Mercy and Mutual Understanding in the Face of Extremism and Violence

Mercy and Mutual Understanding in the Face of Extremism and Violence

Schools of thought which lead to evil consequences, like squandering human lives and energies, have become rampant in our societies. Since extremism and violence are the characteristics of these schools, which dress themselves in religious costume, to re-examine them has become a duty of mercy and mutual understanding, particularly during this holy month.

The human soul is the noblest of all souls. This brief and lucid statement of the philosopher of souls and bodies, the Muslim scholar Imam Al-Razi, has become stuck in my mind since the spread of the phenomenon of violence, which has tyrannized our lives. Killing and the violation of human life, to which God has given dignity, have become part of the behavior of some people who call for a religious revival in our Islamic world. These days as we greet the month of Ramadan, which Almighty God made the month of mercy and mutual understanding, the phenomenon of violence returns to become more concrete and present in this month of piety and the Holy Quran. In the Quran revelation descended to our Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and give him peace, during this month, in order to raise up man as a cr eature distinct from all God s creatures. The angels bow their heads to him on the order of the Creator Who breathed some of His spirit into this man. And after that, whoever killed one of the children of humanity wrongfully became like someone who has killed everyone. And it is a matter for sorrow and regret that hundreds of thousands of human beings are killed wrongfully in our Arab and Islamic world. And the most painful thing is that the killers consciously or unconsciously, on their own behalf or on behalf of other criminals against humanity are a group of people from our world itself. There is no religious or worldly logic which justifies the acts they have committed and are committing. What is even more disastrous and bitter is that these savage and insane massacres are carried out under a signboard of Islam, indeed those who commit them allege that they are the most eager for the principles and values of Islam, as the group which is saved" from hell, while others go to hell, all the rest of humanity apart from them will go to hell! They describe what they are doing as jihad for God's sake, in their descriptions of themselves and their actions, and these are actions which cannot be justified by any human logic, apart from offending against any religious logic. This is not a matter of controversy or debate. The simplest degree of human feeling can have no doubt that the excuses of those behind these massacres or those who carry them out are immoral. And let us consider the tens, even hundreds of thousands of victims of extremism in Algeria as an example the forms of the massacres and the types of the victims affirm as a certainty that the religious appeal for a jihad, or even worldly political revenge, have gone to the furthest extent of savagery and irrationality of rabid insanity, in which children, women and old people are slaughtered, their throats cut, girls in the flower of their youth have their honor violated. What religi ous or worldly logic can justify this animal savagery? What logic? And what Islam and what Muslims are these killers?


The Awareness of the Extremists and the Ignorance of the Entangled

If we distance ourselves from these flagrant images of the false logic of extremism in killing and fanaticism in religion, we find savagery and lack of human feeling in other images of other massacres in our Islamic world, massacres that have occurred even in mosques, in addition to the blind explosions whose organizers may be forces of darkness far from our Arab and Islamic world. But the execution of many of these is carried out by Muslim hands of aware extremists or ignorant people who are entangled. The question remains: do not the perpetrators of these explosions not pause a moment before their consciences or their ordinary human feeling, because of so many innocent people falling victims to these massacres? What logic justifies wrongfully killing a human being? And what right can be involved in killing children and old people in Algeria, or ordinary human beings who went to pray to the Cr eator of the universe in a mosque in Yemen or Sudan, in Karachi, Najaf or Baghdad? Or poor people whom the struggle for a livelihood compelled to be in one place or another where these explosions occurred? This can only be described as treachery and murder, to say nothing of the cowardice of the hidden organizers in most instances.


What is certain is that this rabid aggressive behavior has no connection with the truth of religion in any way, indeed it is in fact a distortion and hostile to any religion. Among the proofs of this in the most clear and flagrant example in Algeria, that the numbers of the victims of the massacres that were, and still are, committed by extremists there used to reach their climax specifically in the month of Ramadan, thus violating the sanctity of the most dignified of all beings, namely human beings, to whom God gave dignity in the person of the father of humanity, Adam, peace be upon him. The Almighty ordered the angels, Bow down to Adam, so they bowed down except for Iblis (Lucifer). He refused and was arrogant and was one of the unbelievers. (Holy Quran, 2:34). He was condemned to unbelief because he refused to bow down before the father of the most dignified of the creatures. And We have given dignity to the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea, provided them good things for sustenance, and preferred them over much of what We have created. (Holy Quran, 17:70).


