Haylamaz: Real Islam should be sought by looking at the Prophet Muhammad’s life

Reşit Haylamaz
Reşit Haylamaz

Date posted: February 28, 2015


Efforts to associate Islam with terrorism in the west are not new.

It is evident that Islamophobia has been on the rise subsequent to the Sept.11 attacks. A recent act of violence was seen in Paris where 12 people were murdered in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine. This massacre, committed in the heart of the country, was referred to as France’s Sept. 11, which also triggered discussions on the phenomenon of so-called Islamic terror. During this time, Islam has also become a matter of discussion. Some writers and columnists in Turkey also spoke out, asking where the real Muslims are and what real Islam is. The Muslim world has been suffering from constant violence and bloodshed. And Muslims also face serious difficulties because of the groups and organizations who promote the association of Islam with terror, including al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). How does this happen? What is the basis of terror? What is the solution? We asked all these questions to Reşit Haylamaz.

In recent years, a question has been raised, namely what is real Islam? Is this a proper question?

Yes it is. Prophet Muhammad refers to Islam as the religion that he and his companions promote. So he attracts attention to the Quran, sunnah and the righteous caliphs. We call the era where Islam was practiced well the age of happiness. This is the age where Prophet Muhammad talked directly to the people. There have been problems in subsequent ages after that.

What is the problem?

It is not possible for us to get to the truth if we employ the angle adopted in later ages. Political ambitions and personal priorities and interests have been determinative in the ages after the era of the righteous caliphs.

Would the Quran alone not be sufficient?

It is our prophet who interprets the Quran for us by using his life. In this respect, he is the practical form of the Quran. He led a life based on what Allah ordered him to do. If you take his life out of that context, everybody will have a different perception, and then we fail to look at the Quran from an integrated perspective, because if we leave the prophet out, people may feel that they can comment on the verses however they want. And in the absence of a methodology and a culture of reasoning, the comments take on a personal dimension. For instance, the verses on the law of armed conflict are not supposed to cover all aspects of life. They just refer to the expressions allowing killing. So they just conclude that Islam legitimizes killing. They fail to consider the whole context. In this respect, we can also recall the hadith stating that paradise is “under the shadows of swords.” But many do not consider the expression preceding this hadith. In this case, Prophet Muhammad said: “O people, do not wish to confront your enemies. Ask for forgiveness. But if you have to fight your enemies, be patient, because heaven is under the shadows of swords.” So quoting one part of the hadith may lead to misunderstandings and misreading of Islam.

When did this flawed approach start?

If you fail to look at Quran and Islam from an integrated perspective, you could fail to make sound comments. And we see this happen very frequently. This is not the first time this problem has been observed. It first emerges right after the killing of Caliph Omar. And there is also another incident in the time of the prophet.

Which incident?

The incident of Ji’rane… Prophet Muhammad, using the portions of the spoils reserved to him, gave away presents and money to those who were familiar with Islam. These were mostly leading figures in Mecca who recently converted into Islam after the conquest of Mecca. But the Ansar, as well as senior Muslims, were not given the same amount of goods and monies because they were not following Islam because of material goods and treasures. But this move raised some objections. Some even questioned the prophet and his decisions. A man, Zul Huvesiyra, objected to the prophet, arguing that this was not a just distribution. And he further accused the Prophet of not observing justice. The prophet says, “If not me, who else could be just?” Some of the companions wanted to kill the man right there. But the prophet said, “Leave him alone because there will be some people in the future who will have extensive knowledge on religious matters and who will pay utmost attention to the Quran; but they will fail to understand and they will move away from this religion pretty fast.”

Going back to the first question, when did the detachment from the original source start?

When Caliph Omar was martyred, a group known as the Haruris emerged. And this group later turned into Khawarij. They represented a raw interpretation of religion, employing a black and white interpretation with no gray areas. And today there are many groups and people like them, acting as if a small portion of the religion could be expanded to cover all aspects of Islam. They call Ali and Omar infidels. And they simply believe that you do not have the right to life if you do not think like them. And we see similar examples today. They all have come to this point of extremism by leaving the prophet out of the picture. However, the prophet’s stance has always been towards preservation of life. Killing and violence were never a priority for the prophet.

