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Temple attack has nothing to do with beliefs of Muslims
By Asghar Ali Engineer

The sheer magnitude of Swaminarayan temple attack in Gandhinagar, Gujarat has forced many Muslims to take a more critical look at themselves. We are now beginning to address a few knotty questions that we have conventionally swept under the carpet.

Why have we repeatedly turned a blind eye to the evil within our own societies? Why have we allowed the sacred terms of Islam, such as fatwa and jihad, to be hijacked by groups of obscurantists, extremists? Why have Muslim societies failed so spectacularly to come to terms with the 21st century?

Muslims are very quick to point out the double standards of America. They point to its support for despotic regimes, its partiality towards the Israelis, and a long series of covert operations that have undermined democratic movements in the Muslim world. But we seldom question whether this act of violence against innocent women and children has any sanctity or place in Islam or teachings of our beloved Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

As the terrorists, who attacked women and children in Swaminarayan temple, turn out to be Muslims, the innocent victims and their relatives meant to know what led them to such an evil act. 

Militants and extremists justified their actions by quoting the following verse: 'we will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. They serve other gods for whom no sanction has been revealed. Hell shall be their home' (3: 149-151). Yet, the apparent meaning attributed to this verse could not be farther from the true spirit of the Qur'an.

In this particular verse, the Qur'an is addressing Prophet Muhammad himself. It was revealed during the battle of Uhud, when the small and ill-equipped army of the Prophet faced a much larger and well-equipped enemy. He was concerned about the outcome of the battle. The Qur'an reassures him and promises that the enemy will be terrified.

Other ayats extremists quote are:
2.190. Fight against those who fight against you in the way of Allah, but do not transgress, for Allah does not love transgressors. 

2.191. Kill them whenever you confront them and drive them out from where they drove you out. (For though killing is sinful) wrongful persecution is even worse than killing. Do not fight against them near the Holy Mosque unless they fight against you; but if they fight against you kill them, for that is the reward of such unbelievers. 

2.193. Keep on fighting against them until mischief ends and the way prescribed by Allah prevails. But if they desist, then know that hostility is only against the wrongdoers. 

2.194. The sacred month for the sacred month; sanctities should be respected alike (by all concerned). Thus, if someone has attacked you, attack him just as he attacked you, and fear Allah and remain conscious that Allah is with those who guard against violating the bounds set by Him. 
(Translation taken from, Towards Understanding the Quran) 

The Holy Quran comprises of revelations from God to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) over a period of twenty-three years (610 C.E. - 632 C.E.). The first 13 years of the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) were at his hometown of Makkah (Mecca), where he and his fellow Muslims were severely persecuted by the pagans of Makkah. During that time, Muslims were not ordered to fight back, but bear the persecutions. Finally, God ordered the Prophet and his fellow Muslims (known as Sahabah) to emigrate to the city of Madinah, about 400 kilometers away. 

This emigration, known as the Hijrah, marked the beginning of an Islamic society in Madinah, in which the Prophet became the head of the state. It was not long before the polytheists of Makkah marched towards Madinah to wage war against Muslims and destroy the Islamic state of Madinah. This battle is known as the Battle of Badr. The verses 2.190-2.194, above were perhaps the first injunctions from God to Muslims to prepare themselves for fighting. It was obviously a war in the defense of their homeland and their Faith. 

In verse 2.190, God instructs Muslims to fight back, but not to transgress and remain just even during the battle. "They are told that material interests should not be the motivation for their fighting, that they should not take up arms against those who were not in opposition to the true faith, that they should not resort to unscrupulous methods or to the indiscriminate killing and pillage which characterized the other wars". 

Thus even in an openly declared act of war, the Prophet Muhammad forbade killing of civilians, women and children, the old and the infirm, the destruction of property, burning of crops, and slaughter of animals. Kidnapping, hijacking and other acts of terror are contrary to the teachings of Islam.

We don't take verses out of context for another reason. The transformation the Qur'an seeks in Muslim societies is a gradual process. Thus, many Qur'an injunctions were revealed over a period of time. Take the example of alcohol. The Qur'an first suggested that drinking while praying is not a good idea. Then it went further and asked Muslims to think about the benefits and social harms of drinking. Finally, it proposed that the harm was greater than the good and asked Muslims to refrain from drinking. It is the last verse that Muslims generally take as the command.

Classical Muslim scholars insisted that the Qur'an should be interpreted by examining the context of each verse. They even laid down rules of interpretation emphasising context. But like orientalist writers hostile towards Islam, many of extremists resort to quote Quran ayat in isolation to promote their agenda.

It is an irony that inspite of the clear, unequivocal values, moral premises and ethical restraints of Islam the terrorists commit heinous crimes against the innocent. Islam makes the sanctity of human life a paramount obligation, and care for the innocent, the sufferers, the bereaved, a sacred duty.

The bait offered to these young militants is the martydom and a place in the heaven. Holy Prophet (PBUH) said as mentioned in Hadith, that none can go to heaven on the strength of his deeds alone, unless Almighty Allah have mercy. When asked Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that even he also will enter heaven because of Allah's mercy and not his deeds alone. The question arises: would Almighty Allah bestow mercy on those who show no mercy to innocent women, children and infants?

The Muslim conscience stands for decency, for justice, for common human values. Islam cannot explain the actions of the suicide hijackers. How the terrorists who claim themselves to be Muslims forget the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the murder of one innocent person is akin to the murder of the whole of humanity.

Such orchestrated acts as at Swaminarayan temple, of incomprehensible carnage have nothing to do with the beliefs of most Muslims. Quran acknowledges the coexistence of other faiths, and in doing so acknowledges that other cultures can live together in peace. There is no compulsion in religion," it states, meaning that people should not be compelled to change their faith. Elsewhere it states, "To you, your religion; to me mine." Respect for religious values and justice is at core of Qur'an. The Quranic history provides ample examples of inter-religious and international relationships; of how to live together. 

The task before Muslims today is to reclaim jihad and to invest it with its true meanings, different from those imposed by militants. The term jihad is now part of the language of international discourse. But instead of helping to heighten the understanding of Islam, its repeated mention is hurting the religion's image. The media need to shoulder some blame for that. But Muslims must also realize that the very people who have resorted to violence in its name have hijacked the meaning of jihad. 

Rather than thinking of jihad in exclusive and defensive terms, we must show that our struggle in the present day has also to do with striving for economic development, modernization and the creation of civil society. Jihad must now include the capacity to compete economically, and to bridge the enormous gulf of scientific knowledge between Muslims and the rest of the world. 

Jihad is useless unless it brings us closer to non-Muslim world, where Muslims are at ease with themselves and with non-Muslims. A jihad merely understood as a violent rejection of all that is different will only keep Muslims isolated and marginalized, rather than bring them within the mainstream of global developments. For Dawah close interaction and cooperation with non-Muslim world is prerequisite. 

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