The sanctity of the noblest month is violated the month of Ramadan of which our Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him) said: "When Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up. This saying of the Holy Prophet alone is enough to expose the insanity of those who commit massacres against innocent people in Algeria, indeed it indicates the satanic nature of their crimes, an insanity and a Satanism which apply to all unjustified injury to and killing of any human being whatsoever.


The Satanism to which I refer here is a human Satanism, a degree of infamy, harshness and savagery to which some people descend who terrorize unarmed innocent human beings and commit their crimes treacherously, murderously and indiscriminately. This shows that they have a blind hatred of humanity and the world of all humanity. From where has this spiritual and psychological blindness come which hides behind religious masks? Whether from evil awareness or from unawareness that is also evil, the result is the same.


In this noble month, the month of mercy, friendship and peace, during which the devils are chained up, we must also chain up the human devils, the extremists and blind fanatics. One of the means of chaining them up which culture possesses is to remove the veil from the roots of this spiritual and human blindness which hides behind religion. It is not confined to a deviant group of followers of one specific religion, it is present wherever there is extremism in any religion and any sect. We have in front of us today massacres by extremist Israeli Jews against people praying in the Aqsa Mosque, in Gaza and other Palestinian cities, the destruction of houses over the heads of their inhabitants, old people, women and children, Israeli aircraft firing their rockets against refugee camps and against t he poor in Gaza in their dilapidated dwellings.


From history, Dr. Adil Al-Awwa relates to us in his recently published book Al-Tasamuh min al- Unf ila al-Hiwar (Tolerance from Violence to Dialogue) that the name wars of religion was applied to a series of civil wars which occurred in France from 1562 to 1598 between Protestants and Catholics, which were a cover for a fight for power between the throne and the nobles. In general they were a form of civil strife between two groups under the shadow of one banner, namely Christianity.


Thus deep down the question is not a question of religion. This is made clear by another example which we know well, the so-called wars of the Crusades , which began with an appeal by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I to oppose Islamic expansion . That appeal was followed by the famous sermon of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095, in which he urged Christendom to take up the Cross to conquer Jerusalem and regain the Holy Sepulchre. He promised the combatants that their sins would be forgiven (all of them in this world, and Paradise in the next), protecting with his spiritual authority their families and their properties for the period of their absence, promising them plenty of worldly booty !


The Pope wanted with this inflammatory sermon to direct hungry rebels towards Jerusalem in order to protect the European feudal system, which was on the verge of collapse.


As long as the matter was thus, religious intimations and worldly booty, it was natural that priestly deviation should ally itself with criminal inclination, that the campaign for the First Crusade should be conducted by Walter Sans-Avoir and Peter the Hermit, and that the actions of the campaign should begin with slaughter of the Jews in the Rhineland. Many of these were hanged in Bulgaria by some criminals whose religious enthusiasm was aroused by the appeals of that campaign. Since the essence of the effort was despicably worldly, the campaign described as a crusade did not spare followers of the cross from that criminal march on Jerusalem. When the criminals entered Constantinople the capital of the Eastern Christian Byzantine Empire they desecrated and burnt down churches, although the rule r of Constantinople was an ally of theirs and supplied them with plenty of money and food.


Worldly Hypocrisy with a Religious Mask

This worldly hypocrisy dressed in religious garments exemplified by the Crusades was not the only one in the West. Another Crusade occurred which was against people of the same religion, in what was known as the Inquisition. In 1209 the Council of Avignon, incited by Pope Innocent III, issued a decree calling on priests to order the religious authorities to eradicate heresy . The Pope instructed some Dominican friars to investigate the Albigensian (Cathar) sect s practice of its religious rituals in secret in southern France.


A horrifying massacre occurred in order to destroy this heresy . Then a court of the Inquisition was set up in Languedoc in 1229 to discover the heretics and torture them. Laws were passed to make it permissible to kill them and confiscate their property, and the secular arm of the Church was instructed to punish them by burning them in most cases. The mediation of those in charge of implementing the judgements against those convicted provided occasions for bribery and blackmail. As usual, torture of human beings extended to mutilation of thought. The burning of books went parallel to the mass burning of people, and that blind fire continued to seep through Europe for centuries of intimidation and terror.


This worldly hypocrisy with regard to the so-called wars of religion in the Christian West is the same hypocrisy that has stained the so-called wars of religion in the Islamic East. It is what Muhammad Amara has considered carefully and exposed its lies and evils in his book Al-Islam wa al-Hurub al-Diniyya (Islam and the Wars of Religion). A misreading of these wars is exploited by people with twisted aims to create the delusion that the religion of truth was spread by the sword. People with narrow horizons of knowledge and repulsive fanaticism take this as an authorization for themselves to impose what they believe is correct religion by force and violence, indeed by intimidation in many instances.


