by KHURSHID AHMAD
'Islam and Fanaticism' can rightly be called 'the topic of the day'.
We are meeting this evening to discuss the problem of fanaticism
when almost the entire western world is caught in the grip of violence,
when we find that in many western countries the instruments of peaceful
persuasion have been replaced by the instruments of violence, when
even in a country which has been regarded as the abode of democracy,
doubts are openly expressed on the usefulness and the postulates
of the basic traditions of democracy.
First of all, what is fanaticism? It is a much used and abused
term, not merely by contemporary writers and speakers. The exploitation
of this term rather goes back deep into history. It has been used
to silence political opponents It has been used to dub different
religious groups as protagonists of violence, rightly or wrongly.
It is one of those terms which have always been used by different
groups of people. As such we should be very clear as to what it
There are three basic points which are to be kept in view. Firstly,
I would treat as a fanatic one who is not open to reason, who is
not prepared to think and argue, who instead of the logic of argument
would employ the arbitrary use of authority.
Secondly, the problem of violence is very central to an appreciation
of what fanaticism is. Using those means, those methods, those techniques
which create disorder, disaffection and violence: such methods can
be called an integral part of the paraphernalia of fanaticism. Mere
use of force is not violence. Even a policeman uses force but this
is not violence unless he transgresses certain limits. Parents,
elders, even friends may use some force but that is not violence.
Violence is that use of force which violates certain accepted principles.
That brings me to my third point. Very fundamental to fanaticism
is the violating of those values which have been accepted by humanity
as its fundamental code of behaviour --the rule of law, principles
of justice, natural justice and social justice.
Now the problem is quite a tricky one. To stand for one's conviction
is not fanaticism in the sense of the word as used in common parlance.
To believe in certain values, to live for them, to work for them,
to strive for them is not fanaticism. We are living in a strange
world of double standards, what George Orwell described as 'double
thought' and 'double talk'. It is really strange that if a socialist
stands for his cause, this is considered revolutionary fervour.
If a Muslim works for Islam this is fanaticism. If a democrat
goes to the extent of saying, as not one but many intellectuals
in the West have said, that those who want to change the democratic
system through democratic means are rebels and actually perpetrate
violence, this is not considered fanaticism.
When in Kenya, through the process of direct election, a parliament
came to power which was alleged to be communistic, no one but Bertrand
Russell comes forward to say that we cannot accept a democratic vote
against democracy. And this is not fanaticism? In this age of double
talk and double thinking, to stand for one's ideals, to believe in
them to have the force of conviction is not fanaticism.
It is a very facile argument that in the name of toleration one
must tolerate everything. Toleration is something real and very
valuable. Tolerance is a great cultural virtue but it is not an
absolute value. You do not tolerate the person who parks on the
wrong side. You do not tolerate in any way someone who infringes
your law, who acts against decency and the norms of society. Tolerance
must have its limits. And this is what distinguishes idealism from
Conviction and bigotry are not the same thing. A man with a conviction
also believes, but he believes on the basis of reason and argument
and he is prepared to argue out his case. A bigot is not prepared
to listen to anything which goes against his views.
Idealism and Fanaticism confused
It is unfortunate that the western writers, even their top scholars,
and the order of the column writers, have been in the habit of confusing
these two and they have been calling our idealism, fanaticism, and
calling the word fanaticism, idealism. For the last 400 years more
or less, western writers have been accusing Islam of being fanatic,
or being intolerant, of being a religion propagated through the
sword and so on.
Actually the pedigree of the allegations goes a little farther.
In fact this point was originally raised in respect of the behaviour
of the Christian Church in medieval times. It was during that period
that Islam emerged as a revolutionary force.
When the western world came into contact with the Islamic world,
they conveniently shifted this allegation from the doors of Christianity
to the doors of Islam. And the irony is that Christian writers,
missionaries as well as orientalists have taken a leading part in
playing this dirty game.
