In Islam, the use of force is allowed only in special situations, particularly when the Muslim community is threatened by hostile forces. This is indeed natural and logical for any nation. Then again, the use of force in a campaign of jihad is determined by the leader of the Muslim community in a very ordered and ethical way. Islam considers all life forms as sacred, but particularly emphasizes the sanctity of human life:
take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.(Quran 6:151)
if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.(Quran 5:32)
Such is the value of a single human life, that Allah equates the taking of even one human life unjustly with killing all of humanity. It is important to understand that in Islam, war is only permitted in specific and dire circumstances. It is despised and only permitted as a last resort when all other attempts at peace have been made. It keeps warfare at a level of mercy and respect for the enemy such as none other has been able to reach. The Prophet, sometimes had to fight for the mere survival of his mission, but once security was ensured, he immediately reverted to peace and diplomacy.
Even in a state of war, Islam enjoins that armies deal with the enemy justly in the battlefield. Islam has drawn a clear line of distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants of an enemy country. The Prophet told his armies:
Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman.
And he said:
Do not kill the monks in monasteries.
Upon seeing the corpse of a woman on a battlefield, Prophet Muhammad angrily asked his companions why she had been killed, and he strongly condemned the atrocious act. For those enemies active in combat and those taken as prisoners of war, the list of rights is lengthy. There should be no torture; no killing of the wounded or defenseless, no mutilation of enemy bodies and return of corpses to the enemy must be honored. In light of the aforementioned, it becomes crystal clear that Islam does not permit aggression, violence, injustice, or oppression. At the same time, it calls for morality, justice, tolerance, and peace.
Far from being a militant dogma, Islam is a way of life that transcends race and ethnicity. The Quran repeatedly reminds us of our common origin:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.
It is the universality of its teachings that makes Islam the fastest growing religion in the world. In a world full of conflicts and deep schisms between human beings, a world that is currently plagued with terrorism, perpetrated by individuals and by states, Islam is a beacon of light that offers hope for the future.
It is very unfortunate that nowadays, Islam has become synonymous with “terrorism”. Far from promoting terrorism, Islam is a religion of peace whose fundamentals teach its followers to maintain and promote peace and justice throughout the world. Islam does not condone “terrorism” as defined and understood nowadays: plane hijackings, hostage taking and the torturing and killing of innocents in order to achieve political or even religious goals. This is not how Islam teaches Muslims to solve their problems, achieve their goals, or to spread their religion.
The question that should be posed instead is: Do the teachings of Islam encourage terrorism? Certainly not – Islam totally prohibits all terrorist acts. It should be remembered that all religions have misguided followers. To be evenhanded and just, one must consider the teachings of the religion, as they are the yardstick by which the actions of its adherents can be assessed as being right or wrong.
It is completely unfair to judge Islam by the wrongdoings of some misguided or ignorant Muslims, or by the deteriorating condition of Muslims and the blatant corruption that pervades the Muslim world. In fact, what Islam preaches is one thing and what so many Muslims nowadays practice is something completely different. The only way we can do justice to Islam is to find out about its noble teachings, which are clearly set out in the Quran and prophetic traditions. Former pop singer Cat Stevens, now known as Yousef Islam, observed:
It is wrong to judge Islam in the light of the behavior of some deviant Muslims who are always shown on the media. It is like judging a car to be bad if the driver is drunk and he crashes it into a wall.
Islam is a religion of peace, which is acquired by submitting one’s will to the will of the supreme Creator, God. Islam promotes peace but at the same time, it exhorts its followers to fight oppression. The fight against oppression may, at times, require the use of force, and sometimes force has to be used to maintain peace.
Certainly, Islamic law allows war under particular circumstances. Any religion or civilization that does not, would never survive. But Islam never condones attacks against innocent people, women or children. Islam also clearly forbids “taking the law into one’s own hands”, which means that individual Muslims cannot go around deciding who they want to kill or punish. Trial and punishment must only be carried out by a lawful authority and a qualified judge.