“Unfortunately the general public in the industrialised world sometimes accepts the facile and totally erroneous image that the Ummah is a monolithic block of believers, whose national disputes are part of their religion… I feel it particularly important that the breadth and basic tolerance of our faith should be appreciated in areas where Muslims are minorities. If it is not, there is a great risk that pressure groups sheltering behind the façade of the faith, but whose real aims are perhaps more political, social or economic will be wrongly taken as expressing its nature.”
The previous article examined how ignorance leads to the spread of misunderstanding and how this gap can be filled through education and knowledge. This article explores the common and highly erroneous misperception that violence is prescribed by the faith of Islam.
How should we understand references to violence in the Holy Qur’an?
There are those who see violence as part of the faith of Islam, citing verses of the Holy Qur’an that appear to encourage violence against unbelievers without reference to their historical context. Verses of the Qur’an were revealed in response to changing events and circumstances in the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) over the course of 23 years.
Persecution and violence were often directed towards the Prophet and his followers by the Meccans, ultimately forcing the Muslims to flee Mecca and migrate to Medina. Certain verses that allow for violence were revealed specifically in response to the persecution of the Muslim community by the Meccans of that time, and only as a means of self-defense. Therefore, such verses were time and context specific and not making a statement of universal relevance. Instead, the Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes solving conflicts through the higher principles of brokering peace agreements, forgiveness and mercy.
How can we address the misunderstanding of Islam as a religion of violence?
In addressing the misunderstanding of Islam as a religion of violence, one can refer to the ethical principles and values of the sanctity of life, peace, and pluralism that resonate throughout the Qur’an. This pluralistic attitude towards humanity appears on the Diamond Jubilee emblem in Surat al-Hujurat, Ayah 13, which says:
“O humankind! Indeed We created you male and female and We made you (diverse) peoples and tribes so that you may come to know one another. Indeed the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the most pious. Indeed Allah is All-knowing and All-Aware.”
What should be the responsibility of journalists and the media in reporting on events related to the Muslim world?
In a speech at the Commonwealth Press Union Conference in Cape Town, South Africa in 1996, Mawlana Hazar Imam elaborated on the need for the media to undertake competent reporting and provide proper context to events being reported, saying:
“Without a proper sense of context, it is little wonder that those exceptional instances of Muslims theocratising Islamic politics are mistaken for the norm, and that the humanistic temper of Islamic ethics is overlooked. Among some observers, there is even a tendency to see political violence as a function of the faith itself — when in fact nothing could be further from the truth…
I am not suggesting that every journalist must become an expert on Islam. But it would help greatly if more journalists at least were aware of when, and where they need to turn to find out more. It should not be forgotten that journalists also have a broader educational role — a responsibility to provide readers and viewers with a context in which to understand individual events properly.”
What is Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance on the use of violence in Islam?
In his tireless work to build more peaceful and pluralistic societies, Mawlana Hazar Imam has repeatedly condemned the use of violence. He publicly referred to the 9/11 attacks in the United States as “repugnant to the very spirit of Islam.” Shortly after the end of the civil war in Tajikistan, Mawlana Hazar Imam addressed the topics of peace and violence in his first visit in 1995:
“…as I look at the Ummah, I conclude that every, and all those peoples, if they wish to achieve a better life for themselves in the generations ahead, must absolutely achieve peace within their societies, and because we are Muslim, conflict must be replaced by a peace which is predicated on the ethics of our faith. We must not kill to resolve our differences, whatever they may be. They must be resolved, as I have said, within the ethic of our faith, through dialogue, through compassion, through tolerance, through generosity, through forgiveness and through kindness. These are the pillars on which to build a strong society in modern times - not through weapons.”
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, Opening of the Ismaili Centre, Burnaby, 1985
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, Commencement Ceremony at Brown University, 1996
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, Commonwealth Press Union Conference, 1996
- Video: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s interview with Deutsche Welle, 2004
- Article: Ali S. Asani, “On Pluralism, Intolerance, and the Qur’an,” 2002
- Book chapter: Karim H. Karim, “Islamic Peril: Violence and the Media,” 2003
- Article: Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam,” 2001
- Article: Karen Armstrong, “The Myth of Religious Violence,” 2014
- Article: Rabbi Alan Lurie, “Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?,” 2012
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