Terror Not Islam's Way
HUSNUL AMINPublished: September 12, 2008
Islam forbids the killing of women and children, and there
is a general consensus among Muslims that killing civilians is not acceptable,
even in conflict. However, the Taliban and al-Qaida appear to be redefining
this notion to suit their ambitions. Photo of the holy mosque in
Across the border in
Are aid workers, students and women the Taliban's new targets in the so-called "war on terror?" What does Islamic theory and practice have to say about such acts? And who is authorized to issue edicts on the matter -- traditionally educated scholars or extremists?
As far as war ethics in the days of early Islam are concerned, several hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) forbade the killing of women and children, as is clearly stated in a hadith narrated by the Caliph Omar (Bukhari, 4:258). Abu Bakr, the first caliph and friend of the Prophet Mohammed, summarizing the Prophet's message, telling the leaders of his armies: "Do not kill a woman, a child, or an old man. Do not cut down a blossoming tree, do not destroy a building, and do not kill a sheep or camel, except for the purpose of eating it. Do not submerge or cut down a palm tree. Do not be excessive, and do not be cowardly."
There is a nearly universal consensus among Muslims that the killing of civilians is not acceptable, even in conflict. However, the Taliban and al-Qaida appear to be redefining this notion to suit their ambitions.
Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaida's number two in command, declared such acts, including suicide bombing, as justified in times of war. However, in Islamic tradition issuing such a religious legal opinion -- also known as a fatwa -- is the prerogative solely of learned scholars who are specially trained in Islamic legal tradition, not of informally trained militants killing in the name of Islam.
Claims that killing innocent people, burning down schools, harming aid workers and resisting developmental projects can be justified under Islam have come under harsh criticism by traditional Islamic scholars, sometimes costing them their lives. Maulana Hasan Jan, a respected Islamic scholar from Pakistan and an imam of Darwish Masjid, a central mosque in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar, criticized such acts in his Friday sermons, claiming that taking the law into one's own hands was a blatant transgression of Islamic teachings. Soon thereafter, he started receiving death threats and was eventually shot dead by Taliban militants in September 2007.
Maulana Hasan Jan was not alone in issuing such a verdict.
Centers of Islamic scholarship, which have the right to issue Islamic legal
The Taliban and al-Qaida have been unable to rally support from the majority of traditional Islamic scholars and jurists who consider their extreme tactics a deviation from true Islam and a result of misinterpretation of religious texts.
Thus, Muslim scholars and jurists have the leverage to
reverse the growing trend of attacking aid workers and development
organizations. They have a largely untapped potential in the field of conflict
resolution and prevention. In fact, this potential is being realized as many
universities in Muslim countries start new disciplines examining peace-building
and conflict resolution in Islam. In
Likewise, there are many Islamic scholars throughout the world actively involved as teachers, researchers and activists asserting and explaining Islam's peaceful approach toward civilians. These scholars can and should continue to speak out, asserting Islam's pro-development posture, deflating the ability of violent militants to use Islam to justify their actions and making Islam part of the solution.
Husnul Amin is a columnist for the Urdu daily, Mashriq, and
a PhD candidate in development studies at the
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