“Islam involves no violence” is a statement repeated a lot. However, the question here is which Islam is free from violence and where did this ideologically violent version, adopted by Al-Qa'ida, for instance, and causing all this destruction around the world, come from?
The International Foundation for Islamic Civilization (IFIC), in Washington DC, has received several questions from American universities, including George Washington University, about the stance of Islam vis-à-vis violence as part of the universities' study of international terrorism. IFIC has forwarded the questions to a number of Muslim scholars including Sheikh Yasser Al-Habib.
Sheikh Al-Habib has clearly stated that an ideologically violent version of Islam does exist which he has dubbed as ‘the false version of Islam”. He also emphasised that if we return to the true Islam we will not find any encouragement of violence or terrorism. To the contrary, true Islam absolutely forbids violence even against animals and plants. Who then created this false version? Those who turned against the Prophet (peace be upon him and his pure family) after his death are the ones who created this false version which justifies acts of violence and terrorism, he replies.
Due to their importance, the questions and their respective answers are published in full by ‘The Shia Newspaper’.
Q1: How do you view the concepts violence, non-violence and terrorism?
A: Violence is an unjustifiable act or behaviour which leads to the death or injury, whether physical or mental, of an individual, a group or life in general. Non-violence is commitment to peaceful, non-militant behaviours and to abstaining from the use of environmentally or biologically hazardous measures to the greatest possible extent.
Terrorism is quite often the politicisation of violence in order to terrorise the enemy and force it to give in to a certain demand. It is sometimes a reaction to a feeling of defeat.
Q2: What is the relationship between violence and Shari'a (Islamic Law)? Does Islam justify violence?
A: An inverse relationship. The Shari'a does not support the use of violence to achieve objectives and demands. In fact, the Shari’a is based on the principle of spreading peace and equality which eradicate the real causes of violence. These are often marginalisation and oppression of individuals or groups. This principle tops all other moralities of humanity. In this vein, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his pure family) said to his companions “Do not you want me to tell you which is the best of moral behaviour in this world and the next? They said: ‘Yes, please do, Oh Prophet’. He said: ‘Spreading peace in the world’ (Al- Allamah Al-Majlisi, Bihar Al-Anwar, p. 12, quoted from Kitab Al-Ghayat).
Moreover, Islam forbids the use of violence even with the dead, let alone the living. Imam Al-Sadiq (peace be upon him), talking to a companion of his who used to wash the dead before burial, said; “Wash gently and do not be rough” (Al-Klayni , Al-Kafi, p. 140).
Islam further forbids violence to animals. How can it allow it for humans? The Prophet (peace be upon him and his pure family) is reported to have said: “The Almighty God likes kindness and helps those who want to be kind. Therefore, while riding your weak animals, let them rest at their halting places. Should the resting place be barren, then take them away and should it be green, let them rest there” (Shaykh Suduq, Man la Yahdhuruhu Al-Faqih, p. 289).
Stressing the importance of refraining from violence and of kindness and mercy, Imam Al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said; “ The Almighty Allah is kind, likes kindness, and rewards for it what He would not reward for violence” (Al-Klayni, Al-Kafi, p. 119).
Q3: What in your opinion are the factors which encourage some Arab and Muslim groups to commit acts of terrorism and extremism? And what are the most important results of terrorism and extremism?
A: There are two main reasons: first is the existence of a cultural heritage which encourages violence under the illusion that it is islamically justified. Second, the imbalanced international policy gives these groups the impression that Arabs and Muslims are being oppressed. In order to give vent to the generated feelings of anger, these groups become violent.
The results that extremism and violence produce can not be restricted, but can only be confined into one word “destruction”, because the action and the reaction will come successively until the humane community destruction achieved all over.
Q4: How can we contain or uproot extremism and violence?
A: Uprooting extremism and violence requires uprooting the falsifier copy of Islam and replacing it with the real one. The Islamic religion had been distorted by the first coup government - came after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his pure family) - and ended by the successive governments until another Islam came into existence stirring up violence and justifying it.
