During the last two decades in particular, the concept of "Islamic terror" has been often discussed. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on targets in New York and Washington which caused the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, this concept has once again returned to the top of the international agenda.
As Muslims, we completely condemn these attacks and offer our condolences to the American people.
In this article, we will explain that Islam is by no means the source of this violence and that violence has no place in Islam.
One point that should be stressed at the outset is that the identities of the perpetrators of the acts of terrorism which targeted the United States are not yet determined. There is a chance that these horrible attackers are linked to quite different centres. It may well be a communist organization harboring rage and hatred against American values, a fascist organization opposing federal administration or a secret faction in another state. Even though the hijackers have Muslim identities, the questions regarding by whom and for what purposes these people were used will probably remain to be a mystery.
The fact remains however, that even if the terrorists have Muslim identities, the terror they perpetrated cannot be labelled "Islamic terror", just as it would not be called "Jewish terror" if the perpetrators were Jews or "Christian terror" if they were Christians.
That is because, as we will examine in the following pages, murdering innocent people in the name of religion is unacceptable. We need to keep in mind that, among those who were killed in Washington or New York, there were people who loved Jesus (Christians), Prophet Moses (Jews) and Muslims. According to Islam, murdering innocent people is a great sin that, unless forgiven by God, brings torment in Hell.
Thus, a religious person who has fear of God can never commit such an act.
In fact, the aggressors can commit such violence only with the intention of attacking religion itself. It may well be that they carried out this violence to present religion as evil in the eyes of people, to divorce people from religion and to generate hatred and reaction against pious people. Consequently, every attack having a "religious" facade on American citizens or other innocent people is actually an attack made against religion.
All the three Theistic religions command love, mercy and peace. Terror, on the other hand, is the opposite of religion; it is cruel, merciless and it demands bloodshed and misery. This being the case, while looking for the perpetrators of a terrorist act, its origins should be sought in disbelief rather than in religion. People with a fascist, communist, racist or materialist outlook on life should be suspected as potential perpetrators. The name or the identity of the triggerman is not important. If he can kill innocent people without blinking an eye, whatever his label is, then he is a disbeliever, not a believer. He is a murderer with no fear of God, whose main ambition is to shed blood and to give harm.
For this reason, "Islamic terror" is quite a erroneous concept which contradicts Islam's message. That is because, the religion of Islam can by no means concur with terror. On the contrary, Muslims are responsible for preventing terrorist acts and bringing peace and justice to the world.
The Values of the Qur'an demands Goodness, Justice and Peace
Terror, in its broadest sense, is violence committed against non-military targets for political purposes. To put it in another way, the targets of terror are entirely innocent civilians whose only crime is, in the eyes of terrorists, to represent "the other".
This is an act bereft of any moral justification. This, as in the case of murders committed by Hitler or Stalin, is a crime committed against "mankind".
The Qur'an is a Book revealed to people as a guide to the true path and in this Book, God commands man to adopt good morals. This morality is based upon concepts such as love, compassion, tolerance and mercy. God calls all people to Islamic morals through which compassion, mercy, peace and tolerance can be experienced all over the world:
You who believe! Enter absolutely into peace (Islam). Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He is an outright enemy to you. (Surat al-Baqara :208)
The values of the Qur'an hold a Muslim responsible for treating all people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, kindly and justly, protecting the needy and the innocent and preventing the "dissemination of mischief". Mischief comprises all forms of anarchy and terror that remove security, comfort and peace. As God says in a verse, "God does not love mischief makers". (Surat al-Qasas: 77)
Murdering a person for no reason is one of the most obvious examples of mischief. God repeats in the Qur'an a command He formerly revealed to Jews in the Old Testament thus:
So We decreed for the tribe of Israel that if someone kills another person - unless it is in retaliation for someone else or for causing corruption in the earth - it is as if he had murdered all mankind. And if anyone gives life to another person, it is as if he had given life to all mankind. Our Messengers came to them with Clear Signs but even after that many of them committed outrages in the earth. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 32)
As the verse suggests, a person who kills even a single man, "unless it is in retaliation for someone else or for causing corruption in the earth", commits a crime as if he had murdered all mankind on earth.
