Koran a Book of Peace, Not War, Scholars Say

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"Religion, after all, speaks to our most basic and ultimate convictions, and if you are wanting to use violence, if you can find a religious justification, then you can find a very powerful motivation," says Rodier.

Christians have killed in the name of God, as have Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and others. But it is Muslims who have most recently been accused of turning "divine commandments" into a divine license to kill.

Terrorists have often said they are striking out against their enemies and oppressors "in the name of Allah." But many Islamic scholars say such terrorists are not only violating the spirit of the Koran, but the letter of it as well.

"You do not kill innocent people, you do not cheat, you do not lie, you do not destroy any property of other human beings," says Imam Abdullah Khouj, an Islamic scholar and director of the Islamic Center, in Washington, D.C.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "can't be in the name of Allah," he adds.

"Violation of Allah's Wishes"

Islamic scholars interviewed by the TV news show National Geographic Today agreed that terrorists such as Usama bin Laden and his supporters are fanatics using Islam to further their own worldly causes.

"In order for them to generate support beyond their small group, they have to latch onto universal symbols, and this is where Islam becomes a target of convenience for them," says Nyang

People combine pieces of verse from the Koran and use it to justify their actions, says Khouj. "But to understand the full meaning of the verse," he says, "you have to read the one before it, the one after it, maybe five to six verses to get the full picture."

The "full picture" of Islam and the Koran, say Khouj and Nyang, is captured by Chapter 5, Verse 32: "[I]f anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or spreading mischief 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."

For most Muslims, the callous and indiscriminate taking of human life violates Allah's wishes. It defies the Koran's central message and undermines the peace that Islam promises to deliver to all people.

"Human life in Islam is extremely sacred," says Khouj. "We're not talking about just Muslim [life], but human life in general."

This article was excerpted from a one-hour special, "The Geography of Crisis," aired by the TV news show National Geographic Today on September 25 at 8 p.m. EST.

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