By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 7) - The code orange alert level put into effect Dec. 21 was precipitated by the Bush administration's concern about threats of terrorist activity, including the possibility of detonation of a "dirty" bomb that could spread radioactive material on a large U.S. city.

On Oct. 21, 2001, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden praised God, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks of that year as "a very small thing." He prayed to "elevate" the status of the 15 Saudi and four non-Saudi hijackers of four commercial airlines and to grant them "paradise."

The Quran 5:32 says if one kills others unjustly, it is as if one has killed the whole of humanity. These are the words of Allah.

Of the estimated world population of 6.3 billion, Muslims comprise 1.3 billion, of whom about 900 million live in Asia.

Anthropology professor Robert W. Hefner, senior research associate at the Institute on Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, writes that Asian Muslims do not have an Arab or Persian cultural core, but display ethnic and civilizational variation much greater than Muslims of the Middle East, and have traditionally been more tolerant and moderate.

For 14 centuries, Islam has rested on the foundation of building a just public order and on honorable combat. Until the end of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924, building a just public order was an obligation, with Islam as the established religion and a Muslim as a ruler. Honorable combat, connected to the duty to establish a just public order, sometimes required force to maintain and defend justice; force must be authorized by recognized public authorities to insure the just cause in the fighting, and must be proportionate to the injustice perceived. Fighting must conform with Prophet Muhammad's preaching: not to mutilate anyone, not to kill children, women, the old, the handicapped, or members of the clergy. Honorable combat involves soldiers fighting soldiers, not non-combatants.

The Turkish Republic of 1924 ended the notion of a state governed by an Islamic establishment. Questions raised in the 20th century were: should an Islamic state be governed only by the Quran and the example of Muhammad, or could its laws and policies be formed by contemporary international practice?

The "fundamentalists" or "radicals" argue that an Islamic state must be governed by divine law only. Radical Islam believes that the essence of Islam is the sharia (divine law); the sharia can solve the world's problems; and only the understanding of the sharia is allowed.

The "moderates" say a more diverse set of sources of law is acceptable, and that interpretation of the sharia should be left to individuals and communities, not to an Islamic government.

Post-Sept. 11 moderate Muslims acknowledge that even if existing political order is unjust, indiscriminate terror tactics and killings to effect change violate the Muslim conscience and tradition. Hefner says that moderate Muslims in India, Iran, Indonesia and Malaysia have opposed the surrendering of religion to the state as an invitation to religion's subordination to petty rulers.

In a "Letter to America" of Nov. 2002, the al-Qaida leadership argued that the American people could refuse and even change their government policies, but did not do so. "God, the Almighty, legislates ... whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs."

Dr. John Kelsay, professor of religion at Florida State University, writes for the Foreign Policy Research Institute that it is inaccurate to say Islam has nothing to do with "fighting of this type" or Islam has everything to do with it.

Kelsay quoted the Quran 2:190: "Fight against those who are fighting against you. But do not violate the limits. God does not approve those who violate the limits."

Hefner concludes that there is a clash of cultures in our world: It is primarily "a struggle among Muslims for the soul of Islam," and it is only secondarily "a conflict between radical Islamists and the West." He sees the radicals' appeals as running contrary to ordinary Muslims' thirst for economic improvement, educational enlightenment and freedom from religious bullies.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., teaches political science at the University of Guam.

January 7, 2004

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