National Geographic Today
Osama bin Laden, who is widely assumed to be the force behind the
September 11 hijackings in the United States, cites the Koran, Islam's
most holy book, as the inspiration for terrorist attacks. But Muslim
scholars around the world who are reviled by such actions explain that
the Koran preaches peace.
"The Koran is saying to humans, this is the final guidance from your Creator, for the specific purpose of worshipping him and creating a civil society where you can live in peace with one another," says Muslim scholar Imam Sulayman S. Nyang of Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Muslims around the world rely on the Koran for guidance, says Nyang. Devout followers heed the call to prayer five times each day and recite passages from the holy book. Muslims believe that the Koran is God's unfiltered messageteaching them how to lead a good life and become a better, more moral person.
"The Koran is very specific with regard to the nature of human struggle, because in order for a human to be at peace with himself, they must control their baser instincts," says Nyang.
The quest to control base instincts such as greed, lust, and cruelty and to seek spiritual purity is known by Muslims as the "great jihad." Featured widely in the Koran, the "great jihad" is a person's most important internal struggle.
Nyang quotes Chapter 3, verse 172, of the Koran: "Of those who answered the call of Allah and the messenger, even after being wounded, those who do right and refrain from wrong have a great reward."
But also in the holy scripture is a reference to "lower jihad," a more earthly and physicaland controversialstruggle. "To those against whom war is made, permission is given [to fight] because they are wronged; and verily, God is most powerful for their aid," quotes Nyang.
This verse speaks of combat or war to be waged against one's oppressorsa struggle sanctioned by God.
But the Koran also states in Chapter 2, Verse 190: "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors."
The essence of the verse, Nyang says, is to fight back "if you are attacked by your persecutors, but don't fight back indiscriminately. Follow the rules of engagement." According to mainstream Muslim clerics, those "rules of engagement"' are explicit: women, children, and innocent civilians are off limits.
Perversion of Text
Muslims believe the prophet Mohammed received these revelations directly from God some 1400 years ago. It was at a time when he and other Muslims were being driven from their homes, persecuted, and killed. But although the Koran advocates self-defense, its most prevalent message is one of peace and brotherly love.
"If people are intent on using religion to motivate terror or violence, they'll find an excuse there no matter what the actual text says," says David Rodier of American University in Washington, D.C., who is an expert on the world's religions. Like the Koran, he says, most holy scriptures are filled with stories of war and warriors, and these images have been used throughout history by some members of every faith to justify bloodshed.