Whether it is a bomb going off in a marketplace, school, religious centres, or the hijacking of an aircraft where innocent people are held at ransom to achieve political ends, we live in an age, where the manipulation and loss of innocent lives have become commonplace. Such is the all-pervasive nature of indiscriminate violence, that “terrorism” is considered as one of the prime threats to peace and security in our societies.

Rightly or wrongly, majority of Nigerians today are not happy with the bombings in the country. For sure, anyone who understands the teachings of Islam will not relate the distinctive characteristics of the times we live in – the overwhelming presence of violence in our societies — to an Islamic mission. But it has been surprising to read of the Boko Haram sect claiming responsibility for several bombings, purportedly in an attempt to make non-Muslims accept Islam.

However, the word terrorism came into wide usage only a few decades ago. One of the unfortunate results of this new terminology in Nigeria is that it limits the definition of terrorism to that perpetrated by small groups or individuals mistaken to be fighting for the cause of a religion.

It is this narrow definition of terrorism that implicates only individuals and groups, that has caused Muslims to be associated with acts of destruction and terror, and as a result, to become victims of hate, violence and terror themselves.

Could it be possible that Islam, whose light ended the Dark Ages in Europe, marked the advent of an age of terror? Could a faith that has over 1.2 billion followers the world over, and over seven million in America, actually advocate the killing and maiming of innocent people? Could Islam, which stands for “peace” and “submission to God,” encourage its adherents to work for death and destruction?

For too long, we have relied on popular images in the media and in Hollywood films, for answers to these pertinent questions. It is better to look at the sources of Islam, and its history to determine whether Islam does indeed advocate violence.

The religion in its preaching of sanctity of human life says, “…take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (Al-Qur’an 6:151).

Islam considers all life forms as sacred. Thus the sanctity of human life is accorded a special place. The first and the foremost basic right of a human being is the right to life. The Qur’an says: “…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (Al-Qur’an 5:32).

Such is the value of a human life, that the Qur’an equates the taking of even one life unjustly, with the killing all of humanity. Thus, the Qur’an prohibits homicide in clear terms.

Wonder where the Boko Haram sect get their backing from, because relating their actions to common law, the taking of a criminal’s life by the state in order to administer justice is required to uphold the rule of law, and the peace and security of the society. Only a proper and competent court can decide whether an individual has forfeited his right to life by disregarding the right to life and peace of other human beings.

Even in a state of war, Islam enjoins that one deals with the enemy nobly on the battlefield. It has drawn a clear line of distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants of the enemy country.

As far as the non-combatant population is concerned such as women, children, the old and the infirm, etc., the instruction of the Prophet is that: “Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman. Do not kill the monks in monasteries and do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship.”

Unfortunately, Islam in general is misunderstood in the western world. Perhaps no other Islamic term evokes such strong reactions as the word ‘jihad’. The term ‘jihad’ has been much abused, to conjure up bizarre images of violent Muslims, forcing people to submit at the point of the sword. This myth was perpetuated throughout the centuries of mistrust during and after the Crusades. Unfortunately, it survives to this day.

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