by Dr. Kari Ann Owen, Ph.D.
San Francisco, CA -- At this writing, the motives of those who have spread terror and death
among Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere are unknown,
as the perpetrators have not yet been identified.
However, the current investigation unfortunately points to individuals
mistakenly termed "Muslim."
This essay hopes to clarify the position of Islam concerning acts of
terror against non combatants as well as the strict limits placed on war
by the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him.
It also wishes to clarify the meaning of "martyrdom" in Islam, proving
that suicidal acts are as forbidden by Islam as revenge, greed and other
motives tragically at the root of the current aggression against
Americans as well as many others in the United States and around the
In the Glorious Quran, Surah II: verse 190 states that Muslims may
"Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do
not transgress limits. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors..."
What are those limits?
Surah VIII: Verse 67 states, "It is not fitting for an Apostle
(believer in Islam) that he should have Prisoners of war until he hath
thoroughly subdued the land... Ye look for the temporal goods of this
world, but God looketh to the Hereafter: and God is Exalted in Might,
The clear implication here is that war is permitted only for self
defense and not for "territory or trade, revenge or military glory."
(Comment on the above Surah and verse by Brother Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The
Holy Quran: text, Translation and Commentary, Published by the Islamic
Center, Washington, DC, 1st edition 1934 and the source for all other
Quranic citations in this essay).
Civilian slaughter is clearly forbidden, or Haram: "Let there be no
hostility except to those who practice oppression." (Surah II, Verse
Suicide is also clearly forbidden: "Make not your hands contribute to
(your) destruction; but do good; for God loveth those who do good."
(Surah II, Verse 194).
Certain recent television broadcasts and even admissions by persons
alleging themselves to be Muslim have rationalized or justified what is
clearly forbidden by GodÔs revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace
be upon him). These individuals have stated they were taught that if
they commit several forbidden acts at once -- slaughter of non
combatants, suicide --they will be given a special place at the side of
Allah once they ascend to heaven. Perhaps they were shown this verse:
"Think not of those who are slain in GodÔs way as dead. Nay, they live,
finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord." (Surah III,
Yet, this passage does not contradict the strict conditions on those
who would use force: "Let there be no hostility except to those who
practice oppression." (Surah II, Verse 193.) And it is clearly implied
in Surah III, verse 179 that it is Allah and Allah only who chooses
martyrs: "He chooses of his apostles for the purpose whom he pleases. So
believe in God and His apostles: and if ye believe and do right, you
have a reward without measure."
The particular meaning of Islam is submission. The frail human will is
yoked in a positive and rational, not slavish and degrading, sense to a
Higher, More Benevolent and Compassionate Will and deeply, lovingly
connected to creation. Examples formally recognized in Islam include
Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
In modern times, certain Native North American holy men and individuals
such as Gandhi and modern saints like Edith Stein could also be regarded
as examples of this very unusual and blessed mental and moral state.
Indeed, limitation of truth to one culture is not recognized in the
Quran: "To Allah belong the East and the West. Withersoever you turn,
there is the Face of Allah." (Surah Baqarah, 115). In the words of
Sister Rabia Harris, Muslim Peace Fellowship of the Fellowship of
Reconciliation, "Truth is not limited, but is to be discovered and
honored everywhere. Both traditional and modern cultures have something
important to contribute to the service and contemplation of Allah."
And God is above all merciful and benevolent as He adjures humans to be
. The prayers spoken by one and a half billion Muslims five times a day
begin with the words, "In the name of God (Allah), the beneficent, the
Clearly, if mercy is the primary quality of Allah, it is the quality
Muslims are first called upon to imitate and practice. All Muslims are
instructed to pursue this path of spiritual evolution toward this
quality, and this struggle toward the good is called jihad, and no word
in modern times has been more misunderstood or more misinterpreted by
Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
For in that rare state of spiritual grace, concern for others and
humanity at large displaces vicious egotism and violent greed, resulting
in those astonishing human beings we call "men (and women) for others".
Such persons could no more turn themselves into flying bombs than they
themselves could sprout wings and fly... not if they believe in the
submission to God which is the core of Islam.
It is time for all who share this planet to contemplate the words of
St. Paul: "The spirit of the word gives life but the letter kills".
Individual passages in both the Quran and the Old and New Testaments can
be angry, even vilifying, but the spirit of religion and its behavioral
disciplines are loving and above all merciful, demanding humility and a
renunciation of hate both in the soul and society.
I implore those who call themselves Muslims, Christians, Jews or
anything else while committing irreligious acts to have mercy on the
hope religion offers... particularly Islam, which is providing help to
many young men and women in the West seeking a disciplined life of
sobriety, education, sexual and moral responsibility leading to that
victory one may call oneness with Allah and others merely call
responsibility, or grace.
"In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful..."
Author Kari Ann Owen
is a convert to Islam. She was born into a Jewish family and eventually adopted
by Native North American people who gave her the name Penomee, meaning "she who
rides the roads". Kari Ann received her Ph.D. in religion and literature from
The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA and is a produced playwright,
published poet and columnist for Abled Woman! Magazine. Kari Ann is married to
San Francisco Bay Area scientist and science fiction writer Silas S. Warner.
Copyright © 2001 Kari Ann Owen