Were there not any incidents of killing?

Of course. There was an incident in Badr. Up till that battle, violence was not allowed even for defense purposes. Then a verse was revealed and Muslims were allowed to fight back. Up till then, Muslims never responded to violence by the infidels. There are many examples of this stance. In cases of brutalities, many of the Prophet’s companions wanted to respond, but Prophet Muhammad told them not to. So at a time when the people of Mecca were brutal to Muslims, the Prophet did not allow a violent response. Prophet Muhammad did not allow violence even against those who insulted him. However, we make frequent references to his battles, Badr, Uhud and Hunain.

Why is that?

This goes back to the era of jahiliyya [ignorance]. Poetry was so strong back then. And poets had two subjects they wrote poetry about: heroism and generosity. Islam was communicated to this community. Heroism was an important value of this society. These people were the receivers of the message of Islam. Nothing happened until Badr. But then a battle was fought after 15 years. The companions were heroic in the battle. And these people who inherited this culture of heroism focused on heroism and heroic action. So compassion and mercy were overshadowed by heroism. The Prophet’s stance should be sought in the details.

What is the reason for the depiction of history from this angle?

Nearly 95 percent of the books on the history of Islam narrate the battles. So we have failed to get a balanced account of Prophet Muhammad in these books. The battles have always been at the center of the narrative. And even today, we just refer to the Prophet’s place and date of birth, his migration to Medina and then swiftly move to the battles. So the main body of the narrative is the battles. In fact, there is a very rich collection of hadiths. But we failed to use this collection effectively in narrating his life.

Have you published on this subject? You called one of your books on the prophet, “The Prophet of Compassion.”

As the Association of the Prophetic Path, we work on this matter. Muhammad served as a prophet for 8,000 days. We assembled a team to review all these days by reliance on Islamic sources. We have a very rich intellectual memory. But we failed to use it so far. It is out there waiting for exploration.

So what did you see when you looked at these 8,000 days?

Despite the fact that Prophet Muhammad is the most cited person in the history of mankind, not his all movements and actions are covered in books for many reasons. For instance, we do not have extensive knowledge on the Mecca era. In this study, it seems that we will be able to uncover two-thirds of these 8,000 days. If this perspective is not employed, you may get the impression that Prophet Muhammad spent his life in battles. However, the battles and violent confrontations make up only a very small portion of this life. For instance, the Battle of Badr started on Saturday and lasted three hours. There are many other incidents overshadowed by battles. And besides, in these battles, Prophet Muhammad set the principles of the law of warfare, which are still applicable. Under these principles, Muslim fighters are not allowed to harm children, women, elderly, residential areas and animals. They are only allowed to fight against their enemy combatants.

And there is this violent organization, he Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which beheads people. Then they show images of these vicious crimes. The world blames Islam for this. Why do not we see any strong reaction to this brutality?

Before answering your question, let me clarify something. What Prophet Muhammad says is not utopic, but realistic. In the Battle of Hunain, Malik b. Avf assembled a huge army to attack Mecca. Prophet Muhammad confronted this army outside the city; Malik b. Avf brought treasures, women and children with him because he thought that the fighters would do a better job in the battle. During the war, some of the companions attempted to attack the women and children, but the Prophet stopped them, recalling his orders not to kill women and children.

One of the companions asked: “Are not they the sons and daughters of infidels?” The Prophet replied: “Are not the best of you sons and daughters of infidels as well?” This question states that if killing were the main goal, everybody would deserve to die. So we need to raise and promote this message. Not a single child or woman was ever killed in the battles Prophet Muhammad fought.

What is the total amount of time Prophet Muhammad spent in the battles?

