In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
I 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 .
Don’t you see that some of them appear to entail fighting the people at large until there is no religion on Earth except Islam, and this is contrary to the consensus? Don’t you see that there were people with whom the Messenger of Allah made peace and truces? In fact, he said:
“Leave the Abyssinians [alone] so long as they leave you [alone], and leave the Turks [alone] so long as they leave you alone.” [Abu Dawud, and deemed Hasan by al-Albâni in [Saheeh al-Jâmi’]]
This clearly indicates that the command to fight does not apply to the people at large. Rather, Ibn al-Qayyim – may Allah bestow mercy upon him – said in Hidâyat al-Hayârâ[Guiding the Bewildered]:
“When Allah sent His Messenger, most of the religions willingly obliged to him, and to his caliphs after him. He never forced anyone upon the religion, and would only fight those who fought and warred against him. As for those who made peace with him, he did not fight them or compel them to embrace His religion, out of compliance with the command of his Lord who said: ‘There is no compulsion in religion; truth has been made clear from falsehood.‘ [al-Baqarah: 256].”
The verses and ahadith that appear to enjoin fighting the disbelieving people at large, refer to specific peoples during the Prophet’s time or fighting in specific circumstances – such as:
- Defending the oppressed – like in the words of the Most High:
“And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children…” [an-Nisâ’: 75],
- Preventing the tyrants from forcing those who have embraced Islam to abandon worshipping Allah, the One and Only, like in the words of the Most High:
“And fight them until there is no [more] fitnah (trials)…” [al-Baqarah: 193]
- Fighting preemptively against (real, not imaginary) enemy aggression, like what the Muslims did with the Persians who sent troops to arrest the Messenger of Allah during his lifetime, or the Romans who incited their allies, the Christians of ash-Shâm, against the Muslims. They blocked their roadways, surrounded their trade [caravans], and the ally of the Romans, Shurahbeel ibn ‘Amr al-Ghassâni killed al-Harith in Amr al-Azdiy, the messenger of the Prophet to the ruler of Busra.
A question had been presented to the scholars in the past: Is the default in international relations peace or warfare? The majority viewed that peace was the default, but some viewed that it was warfare, although the latter were perhaps referring to the people of their time. Keep in mind that during their times, there were never stable borders or statehood as we know it. Empires were constantly fighting against others to expand their territories (Review infographics showing changes to the map of Europe over the last one thousand years).
Hence, if we pose this question to them another time using different wording: Is peace or warfare more preferred to us? Perhaps all of them would answer in favor of peace. Did not the Messenger of Allah , in addition to all of the aforementioned, say:
“Indeed, Allah is gentle and loves gentleness, and He grants because of gentleness what He does not grant because of harshness, nor what He grants because of anything else.” [Agreed upon, on the authority of ‘Â’ishah, and this is the wording of Muslim]
If a nation that essentially rules with justice makes peace with us, grants security to the Muslims between its borders, and does not persecute us, then why should we fight them? If our objective is that no one is deprived of his/her right to worship their Lord in peace, that no tyrant subjugates any of the creation of Allah, and that no one threatens the interests of our ummah, and we attain all that peacefully, is fighting still justified? Would choosing it, in this circumstance, be the embodiment of gentleness which Allah loves in all matters?
All of this discussion and we haven’t yet looked at the essence of the matter in question: war. Is war one thousand years ago the same as war today? This is not a secondary inquiry because applying the legislative rulings correctly is contingent upon understanding the current reality for which these specific rulings are determined. In our age, the structure of nations has become stabilized, and the borders of these nations have become distinct, as opposed to the previous ages wherein the nations did not rule themselves. Instead, they were ruled by dynasties and factions whose sovereignty would expand and then contract to be occupied by another.
The ruling factions [of old] contending in the battlefield would usually not afflict the average people, the farmers, the women, and the weak with any harm. Furthermore, these [masses] would then enjoy a just rule instead of the tyranny that they lived under for decades or centuries. This would bring them joy, just as the Christians of ash-Shâm (the Levant) were overjoyed by the Muslims liberating them from Rome and its allies. But nowadays, the price of warfare is much chaos, widespread corruption, and tragedies that do not differentiate between soldier and civilian – for bombs and rockets are not like arrows and spears.
In the past, jihad was sometimes a necessity to secure the deliverance of da’wah to the entire creation, and that was by removing the obstacles preventing it such as the tyrants and their oppressive regimes. As for this age of ours, the deliverance of da’wah is possible through the jihad of articulation and the tongue, via broadcasts, satellites, and especially the internet which delivers written, audible, and visual statements alike. Furthermore, the du’ât are capable of traveling to distant lands, intermixing with their people, and inviting them while being allotted security throughout.
In conclusion of this point, one can never deny the virtue of jihad and martyrdom in Islam and its raising its people upon courage, dignity, honor, and sacrifice. However, one must also be confident that Islam decisively prefers peace over war.
There is another pertinent discussion here, which is that the war that Islam deems justifiable, at times, is an ethical war that must also be sharia-complaint. It is a war where the civilians are spared or, more clearly, all of the non-combatants are spared.
Abu Dawood reported from Anas that the Prophet would instruct them if they had to go to war to not kill “an older man, a child or a woman” and would say, “Do righteousness and show kindness for Allah loves those who are kind.” Ibn Majah added his prohibition against killing the “aseef” which is best translated as non-combatant attachment to the army.
