Some Western Misconceptions about Islam

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Some Western Misconceptions about Islam

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    Some Western Misconceptions about Islam

    By Rachida El Diwani
    Fulbright Scholar, Chatham College
    Pittsburgh PA 15232
    January 2003
    Part One: Misconceptions about the Prophet Muhammad


    I. Introduction


    One could in fact say that, of the major elements of Islam, the real significance of the Prophet Muhammad is the least understood by the non-Muslims and his personality has not been often rightfully presented.

    II. Reasons for the Misunderstanding


    1. The fact that the message of Islam came after those of Judaism and Christianity made it unacceptable to the two preceding religions.
    2. The Prophet Muhammad was generally presented as a false Prophet and an imposter - to say the least - in the Latin Christian literature and this continued in almost all the modern European ones.
    3. The real personality of the Prophet as his mission and role were very different from those of Jesus who, for the Christians, was representing The Norm for the true founder of a religion. Any difference with this norm was unacceptable and rejected. These differences were obstacles to a better understanding of the personality of the Prophet.
    4. The Islamic conquests of the Christianized Byzantine provinces caused an old-aged animosity with the Latin Church, which tried to fight Islam through the possible means: moral, intellectual, material, etc
    5. The Orientalists, the experts on the Orient, had built a strong hostile tradition about Islam and his Prophet, and this was, and still is, presented as a learned and scientific tradition, although it is more often than not based on pure personal biases and hate for Islam and its Prophet. It cannot be denied though that a small number of Orientalists tried to look at their object of study in an objective and scientific way.


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    III. The Divine Revelation to the Prophet Muhammad


    The Prophet Muhammad received the Divine Order to call the people, once more, for the last time, to the same true religion, thats of worshipping and submitting to the One true God, Allah in Arabic. God ordered him in the Quran: Say, we believe in Allah, and that which has been revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and to the Other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit [3:83].
    The creed of Islam is summed up in the Testimony of Faith: There is no deity but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.
    The Revelation the Prophet Muhammad received from God is called the Quran, which means the Reading or the Recitation. God sent down the Quran on the heart and soul of the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. The Revelation began in the month of Ramadan of the year 610c.e. in the cave of Hira`, in the mountains surrounding Mecca, where the Prophet used to retreat for meditation. It continued for 22 years, until the death of the Prophet, at the age of 62, in Medina.
    The Revelation was brought in clear and distinct Arabic verses Ayaat. They came in an intermittent manner, whenever God found it necessary to reveal how the problems, the circumstances, the needs, the important issues related to the new faith should be dealt with, or to reveal the ways of worshipping, of salvation, of preparation for death and resurrection on the Day of Judgment.
    The Prophet was transmitting faithfully the Words of God to the believers, as those Words were engraved forever in his heart and memory. The companions of the Prophet were memorizing and writing down all the Revelations dictated by the Prophet. All the verses constituting the Quran were put in the order they exist now, under the instructions of Angel Gabriel who had transmitted to the Prophet the Will and the Words of God as embodied today in the Quran.

    IV. Religious and Spiritual Life of the Prophet


    For Muslims, the Prophet is the perfect man and the prototype of the religious and spiritual life. This is difficult to understand for a Christian because, compared to Christ, the earthly career of the Prophet seems often too human and too engrossed in the vicissitudes of social, economic and political activities to serve as a model for the spiritual life.
    The spiritual nature of the Prophet is veiled in his human one and his purely spiritual function is hidden in his duties as a guide of men and a leader of a community. The function of the Prophet was to be, not only the spiritual guide but also the organizer of a new social order with all that such a function implies. And it is precisely this aspect of his being that veils his purely spiritual dimensions from foreign eyes. It may be easy to understand his political genius, his great statesman-ship, but less easy to understand how that same leader has been the religious and spiritual guide of men and how his life could be an example for those who aspire to sanctity. This is particularly true in the modern world where religion is separated from other domains of life and most modern men can hardly imagine how a spiritual being could also be immersed in the most intense political and social activity.
    In fact, in order for Christians to understand the contour of the personality of the Prophet of Islam, they should not compare him with Jesus-Christ whose message was meant primarily for saintly men and who founded a community based on monastic life which later became the norm of a whole society. Rather because of his dual function as King and Prophet, as the guide of men in this world and the hereafter, the Prophet should be compared to the Prophets-Kings of the Old Testament, to David and Solomon, and especially to Abraham himself.
    This type of figure, who is at once a spiritual being and a leader of men has always been rare in the Christian West, especially in modern times. Political life has become so divorced from spiritual principles that, to many people, such a function itself appears an impossibility in proof of which Westerners often point to the purely spiritual life of Christ who said My kingdom is not of this World.
    The figure of the Prophet is thus difficult for many Occidentals to understand and this misconception, to which often bad intention has been added, is responsible for the nearly total ignorance of his true nature in most works written on him in the West.