Now religion as such has never generated fanaticism or intolerance.
The experience of the Western nations is very limited to a particular
type of behaviour put forward by the organised Church. On the basis
of this limited experience some thinkers have generalised that this
is the attitude of religion as such.
Nobody can dispute that the behaviour of the Christian church
in medieval times was in certain respects a very ignoble one. There
have been some exaggerations, but even if one makes allowance for
these, Christianity as it grew in Europe adopted a highly intolerant
attitude towards its own folk, not to speak of others.
It is known, that the Jews, whatever may be their ingratitude to the
people who gave them protection, were the most haunted people in the
entire Christian world for more than a thousand years and if they
could seek refuge anywhere, it was in the Muslim world.
Muslims extended to them all possible protection, legal, political,
economic, social, and religious. Christianity's attitude towards
its own adherent had also been highly intolerant. The Church demanded
a kind of conformity which is not in keeping with human dignity
and human nature.
It imposed upon them thought-control and other religious and social
humiliations. The history of the Inquisitions shows that hundreds
of thousands of people were prosecuted simply for holding opinions
which did not conform to the view of of the church. I accept all
these as facts of history but would ask on the basis of this limited
experience how just and how reasonable it would be to generalise
that all religions are and must be intolerant and fanatical, Not
one, but many historians say, and very rightly say, that this blood-thirsty
attitude of Christianity does not owe itself to the original teachings
of the prophets.
If you study the politico-cultural history of Europe you would
find that the genesis of this attitude is to be found in the Greco-Roman
Empire, The Greek type lies at the roots of the following civilisations
which emerged in Europe. The modern West imbibed that very attitude.
Toynbee, Russell, all of them think that the intolerance and fanaticism
of Christianity owes. itself to this particular Greco-Roman type.
Others had never been so intolerant or so fanatical before.
A different outlook
In Islamic history you will find an outlook of a different nature.
When the Romans conquered any country, the first thing they would
do is mass massacre. When the Muslims conquered any country, they
would give guarantees of life, property and honour to all the non-belligerents.
Even in war a Muslim is not allowed to kill an old person, a woman,
a child, those who are crippled or disabled. Only when sword is
wielded, must iron be met with iron. Not only that, even trees are
not to be cut and crops are not to be burnt. The entire Islamic
history does not know of the concept of mass massacre.
For indications of western practice, there is no need to go far
back. When in 1945 the fate of Germany was being decided by the
victorious powers the idea was that Germany should not be allowed
to exist at all but be divided into four and assimilated by the
Allied powers. And now they complain about the problem of West Germany
and East Berlin! The Supreme Command also planned that conquered
Japan should never come to life again, but the plan was thwarted
by the changing tides of world diplomacy. That is how they treated
But look to the way the Prophet of Islam enters Mecca as victor.
Everyone was offered complete amnesty. When Caliph Umar entered
Jerusalem he was not even prepared to pray in a Church for fear
that those who came after him may treat the place as a mosque and
take it away from the Christians. But when the city of Jerusalem
was taken by the Crusaders there was total massacre of the population.
How did they behave in Spain ? Not a single Muslim was left unexecuted
or unexiled. It was the same in Sicily where all the mosques were
demolished. Even in the 19th and 20th Centuries the same practice
was adopted. There was Greece where the entire Muslim population
was either eliminated or driven out and in parts of the Balkans
where Muslims were in a clear majority, not only their political
position was annulled; even their physical existence was not tolerated.
A historian who primarily believes in atheism, Robert Briffault,
deals with the history of the social evolution of mankind in his
work The Making of Humanity. In very clear terms he says that the
role of theocracy (used as a synonym for the religious state) had
been very different in the Muslim world and in Europe. In the Christian
world, theocracy had been oppression Incarnate. In the Islamic world
we do not find any such spectacle.
