An Islamic Perspective on Violence
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An Islamic Perspective on Violence
Even though violence exists and occurs in all regions of the world and its perpetrators hail from various backgrounds and religious orientations, the Western world associates Islam, more than any other faith, with violence.
Recent hostilities involving Muslims and so-called “acts of terror” for which they have been accused have led to an increased amount of “profiling” and have given weight to the notion, prevalent in the modern world, that Islam is a religion which condones, perhaps even promotes, violence.
There is a desperate need, therefore, for clarification of Islam’s perspective on violence in all its forms and manifestations. Before embarking on a quest “to set the record straight” regarding Islam’s view of violence, aggression, hostility and bloodshed, it is of utmost
importance that one bears the following in mind:

1. When this issue or any other religious issue is discussed, Islam, and any other religion for that matter, must be judged on the basis of its doctrines and teachings not on the behavior of those who attribute themselves to it. A line of separation must be drawn between what Islam “says” and what some individuals “calling” themselves Muslims or “claiming” to “represent” Islam do.
2. Renowned Muslim scholars possessing the knowledge necessary to understand and accurately interpret Islamic teachings are best qualified to clarify Islam’s position on such issues and explain the relevant texts from Islamic sources, not critics disguised as “experts” whose opinions, interpretations and conclusions may be influenced by their prejudices or a pervading climate in society.
3. In order to reach the truth in such matters, an honest attempt at abandoning emotionalism must be made. Emotionalism clouds one’s vision and prevents a person from seeing things as they really are and drawing objective and accurate conclusions. The result is a fruitless exchange of “finger pointing” and an increased level of “misunderstanding” the antithesis of what should be the goal of such discussions.
That said, let us try to explore and discover together what Islam really says about violence.

