Islam, the Religion of Peace
Posted Aug 25, 2002

Islam, the Religion of Peace

by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

Islam always seems to get a bad press. It is hardly surprising, seeing what has made the news recently, that Muslims are thought of as fanatical, cruel, vengeful, and full of hatred for non-Muslims and in particular the West, especially America. One impression given is that if people will not accept Islam, they will be attacked by Muslim zealots who want to force them either to accept it, or be wiped out. Our screens are full of angry, bearded armed fanatics, and unless we happen to know something about the politics of the wider world, they seem to be determined to hate us and attack us for no good reason at all. To many people in the west who contribute to charity and aid programs for underdeveloped countries or people facing disaster, it makes them also seem very ungrateful and grossly unfair. The usual ignorant response from people who are ignorant about real Islam and the real situation, is to cry: “We don’t want them here—send them all back home.”

The trouble comes in identifying ‘‘we’’ and ‘‘them’‘.  I, of course, am one of ‘‘them’‘, although I dare say if you looked at me without hijab you might think I ought to be one of ‘‘we’‘. Let’s take me as an example of a typical English Muslim. I am not brown or black, am not an Arab or an Asian, and was born here, and am now an old-age pensioner, having been the Head of a Religious Studies department in some of the UK’s toughest schools all my life. Since September 11th, and some articles in the papers, I have received anonymous letters suggesting that ‘‘I go back’‘, or at least pick a third world country of my choice and go and live there, if I am so keen to defend abusers and terrorists. What has driven me mad about these letters is that they never give a name and address that I could reply to, for nearly all their objections to Islam are objections I would heartily agree with—I would love to be able to show them that when one takes a good look at all the criticisms of Islam that crop up in the media—the violence, fanaticism, bigotry and abuse—these are not actually criticisms of Islam at all.

It is the old trap of judging a faith with all its ideals and principles by the behavior of some of its worst, or most eccentric, or most biased devotees. It is rather like judging Christianity by the behavior of certain individuals such as IRA and UFF terrorists because they are Roman Catholics or extreme Protestants. The problem for Islam is that Muslims—like Christians - are not all the same, and some do indeed choose to interpret the Qur’an and hadith in ways that horrify the mainstream. They follow a weird type of Islam promoted by certain bigots who really seem to enjoy embarrassing all other Muslims with their narrowness of vision and crudeness of sentiment. Being totally convinced and fervent in their own beliefs, they are quite unconcerned that many of their preoccupations and statements that misinterpret Islam only serve to make all Muslims look irrational, hateful, oppressive, abusive and downright odd. It all gives Islam a very bad name.

Just as objectionable for us Muslims is that most of their bigotry is directed at fellow Muslims! Ever heard of the saying: ‘‘Divide, and conquer’‘?  If Muslims become divided, who is it that will conquer, if not Shaytan? Being told what to do, and having it forced upon us, when we are not convinced that it is right or right for us, is extremely negative and divisive. Allah actually taught us most clearly that there was to be no compulsion in religion.

Surah 2:256 is the most forthright: ’‘There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has been made clearly distinct from error, and whoever (chooses it and) renounces the forces of Satan and believes in Allah has grasped the firm hand-hold that will never break. Allah, Whose hand-hold you have grasped, hears all and knows all.’‘

As it happens, we Muslims do have the duty to point out when we think something is wrong, and to explain our point of view in such a way as will convince—but this pointing out is to be done without arrogance or sense of superiority, and our explanations are to be given in the best possible way, polite and gentle ways that will not drive people away from Allah, but will hopefully attract them.

There are two highly unpleasant characteristics about extremists in any religion. The first is that these fanatics firmly believe that what they believe is right, and that what everyone else believes is inadequate, or just plain wrong. This shows up in the practice known as takfir—accusing all those who do not agree with their interpretation—even people known to be practicing Muslims - of being kuffar. The second is that fanatics claim they do what they do because God wills it, and being devout worshipers of God, they are prepared to die for Him should He demand it. This is a gross and arrogant claim - God wills nothing of the sort.

