Friday, July 15, 2005

Does the Qur'an Teach Violence?

In light of the tragic and very unfortunate bombings in London, I thought it important to post this op-ed piece by Dr. Khalid Siddiqi. It was written three years ago but is very relevant to the situation we face today.

Islam does not abet or condone violence. It condemns it. Under no conditions does it justify the killing of innocents.

The term "Muslim terrorist" is an oxymoron.

Does the Qur’an Teach Violence?
Khalid Siddiqi

Since 9/11, many writers have associated Islam with terrorism, since some terrorists have quoted from the Qur’an to justify their acts of mass murder. This is wrong. The terrorists have neglected the exhortations to peace and mercy that almost in every case succeed the verses calling for war.

The Qur’an is believed to espouse violence because of its frequent references to jihad, which does not mean holy war but struggle. The greater jihad involves a struggle against one’s self, and is a life-long activity for every Muslim. The lesser jihad involves the taking up of arms in self-defense. The Qur’an says, “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors.”

Islam does not sanction offensive warfare. During the life of Prophet Muhammad, it was his enemies in Mecca that thrice brought the fight to him in Medina. At the conclusion of the first of these battles, he reminded his companions that they were now returning from the lesser jihad against the enemy to wage the greater jihad against the self.

The conditions under which fighting in self-defense is allowed are very stringent. One must be deprived of the right to live and to earn one’s livelihood. Individual acts of vigilantism would create anarchy, and are prohibited. Even the community is not allowed to transgress limits, and attack women, children, or unarmed civilians. The Qur’an adds, “But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.”

It is a common misperception that the Qur’an asks Muslims to kill Jews and Christians. In fact, the Qur’an addresses the believers among the Jews and Christians with great respect, calling them “the people of the book.” Former President Jimmy Carter wrote about the common family ties among Jews, Christians and Muslims in The Blood of Abraham in 1985. It was this broad vision that brought about the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. Pope John Paul says, “The religiosity of Muslims deserves respect. It is impossible not to admire, for example, their fidelity to prayer. The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for Christians.”

It is another misperception that the Qur’an forbids friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims. In fact, the Qur’an urges Muslims to make peace with their enemies, saying, “It may be that God will grant love (and friendship) between you and those you (now) hold as enemies.”

The Qur’an has been called a compilation of contradictory writings, even though a fifth of the world’s population regards it as the word of God. Marmaduke Pictkhall, an English scholar of the early twentieth century, said it best, “The arrangement of verses in the Koran is not very easy to understand, but it is not haphazard, as some have hastily supposed. Closer study will reveal a sequence and significance. The inspiration of the Prophet progressed from inmost things to outward things, whereas most people find their way through outward things to things within.”

Critics of Islam have argued that the Qur’an asks Muslims to follow it blindly and resort to fanaticism. Yet, in the words of linguist Thomas Cleary, “Islam does not demand unreasoned belief. Rather, it invites intelligent faith, growing from observation, reflection and contemplation, beginning with nature and what is all around us. Accordingly, antagonism between religion and science such as that familiar to Westerners is foreign to Islam.”

It is a fact of history that Islamic civilization eventually nursed Europe out of the Dark Ages, laying the foundation for the Renaissance. There is no question that the Muslim world is now passing through a difficult period, suffering from high rates of illiteracy and poverty, in addition to political oppression. Even then, most of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims are living in peace. This month, they will be engaging in the fasts of Ramadan, and reciting the Qur’an in long congregational prayers every night.

It is unfortunate that small groups of Muslims have embraced terrorism as a political doctrine, even though it is forbidden in Islam. Their misguided acts should not be used to cast aspersions on all Muslims and on their scripture.

Dr. Khalid Siddiqi is a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic Language at Chabot, Ohlone and Mission Colleges in the Bay Area, where he also directs the Islamic Education and Information Center.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pakistan ranks at the bottom of the class

ISLAMABAD, 14 July (IRIN) - Pakistan ranks last out of 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of education, according to a new regional report compiled by a network of development organisations working in the education sector.

The Asia Pacific Report Card on Education for All, entitled, 'Must Do better' has been published by the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE), a network of 200 bodies involved in formal and non-formal adult education. It has been compiled jointly with the Global Campaign for Education, a coalition of developmental organisations in over 100 countries. The paper examines and analyses the commitment of government in developing countries with respect to various aspects of basic education.

"Bottom ranking paints a pessimistic picture but at the same time it shows where we are weak and need to put [in] effort. This report serves as a wake-up call for our leaders as well as citizens alike, to make education for all a reality," commented Tracey Wagner-Rizvi who works in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad with the country's leading child rights body, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).

The countries of Asia-Pacific region have been graded and ranked to depict their commitment to basic education based on their performance in five main subjects: basic education, state action on free education, inputs and resources, gender equality and overall equity.

Pakistan's leader, President General Pervez Musharraf's performance has been summed up as 'Back to Basics'. Isalamabad has been criticised for spending the lion's share of its GDP on the military at the expense of the education and health systems.

"Pervez spends less per pupil than most of his South Asian neighbours and charges user fees in full. Such low spending delivers very poor results: two out of three Pakistani adults are illiterate, while four out of ten children are missing primary schools," the report states.

Thailand holds the top position in the region, with an 'A' grade, while Malaysia comes second with a similar grade. Sri Lanka is awarded a 'B' grade in third position. The Philippines and China both hold grade 'C' in fourth and fifth positions respectively.

Vietnam scores a 'D' grade in sixth position, while Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Indonesia are all ranked at grade 'E.' Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Pakistan occupy the bottom four positions with 'F' grade.

"At the moment, a lot of money is being put into the education sector through donors and local resources. There has to be a committed effort and also accountability, if we're to achieve the 'Education for All' targets of [Millennium Development Goals] MDGs," said Rizvi.