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Let me talk a bit more about Allah’s boundaries — hudoodullah — before I move on. Not that I can do justice to a vast and important topic like this or in any sense really leave it behind. For this topic envelops every aspect of human life.
The first thing I want to point out is that in life there are boundaries and then there are boundaries. And among the most important boundaries to observe in life are the ones that lie within our own selves. Our own internal boundaries as it were. All the checks and limitations that must exist within ourselves.
These are boundaries that do not generally have clear-cut external markers but are mostly determined by factors and considerations that arise from inside a person. At the top of this list is the all too common human tendency to commit excess, aggression and then finally violence against others — especially those over whom they may have power and control. Crossing the bounds and limits in whatever they do as it were.
Avoiding Excess Even in War
Islam places a high premium on forgiveness, generosity, kindness and compassion. At the same time, Islam permits people to defend themselves when attacked by others. But the interesting thing is the way in which Islam wants people to fight back.
Fight back without committing any excesses, says the Qur’an. And here is where and how the Qur’an says it: Qaatiloo fee sabeelillahilladheena yuqaatiloonakum wa laa ta’tadoo.
And here is a paraphrase of that magnificent aayat — in several parts:
- First of all, you are forced into fighting because someone else started it. So, what viable option do you have now but to fight those who fight you?
- Even then make sure you are fighting purely for God’s sake and in his path — and not for the sake of your own name, fame, power, gain, wealth and passions.
- That means fight those who fight you, but do so for the sake of justice, fairness, equality and opportunity for all and not just for your favored few. For, that is what it means to fight in the name of and for the sake of and in the path of God.
- That means don’t fight to conquer, control, dominate, subordinate, exploit, humiliate, plunder or exterminate others but to liberate, elevate, empower everyone.
- That means, while some others may fight in the name of king, country, tribe, color, race, religion, political party, pet cause, personal ego, vengeance, hate, mercenary gain or some other selfish reason, make sure your fight — even when you are only defending yourself against those who fight you — is always for a higher, nobler and more just, equal, humane and inclusive cause.
- And finally — how can anyone say “finally” when they are talking about an Aayat of the Qur’an? — even when you are only fighting those who fight you, and you are doing it for the sake of and in the name and path of God and for the highest goals and purposes, you should not commit excesses and transgressions of any kind.
If all this is not proof that the Qur’an is from God Almighty — and Islam is directly from the creator of the universe himself — what is?
Proportionality Is Us
Nothing proves this fact more than the notion of proportionality that the Qur’an advocates so vigorously. How can I explain this to non-Urdu speakers? There is a beautiful expression in Urdu — and Urdu is an incredibly beautiful language — which says “Had say badhjaanaa,” which means going beyond the limit; crossing the boundary; committing an excess; or doing too much of something.
Such is often the common human tendency: getting carried away, going overboard and trying to do too much.
And equally vigilant is Islam in warning human beings against their own propensity to excess, whether it is with regard to business or worship or personal life and whether it pertains to this world or the next world. In all things human, humans would inevitably tend to exceed the limit in one direction or another if given a chance.
That is why God Almighty — in Islam — wields a firm scale and makes proportionality a requirement in all human affairs. And he does so in the most clear, specific and unambiguous terms. So much so that when it comes to the question of proportionality in human conduct, we can very easily say: Proportionality Is Us!
For example, how are those people supposed to respond who may be subjected to some wrong — those against whom aggression, excess or violence may have been perpetrated by some others?
Are such aggrieved people allowed to respond in kind? Can they exchange blow for blow? And if they can, how exactly are they supposed to do it? When do they stop?
Or are they supposed to completely wipe out and obliterate the wrongdoers — those who started the fight as it were? Those who initiated the aggression and committed the first acts of excess?
Two Miraculous Aayats in the Qur’an:
Out of All the Others
You know what I say at every opportunity I get, right? Every Aayat of the Qur’an is a miracle? But listen to the Qur’an on the subject of proportionality and tell me how much clearer it can possibly get. And who, if not Allah, can conceivably promulgate a formula like this for the human species that he created and let lose on earth?
These are the same humans about whom the angels had argued that they would cause mischief and corruption on earth and shed bloods? Yes, that is right. The Qur’an does use the plural “bloods“? Dimaa’ instead of Dam, which is singular for blood.
The first of the two Aayats I have in mind is the one that I quoted above: Qaatiloo fee sabeelillahil-ladheena yuqatiloonakum wa laa ta’tadoo.