The governors’ practices starting from Abo Bakr Ibn abi Quhafa up to the governors of Bani Othoman (curse be upon them) set up extremism and terrorism in Islam that was given legality by their religious scholars, whereas we find that the legal leaders of Islam who are the Prophet’s descendants (peace be upon them) warned strictly of bloodshed and violence. Their biographies show kindness and mercy.
Q5: Do you consider violence and non-violence to be the rule or the exception?
A: Violence is neither a rule nor an exception. Islam rejects violence under any circumstances. Peace is the rule, and any other circumstances will lend themselves to special regulations which are not to be called violence.
Q6: What is the relationship between Jihad and violence? Are they one and the same thing?
A: There is no relationship between the two of them. They are completely different from one another. Jihad is an emergency measure used in only two cases: first, defending the Muslim nation from an external attack and defending its unity in case of civil war and, second, saving the oppressed and the weak and spreading of international peace. Jihad is thus the emergency use of force to impose peace if all possible peaceful means, such as negotiations, public and media pressure and the like, fail.
A mature Muslim, according to us the Shi’a, may only initiate Jihad with permission from the infallible Imam who has direct contact with Almighty God, or from his deputies who act as the proper religious authorities in his absence. Even then, the practice of Jihad will be very restricted, for as short a period as possible and killing as few people as possible since Islam is a religion of life not a religion of death.
Q7: In your opinion, does non-violence equal surrender?
A: In fact, surrender leads to victory most of the time, as in the case of Imam Zayn Al-Abideen (peace be upon him), when he was taken to the assembly of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah (curse be upon them), the Imam (peace be upon him) persisted not to requite Yazid when he tried to justify his murder by provoking the Imam (peace be upon him).
The Imam’s effective logical speech expressed his courage that causes Yazid to submit. Everybody familiar with this historical attitude, states that Imam Zayn Al-Abideen (peace be upon him) is the one who defeated Yazid. There are many evidences concerning this subject that can be found in the traditions of the Prophet and his Ahl-Al-Bayt (peace be upon them)
Q8: Does violence have any psychological, social or educational consequences on our behaviour?
A: On the psychological and social front, violence places a barrier to the integration of communities; it places barriers between nations and races, which may result in cultural stagnation, let alone wars and ever-increasing tensions. As far as education is concerned, violence and counter-violence affect the characters of younger generations, giving them a tendency to be aggressive and hostile. This, consequently, aggravates the problem even further with time.
Q9: What is the link between repression, dictatorship, political oppression and violence?
A: There is a direct link between them. These are the main reasons for violence since they create an atmosphere conducive to extremist tendencies.
Q10: Is there a relationship between the following: democracy and violence? Freedom of expression and violence? Intellectual and political pluralism and violence?
A: There is an inverse relationship between violence and these concepts. The larger the scope for democracy, freedom of expression, intellectual and political pluralism, the less violence there is. For example, a limited explosion and terrorist act in London which results in less than a hundred casualties is considered to be an exceptionally dangerous incident and a turning point in the history of a country like the UK, while the ongoing terrorist explosions which result in thousands of casualties in Iraq on a daily basis have become quite common and customary.
The reason is that the first country experiences, to some extent, an environment of democracy, freedom of expression, intellectual and political pluralism. Therefore, any such incidents will seem abnormal and will raise questions as to what pushes a British citizen to do something like this in such an environment. Iraq, on the other hand, has not seen in its modern history freedom or pluralism, equality or democracy. Generations have seen only wars, ethnic cleansing, dictatorship, and marginalisation to the extent that some Iraqis have acquired a rough nature and propensity to work for extremist groups.
Q11: What is the relationship between the Arab ideological knowledge system and the spread of extremism and terrorism? Is that system pro violence, hate and extremism? And does this system pose an obstacle to the progress towards reform and democracy?
A: Yes, the system is pro-violence, hate and extremism. As long as the Arab media is manipulated by the state and other non tolerant entities, the Arab mind will experience a serious crisis of absenteeism. The Arab ideological system is poisoned with hatred, discord and extremism since it has largely been moulded by the media.