Defining Violence
Perhaps the best starting point is to determine what is meant by “violence”, for it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to say what Islam’s perspective on violence is unless we agree on what truly constitutes violence. Some of the most common dictionary definitions for violence are as follows:
“Rough or injurious physical force or action”, “rough treatment; use of bodily force on others, especially. (unlawfully) to hurt or harm”, “unjust or unwarranted exertion of force especially against the rights of others”, “force, intensity, vehemence.”
If what is intended by violence is “rough and injurious use of force to hurt or harm”, then Islam’s stance toward “violence” with this connotation depends on the following factors:
a. Those carrying out the acts of violence.
b. Those upon whom said acts are inflicted.
c. The reason for the act of violence.
d. The legality of the act.
For example, if those carrying out the “injurious use of force” are legitimate governments or authoritative entities, not self-appointed holy warriors, and the victims of this “rough or injurious treatment” are convicted criminals being punished for their crimes in accordance with Islamic teachings then; meaning that it is a punishment, Islam is not opposed to but rather condones violence with this connotation because punishment has to be deterring.
God says,
“The unmarried woman and the unmarried man guilty of illicit sexual intercourse – lash each one of them one hundred lashes and do not be taken by pity for them such that you fail to implement the law of God…” (An-Nur) 24:2
A Prophetic saying collected by the renowned Islamic scholar Abu Dawood states that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Forgive one another in those matters requiring corporal punishment amongst yourselves, for whatever case reaches me of the prescribed punishments I am duty-bound to apply it.”
However, Islam does not permit ordinary civilians to take the law into their own hands and assigns the duty of inflicting corporal punishment to the legitimate Muslim ruler or those he commissions to execute this task.
Likewise, Islam is not opposed to violence with this meaning if it is carried out by sovereign nations against other states whose actions they feel threaten their existence, their sovereignty, their freedoms, their safety and thei ational security.
However, Islamic Law vehemently opposes all “unjust and unwarranted” uses of force in this sense. Islam stipulates that in war, only fighters in the field of battle must be confronted with force and it is only against them that “injurious” physical force can be used. Islam prohibits that any harm be inflicted on women, children and othe on-combatants and forbids the use of “injurious” force against civilians.
It was reported that: “The Prophet (PBUH) passed by a woman who had been killed during one of the battles whereupon he said: “This woman was not a combatant.” Ibn ‘Umar(one of Prophet Muhammad’s closest companions) said: “Then he forbade the killing of women and
It is also important to note that although Islam condones violence in this sense, which is a natural consequence of war, under certain conditions, it prefers that a peaceful solution be reached as opposed to resorting to bloodshed. God says,
“And if they incline toward peace (preferring it to war), then incline to it also and put your trust in God. Indeed He is All-Hearing All-Knowing.” (Al-Anfal) 8:61
And He says,
“Fight them until disbelief is rooted out and religion and worship are devoted solely to God. But if they cease and desist, then there is to be no aggression except against the transgressors.” (Al-Baqarah) 2:193
Also, consider that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers lived for 13 years in Makkah at the start of his mission and prophethood under very oppressive conditions. Many of his followers were tortured because of their acceptance of monotheism and their abandonment of the idolatrous practices of the pagan Arabs. In spite of this the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers refrained from fighting fire with fire; patiently bearing the cruelty they faced in most cases abandoning even self-defense let alone engaging in an armed struggle against their oppressors. The Qur’an describes these early Muslims:
“Have you not seen those who were told to (forbear) hold back their hands (refrain from fighting) and establish regular prayer and give charity?…” (An-Nisa) 4:77
When fighting became inevitable and the Muslims were forced to fight their for their continued existence and religious freedom, even then the Muslims sought peaceful solutions to differences as opposed to armed conflict.
A prophetic tradition states: Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to say to the commanders of his army before they departed for combat: “If you meet your enemy from amongst the pagans afford them three options and which ever of them they select accept it from them and refrain from fighting them: Invite them to Islam, if they accept it then accept it from them and refrain from fighting them… Invite them to pay al-jizyah (a tax paid by non-Muslims who live under the protection of the Muslim state) if they accept this then accept it from them and refrain from fighting them. If they refuse (these two options) then you have no choice except (the third) to seek God’s aid and support and fight them…”
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also signed a ten-year peace treaty with the pagans of Makkah despite the fact that it contained many unfair stipulations; preferring peace to war.
All of this clearly indicates that Islam is a religion which prefers peace to war and non-violent solutions to conflict as opposed to violent ones.
As far as violence with the meaning of “force” is concerned, Islam is not completely opposed to its use but rather seeks to regulate it so that it is employed in appropriate amounts as dictated by divine law. For example, a father may be compelled to use force to discipline his child, a doctor to inject a patient with medicine vital for his survival or recovery from an illness. The authorities may be required to use force to apprehend a suspect and take him into custody. A good Samaritan may be obliged to use force to break up a fight and an innocent victim may need to use force to defend himself against a mugger. Islam condones the use of force in these and similar situations provided that the use of force is proportionate and does not exceed legitimate bounds. Even in such cases, Islam encourages its followers to avoid “violence” with this connotation and to employ a “gentle” and “friendly” approach whenever possible.
God says,
“Good and evil are by no means equal. (So) repel evil with that which is superior (i.e. good deeds, kindness and gentleness); and thereupon the one with whom between you and him there had previously been enmity and quarrel will become the most devoted of friends.” (Fussilat) 41:34
‘Aaishah (Prophet Muhammad’s wife) said that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Gentleness and kindness do not accompany any matter except that they beautify it,
And they are not removed from any matter except that they mar, spoil and disfigure it.”
The Prophet (PBUH) made a similar statement to ‘Aaishah after he had been insulted by a group of Jews who had come to visit him. When the Prophet refused to respond in kind, ‘Aaishah began to curse them, whereupon the Prophet commanded her to be quiet and said: “Indeed God is Gentle and Kind, and He loves gentleness and kindness in all matters.”
In another version the Prophet (PBUH) said: “O ‘Aaishah, verily, God is Gentle and Kind, and He loves gentleness and kindness. He grants and makes possible through gentleness and kindness what He withholds when violence is used and other than gentleness is employed.”


