Taliban Destroy the Buddha Statues in Afghanistan : Does Islam Really Believe :

There is no compulsion in Religion’ (Al-Baqarah: 2:256)?


Declan O’Sullivan§



Le présent article part d’une définition détaillée du shirk comme idolâtrie. Suit une présentation de l’interprétation traditionnelle des versets du Coran sur les idoles, telle qu’on la trouve dans le tafsîr, puis une présentation des hadiths sur la tolérance.


Puis on aborde une brève discussion traitant du concept de kufr ( incroyance) en tant que polythéïsme, ainsi que du concept de djihâd à l’encontre des polythéïstes et de djihâd à l’encontre des ahl al-kitâb, les Gens du Livre, qui se conclut par une tentative de définition de la signification réelle du djihâd.


Suit une réflexion sur la destruction des statues du Bouddha, courant mars 2001, par les Talibans, dans la région de Bamiyan, en Afghanistan. On y analyse les réactions des intellectuels musulmans, tant ceux qui défendent ces actes, que ceux qui les rejètent, arguant du fait que ces actes ne suivent ni l’Islam authentique ni le message du Coran. D’autres facteurs sont évoqués: ils laissent entendre que les véritables raisons derrière cette destruction sont liées à une réaction politique des Talibans face à l’emprise occidentale, et par conséquent ne devraient pas être interprétées comme théologiques ou religieuses.


L’article conclut qu’il est important de souligner à l’égard du monde non islamique que ces actes politiques de vengeance n’ont rien à voir avec le message véritable de l’Islam et du Coran qui, au contraire, promeuvent le "compromis" et la "tolérance" envers tous les autres systèmes de croyance religieuse.




There is a need for a brief introduction to understand the terminology that is used in this area of iman (faith) and the lack of a person’s faith, through kufr (unbelief). Such a person who rejects faith in God alone, is termed as a kafir (unbeliever). As T. B. Irving defines the words :

Kufr, which means ‘disbelief’ as well as ‘ingratitude’; while a kafir,

which is the present participle of the same root, is the ungrateful pagan

or atheist who refuses to concede that God has any role within

His creation.


Mohammad Hashim Kamali, in his work Freedom of Expression in Islam, expresses the wider understanding of Kufr (unbelief) in the juristic literature. He states that the literature covering Kufr is primarily concerned with what does and does not relate to the act of Kufr. He argues that Kufr is used as "a broad term which comprises almost every variety of disbelief, polytheism (shirk), blasphemy and apostasy." He also mentions that in the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the juristic work of the ‘ulama’, the concept of Kufr has two different meanings. There is the greater Kufr, al-kufr al-akbar, which is the explicit, undeniable renunciation of faith and there is the lesser Kufr, al-kufr dun al-kufr, which is very similar to the greater form, but of less significance. The lesser form does not include blatant disbelief, but is used more as a metaphorical phrase to emphasise the gravity of such behaviour that leads to a form of transgression (fisq).


It will now be necessary to describe and analyse, in detail, the concept of the crime shirk, and the legal sentencing that is attached to those found guilty of such a crime against God.



Shirk, on a basic level, can be translated as "association." Such ‘association’ is perceived to be the fundamental error which is based in every sin or transgression. The term relates to a person who associates something of worship, together with Allah, beyond accepting God’s unity and completeness in absolute Divinity. Within monotheism, nothing else therefore, can be added to Allah, hence, nothing can be taken away. Associating artefacts or beliefs alongside Allah is considered the ultimate sin and it is argued that it is :

the only sin that God cannot forgive, because it denies Himself and prevents forgiveness : ‘God forgives not that aught should be with Him associated,

less than that He forgives to whomsoever he will. Whoso associates with

God anything, has gone astray into far error’ [4: 116]." [ italics in original text ].


T. B Irving links Shirk with the belief in Christianity of the ‘Trinity,’ together with the belief of ‘dualism,’ the latter of which covers the meanings of zindiq, in the crime of zandaqah, which will not be addressed in this paper. In defining Shirk Irving states that :

Shirk, or ‘association,’ which means giving God a partner of any sort,

so that we no longer trust in Him Alone. Christian translators of the

Qur’an often call this ‘polytheism’ or ‘idolatry,’ hoping thereby to

divert criticism from themselves, although the trinity [sic] can be

considered a variation on this theme, as can the dualism of the ancient

Persians, and the cruder forms of paganism.


Shirk can be defined, on a very basic level, as ‘polytheism,’ which is the worship of other things along with Allah. It also includes the attribution of ‘divine’ nature to these other objects, either a living creature or plant, or a planet or an inanimate object. However, it particularly implies associating some partnership with one, or more of these objects with having an equal status of worship, as that held in God. It also relates to the belief of those who feel that "the source of power, harm or blessings is from others besides Allah."


Syed Habibul Haq Nadvi also suggests that the Prophet himself emphasised on the gravity of the crime of murder, or the killing of a person with intention, with "repeated warning that this crime is next to polytheism (shirk). He warned the believers in the following words : ‘The greatest sins are to associate something or someone with Allah and to kill human beings.’ "


The sin itself, of shirk, is the name used when referring to paganism, polytheism,

defined also as "Idolatry, paganism, polytheism. Ascribing plurality to the Deity."

Pagans are labelled in plural as mushrikun (single as mushrik -- ‘those who associate’) and it is also considered as atheism in this context. Shirk is the complete opposite of surrender, Islam, (which can also be translated as ‘submission’) to Allah. Shirk is a rejection and non-acceptance of this recognition of God. Islam is based on the knowledge of the believer, which is manifested by stating the shahadah. The word shahadah derives from the verb shahida, "to observe," "to witness," "to testify," "a perceiving," "a testification." It is the First of the Five Pillars in Islam, and is considered the most important Pillar - and element - of Islamic belief, based on the Prophet’s announcement that "I have brought nothing more important than the shahadah." There are two statements within it, thus entitled the shahadatun, and is spoken by devout Muslims to express their unquestionable belief of the truth : "ashhadu an la ilaha illa-Llah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasulu-Llah " [I perceive (and bear witness) that there is no god but Allah and I perceive (and bear witness) that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah].


A reference on the respect of the use of the shahadah is mentioned by Mohammad Ibn Ishaq, within his sirat rasul Allah :

The raid of Ghalib b. ‘Abdullah al-Kalbi, the kalb of Layth, was on the

country of B. Murra in which he slew Mirdas b. Nahik, an ally of theirs

from al-Hurqa of Juhayna. Usama b. Zayd and a man of the Ansar killed

him (908). Usama b. Zayd said : ‘when I and a man of the Ansar overtook

him and attacked him with our weapons he pronounced the shahadah, but

we did not stay our hands and killed him. When he we came to the apostle

we told him what had happened and he said ‘who will absolve you, Usama,

from ignoring the confession of faith?’ I told him that the man had

pronounced the words merely to escape death; but he repeated his question

and continued to do so until I wished that I had not been a Muslim heretofore

and had only become one that day and that I had not killed the man. I asked

him to forgive me and promised that I would never kill a man who

pronounced the shahadah. He said ‘You will say it after me (after the

Prophet’s death), Usama?’ and I said I would.


Hughes has quoted from Wahhabi writers, covering their definition of shirk into four separate types. The four separate forms of shirk in this definition are :

shirk ‘l-’ilm : This form is of ascribing knowledge to others, rather than Allah. It includes the belief in soothsayers, astrologers and saints and is considered to be very

much a part of Polytheism. "All who pretend to have knowledge of hidden things,

such as fortune tellers, soothsayers and interpreters of dreams, as well as those who profess to be inspired, are all liars."


The second form is shirk ‘t-tasarruf. This form is ascribing power to others rather than Allah. Thus, in the Qur’an the relevant verse sates : "But they who take others beside Him as lords, saying ‘we only serve them that they might bring us near Allah.’ Allah will judge between them (and the Faithful) concerning that wherein they are at variance. [Sura 39 : 4]."