Throughout the entire history of Islam you cannot find one single
example of any Inquisition. And may I add that if there had been
any instance of law suppression or doing injustice in Muslim history,
this had arisen from those who believed in so called liberalism
or modernism and the object of oppression had been those who stood
for the orthodox, pristine, unadulterated and unchanged teachings
The examples can be multiplied beyond number. The entire study
of T. W. Arnold on The Preaching of Islam is a document from one
of the leading orientalists saying that Muslims definitely have
certain commitments. They have stood for them and have spread them
in the way typified by Hadrat Abu Obaida (who won the admiration
and gratitude of Christians as against the Byzantine rulers who
professed the Christian faith).
A Simple Question
Concerning the allegation that religion engenders intolerance
and fanaticism, I would like to pose a simple and logical question:
If religion had been responsible for all this, once religion was
done away with and the reign of secularism and materialism established,
should there not have been real peace and tolerance in the world
But is it really so ? What is the record of modern nations who
are never tired of talking of peace and tolerance? Can we forget
that when Paris was ringing with the slogans of liberty, equality
and fraternity what the French forces were doing in Africa and South
When the glorious democracy was taking shape in Britain, what
was being done by England and English forces in India, China, in
Latin America and in African countries?
Even today some are not prepared to tolerate those the colour
to whose skin is different from their own. They are not prepared
to tolerate those who believe in different values. They are not
prepared to tolerate those who live in other countries, or according
to their terminology, belong to different nationalities.
European soil is soaked with blood spilled in the name of nationalism
in wars over the last 150 years. In only the two world wars of the
twentieth century, more persons have been killed than in all the
wars of the nineteenth century. Is this a century of peace and tolerance
of the century of wars and intolerance, of violence and bloodshed?
But that is not the only area. The modern age has developed ingenious
ways of inflicting violence upon people. This civilisation is not
prepared to tolerate other cultures or civilisations in any form.
They have tried to force people into slavery through brute power.
if Islam was spread by force, by what was imperialism spread?
Modern civilisation has done physical torture, not in one country
but in whole areas. It is known that in Russia and Germany torture
had become the way of life and it is not unknown even to Britain
and the United States. There is psychological demolition of personalities
and a living death is inflicted. People are uprooted from their
cultures and left without values like straws in the waters..This
is done through the instruments of education and the communication
media, with the youth of the Muslim world, of African countries
and other nations.
Look to the intellectual world, As far as Islam is concerned,
up till now the modern West has not accepted to call us by our proper
name. They would call Islam, Mohammadanism, and a Muslim, a Mohammadan.
Our prophet would be called by any name-even derogatory ones.
And this you would find in their most scholarly works. In other
fields also the examples of such intellectual intolerance are not
limited. Therefore can one say that the age of secularism or irreligion
has in any way produced equity and tolerance? If not so, of what
use is the allegation that it is religion that breeds intolerance.
Specifically in the case of Islam, this allegation cannot stand.
Islam definitely has certain commitments. It is commitment which
makes a man great. Once this is said, it does not mean that we want
to force this commitment upon others, through arbitrary power or
violence. Had this been so, God Almighty was powerful enough to
turn all people to the Islamic way, but he did not.
He has revealed the truth and he has given man the opportunity
and the freedom to choose. Can you visualise any freedom greater
than this?- that you are free to accept your Creator or refuse to
accept, This is the way of Allah and once you accept this you would
find that the use of violence cannot fit into this scheme. That
is why in the Qur'an it says:
Laa ikraaha fi-d-deen. Qad tabayyana ar-rushdu min al-ghayy
There is no compulsion in religion. Wisdom has been made distinct
from the untruth.
The two roads are open and man is in a position to choose. Moreover,
in Islamic Law, acceptance of a thing under duress is void. How
can Iman (belief or faith) such a delicate thing be subjected to
this treatment. It no longer remains Iman if it is forced. Now we
are discussing the problem on a very different plane.
