Islam and Terrorism
Dr. Bilal Philips
Islam Spread By The Sword: The common image of Islam being spread by an Arab on camel back riding in off the desert with a Quran in one hand and a scimitar (a curved sword) in the other offering a choice of either accepting Islam or losing one's head.
As mentioned earlier under the issue of apostasy, forcible conversion is prohibited in Islam. The religion did not spread by the sword. There were military confrontations between the Muslim state and the existing world powers of Rome and Persia. However, the areas conquered were put under Muslim administration and the populations were free to maintain their own beliefs. Muslims ruled Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon from the 8th century and sizeable Christian communities continued to exist over the past 13 centuries. Muslims ruled Spain for 700 years and India for 1000 years without the vast majority of the population converting to Islam.
The largest Muslim country in the world today is Indonesia, having over 200 million citizens, never saw a Muslim soldier. Islam spread there and in Malaysia and Philippines by trade. That was also the case of Islam's spread in West African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Chad and Niger. Also, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America today with anywhere between 300 and 500 converts daily. This is taking place without any soldiers or even missionaries.
Terrorism is defined by the American government as the threat or the use of violence to advance a political cause by individuals or groups, whether acting for or in opposition to established governmental authority, when such actions are intended to shock, stun, or intimidate a target group wider than the immediate victims. Actually such a general definition will include all wars of liberation from the American War of Independence to the French Revolution. The worst aspect and perhaps the most common feature of terrorism is the unleashing of violence against innocent civilians.
The State of Israel is the most recent example of the establishment of a state by terrorism. It was established by Jewish terrorist groups, the most infamous of which was the Stern Gang.
The term "Muslim terrorist" is used to label Islam as a terrorist religion. However, it is a misnomer. When IRA bombers struck, they were not labeled as "Catholic terrorists" even though the struggle is between Catholic Ireland and Protestant Northern Ireland supported by Protestant England. Likewise, when Timothy McVeigh blew up the CIA headquarters in Oklahoma City in 1995 killing 168 people, he was not labeled as a "Christian terrorist", though he was Christian and a terrorist. In fact the "Muslim terrorist" label was attached to the activities of the PLO who were a mixture of Muslims, Christians and communists. The PLO is not, nor was it ever, a Muslim organization. It is a nationalist organization working for the establishment of a secular Palestinian state.
The face of terrorism can be seen in the extremist movements of Egypt. Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Group) and Jihad Movements provided shock troops for a bitter struggle with Egypt's security forces that caused about 1,200 deaths from 1992 to 1997 but failed to topple Husni Mubarak's secular rule. The Gama'a claimed responsibility for the Luxor massacre of tourists in November 1997. However, in March 1997 its exiled leaders declared a unilateral truce and renounced violence. The philosophy of these movements and their program of action have been loudly condemned by leading Muslim scholars internationally as well as local Egyptian scholars.
The case of Algeria is somewhat more complex. However, it is sufficient to say that the Islamic Salvation Front (F.I.S.) - which was poised to win the elections cancelled by the Algerian military - renounced violent struggle over a year ago, yet the slaughter of innocents still continues. From the beginning of the civilian slaughters, the F.I.S. disclaimed them and identified the G.I.A. as the main culprit. Recent reports indicate that the G.I.A. was created by government secret service agents to discredit the F.I.S.'s military struggle by alienating them from the masses through atrocities.
Islam opposes any form of indiscriminate violence. The Quran states:
"Anyone who has killed another except in retaliation, it is as if he has killed the whole of humankind." [Noble Quran 5:32]
There are strict rules regulating how war may be conducted. Prophet Muhammad forbade the killing of women, children, and old people and the destruction of Churches and Synagogues or farms. Of course, if women, children or the elderly bear arms they may be killed in self-defense.
Usually translated by the Western media as "holy war" is a greatly misunderstood principle in Islam. There is no term in Arabic which means "holy war". War is not "holy" in Islam it is.
The meaning of Jihad is "striving" or "struggle". It is used in Islam to refer to a variety of different efforts enjoined upon the believers. Striving to keep God and His Messenger more important than loved ones, wealth and one's own self is the most basic form of Jihad prescribed on every Muslim. The Prophet said, "No one has truly believed until Allah and His Messenger becomes more beloved than everything." Doing the righteous deeds prescribed by God is itself a Jihad. The Prophet was reported to have said, "The best Jihad is the perfect Hajj." On another occasion, someone asked the Prophet if he should join the Jihad. The Prophet responded by asking him whether his parents were still alive and when he replied that they were, he said, "Make Jihad by serving them."
Defending Islam and the Muslim community is a primary aspect of the physical Jihad which involves taking up arms against an enemy. God states in the Quran:
"Permission to fight has been given to those who have been attacked because they are wronged. And indeed, Allah is Most Powerful." [Noble Quran 22:39]
"Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress the limits. Indeed Allah does not love transgressors." [Noble Quran 2:190]
Muslims are also enjoined to fight against tyranny. The Quran states: