Several years ago, I posted this piece about compassion being the “overriding principle” of Islam. It was written in response to the destruction of Muslim societies by the hand of brutal dictatorships imposed on the citizens of majority-Muslim countries, as well as the Islamophobia Industry’s branding of Islam and the Quran as “promoting violence,” and more specifically, “terrorism,” a term which has strayed far from its original application, for acts of violence perpetrated by an aggrieved party against civilians in response to acts of oppression by a government or army. Now it has become a classification of crime outside the normal justice system of due process and protecting the rights of the accused. Instead, such rights are cancelled by then Patriot Act and other elements of the so-called Global War on Terror, allowing governments including the United States to avoid democratic norms of justice, legalizing torture, long prohibited in democracies, against people who had been accused but not duly convicted of “terror”-related crimes. In other words, the War on Terror had become a justification for subverting and thwarting justice itself. That in turn became a war on compassion and truth, into which the ascendancy of Trump became both emblematic and promotional.
And the number one suspect category for this exemption from justice and human rights? Muslims. Whose religion prioritizes justice, human rights, and compassion more than modern democracies or even religions do.
Anyone who believes in or practices Islam has been suspect. Attacks on civilians are in fact prohibited in Islam in the Quran, and quotations advocating strength in war or fighting refer to rules of engagement in war not involving civilians, yet out of ignorance and perhaps Israel’s perceived interests, this false narrative continued. So for this lie, the first amendment, freedom of speech and religion, was the first casualty for democracy. It also has led to the horrors of Chinese government torture, brainwashing, sterilization, and large-scale murder of Muslim Uyghurs under the now-legitimized “umbrella” of “anti-terrorism” measures. Sisi’s brutal repression of Egypt and the Genocide of Syria as an entire nation with its people are all spawned by the GWOT, which led to the business of supposed democracies exporting their Muslim terror subjects to brutal torture by unsavory totalitarian police states like Egypt and Syria. What an evil precedent and legacy! Truly a war on justice, from which compassion becomes a mere PR stunt. An empty, hypocritical and arrogant posturing.
Human beings these days seem to have little or no intrinsic value compared to capital, wealth, or that which promotes them in today’s system. Where is the justice here? Without justice, claims of compassion are meaningless.
On the other hand, Islam stands for true justice, for the value of human life, for all life in balance, for ecosystems, for the Creator of all life and its ecosystems, Who created balance and justice itself. Only humans (and other creatures with free will to choose right or wrong such as Jinn) can choose between justice or injustice, acceptance of truth or denial, gratitude or greed, compassion and upholding human rights or oppression and arrogance at the expense of survival even of the species. The Quran describes the righteous and compassionate always in practical terms, not vague generalities that can be used to mislead:
Who spend [in charity and the cause of Allah] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of goodSurah 3:134
Compassion is implied by these specific conditions; first, “spending” from one’s wealth and resources to help others in need; then controlling one’s anger and forgiving “people” —— note that it doesn’t specify “Muslims” but people generally regardless of their faith, ethnicity, or any other condition. Who without compassion could fulfill these recommendations?
The Quran bases its promotion of compassion on justice and laws that enforce it. Justice is demanded of Muslims even in war between armies (no civilians involved), where in Surah 9, Al-Tawba, the directive allowing Muslims to break the terms of a treaty was only given after the other party broke those terms (9:1-8), as expressed here:
How [can there be a treaty] while, if they gain dominance over you, they do not observe concerning you any pact of kinship or covenant of protection? They satisfy you with their mouths, but their hearts refuse [compliance], and most of them are defiantly disobedient.Surah Al-Tawba 9:8
The verse just before this (9:7) states: “So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him].” So the requirement to honor treaties is for Muslims always in force except when the other party refuses to honor their own commitments.
The same goes for the use of force; it becomes permissible only when the other side uses force to commit an injustice, and then only in self-defense. Islam promotes both the rules of engagement and proper strategies for self-defense. False aspersions by non-Muslims ignorant or having enmity to Islam are made to the contrary based on false interpretations. The Quran is guidance towards mercy even in war, as well as being just and firm in self-defense, so as not to be a victim of oppression:
So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him].Surah Al-Tawba 9:7
And if they break their oaths after their treaty and defame your religion, then fight the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them; [fight them that] they might cease.Surah Al-Tawba 9:12
Note that the purpose of fighting is to stop the persecution and interference in freedom of religion, not to convert non-Muslims by force. Even the directive to fight with ferocity is only in response to ferocious attacks by the other party, and the directive to fight in the first place was only because the others had initiated hostilities. The exception made for those who, in such circumstances, accept Islam, requires proof by actions such as charity and establishing salat prayer, of their own free will, as the initiating aggression referred to in these verses was made by non-believers fighting to eliminate Islam itself as a religion. Early Muslims were not fighting to force their religion on others, but to defend their right to practice their religion, a right not recognized by their opponents.