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    V. The Active Life of the Prophet


    The Prophet did participate in social life in its fullest sense. He married, had a household, was a father and moreover he was a ruler and a judge, and had to fight many wars in which he underwent painful ordeals. He had to undergo many hardships and experienced all the difficulties which human life, especially that of the founder of a new state and society implies. But with all these activities, his heart rested in contentment with the Divine, and he continued inwardly to repose in the Divine peace.
    In fact, his participation in social and political life was precisely to integrate these domains into a spiritual center.
    The Prophet entertained no personal political or worldly ambition whatsoever. He was by nature a contemplative. Before being chosen as Prophet, he did not like to frequent social gatherings and activities. He used to lead a caravan from Mecca to Syria passing through the majestic silence of the desert whose very infinity induced men towards contemplation. He often spent long periods in the cave of Hira`, in the mountains surrounding Mecca, in solitude and meditation.
    He was by nature neither a man of the world nor one who was naturally inclined to seek political power among the Quraysh or social eminence in the Meccan society, although he came from the noblest family. All the traditional sources testify to the great hardship the Prophet underwent by being chosen to participate in the active life in its most acute form.

    VI. The Combativeness of the Prophet


    The Prophet possessed a quality of combativeness, of always being actively engaged in combat against all that negated the Truth and disrupted harmony and equilibrium. Inwardly, this combativeness meant a continuous struggle against the carnal soul, against all that in man tends toward the negation of God and His Will. Outwardly, this combativeness meant fighting wars, either military, political or social wars, the war that the Prophet named the little Jihad, by opposition to the Greater Jihad which is the internal struggle.
    The Prophet believed that if his religion is to be an integral part of life, he must try to establish peace in the most profound sense, namely to establish equilibrium between all the existing forces that surrounded him and to overcome all the forces that tended to destroy this equilibrium.
    Thus the wars undergone by the Prophet were never aiming to oblige anyone to embrace Islam. The Quran stated the rule of: There is no compulsion in religion [2:256], and emphasized the fact that a persons belief in Islam or his rejection to believe is a matter that depends upon mans free will and his sincere conviction. This is stated in hundred of verses like: Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject it [18:129].
    The Quran precised the way to be used to invite people to Islam, and it was not war. The Quran says to the Prophet: Invite to the way of your God with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious [16:125].
    So why wars? The Prophet went on to war only when he was obliged to do so against those who were threatening the existence of the newly born community in Medina. He tried to have peace with everybody, with the Meccans, the Arab tribes, the Jews, etc and when these people were not honoring their pacts concluded with the Muslims, the Prophet went on to war. He did so to protect his community and to allow the people to worship God freely, without oppression or fear.
    Islam was not spread by the sword. But the sword of Islam abolished the oppression of the powerful and the persecutions they were carrying on against the worshipers of God, be they Christians, Jews or Muslims.



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    VII. The Prophet and his Enemies


    The Prophet had also been criticized by non-Muslim authors for having treated some of his enemies harshly. These critics have forgotten that either a religion leaves the world aside, as Christ did, or integrates the world, in which case it must deal with such questions as war, retribution, justice, etc
    The Prophet exercised the utmost kindness possible and was harsh only with traitors. Now, a traitor against a newly founded religious community, which God has willed and whose existence is a mercy from Heaven to mankind, is a traitor against the Truth itself. What appears to some as the cruelty of the Prophet against some idolaters or some Jewish tribes of Medina is precisely that aspect of his function as the instrument of God for the establishment of a new world order which had to be purified from the traitors to the pacts concluded with them to insure the security of the new community in Medina. Those who were collaborating with the enemies and not honoring their promises with the Muslims had to be punished, banned or executed. Any fifth column in the world today would be dealt with in the same manner.
    Otherwise, the Prophet was always the epitome of kindness and generosity. Nowhere are the nobility and generosity of the Prophet better exemplified than in his triumphant entry to Mecca, ten years after his hijrah or immigration to Medina, with his companions. There, at a moment when the very people who had caused untold hardships and trials for the Prophet, were completely subdued by him, instead of thinking of vengeance, which was certainly his due, he forgave them. One must know the almost unimaginable obstacles placed before the Prophet by the same people, of the immense suffering he and his new community had undergone because of them, over 20 years, to realize what degree of generosity this act of the Prophet implied.
    What directed the life of the Prophet was his love for God, which in conformity with the general perspective of Islam, was never divorced from knowledge of Him and perfect surrender to His Will. A well-known tradition hadith reports one of the Prophets supplications to God: O Lord, grant to me the love of Thee. Grant that I love those who love Thee. Grant that I may do the deeds that win thy love. Make Thy love dearer to me than self, family and wealth.

    VIII. The Marriages of the Prophet

    The multiple marriages of the Prophet, in the tradition of the Biblical Prophets and of the customs of the region, were not signs of his lenience vis--vis the flesh. Let me quote the noted British author Parrinder (in Mysticism in the Worlds Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1976, p. 161), he said: No great religions leader has been so maligned as Muhammad. Attacked in the past as a heretic, an imposter, or a sensualist, it is still possible to find him referred to as the false prophet. A modern German writer accuses Muhammad of sensuality, surrounding himself with young women. This man was not married until he was twenty-five years of age. Then he and his wife (of forty years old) lived in happiness and fidelity for twenty-four years, until her death when he was forty-nine. Only between the age of fifty and his death at sixty two did Muhammad take other wives, only one of whom was a virgin, and most of them were taken for dynastic and political reasons (cited by J. Esposito, in Islam, the Straight Path, New York, Oxford University Press, 1991, p.18).
    Multiple marriages, for him, were not so much enjoyments as responsibility and means of integration of the newly founded society. Besides, in Islam, the whole problem of sexuality appears in a different light from that in Christianity. Sexuality is sacred in Islam and is integrated to the equilibrium of life Islam seeks for the human being. That is why it should not be judged by Christian standards. The marriages of the Prophet symbolize his patriarchal nature and his function, not as a saint who withdraws from the world, but as one who sanctifies the very life of the world by living it and accepting it with the aim of integrating it into a higher order of reality.