It is self-evident that the essence of religion is faith, and faith is believing with one s heart. Outward actions may be a translation of the certainty of faith that has become established in the heart, and may be a manifestation of it. Since faith is a certainty of the heart which establishes itself inside a person whose secrets are known only to the Omniscient, and this faith only comes about through spiritual and intellectual conviction, the way to propagate a religion, the essence of the religion, cannot be compulsion and killing. The spontaneity of the Holy Quran was clear and simple, and a miracle at the same time, when Almighty God laid down for his noble messenger the methods to propagate the faith: Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good spiritual counsel, and debate with them in the way that is best (Holy Quran, 16:125). In this manner the Holy Quran illuminated ways of sound propagation of the faith, in which there is no compulsion and no violence, in the clearest possible way for everyone with a sound mind and a sensible soul. The Almighty says, There is no compulsion in religion. Good sense is clearly distinguished from falsehood. So whoever does not believe in idolatry and believes in God has grasped the most reliable handhold with no break in it. God is all-hearing and omniscient. (Holy Quran, 2:256). The matter is also unquestionably clear in Almighty God s words, And had your Lord wished, all those on Earth would have believed. So would you compel people to be believers? (Holy Quran, 10:99). After this, the Holy Quran guides the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) to the way to propagate the faith with miraculous conciseness: So remind, you are only a reminder. You are not a controller over them. (Holy Quran, 88:21-22). About this extremely concise verse with a profound meaning, the Imam Sheik h Muhammad Abduh said, It defines the matter for which God sent His Prophet, blessing and peace be upon him: it was to remind people of what they had forgotten regarding the subject of their Lord. It was not within the Prophet s authority to create belief in them, nor was he supposed to be a guardian over their hearts, or a controller, that is, he was not in absolute authority over them. Coercion does not bring about faith, and compulsion has no effect in religion.


If this is what the Lord of the worlds laid down for his great Prophet Muhammad (bpuh), from where do those who raise the banners of extremism and excess get their authorization for violence, coercion, intimidation and killing, justifying them to themselves? It is not merely intellectual perversion, or a misreading? Indeed it is a kind of arrogance, a disgusting conceit, a depraved transgression against our tolerant religion itself. Do some of the innocent people who are going along in the footsteps of this extremism not see that they are becoming involved in conceit and arrogance that are despicable in both religious and worldly terms?


After compulsion and violence in order to propagate the faith were clearly forbidden in the Holy Quran, the heretics adopt another creed to justify their behavior and ascribe a religious nature to it. They cling to what have been called "wars of religion" in the course of Islamic history. These wars of religion are something whose page must be reopened in a courageous and sincere historical and Islamic legal review of the truth and the facts, and a new, rational reading of our written history, because these wars of religion are one of the dangerous traps with which they catch young Muslims and enlist them, in order to attain their aims which do not serve Islam or the Muslims. On the contrary, with their results they benefit the enemies of this nation and the enemies of this religion. This raises the probability of malignant international penetration and steering of the extremist networks with or without their knowledge in addition to the violations of fanatical thinking and its blind, dark gaps for which there is no authority nor logic except in the souls of those who adhere to it. This makes it easy for both penetration and violation.


Extremism Has Made the Task of our Nation's Enemies Easier

There must be a courageous review, because the harvest is bitter. All that extremism has added to our Arab and Islamic world is to make the task of this nation's enemies easier and make their pretexts palatable, apart from terrifying innocent people. In the history of the Khawarij and their wars against the authority of the Islamic state we have warnings and lessons. Those wars exhausted Islam and its state, tore its unity apart and opened the doors wide to foreign intervention in the pivotal issues and affairs of the state.


The strange thing about the present situation of the Islamic community is that reviewing has today become more difficult and more embarrassing than it was many decades ago, as if we were going backwards with our eyes blindfolded. The review required in our days has been tackled by many people in the past. Nobody accused them of being unbelievers, nor did one of the muftis ignorant of the purposes of religion and Islamic law, who are hiding in caves here and there, declare it legitimate to spill their blood.


Such a courageous review was carried out by the Imam of the enlightened, Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, a century ago. Since reviewing has become really difficult in an atmosphere charged with the dust of extremism, fanaticism, lying in wait to trap people, and the twisting of common logic in our Arab and Islamic nation, I shall confine myself here to selecting a very small part from Sheikh Muhammad Abduh's review of the so-called wars of religion in Islam. Whoever wishes to check and look for more can refer to the complete works of this enlightened Islamic thinker and propagator of the faith.