Would you not fight a people who broke their oaths and determined to expel the Messenger, and they had begun [the attack upon] you the first time? Do you fear them? But Allah has more right that you should fear Him, if you are [truly] believers.Surah Al-Tawba 9:13
And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively. And know that Allah is with the righteous [who fear Him].Surah Al-Tawba 9:36
Fighting is then proportionate to the acts of the aggressor; and wars of aggression are prohibited in Islam. Yet revenge or resentment against those who had attacked them previously is consistently prohibited, and always Allah’s mercy is an option open to those who change their mind from denial and oppression to peace and reconciliation.
If you [have reason to] fear from a people betrayal, throw [their treaty] back to them, [putting you] on equal terms. Indeed, Allah does not like traitors.Surah Al-Anfal 8:58
And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.Surah Al-Anfal 8:61
To counter the anti-Muslim rhetoric accusing them of following a religion of terror, many Muslims and Islamic organizations have gone out of their way to show that Islam is a “religion of peace” and that it promotes compassion, love of humanity, and that the word “jihad” refers to the inner struggle of individual Muslims to attain piety and avoid sin and immorality. There has been a concerted effort to distance Islam from politics in a knee-jerk reaction to it being called “political Islam” or “Islamism”, as if Christians don’t tell their congregants how to vote, as I witnessed routinely in parking lots beside voting places. Too much of this defensive stance is a reaction to what amounts to a rhetorical argument playing with semantics, the twisting of words and their meanings, not understanding the relationship between justice and compassion.
But now we have the horrors of Netanyahu’s fascist-Zionist military rule slaughtering Palestinian civilians, families of men, women, and over 61 children in Gaza. Their method of choice is carpet-bombing, knowing they have an “iron shield” protective system that neutralizes the majority of bombs lobbed their way by Hamas. They bombed entirely apartment buildings while families are living in it, people living in what is essentially an open-air prison, trapped with nowhere to go. And they dare to talk about justice or compassion.
They have also bombed headquarters of journalists, probably targeting Al-Jazeera first, since they are most likely to tell the truth about what slaughter is occurring in Gaza. Contrary to the hype, Hamas, although branded as a terrorist organization, did not send bombs until after Israeli forces forcibly threw Palestinians out of their ancestral homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem and then stormed the Al-Aqua Mosque. Subsequently Hamas, knowing the risks, gave a 3-day warning to stop these aggressive tactics or they will commence bombing. Israel did not stop their aggression and Hamas began sending bombs across the border.
Thus it was not even Hamas, as a quasi-military political entity in Gaza, who were the aggressors, but rather it was Israel, who were intent on driving whole families from their ancestral homes regarding which there was a treaty, and invaded and attacked the mosque considered holy by all Muslims. The lies are rampant as usual on the part of the oppressors. Nonetheless the Quranic quotes above, applied to this case, show that the initiating acts of aggression against civilians, ostensibly blamed later on a government/ military entity, Hamas, thus fitting the original definition of terrorism, were perpetrated not by Islamic or Muslim parties, no religion by Palestinians or even Hamas, but by the Israeli Zionist regime. Muslims took a defensive position, in defense of their lives, children, property, and religious freedom.
It’s important to point out that what makes Islam a religion of peace and compassion is not the number of times “compassion” and “mercy” are mentioned in the Quran, but rather the way admonishments to vigorous self-defense are given strict limits, unlike recent practices pursued by the United States and Israel, abandoning the rules of engagement agreed upon after the horrors of World War II.
In civilian matters, justice is rooted in charity called “purification,” both obligatory as unequivocal commandments, and voluntary as strong recommendations, to spend on the poor, the migrants, the orphans, the captives, and the disenfranchised, which in Islam are protected, such charitable spending and giving being, along with prayer, a basic tenet of Islam. The Quran notes that inequality and the establishment of a privileged class are a detriment to a human community’s well-being, offering ways and motivations to make that possible without resorting to authoritarian practices.
Those terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Isis are largely ignorant of Islam, the former having abandoned the basic principles of justice and rules of engagement mentioned above, and the latter being more of a rage-plus-testosterone cult using the name of Islam as cover, so far from Islam as to have been hijacked, in many cases simply using its name to “claim responsibility,” by covert agencies such as the Mossad for “atrocity theater” false flag operations whose aim is very specifically to discredit Islam, which they feel also discredits Palestinians and Arabs generally, thus cynically but effectively promoting Zionism as the “moral and religious high ground” of the Middle East. Despite much evidence that nothing could be farther from the truth.
