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What Does the Quran Say About Extremism and Terrorism?

Updated on October 3, 2017

One of the toughest challenges faced by the majority of Muslims today is the rise of small, extremist groups that engage in political violence – or terrorism and justify it in terms of Islam. The most notorious act of violence of this nature was perpetrated on September 11, 2001, by a shadowy group named Al-Qaeda. International scrutiny following those attacks exposed the existence of a nebulous, largely underground network of groups committed to achieving their ends through violent means.

It is important to note that extremist groups of this nature commit the majority of their violence against other Muslims, not against the western world. They engage in sectarian killings and attack mosques, religious gatherings, and schools in many parts of the Islamic world. They frequently believe that their ends justify their means, and therefore are willing to target civilians. They also consider Muslims who do not agree with their agenda to be heretics or apostates, and therefore believe their deaths to be justified.

Many extremist groups believe that Muslims, as a whole, have gone astray; they feel the only way for them to gain power and establish a virtuous society is through violent means. Many of these groups have a very direct and literal sense that the whole purpose of life is to attain rewards in heaven. As such, traditional Islamic notions of social relationships, charity, care for the needy, and so on have little value in their political agendas.

Extremism of this kind is fed by the current political situations in which most Islamic societies are ruled by governments that are perceived as corrupt and self-serving. Many Muslims, not just extremists, feel that they are deprived of the fruits of their labor and the wealth (such as oil) of their land, and that a disproportionate share of global resources is consumed by the West. They feel that their own governments, especially those of oil-rich countries, are servants of the West, and that they oppress their own people for personal gain. Thus, when extremist groups fight against illegitimate governments and an exploitative world order, they gain the admiration of many people across the Islamic world who feel that the extremist are fighting for them. What they hear in the extremist’s message is the claim to represent authentic Islam and the fight for justice and dignity, not the religiously unjustifiable violence the extremists perpetrate.

Quran’s Teachings on Terrorism

Extremists often refer to verses 39-41 of Surah Al-Haj of the Quran to support their view. In these verses, Allah grants permission to fight. However, a comprehensive study of the Quran reveals that this permission was granted only in self-defense. According to Islamic scholars at learn read Quran, a pioneering online Quran institute, this permission is in place to defend not only Muslims but Christians, Hindus, Jews and people of all other faiths from all acts of terror.

No traditional notion of Islamic law and its rules of warfare or governing societies justifies or even condones acts of terror. The rules covering Jihad in its meaning as “just war” explicitly forbid the killing of Muslims, the intentional targeting of civilians, engaging in disproportionate acts of violence, and giving one’s own life in a situation where there is no reasonable expectation of victory. Equally important, Islamic law has traditionally taken an extremely harsh view of anyone who violently disrupts the harmony of society. Highway robbery piracy, and raiding were among the few crimes for which Islamic law mandated the death penalty. Many Muslim religious scholars today feel that terrorism and hijacking fall under the same rules and should be dealt with as harshly.

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