    IX. Conclusion

    For the Muslims, the Prophet represents the human equilibrium that has become extinct in the Divine Truth. He marks the establishment of Harmony and Equilibrium between all the tendencies present in man: the sensual, social, economic, political tendencies that cannot be overcome unless the human state itself is transcended. His spiritual way means to accept the human condition that is normalized and sanctified as the foundation for the loftiest spiritual castle. The Prophet represents the spirituality of Islam, which is not the rejection of the world but the transcending of it through its integration into a center and the establishment of a harmony upon which the quest for the Absolute is based.


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    Part Two: Peace and Conflicts in Islam

    I. Introduction


    Since the horrific and tragic events of 9-11, little has been more discussed than the violence attributed to Islam. There are people who are determined to paint terrorism and Islam with the same brush. Simplified and undifferentiated descriptions of the Islamic religion help create an image by which Islam is seen as hostile and dangerous to the Western Civilization.
    While the terrorist crime of 9-11 may have been the work of some misled individuals, it was certainly not the product of orthodox Islam. Islam is a religion that preaches peace, as its very name Islam means: submission to the will of God, and through this submission, one becomes Muslim meaning: submitted to the will of God, and enter in Islam the realm of Salaam- peace from within and peace from without. Peace with oneself and Peace with others. Salaam Peace- is one of the Divine Names.
    Islam is a religion that preaches peace, compassion and justice. The Kamikaze assault on innocent civilians stood in direct conflict with Islams most elementary principles, teachings and spirit.

    II. Islam and Peace


    Islam sets up certain principles that constitute, when followed, solid ground for the achievement of peace among various peoples of the world. These principles include the following:

    1. Equality of Mankind Before God: All human beings are equal in the sight of God. Piety and God-consciousness are the criteria on which one is judged by God, as He tells us in the Quran. This equality is an important basis for mutual respect and understanding and consequently peace among individuals and communities.
    2. Justice in all Circumstances: Meaningful peace cannot be achieved without justice. Injustice leads to wickedness and anarchy, as we can see today. The Islamic sense of justice demands that we should love for others what we love for ourselves and treat others as we would like to be treated. The Quran says: O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witness to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety [5:8].
    3. Defense Readiness: Those who are inclined to peace become an object of attack by the wicked ones if they fail to plan for their self-defense. Islam has taken this into consideration and urged Muslims to equip themselves and to improve their capabilities in defense of peace and justice and in the wording off of oppression and injustice. Islam has however, balanced this by prohibiting aggression, hostility and wanton destruction of lives and properties.
    4. Peaceful Disposition to Others: Muslims are commended to stretch the hand of friendship to others among mankind and are forbidden to open hostilities or start aggression. The way for peace should be kept open and whenever the enemy inclines toward peace, the opportunity must be seized.
    5. Cooperation with Others for the Good of Mankind: Islam recognizes the need of cooperation among nations and cultures for the good of all.

    These are some of the Islamic principles for the achievement of world peace. Unfortunately the Islamic world today is full of tension, basically because of the lack of almost all these points that are sometimes due to the Muslims and sometimes due to the others. But the fact is that the Muslim people are not really living according to the Islamic principles. Although, in the Islamic world, the majority of the population is Muslim, very few have governments who exist and rule according to the true Islamic principles and allow an authentic Islamic life.
    The Islamist movements call for an Islamic way of life. They are repressed by governments with secular tendencies that are often backed by the West who fear Islam. Some of the Islamists, repressed, resort to terrorism, to express themselves. As someone said Terrorism in the arm of the weak.