This being the case, it is obvious what great sins are the murders, massacres and, attacks, popularly known as "suicide attacks", committed by terrorists are. God informs us how this cruel face of terrorism will be punished in the hereafter in the following verse:
There are only grounds against those who wrong people and act as tyrants in the earth without any right to do so. Such people will have a painful punishment. (Surat ash-Shura: 42)
All these reveal that organizing acts of terror against innocent people is utterly against Islam and it is unlikely that any Muslim could ever commit such crime. On the contrary, Muslims are responsible for stopping these people, removing "mischief on earth" and bringing peace and security to all people all over the world. Being a Muslim cannot be reconciled with terror. Just the contrary, it is the solution and prevention of terror.
This being the case, how did the popular term "Islamic terror" emerge?
What has been examined so far reveals that it is not possible to talk about an "Islamic" terror. Indeed, a closer look at the characteristics of the perpetrators explicitly reveals that this terror is not a religious but a social phenomenon.
Crusaders: Barbarians Who Trampled Their Own Religion
The true message of a religion or another system of belief can be at times exposed to distortion by its pseudo-adherents. The Crusaders, who constitute a dark episode of Christian history, set a good example of this.
Crusaders were European Christians who undertook the expeditions at the end of the 11th century to recover the Holy Land (the area around Palestine) from the Muslims. They set out with a so-called religious goal, yet they laid waste each acre of land they entered with fear and violence. They subjected civilians to mass executions and plundered many villages and towns.
Their conquest of Jerusalem, where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived under Islamic rule in peace, became the scene of immense bloodshed. They violently killed all Muslims and Jews. The Crusaders' barbarism was so excessive that, during the Fourth Crusade, they plundered Istanbul, also a Christian city, and stole the golden objects from the churches.
No doubt, all this barbarism was utterly against Christian political doctrine. That is because, Christianity, in the words of the Bible, is a "gospel of love". In the Gospel according to Matthew, it is said that Jesus said "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" to his followers (Matthew, 5/44) In the Gospel according to Luke, it is said that Jesus said "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also." (Luke, 6/29) No doubt, in no part of the New Testament, is there reference to the legitimacy of violence; murdering innocent people, on the other hand, is unimaginable. You can find the concept of "massacre of the innocents" in the Bible; yet, only in the cruel Jewish King Herod's attempt to kill Jesus while he was a baby.
While Christianity is a religion based on love that accommodates no violence, how did Christian Crusaders carry out the most violent acts of history? The major reason for this is that, Crusaders were mainly made up of ignorant people who could better be defined as "rabble". These masses, who knew almost nothing about their religion, who had never read or even seen the Bible once in their lifetime, and who were therefore completely unaware of the moral values of the Bible, were led into barbarism under the conditioning of Crusaders' slogans as "God wills it".
It is worth mentioning that in that period, Eastern Christians - the people of Byzantium, for instance - who were culturally far ahead of Western Christians, espoused more humane values. Both before and after the Crusaders' conquests, Orthodox Christians managed to live together with Muslims. According to Terry Johns, the BBC commentator, with the withdrawal of the Crusaders from Middle East, "civilized life started again and members of the three monotheistic faith returned to peaceful coexistence."  The example of the Crusaders is indicative of a general phenomenon: The more the adherents of an ideology are uncivilized, intellectually underdeveloped and "ignorant", the more likely they are to resort to violence. This also holds true for ideologies that have nothing to do with religion. All communist movements around the world are prone to violence. Yet the most savage and blood-thirsty of them was the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. That is because they were the most ignorant.
Just as ignorant people may take a violence-ridden opinion to the point of insanity, so they may confuse violence with an opinion against violence (or to religion). The Islamic world also experienced such cases.
The Bedouin Character in the Qur'an
In the period of our Prophet, there existed two basic social structures in Arabia. City-dwellers and Bedouins (Desert Arabs). A sophisticated culture prevailed in Arab towns. Commercial relations linked the towns to the outer world, which contributed to the formation of "civilized life" among Arabs dwelling in cities. They had refined aesthetic values, enjoyed literature and, especially poetry. Desert Arabs, on the other hand, were the nomad tribes living in the desert who had a very crude culture. Utterly unaware of arts and literature, they developed an unrefined, harsh character.