The total amount of active battle time was 13 hours, and if you consider the total amount of time when battle was the main discussion, then it was not more than a year. So where are the remaining 22 years? A book entitled “Sacred Trusts” was published. These trusts (or personal items of Prophet Muhammad) included his sword, arrow and spear. In a preface he wrote for this book, Fethullah Gülen referred to the sword as an item he carried with him throughout his life that had no stain of blood. When I first read it, I was surprised. I read it a lot of times. Since then, when I look at the sources, I keep this statement in mind. There was no stain of blood on the sword of Prophet Muhammad. He made a move against Ubay b. Halef not to kill him but to abort his fatal move, so even when he was entitled to kill, he did not kill anybody.

But in practice, we do not see the same state of sensitivity.

Things started to change after Caliph Omar. Caliph Osman was also martyred and there were other factors that contributed to turmoil and anarchy. Some wanted to use Ali as a shield. And the argument they relied on was once again political. They argued that Ali was entitled to become a caliph in the first place. Ali punished them but they presented this punishment as evidence for the validity of their argument. Some of them even called him a god. Muslims had other bitter experiences as well, including the Battle of Sıffin and the Battle of Jamal, and then the era of the sultanate kicks off. There is little information on the mode of governance in the Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad. Customs and local priorities are considered determinative in this matter.

If we look at the Quran, what do we see on this matter?

The Quran first deals with man. Take a look at those who raise a radical discourse and you will see little practice and bold religious discourse. But religiosity is determined and measured by practice. Radicalism is not observed in the acts of a man who truly practices his religion. Nobody would be able to refer to any shred of radicalism in the life of Prophet Muhammad.

We see in the history of Islam that there are fights for power. Blood was spilled. How should we read this?

Power corrupts. This has been the case throughout the history. If balance is not maintained between power and justice, persecution becomes almost inevitable. In the era when great Islamic scholars were respected, reference was made to the past. Because the traces and lectures of the era of happiness were still fresh, persecution and violence was minimized. If you see some major books of invocation, you will see that most great scholars fear persecution by the sultans. A number of great scholars and thinkers including Abu Hanifa, Abu Shafi and Imam Rabbani became targets of the rulers.

The notion of Islamic terror was invented and there are cases supporting this argument including al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who commit terrorism in the name of Islam.

At this point, we need to pause and think for a moment. There are different perceptions of Islam. There is no common culture. If we look at the general overview, we see that we experience a different strand of Islam in the world. This is a religion shaped by customs and traditions, and the reaction staged in the name of Islam is shaped and affected by customs, not the Quran or hadiths. Of course, there are cases of brutalities that trigger this. This persecution and injustice make the people furious. It is easy to manipulate this fury and this is exactly what is being done today. Unfortunately, some chronic issues like Palestine are kept alive. Palestine and the status of Jerusalem are important issues but our world was unable to pay attention to any other place. It appears that we do not want to resolve these problems but want to use them as domestic political matters. If you are not walking the prophet’s path, then you cannot solve the problems. We are unable to focus on common problems and identify an agreed upon roadmap.

Why is the Muslim world unable to work out its problems?

Well, there is no Muslim world. There are geographies where people practice their religion individually. And these countries have circumstances that can produce terror. Mohamed Said Ramadan Al-Bouti worked tirelessly in Syria to prevent this. But he was martyred, and what came after proved him right. Now the West negotiates with Assad.

You cited al-Bouti as an example. Why do we not see strong objections to terror in Muslim countries?

When he raised his voice, al-Bouti was silenced. Sadly, we are driven by our emotions rather than reason. And thus, raising your voice requires courage. You know that Fethullah Gülen made the strongest statement on terror. He said a terrorist cannot be Muslim and a Muslim cannot be a terrorist. It is not that easy to make this statement because when you do this, you become the target of terror and your people do as well. There has been no concerted effort in the Muslim world to deal with this matter.

There were individual efforts; their impact, however, was limited. However, almost every Muslim country has a specific department on religious affairs. They could have done something, but they did not. These institutions, which were set up to solve problems, just contributed to the agenda of political Islam.

