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An Islamic Perspective of September 11th

Translation by: Hadi Dehghani


The recent terrorist attacks on sensitive economic and military centers of the U.S. were undeniable tragedies. Although the perpetrators and their motives are not yet known (at the time of this writing, Oct. 2001), their actions have clearly shifted public attention towards Islam and its perceived violent image. The phrase “Islamic Terrorism,” which is heard frequently from many political analysts, has left many with the impression that perhaps Islam has a violent and anti-peace nature. Politically, the way has been paved for this belief since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, by theoreticians such as Huntington of Harvard University, who considers the “Islamic threat” as the biggest threat to world civilization, now that the “Red Menace” is over. He also warns the West to be prepared to deal with this threat.

Although in the last week (at the time of this writing, Oct. 2001) many scholars in the media have tried to change this negative image, the action of some political groups and even some governments in Islamic countries indicate that the belief, in using Islam as a weapon, is not without support. When a considerable number of individuals sacrifice their lives via suicidal attacks in order to destroy the vital economic centers of another country, there is no choice but to believe that their acts could not have been carried out without a deep devotion to their belief system. The slogan of “attacking the interests of imperialism throughout the world” promoted by Marxists, influenced some Muslim freedom fighters in various Islamic countries and manifested itself in some respects through explosions in the economic, political, and military centers in the not so distant past (i.e. 1960’s & 1970’s). These facts indicate that under the current conditions, one of the critical duties of Muslim scholars is to conduct in-depth research in order to determine the criteria and boundaries for a political campaign throughout Islam.

It seems that the biggest problems facing Muslim communities are their despotic regimes and their undemocratic systems of government. In the words of Imam Ali “The distress is within you, so is it’s cause.” The Muslim community should look no further than itself for the causes of failure rather than blaming external factors and formulating conspiracy theories. The internal weaknesses must be reexamined and corrected. Resolutions, however, should be based solely on the Qur’an and the traditions of prophet Muhammad, in order to implement the rules and regulations set forth by our Creator. The actions and thoughts of Muslims, just like the followers of other religions, have in some instances been influenced by human emotions. Unfortunately, anger, violence, and revenge have too often displaced forgiveness, peace, and understanding. For this reason, in order to become educated on a religion, one must refer to its original sources instead of its history. This critical task should be tackled by our religious scholars.

The following is a list of some diverse points, which can perhaps be considered and used for further study:

1) In the Qur’an, permission to go to war is granted only to those (i.e. Muslims) who have been under attack and subjected to acts of injustice (22:39). It has been emphasized, “fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you. But don’t transgress limits...” (2:190). Similar types of defensive directives would be issued by the leaders of any society under attack In the case of September 11 th, the U.S. Government declared war on the terrorists responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington, because the government deemed their tactics to be acts of war. In Islam, the permission to engage in warfare is called “jihad.” Contrary to popular opinion, jihad does not mean the killing of innocent human beings; rather, it is only for defensive purposes to fight against those who have engaged in violence and invasion against the Muslim community. However, Islam clearly requires the halting of such defensive acts once the aggressors are defeated or surrender. This is to prevent the unnecessary prolonging of war and subsequently the loss of innocent life from both sides. Interpreting “Islamic jihad” as a license to kill and to commit atrocities and aggression is neither humane nor consistent with the tenets of Islam. Those who blow such interpretations out of proportion in order to sway public opinion to their way of thinking have their own agenda and are not concerned about the welfare of Muslims, much less humanity. The Western analysts who are searching for the causes of the September 11th tragedies should consult with reputable Islamic scholars rather than relying on the words of the political leaders of various Islamic countries.

2) God has not precluded Muslims from displaying acts of kindness and establishing fair trade relations with non-Muslims. It is only prohibited that Muslims accept to be ruled by the following: those who have fought against them because of their faith, those who have driven them out of their homes, and those who have supported their enemies (60:8).

3) In the campaign to conquer Mecca, the Muslim army didn’t engage in a military attack against the Meccans for fear that innocent Muslim men and women among the residents of Mecca would inadvertently be hurt (48:23-25). Is crashing commercial airplanes, filled with unaware and unwilling passengers, into high-rise buildings, containing thousands of innocent people from all walks of life including Islam, and destroying precious resources compatible with the aforementioned teaching of the Qur’an? According to the prophet Muhammad, “if tens of guilty people go free, it is better than one innocent person being wrongly incarcerated.” When safeguards to protect the innocent are prescribed to such an extent, how can taking the lives of thousands of innocent people be so ignorantly justified?

4) When Moses and Aaron were sent to meet the Pharaoh to persuade him (by asking and not by trying to overthrow his regime) to let the Israelites go free from Egypt, they were commanded by God, “but speak to him (Pharaoh) mildly; perchance he may take warning of fear (Allah)” (20:44). “Say to him, wouldst thou that thou shouldst be purified (from sin)” (79:18). When one is not permitted to speak rudely even to the most blatant dictator in history, how can violent acts be considered as legitimate means to promoting a religion?

5) God tells his messenger (i.e. Prophet Muhammad), “it is part of the mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them; went thou severe or harsh hearted, they would have broken away from about thee... (20:43). He (Prophet Muhammad) was the messenger of peace and God’s grace, and “thou standest on an exalted standard of character” (68:4). Can the tradition and mannerism of this symbol of God’s grace be followed through violent words and acts?

6) In the history of Kabala and Imam Hussein’s uprising, it is written that Moslem lbn Aghil in response to Hani lbn Orveh, who asked why he (Aghil) had not followed his (Hani’s) signal to come out of his hiding place and assassinate the then governor of Kufeh, Aghil replied, “because a believer does not commit an act of terror.” Islam has forbidden such an act.

7) God has provided the believers with two very effective tools for paths to success: patience and piety. Patience in this context means resisting, preserving, and defending against aggression, and against those who have committed acts of violence. Piety is defined as exercising control over one’s vices, ego, and abstaining from committing vengeful acts. Chapter 3 of the Qur’an discusses the strategy for confronting an enemy. “If you are patient and do your duty, their plotting will not harm you in any way; God embraces anything they do” (3:120). “Of course if you act disciplined and obey orders, and they should come at you all of a sudden just like this, your Lord will supply you with five thousand angels sent on purpose” (3:125). “If you are patient and do your duty, that is what will determine matters” (3:185). “You who believe, act patient, discipline yourselves, and hold yourselves ready! Heed God so that you may succeed” (3:200). Are the suicidal attacks against the unknown and innocent people, who may not necessarily agree with the policies of their respective governments, examples of patience and piety?

8) Besides the word Allah, the most frequently used words in the Qur’an are derivatives of the word “qaal” meaning discussion and dialogue. It also offers the following advice, “Invite (people) to your Lord’s way with discretion and kindly instruction, and discuss (things) with them in the politest manner” (16:105). With such an importance placed on discussion and dialogue, as mentioned in the previous verse, are violent acts an accurate way to implement Islam?

9) It has been emphasized in the Qur’an that one should defend oneself in the most honorable and civilized manner. Only in this way can enemies reconcile their differences and attain peace. Needless to say, such a virtuous state of heart and mind is only possible through exhibiting a great deal of compassion for humanity and by possessing a strong will.

10) God has commanded the believers, “0 ye who believe, enter into Islam whole¬heartedly, and follow not the footsteps of the evil one.”

The Holy Qur’an
Translation and commentary by T.B. Irving (Al-Hajj Ta’Iim ‘All)
International Publishing Co. 2000