Terrorism is when innocent people are specifically targeted to instill fear in a population. It is categorically prohibited in Islam. The present era of our history has been blemished by indiscriminate violence in almost every society. The loss of innocent life has become extremely commonplace. Unfortunately, due to the actions of some ignorant Muslims as well as biased reporting in the media, the religion of Islam has come to be associated with terrorism. However, the appropriate question to be asked is: “Do Islamic teachings promote terrorism?”
As a matter of fact, Islam and terrorism are precise opposites; the very name, Islam, denotes peace and submission. The fundamentals of Islam direct its followers to maintain and promote peace throughout the world. Islam is a faith of moderation; thus a righteous and God-fearing Muslim can neither be a fanatic nor an extremist. There is no connection whatsoever between Islam and the violence practiced by terrorist groups in different parts of the world. In no way does it condone hijackings, hostage taking, and the torture and killing of innocent people in order to achieve particular goals.
The Islamic basis for national and international relations is peace rather than war. Prominent Muslims, Islamic organizations, and Islamic scholars have repeatedly denounced terrorist attacks and terrorism in general. Islam emphatically prohibits and disassociates itself from the violent acts that have been carried out by some of its members in the name of religion.
All religions and ideologies have some misguided followers, and it is surely unfair to judge any one of them by the behavior of such people. Accordingly, Islam should not be judged by the acts of misguided Muslims or even by the obvious corruption that permeates many Muslim countries. For in fact, what Islam teaches is one thing and what these so-called Muslims practice is something else. The only way to know the truth about Islam is to study its teachings, for they are the standard by which the actions of Muslims can be assessed as being right or wrong.
Islam emphasizes the sanctity of life in general, and particularly, human life. And the Qur’an prohibits murder in clear terms:
“And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right.“[5:32]
“Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul[i.e., in legal retribution for murder] or for corruption [done] in the land[ i.e., that requiring the death penalty] – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.”[6:151]
Such is the value of a single human life that God equates the unjust taking of one life with killing all of humanity. Only a proper and competent court can decide whether an individual has forfeited his right to life by commission of a major crime. Individual Muslims can never take decisions about who should be killed or punished. Conviction and punishment may not be implemented except by a qualified judge under lawful authority.
Terrorism involves the indiscriminate use of force to achieve certain objectives, and in reality it manifests itself in various forms. The head of state who orders the bombing of entire cities, the councils that kill millions of civilians by imposition of sanctions, and the wealthy nations that would rather destroy their surplus food than make it available to those afflicted by famine are rarely punished for crimes against humanity.
Although it is recognized that Islamic history was not always filled with virtue, one should justly compare the number of civilians killed by Muslims to the number killed by communists and the Western nations who ignited two world wars within half a century, deployed the atomic bomb against a civilian population, are currently supporting the brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine against its civilians, and have brought about the destruction of Iraq while thoroughly terrorizing its citizens.
While Islam seeks to promote peace, it also directs its followers to oppose oppression. Both these objectives may on occasion require the use of force. It is precisely for this reason that police use force against criminals and anti-social elements to maintain law and order in society. So Islam does allow taking up arms under particular circumstances. Any civilization that did not could never survive. However, it prohibits the slightest injustice, even toward those who oppose the religion. The Qur’an orders:
“And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.“[5:8]
Enmity toward any people or nation should not provoke Muslims to commit aggression against them or disregard their rights. As for the spread of Islam, this is supposed to take place peacefully by disseminating the message through the written and spoken word.