Q12: Can any of the cases, past or contemporary, where force is used be considered violent or are they all self-defence? How can a clear framework which determines the right to self-defence be devised?
A: All the battles of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his pure family) and Imam Ali (peace be upon him) were in self-defence. Neither of them would initiate a battle. They would only fight opponents who fought them or were determined on fighting them. These were therefore preemptive wars. Such cases of the use of force are considered legal self-defence.
As for Al-Ta’f battle which Imam Al-Hussayn (peace be upon him ) fought, it was an emergency situation since he needed to put an end to an illegal and oppressive regime. He marched until he was met by the regime’s army and was thus compelled to fight in self-defence.
The framework for the right to self-defence is clearly drawn in Islamic Jurisprudence; that is, the true framework which was not created by pro-regime scholars. According to this framework, force can only be used to put an end to oppression or injustice, or for the establishment of rights and justice. The criterion for establishing right from wrong and justice from oppression is the same criterion drawn from the four sources of Islamic Jurisprudence: the Quran, the Prophetic traditions, reasoning, and unanimous agreement of scholars.
It is noteworthy here that the use of a strong argument is not considered a form of violence. If a Muslim speaks powerfully about his/her religion, or criticises other religions, exposing their incompatibility with reason and logic, this does not make him/her violent. This is a strong argument, and strength is not the same as violence.
Q13: Can violence be used as a main method for solving the problems which peoples and societies face?
A: No, it cannot. It can only lead to temporary spurious successes which cannot last for long in the face of counter-violence.
Q14: Considering that non-violence is the road to objective dialogue, can the methodology of non-violence be an effective alternative to many of the current crises, for example splits, strife, military confrontations, discord?
A: Yes, certainly. It creates a healthy environment conducive to the initiation of dialogue away from the background of violence that has accumulated over time. Mahatma Ghandi in India and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, both contemporary examples, are success cases where change has eventually been brought about through non violent means and on stable foundations.
The problem is that those who resort to violence want to change reality fast. As for those who commit themselves to non-violence, they practice patience as they want the change to be brought about on sound grounds which would withstand in the future.
They do not want a quick and unstable change which would go back to square one as soon as counter- violence starts. Non-violence creates a constant reality as it eradicates the feelings of anxiety suffered by those adversely affected by the change. Violence on the other hand, creates a fragile reality which will not hold since it does not alter the state of disgust suffered by anxious people and, moreover, generates feelings of revenge.
Q15: Can the Islamic revival and change movement be carried out via violence methodology, or non-violence methodology? Or is there another method?
A: Basically, if Islamic revival and change movement adopts the violence methodology, it will become non Islamic since, as we mentioned earlier, the Islamic Shari’a forbids violence and only allows for self-defence and the use of force as appropriate. Therefore, an Islamic revival can not be achieved through violence in the first place.
Q16: How can the culture of non-violence be spread, since some believe that it is an ideal concept difficult to apply?
A: This culture cannot be spread on the remains/background of the false version of Islam, since no matter how hard we tried to inculcate this concept in peoples’ minds via different means of awareness, there will remain the distorted background which will help extremism, terrorism and violence to grow. Therefore, the most valid solution is to uproot this false version altogether, and spread awareness of the true Islam which is based on the teachings received from (the Prophet’s pure family) Ahl Al-Bayt (peace be upon them) and no one else.
Q17: Considering that both types of Islamic movements - violent and non-violent - justify their methodology from Islam, and that the two might be contradictory, which one can lead to the achievement of aims and objectives?
A: As I already said, this contradiction is due to the different sources from which each draws their Islam. The movement which adopts violence draws on a deviant source which led to the creation of the false version of Islam, while the one which draws on the original sources of Islam, the non-violent one, leads to noble aims and objectives.
Q18: What effect did 9/11 have on the existence of Islam in the West? Does this violent incident have a role to play in distorting the image of Islam in the West?