The final layer that must be added in any discussion with Muslim youth of the West is that treason is an ugly quality and Islam instills in us an aversion to it. Allah says,
“If you (O Muhammad) fear treachery from any people throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there will be no more covenant between you and them). Certainly Allah likes not the treacherous.” [Al-Anfâl: 58]
That is why Allah told the believers in Madinah to support their Muslim brethren who failed to emigrate to them if they were persecuted by their tribes, but He added an important contingency – that tribe should not be party to a covenant with the Muslims in Madinah:
“And if they seek help of you for the religion, then you must help, except against a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty. And Allah is Seeing of what you do.” [Al-Anfâl: 72]
These verses mean that those of us who are citizens of the West should not betray the trust of the covenant of citizenship. The same applies to those who are granted visas to come into a specific country.
It remains to be said that aside from this theological discussion, it seems that these radical groups have a severely warped logic. I do not know how someone can justify the losses of lives and infrastructure incurred in Afghanistan as necessary or tactical? The problem is that even if the “state” they declared in Iraq and Syria sees the same fate as Afghanistan, they will leave behind hundreds of thousands of casualties and injuries among the general population and flee to somewhere else. This is almost the practical definition of apocalyptic nihilism. One of the unintended casualties of their mischief is the Arab Spring itself. It seems that the international community is too confused (or unwilling) to sort out the different forms of Islamists. They just support any regime to avoid a takeover by any version of ‘Islamists’, no matter how “docile” they may be.
Ending their Disenfranchisement
It is quite obvious why youth in Muslim countries may be disenfranchised. You may say poverty and unemployment, and I will partially agree. However, I claim it is mainly the tyranny of the governing regimes, which have no concept of human rights, justice, or equality. An overnight stay in one of their detention centers may turn the most unassuming young man into a destructive machine.
One may wonder about the reasons for the resentment of Muslim youth in the West. While the West is often perceived as a continuum, there may be different sets of circumstances for Muslim communities in different Western countries. France, for example, has laws against hijab in public places. There are also higher rates of poverty amongst Muslims there. Despite being a more established community than their American counterparts, they have greater challenges with employment and assimilation. The Muslim youth also feel the injustices committed by their own governments against the cause of Islam and Muslims in other areas.
One may say that all of this is the creation of Western regimes, and we cannot do much about it. I disagree with this notion. Yes, some domestic policies may result in the alienation and disenchantment of the Muslim youth. However, there is much we could do about it. In addition to organizing ourselves and lobbying the circles of influence for the interests of our communities, we could provide a better social matrix for our youth. We could have organizations that will help them assemble and channel their energy in positive ways. We, as communities, should look into ways of becoming financially capable of putting our youth to work. Our mosques could be more accommodating and embracing. The mosque is a spiritual hospital not a hotel. It should tend to the frustrated and disgruntled. It should counter misinformation and allow youth to assume positions of leadership to take the community to the next level. Compassionate engagement of the youth prone to radicalism may be an undesirable job, but it could prove life-saving and community-saving.
Helping the Ummah
The Muslim youth are justifiably aggravated by aggression committed against Muslims world-wide. News about the plight of the Palestinians or the Gulf War I or II or other Western military interventions cause them a great deal of distress and anger. Now, we have one of two ways to address this: denying the just causes of our ummah or validating some of their feelings, but providing them, at the same time, with some more contexts to what they observe and guiding them to channel their energy in proper and effective ways.
It is essential that our youth understand that our ummah is partially responsible for much of what happened to it. Although we, Muslims, have been the victims most of the time, sometimes, we are the wrong-doers. At other times, we may have provoked the adversaries of the ummah or given them some pretext for their aggression. We have, for ages, allowed ourselves (in Muslim countries) to be ruled by tyrannical regimes. They not only abuse us, but they have also brought much misfortune upon us. A careful, honest and objective study of the far and near history is needed for our youth to have balanced views.
Conspiracy is sometimes over exaggerated, but to deny that it is an integral part of human history is like denying that there was ever contention and competition between the nations of this world. However, to be the usual object of those conspiracies is mainly our fault. It is our avoidable weakness and backwardness that caused our adversaries or even “friends” to exploit us. The ultimate solution is for our Muslim countries to rise from their corruption and backwardness and unite to defend themselves and repel any attacks. (Likely, they will not need to do that, because, in these times, strong countries do not attack their matches.) The idea that the West prevents the people of our 59 Muslim countries from having righteous governance and developing their social, scientific, economical, and military strength is simply absurd.
Now, our youth in the West can help. They should work to elevate their respective communities and organize themselves and be individually and collectively vocal about any injustice committed by their respective governments. They should also try to help the Muslim majority countries find their equilibrium, rise from their coma and begin their renaissance. It seems, though, that in order to do this, the Muslim minorities in the West would need first to pull through and turn their own conditions around to stand on solid ground. Positive, organized and righteous activism is the way to do both. It can involve our youth and give them the sense (and hope) that they can gradually make a positive difference, and yes, change their unfair world, along with fair-minded individuals from other religious affiliations, to make it more just and peaceful.
May Allah bring about peace, justice and security to the distressed and suffering humanity. All praise is due to Him.