Anyone who is familiar with Islamic teachings knows very well that Islam forbids the killing of innocent people. Allah SWT says in the Qur’an: “And do not slay the life which God has made sacred, except rightfully. This is what He has charged you with that perhaps you will understand”(6: 151). It is indeed a clear violation of Islamic guidance to slay a soul—any soul—because he or she does not believe in Islam. As we know from the seerah, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself led many expeditions and never engaged in any coercive action, let alone threatening with death, those who did not believe in the religion he preached.
Those who are confused about heinous acts of terroristic death and destruction should review commandments that Allah SWT enjoins upon Muslims that make perfectly clear the egregiousness of such actions
Allah SWT says in the Qur’an, “On that account [Cain’s killing of Abel] We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one kills a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind. And if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the all mankind. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land” (5:32).
Islam, of course, prescribes punishments for serious wrongdoing, as does every society and most religions. However, Islam posits certain qualifications regarding offenses and punishment. For one thing, people must be made aware of what constitutes an offense; that is, there must be exhortation to abide by the law and warning about punishment. Also, punishment is not to be applied in a cruel manner. And very importantly, if there is any doubt about whether an individual committed a wrong, punishment is not to be applied. This was the way of the Prophet (pubh) and he has said, “Avoid applying penalty if there are doubts.” Also if there are extenuating circumstances, that is taken into account such as when Omar ibn Al-Khattab suspended the punishment for theft during a famine.
The importance of law and order, however, matches the enjoinment to fairness and mercy in a society so that Muslims are admonished to uphold justice in incontrovertible terms. The Qur’an tells us, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not your own desires lest you swerve, and if you distort or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do” (4:135). The universal profoundness of the wisdom in this verse is proclaimed on a conference room wall at the Harvard Law School Library, along with testimonies to the human quest for justice such as a quote from the Magna Carta, and statements by Thomas Aquinas, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
Reviewing Allah’s Commands
The absolute requisite of justice for a peaceful and prosperous society has been preserved in the Islamic doctrine and legal code and in the minds of ordinary Muslims over the course of fourteen centuries. Hence the killing by ISIS of journalists, aid workers, or common citizens is nothing less than treacherous, entirely contrary to the teachings of Islam, the religion of mercy brought by the messenger of Allah (pbuh) to humanity. Those who are confused about heinous acts of terroristic death and destruction should review commandments that Allah SWT enjoins upon Muslims that make perfectly clear the egregiousness of such actions.
First, as stated above, coercing an individual to accept Islam is forbidden. Allah SWT says: “There is no compulsion in religion. Rectitude has become clear from error …” (Qur’an 2: 256). In addition, the Qur’an declares, “And if your Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Would you then compel people until they are believers?” (10: 99). Islam, indeed, came with a message for all humankind and it’s followers are asked to invite others to join in belief. But the decision is one which is voluntary and must come from the heart.
The Qur’an says, “And say: The truth is from your Lord; so whoever will, let him believe, and whoever will, let him disbelieve” (18: 29).
Second, Muslims are enjoined to be tolerant, moderate, and balanced in their understanding and practice of religion. The Qur’an declares: “And thus We have made you a moderate nation, so that you become witnesses over mankind and so that the Messenger becomes a witness over you” (2: 143).
The third point is that we are warned to avoid pronouncing our belief while not making effort to ensure that our words are backed up by our actions. The Prophet (pbuh) has warned us that “There will definitely be a people after me from my nation who recites the Quran yet it will not even reach beyond their throats. They will pass through the religion as an arrow passes through a target; then they will not return back to it [the target, i.e., the religion]. They are the worst of people, the worst of all creatures.” Al Hasan al Basri warned us that “religion will be lost as a result of the practice of both the excessive and the negligent.”
The Prophet (pbuh) specifically mentions that extremism in faith leads to its destruction. Ibn ‘Abbas reported, “The Prophet told me ‘Come, pick some pebbles for me!’ I picked some pebbles fairly huge. When I gave these pebbles to him, he said, ‘Use pebbles similar to these [in throwing], and beware against exaggerating in your religion, for those before you were destroyed because of their exaggeration in religion.”