And the second is: Wa in ‘aaqabtum fa-’aaqiboo bi-mithli maa ‘ooqibtum bihi…
How can human minds come up with a formula like that? And how can human temperament steeped in greed, deceit, arrogance and selfishness accept such a foolproof recipe for universal peace and justice?
And here is a paraphrase of the two Aayats I just quoted:
- Fight in the path of God those who fight you but do not commit excess or cross the bounds.
- And if you were to inflict harm on some people in response to what they did to you, then make sure it is proportional to the harm to which you yourselves were subjected by them.
Which part of which one of these two Aayats requires a commentary or an explanation? And where is extremism in all this?
Associating Islam with Extremism
Therefore, associating Islam with extremism is as foolish as practicing extremism in the name of Islam. There are no ifs or buts about the utter foolishness and falsehood of either one of them.
Yet, why do some people associate Islam with extremism? Answers are not hard to find. Some people do it because they don’t know better. And there are two reasons for their ignorance.
One, Muslims never bothered to communicate the right picture of Islam to them. Or did an extremely poor job of it. Two, because these folks themselves never bothered to find out the real facts about Islam.
There is a third reason too: Muslims, no matter what they may or may not preach, are such awful role models and poor practical examples of much of what Islam really stands for.
That means Muslims need to do a better job of informing people about the real teachings of Islam. At the same time, Muslims must also do a better job of putting into practice what they say they believe in.
Some other people associate Islam with extremism with full knowledge and understanding of what they are doing. They know what they are saying is wrong but they go ahead and say it anyway. That is because their purpose is pure propaganda.
What these people are trying to do is give Islam a bad name deliberately. And they don’t much care how they do it.
That means in general these people are motivated by considerations of political, religious and economic gain. And they are out to paint Islam and Muslims in the worst colors so that they can take political, economic, religious and military advantage of them.
To many of these people giving Islam — and Muslims — a bad name is simply a means of pursuing political, military, religious and economic power. Such people don’t care for truth, morality, honesty or integrity and they don’t have any qualms or inhibitions about tarnishing and defiling the good name of Islam — and Muslims — using any means at their disposal.
To them all that matters is to win and they don’t care how they do it.
Muslims need to expose this evil propaganda and continue to present Islam to the world in the most proper and positive manner. Just as the Qur’an requires them to do: Wa jaadilhoom billatee hiya ahsan — counter them with something better.
A Bit of Context
Let me provide a bit of context to the Aayats of proportionality that makes them even more poignant. Don’t forget, the first addressees of this miraculous message of proportionality were the free, fearless and independent tribes of Arabia who lived a life of anything but proportionality.
When someone bothered them, they bothered those people who bothered them and their entire tribe. When someone killed one of theirs, they killed a hundred of the other side. Unending revenge was their way of life. Retaliation was the fuel that fired their life.
Listen to what one of their poets had to say on the subject — knowing of course what a critical roles poets and poetry often played in their lives and culture: A-laa laa yajhalan ahadun ‘alainaa. Fa-najhala faowqa jahlil jaahileena.
Paraphrase: Don’t let anyone behave arrogantly toward us, lest we behave even more arrogantly than all the arrogant people.
What a wild, free and indomitable people these pre-Islamic Arabian tribes were! It was this raw material of utter indomitability that Islam took and converted into the soft, gentle and yet immensely powerful dynamo that changed the world and at the same time set new standards of fairness and equality for humanity. Standards that the rest of the world is to this day struggling to catch up to.
Some More Context
There is more context to these Aayats of proportionality. The early Muslims who were being told to observe moderation and proportionality while defending themselves were the same people who had been subjected to the worst atrocities, brutalities and excesses by their enemies continually for over 13 years.
During this entire period, the Muslims were repeatedly told not even to take defensive action. They were told to simply accept their persecution at the hands of their enemies and have faith and patience. They were told to take the enemy onslaught and not retaliate or defend themselves.
It is these same people who were now being given permission to fight back in self-defense. And it is these same people whose hands were still being tied with the warning that they should observe proportionality even when defending themselves after a sustained persecution of 13 long years.
Now that adds a whole new dimension to the concept of proportionality.
And to the notion of Allah’s boundaries — Hudoodullah.
After knowing and realizing all this, what would anyone say who has any sense of fairness and integrity except perhaps: Thank you Islam, for, thy name is moderation and proportionality!
© 2008 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.
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