Islamic scholar Jamal Al-Banna to the Yemen Times (Part I)What the Qur’an really says on Jihad, freedom and justice [Archives:2003/624/Community]

February 24 2003


Islam and the Islamic philosophers: the great dispute between what is and what must be, and the various Islamic movements. Such issues were the topic of discussion with the famous Islamist Jamal Al-Banna. Al-Banna is a political as well as Islamic thinker who has been an international academic and lecturer since 1962. He has written more than 100 books and translated several reference books to Arabic. Known for his revolutionary thoughts and innovative ideas, Al-Banna wrote and lectured about many critical Islamic topics such as the Islamic movements, syndicates in the Arab World, Women in Islam, disputed verses in the Quran and many others. He approached them from a critical point of view that invariably caused him to be criticized and admired in the same time.

Q. The Islamic Movements: how do you view them today?
A. I can say that the Islamic movements are divided into two types, either Islamic movements started in a natural way as a political and idealistic group that has certain beliefs it is calling for, such as Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslemeen (Islamic Brothers). And the other type is the Islamic groups established as a reaction to certain circumstances, which their founders had gone -through.
An example of that is the “Harakat Al-Takfeer wa Al-Hijra” which started as the result of political prosecution of the Islamists in the time of Jamal Abdulnasir in Egypt. These movements are quite violent and aggressive in their actions such as Saed Qutb Al-Jihad movement and so on.
The first kind of Islamic movement does not include any aggression at all in their agenda and they are purely a preaching group.
It is true that Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslemeen is not what they used to be during my brother's time, the late Hasan Al-BannA. Because at the time when they started, they rose in a peaceful liberal environment in the 30th. Their existence was not a threat to anyone and neither did they face any threat from the king at that time or the social norms.
And although they have come up with revolutionary ideas, they were close to the people. Because they were established by almost ordinary people, like my brother who was almost a civil person who graduated from college of Agriculture and not Al-Azhar or any other Islamic institution. And they spread their thoughts and beliefs through words and preaching.
They reached out for people and were a very peaceful movement. All until the regime changed and Abdulnasir came to power in 1949 Hassan was assassinated and many were thrown into prison and were inhumanly tortured. As a consequence many smaller movements emerged through the resistance to the treatment, which the Islamists received. Even Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslemeen changed gradually due to the environment in which they exist today, which does not allow freedom of expression and belief.

Q. Fanatic Islamic movements emerge because of political happenings, so what should the ideal case be in your opinion?

Fanatic Islamic movements started in the Arab world because of the deprivation and ill treatment, which the Islamists received in Egypt and other places during the 60s.
Any movement if received by the government by violence and force will invariably grow, and the people killed in the resistance will take roles of martyrs and heroes in the public's eyes. And that is why most of such groups become rather violent and commit what are termed as terrorist acts. Moreover, such groups have strong faith and believe in what they are doing. And they have great abilities to convince the mob with what they believe.
The ordinary man who is busy earning a living would be easily persuaded when Islamic groups play on the soft strings of faith and religion. Especially with the current world circumstances where everything seems to go against Islam and where living circumstances in the Muslim and Arab world are very bad.
Political regimes should allow scope and space for opposition to exist without oppressing them and leave it to the people to deal with. Because if the movement does reach to the people and is built on a righteous basis it will invariably remain and survive time.
On the other hand if it was not, then it will not last long. Oppressing and challenging such movements only causes unnecessary bloodshed and wounds in the social system. And it would also create cracks in the political situation by the emergence of new smaller resistance that stream from the bigger ones. And this is exactly what is happening in the Islamic and Arab world today.

Q. What about the Islamic movements in Yemen?

A. It's just like any other Arab country if not worse. There is the fanaticness, the political oppression, the illiterate people who do not know their rights and who are easily swayed by cliche lines and slogans. In fact I am surprised at the Yemeni intellectual who has isolated himself from the rest of the people.
You find a well-educated man talking about school of modernization while in his country the farmer uses ancient mechanisms for plowing his field. Where does the modernization come to the picture?
It was said that with the layering of society, the gap between the different layers grows relative to the thickness of that layer. There has to be a role for the people who are educated to play and they are not playing it.
I guess this is common in most of the Arab countries but is quite obvious here. The only thing that could be credited to the Arab regimes in power is that they were successful in busying the citizens running after their daily meal. And in the process they have become so vulnerable that they would hang on any slight ray of hope they conceive, whether through the Islamic movements or political parties in our pseudo democracy.
The Islamic movements know this fact for sure and use the vulnerably of the ordinary man to persuade them with the movements' beliefs. They use slogans in which these movements strongly believe in, such as holy war and liberty for Islam and the like to capture the minds and the hearts of the normal people.

