Cross-posted from 1st Ethical, written by Abu Eesa Niamatullah 8/28/10
If there’s anything that the last few weeks on the international news scene have shown us, it would be how difficult it is to not fall into the trap of giving what should have been the non-story of a single individual’s attempts at insulting the Noble Qur’ān yet further attention and coverage.
This is especially the case considering the fact that the Qur’ān is sadly desecrated by enemies of humanity on a regular basis – many news reports have shown this to be true and a brief foray into the online freak-world of the extreme right-wing will show the true reality of a deep-set destructive hatred which can’t always have heroes like Jacob Isom around to save the day. Or at least save the “Koran”, because of course as has now been written into the annals of modern history, “Dude, you have no Koran!”
The fact that there is a concerted effort in much of the populist media and even some areas of academia willfully misrepresenting and re-writing Islam as something unrecognizable to Muslims is far worse than the childish rhetoric of the fascinatingly style-conscious yet utterly naive Pastor Jones, who although claiming to speak on behalf of America and Christianity, has actually proved that carpentry may be the only thing he has in common with the Prophet Jesus.
But seriously, how does the orthodox Muslim respond to such outrageous and unacceptable attacks against God’s own spoken Word – the Last Testament – to mankind? Disrespect to the Qur’ān is more than just a slap in the face to Muslims; rather it is a knife in the heart of every believer who realizes the true status of the most sanctified representation of God’s message on the face of the Earth.
Moreover, considering that the Islamic belief in God is not just an abstract thought in the mind, but rather a living, breathing, active theology which engages every aspect of society – designed to respond to every single challenge in modern life itself – then no Muslim needs to be restricting themselves to pacifism or a defensive apologetic approach. It is clear that such actions like those of Pastor Jones are intended only to outrage, provoke violence, and force the Muslims to respond in the strongest way possible.
Thus for such insults and disgrace, Islam has indeed specifically legislated a clear and unequivocal response to those who would treat it in this way: Jihād.
Let’s look at what God Himself says in the Qur’ān:
The wording in the Arabic here is very clear: Jāhid-hum i.e. “make Jihād against them” yet it won’t escape you that the weapon to be used during this act of Jihād is referred to as simply “it”. Thus the mind could quite rightly start to think about machine-guns, knives, bombs or whatever way possible to cause as much death and destruction through revenge as possible, right?فَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَجَاهِدْهُمْ بِهِ جِهَادًا كَبِيرًا“So do not give in to the disbelievers; strive hard against them with it.” (25:52)
You see, when your religious narrative is taken out of the hands of Islamic scholars and instead hijacked by Muslim extremists on one side, and non-Muslim extremists on the other, it is easy to see why the very mention of the word Jihād causes the hearts of millions of people to skip a beat and then bring forth the standard hate-filled rhetoric we’ve become so accustomed to through those bastions of public news services such as the al-Qaedah newsgroup or the slightly less clandestine Fox News network.
But if we were to ask the experts and scholars of Islam what the weapon in this verse actually is, you will find a near-consensus that the weapon is the Qur’ān itself.
Read and check virtually every single book of tafsīr (Qur’ānic exegesis) and you will find the same statement each time, leading us to now translate the above verse as:
What this noble verse tells us is very important. We are firstly shown directly what the true meaning of Jihād actually means i.e. “to strive”. We also learn more importantly that as a Muslim community that often comes under attack for a number of reasons – some self-inflicted, others not so – our response is not to be based upon our own emotions and opinions.فَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَجَاهِدْهُمْ بِهِ جِهَادًا كَبِيرًا“So do not give in to the disbelievers; strive hard against them with this Qur’ān.” (25:52)
Every true Muslim’s heart will be full of rage against anyone who would disrespect Holy Scripture. Many thoughts might go through our mind on how to respond, but God himself commands the believers to be patient, be steadfast and to convey the true message of the Qur’ān. If someone attacks the religion, then you respond with that which is better. If someone wishes to engage in ignorance, you respond by education. Strive hard against all antagonists with the arguments and proofs of the Qur’ān itself, and don’t turn to anger and hatred lest irrationality and emotion causes you to do something which is far removed from Islam.
The actions of extreme right-wing racists, xenophobes or just simple Islamophobic people are all aimed at provoking an equally mindless and emotive response, so that it can justify their own ignorance and transgression in the first place.
Reacting in such a fashion is not what Muslims should do. It really isn’t. We neither descend to such depths of human depravity in our responses and neither do we act in a fashion that causes even more problems and damage.
Islam, the Qur’ān and the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) have always been attacked by the ignorant. Sadly, this is not the first time and it won’t be the last. Yet our course of action and the mode of our behaviour should mirror that of the one who was sent to perfect all actions and modes of behaviour.
When the Prophet was jeered at by the aggressors of the Quraysh tribe and was insulted by being called Mudhammam i.e. “the rebuked one”, he turned to his companions and said, “that’s what they say, but I am Muhammad” i.e. “the praised one.”
“And truly (O Muhammad), you are on an exalted standard of character.” (68:4)Despite the treachery and enmity shown by some of the Jewish tribes when the Prophet went to Madīnah, he was still recognized as the authority in the city. He was requested to judge in an adultery case between two Jews and once the Prophet (upon whom be peace) arrived at the house known as Bayt’l-Midrās, he was seated inside and given a cushion for his comfort. The Prophet wanted to use Jewish law to give the ruling and asked for the Old Testament to be brought forward (the Torah) and when it was brought to him, he gently took the cushion out from underneath himself and then placed the Torah upon it, and said, “I believe in you, and in He who sent you.”
“And truly (O Muhammad), you are on an exalted standard of character.” (68:4)The attitude of the Muslim with sacred scripture couldn’t be more removed from that of the extremist bigots who have captured the headlines. This example of the Prophet Muhammad with the Old Testament speaks volumes, despite the Islamic belief that insertions have been made and the text changed from the original message of the Torah. Yet for the reason that it is a book, and more than that a book of knowledge, and more than that a book of Scripture, and more than that a book held to be sanctified and loved by a people, that we likewise show it respect and honour. All of these four features are individual and separate blessed reasons why Muslims must act the way that their Prophet shows them.
We cannot take responsibility for the actions of others, but we certainly will be held accountable for our own decisions and actions. And at this time when ignorance has become the order of the day, our response really has to be the education of the other through Jihād with the Qur’ān. We must take this opportunity to explain to people the real message behind the “Last Testament”, to encourage people to look inside and read instead of burn, to become proactive and reach out to the masses by showing them the great injustice they are doing to themselves by disrespecting one of the world’s greatest books of Holy Scripture.
The ignorant might wish to burn us inside by setting ablaze God’s Word, but if it does make you smoulder, then at least burn like incense – bring beauty, fragrance, benefit and guidance to humanity by living and promoting the Word as it should be.