We have experienced painful events for which we should question ourselves. Maybe these developments need to take place so that we can start a process of purification. On the other hand, an Islamic identity that is able to integrate with society has also emerged. The Hizmet movement proved that it is possible to attain peaceful coexistence in the world. Islam is being questioned with references to bad examples. We need good examples.

People are saying, “That is all fine, but ISIS and al-Qaeda make references to Islam, so it does not matter when you say that a Muslim cannot be terrorist.” How does ISIS make reference to Islam?

Those who make these arguments are trying to use Islam and the Quran for their wicked causes. They fail to look at Islam in an integrated fashion. In essence, we are dealing with an approach that excludes the Prophet and the companions, and people feel free to interpret the Quran however they want. We need a criterion or measurement to prove our point. The Prophet speaks about that criterion: the religion he and his companions promoted.

I am telling you that there is no single endorsement of violence in the whole life of the Prophet Muhammad. For instance, when something bad happened, some of the companions wanted to kill the perpetrators. But the Prophet Muhammad did not let them do this. So, if you only look at the reaction of the companions, you will be deceived.

How is that?

We have the case of Hudaybiyyah. The companions were unable to internalize this agreement. In brief, the Prophet Muhammad wanted to avoid violent confrontation, and for this reason, he consented to an agreement that was not seen as favorable by the companions. We narrate Hudaybiyyah as a battle. At first, it seemed like a retreat. But radicalism sought an immediate outcome.

So the overall sketch you present in this interview resembles Muhammad Iqbal’s statement: “Escape Muslims, seek refuge in Islam.”

There is nothing we cannot solve by practice. But we have failed here. This is what the Hizmet movement is trying to do.

Some characterize this movement as moderate Islam. Some also argue that this method would not work given that Muslims are repressed all over the world. Is this moderate Islam?

There is nothing we can do with radicalism. When you try to resolve a problem with brute force, others will respond with similar means. The reason the Prophet Muhammad ruled out violence was to resolve problems and not to carry problems into the future. And he resolved problems. There was nobody who was against him in Mecca.

What would you say about the failure of Muslims to read a lot, given that the first command in the Quran is “read”?

In a sermon Said Nursi delivered in Damascus he made some statements about Muslim countries. He referred to three major problems in that sermon: illiteracy, poverty and disagreement. We still suffer from the same problems.

The mission to deliver the message of Islam

The goal of the Prophet Muhammad was to reach out to people. He delivered his message to everybody regardless of whether or not he was welcomed. We indicated that it is a mission to take this message to the remotest parts of the world, so we need to clarify our intentions and goals. I see that there is no group or school seeking to carry the beauty of Islam to the entire world. There are individual groups in some countries. But we have a goal and a mission. Being elected is a very small goal. The Muslim world is focused on Jerusalem. If we do such a thing, we limit ourselves to local goals.

Our prophet is a prophet of peace

Jihad is performed in the name of Allah. But jihad is associated with the sword and violence. War is a fact of humankind. There has always been war in history. Even if you do not want to fight, you will have to go to war. In such a case, you need to fight for your values and that which is sacred.
Our Prophet says if you are killed defending these values, you will be considered a martyr. Does jihad mean brute violence? Again, we must look at the life of the Prophet. Islam has nothing to do with war or violence. The Prophet Muhammad has always favored peace and serenity, even in the most delicate moments, and acted reasonably rather than emotionally. Those who fail to read Islam from this integrated perspective will be misled.


An author and expert in teology, Reşit Haylamaz graduated from Uludağ University’s Faculty of Teology. Taking his master degree from the same university’s Islamic Law department, Haylamaz attended PhD program at Tafsir field [explanation and interpretation of Qur’an] at Sakarya University’s Social Science Institute. Being worked at different newspapers, TV channels, radio stations for years, Haylamaz currently assumes the editor-in-chief of Kültür Media Group, which contains 24 publishing house, 11 periodical magazine.

Source: Today's Zaman , February 28, 2015

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