The following article by Maryam Rajavi appeared on October 5, 2016, in the Saudi newspaper, Alwatan Asaudiya.
The crises of terrorism and tyranny under the name of Islam continue to confront both the Muslim and global communities as never before. In addition to the crimes continuously taking place in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the brutal killings in Nice and Normandy, France, in July, the explosion that took place next to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina on the 4th of July, the killing on June 12 in Orlando, U.S., and the March 22 killing in Brussels, capital of Belgium, confirmed the persistence of the threat that befell these and other cities around the world.
A study of these attacks in their real context, which also includes the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, will afford us more profound results: These incidents are the outcomes of a frightening and aggressive world outlook that tramples upon divine values on the pretext of defending religion. It attempts to put a veil of religious legitimacy on actions that by all accounts constitute murder and massacre. And, it portrays these actions as carrying the highest values by revering methods employed during the darkest periods of humanity.
Those who subscribe to this outlook consider themselves to be Muslims, acting as if they are the elite followers of a legitimate faith while all others, including the rest of Muslims, are complete heretics, worthy of either total domination or annihilation.
Steeped in this outlook, they allude to Quranic verses and the traditions of the Prophet of Islam, in a vain attempt to justify their actions. They masquerade as Islam an ideology that is summed up in tyranny, violence, sacrilege, inequality and misogyny. Is this really Islam or a complete perversion of it?
Coercion or Freedom?
Since the outset when Prophet Mohammad invited all to accept a single God, he told people that this would bring them salvation. God said in the Holy Quran that the Prophet had come to open the chains from people’s hands and feet.
Prior to this, Jesus had said: Love one another just as the Lord loves you.
Before him, Moses invited people to a religion that considers human beings as part of one family, describing the various peoples, ethnicities, and tribes as branches that lead back to a single source.
So, all of us, as the children of Abraham, are brothers and sisters. What is essential in relations among human beings is not retribution, tyranny and exploitation, but freedom, compassion and unity.
For a long period of time, of course, oppressive rulers and forces interpreted Quranic verses in accordance with the most reactionary schools of thought. They attached many fabricated veneers to Islam. But the true message of Islam has survived.
In the course of this conflict, two diametrically opposed versions of Islam have emerged to confront one another:
One interpretation is based on tyranny while the other Islam rests on freedom.
The first promotes compulsion and deception, while the other relies on free and conscious choice. The first looks to the past and defends laws and social relationships of the past millennia, and the other defends universal human rights and underscores freedom. The first is based on a mechanical and fundamentalist reading, while the second is based on a dynamic reading tied to the explicit sayings of the Quran and the liberating spirit of Islam.
In order to justify religious compulsion and coercion, fundamentalists claim that when choosing Islam as a faith, the scope of freedoms are limited, and after accepting Islam each Muslim must submit to the coercive measures that the fundamentalists advocate. This is while every specific action and ritual in Islam is only valid when it springs from the individual’s choice and volition. Islam teaches every follower to strive to engage in Ijtihad (adapting general laws to the contemporaneous social setting).
Islamic fundamentalists consider the initial measures of Islam, which were in the direction of abolition of oppression, violence and inequality, as permanent and fixed commandments. After 1,400 years, they insist that humanity must remain stuck in that same historical spot.
This is while Islam opened a path on which humanity could take other steps in order to realize divine compassion and true human freedom.
At a time when women were not only deprived of owning property but had absolutely no economic rights, Islam, as a first step, recognized the rights of women to own property and declared that they deserve an inheritance at least half that of men. This decree heralded an age for the abolition of inequality. The intention of it was not that women will have only half the rights of men for all eternity.
In an age of barbarity, where one tribe carried out a wholesale slaughter of another over a single murder, the monotheistic religions instituted “qisas” (retribution) as a punishment commensurate with the scope of the crime committed. This opened a path for limiting punishments and respecting the lives of families and tribes to which the accused belonged. It was not an order to unleash ruthlessness.
In the age of slavery, Islam said that many sins can be forgiven through the freeing of slaves. This was a clear course-setting measure for the gradual abolition of slavery, and nothing less.
Besides, why do the fundamentalists who ignore the true direction or course-setting actions of the Quran and still rely on its verses, continue to ignore the Quran’s explicit sayings?
In The Family of Imran, verse 7, the Quran clearly says that some verses in the holy book are Muhkamat (foundational and not subject to change) while others are Muteshabihat (allegorical). However, it says, “Then those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead, and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation.”
Muhkamat are verses relating to foundational and non-changing principles such as the oneness of God, the Day of Judgment, equality among human beings, and personal responsibility.
