Islám, terrorism and the way forward

Arshad Gamiet. Royal Holloway Univ. of London Wed. 24th March 2004

This speech was delivered prior to an address by George Galloway, MP, entitled: ‘Iraq, the legality of war, and related issues.’



Mr Chairman, our Guest Speaker, and all my brothers and sisters in the human family: I greet you with the greeting words of Paradise, As-salaamu 'alaykum. Peace be with you. I have been given just 10 minutes to say a few words on a big topic [Islám, terrorism and the way forward].


Because of time constraints, I cannot explain in great detail, but I will try to make the following points for your consideration. Perhaps after our main speaker has finished, some of these points can be discussed in question time.


  1. Firstly, I want to emphasise that Islám is not a new religion, but is really part of the Abrahamic family, that includes Judaism and Christianity.
  2. Secondly, Islám teaches its followers there is no compulsion in religion. Adherence to Islám must be a voluntary act, a personal act of submission to God Almighty.
  3. Thirdly, Islám condemns Terrorism utterly and unconditionally.
  4. Fourth point: Muslims are forbidden to accept tyranny; they are commanded to fight injustice, and have clear rules of engagement during warfare.
  5. Fifth point: What should Muslims do, living as a minority in Britain, when other Muslims are under attack abroad?
  6. And finally, what motives, what values underpin the New World Order, and what does Islám say about the best relations between people and nations?


Answers to these questions are vital if we are to understand the Muslim mindset, and make sense of what is happening today in the Middle East and elsewhere.


To take the first point:


Islám is not a new religion, but a completion of the cycle of divine revelations that were conveyed by all those beloved prophets, may God send peace and blessings on them, from Adam and Noah to Abraham and Moses and Jesus. Muhammad, peace and blessings on him, was the last of God’s messengers, ‘the seal of the prophets.’ Islám is part of the Abrahamic family, which includes Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe that God revealed His message through many prophets in many lands at different times. All Muslims therefore, have to show the same love, reverence and respect to all of God’s messengers, and their followers, otherwise our faith is incomplete.


The Islámic message is clear and simple: La ilaha il-lal-laah!” There is no god except One God, Who created all things, and Who, alone, deserves to be worshipped. Worship can be formal as in prayer, or informal, as in honest and fair dealings in our personal, business and social relations. A true Believer is constantly aware of God’s presence. This awareness of the Divine, and a conscious effort to please God during every moment, informs a true Muslim’s attitude to life. Life itself is only a period of trial and preparation for the eternal afterlife, where God will settle all accounts.


Muhammad was the last of God’s prophets, and he came to complete God’s message, not to deny the work of earlier prophets. Therefore, when our Euro-centric historians refer to the Judaeo-Christian heritage, they should really speak of the: Judaeo-Christian-Islámic heritage. Islám played a vital role in shaping our modern so-called “western” civilisation. Just go and ask any honest scholar of medieval history. I’m sure you’ll find some of them right here at Royal Holloway!


You may be astonished to find that, without the Islámic contribution, we would have known very little about classical Greek literature and philosophy, without Arabic numerals we would have had no zero, no decimal system, no binary numbers or algebra, calculus or algorithms, a word itself derived from its founder, Al Khwarizmi. You will find that the golden age of Jewish literature flowered in Muslim Spain. Christian and Jewish law was recognised and applied in the land of the Islámic Shariah. Christian and Jewish governors were appointed to various districts and provinces. Promotion was strictly on merit, regardless of religion. Here was a meritocracy, leadership by the most talented individuals, a thousand years before the word was even known in the West. I invite you to explore the history of science, of mathematics, astronomy, and even the history of the study of History itself. The Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun taught us that history is not simply a chronology of dates and events, but a process of interconnected causes and effects. Indeed, the Islámic contribution to our knowledge of the world is simply phenomenal. We in the west have been denied this understanding, largely because of prejudice and propaganda.


