By Dr. Hatem al-Haj
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap] am sure most of you have reflected on the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris recently. I am also confident that you have very variant thoughts, not necessarily because of your varying convictions, but mainly because of the different angles from which you approached the events. In addition to what you have thought of and read, I am hoping that you may find something worthy of your time in my own reflections. However, I must first be honest with you and admit that, aside from the Islamic legal (fiqhi) contribution in this article, I am approaching the discussion from a layperson’s perspective. I am not involved in politics, and I am not privy to any special information about those attacks or the immediate circumstances that resulted in them. This article is merely my own attempt at analyzing their root causes and suggesting some measures to help curb their spread and flare-up.
Having read many op-eds, posts, and comments from people around the globe, including the Middle East, it is obvious that the vast majority of Muslims are shocked and disgusted by the despicable injustice committed against the innocent victims of those attacks. Those who approve of them are (in my estimation) much less than 1%. However, those who condemn them in the strongest language differ over their root causes and the best way to avoid them in the future.
Many commentators claim if Western countries stopped their military interventions in Muslim countries, their meddling in those countries’ affairs, and their support of tyrannical regimes that serve Western interests, terrorism will stop. Some add that the West also needs to stop their discriminatory domestic policies and Islamophobic rhetoric and work to end the inequality their own Muslim citizens suffer. Did I forget something? Of course, any conversation on the relationship between the West and Muslims always has an elephant in the room – the plight of the Palestinian people. World-wide, Muslims consider the West to be the major backer of Israeli injustices against Palestine.
Now, if you are a Muslim who aims to be fair and objective, you should not exercise these good qualities with non-Muslims only. If you deny your Muslim brethren any basis for their frustrations and fail to validate their feelings, you will be dismissed before the discussion even begins. This is because, obviously, there is much truth to these statements. To admit this does not mean, in any way, that you are justifying terrorism.
However, we Muslims easily point out what the Western regimes need to do yet we often say nothing about what we, Muslims, need to do. Are we not indirectly responsible for any part of this madness? Are we, the 99% of the ummah, just victims who got caught in the middle between the hegemony of the West and the madness of the fanatics? Are the Muslims in the Muslim-majority countries not responsible in any way for the unbearable environment they have collectively created, which has pushed many otherwise benign youth into extremism? Are we, the Muslims of the West, doing our best to have functional, inclusive and supportive communities? I think not.
If we want to contribute positively to suffocating the phenomenon of terrorism, we must begin by trying to understand its roots. As Muslims living in the West, here is a common stereotype of someone who may partake in mass-scale terrorism in the name of our religion: a disenfranchised Muslim youth, who may or may not be religious, but certainly is misinformed, and who embarks on “defending the religion and avenging the ummah.” Now, to help stop him, we need to end his disenfranchisement, his misinformation, and either end the plights of the ummah or show him how to defend it in a more productive and, yes, sharia-compliant way. You think it is a lost cause! It will only be if we continue to think it is. We must start somewhere.
Countering the Misinformation
A complete rebuttal of the ideologies of those groups is beyond the scope of this article. Here, I will only attempt to share points that could assist you in helping someone out of their confusion. In one recent virtual discussion, I expressed my extreme disapproval of the attacks in Paris. Sure enough, I got this question from someone: “But didn’t Allah say: ‘and fight against the polytheists collectively as they fight against you collectively‘ [at-Tawbah: 36] and ‘…when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them‘ [at-Tawbah: 5]”
While the vast majority of Muslims do not think that we should be fighting perpetually against the rest of humanity, it appears that some of us have a different opinion. They cite the text of revelation and the opinions of scholars, making a simple Islam-is-all-about-peace answer unsatisfying to them. Here is what we should be sharing with them:
It is true that the verses cited are the words of Allah, Most High. He also said,
“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth [i.e., Islam] from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah (poll tax) willingly while they are humbled.” [at-Tawbah: 29]
And He said:
“Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] religion [i.e., worship] is [acknowledged to be] for Allah.” [al-Baqarah: 193]
and the Prophet said:
“I was commanded to fight the people until they testify that none is worthy of worship except Allah, and [until] they believe in me and what I came with. If they do that, then they have protected their blood and wealth from me, except according to it (Islam), and their judgment is upon Allah.” [Agreed upon, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah]
Additionally, in the previous scriptures, namely the Bible, much more than this is attributed to God, including the killing of infants and children, as in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua. Certainly, we do not believe that the statements about killing children and infants are from God, because it will be too hard to provide an explanatory context for those. However, in Islam, there is an explanatory context for all of the above verses.
First, it is important to note that Allah also said,
“And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” [al-Anfâl: 61]
“So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them.” [an-Nisâ’: 90]
and His Messenger said:
“O people, do not wish to meet the enemy, and ask Allah for pardon. But if you meet them, then be patient and know that Paradise is under the shade of the swords.” [Agreed Upon, on the authority of ‘Abdullâh ibn Abi Awfâ].
Who should be connecting the dots and reconciling these seemingly conflicting reports? The scholars well-grounded in the tradition. One of them, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, wrote a treatise on Qitâl al-Kuffâr wa Muhâdanatuhum [War and Peace (treaties) with the Disbelievers] in which he conclusively emphasized that the effective cause (‘illah) for fighting the disbelievers is their aggression, not their disbelief. He pointed out that texts implying an open fight against them can never be used as proof for fighting the people at large. This is because they appear to contradict the other evidences (some of which are mentioned above), and even the consensus. Likewise, they contradict the life of the Messenger .