The use of force
Islam as a religion that is comprehensive in its prescriptions and proscriptions also gives rulings as to when the use of force is justified. Primarily this is of importance when considering war and peace.
Firstly Jihad does not mean Holy War rather it means to strive for something. This striving may take the form of fighting (qital) or it may take a myriad of other forms including writing, working in a field or going on pilgrimage.
Islam permits war in self-defence and in removing oppression. The primary meaning of oppression is the denial of the right to life and/ or property and / or freedom of religion.
All the battles that took place during the Prophets lifetime, under the guidance of the Quran and the Prophet, have been surveyed and it has been shown that they were for no other justification than for self-defence or pre-empting an imminent attack. For more than ten years in Makkah, Muslims were persecuted, but before permission was given to fight they were instructed to restrain themselves (4:77) and endure with patience and fortitude:
There are restrictions on who should be fought and civilians are not a legitimate target. Also a 'scorched earth' strategy is against Islamic teachings. A key restriction is that there should be reasonable prospects of success. Further, if the enemy fighting the Muslims offers peace then the Muslims should accept.
Surah 8:Verse 61-2
And if they incline to peace, do so and put your trust in Allah. Even if they intend to deceive you, remember that Allah is sufficient for you.
Today the image of Islam that is put out by Hollywood is of mad Muslim terrorists.
Terrorism means bringing terror to a population, as such it is totally unislamic. It is unislamic because it brings about an extreme fear of people. To have such an intention has nothing to do with Islam. In Islam Muslims seek to instil in people a fear3 of God only and NOT of people.
There are some who hate that people should fear God only. They set themselves up as enemies of God and the Muslims. They may try to force people to fear something else. By doing so they are themselves at least mild terrorists. If they do so then Muslims have a duty to oppose this force - with force if necessary and if it will be effective and decisive. In this way only those who are themselves 'terrorist' have cause to fear the use of force by Muslims.
It is the complete incompatibility of only fearing God, with fear of people, which is referred to in
Surah 2 Verse 256
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out Clear from Error: whoever Rejects Evil and Believes In Allah hath grasped The Most trustworthy Handhold that never breaks.
The ignorant or the liars may stand up proclaiming that there is such a thing as an Islamic terrorist. There isn't. The Muslims don't want you to fear them. They only hope that you will learn to fear Allah, and to fear only Allah.
This is all very fine, but what about the various organisations that do terrorist acts and claim to do so in the name of Islam? Well, in Algeria what is actually happening is almost certainly the responsibility of the government and so what has been attributed to "Islamic Militants" is actually a complete lie. In Egypt where there were recently attacks against tourists the groups was a splinter group of a splinter group and was therefore potentially influenced by the same forces that instigate the violence in Algeria. They were teenage boys with a great deal of anger about the torture and oppression that the Egyptian government was responsible for. They were also out of control of any mainstream Islamic movement and quite ignorant of Islam's teachings. Their actions stand condemned in the light of Islam. Israel is another and quite different case. The only justification I have heard for the attacks there is that every Israeli citizen is a fully trained soldier and as such part of an occupying army- they are therefore legitimate targets. I am not sure how true this is, but in any case they are pushing the law to its limits by targeting "civilian" areas even if the civilians are in reality fully trained soldiers.
Internal Law and Order
Force is necessarily used to implement justice internal to the state. This may take many forms depending on the crime.
If people violate the rights of others, the victims of those violations have a right to take 'an eye for an eye', or 'a tooth for a tooth' or whatever compensation the transgressor is willing to give. However, it is more virtuous for the victim to forgive and forget, by such action God forgives and forgets some of the sins of the victim.
If the victims choose to claim their right, the state has a duty to enforce their claim. This is not barbaric; it is justice. Currently legal systems in the West consider many crimes, including the crime of murder, to be "crimes against society" and so the families of the victims get no say in the punishment and no compensation is given them in any form except perhaps some kind of satisfaction in seeing punishment being meted out to the criminal.
In Islam the victims have the right to demand retaliation like for like. This is nothing more than granting full rights to the victim. Physical punishments can, therefore, be just. They can also be a better deterrent to crime and they are more equal towards the transgressors than fines (which the rich don't feel as much as the poor) or imprisonment (which also punishes the taxpayers, the family and rarely reforms the criminal's character).
There are certain punishments for particular crimes prescribed by Islam. For example, to cut off the hand of the thief. These are to be understood as only applying under conditions where there is no excuse for the crime (e.g. hunger and poverty are a possible excuses for theft) and act primarily as a deterrent. They are called collectively the "hudud" punishments. This literally means the limits. They are limits that no one should transgress and which if transgressed are strongly punished.
Islam also allows the use of force to a limited extent within a family, for example to discipline children. However, the example of the prophet in all these cases is the guide to follow. He never hit his wife and he never hit any child - if we were all as wise as he was in matters of moral guidance, then we would be able to guide our spouses and children likewise and never need to resort to even a token use of force.
3 Actually the word is taqwa which is only very poorly translated as fear. It means a state of being conscious of God so that you take heed and obey His guidance. This may be through a combination of fear, admiration, love, gratitude etc.,.