Don't blame Islam for extremists' actions
Condemning religion for sins of
a few would be like faulting Christianity for Hitler
Mobashar Jawed (M.J.) Akbar
The 21st century has given us
almost everything we could dream of, but it forgot to give us peace. Peace is
impossible without understanding, and understanding needs dialogue. Dialogue,
in turn, requires equality.
Nations might be powerful or
weak; societies might claim a heritage in the oldest civilizations or emerge
from obscurity, but modern military technology has ensured that assault is no
longer the exclusive preserve of the mighty. The mosquito can disorient the
elephant; and if there is to be peace in our modern jungle, then every voice
must be heard.
A monologue tends to disguise
its dominance in false morality. The world will not find equilibrium as long as
it revolves on an Axis of Evil, or even an Axis of Good, for both are partisan
phrases. The future must revolve around an Axis of Equals in the comity of
Mass media take a superpower's
monologue into millions of homes. We think of mass media as a fractured range:
oratory, print, radio, television, Internet. There is one common fact to this
range -- the word. The medium may be diverse, but manipulation of the message is
through the massage of words, and the disorientation between text and context.
That is the key to mind-management.
Let me offer specific examples,
if only because they are so widely prevalent in our contemporary international
discourse. In the approach to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, U.S. President
George W. Bush used a term that is still echoing through debate --
"Islamofascism." How old is Islam? Over 1,400 years old. How old is
fascism? It entered the political dictionary only with Mussolini in 1920. So
whatever else fascism might be, it cannot be Islamic.
It is perfectly legitimate to
suggest that some Muslim rulers may be fascists. But why do we blame Islam for
the sin of a few Muslims?
Do I blame Christianity for
Hitler or the
Every day, somewhere in the
think-tank world, there is a seminar on "Islam and the West." Think
about the phrase, used so lavishly across continents and cultures. It is an
absurdity. Islam is a faith, the West is geography. How do you compare a faith
We can discuss Islam and
Christianity, and I could mention that the Virgin Mary is mentioned far more
often in the Holy Qur'an than in the Holy Bible. And add that her virginity has
been given a far more credible explanation in the Muslim holy book. I could
note that Jesus is called "Ruh-Allah" in the Qur'an, almost
equivalent to the essence of Allah, the highest form of praise accorded to a
Prophet of Islam (which Jesus is).
But how do you discuss Islam
and the West unless there is a subtext in which the West is synonymous with all
that is modern, resplendent, scientific, rational, reasonable, educated, and
Islam is equally implicitly synonymous with all that is backward, barbarous,
medieval, irrational -- and you half-expect me, a proud Muslim, to leap out
from the page waving a menacing scimitar.
On the other side of the
linguistic misunderstanding, perhaps the most counter-productive shift has
taken place in the misappropriation of the term jihad by those who believe in
terrorism. Their motive is obvious; they want to project their violence as the
"just war," which is what jihad is.
The Qur'an makes a very clear
distinction between legitimate war, a jihad, and terrorism, which is called
"fasad." A fasadi is one who "spreads mischief through the
land." It appears in Verse 32 of Surah 5, in the context of the first
murder of an innocent, when Cain killed Abel. The verse is a powerful
indictment of anyone who kills innocents. An innocent's death kills something
in the whole community, and saving an innocent from a fasadi is akin to saving
The worst mischief is, in the
words of the great scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali, "treason against the state,
combined with treason against Allah, as shown by overt crimes." For this,
"four alternative punishments are mentioned, any one of which is to be
applied according to circumstances, viz., execution, crucifixion, maiming or
The Qur'an insists that while
there are differences between faiths, it is up to Allah, and not man, to be the
judge. For this life, there is an unambiguous principle: "La iqra fi al
deen (Let there be no compulsion in religion: 2:256)" and "Lakum
deen-e kum wal ya deen (Your religion for you and my religion for me)."
Justice and equality are the
heart and soul of Islam, and the Holy Book knows what justice would be for a
M.J. Akbar is a journalist and
author. He established The Telegraph, Covert and The Asian Age, the first
Indian newspaper with an international edition
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