Abu Hurayrah relates that the Prophet (pbuh) said “This religion is easy. No one becomes harsh and strict in the religion without it overwhelming him. So fulfill your duties as best you can and rejoice. Rely upon the efforts of the morning and the evening and a little at night and you will reach your goal” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Factors Leading to Extremism
When we examine the factors that can lead to extremism, the first and most obvious one is weak knowledge of the deen. This article has presented basic Islamic precepts that every Muslim should know, including the idea that unjustly killing one individual is akin to killing all humanity; that one has to be just and work for justice broadly even when it impugns one’s own action or position, or that of one’s relative (and by extension, one’s group by affiliation whether religious, political, tribal, or national – honesty and fairness trump loyalty to the group when it does wrong); that Muslims are to be a nation of the middle way, that is, moderate, tolerant, and balanced in all things; that being excessive, harsh, or strict in religion brings ruin; and finally, that there must be no coersion with regard to matters of religion and certainly not in forcing a person to accept Islam.
We must make sure that our youth are advised by parents, teachers, and imams to not be fooled by those with extreme views, whether about religion or worldly circumstances
A second factor that can lead to extremism is the tendency of human beings to pick and choose what suits their lower desires rather than making effort to understand the Qur’an, the sunnah and the seerah as a whole. That is the only way to avoid the costly mistake of approaching any particular verse in isolation, without the context, qualification, and nuance that is brought to light when counterpoised with other related verses and relevant ahadith of the Prophet (pbuh).
A third factor that can lead to extremism is lack of sabr and the impulse to vent rage at the oppression that many Muslims are enduring at the hands of dictators and tyrannical ideologies that threaten their survival, let alone any semblance of peace and prosperity. The story of Abu Jandal is instructive in this regard. A Muslim in Makka, Abu Jandal (RA) was suffering great persecution by the Quraish. They kept him constantly in chains. On hearing about the arrival of the Prophet (pbuh) in Hudaibiyah, he managed to escape and reach the Muslim camp just when the truce was about to be signed. His father, Suhail (till then a non-Muslim), was the Quraishi envoy in the negotiations for the treaty. When he saw his son, he smote him on his face and insisted on taking him back to Makka. The Prophet (pbuh) asserted that since the treaty had not till then been signed, its application in Abu Jandal’s case was premature (a clause of the treaty was that if a Quraishite, wanting to pledge his Islam, went to Muhammad without the permission of his guardian, he was to be delivered back to the Quraish). Suhail, however, would not listen to any argument and was not inclined to leave his son with the Muslims, even at the personal request of the Prophet (pbuh), and would even have renounced the truce if it was not agreed that his son would return with him to Makka. Abu Jandal (RA) complained vehemently about the hardships he endured from the Quraish but, much to the grief of the companions, the Prophet (pbuh) agreed to the demand that he be returned to Makka. The Prophet enjoined patience on Abu Jandal and comforted him, saying, “Do not be distressed, O Abu Jandal, Allah will shortly open a way for you.”
Guiding Our Youth
We must make sure that our youth are advised by parents, teachers, and imams to not be fooled by those with extreme views, whether about religion or worldly circumstances. They must be taught that extremism leads to bigoted and immoderate madness, utterly far from the way of the religion and the Prophet (pubh). Our youth must be guided to learn only from authentic Islamic sources and to be duly cautious about what they find on the internet so as to not get trapped by people whose ideas wreak havoc and bring only misery and devastation.
Rather, they should be taught to live their lives according to the beautiful principles of Islam and to make sincere du’a for themselves, the ummah, and humanity at large for resolution of conflicts and the path to peace being illuminated by the wisdom provided by Allah SWT and His messenger (pbuh). They need to remember that the Prophet (pbuh) warned: “There will come towards the end of time a people who will be young in age, having reckless and deficient intellects. They will speak with the statements of the best of creation, yet they will pass through Islam just as an arrow passes through a target. Their faith will not even reach beyond their throats….” And parents need to take more interest in, and maintain awareness of, our children’s views on issues pertaining to the deen. They must make sure to set a proper example in word and action so that extremist sentiment has no place to grow within the minds and hearts of our children and youth.
Finally, the masajid and Islamic centers have an important part to play in combating extremism. Khateeb must address these issues in unequivocal terms and clarify areas of confusion and remind all members of the congregation of the Islamic teachings that oppose extremist thought or action. We must express conspicuously and decisively that extreme views are un-Islamic and lead to severe consequences.
It is time that we avert and collapse all forms of extremism by exemplifying the true mercy of God, whose religion and message are distinguished by caring, compassion, and overriding humaneness.
Prophet Muhammad is the superlative example and teacher of such nobility, saying, “… Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you (Al-Tirmidhi). And to those who dare think that he intends us to understand that such mercy is to be extended only to those who profess Islam, let them reflect on this: Some companions said to the Prophet during a time of great persecution, “Pray to God against the idolators and curse them.” The Prophet replied, “I have not been sent to lay a curse upon men but to be a blessing to them” (Sahih Muslim).