The second form is shirk ‘l-’ibadah. This form concerns offering worship to created things. This includes worshipping in front of shrines of saints, "prostration, bowing down, standing with folded arms, spending money in the name of an individual, fasting out of respect for his memory, proceeding to a distant shrine in a pilgrim’s garb and calling out the name of a saint" It is also wrong "to cover the grave with a sheet, to say prayers at the shrine, to kiss any particular stone, to rub the mouth and breast against the walls of the shrine." This is an extremely strict condemnation of what are common, regular practices involved when visiting tombs of saints - and also includes acts that occur during the hajj at the Mosque in Mecca. All these acts are considered, thus entitled, ishrak fi ‘l-’ibadah [association in worship].


The fourth form is shirk ‘l-’ibah, which refers to the performance of ceremonies which imply reliance on other things for support, rather than Allah. This includes what are considered superstitious customs, such as the istikharah, seeking guidance from the use of beads, together with utilising trust in omens or believing in ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ days. This form of shirk also rejects the adoption of names such as ‘Abdu ‘n-Nabi [the Slave of the Prophet]. Also, to swear by the name of the Prophet, or of ‘Ali, of the Imams or of Pirs [leaders], is to give them the accolade and respectful plateau of honour, which should only be proffered to Allah alone. This act of name ‘worship’ is deemed as ishrak fi

‘l-adab ["shirk in association"].


There is a minor difference between the four forms of shirk. The first form, shirk

‘l-’ilm, refers to belief - as in accepting the information from soothsayers or astrologers. The fourth shirk, shirk ‘l-’ibah, is more to do with ritual habits, and consulting these ‘norms’ for advice or inspiration.


In another specific analysis of the crime, there are three other forms of shirk that can be categorised as :

1 Ash-Shirk-al-Akbar, i.e. major shirk

2 Ash-Shirk-al-Asghar, i.e. minor shirk

3 Ash-Shirk-al-Khafi, i.e. inconspicuous shirk.


Within these categories, the first form, Ash-Shirk-al-Akbar, also divides into four

sub-sections which portray, in a more accurate manner, the differing array of such acts that hold certain aspects which relate to Shirk. The first sub-division of the major Shirk, is Shirk-ad-Du’a’ or ‘invocation.’ This form of Shirk involves the act of invoking, supplicating or praying to other objects deemed as ‘deities,’ other than Allah. This form of Shirk is related to in the Qur’anic verse 65, in Surah Al-‘Ankabut, 29, which reads as :


When the unbelievers embark on a ship, they call on God in His

Compassion to protect them : in all sincerity they vow obedience

if only He will bring then safely to the shore. But once they are

home and dry, and God has placed them safely on firm ground,

they begin once again to associate partners with him. (29:65)


It is important to point out that this particular translation of the Qur’an, also includes the tafsir (exegesis) within the text, as opposed to solely a translation alone from the Arabic text. It is also necessary to note that this is a translation with a Shi’a tafsir and not a Sunni hermeneutic interpretation of the Qur’an.


The second sub-division is that of Shirk-al-Niyyah wal-Iradah wal-Qasd. This form of

Shirk relates to acts of intention, undertaken with a purpose and with some determination, during either worship or other religious deeds. The worship or the deeds are presented as not directed solely towards Allah, but to the other objects that are, again, seen to be the ‘deities.’ This form of Shirk is related to both of the Qur’anic verses 15 and 16, in Surah Al-Hud, which read as :


Whoever desires the life of this world and hankers after its glitter

and its glory will find that We reward their good deeds fully while

they are on earth. They are the ones who will have nothing in the

world to come but the flames of Hellfire! The rewards they have

received for good deeds carried out while on earth will be taken

from them; those deeds will have been worthless.( 11:15-16)


The third form of the sub-divisions is that of Shirk-al-Ta’a, which covers certain aspects that include acts such as someone rendering full obedience to any other authority, rather than God alone. Acts of Shirk-al-Ta’a relate to the understanding that Jews and Christians who, in a certain manner, worshipped rabbis and monks respectively, instead of treating them in the role as religious figures. Rabbis and monks are argued to be seen by believers to be held in a much higher status than that. This form also includes the belief of worshipping the ‘Trinity,’ as placing God in two other forms, as a ‘son’ and a ‘spirit.’ This is mentioned in the Qur’anic verse 31, in Surah Al-Tawba, 9, which read as :


The original crime of the Jews and the Christians was that they

conferred on their rabbis and their popes a status akin to that of

God Himself; they preferred the teachings of their false leaders

to the commands of the Lord and obeyed them rather than Him.

They believed that Christ was more than human and they

worshipped the Holy Spirit, even though God had commanded

them to worship only him, the One true God. Exalted is He, far

above their association of other gods with him.(9:31)


This verse is also worded with added explanations to the translation, as :

All-Mighty Allah says :

They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks

to be their lords besides Allah (by obeying them in things

which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own

desires without being ordered by Allah), and (they also took as

their lord) Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews

and Christians) were commanded (in the Torah and the Gospel)

to worship none but One Ilah (God - Allah), La ilaha illa Huwa

(none has the right to be worshipped but He). Praise and glory be

to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate

(with Him).

This verse is connected to a hadith narrated by Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir, cited within Tafsir At-Tarabi, which is recorded as :

Once, while Allah’s Messenger was reciting the above Verse [sic],

‘Adi bin Hatim said, ‘O Allah’s Prophet! They do not worship them

(rabbis and monks)." Allah’s Messenger said ‘They certainly do.

They (i.e. rabbis and monks) made legal things illegal, and illegal

things legal, and they (i.e. Jews and Christians) followed them; and

by doing so they really worshiped them.


The fourth sub-division in this form of Shirk, is that of Shirk-al-Mahabbah, which implies that the presentation of love and devotion that should only be committed to God, is delivered to some other object of desire and worship. This mode of Shirk is referred to in the Qur’anic verse 165, within surah Al-Baqarah, 2, which reads as :

And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides

Allah as rivals (to Allah). They love them as they love Allah.

But those who believe, love Allah more (than anything else).

If only, those who do wrong could see, when they will see the

torment, that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is Severe

in punishment.(2:165)


The second main category of the different types of Shirk is Ash-Shirk-al-Asghar, covers the area of acts deeming to be ‘minor shirk.’ This form covers acts that are deliberately performed by a person, to ‘show-off ’ during their public display of worship or any other religious deed undertaken by them. This covers the basic act of a person’s desire to seek praise, some fame or even to the level of a ‘media-popular personality’ in reciprocation for their seemingly altruistic approach to their worship. The offense of this type of behaviour is referred to by the Qur’anic verse 110, within surah Al-Khaf, 18, which

reads as :

Say (O Muhammad) : I am only a man like you. It has been inspired

to me that your Ilah (God ) is One Ilah (God – i.e. Allah). So whoever

hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and

associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.(18:110)


Finally, the third main category of the different types of Shirk is Ash-Shirk-al-Khafi, which covers inconspicuous shirk. This title relates to believers who are "inwardly dissatisfied with the inevitable condition that has been ordained for one by Allah; conscientiously lamenting that had you done or not done such and such or had you approached such and such you would have had a better status, etc." This certain attitude in the form of shirk, is specifically referred to in a hadith, which reports the Prophet Muhammad’s own position on this condition :

The Noble Prophet Muhammad said :

Ash-Shirk-al-Khafi, in the Muslim nation, is more inconspicuous than

the creeping of black ant on black rock in the pitch-darkness of the night.’

And this inconspicuous shirk is expiated by saying thrice the following

sentences within a day and a night : ‘O Allah! I take Your refuge from

that I should ascribe anything as partner in Your worship, being conscious

of that, and I beg Your pardon for that sin which I am unaware of.’


Another view to interpreting the Qur’an is offered by Mohammad ‘Ali, by his commentary on his work The Holy Qur’an : Containing the Arabic Text With English Translation and Commentary. He translates the verse 9:12 as :

And if they break their oaths and their agreement and (openly)

revile your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief – surely

their oaths are nothing – so that they may desist.(9:12)


His commentary clearly states the view that he wishes to represent on the interpretation of this verse concerning how Muslims are advised to approach non-Muslims. He promotes the reader to :

Note, again, that those leaders of unbelief are to be fought against who

break their oaths after their agreement, and further than that, openly

revile the religion of Islam; even among these, it is the leaders who are

to be particularly punished in fighting. The subject has been made so

clear that one doubts whether lack of honesty or lack of brains is the real

defect of those who seem to think that the Qur’an is here offering the

sword or Islam as alternatives. [Italics from original text]


Mohammad Asad, in his work The Message of the Qur’an : Translated and Explained, points out that the concept of kufr (unbelief) is also related to here, in some form :

The word imam (of which a’immah is the plural) denotes not merely

a ‘leader’ but also – primarily – ‘a person who is an object of imitation

by his followers’ [Taj al’Arus] : hence, a ‘model’ or ‘exemplar,’ or

‘archetype.’ The term kufr, which usually signifies a ‘denial of [or ‘refusal

to acknowledge’] the truth,’ is rendered here as ‘faithfulness’ because it

refers, specifically, to a deliberate breaking of solemn engagements.


