Skip to main content
Killing for Religion
Apr 1, 1996

Modern Western consciousness is manipulated and, to some extent, entrapped, by slogans. Conceptions like democracy, freedom and human rights are only the three most effective of the slogan words which are used to benumb Western public opinion and which play a considerable part in the continuation of Western dominion. As ideas, even as values, we do not necessarily object to them, rather, we approve them, but in the hands of Western world powers, they are a cruel and cynical deception, as corrosive as chemical weapons.

The Western powers have no objection to the most ruthless tyrannies for as long as they can easily manipulate them. Their interest is really in stability in those areas of a country’s life which allow Western economic interests to function and flourish unopposed. And the same Western powers will give no respite to a democratic country if their interests are jeopardized in that country by its people’s will to political or cultural independence. They do not refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and claim to do so for democracy and freedom. Their own record of human rights is by no means good: leaving aside the past excesses of colonialism and its present excesses in different guises, racial, cultural and religious discrimination has by no means ended in their own territories, rather concessions are regularly made to extremist political parties (ostensibly in order to deny them greater popularity), the number of crimes and prisoners rises unstoppably, and physical torture, especially of activists on behalf of minority interests, is often enough reported to he unofficially tolerated. Yet, despite their known record, the Western powers unashamedly claim the right to champion democracy, freedom and human rights anywhere and everywhere - if it suits them. They do so in order to justify to their populations the resort to military or economic force abroad. They never tolerate ethnic or sectarian factionalism on their home ground, but they take advantage of such differences in other countries to divide their peoples against each other and from their authorities, thus destabilizing them. While they themselves will readily wage war thousands of miles away to assert their interests in an island, they do not allow others to use their right of guaranty in an island on their very borders. The operations Western intelligence agents carry out in other countries are invariably presented as heroic acts, whereas directly comparable, even identical, actions others attempt to maintain their independence and self-defence are equally invariably presented as barbarism and terrorism. They regard it as their right to determine a new order for the world, for which they are ready to mobilize and project huge armies equipped with the most lethal modem weaponry, while they include in the list of terrorist countries those that try to guard their territorial integrity against separatist movements whose terror the Western powers themselves have encouraged in the past or are encouraging now. In short, the moral or philosophical value of such concepts as democracy, freedom and human rights is utterly compromised by the naked and cruel cynicism with which they secure their dominion in the world. The cynical abuse of these concepts reminds us of the famous chant in Orwell’s Animal Farm: All animals are equal but some are some equal than others.

Nothing stands so effectively against the cynicism with which power is handled in the West than religious belief where such belief is both serious and sincere and can seriously inspire political thought and action. Therefore it is no surprise that, from time to time, political opinion-formers in the West will take swipes at religion, claiming quite absurdly that religion is responsible for inspiring killing. Thus, in one of its latest issues, Time Magazine presents the Divinely-inspired religion - whether it be Judaism or Christianity or Islam - as a way of life that encourages ‘killing for God’. We do not deny the misrepresentation of religion by some extremist groups who take religion as a narrow political ideology, making it a means of displaying their hardness or rigidity or of sublimating their inferiority or superiority complexes. However, it can never be justifiable to blame any order or system as such, specially for something it essentially condemns, because of the wrongs committed by some marginal groups or individuals who claim to act on behalf of that order or system.

Religion is a contract between God and man, all of whose conditions are in favour and for the benefit of man. As a complex, civilized being in need (besides innumerable other things material and spiritual) of secure co-existence with his fellow-men, man seeks peace and justice in his individual and collective life. Just as individual motives differ from one another to a great extent, so too the ‘collective reason’ of mankind is unable to comprehend the true nature of that peace and justice and how to realize it in practice. Therefore, there is a felt need for a ‘transcendent’ reason, and this was granted to man in the form of religion, which is, in fact, an assemblage of the principles laid down by God for the happiness and security of mankind in both worlds and for the realization of justice in practical life. Since, in terms of his essential nature and needs, man has never changed, nor will do so, all of the Prophets preached the same fundamentals of religion, although there were naturally some differences in secondary matters relating to the ever-changing circumstances of life. This religion, which God Almighty chose for man’s felicity, individual and collective, and in both worlds, and which He revealed through the Prophets, including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. upon them all be peace, is Islam. Islam means belief in and submission to God and thereby peace and justice in man’s individual and collective life. Judaism and Christianity are the names given to its distorted forms by others after the Prophets Moses and Jesus respectively. No Israelite Prophet mentioned the word Judaism. Jesus never claimed to establish Christianity on earth and never called himself a Christian. The word Christian is mentioned only three times in the New Testament and first by pagans and Jews in Antioch about 43 AD, long after Jesus had left this earth (Acts, 11.26.).

