The Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States followed by a string of unconventional violent incidents have rocked the foundation of global and personal security raising concerns of the real prospect of a new civilisational war and the emergence of a world without peace.
No country nor region has been spared and no one seems safe. Just to recapitulate, on the night of Friday, Nov 13 last year, gunmen and suicide bombers simultaneously attacked a major stadium, restaurants and bars in Paris, killing 130 people and wounding hundreds others.
Almost a year earlier, on Jan 7 last year, the office of the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked, killing 12 people. Recently, Brussels Airport and a metro station were attacked, resulting in scores of deaths.
Earlier, in the US, in San Bernardino, it was an ordinary couple, Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, who shot and killed 14 innocent people on Dec 2 last year.
Halfway across the world in Charsadda, Pakistan, on Jan 20 this year, gunmen attacked students and staff at Bacha Khan University, killing 22 people and injuring at least 20. In Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan 14 this year, seven people were killed and many more were wounded in a brazen terrorist attack on civilians in an upscale shopping district.
In Burkina Faso, on Jan 18 this year, a luxury hotel in Ouagadougou, popular with foreigners was raided by the al-Qaeda terrorist group, resulting in the deaths of 29 people with scores more maimed.
In the Iraqi city of Iskandariyah, at least 29 people were killed at a football field while watching a trophy-giving ceremony. In neighbouring Thailand, a hospital in Narathiwat was occupied to stage terrorist attacks.
Malaysia may appear lucky so far but the government has admitted that the threat of terrorism is real and that pre-emptive measures need to be undertaken to eliminate it.
Insurgencies undertaken in the name of Islam or involving Muslims are also taking place in several countries, including China, Russia, India, Thailand and the Philippines.
It is common to hear media commentators and intelligence analysts talking about Islamic terrorism as a franchise.
What the above indicates is that Islam has been apportioned some if not the full blame for its perceived guilt of association with terrorists and terrorist groups.
Whatever it does or not do, the perception of ultimate accountability is there. Long-standing prejudices towards Islam have been reawakened.
Decent Muslims everywhere agonise at their inability to rationally explain the above phenomena apart from attributing them to a variety of complex factors.
They become even more frustrated that they have been unable to prevent such incidents as they continue to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion with a civilising and humanising mission.
They must know that none of the above acts are in any way justifiable. The nature of violence that has been committed is unacceptable.
The attempt by perpetrators and sympathisers of these acts to invoke the call of jihad to justify their actions is misplaced and does not represent the essence of Islam.
The word “Islam” itself signifies peace and its message is clear, consistent, universal and inclusive throughout time. Muslims believe that Islam is a blessing to all of mankind.
They cannot accept the representation of Islam as a belligerent faith which was spread “by the sword and which continues to do mischief”.
Jihad is an Islamic concept which has multiple meanings but is essentially about striving, struggling, persevering and fighting to defend the forces of good.
All the forms of jihad are linked to the notion of resistance but which is not necessarily physical.
As Professor Tariq Ramadan has eloquently put it, “the essence of jihad is the quest for peace”.
Jihadul ashgar or “the little jihad” is the physical confrontation or fight in self-defence to protect one’s dignity and the honour of Islam but it is the Jihadul akhbar, which is the “fight” within oneself for one’s spiritual enhancement and social development in line with the central commandment of Islam, which advocates “doing good and rejecting evil” (amal ma’ruf, nahi mungkar) that needs to be emphasised.
As it is incumbent on all Muslims to strive to improve themselves within their respective capacities, jihad becomes relevant to all.
Some scholars identify four categories of jihad: jihad of the heart, jihad of the tongue, jihad of the hand and jihad of the sword.
But it is the jihad of the heart that can be considered as the highest manifestation of pacifism and the search for excellence within Islam.
As anger is the root cause of violence, whether in thought or action, it is anger that must be fought against.
The teaching of Prophet Muhammad (saw) on anger is clear. It was reported that after returning from the Hunayn expedition, the Prophet had declared: “We are back from the lesser jihad”[effort, resistance, struggle for reform] to the greater jihad. A Companion then asked: “What is the greater jihad, Messenger of God?” He answered; “It is fighting the self [the ego]. According to another Hadith, Abu Hurayrah (ra) reported that a man said to the Prophet (saw), “Admonish me!” He said, “Do not get angry”.
The man repeated the question several times but the Prophet answered, “Do not get angry”. In yet another Hadith, the Prophet (saw) said, “The powerful wrestler is not he who could knock down another, but really the one who could keep himself under control in anger”.
The Prophet (saw) also advised believers to seek the protection of Allah when they are angry. He suggested that when one is gripped by anger, he should try to cool down by performing the ablutions.
The washing of hands, face and feet would bring down the feverish heat of rage and prevent rash actions. He also recommended that in fits of anger, it would be better for a person to sit down if he was standing and to lie down if he was already sitting.
It is the abuse of the understanding and practice of jihad that has led to its aberration.
The concept of jihad has apparently been hijacked to justify the unjustifiable.
For the beauty of Islam to be fully appreciated Muslim scholars and leaders must rise in concert to arrest this damaging onslaught on it.