Islam was born and developed among the inhabitants of Mecca, the most important city of the peninsula. However, as Islam spread to the peninsula, all tribes in Arabia embraced it. Among these tribes were also Desert Arabs, who were somehow problematic: their poor intellectual and cultural background prevented them from grasping the profundity and noble spirit of Islam. Of this God states the following in a verse:
The Desert Arabs are more obdurate in disbelief and hypocrisy and more likely not to know the limits which God has sent down to His Messenger. God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Surat at-Tawba: 97)
The Desert Arabs, that is, social groups who were "obdurate in disbelief and hypocrisy" and prone to disobey God's commands, became a part of the Islamic world in the Prophet's lifetime. In latter periods, they became a source of trouble for the Islamic world. The sect called "Kharijis" that emerged among Bedouins was an example. The most distinctive trait of this perverse sect (which was called "Kharijis" the rebels because they greatly deviated from Sunni practises), was their extremely vulgar, wild and fanatical nature. The "Kharijis", who had no comprehension whatsoever of the essence of Islam or of the virtues and the values of the Qur'an, waged war against all other Muslims and based this war on a few Qur'anic verses about which they made distorted interpretations. Furthermore, they carried out "acts of terrorism". Caliph Ali, who was one of the closest companions of the Prophet and was described by him as the "gate of the city of knowledge", was assassinated by a Kharijite.
In latter periods, "Hashashis" (Assassins), another brutal organization, emerged; this was a "terrorist organization" made up of ignorant and fanatical militants bereft of a profound understanding of the essence of Islam and thus who could be readily influenced by simple slogans and promises.
In other words, just as the Crusaders distorted and misinterpreted Christianity as a teaching of brutality, some perverted groups emerging in the Islamic world misinterpreted Islam and resorted to brutality. What is common to these sects and the Crusaders was their "Bedouin" nature. That is, they were ignorant, unrefined, uncultivated, vulgar, and isolated people. The violence they resorted resulted from this social structure, rather than the religion to which they claimed to adhere.
The Actual Source of Terrorism: The Third World Fanaticism
These examples from history are enlightening for a better understanding of the phenomenon, the so-called "Islamic terror", which is nowadays on the top of the international agenda. That is because those who emerge and carry out acts of terrorism in the name of Islam or those who back such acts -these people, no doubt, represent a minority in the world of Islam- stem from this "Bedouin character", not from Islam. Failing to understand the essence of Islam, they try to make Islam, essentially a religion of peace and justice, a tool of barbarism, which is simply an outcome of their social and cultural structure. The origin of this barbarism, which may well be called the "Third World Fanaticism", is the benighted initiatives of people who are devoid of love for humans.
It is a fact that, for the last few centuries, Muslims in all corners of the Islamic world, are being subjected to violence by Western forces and their affiliates. The colonialist European states, local oppressive regimes or colonialists backed by the West (Israel, for instance) caused great suffering for Muslims at large. However, for Muslims, this is a situation that has to be approached and responded to from a purely Qur'anic stance.
In no part of the Qur'an does God command believers to "respond to violence with violence". On the contrary, God commands Muslims to "respond to evil with goodness":
A good action and a bad action are not the same. Repel the bad with something better and, if there is enmity between you and someone else, he will be like a bosom friend. (Surat al-Fussilat: 34)
It is no doubt a legitimate right of Muslims to react against cruelty. However, these reactions should never turn into a blind hatred, an unjust enmity. God warns about this in the following verse: "... Do not let hatred for a people who debar you from the Masjid al-Haram incite you into going beyond the limits. Help each other to goodness and heedfulness. Do not help each other to wrongdoing and enmity. Heed God Allah (alone)..." (Surat al-Ma'ida: 2)
Consequently, carrying out terrorist acts under the pretence of "representing the oppressed nations of the world", against the innocent people of other nations is by no means compatible with Islam.
