Does Islam promote violence? | Sunday Observer

Does Islam promote violence?

I shall commence my talk today with the Islamic greeting in Arabic: Assalamu Alaikum- Peace be upon you! The Arabic word, ‘Islam’, which means submission to the will of God, has its root in the word, ‘Salaam’ or Peace. Thus, associating Islam, by its very definition, a religion of peace and moderation with violence, is not only downright immoral, but quite illogical.

The views that I express today are my personal reflections and do not in any manner represent the position of the Government of Sri Lanka. Secondly, I am neither an Islamic theologian nor even a scholar of Islam, but merely a humble follower of the religion.

Sri Lanka is no stranger to terrorism. After almost three decades of bloodshed and terror unleashed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the people of this nation were able to heave a collective sigh of relief on May 18, 2009, following the military defeat of the LTTE.

The decade old relative peace and stability that Sri Lanka enjoyed, spurring rapid economic growth and a booming tourism industry, was shattered on Easter Sunday, last year on April 21, by the multiple suicide terrorist bombings that struck the nation, targeting Christian worshippers attending Easter Mass at three churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, as well as local and foreign guests at three luxury hotels in Colombo on the same day, in which over 250 people lost their lives, including 45 foreigners, leaving more than 400 others wounded.

Although the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for these atrocities, it was later confirmed that a hitherto relatively obscure local group, called the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), led by a radical preacher, Zahran Hashim had masterminded the attacks.

In the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks, the Government declared a ‘state of emergency’ under the Public Security Ordinance and invoked the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 to apprehend the perpetrators of the local terror network of the ISIS, the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ).

The authorities were successful in rounding up most of the active members of the local terror network quite swiftly, thanks mainly to the active support and cooperation of the local Muslim community in providing vital information and intelligence. However, the bigger challenge, not only for Sri Lanka, but for the entire international community lies in combating and eradicating the evil ideology which motivates so-called ‘Muslims’ to kill innocent people.

As I stated earlier, Islam literally means “Peace” and is a religion of moderation. Therefore, associating Islam with extremism or terrorism is downright wrong, just as much as linking the cold blooded slaughter of 51 Muslims attending Jummah prayers on Friday, March 15, last year at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand with Christianity.

While not in any manner trying to diminish the savagery or the magnitude of the Easter Sunday carnage in Sri Lanka, a lesser known fact is that ISIS and its affiliates are responsible for the killing of more Muslims, than non-Muslims.

On November 24, 2017, ISIS gunmen attacked the al-Rawda mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai, during Friday prayers, killing 311 worshippers and injuring at least 122, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egyptian history.

It was the second-deadliest terrorist attack of 2017, after the Mogadishu bombings by Al-Shabab terrorists on October 14, 2017 that killed at least 587 people.

On December 16, 2014, six gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing 149 people including 132 schoolchildren, ranging between eight and eighteen years of age.

Whether it is ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Al-Shabab or Boko Haram, all these terrorist outfits derive inspiration from a deviant and satanic cult that purports to be authentic Islam. What makes this ideology toxic and a threat to world peace and security is the Takfir doctrine, underpinning it, by which its followers claim the right to kill non-Muslims, as well as Muslims, who they brand as heretics, such as Shia and Sufi Muslims.

Mainstream Muslims utterly reject this doctrine as antithetical to the core principles and beliefs of Islam.

This deviant ideology has been the principal cause of Islamophobia, fuelling suspicion and enmity towards Muslims who have hitherto been living peacefully as minorities in many non-Muslim countries, as we sadly witnessed in Sri Lanka, with the outbreak of mob attacks on mosques and Muslim owned properties, in mid-May, almost a month after the Easter Sunday bombings. The Government had to clamp a nation-wide dusk to dawn curfew over two days to quell the violence.

The Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith emerged as a voice of sanity amidst the discordant cacophony of bloodthirsty rabble rousers, baying for the blood of Muslims urging those involved in violence against the Muslim community to immediately stop these attacks. He also urged the Muslims not to get intimidated by these sinister elements and to act patiently and remain calm.

The need of the hour is to build a strong consensus among the leading Islamic academics and theologians in the world by taking a collective and unified stand against the Takfir doctrine, practised by followers of this deviant ideology, claiming it to be true and pristine Islam.

Regrettably, this hate filled ideology is being spread around the world, notably through foreign funded madrasas, and on social media, indoctrinating impressionable young people with its vile incitement to violence.

In this context, it is heartening to note that according to recent press reports, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Minister of Buddha Sasana, Religious Affairs and Cultural Affairs, has ordered the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department to register all Muslim religious schools (Madrasas) with the Department. He also instructed officials of the Department to re-evaluate the curricula of all Madrasas and prepare an updated curriculum with the assistance of the Education Ministry.

I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Government authorities to also monitor the flow of funds, especially from foreign sources to all religious institutions in the country, to ensure that such funds are not diverted to unauthorised or nefarious activities.

Islam acknowledges the diversity of humankind into its different cultures and social groupings. The Holy Qur’an states thus in Chapter 49, verse 13:

“O mankind, surely We have created you from a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other”


 The Holy Qur’an is also quite explicit in upholding the freedom of religion. In Chapter 2, verse 256, it says: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”

The Holy Quran is also quite categorical in forbidding the killing of any person without just cause. Chapter 5, verse 32 states thus:

“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the entire humanity”.

In human history, racial discrimination has long been a cause of injustice. Islam firmly asserts the racial equality of mankind. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH, in his Farewell Sermon from Mount Arafat, near Makkah in 632 A.D., firmly repudiated discrimination based on race and proclaimed thus, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white: None has superiority over another, except by piety and good deeds.”

In 628 AD, a Christian delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai, Egypt came to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and requested his protection. He granted them protection and provided them with a letter which is called the “Charter of Privileges.” The original letter can be found in Istanbul, Turkey. A copy is preserved and is on display at the St. Catherine’s Monastery.

The letter reads thus:

This is a message from Muhammad, son of Abdullah, as a Covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

“Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s Covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure Charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sanctity of their covenants. No one of the nation of (Muslims) is to disobey the Covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq

(Copyright 1990, 1997, All Rights Reserved)

This sacred document gives a clear order of protection, in the name of Islam, for the people of the book, meaning the Jews and the Christians.

In the modern context, the protection would extend to everybody, irrespective of their affiliation to a particular faith or no faith, drawing from the Holy Qur’an, Chapter 109, verse 6, which states as follows:

“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

It is likely that very few Muslims around the world are aware that this covenant exists, leave alone non-Muslims.

I strongly believe that this covenant should be used to effectively counter and oppose the extremist agendas of those who have insulted and sullied Islam by encouraging violence and hatred in its name.

An extract of the speech delivered at Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute, January 30, 2020

The writer is the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Relations