P.O. Box 41, 4000 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6S 2T7
Since September 11 last year, I’ve been invited to many churches, schools and community centres, to speak about Islam to non-Muslims. People curiously ask if I’m trying to convert others or get converted myself! I tell them it’s neither – what I do is essentially ‘damage control’. With the passage of time, I thought this fleeting interest in Islam and Muslims will fade, like a passing fad. Much to my surprise, it hasn’t and today, one year down the road, I still find myself doing the rounds of Islam one-o-one!
One of the most satisfying aspect of these sessions is the Q & A’s; this is when real issues surface and the specter of an unknown fear is put to rest so I usually start off by telling my listeners that no question is too controversial and no issue, too contentious for me. Questions have ranged from sublime to the ridiculous. “How many wives does your husband have?” to “what is the history of the turban in Islam?”
However one serious question that is posed every time, in various formats is, “Is violence a part of the faith and does it say, somewhere in your scripture that suicide is an honorable act to be rewarded by God? Is killing non-Muslims a form of jihad?” This query is not totally rooted in ignorance, in light of the fact that just last week, a passenger was arrested at Terminal One of Pearson Airport for shouting “Death to the Jews”! Or based on the new support group of Osama bin Laden that has sprouted in England (reported in The Toronto Star on August 26.
So, it concerns me that while I spend valuable time and energy informing non- Muslims about the true interpretation of jihad (moral, intellectual and spiritual striving) and that violence and suicide are forbidden in Islam, there are many people in positions of authority within the Muslim world, who simultaneously promote and condone violence. These are Islamists who believe that their Jihad is physical violence against civilians seen to be their enemy; to blow themselves up for political aims and to rid the earth of non-Muslims. Obviously, their jihad and my jihad are not the same. And I believe that the Jihad preached and practiced by the Messenger of Islam Mohammad, is not the one being propagated by people who support the path of violence against civilians, or self destruction as in suicide bombers.
Muslims unanimously hold that there is no greater example of conduct for us than the Prophet Mohammad. For the first twelve years of his mission, he actively pursued a policy of non-violence and arbitration. For the following ten years he participated in war only when he had to, but preferred mediation and non-violent confrontations. As well, during time of war, he imposed strict restrictions on his generals and armies about not harming civilians, the environment, places of worship, women and children. Following the teachings of the Prophet, his family and followers also persevered in the tradition of non-violent peace keeping.
Hence, I tell my audience, there is no recorded history for hundreds of years into the spread of Islam, of suicide being used as a weapon.
There are heart-rending traditions of sacrifice and valour as Muslims faced far graver threats and challenges than they are up against today – but history records no exemplary acts of suicidal destruction.
This is a relatively new phenomenon, not necessarily specific to the Islamic world (Japanese Kamikaze pilots; “suicidal” military exploits of the defenders of the Alamo, Tamil Tigers are other examples), but still unsettling because many Muslim clerics and scholars, well versed in the Koran, remain ominously silent when it comes to condemning suicide bombers and acts of terrorism against civilians.
Suicide bombings challenge two fundamental principles of Islamic ethics: the prohibitions against suicide and the deliberate killing of noncombatants. The Koran states clearly that killing one person is like killing all of humanity and taking your own life is a sin. Today, the Muslim world stays dangerously silent and from the same pulpits where hate is spewed, comes the potent sanction of murderous missions. Young impressionable Muslims, frustrated by their cause, are led to believe that suicide missions will take them straight to paradise – some being promised virgins. (I call this wishful thinking, keeping in mind that these decrees are normally given by males!)
If, as a Muslim woman, I would ever be empowered to pass a ‘fatwa’ (decree), I would declare these cults outside the fold of Islam. Somebody should.