In another factor important to consider, some Quranic quotes have been significantly mistranslated, leading to a misunderstanding of their meaning and promoted as examples of “terrorist” tendencies. For example, this verse:
It is not for a prophet to have captives [of war] until he inflicts a massacre [upon Allah ‘s enemies] in the land. Some Muslims desire the commodities of this world, but Allah desires [for you] the Hereafter. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.Surah Al-Anfal 8:67 (Saheeh International translation)
This translation struck me, too, as horrible. Why would the prophet be required to “commit a massacre”? Obviously, the translators did not understand the implications of the word “massacre” in its idiomatic usage, as gratuitous and inhumane violence, similar issues with idioms and usage being always a serious problem in translations, particularly with the Quran. The Arabic is here:
مَا كَانَ لِنَبِيٍّ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ أَسْرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ يُثْخِنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ تُرِيدُونَ عَرَضَ الدُّنْيَا وَاللَّهُ يُرِيدُ الْآخِرَةَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌSurah Al-Anfal 8:67
The word in bold above is yuthkhin and means “to take the power of strength away from something.” It does not mean “massacre” or, as in another translation, “slaughter,” both of which in English imply gratuitous violence. This translation is better:
It is not fit for a prophet that he should take captives until he has thoroughly subdued the land. You ˹believers˺ settled with the fleeting gains of this world, while Allah’s aim ˹for you˺ is the Hereafter. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran
Clearly “thoroughly subdued” conveys the meaning “take away the power of strength from something” in English, without implying gratuitous violence. On the contrary, it implies proper self-defense in a particular circumstance, but for that it also needs historical context for which one must refer to tafseer/ commentary, which explains that it was customary among the Arabs of that era to take captives in battles and then ransom them for a price to set them free. It is this interest in gaining income by taking and ransoming captives rather than fighting the war and winning a decisive victory, against which this verse is directed.
There is then no mandate in the Quran for terrifying an enemy by committing a ruthless massacre; only a precedent that any prophet, as a leader of his people, has an obligation to protect them from unscrupulous enemies by winning battles, not to gain wealth by ransoming captives, thus setting free the very unscrupulous enemies who initiated the aggression. Another verse may similarly need clarification.
So if you come upon them in War, deal with them (firmly) so as to strike fear in those who follow them that they may learn a lesson.Surah Al-Anfal 8:57
The people referred to here as “them” are disbelievers who had previously betrayed their promises, and who had expressed an avowed enmity to the Muslims. To “deal with them so as to strike fear” is to counter the attack with equal ferocity and thus earn their fear and respect, as a deterrent to “those who follow them,” from the same army/ group of enemies, “that they may be reminded” here translated to “learn a lesson.”
Here, the word: تَثْقَفَنَّهُمْ(tathqafannahum) means to get the upper hand against themand the word: شرّدَ(sharrada) is a derivation from the infinitive noun: تَشرِید(tashrid) which essentially means to drive out or scatter away. … The drive of the instruction is that these people should be punished in a manner which makes an impression on the disbelievers of Makkah and other hostile tribes and sucks away any courage they may have to come back and confront Muslims in the future.
By saying: لَعَلَّهُمْيَذَّكَّرُونَ(so that they take a lesson; literally, “so that they may be reminded”/ so they may reflect- 57) at the end of the verse, a hint has been given towards the universal mercy of the Lord of all the worlds. This treatment makes it clear that the real purpose of this exemplary punishment was not to take revenge or release personal anger, in fact, this was being awarded in their own interest and expedient gain whereby they may, perhaps, review conditions before them, regain some of their sanity, feel ashamed of what they did and go on to correct themselves.Ma’ariful Quran commentary on 8:57
And so, even in seemingly “harsh” directives, Allah’s mercy is ever near. The prophet advised compassion for both Muslims and their enemies, which prompted some of the Muslims to ask, “why have sympathy for our enemies?” The reply was essentially because they are wronging their own souls, so it is incumbent on Muslims to remind them of this fact and its consequences, so that they might reconsider and correct themselves. Indeed eternal justice is to be feared more than the punishments of this life, which must end. Whereas in timelessness/ eternity, there by definition is no end. The Quran reminds us all of this, to give us all a chance to have mercy on ourselves by understanding this fact, or even pondering its possibility.
Without justice, there is no compassion. And without truth, there is no justice. Divine law is not some cruel dogma preventing us from enjoying life, as some picture it. No, the overriding principle in Islam is indeed compassion, written into its laws, methods of prayer and mindfulness, and in the guidebook of Islam, the Quran. The laws are there to prevent our tendency to self-destruct and follow the worst among us. We tend to follow a path that prevents mercy from reaching us by denying it exists. Faith and righteousness welcome mercy back in a powerful and effective way only the Almighty, All-Merciful can show us.