Mirza Tahir Ahmad, although he specifically refers to the Salman Rushdie case in this instance, states that generally, in terms of punishment for blasphemy within Islam or the rejection of devout faith as a Muslim, that :

no sane person with any real knowledge of the Holy Qur’an can agree

with Imam Khomeini that his death sentence is based on any Islamic

injunction. There is no such punishment for blasphemy in the Holy Qur’an

or in the Traditions of the holy prophet [sic] of Islam. Blasphemy against

God is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an in the following words : ‘And abuse

not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite abuse

Allah in their ignorance’ (6:109).


Further comments on this verse provided from Surah Al-An’am, 6, verse 109, suggests that the prohibition has been set that it is not acceptable to abuse or revile anything that

non-believers hold as sacred, even if they worship something in contradiction to the Tawhid (the ‘oneness’ of God). This verse suggests that while Muslims are promoted to argue against the idea of shirk, or the belief in false images, icons and idols attached alongside God, they are also not permitted to abuse or hurt the followers of such deviate worship. Another comment on 6:109 makes the prominent defense of Islam according to this verse, as "No other religion comes up to the religion of Islam in its tolerance of other religions. Here the Muslims are forbidden to abuse even the idols of other people, though their worship is condemned in the strongest terms." It is further stated that when the Prophet Muhammad overtook the command of Mecca and cleared out the Ka’ba, to obliterate the idols held within it, so as to abolish such worship, this act does not contradict the Qur’anic verse, because "to abolish the worship of idols and to abuse them are not the same." Removal of the objects is one thing, but to offer slanderous insults and hate of idol worshippers is another; and far worse.


This verse is interpreted in a similar form, by Sheikh-ul-Islam Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, in his work Tafsir-e-Usmani, where he translates the verse as :

And ye people do not abuse those whom they worship beside Allah

that they will begin to revile Allah discourteously without knowing

And thus We have decorated in the sight of every sect their deeds,

then they all will have to reach their Lord, then He will tell them what

they did. (Al-An’am, 6:108)



Tolerance in Islam of all other religions, as stated further within the Qur‘an.

The Qur’an accepts and tolerates other believers of any other faith, than Islam because, as referred to above, the word Islam in itself, explains that the worship of God only is the genuine Truth and the real path, as Islam translates as "submission," meaning total submission to God and God’s message which should only be followed. As the Qur’an states in Surah 109, entitled Kafirun (Those who Reject Faith) :

Say :O ye that reject Faith,

I worship not that which ye worship

Nor will ye worship that which I worship

And I will not worship that which ye have

Been wont to worship,

Nor will ye worship that which I worship

To you be your way and to me mine.(109:1-6)


The last sentence has also been translated by Arthur Arberry, in his translation of the Qur’an as : "To you your religion, and to me my religion!"(109:5)


The very theme that promotes it is not up to humans to control other human’s in their belief and worship systems, is also found elsewhere in the Qur’an, where it clearly indicates that God will punish those who reject Him. Two verses in Surah Gashiya, 88, read as :

Thou art not one to manage (men’s) affairs

But if they turn away and reject Allah –

Allah will punish him with a mighty punishment. (88:22-24)


The comment on verse 22, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, argues that :


The Prophet of God is sent to teach and direct people

on the way. He is not sent to force their will, or to punish

them, except in so far as he may receive authority to so do.

Punishment belongs to God alone. And punishment is certain

in the Hereafter, when true values will be restored."


A further position of tolerance stated within the Qur’an, can be found in sura Haqqa, 69 verse 11, which relates to those who are imposed upon, through arrogation, being forced to believe in a ‘religion’ that is diverse from the sole respect and worship of God alone. This form of coercion is termed as the sin of Tughyan, and is defined as :

Tughyan or ‘arrogation,’ which is the sin of refusing to trust in God

implicitly, and acting in a tyrannous or bullying manner. When water,

for instance, is arrogant, it overflows and floods us out, as happened

in the time of Noah.


The verse, 69:11, relating to the analogy factor of water concerning Noah’s experience, reads as: "We, when the water (of Noah’s Flood) overflowed beyond its limits carried you (mankind in the floating (Ark)."(69:11)


Tolerance of the Prophet Muhammad, as stated within the ahadith (Traditions).


It can be clearly identified within the recorded ahadith (Traditions), that the tolerance of the Prophet Muhammad was so vast, that he accepted any person as faithful, once they had expressed that they worship God alone. His approach to this need of accepting another’s faith in monotheism and tawhid (Oneness of God), was such that even in rather extreme circumstances, the expression of one’s Faith is emphasised to be far more important than any other actions they may have, or had, undertaken. This can be clearly seen in one particular hadith (Tradition) which defines the unquestionable value for the worship of God alone, once this faith has been verbally expressed by the person in question. The hadith goes on to state that even if a Muslim had been attacked and even had one of their hands cut off in battle with the offender, it was still to be noted that once the attacker had announced the shahadah is was enough to accept their belief in God, the acceptance of tawhid (Oneness of God). This hadith is in the collection by Al-Bukhari, narrated by al-Miqdad ibn Amr al-Kindi :


He was an ally of Banu Zuhrah who took part in the battle of Badr with

the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him), and he said, "O Allah's Messenger (peace_be_upon_him)! If I meet an unbeliever, we have a fight, he

strikes my hand with his sword and cuts it off, then takes refuge from

me under a tree, and says, 'I have surrendered to Allah (i.e. embraced

Islam),' may I kill him after he has said so?"


Allah's Messenger (peace_be_upon_him) said, "Do not kill him."

Al-Miqdad said, "But O Allah's Messenger (peace_be_upon_him)!

He had chopped off one of my hands and he said that after he had cut

it off. May I kill him?"


The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said, "Do not kill him, for if you

kill him, he will be in the position in which you were before you killed

him, and you will be in the position in which he was before he said the



The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) also said to al-Miqdad, "If a faithful

believer conceals his faith (Islam) from the disbelievers, and then when

he declares his Islam, you kill him (you will be sinful). Remember that

you were also concealing your faith (Islam) at Makkah previously."


This method of accepting a person’s belief, once it has been stated by any person, and remaining tolerant of that person’s past actions, the next hadith expresses the Prophet’s shock that a polytheist who had killed many Muslims and stated he had then converted to worship God alone, was then killed by Muslims. The prophet was so outraged, he kept repeating to those who had killed him, the question "what would you do if he approached you on Judgement Day, stating ‘there is no god but God?" This hadith is in the collection by Sahih Muslim, narrated by Jundab ibn Abdullah al-Bajali, and reads as :


Verily the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) sent a squad of the

Muslims to a tribe of the polytheists. Both armies confronted each other.

There was a man among the army of polytheists who (was such a fanatic

that), whenever he intended to kill a man from among the Muslims, he killed

him. Amongst the Muslims too was a man looking forward to (an opportunity

of) his (the polytheist's) unmindfulness. He (the narrator) said: We said that

he was Usamah ibn Zayd.


When he raised his sword, he (the soldier of the polytheists) uttered: "There is

no god but Allah," but he (Usamah ibn Zayd) killed him. When the messenger

of the glad tidings came to the Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) he asked him

(about the events of the battle) and he informed him about the man (Usamah)

and what he had done. He (the Prophet of Allah) called for him and asked him why he had killed him. He (Usamah) said: Messenger of Allah, he struck the Muslims and killed such and such of them. And he even named some of them. (He continued): I attacked him and when he saw the sword he said: There is no god but Allah.


The Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) said: Did you kill him? He (Usamah) replied in the affirmative.


He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: What would you do with: "There is no god

but Allah," if he came (before you) on the Day of Judgment? He (Usamah)

said: Messenger of Allah, beg pardon for me (from your Lord). He (the Holy Prophet) said: What would you do with: "There is no god but Allah" if he

came (before you) on the Day of Judgment?


He (the Holy Prophet) added nothing to it but continued to say: What would

you do with: "There is no god but Allah," if he came (before you) on the Day

of Judgment?


Following this theme of tolerance it can also be found in the story that relates to the very fact that God will guide everyone to true faith, and the ‘right-path,’ to live correctly. However, should they fail to follow God, in worship and submission, and should they also fail to accept and follow God’s Messengers, then in this lack of faith, they will harm nobody but themselves, and they will, least of all, harm or effect God. This hadith is in the collection by Abu Da’ud, narrated by Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, and reads as :


When the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) addressed, he would

say: Praise be to Allah, from Whom we seek help and pardon, and we seek

refuge in Allah from the evils of our souls. He whom Allah guide has no one

who can lead him astray, and he whom He leads astray has no one to guide

him. And I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and apostle. He sent him before the coming of the

last hour with truth giving good tidings and warning. He who obeys Allah and

His Apostle follows the right path; and he who disobeys them shall harm

none except himself, and he will not harm Allah in the least.


Another hadith found in the collection of Al-Bukhari again explains the shock of the Prophet on hearing the news that his Companion, Khalid ibn al-Walid, had repeatedly killed many polytheists who had expressed their denial of their previous faith and had converted. Ibn al-Walid killed them because they had not specifically mentioned that they had embraced Islam, but they had used a more general statement that they ‘had left one religion to join another,’ which he did not accept as enough confirmation. On hearing such news, the Prophet removed himself from anything that Khalid ibn al-Walid had done, as it was not the Prophet’s mission to support such killings. He witnessed the killings were meaningless, and were supported within Islam. This hadith is also found in the collection by Al-Bukhari, narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar, and reads as :


The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) sent Khalid ibn al-Walid to the

tribe of Jadhimah and Khalid invited them to Islam. They could not

express themselves by saying, "Aslamna (i.e. we have embraced Islam),"

but they started saying "Saba'na saba'na (i.e. we have come out of one

religion to another)."


Khalid kept on killing (some of) them and taking (some of) them as

captives and gave every one of us a captive, ‘till the day when Khalid

ordered that each man (i.e. Muslim soldier) should kill his captive.


I said, "By Allah, I will not kill my captive, and none of my companions

will kill his captive." When we reached the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him),

we told to him the whole story. On that, the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him)

raised both his hands and said twice, :O Allah! I am free from what Khalid

has done."


Another relevant hadith expressing the Prophet’s promotion of tolerance and acceptance of others and their differing beliefs, revolves around the tale of a woman who was found to be carrying a dagger with her. When asked why she was in possession of such a weapon, she replied that she wanted to have it with her, so she could kill any polytheist who approached her, after their conversion to Islam. She argued that they had only converted as an ‘easy solution,’ having lost a battle against the Muslims, but she believed they still they had no genuine, real faith. In reply to this assumption, the Prophet simply smiled, and replied that God is sufficient enough in protecting the faithful, and will defend them against any misconduct by the unfaithful, and informed the woman that there was no need to carry the dagger with her. This hadith can be found in the collection by Sahih Muslim, and is narrated by Anas ibn Malik. It reads as :


On the Day of Hunayn, Umm Sulayman took out a dagger she had in

her possession. AbuTalhah saw her and said: Messenger of Allah, this

is Umm Sulayman. She is holding a dagger. The Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) asked (her): Why are you holding this dagger?

She said: I took it up so that I might tear open the belly of a polytheist

who comes near me. The Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him)

began to smile (at these words).


She said: Messenger of Allah, kill all those people - other than us - whom

thou hast declared to be free (on the day of the Conquest of Mecca).

(They embraced Islam because) they were defeated at your hands (and

as such their Islam is not dependable). The Messenger of Allah (peace_

be_upon_him) said: Umm Sulayman, God is sufficient (against the

mischief of the polytheists) and He will be kind to us (so you need not

carry this dagger).


Following a review of the Qur’anic verses and the ahadith, it can now be useful to discuss the concept of kufr (unbelief) when related to polytheism and also the arguments presented for the need of a jihad against idol worshippers, and also towards jihad against ahl al-kitab (the People of the Book). The conclusion will then aim to determine whether such policies can be defended or not.


Kufr (unbelief) as Polytheism.


Both of the two recognised aspects of Kufr, the ‘thanklessness’ and that of ‘disbelief,’ obviously lead to denying the tawhid, or unquestionable Oneness of God. This has a strong connection, even an equal comparison with polytheism. Polytheism in ancient Arabia consisted in the worship of idols, and a

number of minor deities that were called sometimes the sons and

daughters of God, or more simply ‘companions’ or ‘associates’ of God.

The most usual term for this kind of polytheism is shirk; and for the

idolater mushrik, literally, ‘one who associates,’ that is, one who ascribes

partners to God. Thus, we obtain two formulas of semantic equivalence

in this province : kufr = shirk and kafir = mushrik.


Toshihiko Izutsu, in his work The Structure of the Ethical terms in the Koran : A study in Semanitcs, cites some Qur’anic verses were kufr is referred to specifically as applying to ‘associating.’ The relevant verses are from Surah Al-Na’am, 6, verse 1; Surah Yusuf, 12, verse 33 and Surah Ghafir, 40, verse 12, which he cites as :


Praise be to God who created the heavens and the earth, and put in

order the darkness and the light. Yet those who are kafirs ascribe

equals unto their Lord. (6:1)


They ascribe unto god associates (shuraka’ ). Say, Name them. Is it

that you would tell Him what He knows not in the earth? Or are they

but empty names? Nay, but their contrivance appears fair to those

who are kafirs, and thus they are kept away from [God’s] way. (12:33)


Whenever God alone was invoked, you disbelieved (kafartum), but

if others were associated [with Him], you believed. (40:12)



The main use of the term shirk in the Qur’an, can be found in the verses from Surah 6, Al-An’am, verse 100, as:


Yet they appoint the jinn as the associates [of God], though in reality

they are but His creatures, and ascribe unto Him sons and daughters,

without any knowledge. Glorified be He, and high be He exalted

above what they attribute [unto Him]. (6:100)



Dealing with the Qur’anic use of the word mushrik, Izutsu confirms that in Surah 6, verse 106, "the semantic content of the word mushrik is chiefly determined by two factors:

(1) not following divine revelations, and (2) not acknowledging the absolute Oneness

of God :

Follow thou that is revealed to thee from thy Lord. There is no god

but He. So turn away from the mushrik. (6:106)


Thus, this verse enhances the concept of using and believing the shahadah and understanding the idea of tawhid.


Izutsu states an interesting, but potentially polemic point of view, in that "from the standpoint of the thoroughgoing monotheism of Muhammad, even the Christian doctrine of Trinity constitutes glaring idolatry. And so also the deification of Jesus Christ."

He also cites two Qur’anic verses from Surah Al-Ma’ida, 5, in verses 76-77, that express the central tenets of Christianity as being unquestionable acts of the kafirs. He then explains that semantically, an understanding should be taken into consideration, that these verses belong within the category of kufr by being cases of shirk. This explanation appears explicitly within the text, as :

They surely are kafirs who say, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary.’ For

the Messiah [himself] said, ‘O children of Israel, worship God, My Lord

and your Lord. Verily, whosoever ascribes unto God associates, God shall

surely declare Paradise forbidden unto him, and the Fire shall be his

ultimate abode. The wrong-doers shall have none to help them.’ They

surely are kafirs who say, ‘God is third of Three.’ Nay, there is no god

save One God. If they desist not from saying so, there shall befall those

of them that commit such an act of kufr a painful chastisement. (5:76-77)


Assessed again, from another perspective, it can be seen that shirk can be identified as nothing more and nothing less than forgery, in the context of ‘forging against God a lie’ (iftira’ ‘ala[y] Allah al-kadhib), which is related to the moral value of sidq ‘truthfulness.’ He explains this connection as obviously, both idolatry and polytheism involve creating, out of caprice, images and beings that are meaningless. As Izutsu points out, "via this route, too, shirk connects ultimately with kufr" and he highlights this view in Surah 10, verse 69, cited as :

They say, ‘God has taken to Himself a son.’ Glorified be He! He is

Self-sufficient. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth.

