Bism Illah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem,
You might have come across this phrase before if you have read the Quran or any Islamic literature,
Arabic is language based on rhythm, i.e. words that sound the same, are close in meaning. So just as how Shab’aan means full (of food), and Atshaan means full of thirst, Rahmaan means full of mercy. And just like Kareem means most-generous and Azeez means most-powerful, Raheem most-merciful. So God not only he is the most able to be merciful, be he too is the most merciful. He is the most being to have mercy, and the most being to give mercy.
Therefore, this phrase can be translated to “By the name of God, the Possessor-of-All-Mercy, the Most-Merciful.”
It is not a coincidence that as we are encountering several terms in beginnings of our talk about Islam, many of them are related to peace, mercy and forgiveness…
How come that the image of Islam in the world today is very bloody and violent?
And why Islam is called the religion of Peace, if the Quran contains many verses provoking Muslims to war?
This naturally might seem contradictory at first glance to most people. Many people actually find this the most important reason to not believe in the entire message of Quran; because it seems contradictory to them, especially in regards of this point.
Having understood a little of God’s wisdom in this subject, I will try to explain this to you, and may God support me.
the matter of warfare in Quran, i.e. Jihad as known to non-Arabs.
Jihad actually means “making the effort”, it refers to any action made for the cause of Allah that one’s self would not prefer to do. The strongest form of Jihad is holding man’s horses of his basic instinct of sexuality and aggression. Also, the prophet Mohammed says “the greatest Jihad to God is a word of truth before an unjust ruler.”
War for the cause of God is the a crucial part of Jihad, first because a normal sane person would always prefer to stay alive, enjoy being around his wealth, family and all other blessings which God gave him, and hence going to Jihad risking one's life is an indicator of true faith; that obeying the will of God is above the soul’s appetites. The second reason is that Jihad is the fortifications and walls of Islam; it is the strongest defense mechanism that Islam has. Some though consider the Jihad of the tongue (of sometimes referred to as Jihad of the pen): all persuasive arguments in religion, known as ‘apologetics’, and the various forms of invitation, propaganda, and defense of Islam as important as the Jihad of the sword.
There are two major points regarding wars for the cause of God,
The divine inspiration to Mohammed took over two decades, meaning that Quran did not descend at one; but it went through a long process and underwent several changes, these gradual steps were necessary to reach the final form of Islam that we have today, just like what happened with other major world religions like Judaism. Judaism was descended in a time were all nations were polytheists. Therefore introducing monotheism was a very difficult thing to do, and it actually took gradual steps from having one ‘superior God’ as transcendent being with the existence of lower Gods… then this eventually reached the final step of monotheism with one God both on earth and in the heavens. This gradual inspiration is a key to establishment of strong basis for the religion. And this is what happened in Islam when it was first addressing people of Arabia, who were tribal peoples and had very hostile and violent type of living. Islam gradually introduced the concept of religion-kinship instead of blood-kinship, and subsequently, fighting for the cause of religion instead of fighting for the cause of the tribe. People of Arabia back then considered warfare a sign of manhood and power, and hence if Islam ignored this part and promoted only what can be called as ‘passive-peace’, people would not want to join this new religion-of-wussies.
This is not only limited to the people of Arabia, actually Sigmund Freud (the father of human psychoanalysis) argued that men had two basic instincts that could not be ignored: sexuality and violence; both of which Islam handled in the most wise way. And we shall explore this further in later times if God wills.
So, declaring war for the cause of God was the best solution for two things: a short-term way of quickly spreading the new religion of Islam, and another long-term way of holding horses of man’s aggression and forming certain rules and ethics for this aggression.
Islam came to become the perfect and complete code for humanity. It guarantees happiness of man in life and afterlife. Naturally, any complete code or constitution must contain separate sub-codes; this can be exampled in the constitutions of nation-states in which they have articles and sub-articles of constitution. Islam does this in the same way by creating a complete constitution that explains the general rights and duties of humans between them and God as well as amongst themselves. It also sets complete articles and laws for the civil society in the times of peace, equally to how it sets complete articles and laws for the civil society in the times of war.
Hence, at times of peace, Muslims may not hurt or attack peoples of the book (Jews and Christians), or people of other religions (e.g. Zoroastrians, Manicheans, etc…), or ever people of no religious belief (i.e. agnostics and atheists). The prophet Mohammed clarifies: “he who hurts an accordion [someone who has an accord with Muslims, i.e., not declared war or supported those who declared war against Muslims] during the period of his accord will never smell the scent of paradise, and the scent of paradise can be smelled from a hike of three hundred years from it.”
Therefore, yes, Islam does talk about wars from the sense that wars are inevitable because of man’s aggressive instinct… and that when a war reaches a point of inevitability then Muslims must not run away and must stand up and fight. In addition, Islam does not leave that warfare matter unplanned, despite all other religions which tend to promote ideal peace and sometimes negative/passive peace and completely ignore matters of war, like in Buddhism or Christianity. The followers of these religions fall in a dilemma when they are in wars, since their religion mentions nothing about the customs, dos and don’ts of war. Eventually they decide to do what their aggressive instinct tells them and you get horrific results like the ones seen in the crusade campaigns when they brutally murdered Arabs, Muslims, Jews, and any living creature they found on their way.
Islam brings out the issue of declaring war for the cause of God in order to teach Muslims the rules and ethics of war. Muslims are forbidden to kill women, children and the elderly no matter what they did to them. They are forbidden to kill monks, priests and all kinds of ascetic people. Muslims are even forbidden to cut trees or kill animals for no urging and important reason, like food or clothing. Most importantly, Muslims are forbidden to fight unless that war is to bring peace! If the enemy [any enemy, regardless of the enemy being a troublemaker, unbeliever, etc…] asks for truces or accepts peace with Muslims, then Muslims must obey that and establish peace.
Therefore, an analogy can be made between Jihad to Islam from one side and police and army forces to society from the other. Now, you can have people who argue that armies are bloodthirsty savages who all what they do is murder and destroy, but if you look at the bigger picture, the police and army when controlled by the state, they are the key to maintaining order and peace. It is completely wrong to say that war does not bring peace. Even though that peace is the way to maintain peace in everyday life, war at rare events must be declared to maintain peace; to maintain awe and loyalty of people to their state and maintain fear to enemies of the state.
Thus, he who argues that Islam is a violent religion is absent-minded, Islam promotes peace at all times, even to the point that it obliges its followers to sacrifice with their souls in order to bring peace. That, by all means, is the true religion of peace.