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Why Islam is not Compatible with terrorism?

Every day in the united states, news broadcasts and articles inform Americans that islam, particularly the interpretation commonly referred to as Wahhabism, is synonymous with terrorism, violence and hatred. More than airplanes were hijacked on 9/11. The very images of Islam and Muslims, particularly Saudis, were twisted and distorted to support popular beliefs that Islam as it is interpreted and practised in Saudi Arabia is the source of global terrorism and anti-Americanism. Many Americans have concluded not only that America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia must end, but also that Islam and Muslims must be regarded with suspicion, that the civil liberties of American Muslims and Muslims living in America ought to be curtailed, and that foreign Muslims should be denied student visas to come to the United States for studies in order to prevent further acts of terrorism from occurring on American soil. Within such an environment, what prospects exist for redressing US-Saudi relations and, most importantly; the images of Islam, Wahhabism, and Muslims?
When dealing with such monumental issues as the future of US-Saudi relations and the building of bridges of understanding between countries and faiths, it is imperative that historical accuracy; interpretations based on data, rather than emotion, and critical thinking take centre stage. In order for dialogue to be effective, we must begin by identifying the core questions surrounding the asserted connection between Islam and terrorism. From an American perspective, these core questions are:
1. What is Wahhabism?
2. How does Wahhabism define jihad?
3- What connection exists between jihad and terrorism and between Wahhabism and terrorism?
 4. Is Islam inherently a terrorist religion?
Only once these questions have been answered on the basis of data and accurate information can the future of US-Saudi relations be examined.
Although the Western media and some academics use the label Wahhabi for any movement led or followed by Muslims that endorses or uses violence and terrorism as tactics, Wahhabism actually refers to the I8thCE century revival and reformist movement founded by the jurist and scholar Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Najd, Saudi Arabia. The Sheikh’s movement was based on renewed dedication to tawhid (monotheism) in which Allah and Allah alone is to be worshipped, prayed to and petitioned. The Sheikh wrote a treatise, Kitab al-Tawhid (The Book of Monotheism), to explain to his followers how they could live out their belief in tawhid in their daily lives and interactions with other people. He did not call for unending global jihad against people who did not agree with him. Rather, his prescribed method of interaction with other people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, was to engage in dialogue and discussion. He emphasized education as a duty for all Muslims, both women and men, because he believed that every Muslim needed to study the Holy Quran and the Sunnah (prophet’s traditions and practice) not only for their own personal knowledge and journey in faith, but also to be able to when religious leaders, scholars and jurists were in error. In other words, his vision of education was not one of memorization without understanding – he denounced such practices – but one that required critical thinking, including not only knowledge of the content of the texts, but also consideration of the contexts in which those texts were revealed and knowledge of how different values and themes were discussed throughout the texts, rather than in a single verse. The Sheikh was not a literal interpreter of scripture. His insistence on consideration of how a single verse fit into the big picture of the entire Holy Quran and life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) enabled him to have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the broad values of the Holy Quran and Sunnah and to determine whether a given text was intended to be a universal prescription or was limited to a specific situation. In no situation did he believe that this was more important than the case of jihad.
Jihad as defined by the Sheikh was a matter of the self-defence of the Muslim community under direct military attack or under the threat of imminent military attack. He did not permit the declaration of a jihad to engage in aggressive actions. According to the Sheikh, jihad could only be engaged against those directly participating in the battle. Civilians, particularly women, children, and religious scholars. including monks and rabbis, were never to be killed. The destruction of property was limited to what was necessary to win the battle. In cases where civilians were known to be inside a structure, its destruction was not permitted. The Sheikh’s understanding of jihad was designed to restrict its use to specific, geographically limited cases in which self-defence was necessary for the survival of Muslims. It was not intended as a tool for state expansion, global conquest or the physical annihilation of the enemy.
Killing was not the purpose of the Sheikh’s jihad. Because he understood jihad to be the instrument of Allah, he taught that jihads goal was the restoration of the broken relationship between Muslims and the enemy, either by the enemy’s conversion to Islam or by the establishment of a treaty relationship between the warring parties. Conversions were never to be made at sword point or under the threat of death because such conversions could not be considered true conversions of the heart. The role of the imam (Muslim leader) at the end of the jihad, therefore, was to issue the call to Islam to prisoners of war who were then to have the option of learning more about Islam. In cases where prisoners were not interested in learning more, they were to be exchanged for Muslim prisoners of war. Any remaining prisoners following such an exchange were then to be given the choice of their own fate: engaging in a treaty relationship, enslavement or death. What is most significant in this construct is that the prisoner himself was the agent of choice, not his Muslim captor. Captors did not have the right to determine the fates of their prisoners or to assign the death penalty without the captive’s consent. Finally, most notably absent from the Sheikh’s writings is any discussion of martyrdom during jihad. Although it is known from the Holy Qur’an that those who die as martyrs on the battlefield of jihad will be rewarded with immediate entry into Paradise, the Sheikh did not emphasize martyrdom as the motivation for engaging in jihad because he believed that the Muslim should be motivated by service to Allah and the Muslim community, not the quest for personal glory or reward. Because Allah knows what is in the heart of the mujahid, as He knows what is in the heart of every person, the Sheikh focused on the importance of correct intent in undertaking jihad. Allah does not promise rewards to those who seek to glorify themselves.