You have no authority for this. Will you say about God what you do not

know? Tell them, ‘Verily, those who forge against God a lie shall never

end well.’……….We shall make them taste a harsh chastisement for that

they were kafirs. (10:69)


The use of the term kafirs in this context - i.e. kafirs equals shirk – is also used in the Qur’an in other verses, utilising the image of a euphemism, or in the use of a simile. In Surah Ar-Ra’s, 13, verse 15, and in Surah An-Nur, 24, verse 39 the concept that kafirs equals shirk compares the image of a man without water in the desert, who stretches out his hands towards a mirage of water ahead of him. The verses are cited as :

To Him alone is the prayer of truth, whilest those unto whom they pray

apart from God answer them naught. It may be compared to a man

who stretches forth his hands to water that it may come unto his mouth,

and it reaches it not. The prayer of the kafirs is to go astray. (13:15)


As for those who are kafirs, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert;

the thirsty man takes it for water, till when he comes unto it he finds it

naught, but he finds God instead, and He pays him his account. For swift

indeed is God at reckoning. (24:39)


Following this verse 39 in surah 24, the next verse, 40, provides another comparison that pictures kafirs to equal mushrik, with a man covered over by thick layers of darkness, while travelling on a vast open, abysmal sea :

Or like darkness upon an abysmal sea, covered by a wave above

which is a wave, overspread with clouds, darkness upon darkness.

When he stretches forth his hand, scarce can he see it. To whomsoever

God has given no light, for him there can be no light. (24:40)


Another simile used in the Qur’an in this context, emphasises the act of vanity is the base all of the deeds undertaken by the mushrik :

Whoso associates (yushrik, verbal form corresponding to the

participial-adjectival mushrik) with God [partners], it is as though

he has fallen from the sky and the birds snatch him away, or the

wind blows him away to a far-off place. (22:32)


Jihad against Polytheists

In his work War and Peace in the Law of Islam, Majid Khadduri discusses the argument that emphasises the position that there should be no compromise permitted towards those who fail to believe in Allah through Islam. They have to either except Islam or fight. Within the Qur’an Muslims are obliged to "fight the polytheists whenever ye may find them" (Sura 9 : 5), to "fight those who are near to you of the polytheists and let them find you in sternness" (Sura 9 : 124) and "when you have met those who misbelieve, strike off their heads until you have massacred them…." (Sura 47 : 5).


Together with the Qur’anic tafsir, this point is enhanced when based on ahadith to support such a position. A widely used hadith states that the Prophet Mohammad is reported to have declared "I am ordered to fight polytheists until they say ‘there is no god but Allah," which can be found in the collections of ahadith (Traditions) by

Al-Bukhari, Abu Da’ud, and Muslim. This full hadith in Al-Bukhari is narrated by Anas ibn Malik and reads as :


Allah's Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said, "I have been ordered

to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped

but Allah.' And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qiblah

and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be

sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally and

their reckoning will be with Allah."


Maymun ibn Siyah narrated that he asked Anas ibn Malik,

"O AbuHamzah! What makes the life and property of a person sacred?"

He replied, "Whoever says, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but

Allah,’ faces our Qiblah during the prayers, prays like us and eats our

slaughtered animal, then he is a Muslim, and has got the same rights

and obligations as other Muslims have."


All jurists, perhaps without exception, assert that polytheism and Islam cannot exist simultaneously. Polytheists who engage in shirk, must choose between Islam and war.

However, a very vital point to raise here, is the issue stated by Khadduri, that

The definition of a polytheist has not been precisely stated by any jurists.

They exclude not only Scripturaries (who believe in Allah, though not His Apostle) but also Magians (Zoroastrians) whose belief in Allah is obscure,

but they had some sort of a book.


Polytheism then, seems to be confined narrowly to paganism concerning believers with no implied concept of a supreme deity in monotheism. During the Hijaz, the principle was carried out but in some parts of Arabia, such as al-Yaman [the Republic of Yemen], some believers of Judaism – held as ahl al-kitab - were permitted to reside there. No-one was allowed to live within Arabia if they did not fit within one of the categories of either accepting Islam, converting to become believers or remained within the ahl al-kitab. After the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the Christians of Narjran were given the pledge of security, as they were considered to be dhimma, but they were required by the Caliph ‘Umar to leave for separate settlement in the Fertile Crescent.


The rules were later relaxed and made more lenient. As Khadduri mentions "at the present, Scripturaries / ahl al-kitab are forbidden from residing only in Makka." (Makka is the Arabic phonetic spelling for what has been Anglicised as Mecca). The Hanbali jurist Ibn Qudama permitted members of the Scripturaries / ahl al-kitab to travel through the Hijaz, including Makka, provided that they had no intention of settling there for residence. Also, the present practice is to forbid the Scripturaries / ahl al-kitab for entering Makka alone, which allows non-Muslims to travel anywhere else and even reside within Jidda ( the Arabic phonetic spelling for what has been Anglicised as Jeddah).


Jihad against Scripturaries / ahl al-kitab

Khadduri defines the Scripturaries or ahl al-kitab as specifically being believers of Judaism, the Sabians and the Christians who believe in Allah but, according to Muslim creed, they distorted their Scriptures and fell into Allah’s disfavour. Thus, they accept Allah but refuse to accept both His Apostle, the Prophet Mohammad and the Qur’an. On this position, the ahl al-kitab are held to be the same as the polytheists and deserve some form of punishment, but the penalties should be more reduced than that presented to the Polytheists, as they do believe in Allah. Khadduri asserts that jihad is invoked against the ahl al-kitab, but not in the same depth as it is held against the Polytheists. The latter have the limited choice between Islam or jihad, whereas the ahl al-kitab have the choice of three propositions : Islam, jizya or jihad.


Should they accept Islam, they would become entitled to be under the legal status and regarded with full citizenship, alongside the other believers in the community. If they prefer to remain within the ahl al-kitab while paying the jizya tax, they would suffer certain disabilities that reduce them to be seen as ‘second citizens’ (dhimma). However, if they ever fought the believers of Islam, they would be treated in the same manner as in the defense against the polytheists, by the Muslim community.


The real meaning of jihad.

Abdulaziz Sachedina suggests that the role of jihad is very closely related to the issue of the capital punishment sentence for the act of apostasy in Islamic law. He argues that it can be seen as a logical corollary for the Qur’anic message for obliterating ‘corruption on the earth’ and for ‘enjoining good and forbidding evil.’ In one form of implementing jihad it is defendable to use it as moral basis that does not interfere with the concept of freedom of conscience. This can be paralleled with the legitimate use of state force to maintain public order. According to Qur’anic exegetes, jihad first of all occurred in Medina when Muslims were given permission to defend themselves by fighting back with the ‘people who broke their solemn oaths,’ as cited in the Qur’an in 9:13 –

Will you not fight a people who broke their (solemn pledges) and

purposed to expel the Messenger (and did attack you first)?(9:13)


and in 4:91 –


If they withdraw not from you and offer you peace and restrain their

hands, take them and slay them wherever you come on them; against

them We have given you a clear authority. (4:91)


