This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  December 3, 2001

Speaker: Terrorist Acts Inconsistent with Islam

An Islamic scholar from Canada condemned the events of September 11 and said they cannot be justified "on any religious or theological grounds."

Jamal A. Badawi, a professor at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, systematically dismantled the idea that Islam somehow permits, condones or encourages terrorism.

Addressing a UConn audience at an overflowing Konover Auditorium as the final event in the Metanoia period of reflection following the terrorist attacks, Badawi offered what could have been the opening lecture in Islam 101. (For other articles about Metanoia, which was held from November 15 to 19, please go to the November 19 issue of the Advance.

Submission to God
He explained that Islam bears little resemblance to the impression some Americans may have of it in the wake of September 11. It's not a religion of militancy and violence, he said, nor does it censure other religions.

The very roots of the word Islam, he said, mean "peace and submission to God." Many Islamic themes, such as safeguarding life and property, are also found in Christianity and other religions, he added.

He dismissed the notion that religions compete or even that there are multiple religions, despite the various names attached to them.

"The idea of competition between religions is a futile argument. There are not religions. There is one core religion that all the prophets have taught throughout history. There is one basic religion, to achieve piece with God through submission to God. That's the essence of what all the prophets have taught."

He noted that Christians in the Arab world, as well as Muslims, refer to God as Allah.

The Koran makes frequent reference to "all mankind" rather than "all believers," Badawi said, emphasizing that the holy book's quiddity is expansive, rather than exclusive. God could have created all people with the same appearance and beliefs, but instead he chose diversity so that people "may get to know and recognize one another."

Badawi, director of the Islamic Information Foundation in Halifax, is the author of several books on Islam. He frequently participates in interfaith dialogues, such as this one, which took on a special urgency in the wake of September 11.

The Concept of Jihad
He conceded that a selective reading or "cut-and-paste" of the Koran could be used to "justify anything," but he rejected the thought that the Koran embraces jihad, or "holy war," in the way it is being portrayed by some media.

The term "holy war" doesn't appear in the Koran, Badawi said, adding that he finds this not in the least surprising. "What is so holy about war? It's death, destruction, distress, displacement, disease. There's nothing holy about war."

He said the term jihad is most often used by Arabic speakers to describe exertion or struggle in a broad range of situations, from the inner struggle a person might undertake "against some evil in yourself," to a battle against a social ill such as poverty.

Although Islam is a peaceful religion, it is not pacifistic, Badawi said. But war can only be acceptable if it is the last resort and if it is declared by a legitimate authority in pursuit of a goal such as self-defense or fighting oppression.

When Islam does permit war, he said, it must be conducted in such a way as to minimize damage to property and to noncombatants; especially women, children and the elderly.

Double Standard
Some media have done Islam and Muslims a disservice by linking the terms "Islamic" and "terrorist," Badawi said. He noted that Timothy McVeigh was never labeled a Christian terrorist, for example.

"There's a double standard when acts of terror are committed by people of Islamic background," he said. It's wrong to link terrorism to any religion, he suggested, even though terrorists themselves may do just that.

"Throughout history, people have done the most horrendous things in the name of religion," he said.

Badawi also lamented that despite the loss of up to 800 Muslims in the World Trade Center, and the participation by millions of Muslims in American life - including in various rescue services - he had not seen or read a single interview with a Muslim who suffered as a result of the September 11 terrorism.

Still, he said, Muslims have been buoyed by an outpouring of support by Christians who have spoken out against harassment of Muslims or vandalism at mosques.

Scott Brinckerhoff

Issue Index