Newspaper Articles

The whole, not the part —by Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

Gone are the days when we could afford to be irresponsible. Irresponsibility is a luxury that we do not have any more and the sooner our social and political leadership understands this, the better.

For the past week I have been at an international seminar on human and civil rights. The participants have come from all over the world; the diversity in the room is represented by Latin America, Africa, Russia and Asia geographically. By way of faith, there are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics. Since it is a seminar on human and civil rights, the issues of prisoners’ rights, detainees, torture and jihad are the discussion themes of most of the sessions. No prizes for guessing that in such a discussion Pakistan and Islam are frequently mentioned but, unfortunately, in not so flattering terms. While one is no apologist for any of the Pakistani governments, one does try to set the record straight when it comes to articulating a non-Islamist view of the true essence of Islam, which is sadly neither articulated nor represented.

To most of the world, Islam is synonymous with jihad and Muslims are synonymous with terrorists. Considering Islam and jihad as being synonymous is ironic because, linguistically, the meanings of these two words are opposite to one another. Islam literally means submission or surrender. In other words, when one enters the fold of Islam, the religion requires you to wholly submit or surrender to a higher being. The surrender is complete and not piecemeal like in other religions. That is why Islam requires total submission and commitment. On the basis of this requirement is based the oft quoted but seldom understood statement that “Islam is a complete code of life”. This is also the basis of the Islamic political, economic and social systems as evidenced by the Islamic concept of sovereignty politically, the riba or interest-free banking system economically, and social conduct.

Jihad, linguistically speaking, literally means struggle or resistance. Unfortunately, over the decades, Muslims and others have developed the Pavlovian response of ‘holy war’ whenever the meaning of jihad is questioned. It is not holy war in its totality and we make the mistake of defining the whole by its part. Jihad is resistance — resistance to self, to others and to situations in order to enable oneself to submit totally within the fold of Islam. Thus, jihad is the way to fulfil the requirement of submission, which Islam requires.

Armed resistance or holy war is referred to as kital and one has written previously about it too in this very space (Daily Times, ‘Kital and jihad’, May 21, 2010). The Quran refers to kital in the following verses: “And qatilu (fight) [O you who believe!] in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is Hearing, Knowing” (2.244). “Falyuqatil (then let) those who sell this world’s life for the hereafter (fight) in the way of Allah. And whoever yuqatil (fights) in the way of Allah so he gets killed or turns victorious, We shall grant him a great reward” (4.74) and, lastly, “Faqatil (then fight) [O Mohammad (PBUH)!] in the way of Allah; you are not held responsible but for yourself; and urge the believers [to fight]. Maybe Allah will restrain the might of the disbelievers; and Allah is greatest in might and greatest in punishment” (4.84). Even for kital there is a protocol and limitations. The Quran states, “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits” — Surah 2:190-193.

This is important to understand because if Muslims themselves do not understand and appreciate such intricate differences, they are actually contributing to Islamophobia. Would you blame a comity to have fear of a group that defines itself by armed struggle only?

Thus, it is important to understand correctly and completely or, as the Quran states, “Strive to understand and know your religion.” Statements like that of our Tourism Minister, Maulana Atta-ur-Rehman, are not only irresponsible but dangerous. The minister declared that the “Taliban are right in their ideology and they are not terrorists.” What is the Taliban’s ideology? They define Islam by armed struggle and not by submission. Their tools of choice are violence, intimidation and psychological warfare against people they define as being outside of Islam. Even if, for argument’s sake, we believe that the civilians in the bazaars of the urban and rural areas of Pakistan are infidels, they still cannot be killed for, according to Islam, there is also a protocol to be followed during kital. Indiscriminate killing is a violation of this Islamic protocol, which in turn takes the perpetrator outside the fold of Islam as he/she is not totally ‘submitting’ to the protocol of Islam.

Statements like that of the tourism minister depict not only a poor understanding of the religion but also serve to actually substantiate claims that the Pakistani government is not liable to be trusted . Hence, the mantra of “doing more”. When we have irresponsible ministers like the tourism minister, the status of being the most “bullied ally” rather than a “favoured ally”, as stated by a senior military official, holds water. The federal minister has a right to his views and to express them but then he should be clear as to what set of values he is supporting and representing. If he truly believes that the Taliban epitomise Islamic ideas and values, then he should not be part of a government that is publicly declared by the Taliban to be that of infidels and hence wajib-ul-katal (allowed to be killed).

Gone are the days when we could afford to be irresponsible. Irresponsibility is a luxury that we do not have any more and the sooner our social and political leadership understands this, the better. We have maxed out, so to speak, our quota of irresponsibility and now every action and every word of ours has international consequences. Our failure to understand our own religion and yet use it as a reference point for our private and public lives, our inability to rationally critique our views and our intellectual lethargy is costing us our lives, reputations and relations. It is high time that we realise this and engage in introspection on what our views, inspirations, beliefs and leaders are.

The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at

About the author

Junaid Qaiser

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment
  • Very well written despite the complexity of the topic, you should write more often. Your writting manner is pleasing and the way you managed the subject with grace is worth taking notice.