During his visit to West Asia, US President Bush made an impassioned plea to Arab
media not to describe the suicide bombers as martyrs as the term lends the killers of innocent persons with
the halo of religious glory. It is difficult to disagree with this line of argument.
But let us try to find out where this distorted use of words began. A person who steps out to take an innocent life is a criminal as per the teachings of every religion and all the secular laws. On the other hand, both the religions and the secular laws permit physical resistance against oppression and in self-defence. This has been variously described by different religious traditions as Dharm Yuddh, Just War and Jihad. The scriptures lay down in detail the circumstances that permit armed action and an exhaustive code of conduct.
Now, if a resourceful person or group initiates a campaign that results in murder and mayhem and insists that it is
jihad, should we accept the claim simply because this man is able to hog media attention due to
the enormity of his crime and the damage caused? When he claims that it is jihad, he is aware of the sanctity and piety that is associated with this term in Islamic religious tradition. He knows there cannot be a better subterfuge to deceive a sizeable number of people and win their sympathy and support.
If without subjecting his claim to critical scrutiny we start describing him as a jihadi and his campaign as jihad then we are falling into his trap. Logically speaking, a jihadi, if killed, shall be described as a martyr at least by those who subscribe to that religious tradition. On the other hand, if his claim is tested and he is shown to be a pure and simple killer who is using religion to further his personal agenda or to cover his crimes, then the right Quranic term to describe him shall be fasadi, the mischief maker. As the Quran says: "Do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order but call on Him with fear and longing: for the mercy of God is near to those who do good" (7.56)
When someone claims to be spearheading an Islamic cause, then that claim must be subjected to Quranic scrutiny because the Book clearly says that: "God lays evil (filth) on those who will not use their reason" (10.100). In fact, a careful reading of the verses of Quran shows that human life is inviolable except in case of murder or for causing mischief. Quran says: "If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief (fasad) in the land it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people." (5.32).
The sanctity of human life has been upheld to the extent that even justified action was not permitted due to apprehension of loss of innocent lives. On the occasion of Hudaibiya, when Muslims refused to fight against the Quraysh despite adequate provocation, the Quran said:
"They [the Unbelievers] are the ones who denied revelation and hindered you from the Sacred Mosque and the sacrificial animals detained from reaching their place of sacrifice. Had there not been believing men and believing women whom you did not know that you were trampling down and on whose account a crime would have accrued to you without knowledge. (God would have allowed you to force your way but He held back your hands) that He may admit to His mercy whom He will. If they had been apart We should certainly have punished the Unbelievers among them with a grievous punishment
"(48.25). Allah thus saved lives by ensuring peace with unbelievers.
These are only few references that show that causing murder and mayhem comes in the category of fasad-- a crime punishable with death, and not jihad a concept rooted in piety and selflessness. Those who wish the fight against terrorism to succeed need be careful to use correct words to describe the campaign and actions of the terrorists and give them not the satisfaction of adopting the terms by which they describe themselves. As George Orwell has said: "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should know better."
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