History has thrown up hundreds of misguided religious people who think they are doing the will of God, when it is more likely the will of the Devil. Think of the example of the Yorkshire Ripper, who claimed that he thought he was doing God’s will by cutting the throats of prostitutes. There have been cases of Islamic extremists committing exactly the same crime (and even worse, for some of the girls killed by Muslims were actually innocent of any sexual activity at all, and were no more than family members, daughters or sisters, who had simply spoken to a man in public and been informed on). Did the Prophet () ever meet a prostitute, and if so, how did he react? He did indeed, and recommended that this particular lady was worthy of Paradise, in spite of her profession, because she had been kind to a cat; he compared her to another woman, one of prayer and piety, but who had starved her animal, and would therefore face punishment from the God of Compassion who sees everything, and judges everything.

What extremists do is to project their own hatreds or interpretations on to what they dislike, and ignoring the compassion of Allah and His Prophet (). And in so doing, although they may be highly religious people, they unfortunately take on the role of aggressors not of missionaries for the faith (which is what they think they are!). No-one doubts their sincerity or fervor, but something has happened to their characters which makes them blind to other highly important principles in Islam which have to be taken most seriously.

Islam is not a religion of war but a religion of peace. It is true that Muslims sometimes have to take up arms and do battle, just as Christians sometimes have to do likewise, but it is not a religion of war. It is true that Jesus never ever fought in battles, and taught people to turn the other cheek, whereas the Prophet Muhammad () was involved in fighting. However, when we make a fair comparison, we see that Jesus died when he was in his early thirties, and had not been dragged into confrontation with the major enemy of the time—the Romans. If what Christians believe is true, the first time he actually challenged them publicly, they arrested him and he was dead by the end of the week.

The Prophet () on the other hand, lived to be 63, and was involved in ruling a kingdom and acting in its defense. Some people think he was always fighting, but actually, if you tot up all the days he was occupied in defensive warfare, it comes to less than one year. His most famous battles lasted only one day, and not only were there few slain, but with very few exceptions (by a handful of zealous believers who went beyond the bounds of what they were ordered, and were taken severely to task for it) the captives and enemy wounded were treated with compassion and decency. None of this warfare was started by him, or was aggressive, or for nationalistic or political reasons, or out of personal ambition. Even when the Prophet () a few months before his 60th birthday gave his army permission to capture Makkah, the only people slain were a group that attacked his general Khalid, and only ten of his enemies were condemned to death for previous crimes which had legally earned them the death penalty (and not simply because they had been captured in war), and only four of these were actually executed.

The Prophet’s () warfare began when he was over 50, after he and his companions had migrated away from the hostility of Makkah and gone to Madinah. In spite of this move away from their old homes, the Makkans were still not appeased and were still working on ways and means to destroy them and wipe out Islam. The Prophet () had only been in Madinah a couple of years when his guiding angel revealed something that proved to be a turning point for him. He had always taught that he himself and all those who accepted the faith should bear the persecutions they faced with fortitude and patience, and not strike back. Now, in Madinah, he received permission for Muslims to defend the faith and themselves by force of arms if necessary. The words were:

’‘Leave is given to those who fight because they have been wronged—and surely God is able to help them—those who were expelled from their homes without justification, simply for saying ‘‘Our Lord is God’‘ (Surah 22:40-41).

If the call to arms was the only way to satisfactorily put an end to the opposition and persecution from Makkah, then so be it. Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.

If warfare became necessary, it was only to be defensive, as a result of provocation, and to last only until the enemy agreed to make peace terms:

’‘Fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression - for, verily, God does not love aggressors.’‘(Surah 2: 190).

’‘And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease let there be no more hostility except to those who (continue to) practice oppression.’’ (Surah 2.193).

“If they seek peace, then you must seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows all things.” (Qur’an 8:61)

Allah told His Messenger to value human life above all else:

’‘Who so ever kills a human being for other than murder or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he has killed all of humanity, and who so ever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all of humanity.’‘ (Surah 5:32).

