Knop-Narbutis: In defense of the Islamic culture today

Amy Knop-Narbutis

To some, the concept of Islam is considered synonymous with terrorism. The world media of today exposes us to many confusing, and often conflicting, messages regarding the nature of Islamic religion and its ties to terrorism. Those who observe current world politics are often quick to equate Islam with the brutal crimes committed by its extremist fanatics. But Islam is not a religion of radical fundamentalists – the Muslims who commit crimes against humanity, supposedly in the name of Islam, are not accurate representations of their religion.

Unfortunately, many of the news stories we hear about Muslims involve a violent act perpetrated by one of these extremist individuals, leading us to assume that all, or even a majority, of Muslims condone such violence. We cannot judge the majority of Muslims by the actions of a minority.

Under such faulty logic, we could use cases of child abuse committed by priests to assume that Christianity promotes molestation. Because we live in a country familiar with Christian morality, we realize that making such a generalization is ridiculous.

Yet many Americans possess only tenuous understandings of the religion of Islam, and for this reason, are hesitant to defend it.

Before exploring how traditional Islam addresses the issues of violence, terrorism and war, several other prevalent misunderstandings should be addressed. First, we should recognize that only 18 percent of the world’s Muslims live in the Arab world. Most of the rest are spread throughout Indonesia, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Significant minorities are also present in areas not commonly associated with Islam, such as Europe, Russia, China, and the Americas.

A second common misconception is that Islam supports the oppression of women. But contrary to this assumption are the words of the Prophet Muhammad: “The most perfect in faith, amongst believers, is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.”

According to the Quran, men and women are equal in the eyes of God, and women are not accused of committing original sin. Both genders are expected to dress modestly, and the strict dress codes for women that we see today are often results of regional sexism, not religious custom.

Treating women poorly goes against true Islamic teaching and is often a result of a perversion of the religion.

Now, in order to objectively evaluate traditional Islamic views on violence, terrorism, and war, we should examine what beliefs are explicitly espoused in the Quran (the word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel).

By looking directly at the words of the Quran, we can eliminate many radical interpretations of the religion which may mislead us. One such concept is jihad, commonly interpreted as “holy war.” Jihad is not found anywhere in the Quran. When jihad is used (in other Islamic contexts) it traditionally means “struggle.” It represents a struggle against personal evils, for societal wellness, and in an act of physical self-defense. Like Christianity, Islam allows war only for the purposes of self-defense and in defense of religion. Violence is to be used as a last resort, under rigorous conditions laid out to prevent needless harm. The Quran explicitly explains, “If they seek peace, then you seek peace” (8:61).

Another primary message of the Quran is to respect the sacredness of all life, regardless of race, religion or gender. To address the worldly divisions which lead to bloodshed, the Quran states, “O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you may come to know one another” (49:13). In Islam, taking a life which Allah has given to a human is a great sin, whether it is your own life or another’s.

Suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism are then clearly defined as sin. But many people question whether, despite the obvious violation of respect for human life, terrorism is sanctioned by Islam as a measure of self-defense. The Quran explains, in addressing the limits of self-defense, that one should “not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors” (2:190). Thus all extreme actions, such as hostage taking, hijacking, and planting bombs are forbidden.

Even when wars are sanctioned in self-defense, there are specific laws which prevent excessive brutality. Torture, mutilation, and fighting after cease-fires are prohibited, and there are strict rules against harming women, children, civilians, and even livestock and crops.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has a petition entitled “Not in the name of Islam,” which seeks to end the above misconceptions. It reads: “We, the undersigned Muslims, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”

So the next time you hear of a bombing committed “in the name of Islam,” recognize the irony of attributing such radical violence to a religion that actually seeks to protect values of peace, equality, and respect for human life.