The set of false beliefs that Islam is inherently violent, that Muhammad spread Islam by the sword and Muslims are intolerant of other faiths hurts Muslims deeply. This misconception is the root of hatred directed at Islam and Muslims, and it endangers the future of inter-faith relations in Ames and throughout the world. The Quran states: "If anyone slays a human being - unless it be in punishment for murder or for spreading corruption on earth - it shall be as though he had slain all mankind: whereas if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind." (Quran 5:32)
Muslims are deeply pained, therefore, when the leaders of government, the media and faith traditions quote the Quran out of context and gratuitously use the despicable actions of socio-paths who "spread corruption" falsely under the banner of Islam in order to accuse Islam of being inherently violent, evil and inhumane.
So, first, readers should know that as Protestants disapprove of the KKK's violent practices and Catholics disapprove of the terrorist attacks that some anti-abortion Catholics carry out and both Christian groups abhor the terrorism of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, Muslims detest terrorists for their horrible actions and for their claim to act in accord with Islamic teachings.
The perpetrators of violent acts against innocent men, women and children and their property transgress against God and contradict everything Muslims, who aspire to represent Islam with integrity, hold close to our heart.
Taqwa, the Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad
A basic concept of Islam, one which is grossly misrepresented in the West, is that of Jihad. To put this concept in its proper context, it should be emphasized that Muslims embrace the Quran as a divine revelation that guides and reminds them to be in a state of constant vigilance of Allah, taqwa, so that every thing they do pleases God. "This Divine book - let there be no doubt about it - is meant to be a guidance for all the God-conscious." (Quran 2:2)
"A Muslim with integrity is aware of His constant Presence, - she/he guards himself against evil, tries to fulfill his/her duty, and fears wrong-doing and loves God.
O you who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God; and let every human being look to what he sends ahead for the morrow!
And once again: Remain conscious of God for God is fully aware of all that you do; and be not like those who are oblivious of God, and whom He therefore causes to be oblivious of what is good for their own selves: for it is they who are truly depraved!" (Quran 59:18-19.)
To be God-conscious means that we know God is always present and that in the hereafter we will have to answer for our choices when we transgress. This is the guiding principle for Jihad, which translates literally to struggle. In defining Jihad, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that the greater struggle, jihad, people face is the struggle to rise above desires, wants, emotions (especially anger), attachments and actions that separate them from God-consciousness.
What is reported falsely in the media as the Jihad, or holy war, is properly defined by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the lesser jihad. As defined by the Quran, the lesser jihad is fighting in self-defense, without anger, against those who have persecuted and oppressed you, taken your properties and attempted to deprive you the freedom to worship as God has instructed you. Thus, contrary to media reports, there is no holy war in Islam. Muslims are only permitted to defend themselves against oppressors and transgressors, and only under tight stipulations.
"And fight in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression or verily, God does not love aggressors" (Quran 2:190)
"Hence fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone; but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who willfully do wrong." (Quran 2:193)
"As for those of the unbelievers as do not fight against you on account of your faith and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity, for verily God loves those who act equitably but do not turn to friendship towards those who fight against you because of your faith." (Quran 60:9-10.)
Muhammad's (pbuh) Sword
The myth that prophet Muhammad (pbuh) spread Islam by the sword is the foundation of Islamophobia. Scholars such as Sir Thomas Arnold of the 19th century, the esteemed University of Chicago scholar Marshall G. S. Hodgson of the 20th century and Karen Armstrong of the 21st century have found no evidence, and they dispute that Muhammad (pbuh) spread Islam by the sword. About half of the 1.3 billion Muslims live in regions and countries where no Muslim soldier has ever set foot.
"There shall be no compulsion, coercion in matters of faith, religion." (Qur'an 2:256)
"Verily, those who have attained to faith in this divine writ as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians and the Sabians - all who Believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds - shall have their reward with their Sustainer: and no fear need they have and neither shall they grieve." (Quran 2:62)
People choose Islam because of its central principles and clear meaning, its practices and beliefs that inspire adherents to strive for virtue and nearness to God. They have not been coerced or threatened.
History affirms the peaceful coexistence of Muslims living in harmony with Christians and Jews under Muslim rule in Jerusalem and areas now known as Andalusia Spain, Morocco, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Serbia, Romania and Hungary. With comity towards others, Muslims with integrity do not force Islam on others.
While the Quran instructs Muslims not to take non-Muslims as protectors, that instruction was revealed during times of battles against the Meccans who persecuted Muslims and their secret allies who lived in Medinah and betrayed their treaties. When not defending themselves, Muslims refer to non-Muslims among them as Dhimmis, which means people to whom Muslims have given a covenant to protect. Dhimmi male adults who are of arms bearing age usually pay a tax in lieu of serving in the armies, an amount that is considerably less than the alms Muslims are required to pay.
As the Jewish and Israeli author and peace activist Uri Avnery states, "Islam reserved a special place for Jews and Christians ... every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected Jews for 50 generations while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times 'by the sword' to get them to abandon their faith."