The Middle East And Religion: An Islamic Reading Of The Golden Rule
Both Hamas and Israel should stop manipulating the language of faith and morals to justify extreme and indiscriminate violence, writes Islamic theologian Marwan Sarwar Gill. Religion (in good faith) ultimately offers a way out of conflict the bad faith has fueled.
BUENOS AIRES — The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have been with his disciples one day when some local Jews passed by, bearing the body of a deceased man to the cemetery. The Prophet stood up to offer his condolences, which offended one of his followers who asked him why he had shown respect to people who were not Muslims.
His reply was to ask, "Was he not human?"
This is a golden rule in religion — that respect for God-given life precedes distinctions based on faith, beliefs, or ethnic attachments. It is on that basis that I must vigorously condemn both Hamas's terrorist attack on civilians in Israel and the Israeli army's massacre of civilians in Gaza.
The pretexts are, on the one hand, fighting over the usurpation of your lands and defending your sovereignty, and on the other, self-defense and a justified response to terrorism. In no circumstance however can one condone the killing of civilians and especially children. The Holy Koran specifically condemns violence against civilians, comparing the murder of an innocent with murdering humanity itself.
Religion is not responsible
The spiritual successor to the Prophet (khalifa) and head of the Islamic Ahmadi Community to which I belong, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has said of the war that has erupted between Hamas and Israel that women and children, the elderly and the innocent may never be killed, even in war. He said that Hamas had taken the first step in this martial escalation, and that in spite of the consequent killing of Palestinian civilians, Muslims must always be sure to adhere to the teachings of Islam. If a legitimate state of war exists, it must be strictly limited to the respective armies. In that sense, says the Ahmadi caliph, Hamas's attack must be condemned, though regardless of its cruelty, the response should have limited itself to targeting Hamas.
The two faiths are not the cause or source but rather hold the solution to this clash.
One must point out, just as Judaism is not responsible for the actions of the Israeli army, so Islam is not responsible for Hamas's actions. Shouting God is Greatest (Allah-u akbar) or using theological language will not in itself make your act licit in religious terms. Each faith has its sources, and Islam is sourced in The Koran, and (below it) traditions and sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, a messenger of mercy and peace.
So the slogan God is Greatest is no license for acts of violence, when it is, in fact, a call to peace, harmony and unity. Allah is God's personal name (in The Koran and in Arabic), and as the holy book states in its first chapter, He is the Lord and Creator of all humanity. If you love God, you must thus love and respect His creation. As the Prophet said, those who show no mercy cannot expect God's mercy.
Hasidic Jews during a pro-Palestinian rally outside the Alamin Mosque and Almadinah School in New York on Oct. 7
The solution to the clash
Likewise, the word jihad does not signify war against non-Muslims but a "great effort" to be made against wickedness in oneself. Islam only permits war in self-defense and to safeguard freedom of worship. The Koran tasks Muslims (believers) with protecting any house of worship, whether it be a mosque, a synagogue, church, or temple. The Prophet told his flock they must foment a sense of safety around them, with their actions and deeds.
So this is not a war between Muslims and Jews. Neither faith threatens the other's existence, and both are heralds of universal fraternity and peaceful coexistence. The two faiths are not the cause or source but rather hold the solution to this clash. The guilty party here are those who distort sacred texts to justify their own interests.
As for myself, my deepest wish is for peace between both peoples. Meanwhile, if there is nothing constructive we can do to resolve the conflict and save innocent lives, at least let us not create new divides between the people around us.
*Marwan Sarwar Gill is a theologian and president of the Islamic Ahmadi Community in Argentina.
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