These lessons as taught by the Sheikh raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the unending global jihad proclaimed by Al-Qaida and its followers. What have the flying of airplanes into buildings containing civilians, including children, kidnappings, hostage-takings, or executions of civilians like American engineer Paul Johnson and a Muslim woman like Margaret Hassan who devoted her life to the care of Iraq’s poor, to do with the Sheikh’s interpretation of jihad, let alone the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him)? Can suicide bombings, even if called “self-designated martyrdom,” truly be considered as selfless acts of devotion to Allah when such martyrs go to their deaths seeking earthly fame and financial rewards for their families, frequently for killing civilians? Do human beings have the right to change the definitions and parameters of jihad set by Almighty Allah in order to suit their own purposes or do such people claim a portion of Allah’s own power when they do so? Should children be looking to those preaching violence and hatred as role models or should they be reading and thinking critically about the content and values of the Holy Quran and Sunnah, the context in which they were revealed, and their practical application in life as it exists today as their guide? Do Muslims have an obligation to teach critical thinking to their children so that they are empowered to question the ideology of hatred, death and destruction preached by Al-Qaida?
For some, answers to these questions have been defined by events in Palestine and Iraq. It is true that civilians in Palestine and Iraq are being maimed and killed every day, sometimes by external military actors, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and sometimes by their own people. They have the legitimate right to defend themselves against killing and aggression as jihad proper. However, such self-defence cannot and should not be perverted into declarations of terrorism or unending global jihad against civilians or entire countries containing many voices actively opposed to the atrocities suffered by these civilian populations. Terrorism is not and has never been the prescribed response mechanism of Islam. It has no legitimacy within the religion of peace.
If terrorism has no legitimacy or basis in Islam, how are people of faith to respond to such atrocities? People of faith cannot remain passive and accepting when confronted with injustice. The values in which we believe call us to action. The question is what kind of action does faith call us to – constructive or destructive? The very revelation of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) provide important answers. From a historical perspective, Islam was revealed to a tribal society in which tribal affiliation served as a boundary separating individuals. Part of the power of the Islamic revelation lay in its declaration of the absolute equality of all believers and call to faith of all people, both women and men, regardless of languages spoken, geographical or national affiliation, ethnicity, or race. The purpose was to bind humanity together and to repair the rifts that had separated different groups from each other on the basis of a common vision of people united by faith. Islam was not designed to divide or destroy, but to build and restore, a purpose and vision that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) worked throughout his life to achieve. Similar opportunities are abundant today.
The recent tsunami in Asia that claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people offers some opportunities not only for action, but also for developing models of interaction. Saudi Arabia and the United States have offered financial, material and logistical support to relief efforts. Both plan to continue to raise funds to promote both relief and rebuilding efforts. Such actions are not simply reflections of national wills to help, but are also reflections of the compassion and generosity demonstrated by members of both mosques and churches as expressions of their faith in Allah, providing practical examples of how faith can lead to interaction. One practical example is the support of the less fortunate by people of faith on the basis of their faith. The Holy Quran requires Muslims to pay zakat every year as one way of doing this. It also commands Muslims to care for the poor, particularly widows and orphans. With the homeless, jobless, and family-less numbering in the millions, the need for such care is immense. Second, it is possible for people of different faiths and nationalities to work together toward these goals. Examples like the International Red Crescent/Red Cross Society, Doctors Without Borders, and United Nations relief efforts offer tangible evidence of Muslims working constructively with members of other faiths and nationalities to the benefit of all people, irrespective of their country of origin, religious status, gender or age. Such work should be considered a reflection, rather than a violation, of faith in Islam. Third, while soldiers and armies exist largely to defend their countries, they can also play important roles in building and assisting other countries faced with tragedy. The use of military helicopters, for example, has proven critical in transporting desperately needed food and water supplies to areas otherwise cut off from the outside world. Has the time come to expand our vision of the military to include such humanitarianism on a regular basis or is a separate organization of able-bodied youth engaged in both national and international service needed? Might this be a way not only of addressing unemployment problems, but also of providing young people with purpose and meaning as they carry out their work in Islamically acceptable ways? Finally, the outpouring of generosity, compassion and mercy for the victims of the tsunami offers a global opportunity to reflect on the constructive ways in which people of faith can not only put their faith into action, but can do so in conjunction with other people of faith. Perhaps the time has come for everyone to set aside past visions of the “religious other” focused on differences and divisions in favour of focusing on what people of faith share in common and how we can all work together on the basis of shared values, like social justice, relief to the poor, and building stronger faith-based societies.
The Holy Quran tells us that Allah is the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the Most Kind, the Most Loving, the Creator and Sustainer of all life, and the source of all grace, forgiveness, wisdom, and justice. Allah has set the example of sheltering the orphan and widow, of sending pure water to those who thirst, of feeding all of creation and of rewarding those who show mercy. He calls upon all who believe in Him to follow the Straight Path He has set, challenging believers to compete with each other not on the basis of military power or wealth, but in acts of kindness, charity, compassion and righteousness. Allah has declared that those who spend their wealth for charitable work, rather than self-glory or enjoyment, and seek only to aid others and grow closer to Allah are indeed those who will be satisfied. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) declared such an internal jihad to do righteous works and live a life pleasing to Allah as the “greater” jihad. There are more passages proclaiming these values and purposes in the Holy Quran than those legitimating jihad as holy war. Exhortations to good works far outweigh those legitimating warfare. While good works know neither limits nor geographical boundaries, jihad as warfare is limited in scope and geographical location by the Holy Quran, the Sunnah, and the teachings of both the Sheikh and classical scholars.
Sincere Muslims must question their hearts and motivations as to how they can best respond to what Allah demands of them as people of faith.. It remains my hope that increasing dialogue between the people of Saudi Arabia and the United States, particularly people of faith, will be one of the avenues of response. I look forward to continuing to build understanding, respect, appreciation, and insha’ Allah, cooperation between them.
* Dr. Natana J. DeLong-Bas  Author of “Wabbabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global jihad”. And Lecturer in Theology at Boston College and in Islamic Civiliza¬tion and Thought at Brandeis University.

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