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    III. Jihad


    The goal of Islam is the attainment of peace, inwardly and outwardly, and this is only possible through Jihad. The concept of Jihad cannot be rendered simply by the current erroneous translation of Holy war. Jihad is derived from the Arabic root Jahada that means to strive or to exert oneself. So, Jihad would be rendered more exactly by striving: or exerting oneself in the path of Allah, or to please Allah, and this is not necessarily through war.
    Its translation into Holy war combined with the erroneous notion of Islam, prevalent in the West, as the religion of the sword, has helped to eclipse its inner and spiritual significance and to distort its connotation.
    To understand the spiritual significance of Jihad and its wide application to nearly every aspect of human life as understood by Islam, we should know that Islam bases itself upon the idea of establishing equilibrium within the being of man, as well as in the human society where he functions and fulfils the goal of his earthly life.
    This equilibrium, which is the terrestrial reflection of Divine Justice and the necessary condition for peace in the human domain, is the basis upon which the soul takes flight towards that peace. But to remain in equilibrium in the face of the contingencies of life requires continuous exertion. It means carrying out Jihad at every stage of life: for example, to fight our bad tendencies, to be good with the others, to do our best for the world community, etc. This continuous exertion of the self to please God would prevent the ever-present danger of loss of equilibrium, which leads to disintegration on the individual level and chaos on the scale of community life. This continuous exertion would also allow the realization of unity al Tawheed or total integration of the individual to the Divine order of the universe and thus, realizing peace inwardly and outwardly.
    This meaning of Jihad explains why Muslims, both as individuals and members of the Islamic society must carry out Jihad and exert themselves at all moments to fight a battle, at once both inward and outward, against those forces that, if not combated, will destroy that necessary equilibrium.
    In its most outward sense, Jihad came to signify the defense of Dar-al-Islam, that is, the Islamic world, from invasion and intrusion by non-Islamic forces. The earliest wars of Islamic history, which threatened the very existence of the young community, came to be known as Jihad, par excellence, in this outward sense of Holy war. But upon returning from one of these early wars, which were of paramount importance for the survival of the newly established religious community, the Prophet said to his companions that they returned from the lesser Jihad to the greater Jihad: the inner battle against all forces which would prevent man from living according to his primordial and God-given nature.
    To defend their Islamic world, Muslims may use force. All force used under the guidance of the divine Law with the aim of re-establishing an equilibrium that is destroyed is accepted and in fact necessary for it means to carry out and establish justice. Moreover, not to use force in such a way is to fall prey to other forces that cannot but increase disequilibrium and disorder and result in greater injustice. The force used here can be swift and intense or gentle and mild, depending upon the circumstances. But force would be used only to establish equilibrium and harmony and not for personal or sectarian reasons, and this will be done not by individuals but by the consensus of the free will of the Muslim scholars and leaders. The Islamic concept of justice itself is related to equilibrium, the word for justice al-3adl in Arabic being related in its etymology to the word for equilibrium ta-3adul.
    Force is to be found everywhere in the world, in nature as well as in human society, among men as well as among the human soul. By embracing the world and not shunning the kingdom of man, Islam took upon itself responsibility for the world in which force is present but Islam limited this use of force.
    The concept of Jihad is badly presented to the Western people consciously or unconsciously. Among scholars who propagated a distorted image about Jihad is Bernard Lewis, who views Islam as a militant, indeed as a military religion, and its followers as fanatical warriors, engaged in spreading their faith and their Law by armed might (The Political Language of Islam, Univ. of Chicago press, 1988, p.71).
    Moreover, since the breakdown of the former Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, an orientalist school of thought has flourished in the West, best represented by Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington and Daniel Pipes. This school deems that hostility is a deep rooted feature of the Muslim psyche, thanks to the distorted theory of Jihad, and that Islam has replaced communism as the new world threat. Unfortunately, these three persons are or were advisors on the Middle East policy in the Department of Foreign Affairs, USA. This explains some of the USA foreign policy towards the Islamic World.
    If we go back to the Islamic Laws Shari3a dealing with the doctrine of Jihad, we will find that peace is the rule and war is the exception, and that no obligatory state of war exists between Muslims and the rest of the world, nor is Jihad should be waged until the world has either accepted the Islamic faith or submitted to the power of the Islamic state, as those who are distorting the concept of Jihad want the Westerner to believe.
    In the Jihad doctrine, a defensive war can be launched with the aim of establishing justice, equity and protecting basic human rights. Accordingly, Islamic humanitarian law strictly lays down a number of humane rules compatible with those established by international humanitarian law governing the conduct of war and the treatment of enemys persons and property.
    What is happening today in the Islamic World concerning the human rights violation, not even the rights of the enemies of Islam, but those of the very Muslim citizens by their own governments is an aberrant accident in the history of Islam.

    IV. Is Islam the Religion of the Sword as it is said?


    No, Islam is not the religion of the sword by any mean. It is true that the sacred history of Islam began as an epic with the rapid spread of the Arabs outside of Arabia in an event that changed the world history forever. But this rapid expansion did not mean forced conversion of Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians or others who, still to that day, live with the Muslims. In Persia three hundred years after Islamic rule, much of the country was still Zoroastrian and the same is true for the other indigenous religions in all the other provinces conquered by the Muslims, be it Syria, Egypt, Iraq, North-Africa, Spain, etc It took them centuries to have a Muslim majority or to become Arabic speaking. Up to this day, there is a Coptic-Christian minority in Egypt claiming to go back to the Pharos and to be the pure blood Egyptians. No body forced them to change their religion. The early Islamic conquests were meant to liberate the indigenous populations in these countries from the Byzantines and the Persians who were oppressing and persecuting them. The indigenous populations were welcoming the Arab armies and that is why the conquests were so rapid. The populations did not resist them and the Arabs had to fight just one battle in almost every country before the country was surrendering. There was no resistance but cooperation from the populations of these countries.
    I would like to quote here Michael the Elder, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, writing in the latter half of the twelfth century, approving the welcoming attitude of his ancestors co-religionists at the advent of the Islamic armies in the 7th century and seeing the finger of God in the Arab conquests even after the Eastern Churches had had five centuries of experience with the Islamic rule. After recounting the persecutions carried on by Heraclius against what he was considering as Christian heretics, Michael the Elder wrote: This is why the God of Vengeance - Who alone is all-powerful, and changes the empires of mortals as He will, giving it to whomsoever He will, and uplifting the Humble-beholding the wickedness of the Romans, who, throughout their dominions, cruelly plundered our churches and our monasteries and condemned us without pity brought from the region of the south the sons of Ishmael, to deliver us through them from the hands of the Romans It was no slight advantage for us to be delivered from the cruelty of the Romans, their wickedness, their wrath and cruel zeal against us, and to find ourselves at peace (quoted by T.W. Arnold in the Preaching of Islam, Dwarf Publishers LTD, London, 1986, pp.54-56).
    While for the West, the spread of Islam is associated with the sword, hardly anyone ever mentions the brutal manner in which Northern Europeans were forcefully converted to Christianity, and the older European religions destroyed. Even the Crusades, carried out in the name of Christianity, did not succeed in changing the Western image of Christianity as the religion of peace and Islam as the religion of the sword. The atrocities of the Inquisition against the Muslims and the Jews of Spain and against all kind of the so-called heretics, the violent conversion of the Muslim Phillipinos who survived the horrors of slaughtering the Muslim population of Manila by the Spaniards, the eradication of whole ethnic groups in the newly discovered world of the Americas and Australia, because they were not Christians, the wars and colonization carried out in Asia and Africa by the Christians, all these violence were not enough to tarnish the reputation of Christianity as a religion of peace nor that of Islam as the religion of the sword!


