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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Qur'anic Perspective on Terrorism (El-Sayed M. Amin)

Terrorist attacks that have taken place in the past few years, including 9/11, 7/7, and the latest attacks in Glasgow, have been always linked with Muslim suspects, which makes some people think that Islam is a religion that supports terrorism or even calls for it.

There is a strong controversy about the relation between Islam and terrorism; some people say that terrorism has its roots in the Qur'an while others say that the Qur'an has nothing to do with terrorism. With this, the truth is lost between both exclusivists and apologists.
The root word "r h b" and its linguistic derivatives, which are the Arabic equivalents denoting a very literal translation to the words "terrorize" and "terrorism," have been mentioned seven times in the Qur'an.

Out of these seven occurrences, there is only one occurrence denoting the use of force.
God says in the Qur'an what means,
{Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies and others besides whom you may not know, but whom Allah does know. Whatever you shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly.}(Al-Anfal 8:60)

Checking many of the classical and modern books of Qur'anic commentaries, you can easily find that none of the other six occurrences has any relation to the use of force or terrorizing innocents.

To the contrary, all of them refer to fearing God, supplicating to Him humbly while hoping His reward and fearing His punishment. The cited verse of Surat Al-Anfal calls upon Muslims to prepare different forms of deterrence in anticipation for those with whom they are at enmity, in case the enemy attacks all of a sudden.

The verse is cited in the context of Surat Al-Anfal, which began with reference to the first battle fought between Muslims and the polytheists of Makkah (i.e. the Battle of Badr) as if God is telling Muslims at that time to be ready for facing their enemies by preparing all the war logistics in case they are forced to confront the enemy.

According to commentators like late Sheikh Ash-Sha`rawi, the "preparation of force" referred to in the above verse doesn't mean that Muslims should adopt the wait-and-see approach to see how events will develop. Rather, they should be ready to face their enemies in case they are attacked.

Thus, the verse refers to the fact that Muslims' deterring force should be present both in war and peace times alike. In addition, being equipped with power and necessary war logistics doesn't necessarily mean using power aimlessly and haphazardly to terrorize the innocents.
This may explain why Prophet Muhammad advised his Companions on the night of the Battle of Badr saying, "Don't ever wish to meet the enemy, but if you are forced to do that, then be patient" (Al-Bukhari).

That saying of Prophet Muhammad indicates that facing the enemy should never be an aim in itself, but if Muslims are put in a situation where they have to fight those who transgress against them, they should endure with patience.

Therefore, the above verse reveals the following facts:

1. Muslims are faithful to their agreements at war times and peace times. This can be easily understood if we study some verses before and after this verse.

2. Islam orders Muslims to equip themselves with the necessary power to face their enemies in case they attack them.

3. There is a big difference between power preparation, which denotes self-equipment for possible future attacks, and the real application of power in a purely civil context, as power in this case will turn into uncivilized behavior causing harm for others, which is totally forbidden in Islam.

4. The verse urges Muslims to materially and psychologically demonstrate that they are not a weak force in order for their enemies to think twice before attacking them.

5. The verse is a call for what may be termed as "armed peace." Thus, it is an indirect call for peace because when Muslims are powerful, their enemies will decline from attacking them.

6. "Power" referred to in the above verse is a generic term denoting all kinds of materialistic, psychological, technological, etc., powers.

7. The verse aims at terrorizing the enemy and it doesn't mean terrorizing innocents in any way.

So it is clear that the quoted Qur'anic verse prohibits attacking civilians as they are not a targeted enemy. Even at war times, Islam prohibits fighting those who do not fight, let alone the non-combating women, children, old-aged, handicapped, and rabbis and saints in their places of worship.

There are two interchangeably used correlations in today's media: Muslim terrorists or Islamic terrorists, which indicates ignorance of the true teachings of Islam.
Islam is not the religion of terrorism. Rather, it is the religion of positive pacifism in the full sense of the word. It is a universal call for peace. It abhors and prohibits attacking others unjustifiably out of hate and revenge whether this is done by a Muslim or a non-Muslim.

God says in the Qur'an what means,
{And do not make mischief in the earth after its reformation, and call on Him fearing and hoping; surely the mercy of Allah is nigh to those who do good (to others).}(Al-A`raf 7:56)

Terrorism: Punishable Crime
The first community to expose and condemn terrorist attacks should be the Muslim community. This is simply because disseminating mischief in the land through terrorist acts is a strongly punishable crime in Islam.

God has referred to the punishment of those who commit these horrible crimes saying,
{The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.}(Al-Ma'idah 5:33)

This is the punishment prescribed by Islam for those who destabilize the society and deny people their right to tranquillity. Right before this verse is another one that considers the killing of a single human being, regardless of race, faith, or geographical location as an annihilation to all members of the human family.
{Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if one has killed all humankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if one has saved the life of all humankind.}(Al-Ma'idah 5:32)

Terrorism has become an international phenomenon and people of all faiths have to join hands to remove its causes and punish its perpetrators.

El-Sayed Amin is currently a PhD candidate in Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is also a lecturer at the Islamic Studies Department in English at Al-AzharUniversity. Amin formerly worked as a Shari`ah editor at where he used to write articles on Islam and its relation to other religions. He can be reached at:

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