Muteshabihat, on the other hand, are primarily related to social and economic regulations and edicts, as well as the methods and strategies to realize humanitarian and social values. These methods are predicated on historical and geographical circumstances, always changing and evolving in proportion to the advancements and progress made in particular epochs. What is important is that 1,400 years ago, these edicts and methods were far more advanced than the methods, traditions and standards prevalent in even the most advanced societies of that age, especially in the Arabian Peninsula that saw the advent of Islam. These laws heralded a vast economic and social transformation in that historical context.
The Quran has gone even further when it comes to recognizing the changing nature of socioeconomic laws and methods. The Quran was revealed to the Prophet of Islam over the course of a 23-year period. Many of the orders revealed in the early years of Islam that were proportional to the level of progress and advancement in the Muslim community ultimately changed during the final years of revelations and the Prophet’s life. In The Cow, we read: “Whatever message We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or one like it. Knowest thou not that Allah is Possessor of power over all things?”
The Bees talks about orders that replace others. The first leader of Shiites, Imam Ali, states that the Quran says, “Some affairs were mandatory in their own times, but were annulled at a later point.”
Despite all this, fundamentalists have expropriated the Quran, committing many crimes by falsely quoting Quranic verses based on a rudimentary understanding of the holy text to advance particular political agendas while referring to views that have been fabricated through the ages.
In addition to the rulings mentioned in the Quran, other rulings, the bulk of which are the mullahs’ sharia, did not exist either during the life of the Prophet of Islam or in later years. They have rather been formulated by clerics in subsequent centuries.
Now that we know the Quran itself recognizes the termination of certain things and highlights the need to replace the old with the new, why should the rulings of clerics who lived a thousand years ago remain unchangeable? Why should Muslims not be able to critique these rulings and formulate laws and regulations that are proportional to the progress of society? Why should they follow rulings, many of which defend oppression and inequality, and are thereby un-Islamic? Truly, without a dynamic understanding of the Quran, any interpretation will inevitably be a perversion and must be firmly rejected.
The Common Beliefs of Fundamentalists
All fundamentalists, from the mullahs ruling in Tehran, who are the ideological godfathers of Daesh (ISIS), to the militias affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force in Iraq, or the Lebanese Hezbollah, Boko Haram, and Daesh, speak of Islam, but in reality they stand against the truth of Islam.
All of them – with their different names and faces – have a common belief summed up in their commitment to the reactionary Sharia and extremist implementation of it. This Sharia emerges in various forms, including religious coercion, tyrannical rule, misogyny, heresy, and rejection of moral and Islamic principles.
1. Coercive Religion – When Khomeini and his clerical clique instituted their regime by suppressing those who had brought about the 1979 revolution, they imposed their reactionary ideology by chanting the slogan “Only One Party, the Party of God.” They suppressed women by chanting “either the veil or a hit on the head.” They then proceeded to force people to comply with the rules of a coercive religion through executions, torture and intimidation.
Three decades later, when Daesh began to appear on the scene, its main slogan was “Islamic Sharia will never be implemented without a weapon.” This is while anything that is accompanied by force and compulsion is diametrically opposed to the spirit of religion, and as the Quran has itself said: “There is no compulsion in religion.”
And the rituals that are mandatory for the followers of Islam, including daily prayers and fasting, are not considered valid unless they are purposeful (to get closer to God) or voluntary.
2.The Establishment of Despotic Rule – Fundamentalists seek to establish a barbaric tyranny under the banner of Islam, referring to it with various names like the velayat-e faqih in Iran (absolute clerical rule), or the Islamic State or Caliphate. They claim that since they have risen up to implement Islamic laws, they are justified in using force and eliminating freedoms. But, tyranny is a contradiction of Islam. In the Quran, God tells his Prophet: “So remind. Thou art only one to remind.
Thou art not a warder over them —.”
Two very important documents assist us to an extent in revealing Islam’s true view regarding the behavior of rulers towards their people.
First is the letter written by Umar bin-Al-Khattab, the second Islamic Caliph (586-644), to the people of Jerusalem in 636 after Muslims won a portion of the Byzantine Empire. In the letter, Umar wrote: “This is a promise of security that Umar, the leader of Muslims, is giving to the people of Jerusalem. I hereby guarantee the security of all residents, healthy or sick, including people’s lives, property, churches, and crosses. I will not occupy or destroy their churches. Churches themselves or anything in their vicinity, crosses and properties will not be touched. No one will be able to force them to leave their land or abandon their faith. No one will be hurt. … Anyone who leaves Jerusalem will be guaranteed safety for their lives and property until they reach a secure destination. And anyone who remains in the city will be safe.”