Islam can be best summed up in the Basmala, the formula pronounced at the start of every good act: In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. The word translated as the All-Merciful is al-Rahman, which denotes God as the One who, out of His infinite mercy for all His creatures with no discrimination of plant or animal or human, of sex or race, of believers or non- believers, protects, sustains and provides for all beings. The word translated as the All-Compassionate is al-Rahim denoting God as the One who has special mercy for his good, believing, devoted and upright servants in this world and the next. Al-Rahman guarantees the life and provision of all beings, whether Muslims or non- Muslims, believers or non-believers. In addition, the Qur’an plainly states that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was sent as a mercy/or all worlds [all species of beings] (21.107). A religion thus based on mercy and compassion aims at reviving not killing.

Unfortunately, materialistic thought, fed by the extreme positivistic and rationalistic attitudes on which science is made dependent in the West, views life reduced to the physical or material dimension. However, the spiritual domain of existence is much broader and of greater significance for life. The peace, harmony and contentment obtainable in the physical domain depend, first of all, on spirituality. One’s spiritual life, which is based on enlightenment of mind or intellect through scientific knowledge, and the enlightenment of the heart and refinement of feelings through belief, religious knowledge, worship, and inspiration, has an essential place in the preaching of the Prophets. For example, the Qur’an proclaims: Respond to the call of God and His Messenger when they call yell to what will revive you [spiritually and intellectually].

Islam is, in the words of Mohammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmonious/v conceived to complement and support each other nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure (Islam at the Crossroads, p.5). Therefore, it gives almost as much importance to man’s physical life as it gives to his spiritual life. First of all, Islam regards each individual as the representative of its kind. In other words, in the view of Islam, each individual human being is of the same value as humankind as a whole. For this reason, Islam has condemned Cain, the son of Adam, who killed his brother unjustly and, since he opened the way to murder in human history, holds him indirectly responsible for all killings until the end of time. Also, for the same reason, because of the gravity of the sin, the Qur’an declares that one who slays a soul unjustly is as if he had slain all human beings, and one who revives a human being spiritually or restores him to life physically, is as if he had restored all human beings to life spiritually or physically.

It is clear that a religion which attaches to life much greater value than any other thing and presents the life of each individual human as being as weighty as the lives of all human beings will never preach killing for its own sake nor glorify it. Furthermore, Islam does not approve of compelling people to accept any belief. Islam aims to remove all obstacles before man’s free choice; it seeks a climate where beliefs can be freely preached. Once this climate is guaranteed, it leaves the choice to individuals themselves, which is required by the fact that God has endowed man with free will and calls him in the Hereafter to account for all that he did in the world. The Qur’an declares: There is no compelling in religion, as right and guidance have been distinguished, from wrong and deviation (al-Baqara, 2.256).

His enemies waged war on the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, many times and forced him to sometimes wage war on them. In all these wars, the casualties amounted to only around seven hundred on both sides. By contrast, let us ask: Is it religion which was responsible for the scores of millions of people killed in Communist Russia and China? Is it religion which caused the Russian massacre of Afghan and Chechen peoples and the brutal suppression of the freedom movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia? Is it religion that caused the death of a million people while the French denied the Algerian people their freedom? Is it religion which urged the US to its adventure in Vietnam, which cost a million lives directly and many more indirectly since? Is it religion or modern civilization, which its founders vaunt as the most advanced and humane in history, which caused the death of more than 60 million people, the majority of them civilians, and countless millions homeless, widowed and orphaned, in the two World Wars? Is it religion which is responsible for using scientific knowledge to make nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction with which to intimidate the poor and weak nations?

If the new world order which Western powers are trying to impose, in the name of world peace, democracy and human freedom, but in fact strictly for their own political and economic advantage, gives them the right to commit atrocities in other countries, why may not those who claim to serve God in order to clear the world of such atrocities and to found true peace and realize true freedom in human life, why may not they also claim the same right? However, we do not claim, as Western political cynicism does in practice, that atrocities and war-mongering can be justified for merely political ends. Only those actions sincerely undertaken in the name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, without any other motive and without going beyond the limits God has placed on individual and collective action, can bring about a revival of truly humane values. 

As an example of the level of sincerity of motive we have in mind, we would recall this famous incident: during a battle, ‘Ali, a noble Companion of the Prophet, upon him be peace, and the fourth Caliph, threw his enemy to the ground and was about to kill him. However, at this moment the latter spat in ‘Ali’s face whereupon, to his enemy’s surprise, ‘Ali released the man. He later explained that the man’s spitting at him had made him suddenly angry and, therefore, fearing that his motive for slaying the man was now confused and sullied by that anger, he had released him. The man became a Muslim and was thus revived both spiritually and physically.