An understanding of true Islam can help stop terrorist acts
This week’s Brussels attacks—like those in Ankara over the weekend, Paris in November and Kenya last April—are a scourge on humanity. They also represent the greatest possible misrepresentation of true Islam.
ISIS extremists and anti-Islam activists fundamentally ignore and misrepresent the Qur’an. It should come as no surprise that after suffering beatings for nearly a year as a ISIS hostage, freed French journalist Didier Francois reported:
There was never really discussion about texts or — it was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion. It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Qur’an. Because it has nothing to do with the Qur’an. We didn’t even have the Qur’an; they didn’t want even to give us a Qur’an.
The Qur’an presents the most humanitarian and advanced rules of war that the world has ever known. Yet extremists and anti-Islam activists resort to cherry picking and censorship.
For example, extremists and anti-Islam activists often argue the “progression theory”—which suggests that because the Qur’an begins with peaceful verses and apparently ends with violent verses, Muslims, therefore “progressively” become violent to their neighbors. Unfortunately, this bizarre theory finds no merit either in the Qur’an or in Prophet Muhammad’s practical example.
During the first dozen years of Prophet Muhammad’s ministry in Mecca, Muslims faced brutal persecution, boycott and murder at the hands of Meccan society and government. Muhammad forbade any form of violence or retaliation—even in self-defense. Instead, he ordered Muslims to maintain patience and dialogue or to leave Mecca.
Most Muslims eventually fled for their lives. Some sought refuge under the righteous Abyssinian Christian King Ashama ibn Abjar. Others formed an alliance with the Jews of Medina. Muhammad soon fled for his life as well and was welcomed in Medina. The Jews and Muslims of Medina mutually agreed to make Muhammad their head of state, after which he promulgated the Constitution of Medina. Roughly 1,200 years before the U.S. Constitution, Prophet Muhammad’s secular Constitution guaranteed the equality of all citizens of Medina regardless of religion, maintained the universal freedom of conscience, and obliged Muslims and Jews to defend each other from external attack.
For the first time in his life Prophet Muhammad had authority over non-Muslims. But instead of enforcing Islam on non-Muslims, like extremists and anti-Islam activists might suggest, the Qur’an 2:257 revealed: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”
The Qur’an’s first verses addressing war were also revealed in Chapter 22 Verse 40-41. These inaugural verses place an immense burden on Muslims before they are permitted to fight. Muslims must first face faith-based violent persecution, flee their homes, be pursued, war must be waged upon them, and only then may Muslims fight in self-defense.
Subsequent verses must be understood in cohesion and in unison with these inaugural ones. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down interpretations of the Constitution that contradict established provisions, so, too, must we understood the Qur’an as a whole.
It was only after Meccan chiefs rallied a powerful army to pursue and murder every Muslim in Arabia that the Qur’an finally granted Muslims the permission—not the commandment—to fight in self-defense. Most significantly, fighting was not to enforce Islam, but to protect all houses of worship. Muhammad’s advanced rules of war also protected all non-combatants, animals, greenery and property.
Extremists and anti-Islam activists also claim Chapter 9 of the Qur’an is the alleged “culmination” of violence against Jews and Christians. On the contrary, Chapter 9 affords the invading army an additional four months to cease their fighting and return to their own lands. Should an invading army comply, Muslims are forbidden from fighting. If, however, that invading army persists in their terrorism, Muslims are permitted to fight in self-defense to protect universal freedom of conscience—including for Jews and Christians.
After yet another peace treaty was savagely broken, Muhammad peacefully marched on Mecca in the twilight years of his life. There, with the authority to exact punishment on the whole city, Muhammad offered carte blanche forgiveness. No one was forced to accept Islam; all were forgiven on the condition that universal freedom of conscience would remain free.
Muhammad used education to end terrorism, and that is the best solution to end terrorism today. Under the Khalifa of Islam’s leadership, the True Islam and the Extremists campaign, which has garnered bi-partisan Congressional support and endorsements from thousands of Americans of many faiths, uses the Qur’an, Sunnah and ahadith to counter false narratives. As we mourn the victims of the Brussels attacks, let us unite, educate and advance true Islam.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.