Terrorism in the Name of Islam

In the present time, Muslim fundamentalists are responsible for actions resulting from hatred and marked by violence taking place in the name of Islam. A justification of what they are engaged in is presented in the following couplet by the famous poet Iqbal: To every vein of falsehood every Muslim is like a surgical knife. (Shikwa Jawab-e-Shikwah).

Conversely, however, we find a different picture in the Quran: “When it is said to them: ‘Do not commit evil in the land,’ they reply: ‘We do nothing but good.’ But it is they who are the evil-doers, though they may not perceive it” (2:11).

They hold that the aim of Islam is to establish an ideal society and an ideal state. But since, by their lights, this task cannot be performed without political strength, they feel justified in fighting against those who have captured the seats of power.

Violent movements with this aim were launched on a large scale during the second half of the twentieth century. Their targets were either the non-Muslim rulers or the secular Muslim rulers. But despite great losses in terms of life, wealth and resources, these movements failed to produce any positive results. Their having become counter-productive is in itself a proof that their activities were disapproved of by Islam. This is quite expressly stated in the Quran: “God does not love the transgressors” (2:205).

The fact is that the terms ‘ideal state’ and ‘ideal society’ have a wonderful resonance, but their use in the name of Islam is sheer exploitation of Islam. Verse ninety-nine of the 16th chapter is quite specific about this. It says: “God enjoins justice, kindness and charity… and forbids indecency, wickedness and oppression.” Even more specifically the Quran says that God loves the charitable (2:195). And indeed idealism and perfection are highly desirable virtues in Islam, but the direct target of Islamic idealism is not society, and not the state, but the individual. The perennial objective of the Islamic movement is to strive to make each single individual an ideal human being. Each individual has to be urged to become an example of the ‘sublime character’ as projected by the Prophet Muhammad ‘may peace be upon him’ and described in the Quran (68:4). So far as the ideal society or the ideal state is concerned, it is in no way a direct goal of Islam.

Society and the State are not in themselves independent entities, each being dependent on the mettle of the individuals of which they are constituted. According to a tradition, the Prophet observed: “As you will be, so will be your rulers” (Mishkat al-Masabih, 11/1097).

If the establishment of an ideal State were the actual target of Islam, there should, accordingly, be express injunctions to this effect in the Quran and hadith. For instance, there should be verses of this type in the Quran: “O Muslims, you are enjoined to establish an ideal State.” But there is no such verse and neither is there a single hadith, which could lead to this conclusion. The references put forward by the upholders of this concept are all inferential in nature, whereas according to Islamic jurisprudence, on the issue of any basic Islamic injunction, inferential argument is in no way valid. Such argument is for peripheral matters and not for basics.

There is another important point in this connection. Those who uphold the establishment of an ideal State to be the goal of Islam ought to learn this lesson from the early period of Islam that this aim was neither achieved in this ideal period nor was it achievable. Those who present the first phase of Islam to be that of an ideal society or an ideal State have fallen prey to a fallacy. They present the example of ideal individuals, equating them with the ideal society or the ideal State. The truth of the matter is that both are totally different from each other.

It is undeniable that in every period of Islamic history, we find large numbers of ideal individuals, and this is true even today. But the ideal State is in no way the goal of Islam and neither has such an State ever existed in the ideal sense of the word. For instance, the first and foremost matter in the setting up of a state is the appointment of the head of a state. But there is no prescribed procedure for such an appointment. The Prophet was succeeded by four rightly guided Caliphs, but every one of them was selected by a different process, for the simple reason that no prescribed method existed at all. This also explains why no tradition could be established for the appointment of the Caliphs.

This does not mean, however, that there is something lacking in Islam, or in Islamic principles. The truth is that this very point serves as a proof of Islam being a divine religion, and not of human invention. Islam, according to its own claim, is a religion created by God, which is completely in consonance with nature. (30:30)

The Quran tells us that one proof of its being a book of God is that there is not the slightest inconsistency in its teachings (4:82). Another proof of this claim is that the target of the Islamic mission set forth by it is the building of ideal individuals and not ideal state.

In fact, man has been created in this world for the special purpose of being put to the test. According to the Quran, the present world is a trial ground and the Akhirah (the Hereafter) is the place of reward. As a necessary prerequisite, man has been given total freedom of action (33:72). That is to say that he is entirely at liberty either to submit to God or to become a transgressor. (18:29)

According to the creation plan of God, freedom, or free will is every man’s birthright, and even if he misuses this power, it will not be taken away from him. It is not part of God’s plan of creation ever to abrogate this free will. And it must be conceded that it is this freedom, which is the ever-recurring stumbling block in the establishment of an ideal society or an ideal State. For even a handful of men, by misusing their freedom, can disturb the whole of society. That is why the target set by Islam is exactly in accordance with nature, that is, the reform of the individual.

If, on the contrary, the Muslims had been given the mission of establishing an ideal society, or an ideal State, that would have been so unnatural as to be quite impossible. Islam has, therefore, given Muslims a target which is practicable and which, in consequence, does not oblige them to come into conflict with nature. The violence, which marks the activities of Muslim fundamentalist groups, is the result of not keeping in mind this wisdom of Islam. If you aim at the reform purely of the individual, you will not need to resort to violence for the achievement of your goal. For the task of reforming the individual can be carried on, from beginning to end, in an atmosphere of peaceful persuasion. Whereas the struggle to change the system of the State, being a subversive activity, necessarily leads to war and violence.

Well-known examples of peaceful persuasion are the movements launched by the Sufis, the target of which was not the state, but the individual. Their task involved the spiritual reform of people’s hearts and minds, so that they might lead their lives as new, transformed human beings. Thanks to their adherence to this wise policy, the Sufis did not need to resort to violence. Another example in our times is provided by the Tablighi Jamaat, which has been working peaceably on a large scale in the sphere of individual reform.

Since Islamic fundamentalists target the Islamization of the State rather than the reform of individuals, their only plan of action is in the very first instance to launch themselves on a collision course with the rulers who hold sway over the institution of the State. In this way, their movement takes the path of violence from day one. Then all the other evils creep in which are the direct or indirect result of violence, for instance, mutual hatred and disruption of the peace, waste of precious resources, and so on. It would be right and proper to say that Islam is a name for peaceful struggle, while the so-called Islamic fundamentalism is quite the reverse. From the foregoing details it is quite clear that violence, far from arising from the teachings of Islam, is a direct product of Islamic fundamentalism.