“Monkey See, Monkey Do” - Not An Islamic Ideal
The other day, a friend mentioned that a fellow Muslim had declared that we should be careful about condemning the recent massacre of innocent schoolchildren in Russia by so-called “Islamic militants” because “some scholars” have issued “fatwas” (non-binding legal opinions) that such operations are sometimes acceptable under Islamic Law. They then referenced part of a Qur’anic verse which basically means, “… then whoever transgresses the prohibition against you, you transgress likewise against him.” (Qur’an 2:194). Essentially, this is the age old “an eye for an eye” legal maxim that dates back to not just the Old Testament, but to the Code of Hammurabi as well. While this maxim might be rightfully employed in individual cases of justice, using it to justify mass murder and collective punishment is quite a stretch. Being informed that a Muslim in my community adhered to such shoddy logic rather shocked and disgusted me even though I’m well aware of the half-baked and ethically shallow justifications of suicide bombing espoused by some Muslims. In spite of that, being ambivalent about the massacre of innocent schoolchildren seemed to expose a moral depravity that’s sunk to all new levels. It’s not that this simple-minded and morally confused Muslim was a rabid militant; far from it. What scared me was the fact that they would so quickly and uncritically surrender their morality—indeed their basic human dignity—simply because of the existence of a “fatwa” by some unnamed “scholar”.
I’d like to take this opportunity to announce to the ladies and gentlemen of the Muslim Ummah, just in case they haven’t heard: We’ve got a moral and spiritual crisis on our hands. No, it’s not a conspiracy theory, a Zionist-Crusader plot or atrocities being carried out by Mossad agents dressed up like Muslims. There’s no real need for elaborate conspiracies, since if they want to bomb us, murder us and rape us, the past few decades have shown that they can do this with near impunity in full view of the entire world community. In spite of some grave historical injustices, Muslims must take most, if not all, of the blame for the current crisis and only Muslims can provide a long-term and viable solution to this problem within our house. The time for finger pointing is over. Like it or not, we have militant extremists within our midst who are out there committing the most horrendous acts of barbarity in the name of Islam—and we have far too many Muslims living right under our noses who aren’t even sure if such acts are wrong. Indeed, some of them have been bamboozled into thinking such criminal acts are Islamically sanctioned. It’s high time that we, as an Ummah, snap out of this Freudian denial stage and start dealing with this problem ourselves. If we don’t, somebody is going to do it for us—and it ain’t gonna be pretty. It’s gotten ugly already. Let’s all recognize that being patient with ignorance, humble in the face of stupidity and tolerant of legitimate scholarly differences of opinion are one thing, but endorsing complete moral depravity is quite another. Yes, believe it or not, the mass murder of innocent schoolchildren is completely unlawful in Islam; nothing justifies it. The fact that this even needs to be explained to members of our Ummah speaks volumes about the state we’re in. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that I’m unaware of the genocide that Russia has been carrying out in Chechnya. Indeed, they’ve killed far more innocent women and children than Islamic militants ever have. However, the Russians are not our teachers and it’s not their example that Muslims are supposed to follow. Our methodology is not “monkey see, monkey do”, but rather the unassailable moral high ground of our noble Prophet—may God bless him and grant him peace.
On that note, a discussion of the classical understanding of Qur’an 2:194 is in order, since this is one of the verses that the extremists use to justify their murder and mayhem. No doubt, the first thing we should do when we come across someone using a Qur’anic verse as a blunt instrument is turn to the classical exegesis of the verse and see how qualified Islamic scholars have understood it in the past. It should come as no surprise that neither al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir, nor al-Qurtubi, who are three of the greatest scholars of our rich hermeneutical tradition, mention anything in these verses that could be used to justify the acts that were recently committed in Russia. Even a cursory look at Qur’an 2:194 reveals that it mainly provides a dispensation to fight in the sacred months, which is normally forbidden. This verse in no way opens up the door for going to extremes—which is also strongly condemned in Islamic Law—and ignoring God’s limits.
It’s reckless to assume that a dispensation for fighting under certain conditions negates all of the other Islamically mandated rules of warfare, but this is seemingly what the extremists believe. A much more coherent understanding of this dispensation to fight is that if attacked, one can fight during the sacred months but only in an Islamically lawful way (i.e. no killing of non-combatants, women, children, etc.) Indeed, the Qur’an is quite clear that there are limits that are not to be transgressed (Qur’an 2:190 and 5:87), and these limits are made quite clear in the noble Sunnah. A useful analogy can be drawn using the verse which allows Muslims to eat the food of the People of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians). Upon hearing this Qur’anic ruling, do we assume that all other previously mandated dietary prohibitions are thereby suspended in regards to the food of the People of the Book, so that we can drink their wine and eat their pork? Certainly not. However, this is essentially what the militant Jihadis are doing with Qur’an 2:194.