My second point: Islám means two things: Peace, and submission of the will, the ego, to God. One cannot submit to God sincerely, under duress. To force conversion on anyone is to disobey God’s clear command in the Holy Qur'án, ‘La ikraha fid-deen.’ Let there be no compulsion in religion. If you study the history of Islam, [and you can ask our own eminent scholar of Islámic history, Royal Holloway’s Senior Vice Principal, Prof. Francis Robinson about this], you will find that Muslims were the protectors of persecuted minorities like the Jews. While Jewish people were persecuted in Europe, Muslims not only gave them shelter, but also employed their talents at the highest levels of the empire. Rabbi Moses Maimonedes was a philosopher who codified Jewish law in the Middle Ages, and was also the personal physician to the Sultan. Thriving Jewish quarters have always been a feature of great Islámic cities like Istanbul, Cairo, Fez, Granada and Cordoba.


My third point: Islám condemns terrorism. I will combine this with the fourth point that Islám has laid out clear rules of engagement during warfare.


Muslims are taught that all life is sacred. To take any life unlawfully, it is as if one has murdered all of mankind, and to save just one life, it is as if one has saved all of mankind. Yet, Islám is not pacifist or idealistic pie-in-the-sky. Islám acknowledges that there are evil human beings who run tyrannical governments. A Muslim is forbidden to accept tyranny. Taking up arms and fighting to establish justice is a religious duty, but the fighting must not be excessive and strictly excludes acts of terror. Now, what do we mean by terror?


Today, terrorism has come to mean different things. One man’s terrorist is usually another man’s freedom fighter, and much hypocrisy and double standards surround this term. Terrorism, if we take that to mean the indiscriminate use of violence to achieve some goal, is utterly forbidden in Islám. It does not matter whether the terrorist is part of a small, organised group, or a state equipped with the full military apparatus of armies, navies and air forces. Terrorism is evil. And evil begets evil.


In the great moral debate about means and ends, Islám is unequivocal: Islám says, No. Immoral means cannot produce moral ends. The means and the ends are part of the same continuum. The means is part of the end in the making.


Politicians talk about the regrettable, but inevitable ‘collateral damage’ meaning death of innocent civilians in conflict. No matter what the provocation, a believing Muslim cannot violate clearly spelt out rules of warfare.


These Rules of Engagement were set out by Prophet Muhammad sws himself, and were scrupulously observed by his followers. Muslims cannot dishonour a treaty; they cannot mutilate the dead; they cannot kill women, children, the elderly or any person who does not carry weapons. A Muslim cannot kill those engaged in worship, or, for that matter, going to or coming from a place of worship. They dare not kill monks or priests or Rabbis; Muslim soldiers cannot cut down trees or burn crops or poison water supplies [i.e. use chemical weapons]; They are only allowed to kill those in battle, who bear arms, and physically attack them with intent to kill.

[Picture of St Catherines Monastery]

Deep in the desert on the Sinai Peninsula, you will find the Monastery of St Catharine’s. The Orthodox Coptic monks there proudly display a letter from the Prophet Muhammad sws,[picture] bearing his seal and handprint. The letter guarantees the safety of the monastery, and ends with these words. “anyone who harms these monks, it is as if they have harmed me personally [i.e. Prophet Muhammad himself].”


Just imagine that! For more than 1,400 years up to this day, these Christian monks have enjoyed the personal protection of the Prophet of Islám, whist wars and Crusades and invasions have waged all around them. [switch off pictures]


What about the 5th point, what should Muslims do, as a minority in Britain, when other Muslims are under attack abroad? Here again, we must follow the Holy Qur’án, which demands that we honour all contracts, including our contract to be law-abiding citizens in our host country. We are urged to use all lawful means, to debate, to protest peacefully, and to persuade our fellow-citizens of the error of government policy, but Islám does not allow us to act illegally while we enjoy full rights and protection of citizenship. Even if some Muslims may languish in detention and have their human rights suspended. As believing Muslims, we have to act with restraint, and uphold the honour and dignity of Islám even in the most provocative times.