Sachedina states that it is not very difficult to acknowledge a strictly moral justification for the permission that is given to Muslims on retaliation with force against those who attack them. However, Sachedina refers to the comments of Fazlur Rahman, in his work Major Themes of the Qur’an, where he pointed out that, when reviewing Islamic history, it is not possible to find a consistent justification for jihad on the basis of the Qur’an. Fazlur Rahman argues that the justification for jihad would be when it is used as a "strong willed resistance to the pressure of fitna [a situation where a person is pressured by others to defect from his affiliations or retreat from his views, especially by close relatives] and retaliation in case of violence." Rahman further views jihad, when it is given in the context of Medina, as it being "an organised and total effort of the community – if necessary through war – to overcome the hurdles in the way of the spread of Islam." Sachedina continues this point by arguing that such a purpose of jihad can not contradict the enforcement of a standard of state justice, if the spread of Islam refers to the protection of the political dominance of Islam, without intruding on the freedom of religion.As can be seen in the Qur’anic verses above, Sachedina emphasises the point that the Qur’an justifies defensive jihad only. The Qur’an repeatedly refers to the hostile unbelievers who are held to be dangerous or faithless. Sachedina argues that there are many instances to be found where the actual motivation of hostility was based on the interest in expanding the control of territory. He raises the point that Muslim exegetes were aware that there was tension in between the two valid points raised in the Qur’an. There was the demand on the Muslim community to make ‘God’s will succeed’ (Qur’an 9:41) and the very clear claim of 2:256 that "No compulsion is there in Religion." la ikraha fi-l-din . Thus, if jihad is understood within the consistent Qur’anic emphasis on human desire towards unequivocal faith, then permitting the use of force against moral and civil offences cannot be seen as contradicting the ‘No compulsion’ verse. Sachedina the contrary view to this, that such an emphasis removes any doubt on the purpose of jihad. Therefore, based on the ‘No compulsion’ verse of 2:256, the jihad as a ‘holy war’ is positively there in ‘commanding the good and forbidding the evil.’ Also, the Qur’an sanctions jihad into a form where it establishes a public moral order that will protect the basic welfare of the Muslim community against both internal and external hostile enemies, such as those who actively take up war against God and His Messenger. This restriction on the limited use of jihad can be obviously seen in Surah Al-Ma'ida, 5, verse 33 :


The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Prophet,

and who rampage about the land, pillaging and plundering and spreading corruption wherever they tread, is this: death by hanging, or crucifixion,

or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or, at the very

least, exile from the land. This will be their humiliating punishment in

this world; in the world to come a greater and far more humiliating

punishment awaits them all – (5:33)


Sachedina also cites 9:13, as mentioned above, referring to those who are unbelievers breaking their oaths, therefore becoming an ever present threat to the temporal security of the Islamic state. Thus, in order for an Islamic state to promote the use of jihad and/or hudud (crimes and punishments mentioned in the Qur’an) by enforcing Shari’ah (Islamic Law), the conditions that this requires before their use, would be an open display that morals and ethics have been violated by specific incidents. This concludes to the fact that Islamic authorities, whether political or juridical, must carefully hold the burden of proof as defendable evidence. They must also be confident enough to present to the Muslim community, whom they represent, that any decision made to enforce compulsion concerning people’s religious faith, cannot be based purely on attempting to change a person’s belief - but, instead, by offering a guarantee that basic moral and civic requirements would be met and sustained, through fair play.


The paper has, so far, discussed the theoretical and theological background of the Islamic position, with the message of the Qur’anic injunctions against the polytheists and idol worshippers and also, the advice that is provided on how Muslims should treat such people of other religious affiliation. It would now be of some particular interest to discuss the recent actions by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and assess the reasons that they provided in defending their destruction of the 1,500 year old statues of Buddha. As they based their act of destruction, on the point that the statues were idols, and worshipped by pagan unbelievers, thus, it was a reprimand against the crime of shirk . However, what can be observed through an analysis of the circumstances involved surrounding these actions, it can be argued to have been more a political act of revenge against the West, rather than the defense of Islam, nor to be following any message of the Qur’an that have been discussed above.


The Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan, March 2001

The ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan, a region of Afghanistan, are considered to be idols that are worshipped and are therefore, an "insult" to Islam, as declared by the Taliban which is the Islamic ‘fundamentalist’ group, controlling Afghanistan. "The Taliban have ruled that all images and man-made idols are insulting to Islam." This can be categorised into the act of the blasphemous profanity in the offense of shirk, when one is accused of worshipping either some animate or inanimate object alongside with God, in giving that object of worship the equal divinity and deity that should be held only for God alone. Such worshippers would generally be polytheists, having a range of ‘gods’ which they worship.


In some recent news reports, the Taliban had begun the demolition of two main rock carved statues of Buddha, which were the largest of their kind in the world, standing at approximately 53 metres (125 feet) high. They were "carved into the hillside nearly 2,000 years ago," and date back to between the second and fifth centuries AD, before the coming of Islam, when Afghanistan was a centre of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage. It is also known that "Afghanistan’s early Buddhist culture, which flourished from ancient times until Arab invaders brought Islam in the 7th century, flourished along the fabled Silk Route."


The French news agency AFP, stated that Taliban fighters launched rockets, tank

shells and even fired automatic rifles, when attacking the statues. The reports were initially not confirmed, as journalists had been denied any access to the area, but they followed an announcement that was presented earlier in the week by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader. He had declared that "all graven images in the country would be destroyed." Thus, "The Taleban [sic] - a hard-line Muslim movement - has dismissed international pressure to save the statues, declaring them "idols" which are "insulting to Islam."


The international reaction was of shock, horror and saw this action as totally unacceptable. India referred to the destruction of the artefacts a "regression into mediaeval barbarism" and offered to transport all artefacts out of Afghanistan, ‘for the benefit of all mankind,’ stressing that the products would still remain the ‘treasures’ of the Afghan people.

Even Pakistan, which is one of only three countries that recognise the Taliban as legitimate rulers and acknowledge Afghanistan as an authentic state, (the other two countries being Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,) strongly criticised these actions. A statement from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry declared the need and the utter importance to maintain "the preservation of all the world’s historical, cultural and religious heritage." Countries where Buddhism is the official religion, including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand were astonished and also denounced the Taliban’s need for such destruction.


Phillip De Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York offered to pay an unlimited amount, as "the price is nominal" to obtain the statues and other artefacts, rather than see them destroyed.

On 1 March, the Afghan Information Minister, Qudratullah Jamal, confirmed that historic statues in Kabul’s museum and in the provinces of Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar were also destroyed.


The Taliban leader in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammed Omar, still defended what became a polemic and controversial order to destroy the Buddhist statues. He called on Muslims around the world to back that decision. The Taliban ambassador in Islamabad stated on 5 March, 2001, that the destruction of the statues had begun, but had been temporarily suspended, due to the three-day celebration of the Islamic festival Eid.

During a radio programme, Mullah Mohammed Omar argued that the annihilation of the statues would proceed despite such international condemnation and other protests from Islamic states.

He also claimed that people should be proud of destroying the statues, due to their representation of idol worship by pagans. He was quoted by the Voice of the Shariat radio station, as declaring that :

I ask Afghans and the world’s Muslims to use their sound wisdom…...

Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels?

Now that we are destroying false idols, the world has made a drama

out of this. The Muslims of the world, particularly Afghan Muslims,

should use their comman [sic] sense.


A special envoy from the United Nations cultural body, UNESCO, was sent to

Afghanistan in an attempt to prevent further damage and destruction, as

"according to the Taleban [sic] ambassador the statues have been one quarter destroyed by

dynamite." Access to the site of the sandstone cliffs, in Bamiyan, the location of the statues, was denied for journalists, although they were presented the information from the Taliban which equally demanded that other artefacts throughout the country would be sought and destroyed. The UN special envoy, Pierre LaFrance, held talks with the Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad in the Afghan city of Kandahar. The news agency, the Afghan Islamic Press, based in Pakistan, quoted Mr Mutawakil as describing "the issue of the statues as an internal matter which the world would eventually understand."


It is interesting to note here, that further in their defense, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashmi, a Taliban spokesman in the United States, informed the BBC that "the statues were being destroyed to retaliate for the 1992 demolition of the ancient mosque at Ayodhya in India by Hindu activists" and he argued that there was no international media coverage or any government intervention that was present on that occasion. Therefore, it seems, that the Taliban believe that the Western media operate with severe criticism, and demand the prohibition of such destruction on cultural and historical buildings, statues and artefacts, but the media reports are based on a very subjective and selective perspective. Further points on this view are discussed below, assessing the validity of such claims.