The second is a letter from Ali bin Abitaleb, the Prophet’s son-in-law, the fourth Caliph and the first leader of Shiites (518-661), who wrote to Malik Ashtar, after appointing him as the ruler of Egypt: “Harbor compassion, good behavior, and goodness towards people. You shall never act like a rabid animal towards them thinking that devouring them is fine. There are two kinds of people: those who are your brothers in faith, and those who are humans like you in creation. … The best minister in your view should be a minister who tells you the bitter truth instead of admiring you for the words and deeds which the Lord does not accept for his friends. Improvement in the lives of the citizens must weigh more heavily in your thinking than taxing them, because taxes will not become available unless with development. So, if those who pay taxes complain about it being too heavy, give them discounts to the extent that they see improvement in their lives. Prevent your military forces from confronting the ordinary people so that their spokesperson can speak up without stuttering and without fear and concern. I have heard many times from the Prophet that no nation ever becomes clean and refined, unless the meek and the deprived can obtain their rights from those in power without stuttering, fear and concern.”
3. Terrorism and the insane craving for power under the banner of “Jihad” – What today’s fundamentalists introduce as “Jihad” or “Jihadism” is in reality nothing other than sheer terrorism and brutality. The meaning of jihad in the Quran is to rise up against injustice, something that has even been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Quran gives permission for jihad only to those who face injustices, are being murdered or forcibly exiled from their country. This means that the Quran recognizes their right to stand up against injustice. In this context, what does such a struggle have to do with the seeking of domination by the mullahs over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, or Yemen, or with the attempts by Daesh to dominate more territory and gain access to more oil fields?
In their minds, Muslims who oppose the rule of clerics or caliphs, as well as non-Muslims who refuse to surrender to them, are the primary targets of this so-called jihad.
Why do those who claim they declare jihad against the enemies of God live in peace and solidarity with Bashar Assad and Khamenei, while at the same time spraying unarmed people in concert halls or train stations with bullets?
Is it considered jihad when the mullahs ruling Iran unleash their armies in Syria to massacre hundreds of thousands of Syrian women, men and children while displacing over half the country’s population?
4. Rejection of Borders – Another common element among fundamentalists is the rejection of national borders and efforts to occupy other countries’ territories. Today, Daesh has occupied portions of Iraq and Syria under the banner of an Islamic State while calling for the occupation of other countries. But the phrase “Islamic State” was something that was mentioned over three decades ago by Khomeini in his will. He demanded the creation of “an Islamic State with free and independent republics.” In the current constitution of the Iranian regime, the government is responsible to constantly strive for “the realization of the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic World.”
In order to preserve their power in Iran, the mullahs have always tried to gain influence in other Muslim countries of the region. The Iran-Iraq war, which on the insistence of Khomeini continued for eight years and resulted in the deaths of over a million Iranians, as well as the mullahs’ current domination over parts of Iraq and Lebanon serve as examples of this policy. Such reactionary expansionism, which has occurred at the expense of the unjust shedding of the blood of innocent people accompanied by a horrendous scale of destruction, are contradictory to the teachings of Islam.
5. Misogyny and degrading women’s status – Among the other clear and predominant common features of fundamentalists is their misogyny. This is the implementation of inequality and violence against women, depriving them of their basic freedoms and rights, barring them from management and leadership roles in sociopolitical institutions, and considering them as second-class citizens, all of which occur by using Islam as the excuse. But when Islam was introduced, it played a pioneering role in opening the path of liberty and equality for women. For example, from the earliest days, hundreds of women gained prominence by swearing allegiance to the Prophet and assuming responsibilities to assist the Prophet in political, social and military matters.
The Quran highlights equality among all human beings, including women and men. The dynamism of Islam and the Quran annuls all rulings that in one way or another reject gender equality.
6. Takfir (Excommunication) – Khomeini, Daesh, and other similar entities use Takfir to suppress and eliminate opponents and especially to confront those who oppose the mullahs’ Sharia.
Khomeini’s religious decree to massacre political prisoners in Iran in 1988 is one of the most important examples of Takfir in modern history. In a handwritten order, Khomeini claimed that sympathizers of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) are not “in any way” committed to Islam and are sentenced to death in various prisons across Iran. On the basis of this order, in the span of a few months, over 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were supporters of the PMOI, were executed. But, according to the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, the spirit of Islam is intertwined with tolerance and acceptance of disagreements and differences among human beings, groups, and followers of various faiths and religions. In verse 87 of The Cow, God vociferously reprimands those who ban others, saying that they are pompous and reject one group while killing another.
