Summary: It has gotten to the point that the terms “terrorism” and “Islam” may be viewed as synonymous because of the actions of al Qaeda. Are they interpreting the Qur'an correctly?
The media has portrayed a telling picture of the perpetrators of 9/11: a picture of violence and hatred toward America. They have been portrayed as “the main enemy of the West and […] as a hotbed of terrorism that threatens Western civilization and its democratic values” (Khan n. pag., ellipses added). It has gotten to the point that the terms “terrorism” and “Islam” may be viewed as synonymous because of the actions of al Qaeda (Mamdani 235). Because of this kind of portrayal of Islam in the media, questions have come to the minds of Americans, such as, “Is the terrorist organization al Qaeda correctly interpreting the Quran in their use of violence and terror against the West?” or “Are mainstream Muslim leaders correct in saying that al Qaeda is not following the example and teachings of Muhammad?” I will show that in spite of the contrary arguments from Muslim scholars, al Qaeda is following the teachings and example of their prophet in attacking and bringing terror to the United States and her allies.
Before I show al Qaeda is obeying Allah, this fact must be stated: the majority of the 1.2 million Muslims in the world do not commit terror attacks and use violence against non-Muslims (Armstrong n. pag.). Many Muslims would also condemn al Qaeda for their actions (Reuters n. pag.) and can give plenty of scriptures in the Quran (the teachings of Muhammad) to show that they should live at peace and be patient towards unbelievers (Armstrong n. pag.). Armstrong, giving a reference in the Quran, says that “Muslims may not begin hostilities (2: 190)” (Armstrong n. pag.). Armstrong continues by saying that the 9/11 attacks are “Far from being endorsed by the Quran” and that “this killing violates some of its most sacred precepts” (Armstrong n. pag.). Former President George W. Bush agreed with this statement when he described the teachings of Islam as peaceful when he said “Islam is peace” and that the “face of terror is not the true faith of Islam; that is not what Islam is all about” (“Brutal Truth” n. pag.). But is this really the case? Is al Qaeda disobeying Allah and his Prophet?
One of the main motives behind al Qaeda attacking America and her allies is their religion. The former leader of the organization, Usama Bin Ladin (who was recently assassinated in his Abbottabad compound in May 2011), has claimed that they had their duties as Muslims as a primary motivation for their terrorist attacks. Bin Ladin said, “We are carrying on the mission of our Prophet, Muhammad. The mission is to spread the word of God” (Williams 11). Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, an al Qaeda spokesman has gone on record saying that the entire world must be subject to Allah (Williams 17). It could not be stated more clearly by Bin Ladin and Ghaith that faith is a motive for their jihad (holy war) against America. Hamid writes, “Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion” (n. pag.). But is al Qaeda defining jihad and waging war in obedience to Allah and his prophet Muhammad?
One of the best ways to find out whether al Qaeda is defining jihad correctly is by going back and looking at the history of Islam and the life of Muhammad. One author wrote “The Prophet Muhammad enshrined the violent ways of seventh century Arabia in a religion of global ambitions” (Davis 76). Muhammad was a “brilliant political and military success and preached the superiority of Islam in this world” (Davis 169). He taught and displayed jihad as more than an internal struggle, but as a defensive and offensive struggle against the infidels or heretics (Davis 243). It was early in the years of Islam that “the struggle of good and evil very soon acquired political and even military dimensions” (Lewis n.pag.). He continues, “Muhammad, it will be recalled, was not only a prophet and a teacher, like the founders of other religions; he was also the head of a polity and of a community, a ruler and a soldier” (Lewis n.pag.). Muhammad “was no stranger to the sword” (Spencer 19). One Muslim writer was willing to make this point
in saying that “we must acknowledge that the terrorists […] are products of Islamic history” (Van der Krogt 140, ellipses added).
From the prior quote, Van der Krogt saw a similarity between actions of Militant Islamists today and those of earlier centuries during the life of Muhammad and his earliest followers. Muhammad commanded that Muslims “invite non-Muslims to Islam, and then fight them if they refuse” (Spencer 7). Muhammad also said “Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make holy war” (Spencer 7). Does this sound like commands of offense or defense? Muhammad also defined jihad in part as a “holy war” when he said “We are returning from the lesser jihad [the battle] to the greater jihad” (Armstrong n. pag.). The greater jihad that he is speaking of in this quote is the internal struggle that the Muslim faces, but the lesser jihad is speaking of holy war. Whether these statements are speaking of offensive or defensive jihad, they are teaching that violence is acceptable.