Islam and the Roots of Violence

Yet, another matter that testifies to the fact that Islam has been unjustly labeled a “violent” religion is that Islam has not only prohibited unjust and unwarranted violence, nor has it merely sought to temper and set limits on “necessary force”, nor has it sufficed itself with encouraging its followers to be gentle and kind even in the face of ignorance and brutality. Islam has gone a step further striking violence at its core by prohibiting the root causes of violence:
In the Qur’an, God describes His righteous and devoutly obedient servants as follows:
“Those who spend of their wealth (in the way of God) whether in a state of hardship and financial difficulty or in a state of ease and prosperity, who repress their anger and pardon men (who have wronged them) – and God loves the doers of good.” (Al-Imran) 3:134
In a collected Prophetic tradition, a man came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said: “Advise me.” Whereupon the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Do not allow yourself to become angry.” He kept repeating it over and over: “Do not allow yourself to become angry.”
The scholars have explained: “It means do not translate your anger into actions… because many calamities occur when people act upon their anger.”
God says,
“O People of the Book do not go to extremes in your religion…” (An-Nisa) 4:17
Commenting on this verse some scholars said: “And it is well known that this prohibition directed at the People of the Book is a prohibition for (the Islamic nation) as well; because extremism in religion is blameworthy and reprehensible…”
Famous Islamic scholars have recorded other Prophetic sayings regarding extremism:,
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Beware of extremism, for indeed the people before you were destroyed by nothing other than extremism in religious matters.”
He also said: “Perish (they will): those who go to extremes.” He repeated it three times (for emphasis).
How often have pride, arrogance and a presumed superiority over others led man to commit acts of violence? Concerning pride and arrogance the Qur’an states:
“And be not proud and boastful indeed God does not like the boastful.” (Al-Qasas) 28:76
“And likewise does God place a seal over the heart of every arrogant tyrant.” (Ghafir) 40:35
Regarding pride, the Prophet (PBUH) said that God said: “Pride is My cloak and Magnificence and Greatness My robe, and he who competes with Me in respect of either of them I shall cast in the Hell-fire.”
Furthermore, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “He who has a mustard seed’s weight of arrogance in his heart will not enter Paradise.” A man said: “A man likes that his garment is attractive and that his shoes are of the finest quality.” Whereupon the Prophet said: “Indeed, God is beautiful and He loves beauty (and that you beautify yourselves). Pride is rejecting the truth and looking down upon people.”
Throughout history, prejudice has been a spark igniting the fire of violence and a waving hand fanning its flames. The Qur’an, therefore, has prohibited Muslims from harboring prejudices on the basis of race, color, nationality or tribal affiliation:

