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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan



THERE are many misconceptions about Islam that result in the general public having a negative perception of Islam. It is common for Muslims to be asked whether they are moderate Muslims. They are also asked what the difference is between a moderate and an extremist Muslim. Some people ask why Muslims are engaged in Jihad and whether Talaq is allowed in Islam. Since this implies a negative understanding of Islam, it is important to highlight the positive contributions of Islam as well. The confusion generally arises when people fail to differentiate between Islam and Muslims (or the alleged followers of Islam). It must be stressed that Muslims must be judged in the light of Islamic teachings and not vice versa. People fail to differentiate between Islam and Muslims. Muslims must be judged in the light of Islamic teachings and not vice versa. Let us understand this by considering a similar case: India, like other secular societies, has a legal and political constitution. The people of India have accepted that constitution and claim to adhere to it. This, however, does not mean that they do adhere to it, in the proper sense. Witness the many examples of corruption and lawlessness in our country. This being so, if one wants to know what, in essence, the Constitution of India is; one has to look not at the actions of the citizens of India, but at the Constitution of India itself. One should differentiate between the Indian Constitution and the misinterpretations and the abuse of the constitution by the citizens of India. The case of Islam is on an exact parallel with this example. Islam is actually a religion of peace and humanism. Not only Islam, but also all other religions are religions of peace. The Sufis, in contrast to the theological interpreters, have given the best interpretation of Islam. They have a Persian saying: Sulh-e-Kul, which means ‘Peace with all’. This truly expresses the spirit of Islam. What are the sources of Islam? Here, let us consider in brief the history of Islam. The Prophet of Islam was born in Makkah in 570 A.D. and received the first revelation in 610 A.D. when he was forty. It was with these revelations that Islam began. He started his mission in Makkah and continued with it for a period of thirteen years and then he migrated to Medina. Throughout these thirteen years, he was engaged only in peaceful activity. He would always say: ‘O people! O mankind! God is one. You have to worship this God and this God alone.’ Islam began with the mission of peace. Its special concern was the oneness of God. Then the Prophet migrated to Medina in 622 A.D., where he continued his mission till his death in 632 A.D. In Medina too, he was engaged in a peaceful mission. He was successful in establishing the first Islamic society in Medina. Do good deeds in return for bad deeds and you will find that your enemy has become your dearest friend.’ What was the guiding principle of this Islamic society? He issued a declaration that is called in Islamic history Sahifa-E-Madina, which means Medina Declaration. There is a verse in the Quran to this effect, “For you your religion and for me mine.” This means that the formula for social peace, social harmony and inter-faith dialogue is based on peaceful coexistence. Mutual respect is a sine qua non for Islam. Indeed, this democratic tradition is the basis of Islam. The following episode illustrates this point: One day a funeral procession wound its way along a street in Medina. The Prophet, who was seated there at the time of its passing, stood up in deference to the deceased person. One of his companions said, ‘O Prophet, but he was a Jew!’ meaning thereby that it was the dead body of a non-Muslim. The Prophet replied: ‘Alaisat nafsan’: ‘Was he not a human being?’ This humanitarian outlook was typical of the Prophet’s vision of life. He was able to see everyone as a human being. In this case, he discovered a commonality between himself and that Jewish person. He felt that just as he was a human being, so also was the Jew a human being. Just as God had created him, so also had God created the Jew. People may have their differences in belief, religion, culture, etc., but a common bond has to be discovered between them, which shows them all to be human beings. According to a study of the Quran, two distinct entities emerge: the Creator and the created. God is the Creator and all of us are His creation. All of us are human beings. There is no third position. On the one hand, there is God, and on the other hand, there is God’s creation. This is a matter of fact. God is one and mankind also is one. Thus we have the Unity of God—monotheism—and the Unity of mankind. This is the fundamental teaching of Islam. Now let us take the much-misunderstood concept of Jihad. To clarify this, let us recall the verse in the Quran: “God calls us to the home of peace.” Our target is peace. All our struggles are directed towards peace. We have to proceed towards peace. So that is the true criterion by which to judge whether our activities are Islamic or un-Islamic. If our activities lead in the direction of peace, then they are Islamic; otherwise they are un-Islamic. There is a very relevant Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet of Islam) to this effect: God grants to non-violence what he does not grant to violence. The fundamental teaching of Islam is the unity of God— monotheism—and the unity of mankind. Jihad literally means ‘struggle’, i.e. peaceful struggle for a noble cause. No ‘war’ is involved in jihad. The equivalent Arabic word for war is ‘qital.’ Jihad has nothing to do with war or violence. Jihad is a peaceful struggle. In Islam, war is permitted only in exceptional situations. In Islam, peace is the rule; and war is a rare exception and can only be defensive. If there is no attack, then there is no war. Quranic teachings are very clear in this regard. It must be emphasized that the common perception of jihad as fasad—spreading evil—has nothing to do with Islam. According to Islamic teachings, guerrilla warfare is unlawful. Even proxy war is unlawful in Islam. To understand this better, let us recall a very important teaching in the Hadith to the effect that the waging of war is the prerogative of an established state. No group, no individual, has the right to go to war. There is a verse in the Quran, which says that there is no such thing as secret war in Islam. Proxy war is a secret war. Proxy war is therefore also unlawful in Islam. So proxy war, guerrilla war, aggressive war and undeclared war are all unlawful in Islam. The only lawful war is that which is waged in defence, in response to an attack. The Quran and the Hadith define war with the utmost clarity. The formula given in the Quran for social reform and social betterment is simply that everyone is accountable to God. Accountability, indeed, is the bedrock of Islam: it is the ideal solution to the problem of anarchy in society and the misuse of freedom. Freedom has to be accepted as being necessary for development. If there is no freedom, there can be no development. Without freedom, there is no progress. But, we cannot afford unlimited freedom. The formula given in the Quran for social reform and social betterment is simply that everyone is accountable to God. There is a very interesting story in American history. When America became free, an American citizen ran out into the street and, in jubilation, started swinging his arms as he walked along. Quite by accident, he hit a passer-by on the nose. The man who was hit, an elderly person, asked him why he had hit him. He replied that now he was free to exercise his freedom.’ The elderly person retorted, ‘Your freedom ends where my nose begins!’ The Christian as well as the Islamic formula goes thus: We may exercise our freedom, but we are not free to hit other people on the nose. There is a beautiful saying in the Hadith: 'A Muslim is one from whose hands and tongue people are safe' This is a common spiritual maxim in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. In this age of imperialist wars, one has forgotten the philosophical basis of Christianity: ‘Love your enemy’. When one says, ‘Love your enemy’, one means ‘love all including your enemy.’ Similarly, the Quran states: ‘Do good deeds in return for bad deeds and you will find that your enemy has become your dearest friend.’ This means that every enemy is potentially a friend. While differences between religions arise out of theological interpretations, there seems to be no difference if we try to understand the spiritual basis of religions. Consider Hinduism’s great truth: All human beings are one family. The same truth is expressed in the Hadith. Mankind is the family of God. Therefore, as far as ethical values are concerned, there are no differences at all between religions. In daily life, we need to understand that all human beings are God’s family. There is a very relevant Hadith recorded by Bukhari, which clarifies that when the Prophet had to choose between two paths, he always opted for the easier, peaceful course of action, rather than the harder course of action. One is free to choose between the two paths of peace and violence. The best plan is to ignore the problems and avail of the opportunities One has to differentiate between Islam and the followers of Islam. When one is questioned on the nature of Islam and when the popular media makes a difference between a ‘moderate Muslim’ and a ‘radical Muslim’, one needs to tear down such false barriers and say that Islam does not talk of a ‘moderate’ or ‘radical’ Muslim, but a ‘true’ Muslim in the sense of adhering to the truth that has been continuously preached by the Sufis. Let us conclude with the beautiful teaching of the Quran which says that with every hardship there is ease. This teaching can be formulated in a single sentence: Where there are problems, there are opportunities. Islam at all events is an optimistic religion. There is no room for pessimism in Islam.

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