7. Dogmatism with respect to secondary issues combined with neglect of humanitarian principles – One of the disgraceful beliefs of all fundamentalists, from which they do not shy away, lies in the attempt to discredit moral, humanitarian and Islamic principles to reach their own petty goals, especially in their quest to preserve power.
They are extremely fastidious, inflexible and dogmatic when it comes to secondary and inconsequential issues. At the same time, when it comes to the fundamental principles and ideals of Islam, they commit heresy and are negligent in accordance with their own interests.
Before obtaining power, Khomeini in his book entitled “The Islamic State” deemed as permissible mass killings in order to ensure the survival of the state or, as he put it, in order to “uproot many of the corrupt races that are harmful to society.” After he came to power, he also said: “The vali-e faqih (clerical ruler) can prevent prayers, fasting and Haj if he finds such prevention expedient … and to destroy the house of a believer and secure the divorce of the man’s wife.”
And as everyone witnessed, in order to preserve his rule, he continued the devastating Iran-Iraq war for eight years and left a million victims among the Iranian people.
Today, Daesh, which massacres people without a moment’s pause, is following the same example and lends no value or credence to humanitarian or moral principles.
By the way, is it not true that monotheistic religions were revealed in order to ensure the compliance of human beings with moral codes and humanitarian principles?
Were the Ten Commandments of Moses or everything that Jesus and Mohammad said not intended to contain the aggressive, greedy and oppressive tendencies of human beings in order to inaugurate a path toward freedom and the realization of individual and social ideals?
So how can fundamentalists give permission to themselves to commit all sorts of brutality and dub it Islam?
It is astonishing that fundamentalists, in all their Shiite and Sunni variants, portray themselves as defenders of Islamic and moral standards. In order to implement unjustified violence, which they falsely describe as “Islamic punishments,” they have amputated many limbs, gouged out eyes and stoned women to death with indescribable barbarity and callousness. While in this age, no one has trampled upon divine and Islamic laws more than this bunch. As the Quran says, “And of men is he whose speech about the life of this world pleases thee, and he calls Allah to witness as to that which is in his heart, yet he is the most violent of adversaries. And when he holds authority, he makes effort in the land to cause mischief in it and destroy tilth and offspring; and Allah loves not mischief.”
All this is not a mere theoretical treatise for our movement. It is the subject of a difficult struggle, which has continued for the last five decades at a heavy price that includes many lives sacrificed by the PMOI. The history of the PMOI is a history of persistent theoretical and practical rebellion against the foundations of reactionary religious ideology.
The PMOI is the oldest and largest Muslim organization in the Middle East that opposes extremist interpretations of Islam. The PMOI was founded in 1965. Ever since, it embarked on a theoretical effort to understand the truth of Islam and wipe away the dogmatic and static readings of it. The PMOI succeeded in formulating and promoting in Iranian society the credible views of Islam on freedom, human rights, social justice, gender equality, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and other matters.
The thinking proffered by PMOI founder Mohammad Hanifnejad marked a revolution in Islamic thought. He said that the true demarcation is not between believers and non-believers of God. The real demarcation line lies between those who suppress and oppress others, and those who are being suppressed and exploited.
This outlook marked a definitive and unyielding gulf between the traditional and static understanding of Islam on the one hand and the true Islam on the other. It marked an indisputable boundary between the PMOI or a democratic Islam and a reactionary Islam.
On this basis, today, we reject sectarianism and religious conflicts. We declare that the struggle is not between Shiites and Sunnis, or Muslims and Christians, or the people and culture of the Middle East against the people and culture of the West.
Yes, there is no war of civilizations. Rather, the main struggle is between tyranny and fundamentalism on the one hand, and democracy, freedom and people who seek freedom and progress on the other.
We believe that the verses of the Quran have been emphatic enough in indicating that the followers of all religions are equal in their social, political and even ideological rights. The following are a few examples:
Chapter Maida (The Table Spread), verse 69: Surely, those who have believed, and the Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians — whoso believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds, on them shall come no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Chapter Baqara (The Cow), verse 285: The Messenger believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one [of them] believeth in Allah, His angels, His books, and His messengers. “We make no distinction [they say] between one and another of His messengers.” And they say: “We hear, and we obey: [We seek] Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.”
Chapter Maida (The Table Spread), verse 46: And we caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, fulfilling that which was revealed before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel which contained guidance and light, fulfilling that which was revealed before it in the Torah, and a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing.
Correct understanding is achieved through correct action
Other steps taken by the PMOI in the context of the theoretical and ideological struggle against religious reactionary thinking are just as important.
