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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

Ottawa Citizen

Friday, August 29, 2008 

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 nations.

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 Vatican for Mussolini? Jesus never advocated genocide; he taught us to turn the other cheek. Jesus gave unto Caesar what was due to Caesar, and to God what was due to God: Jesus was a radical Sufi. Hitler and Mussolini were at best denominational Christians, not believers in Jesus.

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 with geography?

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 whole.

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 exile."

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 fasadi.

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

 The Edmonton Journal 2008


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