A: There is no doubt that 9/11, and also the recent incidents in Madrid, London and other western capitals have furthered the gap between Islam and these societies and foiled the efforts of those engaged in reforming these societies and encouraging them to adopt Islam. These events have pushed the Islamic movement tens of years back.
However, it is also possible to make positive use of the anxiety generated in the west regarding Islam. The west today seeks to understand what they view as an ‘aggressive’ religion. There is now a desire to know why Muslims attack and fight the West. Such interest in Islam and Muslims can be positively utilised to highlight the greatness of Islam, clarify its message and distance it from the foolish acts of terrorists.
This will eventually lead people to embrace Islam. If people know what Islam really is, they will never give it up. Rather, they will give up Christianity which is incompatible with reason when they know that the true Islam is a religion of culture and progress and other religions, such as Christianity, are religions of stagnation and regression.
Q19: Tyranny, loss of freedom, suppression, oppression, centralisation of power, which of these are the reasons behind violence in the Muslim world? And do any of them play a role in the growth and spread of violence?
A: Yes, all of these are certainly reasons for violence. However, they are all related to the two main reasons I have mentioned earlier, a heritage conducive to violence and the imbalanced international measures which make Muslims feel that they are oppressed, marginalised and discriminated against.
Q20: The world is now experiencing a strong movement of reform, especially the Arab and Muslim world, represented by people taking to the streets in full civil commotion in order to oust governments and force change. In your opinion, what motivates such a movement at this stage?
A: Part of this is true, part is false. Part is self-initiated, part is planned. The true and self-initiated part involves increased Muslim awareness, especially recently, and looking at their history to identify the sources of weakness in order to remedy both the present situation, which has prompted this movement for change, as well as the future situation.
The false part involves the authority seekers in the new stage. They manipulate people’s wish for a different reality under banners of reform and change. Finally the planned part involves those who are supported and prepared by the West to occupy leading positions in the future as part of a Middle East reorganisation strategy. These are the faces of the new occupation. This new occupation takes the form of the propagation of American values and acceptance of American hegemony over the world.
The information technology revolution has played a key role in restructuring/remoulding the Arab and Islamic mind recently. Satellite channels and the internet have changed many of the common ideological values, particularly at this stage of manipulated media and violent culture, and created more scope for free debate. Consequently, people have started to question and change their own ideologies.
Q21: Is civil commotion considered to be a new civilised way of resistance and an alternative to violence? Do you think that it will achieve the objectives of change?
A: It is one of the best means, being very effective and less detrimental to people and properties. I called for civil commotion more than 5 years ago in one of my articles in which I said it is the Islamic way to apply pressure and push for change. It is basically an Islamic ordain as the Shari’a forbids yielding to unjust man-made laws imposed by governments in order to restrict freedom and confiscate rights. Refusal to abide by these man-made laws constitutes a return to Islamic law. Should the people commit themselves to this, then these governments and their laws will automatically be overcome without any blood shed at all.
Q22: It is noticeable that the Arab and Muslim world only accepts reform under strong external pressures, why is that? And is it possible for the Arab and Muslim peoples to carry out the reform without external involvement?
A: Until now the Muslim nation has not recovered its strength because the process of changing convections and views, though faster now than before, is still slow. Therefore, the movement of change and reform in the Muslim world is still unable to confront the old regimes. This is due to the imbalanced scale of power, and hence the need for external support.
I, of course, as a rule, do not consider external support as allowed and suspect the real intentions behind it. However, we are ready to deal with it as a case of emergency in order to achieve ‘what is most important before what is important’ and this in accordance with applicable Islamic rules. It is noteworthy here that this support will not last forever especially with the potential conflict of interests in the future. It is only a temporary support given that nothing remains unchanged in politics.
As for the acceptance of reform, I do not think that the Arab and Muslim world will reject it. It does accept reform but does not know what reform is and is therefore hesitant. Acceptance is largely dependant on awareness.
Q23: Why do tyranny, dictatorship and absolute centralisation of power spread in the Arab and Muslim world? Why is it so much behind in embracing democracy?