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    V. Terrorism


    The World had seen since the 1970s a development of terrorism by religious groups. Outside the Middle East this is easily presented as inherent to Islam. Such anti-Islamic stereotyping is easily reinforced by the rhetoric of some extremist Islamist movements like Al-Qaida and its leader Ben Laden, who calls for an indiscriminate use of violence against all who collaborate with the apostate regimes in the Islamic countries and against their Western allies and the Zionists. Ben Laden call them Apostate because they do not have Islamic rule.
    As sad as these acts of violence perpetrated by the extremist Islamist groups can be, I would like to point out to a fact: The incidence of political violence by groups invoking religion is by no means specific to Islam: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism have all been invoked by those using violence from below and above. In Northern Ireland, Christians of two sects Catholics and Protestants have invoked religion to justify their crimes. In Israel fanatic Jewish groups have advocated violence by the Israeli State when it has suited them, and independently when it has not. Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinians in the Hebron Mosque in 1994, claimed to be doing the work of God. In India, there has been an ominous rise in the use of force by Hindu chauvinists groups, to terrorize their Muslim and Christian fellow citizens.
    There is a misuse of the term terrorism for polemical political purposes: On the one hand, to delegitimize not just the actions but the very program of political groups who mobilize Muslim people, on the other hand, to confine discussion of terrorism only to Muslim States. The Middle East has seen terrorist actions from above by states acting in the name of Islam, like Egypt, but also by Israel and by secular regimes in Turkey. In his A Clash of Civilization, Huntington argues that Islam has bloody frontiers, he does not however provide an accurate account of where the responsibility for this bloodiness may lie in Bosnia, Kosovo, Palestine, Kashmir, etc (cf. Fred Halliday, Nation and Religion in the Middle East).
    Long before 9-11, since the 70s and 80s, the issue of terrorism had been taken out of context and has been exaggerated and distorted. I do not mean in any way to detract from the moral and human seriousness of the terrorist phenomenon. There does, however, seem to be a tendency to inflate and distort the question. The USA had since some time ago made much of the issue and presented it as a unitary, worldwide threat. Governments in the Middle East have also made much of the issue to discredit their opponents, and conceal their own uses of political violence, domestically and internationally. Israel has long done this, in an attempt to discredit the Palestinian cause: Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular, made a career out of self-serving demagogy about Terrorism. Arab governments have also used the issue of terrorism to justify their own repressive policies, and to identify all political opponents with the cause of political violence. The Turkish government has used the term terrorism to justify its refusal to develop a political solution to the Kurdish question. There should not be legitimate criticism of the use of political violence by opponents of a state if it does not permit a full and open examination of the right to rebel, and of the conditions under which such a right may apply. The castigation by governments of the USA, Israel, Egypt, or Turkey of terrorist opponents may not always be without justification. In their usage, however, it precludes assessment of actions in which they and their clients have been involved.
    The use of the term terrorist today, especially with the War on Terrorism, is very often used to denote any liberation movement or nationalist movement of which states or people in the West or Israel disapprove. Today, among Muslims, it is especially the Palestinians fighting for their land and the Iraqis, who are the most considerate by the US administration and Israel as Terrorists and this is for obvious reasons.
    What is really striking is although a lot has been said about the causes of Islamic terrorism, nothing of this has been taken into consideration, in the USA or in the Islamic countries themselves to put an end to this problem. Using force against those terrorists has been seen as the only valid solid solution to the problem, although I think that repression and crushing will just add to the problem. Violence always brings violence, and the present Islamic terrorism itself is a result of some inflicted violence.

    VI. Conclusion


    After having gone through some of the anti-Islamic misconceptions relating Islam to violence and terrorism, I will conclude on a more peaceful note.
    Every one speaks today of the need for peace, thanks largely to the modern military technology, which has brought the horrors of war to an inconceivable level. But there is also an innate yearning for peace in the soul of human beings. One might ask why this innate yearning for peace. Islamic teachings have a clear answer to this question, one that clarifies the concept and reality of peace in the Islamic context. In the Quran, God refers to Himself as As-Salaam. Peace. For Muslims, God is Peace and our yearning for peace could be nothing more than our yearning for God.
    For Muslims, only religion is able to take them to the Abode of Peace, which is ultimately paradisal reality and Divine presence. Over and over again the Quran identifies peace with the paradisal states. And the greeting of the dwellers of Paradise will be: Peace be unto you. And for you too peace be unto you.


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    . Normative teaching of Islam

    Now, let us see the normative teachings of Islam with regard to the status and role of women in society. We will have thus the criteria by which one can judge the practice of Muslims and evaluate their compliance with Islam.
    The principles extracted from the verses of the Quran and the words of the Prophet are in themselves, for Muslims, absolute, but the way they are implemented can differ to suit the diverse times, places, needs, the historical situations and the changes brought in the life of Muslims.
    Now we will see the status of women in the Quran and Sunnah.
    The status of women in the Quran and Sunnah

    We shall go through:
    I. The spiritual aspect.
    II. The economical aspect.
    III. The Social aspect.
    IV. The political aspect.
    V. The legal aspect.

