the unfortunate results of this new terminology in Nigeria is that it limits the definition of terrorism to that perpetrated by small groups or individuals mistaken to be fighting for the course of a religion that against their practices.
It is this narrow definition of terrorism that implicates only individuals and groups, that has caused Muslims to be associated with acts of destruction and terror, and as a result, to become victims of hate, violence and terror themselves.
Could it be possible that Islam, whose light ended the Dark Ages in Europe, now propound the advent of an age of terror? Could a faith that has over 1.2 billion followers the world over, and over 7 million in America, actually advocate the killing and maiming of innocent people? Could Islam, whose name itself stands for “peace” and “submission to God”, encourage its adherents to work for death and destruction?
For too long, have we relied on popular images in the media and in Hollywood films, for answers to these pertinent questions. It is better to look at the sources of Islam, and its history to determine whether Islam does indeed advocate violence.
The religion in its preachings of santity of human life says, “…take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” [Al-Qur’an 6:151]
Islam considers all life forms as sacred. However, the sanctity of human life is accorded a special
place. The first and the foremost basic right of a human being is the right to live. The Qur’an says: “…if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [Al-Qur’an 5:32].
Such is the value of a single human life, that the Qur’an equates the taking of even one human life unjustly, with killing all of humanity. Thus, the Qur’an prohibits homicide in clear terms.
Wonder where the Boko Haram sect gets their backings from, because relating their actions to common law, the taking of a criminal’s life by the state in order to administer justice is required to uphold the rule of law, and the peace and security of the society. Only a proper and competent court can decide whether an individual has forfeited his right to life by disregarding the right to life and peace of other human beings.
Even in a state of war, Islam enjoins that one deals with the enemy nobly on the battlefield. It has drawn a clear line of distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants of the enemy country.
As far as the non-combatant population is concerned such as women, children, the old and the infirm, etc., the instructions of the Prophet is that: “Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman. Do not kill the monks in monasteries and Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship.”
Unfortunately, Islam in general is misunderstood in the western world, perhaps no other Islamic term evokes such strong reactions as the word ‘jihad’. The term ‘jihad’ has been much abused, to conjure up bizarre images of violent Muslims, forcing people to submit at the point of the sword. This myth was perpetuated throughout the centuries of mistrust during and after the Crusades. Unfortunately, it survives to this day.
Thus, Islam enjoins upon its believers to strive utmost, in purifying themselves, as well as in establishing peace and justice in the society. A Muslim can never be at rest when she sees injustice and oppression around her. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
However, regardless of how legitimate the cause may be, the Qur’an never condones the killing of innocent people. Terrorizing the civilian population can never be termed as jihad and can never be reconciled with the teachings of Islam.
Even Western scholars have repudiated the myth of Muslims coercing others to convert. The great historian De Lacy O’Leary wrote: “History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims, sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
Muslims ruled Spain for roughly 800 years. During this time, and up until they were finally forced out, the non- Muslims there were alive and flourishing. Additionally, Christian and Jewish minorities have survived in the Muslim lands of the Middle East for centuries. Countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all have significant Christian and/or Jewish populations. This is not surprising to a Muslim, for his faith prohibits him from forcing others to see his point of view.
The Qur’an says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion:Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.” [Al-Qur’an 2:256]
Far from being a militant dogma, Islam is a way of life that transcends race and ethnicity. The Qur’an repeatedly reminds us of our common origin: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other).Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well
acquainted (with all things).” [Al-Qur’an 49:13]
Truly, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. This is just to avoid injustice to be triumphant in the world.
The Qur'an says: “Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors (2:190)
“If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things (8:61),” it emphasised.
Islam also stipulates that the life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a person is Muslim or not. Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur'an speaks of human equality saying, “We made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest(49:13)”
Oyeleke, is a student of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.