Not only is their logic flawed, but they seem to lack even a basic understanding of the Prophetic way, which is to be patient while enduring injustice, gentle in the face of harshness and merciful whenever possible. If our methodology in life is just to return the harm of whoever harms us, we’re no better than a bunch of animals. Instead of striving to be the “best (religious) community raised up for mankind” (Qur’an 3:110), these days Muslims seem to be struggling to avoid being one of the worst. What happened to the spiritual state (hal) of the Companions, the mere site of whom would cause people to embrace Islam? What happened to the noble chivalry (futuwwa) of Saladin that earned the respect of the Crusaders? What happened to the magnanimity shown upon the conquest of Mecca? If contemporary Muslim Jihadists conquered a disbelieving city, does anyone think for a moment that they’d even consider showing a drop of the mercy that the Prophet—may God bless him and grant him peace—so graciously employed in such abundance? Recent events have clearly demonstrated otherwise. If bloody revenge was ever justified, it was when the very existence of Islam was at stake, so why now? Reflect on that…
So what are the limits if this Pandora’s Box is opened that says we can do to “them” whatever they do to “us”? If they rape, kill and mutilate our little girls are we going to do the same to theirs? To me it’s shocking and despicable that we even have to explain such things to seemingly God-fearing Muslims. We seem to be plagued by a tendency to rip a single Qur’anic verse out of context and then build an entire methodology upon it—complete with simplistic understandings and shallow interpretations. In regards to massacring Russian schoolchildren, ostensibly in revenge for crimes that the Russian government and army have undeniably committed, the Jihadi militants seem to conveniently forget about Qur’an 53:38. This verse establishes a moral principle that is well known in Islam, which is that “no bearer of a burden shall bear the burden of another”. Take that into consideration before someone dupes you into thinking that killing innocent people, much less children, can somehow be justified as an act of revenge. Unfortunately, we also have Neanderthal pundits, commentators and non-Muslim religious leaders here in America that endorse the one-sided and baseless Qur’anic interpretations of these Muslim extremists. They want to convince the world, or at least the American people, that such extremist interpretations are inherent to Islam. Once a monolithic Islam is identified as the problem, rather than an aberrant interpretation of it, they can justify their bloody campaigns against a largely innocent Muslim community. Ironically, in adopting the same heretical school of Qur’anic interpretation as Osama Bin Laden, they seek to justify the very atrocities that they claim to abhor—but that’s a topic for another day.
No doubt, Muslims are facing a deep spiritual crisis. Islam has been hijacked and turned into an ideology in pursuit of worldly success instead of a religion meant to purify the soul and focus one’s life on Almighty God. That’s really the jist of it, I feel. The key to winning the so-called “War on Terror” is winning the war on ignorance. By equivocating the “War on Terror” label, I hope it’s obvious, based on what’s already been stated, that I don’t deny that there are “Muslim terrorists” out there. Rather, like many people, I’m rather cynical about the conduct of what so far has been a rather selective war on terrorism. Indeed, a blind-eye is being turned to other great atrocities in the world and problems that cost far more human lives are being ignored. In the hands of ideologues who seemingly believe that military force can solve many of the world’s complex problems, the “War on Terror” has been expanded to include not only countries that are seemingly uninvolved, but carried out in gross violation of the very international laws that the terrorists are guilty of violating. Unfortunately, we live in an age where well-intentioned criticism is often considered un-patriotic—especially when coming from a Muslim. Being a good citizenship these days seems to mean shutting up and climbing on the bandwagon. Critical thinking and moral courage seem to be in short supply. Finding a semblance of them is as tough as finding an honest man in Congress. We only hope that our attempts to understand the motives for a crime are never understood to be endorsements of it. In order to develop reasonable, coherent and viable solutions to the plague of ignorance and extremism that we’re facing, we need to study the sources, context and motives behind the crimes. Simple solutions are bogus solutions, and most of the tough problems facing the human race can’t be solved by using military force.
As a God-fearing and morally upright community, we’ve got to join together and bring our resources to bear in order to refute with a vengeance these extremist “Protestant Muslims” and their flaky “Do-It-Yourself” religion that has cast aside over 1,400 years of peerless scholarly tradition. In this undertaking, it’s crucial that we stay balanced, moderate and true to our blessed tradition. We don’t want to come across sounding like a bunch of limp-wristed peaceniks that condemn violence in all forms and preach that Islam only teaches peace. Rather, we need to explain the high moral standards of our faith; that it is a religion that primarily emphasizes not only the infinite mercy of God but encourages mercy between all human beings. Indeed, Islam condemns terrorism, murder, hijacking, kidnapping, taking the law into your own hands and so on. None of this is compromised by the fact that we also have a “Just War” theory which is extremely similiar to the ones advocated not only by various churches, but by international law as well. Our beloved Prophet was sent as a mercy to the worlds (Qur’an 21:107), so we have to save Islam from the reckless few that have made a large part of humanity feel that it’s a scourge rather than a blessing. Pray hard…
Originally Posted on A.R. Squires website at http://www.mereislam.info/2004/09/monkey-see-monkey-do-not-islamic-ideal.html