    I. The Spiritual Aspect

    The Quran provides evidence that men and women are having the same human spiritual nature, and the same duties and responsibilities.
    a. The same human spiritual nature:
    1. God says in the Quran:
    O Mankind! Fear your Guardian-Lord, who created you from one soul, and created of like nature, his mate, and from them two scattered countless men and women[4:1].
    2. Both men and women are recipients of the divine breath, because they are created with the same human spiritual nature as said above.
    3. Allah has invested both genders with inherent dignity and has made men and women, collectively, his trustees on earth.
    4. The Quran doesnt blame women for the fall of man. Adam and Eve are hold equally responsible for their sin in the Garden. Eve is never singled out for blame.
    5. The Quran does not view pregnancy and childbirth as Eves punishment for having eaten from the forbidden tree. It rather esteems pregnancy and childbirth as sufficient reasons for the love and respect due to mothers from their children.
    b. Duties And Responsibilities:
    - Men and Women have the same religious and moral duties and responsibilities. The Quran says:
    Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: you are members of one another[3:195].
    - According to Prophet Muhammads saying:
    Women are but twin-halves of men (shaqaiq).
    This hadith relates directly to the issue of gender equality: The male is worth one half and the female the other half. Can one half be better or bigger than the other half?
    c. Criterion for superiority:
    The Quran is quite clear about the claimed superiority or inferiority of any human. It says:
    O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is one who is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things[49:13].
    Our having been created by the One and Only creator implies our basic equality before Him: He is just to all. Being a faithful creature, servant and worshiper of the One God is at the heart of ones real spirituality and humanness.
    Being created from a male and a female, referring to Adam and Eve means that all mankind belongs to the same family, with one common set of parents. Each component of the pair is as necessary and as important as the other one and hence is equal to him or her.
    Nowhere does the Quran state that one gender is superior to the other. Some interpreters of the Quran mistakenly take the Arabic word Quewamah for superiority. But Quewamah means in fact to take care of, to provide for.
    The Quran makes it clear that the sole basis for the superiority of any person is piety and righteousness, not gender, color or nationality.

    II. The Social Aspect
    Whats new Islam had brought to the social aspect of womens life?
    a. As a Daughter
    1. The Quran ended the cruel pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide, wad.
    2. The Quran went further and rebuked the unwelcoming attitude of some parents upon hearing the news of the birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy.
    3. Parents are duty bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters.
    4. A crucial aspect in the upbringing of daughters that greatly influences their future is education. Education is not only a right, but also a responsibility for all males and females.
    b. As a Mother
    1. The Quran elevates kindness to parents to a status second only to the worship of Allah:
    And we have enjoined on every human being (to be good) to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her and years twain was his/her weaning: hear the command show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is your final destination[31:14].
    2. Naturally, the Prophet specified this good behavior to his followers, rendering to mothers an unequaled status in human relationship.
    A man came to the Prophet asking: O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?. The Prophet said: Your mother, the man asked: Then, who is next. The Prophet said: Your mother, the man asked: Then, who is next. The Prophet said: Your mother, the man further asked: Then, who is next. The Prophet said: Your father.
    c. Towards Women in general
    Prophet Muhammad taught kindness, care and respect towards all women, he said:
    I commend you to be kind to women.
    It is the generous among you who is good to women and it is the wicked who insults them.
    d. As a Wife