And finally, before I sit down so that we can all listen to our main speaker, may I say a few words about the New World Order, and about Islám’s view on the right conduct between people and nations.


Notice how some politicians have a way of invoking patriotism to camouflage weak arguments and morally indefensible policies. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, where any critics of the white racist government were always demonised as ‘un-South African’, unpatriotic and against the so-called ‘South African Way of Life.’ Never mind that this ‘way of life was so morally repugnant to the whole human race. Today, many conscientious people in the USA and Israel have been forced into a sullen silence, for fear of being branded ‘unpatriotic’.


 If you ask what motives, what values underpin the foreign policies of the USA, Britain and in fact, most governments today, you will find phrases like ‘to pursue our national interests abroad’ or words to that effect. You will look in vain, to find words like justice, human rights, or fairness or compassion towards disadvantaged people. Yet this is precisely what the world needs. Our troubled planet needs more of justice, more of human rights, and less of self-interest and self-indulgence, at all levels of life. From our personal relations to families, from our neighbourhoods and communities, right up to the level of one nation to another, we need something nobler and more inspiring to regulate our human conduct, than greed and exploitation, based on the principle that might is always right,.


If the most powerful nations on earth could set a good example, they would adopt foreign policies based on human rights, justice and compassion towards weaker nations. This will recognise the frailties and vulnerabilities of others, rather than exploit them. I believe that such a wise, compassionate and farsighted policy will make the world a much safer place for everyone. It will certainly drain the swamp of misery and despair that today still nourishes the evil of hatred and terror.


Perhaps our Guest Speaker may tell us why governments find it so difficult to adopt humane foreign policies that in the long term serve everyone’s real self-interest.


What does Islám say about the best way forward, for both individuals and nations?


God says in The Holy Qur'án,


“O Mankind, I have created you from a single pair of male and female, then I made you into nations and tribes, so that you will know and respect one another, not that you should despise one another.”


In another verse: “"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing; and let not your hatred of a people, lead you to act unjustly towards them. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear God because God is well acquainted with all that you do.":

"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both……


Being a true Muslim has nothing to do with being part of a specific race, or language, or nationality. In fact, only 20%, one-fifth, of all Muslims are Arabs. The worldwide Islamic community, known as the Ummah, is a truly international family. It has nothing to do with geography, or history, linguistics or ethnicity. It is simply about belief. It’s about commitment to the noble values of Justice, Mercy and Compassion towards all God’s creatures.


Muslims begin every action with these words, Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem! Meaning,

“I begin this action in the Name of God, the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate!”

Mercy and compassion therefore, are at the core of the Islámic ethos.


In a well-known Hadeeth or saying, the Prophet Muhammad sws said: “A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe; and a Mu’min, a True Believer, is one in whose care all of Mankind has a sanctuary for its life and property.” What a beautiful, noble, enormous responsibility! Over the centuries, in Ottoman Turkey and Muslim Spain, it was such true Believers who cared for the wretched and persecuted, like the Jews were in Europe.


And while speaking of Muslim Spain, if you went to the University of Granada you would read this beautiful inscription above the entrance portal.

The World is held up by four pillars:

The Wisdom of the Learned

The Justice of the Great

The Prayers of the Righteous and

The Valour of the Brave.


Wisdom, Justice, God-awareness and gallantry: These were the core values that underpinned that great civilisation, when the Islámic world had political authority and military power for more than a thousand years,. Today, our shrinking planet with its fragile biosphere and its growing, restless population is in desperate need. But, our most influential leaders appeal only to our lowest instincts of fear, greed and vanity. Their focus is only on the next election. We need wise leadership that looks far ahead beyond elections, to the coming generations, leaders who can appeal to our higher and nobler qualities like Justice, fair dealing, Mercy and Compassion. I believe that only a wise and farsighted view, a holistic approach to religion, politics and society, can save us all from self-inflicted disaster.


Thank you for listening to me so patiently.  As-salaamu ‘alaykum. God Bless you all.

Arshad Gamiet                      Wednesday, 24 March 2004


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