There was, however, no question of Muslims being given permission to go out to harass or attack people, or try to coerce non-believers into accepting their faith.
Allah’‘s words in the Qur’an were quite clear:

’‘There should be no coercion in the matter of faith’‘ (Surah 2:256),

and Surah 10:99-100: ‘‘If it had been the Lord’s Will for all who are on earth to believe, they would have believed! How do you, therefore, think you can compel people to believe against their will? No soul can believe except by the Will of Allah, and He Himself places doubt (or obscurity) in the minds of those who do not wish to understand.’‘

’‘Proclaim: This is the Truth from your Lord; whoever will believe, let them believe, and whoever will, let them disbelieve.’’ (18:29).

Coercion is, and always has been, totally contrary to the will of God, and abhorrent to the nature of the gentle and peace-loving Muhammad (). The word for ‘‘striving’’ or ‘‘struggle’’ is ‘‘jihad’‘. It applies to the whole of a person’‘s daily striving to do the will of God by living in the best possible way, and only becomes connected with military activity when force becomes necessary to defend the oppressed and to preserve the True Faith in times of persecution. At those times a Muslim would be shamed if he or she did not rush to the defense of the right. There is no question of jihad meaning innocent people being attacked, or of any people being coerced into becoming Muslims by force - a logical impossibility in any case, for Islam is a matter of the heart and of personal conviction. People cannot be forced to believe something they do not believe, any more than Muslims can be forced to pray or fast, or perform any of the compulsory acts, or be unselfish, or courageous, or truthful, or compassionate, or generous. If they choose to do so, out of love for Allah, then that is their wonderful dedication and service to Him, and nothing to do with force.

When he later sent letters to Jewish and Christian rulers the Blessed Prophet put it very clearly in writing that:

‘‘If Jews or Christians become Muslims, they are then believers with rights and obligations. But those who (decide to) hold fast to their (old) religion are not to be turned from it. They (only) must pay the jizya (poll tax for rights of protection).’‘ Ibn Ishaq p.643.

As regarded the synagogues and churches of the People of the Book, far from Muslims being asked to attack them it became a Muslim duty to protect them, for these were also places of worship of the One True God.

’‘If God did not sometimes drive back some people by means of others, many cloisters and churches, oratories and mosques where God’‘s name is called upon, would have been destroyed.’‘ (Surah 22:40).

All his life the Prophet () had hated hostility, and had spent so much of the less-public side of his mission healing rifts, calming down opponents and putting things right, solving disputes and healing marriages. Permission to fight was only granted for one reason—the same that had been the impetus for the order of chivalry that he joined in his youth, the Hilf al-Fudul—that no matter how reluctant one might be to get involved, it was cowardly and dishonorable to see injustice and tyranny and do nothing about it. The necessary stand for justice and freedom against the bitter hostility of oppressors, tyrants and aggressive bullies is always a matter that one might be proud of and not ashamed. The state of war with the Quraysh of Makkah and their allies arose solely because of the Quraysh persecution of Muslims which had driven them to abandon their homes, status, property and in many cases, hopes of inheritance. The Muslims did not seek this warfare, but the Quraysh had brought it upon themselves.

The Prophet’s () angel stated:

’‘Why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed? Men, women and children, whose cry is: Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors, and raise for us one who will protect and help us.’’ (Surah 4:75).

He also stated:

’‘O believers—be seekers after justice; witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves or your parents or kinsmen, or whether the person be rich or poor, for Allah is the protector of both. So do not follow the base desires of your hearts lest you become ‘‘bent’‘; for if you distort or decline to do justice, truly (you will not be able to hide it from) Allah (who) knows very well all that you do!’‘ Surah 4:135.

The Prophet () was calm but firm.

’‘Anyone who walks with an oppressor to strengthen him, knowing that he is an oppressor, has gone forth from Islam.’‘ He taught that ‘‘he who sees something abominable should strive to alter it with the help of his own hand; if he has not strength enough to do that, then he should do it with his tongue; and if he has not the strength enough for that, then he should at least abhor it in his heart.’‘ Muslim 16.