Regarding the truth about wars of religion, he stated: "With some denominations, people were coerced into entering their religion. This question is more closely linked to politics than to religion, because faith, which is the origin and essence of religion, is in effect submission of the soul, and it is impossible for this submission to be by coercion and compulsion, it can only be by evidence and proof. Hence the verse, "there is no compulsion in religion" is one of the major principles of the religion of Islam, and one of the great cornerstones of its policy. It does not allow anyone to be converted to it compulsorily, nor does it allow anyone to force one of his relatives to abandon it.


"The Islamic conquests after that were necessitated by the nature of the sovereign authority, he said, and they were not all in conformity with the principles of the religion. It is part of the nature of the universe that the strong extend their influence over their weak neighbors. No nation was ever known to be more merciful towards the weak in its conquests than the Arab nation, and Frankish scholars have testified to that. In the history of the Muslims, nothing was ever heard of fighting between the Salafiya and the Ash aris in spite of the great difference between them, or between these two groups of Sunnis and the Mu tazila, in spite of the strong disagreement between the beliefs of Mu tazilism and those of the Salafi and Ash ari Sunnis. Nor has it ev er been heard that a faction was formed for Islamic philosophers and that a war occurred between it and another faction. Yes, wars have been heard of, known as the wars of the Khawarij, and wars also occurred because of the Qaramita. These wars were not caused by differences in belief, but were ignited by political opinions on the way to rule the nation. These did not fight against the Caliphs in order to uphold a belief, but in order to change the form of the government. With regard to the wars that occurred between the Umayyads and the Hashimites, these were wars over the succession, more like politics, indeed they were the origin of politics! Yes, wars occurred in recent times which appeared to be for the sake of a creed, but it is easy for a researcher to know from a close look that they were political wars. Muslims drew their swords in self-defense, and to stop aggression against them. Then conquest after that was a matter of sovereignty, and the only thing Muslims had to do wi th others was that they were neighbors of theirs, and proximity was the way they learnt about Islam. The need for soundness of mind and action led them to convert to it.


Against Fanaticism

Thus we can deduce with clarity those distorted features in common between the so-called wars of religion in the Christian West from the time of the Inquisition and the Crusades, and their echoes which have not ceased among some people, and the so-called wars of religion in the Islamic East, whose echoes are continuing to this day even if in lesser forms.


All of these wars were not religious in essence. Rather they were worldly, fabricated by the desires of people who love to dominate, and led by various concealed heads who were looking for booty and spoils, even if those of the abstract kind like the imposition of their own wills on others. Nor can one rule out the suspicion of cunning intrigues, specifically Zionist ones, to stir up discord in Arab and Muslim countries and preoccupy them with internal fighting and the ruin of chaos and destruction. This provides excuses, for those who are looking for excuses, to carry out their plans to dissipate the Arab nation s energies.


Fanaticism is the first road which leads to this catastrophic situation of extremist chaos, and the destruction which is one of the consequences of this chaos. Fanaticism is a repulsive arrogance, and an allegation that one possesses the whole truth. From there, there is no way to impose what is alleged is the truth except by violence. The first violence is to accuse someone of being an unbeliever, in order to remove the accused from the protection of the community, and then outlaw him. The Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali said of the danger of this accusation of unbelief that it comes from narrow-minded and fanatical people who hasten to attach the stigma of unbelief to others who disagree with them. He added: Accusing people of unbelief is a judgement that involves legitimizing the seizure of property and the shedding of blood, and condemning to eternity in hell. The approach to it is like the ap proach to other judgements in Islamic law. Sometimes it is arrived at with certainty, sometimes with a prevailing opinion, and sometimes there is uncertainty about it. Whenever there is uncertainty, the best thing is to stop the accusation of unbelief. The initiative of accusing of unbelief is only prevalent in characters who are largely ignorant.


Thus the accusation of unbelief comes from the ignorant, and it is undoubtedly destructive. Together with fanaticism and the so-called wars of religion, it is something that must be examined critically, its suspicious arguments must be warded off and its ferocity, which can lead to merciless consequences, must be curbed. Not to accuse people of unbelief is merciful, and mercy is a great energy with which the Lord of the worlds encompasses everything and all people, every human soul. Thus we see that this great Islamic thinker Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali says, Mercy includes many previous nations, indeed mercy includes most of the Byzantine Christians and the Turks in this age, if God wills.


How appropriate it is for us today to think truly of mercy, between ourselves and with others, in this month during which God revealed the Holy Quran to His Prophet.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

Print Article