In circumstances where traditional culture ruled over a majority in Iranian society, the PMOI, with incredible bravery, stood up to the reactionary mullahs, referenced the Quran and said that a correct understanding of Islam is dependent on one’s participation in the struggle to produce social change. And this is something that the reactionary mullahs who justify crimes committed by ruling regimes cannot do.
In contrast to the mullahs who view scientific achievements and theories like the evolution of life and society as contradictory to their reactionary understanding of Islam and the Quran, the PMOI sees these theories as conforming and complementary to the ideological and anthropological viewpoints outlined in the Quran and Islam. The PMOI considers the emergence of prophets and prominent religions like Islam as the biggest change inducers for social evolution in history.
These are among the subjects that the Iranian Resistance’s Leader Massoud Rajavi taught in the early years after the anti-monarchical revolution. At the time, the French Daily Le Monde wrote, “One of the most important events not to be missed in Tehran is the course on comparative philosophy, taught every Friday afternoon by Mr. Massoud Rajavi. Some 10,000 people present their admission cards to listen for three house to the lectures by the leader of the People’s Mojahedin on Sharif University’s lawn.”
Moreover, the PMOI embraced the theory of “Quranic dynamism,” which supplies the framework and context for a correct understanding of the Quran. Inspired by Islamic principles, this context affirms the legitimacy of secular legislation while annulling and rejecting fundamentalist Sharia laws whose special role is to enchain social freedoms.
The PMOI, inspired by the principle of free will and choice embedded in Islamic and Quranic teachings, rose up to defend the people’s freedom and sovereignty, declaring anything based on tyranny and refusal of the people’s free vote as alien to Islam. The Iranian Resistance’s initiative to call for the abolition of the death penalty, a rare example in Islamic countries, was the practical upshot of such an outlook.
In this context, the PMOI rose up against the velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule) in Iran. Paying a heavy price, they rejected the mullahs’ constitution, which has the velayat-e faqih as its pillar. They also disavowed and renounced the demagoguery of the mullahs, who claimed that they were representatives of God on earth.
The PMOI also launched a drawn out and profound struggle for gender equality. By making reference to the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet and other Islamic pioneers, they showed that denying women their rights and freedoms is contradictory to the true message of Islam. This belief has had a tangible and real impact on the structure of the resistance movement. Women have attained a decisive role in the leadership of this movement as well as in other levels of decision making.
And, ultimately, the PMOI‘s crucial trailblazing act has been the promotion of the separation of religion and state, which leaves no room for theocracy and religious discrimination. Support for this principle could not have attained the seriousness and impact that it has had if it were not a Muslim movement’s initiative. In the program of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the transitional government, Massoud Rajavi reiterated in 1981: “Scientific, philosophical and ideological facts are never decided by democratic voting, however, in the realm of political administration of the country, it is impossible to have a consensus of all the different opinions and various views in a united framework, unless everyone accepts that political legitimacy is primarily decided democratically after passing a democratic test of polling and general elections.”
Massoud Rajavi added, “We, Muslims, believe that the abolition of political and social discriminations among all citizens of a nation, does not in any way mean that we overlook the righteousness of the genuine Mohammadan Islam. On the contrary, our Islam is exactly the opposite of Khomeini’s, and does not need to prove its legitimacy and justification through coercion and compulsion. In other words, we profoundly believe that Islam’s true blossoming becomes possible when no social or political discrimination, privilege, or coercion is used.”
In defense of this principle, we have risen up against coercive religion and religious coercion. Can this principle be considered as creating limitations or introducing revisions in Islam’s fundamental ideas? No, to the contrary, it insists on the true spirit of Islam.
Do we mean that in a society liberated from dictatorship no individual or group can be active by relying on Islam? No, what we mean is that, just as a resolution adopted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran says, the ballot box reigns supreme and no privilege should be granted or taken away due to belief or lack of belief in a particular religion. This principle also guarantees freedom of religion in the sense that Muslims or followers of other faiths can freely practice their religion without facing any form of inequality whatsoever.
In a document he prepared in 633 in the city of Medina, the Prophet of Islam said: “Jews and Muslims are like one nation or people. (The only difference is that) the Jews follow their religion and the Muslims are committed to their own.”
What we are advocating is to annul and reject tyranny under the veil of religion. This is the conclusion reached from a great historical experience, which foresaw the defeat of religious dictatorship in Iran. Our goal is to overthrow the foundation of sectarianism under the guise of Shiism or Sunnism. Exploiting religion for the pursuit of power must not continue any longer.
Maryam Rajavi is the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition groups and personalities striving for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.