Islam, the fastest-growing religion in the world, with more than 1.2 billion adherents, is currently facing a pernicious threat, one that is all the more dangerous because it is silent and internal. That threat comes from religious extremists who commit acts of terrorism across the world in the heretical claim that they are speaking and acting on behalf of the noble faith they profess to follow. In fact, what they seek is personal profit, both political and financial. Although they claim their goal is to purify their faith, the fact is that Islam is already pure, and has been since it was revealed 15 centuries ago. What the extremists seek is to use the name of the faith to build for themselves a power base that can generate vast riches and influence. In other words, what they seek is to take and take, whereas a true believer would in contrast give, give, and give in accordance with the tenets of Islam, which enjoins all who follow it to be generous, compassionate, and merciful.
Indeed, just as Jesus Christ warned that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, in Islam, each will render account to his or her Creator on the Day of Judgment, not of the physical riches they left behind on earth, but of the good deeds they performed during their lifetime. Deeds that help people rather than harm them, for let us not forget the Koranic verse: "Whoever killed one single innocent human being should be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind" (5:32).'Peace Is Best'
Muslim extremists have created their own set of writings and sayings that they seek to substitute for the truth. But believers should be guided exclusively by the written word of the Koran, and not that of religious extremists who are determined to unleash death and misery upon the earth. Indeed, the Koran contains an explicit prohibition of fanaticism, expressed in the words, "Don't be extremist in your religion" (4:171). It also affirms that "God grants to peace [rifq] what he does not grant to war [unf]" (Abu Dawud, Sunan 4/255). The Koran contains many, many more similar adages, all of which show Islam to be a faith whose followers are enjoined to ensure compliance with the Koranic injunction that "Peace is the best" (4:128).
The extremists have come up with their own versions of the theological texts, in which they seek to justify the very same actions that have been condemned repeatedly in the Koran.
Genuine followers of Islam know from reading the Koran and studying the hadith that Islam calls upon all its followers to choose peace rather than war, and the way of tolerance, rather than that of extremism. But there exists a polar opposite to that noble vision in the deeds and words of those who falsely claim to be speaking in the name of Islam, but who reject peace, calling instead for the relentless slaughter of all those who refuse to accept their plans. The extremists have come up with their own versions of the theological texts, in which they seek to justify the very same actions that have been condemned repeatedly in the Koran, the only legitimate source of guidance to followers of Islam. Most unforgivable of all, they claim to be superior to others, even to their fellow believers. Such a hierarchical system is anathema to the democratic spirit of Islam, which considers all believers equal.
Yet in order to promote their political and personal objectives, a small group of individuals have in effect created a class of priests -- themselves -- who claim to enjoy the exclusive right to interpret scripture and issue commands. They seek to rationalize this usurpation by mortals wedded to violence of the power that belongs only to God by disseminating misleading commentaries. Anyone who draws attention to this is terrorized. In regions controlled by the extremists, the faithful are denied access to any religious texts except the teachings of those same extremists, who camouflage their intentions in a religious garb. Of course, rather than obey the word of God and espouse tolerance and compassion, they are despotic and cruel, and frequently take innocent lives for the smallest of perceived transgressions, as the Taliban frequently did in Afghanistan during the years 1996-2001 when they controlled almost the entire country. What these individuals seek is to rule over territory in the same absolutist manner as feudal lords, and thereby enrich themselves, their friends, and their family members.Sowing Destruction
Contrast the Koranic injunction against the killing of innocents (5:32) with the murder of so many in the ongoing wave of terrorist attacks, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Indeed, that so many women and children have been killed in terrorist actions is contrary even to the teaching of the founder of Al-Qaeda, Yusuf al-Ayiri, who wrote in "The Truth About the New Crusader War," 2003 hijri 1422 (6-8): "As for those unbelievers who dwell in the Abode of War, their blood may be legally shed and their money taken, with the exception of women and children and the elderly." Of course, that reservation was ignored in many acts of terror in which women and children as well as men have lost their lives as a consequence of the greed and hate of extremists, a recent example being the killing of nearly 200 innocents in Mumbai in November, or the many attacks committed by terrorists in Pakistan.
What is needed is for Muslims to amaze the world once again by their scientific inventions, their works of technology and literature, and their benevolent and compassionate deeds.
Have these acts of terrorism improved or worsened the condition of Muslims across the world? It will be seen that in every country where a large number of extremists live and operate, poverty and pain are an inseparable part of everyday life. These human cancers cause conflict and suffering, and prevent the increase in economic and social standards that human beings of all faiths hope for. In a world where borders ought to be abolished, the upsurge of terrorism has resulted in the building of higher walls, and in fewer opportunities for travel. It has meant lower economic growth and less public safety. Terrorism has made the world a sadder, rather than a happier place. And by falsely affirming that their actions are motivated by Islam, the extremists have created confusion about the true goodness of this great faith in the minds of billions of people who have yet to read the Koran, and hence may not be aware that the extremists are lying when they claim to be true followers of Islam.
The activities of a few extremists have brought down retaliation on lands where extremists abound, and the resulting conflicts destroy infrastructure as well as human lives. Of those countries where the vast majority of the population are Muslims, only those where terrorism has been kept in check prosper. But where terrorism is on the rise, the country itself is at risk of collapse, the way a living body may succumb when infested with parasites
Today's "weapons" are education, and its gifts of technology and enterprise. The Muslim umma (community) can indeed attract the world, but never by a few resorting to terror. What is needed is for Muslims to amaze the world once again by their scientific inventions, their works of technology and literature, and their benevolent and compassionate deeds. In regions controlled by terrorists, learning is suppressed, and women especially are denied any access to mental betterment. The economic situation becomes pitiful, and starvation and unemployment spreads. What is needed is for all true believers to fight the biggest danger to Islam, which is extremists who engage in acts of terror, and for them to obey the Koran by choosing the path of peace. One hopes that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India will show the way in this necessary battle to rescue our society from hatred and murder.M.D. Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University, India