Muslim Scholars Reject the Destruction to be defended by Islam and the Qur’an

The American Muslim Council (AMC) sent out a message of concern, stating clearly that they believed these acts by the Taliban are contrary to Islam. They also were determined to make the point understood that such behaviour should not be supported by any genuinely devout Muslim, who believied in the real message of the Qur’an. The title of their information bulletin was : American Muslims Condemn Taliban Destruction of Buddhist Statues as Un-Islamic. Within this document, dated on 9 March, 2001, they confirm that such attacks had occurred against the statues, and they distanced themselves from this action, clarifying that it cannot be defended within Islam or by the Qur’an :


According to reports today, the ruling Taliban government of

Afghanistan has dynamited and completely destroyed the two

ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, despite

worldwide pleas to save them. The American Muslim Council

is deeply disturbed by the Taliban’s recent destruction of the

two ancient Buddhist statues despite offers from foreign

museums to buy them and a proposal to build a giant wall to

hide them.


American Muslim leaders nationwide have condemned the acts

of the Taliban as reprehensible, stating that their actions betray

Islam’s inherent respect for other religions and specific commands

in the Qu’ran that emphasise tolerance for all religions.


Added to this explanation that the Taliban do not represent or characterise any aspect of Islam, on any level of understanding, Dr. Ali Mazrui, the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, from the Binghamton University in America, argued that the Taliban need to recognise the real nature of Islam, in the manner it should be practiced :

Those who would like their own sacred symbols respected owe

a similar level of respect to the sacred symbols of others. The

Muslim world is therefore offended not just when an ancient

mosque is demolished in Ayodiah, India, not just when the

Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem is threatened. The Muslim world

is also offended when fellow Muslims desecrate Buddhist

monuments in Afghanistan. The Abrahamic religions share the

Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others what you would have done to

you.’ The Taliban insult Islam when they abuse Buddhism."


Further comments, on an equal level of outrage, concerning such destruction on the statues, that had been standing there even longer than the very existence of Islam, (which is now in the year 1421AH in the Islamic Calendar), Professor Sulayman Nyang, from Howard University in America raises the point that :


Neither a Muslim nor a non-Muslim has any right to deface,

deform or violate the shrines of other faith communities. Such

acts of vandalism are not condoned by Muslims and thus, it is

dangerous and unwise for any non-Muslim to construe such an

act as Islamic. The acts of the Taliban government fall into the

category of actions that are reprehensible and unacceptable.


On a similar note, another comment was presented by Professor Aziza Al-Hibri, an academic Islamic lawyer, who made reference to the age of the statues, and more so, to the unquestionable level within Islam of the complete tolerance and total compromise for all other religions. He also reiterated the point that Muslims are commanded to acknowledge and respect other religions, no matter how much pagan or idol-worship based they may be. Concerning these points, and mentioning the very reasons why such statues and artefacts still exist in Islamic countries, by being protected by the Islamic policy of tolerance and protection, he includes the Sphinx in Cairo, which remains there alongside the other statues of the ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses’ of Egyptian mythology, such as Isis and Osiris. Aziza Al-Hibri, affiliated to the T.C. Williams school of Law at the University of Richmond, declared that :

For centuries, Islam has preserved and even maintained all prior

cultural expressions, including the Egyptian Sphinx, the Persian

Persepolis, ancient houses of worship belonging to other religions,

and the pictures, images, artifacts and possessions they housed.

In fact, had it not been for Islamic protection, these structures and

artifacts may not have survived. Khalifah Umar provides an

excellent example. Upon entering Jerusalem, he prohibited the

destruction of any Christian images or places of worship.


Another view that represents the anguish held by many devout Muslims, that concerns the actions undertaken by the Taliban, and their blatant ‘hate of the others’ which their acts of destruction seems to manifest, was presented by Dr. Yahya Basha, the President of the American Muslim Council (AMC), who pronounced that :

The Taliban have done Islam a great injustice and should refrain

from any additional destruction and misguided disrespect for

other religions. It is imperative that they adhere to Islam’s order

to recognise religious pluralism and the freedom to practice

according to those beliefs.


The Real Reason’s For Taliban’s Action – All Political and Nothing Religious ?

Mohamed Elmasry, in his article ‘Remember, the Taliban are Politicians Too,’ within the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Bulletin, on Thursday, 29 March, 2001, argues that :

It is regrettable that the Taliban have irreparably damaged their

country’s cultural heritage by destroying two giant 1,500-year-old

stone statues of Buddha. But to me, as a Muslim, it is just as bad

that they used Islam as a pretext for justifying this wanton savagery

against ancient religious art.


He promotes the argument that the actions undertaken by the Taliban where that of a political methodology, in reaction to the policies provided towards Afghanistan by the West. He argues that the Taliban act in exactly the same manner as other politicians do, by seeing through their actions for the benefit of the whole community. He argues that the Taliban use Islam as their political tool, in defence for their actions. They are mainly religious students who then turned towards politics. Most of the Taliban are aged in their 20s and 30s and justify their policies by defending it in using Islam, by :

operating on the power of religion - as distinct from its truths and

teachings - they recently ordered soldiers armed with anti-aircraft

weapons to blast apart two ancient statues of Buddha. Their purge

has also expanded to ravage other statues and pre-Islamic art

throughout the territory they control - much of it as old, or older

than the 1,500-year-old figures whose demise has captured world


As he explains, the destruction of the statues was based on the pretext of these acts in accordance to the unacceptable behaviour in Islam, of shirk :

The Talibans’ justification for turning rockets, tanks and ground

explosives upon Afghanistan’s unique historic artifacts was the

premise that Islam is against the worship of idols. Their mission

is to rid the country of any reminders that it has a pre-Islamic past.


However, it is also clear that "Muslim leaders and scholars, including those in Canada, are outraged at the Taliban government’s disastrous misuse of their faith."

It is interesting to note that, based on this level of outrage, Professor Youssef

al-Qaradawi, the Dean of Religious Studies at Qatar University, led a delegation of prominent and well respected Islamic scholars to meet with the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, in Afghanistan, to emphasise the immediate urgency for their visit, demanding that the Taliban should terminate such destruction of the statues.


Following the Taliban’s rejection to any compromise that the delegation proffered, it is very interesting to note that Youssef Al-Qaradawi also presented an official fatwa (religious ruling) which declared that "Afghanistan’s statues are not idols, do not threaten Muslim beliefs, and do not contradict Islamic doctrine."


Returning to the Taliban’s role as pragmatic politicians, they are fully aware that they are rulers in one of the poorest of the ‘developing countries,’ and that they are internationally and politically isolated. Thus, they are aiming to gain support from most of the Afghani population, who suffer from the lack of education and the lack of any medical aid for their use. Mohamed Elmasry argues that the Taliban use Islam as their source, simply to gain public support for their governing policies, as :

most Afganis [sic] who practice Islam are barely literate and largely

ignorant of its teachings, and would therefore cheer them on for

destroying some ‘old statues.’ Thus, they can achieve political points

against their opponents, not only the many within Afghanistan, but

also those on the international scene.

In rejecting all international pressure and defying the UN requests that they should stop the destruction of the statues, the Taliban grew national support from their uncritical supporters. However, "As for Muslims abroad and the respected scholars who tried to convince them that this is against Islam, they have been indiscriminately labelled as hypocrites." The Taliban believe that the entire Muslim world, sitting alongside the West, have abandoned any attention and interest towards Afghanistan, once the Russian occupation had been overthrown. Elmasry suggests that : "For the Taliban, therefore, it seems that international revenge has been sweet; and religion made it convenient."


He continues, by claiming that the timing of the destruction episode was easily identified. Analysts would suggest that the attack has been induced against the U.N. sanctions enforced upon Afghanistan, which were provoked by the United States of America, following the Taliban’s refusal to extradite Osama Bin Laden. As Elmasry points out,

"The Taliban have repeatedly insisted that if the U.S.A. has evidence proving Bin Laden’s guilt, they themselves will prosecute and punish him."


However, what seems to have occurred is that, instead of offering such evidence, the United States have successfully placed pressure on the Security Council to sanction Afghanistan, in the form of a ‘collective punishment.’ This active policy has led to the inevitable results of the widespread deprivation and high death rate for the more vulnerable among the Afghani population, the young, the elderly, the ill, and the poor, who includes both Muslims and non-Muslims. "Afghanistan has a sizeable minority of Hindus and Sikhs who practice their religions freely." The sanctioning may well have been the main raison d’être for the political act of the Buddha statue destruction, in order for the Taliban to gain international attention, but it is clear that :

The reasons that Afghanistan would want to lash out at the world

for allowing its children to starve are understandable, but doing it

behind a facade of devout Islam is wholly unacceptable.