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    a.
    Marriage:
    1. Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love and compassion.
    2. The female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals. Her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the marital contract, according to the Prophets teaching.
    3. The woman is entitled to receive a marital gift, Mahr depending on the grooms financial situation, which is to be included in the nuptial contract, and such ownership does not transfer to her father or husband.
    4. The woman keeps her maiden name. She has separate identity from her husbands. She keeps all her properties and enjoys full right to dispose of them.
    5. In consideration of the physiological and psychological makeup of men and women, both have equal rights and claims on one another, except for one responsibility, that of Quewamah maintenance,.providing for, taking care of as described in another verse [4:34]. This refers to that natural difference between the sexes that makes the man more suitable to provide for the woman, the only one capable of bearing children and bringing them into existence. It is important to fulfill all the needs, spiritual, intellectual and material of the woman so she can carry on this noble function. The Quran delineates another function for males to create a balance in human relations and to allow the continuation of human existence.
    The Quran recommends kind treatment and consideration to the wife. Even if a wife falls out of favor with her husband, or disinclination for her arises within him. The Prophet Muhammad said:
    The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to their wives..
    Should marital disputes arise, the Quran encourages couples to resolve them in a spirit of fairness and probity.
    Divorce:
    1. If husband and wife cannot resolve their problems in a spirit of fairness and probity and if mediation of the families of both spouses does not succeed neither, then divorce is permissible. Forms of marriage dissolution include enactment based upon mutual agreement, the husbands initiative, the wifes initiative (If part of her marital contract), the courts decision on a wifes initiative (If there is a cause), and the wifes initiative, without a cause, provide that she returns her marital gift to the husband (Kul3 or divestiture).
    2. Priority of the custody of young children is given to the mother. Later a child may choose the mother or the father as custodian. Custody questions are to be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents and the well-being of the child.
    3. The woman divorcee is entitled to full support (nafaqua) during the waiting period, the nursing period and the child support period. She is also entitled to alimony from the ex-husband (mot3a).
    Polygamy:
    The Quran allowed the continuation of polygamy long practiced by the Prophets of the Bible. The Quran regulated it and limited the number of co-wives to four. The condition of absolute fairness and equality in dealing with his wives is required from the husband. If he thinks that this condition is beyond his capacities, he should not marry more than on wife.
    But why God allowed such a practice? There is a general rule in Islamic law: The lesser of two evils is always to be chosen. There are always some special situations where polygamy is the lesser harm.
    1. On the Individual Scale
    a. If a wife is barren and the husband aspires to have children and heir.
    a. A man whose wife becomes chronically ill.
    Islam being against illicit sexual relationships, hypocritical pretence of morality and against divorce, unless no better solution is available, provides for a better alternative that is consistent with human nature and with the preservation of pure and legitimate sex relationships. In a situation like this, it is doubtful that any solution would be better than polygamy, which is after all an optional solution.
    2. On the Social Scale
    Aside from natural cases where women outnumber men, devastating wars in the past and at present, have taken their toll mainly among men. The result is not only simply more women who cannot find husbands, but also even more widows who may aspire to a respectable family life. Polygamy can be a good solution to that problem. Unmarried women and widows are human beings. Unless their human needs are legitimately satisfied, the temptation is great for corruption and immorality. But aside from the moral question, these women are also exploited. They are used, as tools for mens pleasure, yet have no guarantees, no rights or security, financial or emotional. Should they become pregnant, it is their burden alone. But even if such women are ready to pay the price for this personally, society suffers seriously from such situations. The increasing number of illegitimate children born today under conditions such as these provides a potential base for tomorrows criminals. Furthermore, it is inhuman, humiliating for those children to grow up without knowing who their fathers are and without enjoying a normal family life. A second wife legally married and treated kindly is better off than a mistress without any legal rights or security. The second wife is having exactly the same rights as the first one. The legitimate child of a polygamous father, born in the full light of the day, and who enjoys all the rights and privileges of a son or a daughter is far better than the unwanted illegitimate child.
    Let us see the situation of the first wife when her husband decides to marry a second wife. We say marry and not kidnap, buy or seduce. She is free to accept or to refuse to be a second wife. (The first and the second wives have identical status):
    - The first wife may be barren or chronically ill and see in polygamy a better solution than divorce.
    - She may divorce him, unilaterally, if her nuptial contract gives her the right to do so (Ismah) or if it is included as a condition that her prospective husband shall practice monogamy. Should the husband violate this condition, his first wife would be entitled to seek divorce with all the financial rights connected to it.
    - She can go to court and ask for divorce if the second marriage of her husband causes her damage of any kind: materially, physically or psychologically.
    - She can seek Khul3 (divestiture), dissolution of the marriage if she does not like to continue life with that husband without the husband being guilty of any injustice or wrong doing. She only has to give back to the husband her marital gift.
    N.B. Not all women think about polygamy the negative way the Western people and even the Oriental but Westernized women would think about it. It is a question of culture. The Muslims are not the only people to accept polygamy. Women who have polygamous husbands do not all suffer as Westerners may think. On the opposite, in some cultures and areas, women prefer polygamy and have no problems dealing with the co-wife (or co-wives) of the polygamous husband and his kids from the other wife. Some of them even like this part-time husband, the help the other co-wife or co-wives would give for raising the children, or just to have company.

    e. Modesty and Social Interaction
    1. Muslim men and women are free to dwell together in social life under some conditions related to the modest clothes and behavior they should observe in society. The Islamic dress is a sign of modesty that is necessary for the well being of the Muslim women. The purpose of the Muslim womans dress is her protection. Quran is so concerned with protecting bodies and womens reputations that any person who dares to accuse a woman of unchastity without bringing four witnesses is to be severely punished. The Muslim womans dress is thus imposed by God and not by men. It is not the symbol of the submission of women to their husbands, or fathers, but it is the symbol of their submission to God who knows better what is good for them. Actually the dress of the Muslim woman does not play on nor exploit her feminine attractions. It emancipates her from her own desires and from the others, being men, fashion, society, etc and further she is valued only for her spiritual, intellectual and human capacity. The Islamic modesty allows men and women to transcend their basic desires and to achieve the goal for which they are created: the khilafah, the trusteeship of God on earth.
    2. Women at the Prophets time participated with men in acts of worship, such as prayers and pilgrimage, in every day life, in the market place, in the discussion of public issues, in political life and in battlefield: fighting, caring for the wounded, giving water and helping wherever she could. She is considered a full member of the society.
    3. The general rule in social life is participation and collaboration of males and females in public affairs: the Quran says:
    The believers, men and women, are protectors one of another; they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil; they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity and obey Allah and His apostle. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is exalted in power and wise[9:7].
    4. Women used to discuss with the Prophet the details of the new religion and especially what concerned them personally.
    5. The wives of the Prophet were a source of learning for all Muslims, men and women. The Prophet used to say to his companions about Aicha, his own wife:
    Take your religion from her.
    They used to come and ask her during the life of the Prophet and after his death. She narrated hundreds of the best-authenticated sayings of the Prophet, contributing thus to the preservation of the Sunnah. She also memorized the Quran and was an authority in interpreting it.
    6. The Muslim women wanted to be learned in the new religion. One of them asked the Prophet:
    Oh, Messenger of God, men have monopoly of all what you say. Appoint for us a day on which you may teach us what God has taught you.
    He appointed a time and place for them separately and he used to go and teach them. But this did not mean that they should separate from mens gatherings.


