By N.M. Rishard –
Few days ago, I happened to meet one of my schoolmates at Kandy bus station. It was nearly one decade I met him before. On our way to Colombo, we had a good opportunity to discuss many issues that happened in this particular period. I’m a Muslim and he is a Hindu. The reason why I mentioned our religious identity is that most of our discussion that we engaged throughout the journey was about the brutal 4/21 bombing attack and the Qur’anic verses that talk about war and killing. Our conversation started with exchanging our grievance towards those who died and victimized by the attack. Suddenly, my friend made a U-Turn in his talk and asked me about some Qur’anic verses that directly illustrate about war and killing. And then, he quoted the following verse and expected my reply. When the forbidden months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them... (Chapter Thawba, Verse 5)
I had only two options either to give him a direct and clear interpretation to above mentioned verse or to explain the methodological error that he followed while reading and understanding religious texts. I preferred the second option which, I believe, will lead to understand a particular issue with proper methodological and scientific study. As far as I am concerned, following two stages are more essential and there is a high possibility to happen errors if both or one of them is neglected intentionally or unintentionally. This error is widely noticed even in the interpretation of Muslims, particularly it can be observed in writings of literalistic approach that focuses on mere literal meaning rather than contextualizing or considering the ultimate objective of the text.
I started to explain the methodology that the interpreter has to adopt during the interpretive process:
1. Gathering the Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions that have either direct connection or some extent to have a relationship to the examining topic.
2. Understanding the Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions in the light of socio-political context of the revelation.
Without having a profound knowledge over above two stages, we will probably misunderstand the texts and consequent misconception will be conceived inevitably. For instance, while we discuss about the concept of Jihad, on the one hand, one may refer to the verses that provoke to kill the people who are not Muslims, as my friend argued. On the other hand, the opponent opinion can be put forward emphasizing that the Quran encourages peace, not war and killing. Accordingly, following verse and some more verses that directly encourage peace can be quoted in order to strengthening the argument: O you who have believed, enter into peacefulness (Chapter Baqara, Verse 208).
In this controversial juncture, we ask ourselves which opinion is right and which is wrong? In order to obtain a clear answer, we have to go through the stages that we have already mentioned above. I summarized my opinion on Islamic perspective on violence as follow:
In early period of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad had been spreading the message that was revealed to him by God. Eventually, few marginalized people accepted Islam as their belief. As the result, they had to encounter persecutions and harassments in every facet of their life only because of their acceptance of Islam. The clan leaders who had greater influence in the Maccan society did not aspire to happen any change in the social structure. Instead, those innocent and helpless Muslims were compelled to under-go various brutality and oppression. In contrary, Prophet Mohammed’s message emphasized that the oppressed and marginalized people should be given freedom and justice that provide equal rights to the individuals irrespective of their tribal status and positions.
Leadership of Mecca wanted to maintain the status quo in which society had been divided into two groups, leaders, elites and influential people were on the one side and marginalized, oppressed and layman people were on the other side while prophet Mohamed aspired to create a society where freedom of speech and religious pluralism are ensured, people are treated equally and indiscriminately. The rivalry between these two segments was therefore unavoidable.
On the one hand, the leadership of Mecca compelled, punished and torched the people who aliened to prophet Mohamed’s group. At this time, the Quran instructed Prophet Mohamed and his group to tolerate and be patient and asked them not to be violent or to carry weapon in any circumstance against those who had been oppressing. Quran says: Have you not seen those who were told, “Restrain your hands from fighting and establish prayer and pay the charity (Chapter Nisa, Verse 77).
When prophet came to know that the enemies were planning to kill him, he was compelled to exile and migrate to Madeena. The Quran points out: Remember how those who bent on denying the truth plotted against you to imprison you or kill you or expel you from your city (Chapter Anfal, Verse 30). The focal point here is that during Prophet Mohamed’s staying in Mecca for 13 years, he never engaged even in any form of defensive act against those oppressors. Instead, what he used to do was either to tolerate or resist with peaceful and non-violent manner in order to gain their civil rights or in more explicit term regain their right to self-determination.
Life in Madeena was completely different to that of Mecca. During the prophet’s stay in Madeena for approximately 10 years along with migrated people who left their own land and property, they were targeted and attacked by the enemies several times. In these particular circumstances, Quran instructed Prophet and his followers to be prepared for defensive act in case of any external oppression or invasion in order to protect their freedom, livelihood and land. Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to terrify thereby the enemy of God and your enemy… (Chapter Anfal, Verse 60).
The Qur’anic verses that were revealed during the war period such as Chapter Thawba verse 05 asked Prophet and his group to kill the enemy, who unjustly captured the land and property and further, trying to eradicate their lives, where ever they met.
Most people try to apply the verses that were revealed during the war time into the context of normalcy. Consequently, they come to a conclusion that Islam promotes violence, terrorism and killing innocent people who are not Muslims. The methodological error that happened during the interpretation of the text is, generalizing the text without considering the context. According to above described methodology it is crystal clear that Islam did not initiate any kind of violence against the people who were not from the same belief. Rather, it continuously encourages peaceful ways to solve the problems that emerge among various religious groups.
Apart from these considerations, there are some more verses of the Quran that should be taken in to account during the discussion on war, peace and killing in order to clarify the themes further. Following paragraphs try to point out only few concepts from those Qur’anic verses:
A – Identity of “Humankind”
The Quran emphasizes that all human being are from only one parent Adam and Hawwa: O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women (Chapter Nisaa, Verse 01). It is derived from this perspective that entire humankind, irrespective of religion, race, culture and regional divisions, is considered as “One Family”. According to Qur’anic perspective, this identity of “One Family” among other well-known multiple identities such as religious and cultural is quite essential, in which all humankind leave their dividing identities and come forward to the common sphere where they communicate, discuss, and make utmost effort together to confront the problems of their time. Finally they all march forward to build a prosperous atmosphere: O you mankind, surely we created you of a male and a female, and We have made you races and tribes that you may get mutually acquainted (Chapter Hujrath, Verse 13)
B – Human dignity
Caring human dignity is considered as one of emphasized obligations in the Quran. Accordingly, it urges Muslims to give respect to every human being who ever it is. The leadership of the society should take care of every individual of all social classes. In number of the Qur’anic versus, caring of poor and orphan is perceived as one of major obligations followed by belief in God. Moreover, the Quran elaborates that killing even one person is considered as killing whole human beings around the world and saving a person is countered as saving entire human beings: whosoever saves a life, saves the entire human race. (Chapter Ma’idha, Verse 32)
C- Religious freedom
There are numerous verses of the Quran that promote religious freedom and reject religious compulsion. Everyone is given total freedom to follow and practice what he believes. It is accepted by majority of scholars that no one would be punished in this world for changing his religion even though very few argue that the apostates should be killed. There is no even one Qur’anic verse that states any kind of capital punishments for apostates in this world. Second argument is unethical as well as contradictory to the various versus of the Quran.
According to above mentioned arguments, it is abstracted that the Quran tries to build a peaceful environment in which social justice, religious freedom and peace are promoted in order to establish a prosperous world order.