Q. Therefore, do you think the call for Jihad (holy war against non Muslims) today is approved and called for by Islam?
A. Any defense of a rightful entity is Jihad and is a must. In this regard, the defense for the Palestinian land and the Palestine homes is jihad and is called for.
However, there is a critical misconception in the Islamic world that Islam is a religion to be spread by force. Many fanatic Islamists believe that it is their duty to force the religion on every other faith and to declare war on everything that is non Muslim.
Whereas in is mentioned very clearly in the Quran that Islam is a religion that respects all other believes, whether of the book, polytheists, infidels or even the atheists. The aya / verse that says this has no doubt in it:

“There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in Taghut (anything worshiped other than the real god (Allah)) and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.” (AlBaqara – 256)

I have gone through the whole Quran and read as well as studied all the fight and war verses. And none of them, I repeat none, even hinted that jihad is stated to attack and rule over other religions. Jihad was established in Islam to guarantee the safety and protection of the Islamic nation as a defense mechanism and not as an attacking one.

“Tell those who disbelieve that if they cease (from persecution of believers) that which is past will be forgiven them; but if they return (thereto) then the example of the men of old hath already gone (before them, for a warning). And fight them until persecution is no more and the religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then Lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.” (Al-Anfal – 38-39)

The only verse that took me some time to understand is the one that says:

“Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the last day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His messenger (Mohammed – mpbh) (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the (tax levied from the people of the scriptures (Jews and Christians, who are under the protection of a Muslim government) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. ” Al-TawbA.(29).

Because this one talks about a certain sect of the people of the book, a certain group that was not existing at that time, so perhaps this was one of the verses that predicted the future, saying that there will be some people of the book who believe not in Allah, nor in the last day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His messenger, and they would find it in their interest to attack and undermine Islam, so those should be fought. And even those people it was not said that they should be killed, however they should abide by the Islamic rule and pay the Jizya which is a tax to the Islamic state they are living in.
Another evidence that jihad was not instated to punish other religions or faiths is that the concept of “Ahal Al-Thyma” (people who have a bond or treaty with the Muslims). Because if the purpose of jihad was to vanish every other religion, then why for should rules of dealings with others were made and respected? The misconception has blinded so many Muslims and caused fright and negative feelings about Islam among the non-Muslims.

Q. Does this mean that the way Muslims understand Islam is not right? And how do the current happenings in the world effect and get effected by this?

A. Yes indeed, Islam is viewed today not as what it actually is. It's a two-folded situation: Had the Islamic world been secure and respected in accordance with its particularities and identity, there wouldn't have been so much violence and revolutionary or terrorist acts created by them. At the same time had there been no such actions that threaten peace and stability, and had the way Islam been portrayed to the rest of the world been closer to its truth, the worlds reaction towards Islam and Muslims would have been different.
We in these days as Muslims have indulged so deeply in the minor aspects in our religion neglecting by that the actual and main facts that the religion actually is based upon.
As an example many scholars have stated in more than one place that Muslims who convert to another faith must be killed. Where in the Quran is that mentioned? On the contrary, such case which is called in Islam (Al-Ridda) was mentioned five times and in all there was no earthly punishment for such people. And it was said that those who do so, their actions will not be blessed and in the other life they will be the losers. The Muslim scholars have invented this rule in order to protect their regime. Because this rule was established in a time where the Muslim empire was so large and the khalifat was the one to legislate the constitution or Sharee'a (Islamic Constitution) as it is called in Islam.
In fact they went to the extent that they said that anyone who holds back any information that is vital to the Islamic world is to be killed, and in those lines many Muslim lives were taken.
The concept of Ridda (converting from Islam to another religion) was mentioned five times and had there been any action to be taken by the governors it would have been clearly mentioned in any of them if not all. How easy it has become to legislate rules that dictate the killing of a human being in our world. What a shame!

Part II next week:

– The European culture was established on two pillars, freedom and power; whereas the Islamic was built on justice. Ironically, through their freedom the Europeans found justice, and we, could not establish justice because we didn't have the freedom to even live our religion.
– In Islam, women are equal to men.
– Don't enforce faith, preach it!
– For every cruel, powerful person comes one who is more cruel and powerful to put him down. This is what happened to Iraq.