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    III. The Economical Aspect

    1. The Right to Possess Personal Property
    Islam decreed a right of which women were deprived before Islam: The right of independent ownership. Islam acknowledged the womans right to her money, real estate or properties. This right undergoes no change whether she is single or married. She retains her full properties. It is nowhere suggested in the Quran or the Sunnah that a woman is a minor because she is female. The Muslim woman keeps, all her life, her maiden name, an indication of her independent legal entity.
    2. Financial Security
    Financial security is assured for women in all stages of their lives, as a daughter, wife, mother, sister and sister in faith.
    a. As a daughter: Her father is fully responsible of her until she can earn her sustenance or get married.
    b. As a mother: Her husband should provide for all her needs. If he cannot, her son takes over the responsibilities of his father.
    c. As a sister: If the father cannot meet his responsibilities, her brother replaces the father.
    d. As a sister in faith: All the Muslim community is responsible for the women in need. Zakat (the obligatory Alms) is there to provide for them.
    e. As a wife: She is entitled to full financial support during marriage, and during waiting period (Iddah) in case of divorce or widowhood. The divorcee is also entitled to alimony from her ex-husband. Her financial support does not depend on her own wealth but on the husbands wealth.
    3. Inheritance
    Islam restored to the woman the right of inheritance, after having been herself an object of inheritance in some cultures. Her share is completely hers and no one can make any claim on it, including her father and her husband. Her share in most cases is one-half the mans share with no implication that she is worth half a man. The variation in inheritance rights is only consistent with the variations in financial responsibilities of man and woman according to the Islamic law. Man in Islam is fully responsible for the maintenance of his wife, his children, and in some cases of his needy relatives, especially females. This responsibility is neither waived nor reduced because of his wifes wealth or because of her access to any personal income gained from work, rent, profit or any other legal means. She has no obligation to spend on her family. An examination of the inheritance law reveals not only justice but also an abundance of compassion for women.
    4. Employment
    Nothing in the Quran or the Sunnah prevents the Muslim woman from practicing a job or a profession needed by her society, for her own benefit and the benefit of the society. Surely raising her own kids must come on top of her priorities.
    After the death of the Prophet, when Umar Ibn Al Khattab was the Khalif, he nominated a woman Alchiffa as the supervisor of the towns market. If a Muslim woman is able to carry out a job without causing or enduring any prejudice for her or for the society, she is entitled to have it.
    IV. The Political Aspect

    1. Women, at the time of the Prophet, used to participate in the Presidential elections: The new converts had to give a pledge, personally, to the Prophet. Every one was responsible for the pledge she or he gave to the President they have chosen. No man could pledge on behalf of his daughter, wife, sister or mother, nor man could repudiate that pledge. This is true of any vow or pledge a woman makes.
    The young Muslim community grew in this way, thanks to the individuals who were choosing personally, the new leader, the Prophet Muhammad. This shows clearly the importance of women in the political life.
    2. Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet, acted as his secretary of defense during the event of the truce of Hudaybeyah. The Muslims who were going to do the pilgrimage to Mekka were prevented by the pagans and the Prophet agreed to make a truce with them. But that truce did not seem acceptable to the Muslims. They stayed quiet but did not obey the Prophets orders. The Prophet told Umm Salama about that delicate situation and she suggested to him what to do. He carried on her suggestion and effectively he was obeyed.
    3. The Quran gives the story of the Queen of Sheeba celebrating both her political and religious practices. The Quran demonstrates that her judgment was better than the norm, and she independently demonstrated that better judgment. The Quran shows that her faith and her politics were of a high level. They indicate one who has knowledge, acts on it, and can therefore accept the truth.
    V. The Legal Aspect

    1. It is true that the Quran has instructed the believers dealing in financial transactions to get two male witnesses or one male and two females [2:282]. The reason given in the same verse is so that if one of them errs the other can remind her. In the wording of this verse, both women are not called as witnesses. One woman is designated to remind the other: she acts as corroborator. Although the women are two, they each function differently. However, considering that women could be coerced in that society - and even in todays societies - if one witness was female, she would be easy prey for some male who wanted to force her to disclaim her testimony. When there are two women, they can support one another, especially in view of the term chosen: if she tudilla, goes astray, errs, the other can Tudhakkira reminds her, or recall her attention to the terms of agreement. The single unit which comprises two women with distinct functions not only gives each woman significant individual worth, but also forms a united front against the others. Despite the social constraints, at the time of Revelation inexperience and coercion of women a woman was nevertheless considered a potential witness, with potential resources.
    2. It is also true that the Quran in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. In fact, the womans testimony can invalidate the mans. If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Quran to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wifes guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she is not considered guilty and the marriage is dissolved [24:6-9].
    Conclusion

    Islam, as we have seen, gave women an independent identity and declared that their moral and spiritual gains depended solely on their own performance. Like man, a womans failure or success rests on her own beliefs, attitude, behavior and conduct. She is a responsible being in her own rights and carries the burden of her moral and spiritual obligations.



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Some Western Misconceptions about Islam

Some Western Misconceptions about Islam