When Allah’‘s Messenger () appointed anyone as leader of an army his instructions were clear:

’‘Fight in the name of Allah and in the cause of Allah. Fight against those who do not believe in Allah. But wage your war in a holy manner: do not embezzle the spoils, do not break your pledge, do not mutilate (the dead) and do not kill the children. When you are faced with enemies who are non-believers, (before any warfare you must first) offer them three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, then you also must accept it, and restrain yourself from doing them any harm. The first is to invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to this positively, then accept it from them and do not fight against them. Also explain that if they then leave their non-believing communities and go to a place of believers, they shall immediately share all the privileges and also the obligations of the others who have done this. If they do not wish to migrate, then tell them that they will have the status of Muslims who are not living in a Muslim society (like ourselves in the UK), and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like other Muslims, but they will not receive any share from the spoils of war or tributes unless they actually join with the Muslims (against the nonbelievers). However, if they refuse to accept Islam altogether, demand from them the community tax. If they agree to pay (for the privileges it will bring them), then accept this decision and hold your hand. Only if they refuse to pay the tax, must you seek Allah’s help and fight them.’‘ Muslim 804.

These are just some of the texts that the extremists have picked out and twisted to justify their terrorist campaigns. They point out the clear command to do something about evil, but make full use of the legal loophole here to identify evil how they will, and ignore Allah’s desire to spread peace and goodwill and compassion, and temper justice with mercy.

Here’s an account of what happened to Sheikh Suhayl when he was captured.  He was one of the Prophet’s () bitter and outspoken enemies and was a man who had a cleft lower lip. Umar threatened to pull out his two front teeth too - ‘‘Then his tongue will hang out, and he will never be able to speak against you again!’’ The Prophet () was not pleased, rebuked the future Caliph, and gave a reply which was so revealing of his modest, compassionate and wise nature. ‘‘I will certainly not mutilate him,’’ he replied, ‘‘for if I did, surely Allah would mutilate me, even though I am His Messenger. Think - it may be that one day this man will make a stand for which you will not be able to find fault with him.’‘

Suhayl did indeed become a Muslim hero, and died a Muslim martyr in the Battle of Yarmuk. The Prophet’s () forward-looking and generous attitude is an important sunnah for those zealots who regard non-Muslim territories (such as ‘‘the West’’—whatever that may mean) as Dar al-Harb (House of War), full of enemies who need conquering. The Prophet (), on the contrary, saw such territories as Dar al-Dawah (House of Missionary Preaching), full of potential converts.

It should not need saying that the Prophet () never suffered from the malicious desire to attack enemies for revenge or to loot people for their wealth, or to set warfare in motion in order to extend his frontiers. ’‘He is not one of us who fights the cause of nationalism,’’ said the Prophet (). ‘‘He is not one of us who dies in the cause of nationalism. Nationalism means helping your people in unjust causes.’‘

Once he was asked whether anyone fighting to display courage, or out of a sense of family or tribal prestige, or in order to show off skills, or for the sake of spoils, or any other worldly motive could be considered as fighting for the cause of Allah. ‘‘Certainly not,’’ he replied. ’‘One can only be considered as fighting for the cause of Allah when it is a question of putting an end to the tyranny of unbelievers when they are actively trying to suppress Islam.’‘ Those who fought for any other motive disentitled themselves to any spiritual reward. Hot-blooded young men often had a desire for glory gained through various kinds of military activity, but tended to ignore the heartbreak and waste of life and resources. In Islam, warfare was regarded as a destructive activity, something to be taken up only in the last resort. It was a ‘‘conflagration’‘, which those on the side of Allah would struggle to put out. Surah 5:65—’‘Whenever they kindle a fire for war, Allah extinguishes it. They strive to create disorder on the earth, but Allah loves not those who create disorder.’‘

Muslim warfare—as all other aspects of Muslim life—is to be conducted with honor, and every effort made to limit its horror and bring hostilities to a close as swiftly as possible. The Prophet () utterly forbade torture, killing the weak—women, children or old people, or cruelty to prisoners. Muslims were not to kill the wounded, hunt down fleeing enemies, or kill captives. Savage practices from pre-Islamic times such as mutilating the enemy dead or torturing prisoners-of-war were prohibited altogether.

