The state of our humanity the response of love in the aftermath of Paris

Posted on: 16 November 2015

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”[i] This love is at the heart of Islam. The Prophet ﷺ said: “None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”[ii] Sheikh Faraz Rabbani was questioned whether “brother” in this hadith means non-Muslims, and the answer he gave, as argued in Imam al-Nawawi’s own commentary, is that “brother” here means the brother or sister of humanity, not confined to lineage or faith.[iii] For Muslims, the “fraternity of men and women” and the “fraternity of religion” are completely complementary and co-existing, unrestricted by race, status, geography or creed.[iv] The proof, in one sense, is simply that the Madinan society some 1400 years ago – the example par excellence for Muslims, was forged on the very basis that despite historic confrontations and alliances for and against each other, the different tribes of Madina came together as inhabitants to share in the burden of protecting and mutual service and love to one another.

The Qur’an of course interchanges the way it addresses the reader, not simply as “Aamanu” (“believers”), but also in some cases as “Banu Adam” (“children of Adam”) whilst in other cases as “Naas” (“mankind”) and “’Alameen” (“all that exists”). The clear sense is one of plurality and choice, one that places God as the origin of everything, and the task upon the reader is to come to a clear sense of conviction in that.

It’s little wonder why you see scholars like Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi going to great effort to instil in their students the sense that if you show love to people, they will in turn love you.[v] The human heart has no choice but to accept good and to reject the bad - “Hearts are inclined to love those who do good to them,” said the Companion ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud.[vi] The reason is quite simple. It is the heart’s innate quality to desire harmony and to be at one with beauty.

Against this pivot of love that Islam teaches, it becomes utterly over-bearing and quite literally dumbfounded when we come across shocking atrocities like the massacre of innocence in the Paris attack this week. Such news immediately sinks the heart, and not just because it is so close to us. The pain of the vanquished burns deep within us and a state of unbearable sorrowfulness for what their families must be going through ushers in utter dejection. Lord help us.

By all accounts there is no justification for this kind of barbarity and ostentatious show of complete disregard for fellow human beings gunned down at near point-blank range. It is an anathema to everything about Islam. “No textual justifications for their acts can be found in the Qur’an,” explains David Dakake, “nor can one cite examples of such brutality and slaughter of innocents from the life of the Prophet or the military jihad of the early decades of Islam. The notion of a militant Islam cannot be supported by any educated reading of source materials, be they the Qur’an and its commentaries, hadith traditions, or early scholarly works.”[vii]

But sure enough this crazy thing did happen, not for the first time. Naturally, we seek rational explanations for such fanaticism, if ever there was one. Sheikh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti’s legal edict against the killing of innocent civilians mentions them as “an immature yet persuasive attempt to mask a misguided personal opinion with authority from jurisprudence, and an effort to hijack our Law.”[viii] That if you violate law and the principle at the heart of justice that “Two wrongs do not make a right”[ix] then anarchy and fanaticism will most likely prevail. What causes these fanatics to shut down normal morality is beyond us but psychological processes no doubt play their part too.

Secondly, the state of our collective inhumanity, as suggested by many independent social and political scientists, have roots in historical factors and wrongs that continue to rear their ugly head today. If we wind back to the seventeenth century, we see the continuation of a process fragmentation of Arab and Ottoman “Royal authority” into yet more dynasties, followed by the shock of imperial invasions and colonisation by Western Europeans. In turn this led to the growth of pan-Arabism, the dismantlement of what was by then a fledgling Ottoman empire, the Sikes-Picot arrangement that carved geographical straight lines as the basis of people’s identity, the accession of the Saudi Royal family – the siege of Makkah, the dispossession of the Palestinian people, and so on.

Thirdly, more recently, we’ve seen huge swathes of countries ruled by authoritarians (Saddam, Mubarak, Assad, Gaddafi etc.) who have at times been conveniently supported by Western governments. It resulted in anti-Western sentiments particularly by ideologically-minded so-called “political Islamic parties,” and militancy. Not to mention the Iraq-Iran war, and Saudi Arabia’s newfound oil wealth that financed the export of self-righteous Wahhabism/Salafism. Then came more direct factors in the two Gulf wars and their fallouts. Particularly the post-war anarchy at the hands of the US and Western allies which rather than win the hearts of minds of people, strengthened Al-Qaeda in an Age of Information, and eventually created conditions for the failed Arab Spring and the rise of Da’esh/ISIS. And today, there are so many millions seeking refuge from the carnage as the international community fails to reach a consensus.

Reading this you might be forgiven to think “What’s wrong with these people?” However, things closer to home arguably aren’t that better either. Seventeenth century Europe was when Protestants and Catholics were killing each other – you could have been killed if you didn’t pray in an Anglican Church.[x] Such intolerance was a prelude to civil wars and revolutions right across Europe. What also followed was unprecedented social, economic and demographic changes from industrialisation which had their own discontents. Industrial power itself helped repeated wars between neighbours, and enabled the hunger for imperial domination of “Otherness” and ethnocentric “human zoos.” All of this eventually culminated in the two World Wars and Nazism which killed more people than perhaps all the wars in every part of the world in the last 1000 years put together. And then of course came the Cold War, Vietnam etc. It all looks quite grim, I know.

So how do we make sense of all of this human depravity? The answer, or at least the effort and ethos, isn’t beyond us. It lies in following guidance (Qur’an and Sunnah) authoritatively. That’s the beauty of it – if you follow it authoritatively it will guide you, and if you don’t then confusion and trouble awaits. Part of that guidance is to love for your brother what you love for yourself, being in service (khidma) and showing concern (nasihah) for one another, whether male or female, nations or tribes, “so that you may come to know one another.”[xi] These things apply to all of humanity, in every space and context, whether as Muslims or not, whether as ordinary citizens or in a position of authority. We pray that it is in this spirit that, as Zafar Khan, Chair of the Luton Council of Faith, said: we will all “work even harder for peace and harmony in our world.”[xii]



[i] A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and James Washington.

[ii] See Imam Nawawi's 40 Hadith (Arba’een), hadith reported in the sahihayn of Imams Bukhari and Muslim.

[iii] See:

[iv] Muhammad Hashim Kamali, Freedom, Equality and Justice in Islam, Islamic Texts Society, 2002, p94-97.

[v] Personal notes from classes.

[vi] Statement of ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud reported by Abu Nu’aym in his Hilya al-Awliya (The Beauty of the Righteous), Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996, 4:121. From Imam Zaid Shakir – personal communication.

[vii] David Dakeke, The State we are in, edited by Aftab Malik, Amal Press, 2006, p92.

[viii] The State We Are In, edited by Aftab Malik, Amal Press, 2006. Sheikh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti’s fatwa titled Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilian. See also: open letter to Baghdadi by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah and the top Islamic scholars of the world found in; Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings‎ (2011); Sheikh Muhammad al-Ya’qubi’s Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal Of Its Religious And Ideological Foundations (2015). There is no shortage of scholarly condemnation.

[ix] Arabic transliteration: “La yaj ‘alu zulman athaaniya haqqa.”

[x]  Recusancy Act etc.

[xi] Qur’an, 49:13.


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