A: Centralisation of power is not only practiced here, but also in Eastern Europe, East Asia, and most African and Latin American countries. Our area is as much behind with regard to democracy as they are. But this is not the whole problem. It is also one of awareness, understanding and practice.
The West has turned its back on its religious heritage by revolting against the authority of the church and it has created a better alternative, and consequently achieved progress. The reason is that Christian heritage used to restrict progress due to its incompatibility with science and insistence on myth.
The same thing happened to us, but with inverse results. Muslims too turned against Islam thinking that it is the reason for their lagging behind and forgot that the version of Islam being practiced is false. They did not search for the true version and thought, by following the Christians and rejecting their religion, that they will similarly progress. But it was exactly the opposite since Islam encourages progress and knowledge.
Islam has the greatest and most comprehensive civilisational project for humanity. This is why Muslims are now lagging even more behind than before, when they still had some remains of the true Islam which helped them to progress.
Q24: What are the elements and prerequisites of successful democracy in the Arab and Muslim world?
A: Basically, we do not believe in democracy as a methodology. We believe in Islam with what it offers in terms of public participation in government. It accords more appreciation and respect to the will of the individual whose interests and future are best secured with Islam than with the pure democratic approach. We only use the word democracy for convenience.
Having said that, I would like to emphasise that successful public participation in government depends on the creation of a positive atmosphere in the Arab and Muslim world as explained earlier. Without freeing the atmosphere from the existing tensions, there will be no successful participation.
Q25: Do you wish to see reform coming from without or within? What if reform cannot be achieved from within due to state oppression? What do you think the results will be if the reform comes from without?
A: It goes without saying that the reform coming from within is the correct one. I mean the one which fixes the faults in our dynamic culture, returns our societies to Islam and commits us to its great civilised teachings.
On the other hand, the reform coming from without, as I have already mentioned, is only temporary, being tied with external interests. It is a ‘caricaturial’ reform, so to speak. It is often an illusion since it changes the image but not the reality.
There are many examples of this in history. People who have to deal with reform imposed from outside usually fail later on and get stuck again. But those who lead their own independent internal reform succeed.
I do not forbid ‘seeking support’ from outside in emergency cases where people are unable to bring reform from within provided that this support is limited, approved by Islamic law and used wisely in order to make use of the external force on the basis of exchange of interests rather than dependency or otherwise. I do not forbid this form of help since the rule in Islam is to preserve life and ensure a maximum degree of justice.
Therefore, in case of an eminent danger to Muslim life and sanctity which can only be stopped with external support, the Muslim nation can resort to this type and form of support as an emergency measure if all other means fail.
Iraq is a case in point. In this example, it is self-evident that the reform could have been possible and real if it was from within, in which case the situation could have been much better in terms of security and peace than it is now. This is the difference between internal and external reform.
In their debate about terrorism, people in the west discuss three important questions:
Q1: What is it that makes people terrorists?
A: Persecution, suppression, tyranny, poverty, war, manipulated media, imbalanced international and regional policy and pro-violence heritage.
Q2: What nourishes terrorist groups?
A: A suitable environment, triggers such as wars, and religious and ethnic persecution. For example, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib prison where the Quran was deconsecrated. These provide groups with recruits.
Another thing which helps these groups is the logistic support and money provided by some regimes in a bid to destabilise certain regions, protect themselves and keep the enemy occupied.
For instance, the case of American support of terrorist groups in Afghanistan against the former Soviet Union and in the case of Libya which supported a number of groups in Lebanon, Palestine and even Northern Ireland.
Q3: What are people’s reactions to terrorist attacks?
A: In most cases where there is no direct danger, people’s reaction is no more than feeling slightly sorry for what happened. Some would even be comforted to see their enemy, who has supported their persecution and oppression, suffering like this.
But in case of direct danger where the society itself suffers, the reaction would be so strong that it may lead to counter-violence. For example, a congressman expressed his wish to blow up Muslim sacred places, such as the Ka’aba, in response to the terrorist attacks in America.