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Nonviolent Intifadas – How the Media Lies to Us about Islamic Uprisings

Nonviolent Intifadas - How the Media Lies to Us about Islamic Uprisings

I was beginning my senior year of college when one morning I woke up to the events of 9/11. I remember that morning as I walked into the living room of my apartment and saw my roommates glued to the television screen as they watched the news of that terrifying morning unfold.

The trauma of that horrific event had our culture asking questions about life, violence, religion, and especially Islam. 

Was Islam inherently violent? Was the Qur’an an inspiration for this kind of terrorist attack? 

Many anti-Islamic forces are asking the same questions today and coming up with the wrong answers. For example, many who are protesting the Israeli Government’s bombing of Gaza are chanting the word “Intifada.” News outlets are claiming that “intifada” is a call to Islamic violence. But that is not necessarily the case. Intifada means “uprising.” The media’s absolute connection of intifada with violence betrays the fact that there have been many nonviolent intifadas, including the Arab Spring, which was celebrated for its many nonviolent protests.

Almost all of the current protests in support of Palestine have been nonviolent. But the demands for nonviolent protests are a convenient way to deflect from the violence of Israel’s government, which has now killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. Some people are condemning protestors for damaging buildings. Many of those same people support the Israeli Government’s demolition of Palestinian colleges, hospitals, schools, and homes, not to mention the murder of multiple thousands of Palestinian civilians. 

My goal in this article is to show you another important example of a nonviolent intifada. This uprising was led by a Muslim named Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Here is a brief introduction to his life’s pursuit of justice through nonviolent intifada.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Islam and Nonviolence

If you search online for Islamic nonviolence, you find many examples. (Here are resources on the topic.)

One of the most important examples of the 20th century was Abdul Ghaffar Khan. His faith and determination to live nonviolently were products of his religious devotion to Islam.

Ghaffar Khan lived in India when it was dominated by the British Empire. He was part of the Pashtun tribe. The Pashtuns during this time were often in conflict with each other. Their endless cycles of revenge prevented them from uniting together for a better life.

Ghaffar Khan looked to Islam as a source of unity and nonviolent direct action. He appealed to the Pashtun ideals of courage and justice in order to foster a sense of duty to one another that transcended their hostilities. And he connected courage and justice to nonviolent direct action.

In the process, Ghaffar Khan created a 100,000-man nonviolent army that rose up against the British Empire. The British soldiers were armed with guns; the Pashtuns were armed with the principles of nonviolence. 

The Qur’an and Nonviolence

There are many stories in the Qur’an and from the life of the Prophet Muhammad that motivated Ghaffar Khan’s nonviolence. One story is about the “two sons of Adam.” The story is found in chapter 5 verses 27-32.

The Quranic story is told a bit differently from the Biblical story. In the Qur’an, Cain and Abel don’t get named, but both brothers offer a sacrifice. The sacrifice from one of the brothers is accepted, but the other’s sacrifice is not accepted. 

Like in the Bible, jealousy ensues, but the Quran gives a few more details. The jealous brother threatens his sibling by saying to him, “I will kill you.” The other brother replies, “God only accepts the sacrifice of those who are mindful of Him. If you raise your hand to kill me, I will not raise mine to kill you.”

The jealous brother does kill his sibling, while the other brother is “mindful” of God, which means that he stays nonviolent in the face of violence.

In his book, Toward an Islamic Theology of Nonviolence, Adnane Mokrani explains that “The key phrase ‘If you raise your hand to kill me, I will not raise mine to kill you,’ which is totally absent in the Bible, means refusal of violence and, at the same time, its condemnation and denunciation. This could serve as the theological basis for a peaceful struggle against injustice and a possible current of nonviolence originating from the Qur’an.”

Religion and Violence

Unfortunately, humans have always had a propensity for violence. Our history books are filled with wars and our movies are saturated with violence. Violence has seemingly become part of the human condition. We are trained to think that the best way to solve violence is with bigger violence.

Our religions have violence in them, too. That’s because religions reflect the human condition. If religions merely ignored violence, they would ignore the greatest threat to our existence – our own violence.

This is an important insight that the Qur’an makes at the beginning of human history. The first brothers have to deal with their violent impulses. One succumbs to violence and the other responds with nonviolence. 

With the threat of nuclear weapons that can destroy life on the planet and the proliferation of guns throughout the United States, Ghaffar Khan and the Qur’an provide us with important examples of nonviolence that may be our only hope for humanity’s future.

Know Your Media

Armed with the knowledge of nonviolent intifadas, we now have the opportunity to listen to news outlets more critically, aware they have biases like we all do. If you would like to learn the bias of your news sources, the Media Bias Chart rates both reliability and political bias of the media. Knowledge is power.

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Adam Ericksen

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