“O Mankind, indeed We have created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes that you may come to know each other. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous and God-fearing amongst you…” (Al-Hujurat) 49:13
“The Prophet (PBUH) said: “O people! Indeed your Lord is one and your father is one. Certainly, an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab, nor is a non-Arab superior to an Arab, nor is a white man superior to a black man, nor a black man superior to a white man except by God-consciousness.”
One who takes a closer look at most incidents of violence; focusing his attention on the contributing factors that led to their occurrence will find that greed is a root cause for many acts of aggression and usages of force. That is why Islam has warned its followers against greed and giving in to the natural tendency of human beings to be greedy.
“…But those who, before them, had homes (in Medinah) and had adopted the Faith, show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls; they are the ones that achieve prosperity (Al-hasher) 59:8.”
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Beware of oppression for verily oppression is layer upon layer of darkness on the Day of Judgment. And, beware of greed for verily those who came before you were only destroyed by their greed; it caused them to shed blood and to legalize sexual relations with their kinfolk.”
Islam and Different Kinds of Violence
What has preceded is a general presentation of Islam’s perspective on violence. What follows is a clarification of Islam’s view of specific forms of violence.
Islam and Domestic Violence
Some have defined domestic violence as: “a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners where the perpetrator and victim are currently or have been previously dating, cohabiting, married etc.”
Others have defined it as: “behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other…”
It is furthe oted that: “(Domestic) violence can be criminal and includes physical assault (pushing, shoving, hitting and the like), sexual abuse (unwanted or forced sexual activity), and stalking. Although emotional, psychological and financial abuse are not “criminal” behaviors, they are forms of abuse and can (be precursors) to criminal violence.”
Those who have spoken on the subject also cite the following as examples of domestic violence:
• Insults, name calling and put-downs
• Preventing a partner from contacting family and friends
• Withholding money
• Stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job
• Actual or even threatened physical harm
• Sexual assault
• Stalking
• Intimidation
Islam equivocally condemns and forbids domestic violence with this connotation. God orders the believers to deal with women in the way that is known and accepted by all to be good spousal conduct:
And live with them (your wives) according to Alm`aroof.” (An-Nisa) 4:19
The scholars of Islam have explained: “Al-m’aroof (honorably, kindly, in kindness, in a good way) literally means what is known and accepted in the Islamic legislation and affirmed and customarily acknowledged (as good) by people. Precedence must be given to what has been dictated by legislation; what the law stipulates is good and honorable, and if it scorns a behavior then that must be considered reprehensible, even if the people practice and allow it.”
They further say: “It refers to the use of kind words when addressing women and treating them kindly and having a presentable appearance as much as possible; just as the husband would like her to behave towards him so should he behave towards her.”
The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) also ordered the faithful to treat women kindly by saying:
“Accept and apply my advice to treat women kindly…”
He also said: “Let no Muslim man harbor hatred or malice toward a Muslim woman. If he finds some behavior of hers which he dislikes, he will most certainly find another which pleases him.”
The Prophet prohibited verbal abuse saying:
“…do not (verbally) abuse or curse (your wife)…”
The scholars have said in explanation: “It means don’t say to her: ‘You are ugly,’ nor pray that God disfigures her face. This prohibition also includes emotional or psychological abuse caused by insulting her family or her lineage. All of this is included in the verbal abuse which the Prophet prohibited.”
Islam also prohibits the husband from “abusing” his wife by withholding what she is entitled to of provisions and sustenance.
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Indeed the right of women upon their husbands is that you do right by them in the matter of food and clothing.” In another tradition he was asked: “What is the wife’s right upon her husband?” He said: “Feed her as when you feed yourself; clothe her as and when you clothe yourself…”
However, one must understand that Islam has placed the husband in a position of authority over his wife and has made him responsible for the family in the sight of God. God says,
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because of what God has granted one of them of superiority over the other and because of what they spend (to support women) from their means…” (An-Nisa) 4:34
With this responsibility comes the right of the husband to be respected. God continues:
“…Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in their husband’s absence what God orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property etc.)…” (An-Nisa) 4:34
Should the wife disobey her husband and refuse to fulfill his rights, then he has been instructed to employ certain techniques to convince her abandon her defiant behavior. God says,
“…As for those women from whom you experience ill-conduct and disrespect, admonish them (first), (next, if this fails) refuse to share their beds, (if this fails, then) bat them lightly…” (An-Nisa) 4:34
Islam also prohibits the husband from batting in the face, striking with a closed fist or with anything or in any way which would leave a mark. Islam also instructs the husband to only resort to batting as a final option and only if he thinks that it will bring them back together. If all of these failed, Islam encourages the relatives to help resolving the dispute, one from husband`s family and another from wife`s family to ensure the protection of both spouse rights.
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “A number of women have approached my wives complaining of ill treatment (physical abuse) by their husbands. Those who have (abused their wives) are not the best of you.”
‘Aaishah (the Prophet’s wife) said: “The Messenger of God never hit any of his wife, (in fact) he never hit anyone with his hand except when fighting in the path of God or if one of God’s prohibitions was violated.”
Islam and Child Abuse
Islam prohibits any and all types of “abuse” especially abusing weak and often defenseless children. While Islam does allow parents to discipline their children, which may entail an occasional “spanking”, it also encourages them to make physical means the final rather than the first option. Parents are urged to use kind words and convincing arguments, incentives (If you behave I will give you…), open displays of displeasure, “the silent treatment”, and warnings if useful to refine character and get their children to abandon rebellion and misbehavior.


Islam and Terrorism
If there is any matter that saddens Muslims more than any other in modern times, it is the unjust association of Islam and Muslims with terrorism. To the extent that if two people were to commit a similar “violent” crime, one of them Muslim and the other from another faith, the Muslim is almost sure to be labeled a “terrorist” and his crime an act of “terror” likely part of a “greater plot” with “religious and political motives.” As for the other individual? Well, he may be deemed a “fanatic” with “radical” or “extreme” views or a person with a “mental condition”, but he is almost always said to have “acted alone” and his faith is seldom if ever considered the “source”, “root cause” or “driving force behind” his act of violence.
Because of the existence of this bias, it is necessary, before mentioning Islam’s perspective on terrorism, to define terrorism in a fair way, far removed from religious and ethnic prejudices.
Terrorism is not…