Of course, the Prophet () did not always get the chance to control all the actions taken by every individual on his side. Sometimes women and children or prisoners were harmed or killed, but the Prophet () always made it very clear that he totally disapproved, and that all prisoners were to be treated with compassion and respect. He always did his best to repair any damage caused, or to settle blood-money.

Whatever he might have felt personally, it was his duty as one submitted to Allah not only to protect those who had entrusted themselves to his leadership, but also to be kind and compassionate to the defeated.

‘‘It is part of the mercy of Allah that you deal gently with them. If you are severe and hard-hearted, they will break way from you; so pass over their faults and ask for God’‘s forgiveness for them.’’ (Surah 3:159)

Muslims were urged not to let personal animosity interfere with proper justice:

’‘O believers! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others towards you make you swerve towards wrong and depart from justice. Deal justly, that is next to piety; and fear Allah, for lo! Allah knows very well all that you do.’‘ (Surah 5:9).

The word jihad does not necessarily even imply military action. The Prophet said,

“Any person who looks after widows or the destitute is a mujahid (warrior) who fights for Allah’s Cause, or the equivalent of one who performs prayers all the night and fasts all the day.” Bukhari 7.265.

The definition of a jihad according to Qur’an and sunnah is a struggle or an effort that is exerted in some undertaking in order to attain some end or result. The latter can be a personal one, or if it is ‘‘fi sabi’‘l illah’’—it means it is in the cause of Allah. A personal jihad for one’‘s own cause might involve some form of hard work to accomplish something of value—such as learning for an exam, or trying to eliminate some unwanted personal habit such as smoking or obesity. A jihad or struggle in the cause of Allah does not really mean fighting, but trying as hard as one can to do His will, the unceasing effort to counter the activities and influence of Shaytan in the form of wrong beliefs, ideas, values etc that are inflicted on us through thoughts, words and deeds. Things like racism, abuse, cruelty, selfishness, laziness, miserliness, aggression, and oppression.

While the true struggle or jihad ‘‘with the sword’’ is a great act of unselfishness and courage on occasions when it has become necessary to defend the innocent and defenseless from unjustified aggression, especially, of course, if it requires the mujahid to sacrifice his or her own life - the jihad ‘‘with the word’’ (dawah) to spread the teachings and values of Islam really has greater significance in practical terms. Jihad through the word was the first command to the Prophet (), and he kept up doing it throughout the rest of his life until he had successfully transformed a large population of initially ignorant people into a wonderful community.

Many people are trapped in ignorance. It seems to me that ignorance, followed by arrogance and lack of compassion lies at the root of all evil, the causes of all corruption, and the sources of all suffering. The opposite of ignorance has to be knowledge (ilm) that gives rise to wisdom (hiqmah). This jihad is therefore an act of devotion with the same significance as the Five Pillars of Islam, so much so that it is often called the Sixth Pillar. The Prophet () said: ’‘Striving after knowledge is the sacred duty of every man and woman.’‘ (Ibn Majah).

And even more important than the jihad with the word is the inner jihad, the jihad al-akhbar—or the Major Battle, the struggle with one’‘s own self to give up bad things, and practice the pillars of Islam—the bearing of witness, prayer, fasting, charity and hajj, even if it is a tough and difficult struggle—and do one’‘s utmost to develop a kind, compassionate, unselfish and generous way of life. One of Ali’‘s sayings was: ’‘To fight against one’s desires is the greatest of all fights. The strongest amongst you are those who conquer their own selves.’‘ Actions usually speak louder than words. If we do not practice what we preach, people soon notice that we are hypocrites. This Islamic way of life cannot be forced on people; no-one can be compelled to be kind, generous, prayerful and so on.