No doubt the Taliban are politicians, and should be treated as

such. Religion has tragically little to do with it.


Munir El-Kassem also presents the position of the Taliban, expressed by Syed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the Taliban ambassador, who declared that "When the world destroys the future of our children with economic sanctions, they have no right to worry about our past." Another Taliban representative also explained that the decision to destroy the Buddha statues was derived from the feeling of anger and frustration. The poverty and ill-health of the population were ignored, and the international financial aid was targeted solely on preserving such ancient objects, including the statues. As he explained :

International agencies were spending hefty amounts of money

to repair the Buddhist statues, while nothing was being done

to address the plight of Afghan children ravaged by malnutrition.

He added that the statues were tolerated for 1500 years. Now,

they had turned into a hated symbol of Western preference for

rock over Afghan lives.


The Taliban also claim the hypocrisy of the international community, especially the attacks they received from Russia, following the acts of destruction.

It is hypocritical of a country like Russia, for example, to voice its

condemnation of the Taliban over the destruction of the Buddhas.

It was reported that since the Russian invasion of 1979, ‘thousands

of Hellenistic, Persian and Indian artifacts from Afghanistan's

many-layered past have been smuggled out to the voracious and

amoral Western art market.’


If the West claims to be the guardian of ‘cultural heritage,’ there did not appear to be any condemnation following the destruction of the historical Babri Mosque in India, in 1992. The Babri Mosque, was attacked by a crowd-riot, in an attempt to ‘cleanse’ India of all Islamic shrines, palaces and artifacts. El-Kassem states that, "two-hundred million Indian Muslims were attached to the Babri Mosque, while there is not a single Buddhist living in Afghanistan." It is also a valid point he raises, when questioning : "Where were the guardians of cultural heritage when mosques, libraries, historic buildings, and museums were destroyed in Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestine?"


Also, he raises the point that "over 3000 Cambodian Buddhist temples were destroyed in bombings by the U.S. and the Pol Pot regime during the Indochina War." And further declares that :

The ‘culturally advanced’ U.S. sent 24 American long-range

missiles streaking over Pakistani air space and destroyed the

beautiful "people’s mosque" in Afghanistan while attempting

to murder Osama Bin Laden. Many innocent worshippers were

killed in the process. This mosque, though not towering like the

Buddha statues, or as imposing as the Pharaonic pyramids of

Egypt, was not built by slave labour.


However, El-Kassem does clarify that it is not the aim to attack the West, by defending the Taliban acts of destruction, simply because of similar historical events that other countries have equally undertaken. He reiterates the remarks made by the Pakistani Mufti, and also quotes from the Qur’anic verse that stimulates the compromise of Islam towards the believers of all other faiths. As he declares :

The point of my article is not to justify the destruction of statues

in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, I seem to agree with the Grand

Mufti of Pakistan who said, ‘there could be disagreement among

the scholars regarding the priorities and the methods. Some might

question whether the action (destroying the statues) would alienate

the Buddhist nations in Southeast Asia at a critical time for

Afghanistan.’ The Qur'an tells us, ‘We have not set you as a keeper

over them, nor are you responsible for them. Abuse not those whom

they worship besides God, lest they out of spite abuse God in their



The verse cited here is from Surah Al-An’am, 6, verse 107, which, in the translation of the Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, reads as :

If it had been Allah’s plan, they would not have taken false gods:

but We made thee not one to watch over their doings, nor art thou

set over them to dispose of their affairs.


El-Kassem further promotes the message of the Qur’an, which clearly demands that Muslims should carry the message of God to all humanity, and highlights the prohibition of enforcing people to accept Islam, together with the deterrence of Muslims to destroy other people’s sacred symbols and their places of worship. El-Kassem concludes that :

However, as mentioned earlier, what the Taliban did in Afghanistan

was not triggered by contempt towards another religion, but rather,

by the hypocrisy of some members of the world community. Justice

demands that condemnation should not only be directed at the weak,

but also at the strong.


Therefore, it can fairly be argued that, as Haroon Siddiqui, suggests :

So it wasn't theology, after all, that made the Taleban smash the

Buddhas of Bamiyan, but rather rage at the world for offering

money and expertise to save the statues but not for the people

dying daily throughout drought-stricken Afghanistan.


Sayyid Rahmatullah Hashemi is an Afghan envoy touring the United States, who declared that the rationale behind the statue’s destruction, can only be interpreted as a political, rather than religious factor. He argues that :

Seven hundred of our children died a month ago because of

malnutrition and the severe cold weather, and the world did

not care, but now everybody talks about the statues! When

your children are dying in front of your eyes, you don't care

about statues.


During his presentation at the University of Southern California, and in an interview he had given with the New York Times newspaper, he declared what had actually prompted the Taliban ‘clerical hierarchy’ to destroy the statues. The act of attacking the Buddha statues was an immediate reaction to a visit in February 2001, by a delegation of European and UNESCO envoys, who had offered money and expertise to save, restore, or even move the artifacts into museums, away from Afghanistan. The Taliban had requested that the aid money would be far more beneficial if it was spent on food, medicine and the education system. How the UNESCO envoys responded to that request, is describes here by Sayyid Rahmatullah Hashemi :

The (Taliban) scholars told them (the UNESCO envoys) that

instead of spending money on statues, why didn't they help

our children who are dying of malnutrition? They rejected

that, saying, ‘This money is only for the statues’ (because of

the American-led, United Nations imposed economic sanctions).

That made our people very angry…..….…..They said, ‘If you

don’t care about our children, then we are going to blow up

those statues.’ I know it is not rational or logical to blow up

statues in retaliation for economic sanctions. But if the world

is killing our children and destroying our future, they have no

right to worry about our past.


Conclusion of the Taliban’s Destruction Campaign

The genuine authenticity of such a destructive nature, must be strongly questioned if it is defended as being an integral part of Islam. Having stated above, the clear contrary message can be found in the Qur’an and the ahadith (Traditions). There is also one more necessary consideration for the Taliban leadership to assess, together with every member amongst the Afghani population who supported these acts. Some very basic facts also contradict these acts. It is clear that if the statues are nearly 1,500-2,000 years old, then they were there built several hundred years before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, they existed through his entire life time, and were still standing there 1,422 years after Islam was revealed to him (as it is now 1422AH in the Islamic calendar, as it is 2001AD in the Christian calendar). Surely then, if the Prophet Muhammad both defended Islam and promoted Islam and advised other believers not to attack these clear manifestations of idol worship, then why are they being destroyed now?


The information presented above suggest that it cannot be found in any verse of the Qur’an by either clear support, nor through even a subtle indication, that Muslims should damage or destroy another place of worship, that is used for another manner of belief, or for different methods, by worshipping idols. As has been shown, the actual message of the Qur’an specifically represents the complete opposite view – as it prohibits any other behaviour by Muslims beyond utter tolerance, and even the acceptance of the polytheists and their act of idol-worship. It also declares that in natural death, the pagan’s will meet with God on Judgement Day, and they will have to explain their reasons for why they held consistent disbelief in God, and also why they rejected faith, and why they had engaged in Shirk , denying monotheism.


The Qur’an informs Muslims that when the pagan idol worshipper finally meets with God, if they still refuse to repent, and still refuse to recant the idol worship, and should they still refuse to accept faith in God’s tawhid (Oneness), then the fault is theirs, and they are the losers. The Qur’an declares that it is God alone who will punish the sinners for refusing to have followed the ‘right path’ that He had shown them. It is also stated quite clearly in the Qur’an, that no human being has the right to accuse another of kufr (unbelief), and certainly not to impose Islam upon the disbelievers through any coercion.


Therefore, if the Taliban wish to promote their reaction to the West in the manner in which they did it, by destroying such objects of other religions, they should then perhaps, have stated their policy to be an act of political revenge. They should not have based their destruction to be the genuine ‘message of Islam.’ A defense as this is wrong theologically, in itself, but it will also incite the West to harden their animosity even more, and encourage the hostility against a religion the West does not understand, and the knowledge of Islamic ‘faith’ (iman) it also knows nothing about.