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Killing for religion?

Our consciousness is manipulated and entrapped, to some extent, by slogans. Conceptions like democracy, freedom, and human rights are the three most effective slogans used to benumb public opinion and maintain the world�s order. As ideas, even as values, we do not necessarily object to them; rather, we do not approve of them when they are used by certain powers as cruel and cynical deceptions that are as corrosive as chemical weapons.

The world powers usually accept the most ruthless tyrannies for as long as they can manipulate them easily. They seek stability in those areas of a country�s life that allow their economic interests to function and flourish unopposed. But yet they oppose any democratic country that jeopardizes their interests by seeking political or cultural independence. They interfere in such countries� internal affairs on the grounds of �democracy and freedom,� even though their own human rights� record is by no means good.

Leaving aside colonialism�s past and present excesses in different guises, we note the continued existence of racial, cultural, and religious discrimination within their own lands. Concessions are made regularly to extremist political parties (ostensibly to prevent greater popularity); the number of crimes and prisoners continues to increase; and physical torture, especially of activists on behalf of minority interests, is unofficially tolerated. Yet they still claim the right to champion democracy, freedom, and human rights wherever they want to�just as long as it serves their own interests and they can justify the use of military or economic force to their own people.

They wage war thousands of miles away to assert their interests in an island, yet do not allow others the same right in an island on their very borders. Western intelligence activities abroad are �heroic,� but somehow become �barbaric� or �terrorist� when used by other countries seeking to maintain or assert their independence and self-defence. In short, the moral or philosophical value of democracy, freedom, and human rights is utterly compromised by the naked and cruel cynicism used to secure their dominion. Such practices remind us of the famous chant in Orwell�s Animal Farm: �All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others�.

Nothing is so effective against such cynicism as serious and sincere religious belief that can inspire the thoughts and actions that govern life. Therefore it is no surprise that political opinion-formers sometimes take swipes at religion on the absurd claim that religion inspires killing. Recently, Time magazine presented the Divinely inspired religion�whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam�as a way of life that encourages �killing for God.�92 Some extremist groups misrepresent religion as a narrow political ideology and use it to display their hard-heartedness or rigidity, or to sublimate their inferiority or superiority complexes. However, a system that condemns such actions cannot itself be condemned whenever self-professed adherents use it to justify their reprehensible actions.

Islam: a mercy for all creation

Religion is a contract between God and humanity, and all of its conditions favor and benefit us. As complex and civilized beings who, in addition to many other things, need a secure coexistence with other people, we seek peace and justice in our individual and collective lives. Just as individual motives differ, humanity�s �collective reason� cannot comprehend the true nature of that necessary peace and justice or how to realize it in practice. The subsequent need for a transcendent reason�religion�therefore was given to us by God. Religion is nothing more than an assemblage of the principles laid down by God for human happiness and security in both worlds and for the realization of justice in practical life.

Since people�s essential nature and needs never change over the course of time, all Prophets preached the same fundamentals of religion. Any differences were confined to secondary matters related to the ever-changing circumstances of life. The religion chosen by God Almighty to ensure individual and collective human felicity in both worlds, and which He revealed through all Prophets, is Islam. Islam means belief in and submission to God, and thereby peace and justice in our individual and collective lives. Judaism and Christianity are names given to the earlier revelations of Islam under Prophets Moses and Jesus, respectively. No Israelite Prophet ever said Judaism. Jesus never claimed to establish Christianity on Earth or called himself a Christian. Christian appears only three times in the New Testament and first by pagans and Jews in Antioch about 43 AD, long after Jesus had left this Earth (Acts 11:26).

Islam can be best summed up in the Basmala, the formula uttered at the start of every good act: In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. The word translated as the All-Merciful is al-Rahman, which denotes God as the One Who, out of His infinite Mercy, protects and sustains, as well as guarantees the life of and provides for, all members of creation without exception. The word translated as the All-Compassionate is al-Rahim, which denotes God as the One Who has special mercy for His good, believing, devoted, and upright servants in both worlds. Moreover, the Qur�an states that the Prophet was sent as a mercy for all worlds [all species of beings] (21:107). A religion so based on mercy and compassion seeks to revive, not to kill.

Unfortunately, modern materialistic thought is fed by modern science�s extreme positivism and rationalism. It therefore reduces life to the physical or material dimension and ignores the fact that peace, harmony, and contentment in this world depend upon human spirituality. A true spiritual life, one based on enlightening the mind or intellect through scientific knowledge and enlightening the heart and refining feelings through belief, religious knowledge, worship, and inspiration, is essential to the Prophets� preaching. For example, the Qur�an proclaims: Respond to God and the Messenger, when the Messenger calls you to that which will give you life [which will revive you intellectually and spiritually] (8:24).

Muhammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, likens Islam to a perfect work of architecture: All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other, nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure. Therefore, it gives almost as much importance to our physical life as it does to our spiritual life. Islam regards each person as the representative of its kind and as having the same value as all humanity. This is why God condemned Cain, for his unjust murder of his brother Abel introduced murder into history. As a result, he is held indirectly responsible for all killings until the end of time. As this sin is considered so grave, the Qur�an declares that one who kills someone unjustly is just like one who kills all of humanity, and that one who revives someone either spiritually or physically is just like one who restores all of humanity to life either spiritually or physically (5:32).

Clearly, a religion that attaches to such importance to the life of each person will never preach killing for its own sake or glorify it. Islam also does not approve of forced conversions, but rather seeks to remove whatever prevents us from making a free choice of what we will believe by establishing an environment in which all beliefs can be presented freely. Once this is guaranteed, Islam asks us to use our God-given free will to choose and reminds us that we will be held responsible for it, as well as for whatever we did in this world, in the Hereafter: There is no compulsion in religion, as right and guidance have been distinguished from wrong and deviation (2:256).

Who is responsible?

Prophet Muhammad was attacked many times by his enemies, and sometimes was forced to wage war on them. In all these wars, only about 700 people were killed on both sides. Given this, consider the following questions: Was religion responsible for the many millions of deaths in the Soviet Union and communist China? Did religion cause the Soviet massacres in Afghanistan and Chechnya [by Russia], and the brutal suppression of freedom movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia? Did religion kill more than one million people during France�s war to deny Algeria its freedom? Did religion urge America to its adventure in Vietnam, which cost more than a million lives during the war and many more indirectly since?

Did religion or modern civilization, extolled as the most advanced and humane in history, cause the death of more than 60 million people, the majority of them civilians, and force countless millions more to remain homeless, widowed and orphaned, during and after the two world wars? Is religion responsible for using scientific knowledge to make nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction with which to intimidate poor and weak nations?

If the world powers want to impose their new world order in the name of �world peace, democracy, and human freedom,� but in reality for their own political and economic advantage, and give themselves the right to commit such atrocities, surely people claiming to serve God can use the same rationale to clear the world of such atrocities and establish true peace and realize true freedom. But believers do not justify, like modern political cynics do, such atrocities and war-mongering in the name of merely political ends. Believers, unlike unbelievers, realize that those actions sincerely undertaken only in the Name of God, the All-Merciful and the All-Compassionate, and that have no other motive and do not transgress God�s limits, can revive truly humane values.

�Ali ibn Abi Talib presents such an example. During a battle, this noble Companion and future caliph felled his enemy and was on the point of killing him. But at that very moment, the man spat in �Ali�s face. To his surprise, �Ali released him immediately. Later on �Ali explained that the man�s action had made him suddenly angry and, therefore, fearing that his motive for killing the man had become mixed and therefore sullied with his anger, he released him. This enemy soldier later embraced Islam and thus was revived both spiritually and physically.


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