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September 19, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10801

Egyptian Journalist Praises Moderate Cleric 'Abdallah Bin Bayyah, Who Comes Out Against Extremist Islamic Organizations' Distorted Understanding Of Jihad

September 19, 2023
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 10801

In a June 5, 2023 article in the Egyptian state daily Al-Ahram, journalist Muhammad Hussein Abu Al-Hassan presented and praised the approach of Sheikh 'Abdallah Bin Bayyah, head of the UAE's Fatwa Council,[1] who challenges the Islamist organizations' interpretation of the tenets and commandments of Islam, especially the commandment jihad. Bin Bayyah argues that the extremists use their distorted interpretation of Islam to encourage armed violence and thus tarnish the image of this religion. Therefore, he and the group of intellectuals and clerics he heads seek to present the true meaning of the tenets of Islam, which are peaceful and moderate.

The article outlines Bin Bayyah's understanding of jihad, namely that it does not refer primarily to fighting at all, but to promoting peace and good deeds. Moreover, military jihad is the responsibility of the state and can be waged only based on the decision of the authorities and only for purposes of defending life, the homeland or the religion, not for the purpose of forcing Islam on non-Muslims. Bin Bayyah also stresses that Islam forbids killing innocent people regardless of their faith, ideology, race or gender and regards the killing of innocents as a crime against humanity.

Abu Al-Hassan concludes by stating that the world sorely needs Bin Bayyah's project.

The following are translated excerpts from Abu Al-Hassan's article: [2]  


'Abdallah Bin Bayyah (Image: Binbayyah.net)

"Jihad has become one of the aspects of the unjustified connection between Islam and violence that is made by the rest of the peoples in the world. [This connection is made] even though the overwhelming majority of Muslims are innocent of any engagement in violence. But a gang of extremist movements has hijacked Islam, distorted its image, misrepresented its concepts – chief of them that of Jihad – accused [Muslim] societies of heresy, started wars and perpetrated the worst crimes [imaginable].  As for the others [i.e., the non-Muslim peoples across the world], they too are often far from pacifistic, for Arabs and Muslims have suffered hatred, military attacks, economic siege and political subjugation. [Yet] the accusation of terror has been directed at Muslims, which is a historic precedent of accusing an [entire] religion of terror! 

"The Islamic concept of jihad has become a political-cultural concept, interpretated in ways that border on ideological fabrication. The distorted understanding of the commandment of jihad has led to a horrible confusion between jihad and violence. That is why a group of religious scholars and intellectuals are trying to present the accurate meaning [of this term], so as to undermine the efforts of those who spread violence, terror and takfir [i.e., accusing fellow Muslims of heresy]. One of the prominent figures who have undertaken this task is the great scholar Sheikh 'Abdullah Bin Bayyah,  head of the UAE's Fatwa Council and of the Abu Dhabi Peace Forum.

The interpretation of religious texts and theoretical concepts that form [our] linguistic and ideological infrastructure is not born in a vacuum but is influenced by the political-cultural context. An erroneous understanding of [Islamic] concepts lays the groundwork for instilling a culture of violence in all its forms – from permitting the killing of people whose lives are strictly inviolable according to Islam [i.e., Muslims and their allies] to seizing funds or homes illegally. The jihadi organizations, for example, have carried out widespread acts of massacre and horror, [in the spirit of] ISIS' slogan 'We Have Come to Slaughter You,' and caused the greatest harm to the image of Islam: to the faith [itself] and to the [Islamic] nation, culture and history. What these organizations are interested in is seizing power in the country, not creating an enlightened society. They cannot tolerate coexistence with others. They interpret the Islamic texts in a distorted manner, or apply them to affairs they should not be applied to. This is a belligerent approach based on a reinterpretation of Islam in a new political context – which mixes the [concepts of] the near enemy and the far enemy[3] – and which bends the texts out of shape to make jihad a commandment incumbent upon all Muslims. This exacerbates armed violence by disguising it as jihad, against both Muslims and non-Muslims.

"Hence, [religious scholar 'Abdallah] Bin Bayyah… explains that distorting the meaning of jihad is one of the most heinous sins in terms of understanding the shari'a. He stresses that jihad is not a synonym for fighting. Not all jihad is fighting and not all fighting is jihad. Jihad, in its essence, is a means of [achieving] peace, for it is a collective term for all the good deeds that bring one closer to Allah: honoring one's parents, building mosques, building the country, helping the needy, defending the homeland, etc. That is the greater jihad. It is like a tree whose trunk consists of wise dialogue, da'wa [proselytizing], and the preaching of good deeds, so as to plant the truth of monotheism in people's minds. Historically and objectively, da'wa is achieved through godly dialogue that appeals to people's intellect and free will, and does not involve coercion…  'Whoever wants to believe, let him believe, and whoever wants to disbelieve, let him disbelieve' [Quran 29:110].

"Bin Bayyah clarified that waging military jihad is allowed only in self-defense or in defense of the religion or the homeland, and not with the aim of forcing people to embrace [Islam]. [Moreover,] launching military jihad is the prerogative of rulers and of the authorities. Otherwise, chaos and destruction will prevail in society. War is not a tool of da'wa and has never been and never will be a means of instilling absolute faith in [people's] hearts. War is a political act, not a religious one. Even the [Prophet Muhammad's] conquest of Mecca [in 630] was a political war of liberation, and the Muslims did not force Islam on the people of Mecca. The Prophet expressed this divine position by addressing them and saying, 'go, you are the liberated.'[4]  In Islam, the only factor that legitimizes the killing of others is aggression [on their part], not disbelief. Aggression is permitted only against oppressors who attack [us]. War was never the goal of Islam or the Muslims in Medina. It was just a way to break the cruel siege imposed on the oppressed who were groaning under the yoke of the polytheists. There is no holy war in Islam, and that is why 'there is no coercion in religion' [Quran 2:256] is considered to be one of the principles of the faith and one of the fundamentals of its policy. 

The great scholar Bin Bayyah fought the attempts to make [the Muslims] ignorant by misleading them about the meaning of jihad. He clarified that Islam forbids killing innocent people, regardless of their religion, for Allah said: 'Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely' [Quran 5:32]. In classifying this kind of killing as a crime against all of humanity, Islam it does not limit it to the killing of Muslims or monotheists alone, but speaks of people in general. When Islam commands to honor humanity, it refers to the essence of humanity, regardless of religion, beliefs, [skin] color, gender and race, and regardless of whether someone is a Muslim or not, and Muslims must carefully observe this [principle]…

"Amending [people's] understanding [of major Islamic] concepts has become a cornerstone of imam Bin Bayyah's philosophy, so as to clarify the truth about Islam, namely, that it is a religion of compassion and justice that preaches good deeds, and does not preach [religious] coercion, war and killing…" Abu Al-Hassan concluded his article by proclaiming: "How badly the Muslims and the world need the perception of this reformist cleric, Bin Bayyah!!"

 

[1] 'Abdallah Bin Bayyah (born 1935), an Islamic scholar and politician of Mauritanian origin, also heads the Abu Dhabi Peace Forum.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), June , 2023.

[3] The global jihad movement is divided on the question of which enemy to prioritize: the "far enemy,"  namely the West and other "infidel" countries, or the "near enemy", namely the "apostate" regimes in the Islamic world.

[4] According to the Hadith, the Prophet said these words to the Meccan Quraysh tribe after his conquest of Mecca. The tribe members expected the Prophet to punish them for fighting him, but he pardoned them and released them with these words.

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