The Prophet () was never told to force people to believe anything, or to condemn them, or be nasty to them, or fight them if they did not agree—so long as they kept the peace.
Allah told him:

’‘Your duty is only to convey the message.’‘ 3.20, 5.92,99.

’‘The delivery of the message is the duty for you, and the judgement is the duty for Us.’‘ 13.40.

’‘Even if they turn away, you are responsible only for the delivery of the clear message.’‘ 16.82.

In fact, it is impossible to force anyone to believe anything without education. However, if you present the evidence, show the results and the consequences of actions, present the proofs—then some people will choose to believe. If certain Muslims are keeping the Five Pillars just because they have been told to, or are scared not to, they have not really arrived at the stage of belief. They may be trying hard, and being good, but Faith is not complete when it is followed blindly or accepted unquestioningly. If you try to force a belief on someone, the attempt is really ridiculous, and can only work through tyranny and aggression, and the fear of the person forced of the consequences of upsetting you.
The way of dawah in Islam is to make as clear as possible the evidences and proofs—then leave people to believe or disbelieve what they want. They have their rights. They may not be ready to believe or follow the Muslim way. Nowhere does Allah give permission to force or kill people who refuse to accept the message.

Let us see His word again:

’‘To deliver the message is the duty for you, and to judge is the duty for Us.’‘ 13.40.

Allah is the Judge. It is for Him to decide, in ultimate terms, what the fate will be of those who reject the message. It is up to us to show that everything in the message is good, and promotes goodness and happiness and progress and peace. Remember, Allah never asked anyone to promote anything that was evil, or harmful, or hurtful verbally, physically, mentally or morally. The message was and is all good.

Bigotry is the sign of ignorance and lack of ethical sensitivity. Moderate Muslims must rebel against the ignorance of intolerance. We cannot force the extremists to shut up, for censorship is not Islamic. But each time bigots speak out, moderate and responsible voices must immediately condemn them. Let them know that those who espouse intolerance will never be our heroes.

I suppose that one good thing that might come out of last year’‘s horror could be that people can begin to realize that the word ‘‘Muslim’’ does not just equal ‘‘Arab’’ or ‘‘Pakistani’‘. It is a faith, not a nationality. There are multitudes of Muslims of all nationalities from Aborigine to Eskimo. Many brown people are not Muslims—they could be Hindu or Buddhist or no religion at all, or, like Dr Nazir Ali, a candidate for the job of next Archbishop of Canterbury. Some Arabs are not Muslims at all—not least the many Palestinian Christians, such as the PLO spokesperson Dr Hanan Ashrawi and the families of Bethlehem. Some who get labeled as ‘‘Islamic extremists’’ are actually Christians—for example, the Palestinian group Hamas was founded and led by a Christian, George Habash. And there are millions of Muslims who are not Arab, Asian, or any particular shade of brown. Islam is a world-faith, and involves a decision to submit one’‘s own will to the will of God. It is not a national or cultural feature.

The USA is not the Great Satan—it is one of the places where Islam has not only made its home, but seen the most rapid and successful strides made in recent years. It is rapidly becoming a teaching center for Islam. The USA was just about to issue its first postage stamp commemorating Eid! There are now some 7 million Muslims living in America, of many ethnic origins, but most of them now of American nationality. Last year I attended the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America, which attracted some 35,000 Muslims under one roof—an inspiring occasion, full of hopes for the future of Islam in America. And in the European countries Islam is making enormous strides too, especially in the UK. I believe the UK is the only country in the world where non-religious examination boards have set up the opportunity for any person to study Islam to GCSE, AS/A level and degree level, and where a non-religious government has paid me personally the honor of ordering a copy of my dawah book ‘‘What Every Christian Should know about Islam’’ to hand to all the MPs!

However, I know from long experience that just when one begins to be in hopes of some religious progress and success, something crops up to oppose it. I guess this is how the Devil works. I would certainly equate the works of extremists and terrorists with the works of the Devil—and most definitely not of God - whether you wish to call God Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah or Our Father in Heaven.