1. …synonymous with any religion. It is not fair for Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or any religion for that matter to be associated with terrorism. An objective study of the religions of the world – especially Islam – will result in the conclusion that none of them endorses terrorism as a core value. A gross misrepresentation of the facts is therefore committed when one associates any religion with terrorism.
2. …the same as self defense. Unfortunately, quite frequently in today’s world, armed invaders raid a sovereign nation and occupy it; citizens are forcibly removed from their homes and displaced. When this occurs thei atural inclination is to fight for what is rightfully theirs and has been usurped unjustly. This “fighting” to prevent this act of “injustice” cannot be accurately termed “terrorism”.
3. … limited to the acts of “individuals”, or “terrorist organizations”, or “cells”. Yes, there are terrorist groups, which use organized guerrillas for their goals, but likewise there are terrorist “governments”, which use armies and weapons of various degrees of destruction against innocent civilians.
4. … restricted to artillery and armaments as a means for its execution. People could be “terrorized” and harmed through other means, such as starvation, torture, deprivation of medical care, and broad economic sanctions which – more often than not – harm the innocent not the “wrongdoers” they are intended for.
5. …confined to non-combat zones. Acts of terrorism may occur in combat and war zones if basic war ethics for civilians, soldiers, and captives are not respected and observed.

Terrorism Defined
Some have quite accurately observed that many of the definitions offered for terrorism are “politically and emotionally charged.” However, all seem to agree that terrorism comprises of “the illegitimate” and calculated use of “violence” or “the threat of violence” in order to attain goals that are “political, philosophical, racial, ethnic, religious or ideological in nature.”; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear.
Islam categorically opposes and absolutely prohibits its followers from using “force” to “coerce” anyone to accept its religious beliefs and practices or comply with its political goals. God says,
“Let there be no compulsion in (matters of) religion…” (Al-Baqarah) 2:256
Islam does not permit its followers to use bombings, kidnappings, hijackings, extortion and other “illegitimate” forms of violence as a means to achieve religious or political ends. Acts of “terror” against civilians and non-combatants are strictly forbidden. Especially when one considers that Muslim nations have made non-aggression pacts with the nations in which these acts of terror are perpetrated, and Muslims are obliged to honor these treaties and are banned from violating them. God says,
“O you who believe fulfill your covenants…” (Al-Maidah) 5:1
Abdillah ibn ‘Amr (a close companion of the Prophet) said that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever kills a non-Muslim who has made a non-aggression pact with the Muslims then he will not smell the fragrance of Paradise although its fragrance can be smelled from a distance of forty years.”
Another companion also mentioned: “The polytheists were on two plains with the Prophet and the believers: there were those polytheists who had no covenant and were at war with the Muslims and whom the Prophet fought and they fought against him. Then there were those polytheists who had a covenant with the Prophet they didn’t fight him and he didn’t fight them.”
Notice the Prophet differentiated between those who had no covenant and fought the Muslims and those who had a pact and treaty with the Muslims. This point is driven home even further when one considers the following verse:
“…But if they (the Muslims who failed to emigrate to Al-Madinah and remained in Makkah) seek military support in religion, it is your duty to help them except against a people with whom you have a treaty of non-aggression and God is the All-Seer of What you do.” (Al-Anfal) 8:72
It is also important to note that war in Islam can only be declared by genuine governments and must be carried out between nations; not individuals, under the banner of a legitimate Muslim ruler; not a self appointed one, and against combatants not non-combatants.
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The Imam (legitimate Muslim ruler) is a shield, fighting is done behind him and protection is sought from him…”
The scholars of Islam have said that this is a statement which carries the meaning of a command i.e.: “fight only behind a legitimate Muslim ruler and under the banner of (true) Islam.”
Islam encourages Muslim nations to build strong armies – not for the purpose of perpetrating acts of “illegitimate” and “unjustified” violence or threats thereof – but rather as a deterrent to their enemies, who, recognizing the strength of the Muslim nation, will prefer peace with it to war.
One can clearly see from that if Islamic teachings are used as the basis for passing judgment, the Islamic faith cannot be considered a religion which encourages, condones, or promotes violence or the commission of violent acts. If the acts of some “misguided” Muslims are cited as an evidence for this view, our response would be that these “transgressions” are “violations” of Islamic teachings not products of them. It is not the perfect teachings of Islam, but rather the imperfection of the human recipients of this great faith, that is the root cause of these acts.
Also, consider that if the world’s fastest growing religion with its 1.2 billion followers really held that violence was a basic article of faith how is it that such a small number of them commit the acts of violence with which Islam is so often associated? And how is it that in Muslim societies, which are financially, industrially and socially disadvantaged by any standard, there is less violence and unjust exertion of force against others than in the “civilized” and “industrialized” world?

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