The animal plane on which others think over it is far below the
rational plane, the spiritual plane on which Islam discusses the
problem. The very concept of Qad tabayyana ar-rushdu min al-ghayy
is a revolutionary concept. The great Muslim commentator Imam Razi
in discussing this verse of the Qur'an says that the rationale of
the ayat-there is no compulsion in religion-lies in the following
one-wisdom is made distinct from the untruth. Once you appreciate
this you can understand what beauty lies therein.
Islam presents the concept that all human beings are equal and
we are equal because we are all creatures of God with no distinctions
of colour, race or country, or tribe or clan or anything else.
You would find that fanaticism is generated in the last analysis
either from any of these false prejudices, when you try to group
humanity into certain water-tight compartments. You cannot change
the colour of your skin, you cannot change your place of birth.
If you believe in any of these standards, then rational fusion Of
the human race is not possible and you become intolerant towards
In Islam, the rational fusion is possible for whatever tribe You
come from, from whatever race you come, whatever colour you may
have,whatever territory You might be born in, whatever language
you speak, you are one, you can be one. You belong to one family.
You are one brotherhood. Psychologically speaking, another source
from which fanaticism comes is rather an inferiority complex where
an untruth masquerades as truth, where it cannot meet its enemy
on the plane of logic and argument.
In Islam no such psychological complex is there. One Of the reasons
why the Muslim society has always been a tolerant society is because
of the confidence generated in Muslims by these values of Islam.
Ends cannot justify means
Another point is that Islam is very unique and firm in asserting
that ends cannot justify means. A source from where fanaticism and
intolerance have most often come is the mistaken belief that ends
justify means. This means that to achieve even good ends you could
resort to evil means. The principle that Islam has enunciated is
"Good and bad are not equal. Replace evil by good".
If you fight falsehood with falsehood it is falsehood which prevails.
If you replace vice with vice, it is vice which triumphs. If you
change evil by evil, it is evil which is victorious. Islam says
that evil is to be eliminated by good. If you pursue this technique
then only you would be able to fill the earth with goodness, and
justice, and peace and fellow-feeling. Islam has struck at the roots
If you reflect upon the system that Islam has given, you would
find that fanaticism has no place in it but idealism is the life
blood of it.
In the Qur'an it has been mentioned that the mission for which
this Muslim nation has been created is that you call people to goodness,
you forbid evil and bid truth and right. It is to be a message and
an offer. It is not forcing people under goodness.
In this pursuit you are to have two things: one is that you have
to meet oppression, you have to meet tyranny, you have to meet obstacles.
You have to meet those who would not allow you to operate. As far
as the wrong (munkar) is concerned, you are permitted to eliminate
it. But as far as the truth and virtue (ma'ruf) is concerned, it
is not to be enforced by power.
That is why you would find that wherever Muslims went and whatever
lands they conquered, they never forced the people to convert. What
greater example can I quote than the example of the Indo-Pakistan
sub-continent. There the Muslims ruled for 900 years and when in
1947 we had to partition it, we were in a minority. Of course during
that period I must admit that they failed also in preaching. But
that is a different matter. But they never forced others to their
own way of life. So we find that jurists and commentators have said
that using force to eliminate obstacles has been permitted, but
once this has been done, you cannot use force to make anyone accept
your religion. This is the position of Islam.
You can very easily see that Islam has clearly discriminated between
idealism and fanaticism. It has done everything to generate in us
real idealism, noble idealism, virtuous idealism, and to protect
us from the evil influences of fanaticism. The Holy Prophet (peace
be upon him) has said that Islam is a religion of the middle path
The Qur'an has called the Muslim nation 'Ummat al-Wusta'. the
people of the middle, the people who maintain balance and equilibrium
in all their affairs. Adhering to idealism, protecting yourself
and avoiding the extremes of fanaticism-this is the middle path
and it is this path which Islam invites to all humanity.
Talk given at Malaysia Hall, London, on 26th October, 1968.