A Note to Terrorists: When Fasting, Do You Remember Islam Says to Harm No One?
My daughter recently asked me: Do terrorists fast, Dad? Did the Sept. 11 suicide bombers fast? I didn’t know what to say, but the 16-year-old went on: “And what would that fasting mean, when they kill innocent citizens without any justified reason, whereas Muslims all over the world understand that they must not harm anyone?”
The article was published in The Jakarta Globe newspaper on August 27, 2010
Fair enough, I think. Even outside the fasting month of Ramadan, Muslims are taught to be always sensitive, tolerant and forgiving, and to never harm an innocent being, let alone a human being. Islam teaches us that even when we slaughter an animal, we should minimize the suffering. For example, an animal should be given water prior to its slaughter and it should be done swiftly with a very sharp knife.
But the terrorists might have a different understanding, based on their interpretation of the word “jihad” — which lately has been rendered into a scary term. We remember the terror of 9/11. US foreign policy in Muslim countries did not justify the loss of lives in the attack. This is not what Islam teaches.
Consider the wartime instructions of the Prophet Muhammad: He clearly forbade the killing of children, the elderly, women and all noncombatants or civilians.
Those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers and in the planes were all civilians, some of them Muslims.
All Muslim leaders in the United States and around the world undoubtedly condemn the attack as an act of terrorism unacceptable under Islam.
This denunciation is based on the universal value regarding the sanctity of human life. The holy Koranrelates the story of the first murder in human history, when Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother Abel. At the conclusion of the story, God says: “Whosoever kills a person without reason [of murder or mischief on the earth], it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whosoever spares a life, it is as though he has given life to all.”
It is clear that unless a person is put on trial and convicted of murder, he or she cannot be killed — and that killing an innocent person is the moral equivalent to killing all humans.
In 2006, a Muslim scholar, Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, wrote that one of the ironies of the current era was that although communications had greatly advanced with technology, people still had difficulties communicating meaningfully with other cultures and religions.
“There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding of the Islamic faith,” Rizvi wrote, arguing that many have tried to link 9/11 to the Islamic concept of jihad.
But Islam is primarily a religion of peace. Its name comes from the word “ silm ,” which has two intertwined meanings: One being “submission to God” and the other “peace.” When Muslims greet one another, for example, they often invoke the greeting “ as-salamu ’alaikum ” (“peace be upon you”). Muslims also must complete their five daily prayers with the greeting “peace for all.” One who doesn’t say this will have his prayers rendered unacceptable.
There has been a crucial misunderstanding of the concept of jihad. While some misguided souls have hijacked the term for their own political ends, taking the Koran out of context, the word certainly does not mean holy war.
Any Arabic speaker will tell you jihad means to strive or work hard for something, or to be diligent. The term “holy war” has come from the misleading historical concept of a “just war,” and has been used loosely as an Islamic term for decades.
Upon his return from battle one day, Prophet Muhammad addressed his Muslim followers by saying: “You have now returned from minor jihad, but the major jihad continues and remains a duty with you.” It is obvious here that the Prophet knew the diabolical trap his followers were likely to fall into if they failed to grasp the meaning of jihad in its entirety .
Although minor jihad has some connotation of armed struggle, it does not automatically allow the unjustified use of violence. Islam has allowed minor jihad only in the defense of Muslim people and their land, and to maintain peace in Muslim societies.
The major jihad, on the other hand, is known as a spiritual resistance, a struggle between two powers within ourselves — the body and the soul — and this is why it is also called the internal jihad. The conscience is in conflict with bodily desires. As this spiritual conflict is an ongoing jihad within each of us, the Prophet expected his followers to give preference to the soul and the conscience over the body and its earthly desires.
The fasting during the month of Ramadan — which is a continuation of a long history of fasting in the Abrahamic faiths — is an example of the annual training for this major jihad. The benefit of self-improvement through fasting makes it an important means of improving one’s faith.
Thus, I understand my daughter’s doubt: How indeed can a terrorist fast? Their actions create orphans and rob families of their breadwinners, while fasting calls on us to be kind to children and give alms to the poor? She means to say that people who are fulfilling their major jihad through fasting should also be concerned with the welfare of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
They must confront ignorance (by acquiring and disseminating knowledge), fight against poverty (by ensuring every member of their community has the means of basic subsistence) and help prevent dissension (by practicing tolerance and trying to understand the views of others).
My little girl then showed me a book by a prominent Indonesian Muslim thinker, the late Nurcholish Madjid, who noted that community welfare had been expressly emphasized within Islamic societies and written about comprehensively in the Koran. The “middle way” of Islam shows that the religion bears the spirit of social solidarity, which is an attitude that compels people to consider others before their own selfish egos.
Syafiq Basri Assegaff is a former journalist and a lecturer at Paramadina University in Jakarta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.