I remember being called up by our local radio after the extremist attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut in southern Egypt, and asked to explain the Muslim actions and point of view. The interviewer was quite surprised when I suggested that the Muslims involved were not the terrorists but the police trying to protect the tourists, the ambulance men and nurses quickly on the scene, the villagers who rushed to help. Oh—were they Muslims? Of course they were. The terrorists were the very opposite of Muslims—they were terrorists and murderers.

They were also surprised when asking me about the Muslim leaders and people of influence in this country. They were thinking in terms of Asian Muslim Imams coming here as experts in the Qur’an to run local mosques, who might possibly not even speak English; I was thinking more of the ‘‘Muslims in suits and white coats’’—the brain surgeons and medical and scientific experts we see so often on the TV—who the general public might not even realize were Muslims.

The Devil takes many, many disguises, and the Devil in holy disguise is the most dangerous form there is—his followers are so righteous, so devout, so self-sacrificing for the cause, so determined that nothing will stand in their ‘‘way of serving God’‘, and they usually have the personality to browbeat others into silence, especially when they come in gangs rather than individuals.

To quote a friend: ‘‘People do not accept the word of Islam by being shouted at by some demagogue at a speaker’‘s corner, or by reading some angry little pamphlet pushed into their hand by a wandering distributor of tracts. They convert through personal experience of Muslims who are living in the right way.’‘

But extremists ‘‘haunt our mosques and shout at any form of disagreement, and are either ignorant of Muslim history or dismiss it as a gigantic mistake…….They are the elect, and all disagreement with them is blasphemy against God.’’ (From ‘‘British and Muslim’’ by Abdal Hakim Murad). They cannot, for a moment, understand that this attitude is actually blasphemy.

Their brand of Islam is not Islam, and it is high time for them to be properly labeled for what they are. They do not have an identifying name at the moment—the word Fundamentalist is not accurate, neither is extremist. I would like to call their faith something like Islamiolatry. They are not Muslims but Islamiots or Zealotologists. Once a sectarian can be identified by a name, then people find it much easier to understand that these are at least deviants from the faith, and might even be a kind of ‘‘fifth column’’ of enemies to the faith.

We Muslims should accept honestly that once a person can be labeled by a sectarian title, then it follows they should admit openly that they have left the mainstream and become something else. It may be that the members of the Ulster Volunteer Force or the IRA are all Christians, but once they can be referred to by their particular label, then that is what they represent, and not Christianity, the faith. If you are a Taliban, or a Deobandi, or an Ahmadiyyah, or a Hizb ut-Tahriri, or a Salafi, or a Sufi, or a Hizbollahi, or al-Qaeda or Bin Ladenist or any other title—then good luck to you, you are being open about what you are, but you must not claim to be representative of Islam, the faith. A sectarian may be a fervent believer, but is no more representative of Islam than the equally fervent believers of the Ku Klux Klan or other extreme sects represent Christianity.

The UK leader of a group called the Muhajirun apparently declared after September 11th that ‘‘Muslims throughout the country and across the world are celebrating today.’’ Do you see the point? That person boldly made that statement, claiming to speak for Islam, while Yasser Arafat gave his own blood, 100-odd Muslim medics rushed to give their services at the scene, and the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Great Britain declared on the contrary that ’‘there are no adequate words to express our condemnation of this act of terrorism against innocent people. Those evil persons responsible will stand guilty and condemned for all eternity.’‘

May God bless and soothe all the souls of the newly departed, and grant their new state of being to be a blessed one, in which they perhaps may even somehow be able to help their bereaved loved ones not to grieve for ever, but to live in faith and hope. May the bereaved find courage to treasure their memories of the departed, and continue their own life-spans here on earth with patience, and faith that the Afterlife is Real, and that one day they will all, insha’‘Allah, meet again. None of us knows when the hour of our death will come, or where, or how—we must live every moment we are granted as best we can, and love those granted to us while we have the opportunity to do so, and not waste a second of our precious lives. Amen.

Originally published 8/25/2002