Myth: Islam tolerates the killing of innocents
This misconception is one of the most widely held misconceptions about Islam today. And yet in the Qur'an, the Creator unambiguously states (translation),
Based on this verse, it is Islamically unlawful to murder anyone who is innocent of certain crimes. It is well to remember at this point the distinction made above between Qur'an and Sunnah, and the Muslims: only the Qur'an and Sunnah are guaranteed to be in accordance with what the Creator desires, whereas the Muslims may possibly deviate. Hence, if any Muslim kills an innocent person, that Muslim has committed a grave sin, and certainly the action cannot be claimed to have been done "in the name of Islam."
It should be clear, then, that "Muslim terrorist" is almost an oxymoron: by killing innocent people, a Muslim is commiting an awesome sin, and Allah is Justice personified. This phrase is offensive and demeaning of Islam, and it should be avoided. It is hoped that as the general level of public awareness and understanding of Islam increases, people will keep "terrorism" and "Islam" separate from each other, not to be used in the same phrase.
Another reason advanced in support of the misconception is that the Creator has imposed `jihad' on us. The term "holy war" is from the time of the Crusades and originated in Europe as a rallying cry against the Muslims in Jerusalem. Jihad is an Arabic word meaning struggle, but in the context of many verses in the Qur'an, it carries the meaning of military struggle, or war. Allah gradually introduced the obligation of military struggle to the Muslim community at the time of the Messenger (saas). The first verse ever revealed in that connection is as follows (translation),
This verse lays down the precondition for all war in Islam: there must exist certain oppressive conditions on the people. The Creator unequivocally orders us to fight oppression and persecution, even at the expense of bloodshed as the following verse shows (translation),
As one might imagine, the method of military struggle has been clearly and extensively defined in the Qur'an and Sunnah. Since this subject is a huge one, we simply summarize part of it by noting that it is unlawful to kill women, children, the infirm, the old, and the innocent. From the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Sahih Bukhari, we find:
A related misconception to jihad is often propagated by Muslims who say that "Jihad is only for self-defense of physical borders." The Qur'an and Sunnah refute this notion categorically. As the verses cited above show, jihad is obligatory wherever there is injustice, and Muslims need not acknowledge imaginary lines around the earth when it comes to upholding this obligation. The Messenger of Allah (saas) has also commented on this extensively in the Sunnah. From the study of the Sunnah called Sahih Bukhari, we find that,
Hence, the Creator obligates us to fight wherever people are being grossly deprived of freely hearing or practicing the Message of Allah as contained in the Qur'an and Sunnah. Sayyed Qutb, a famous Muslim scholar eloquently discusses the notion of jihad and self-defense in his book Milestones,
A third reason often cited for the misconception about Islam which says that this way of life tolerates the killing of innocents is that the judicial system of Islam is unnecessarily harsh. This reason is weak in two respects. First, it presupposes that human beings are more just and more merciful than the Creator, and therefore we can change the law. Second, it is often based on gross oversimplifications of Islamic law, such as saying "all thieves get their hands cut off."
The Qur'an and Sunnah make it clear that the law of retaliation (or equality) governs us for murder and physical injury, but forgiveness is better as the following verses from the Qur'an show (translation),
The Creator ordained the law of retaliation on us knowing full well that we might question it. In many non-Muslim societies today, there are ongoing debates about the death penalty. In Islam, this discussion is moot: the Creator has decided the matter for us. He has however given us an interesting verse in the Qur'an which advises to consider the matter carefully if we want to understand it (translation follows),
Most people are also unaware of the stringent conditions which must be met for the law of retaliation to be applicable. The Sunnah is full of examples of the Messenger of Allah showing us when the law's preconditions were fulfilled. For example, a thief is only liable to lose his or her hand if the item stolen exceeds a certain value, and if it is proven that the item was taken from its normal resting place. Stealing food is not punishable by the loss of one's hand, and other items are exempt as well. This is just an example of how gingerly the law is applied in Islam.
Finally, another reason advanced for this prevalent misconception is that Islam `spread by the sword'. It should be clear by now that we must always distinguish between the Qur'an and Sunnah and the Muslims when it comes to determining what the Creator has asked of us. Allah has stated clearly in the Qur'an (translation),
Hence, it is impossible to accept Islam under duress. Even if misguided Muslims were to try to `force' Islam somehow on others, it would not be accepted by the Creator based on this verse.
Historical arguments that try to demonstrate that Muslims did not `convert others by force' are actually secondary to the argument given above. However, it is worth noting that historically, Islam did spread by peaceful means. The Message of the Creator was conveyed to Africa and to southeast Asia by trading Muslims, and today the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. The military expeditions that led to the conquest of large swathes of territory in Europe and central Asia were all marked by tolerance of other creeds and faith.
Again, it is important to remember that Allah declares it IMPOSSIBLE that Islam can be forced on a person, hence Muslims find it useless to try!