Another point that deserves a special mention here is that all the Western world cannot be held responsible for the aforementioned colonialist (or "neo-colonialist) violence and oppression against Muslims. Actually, the materialist, irreligious philosophies and ideologies that prevailed in the 19th century are responsible for these dismal acts. European colonialism did not originate from Christianity. On the contrary, anti-religious movements opposing the values of Christianity led the way to colonialism. At the roots of the greatest brutalities of the 19th century lies the Social Darwinist ideology.
In the Western world today, there are still cruel, mischievous and opposing elements as well as a culture dominated by peaceful and just elements that have its roots in Judeo-Christian faith. As a matter of fact, the main disagreement is not between the West and Islam. Contrary to the general opinion, it is between the religious people of the West and of the Muslim world on the one hand, and the people opposing religion (like materialists and atheists.) on the other.
Another indication that Third World Fanaticism has nothing to do with Islam is that, until recently, this fanaticism has been identified with communist ideology. As is known, similar anti-Western acts of terror were carried out in 1960s and 70s by Soviet-backed communist organizations. As the impact of the communist ideology faded, some of the social structures which gave birth to communist organizations have turned their attention to Islam. This "brutality presented under the guise of religion", which is formulated by the incorporation of some Islamic concepts and symbols into the former communist rhetoric are entirely against the moral values constituting the essence of Islam.
A last remark about this issue is that Islam is not peculiar to a particular nation or geography. Contrary to the dominant Western perception, Islam is not an "Eastern culture". Islam is the last religion revealed to mankind as a guide to the true path that recommends itself to all humanity. Muslims are responsible for communicating the true religion they believe in to all people of all nations and cultures and making them feel closer to Islam.
Consequently, there is a unique solution for people and groups who, in the name of Islam, resort to terror or establish oppressive regimes and turn this world into a dreadful place instead of beautifying it: revealing the true Islam and communicating it so that the masses can understand and live by it.
Conclusion: Recommendations to the Western World
Today, the Western world is concerned about the organizations that use terror under the guise of Islam and this concern is not misplaced. It is obvious that those carrying out terror and their supporters should be punished according to international judicial criteria. However, a more important point to consider is the long-term strategies that have to be pursued for viable solutions to these problems.
The assessments above reveal that terror has no place in Islam. They further show the inherently contradictory nature of the concept of "Islamic terror". This provides us with an important vantage point:
1) The Western world, especially the United States, will surely take the most dissuasive measures to cope with terror and it has the right to do that. However, it has to state explicitly that this is not a war waged against Islam and Muslims but, on the contrary, a measure serving the best interests of Islam. The "Clash of civilizations", the dangerous scenario envisioned in the 90's should be at all costs prevented.
2) Support should be provided for the spread of "True Islam", which is a religion of love, friendship, peace and brotherhood, and for its true understanding by Islamic societies. The solution for radical factions in Islamic countries should not be "forced secularization". On the contrary, such a policy will incite more reaction from the masses and feed radicalism. The solution is the dissemination of true Islam and the appearance of a Muslim role-model who embraces Qur'anic values such as human rights, democracy, freedom, good morals, science and aesthetics, and who offers happiness and bliss to humanity.
3) The source of terrorism is ignorance and bigotry and the solution is education. To the circles who feel sympathy with terror, it should be said that terror is utterly against Islam, that terror only does harm to Islam, Muslims and to humanity at large. Besides, these people have to be provided with education in order to be purified of this barbarism. The United States' support to such an education policy will yield very positive results.
Our hope is that these measures will help to the world get rid of terrorism and all other bigoted, brutal, barbarous structures. With its Christian-dominated culture and population, the United States, which defines itself as "a nation under God", is in fact a real friend of the Muslims. In the Qur'an, God draws attention to this fact and informs us that Christians are those who are "most affectionate to those who believe". (Surat al-Ma'ida: 82)
In history, some ignorant people (for instance, Crusaders) failed to understand this fact and caused conflicts between these two great religions. To prevent the repetition of this scenario, true Christians and Muslims need to come together and co-operate.
(1) - Alan Ereira, David Wallace, C r u s a d e s : Terry Johns Tell the Dramatic Story of Battle for Holy Land, BBC World Wide Ltd., 1995.