Salam (Peace) Dear Marko,
Thank you for your questions and for contacting Ask About Islam.
I wonder why you do not share with us the conclusions that you have reached. Are they positive or negative? This will help a lot in reaching a common ground.
Before delving into the answer, I would like to know your sources of knowledge about Islam. Do you read the news? Do you read books? Do you watch the TV? Do you use the Internet to know about Islam? If yes, which sites do you frequently visit?
I am sure there are many stereotypes presented in various forms about Islam and Muslims. The stereotypes increased in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks and this led to the dread and hatred of Islam and therefore to the fear and dislike of Muslim as the British Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia.
Let us have a look at what Islam says about the questions you raised.
Do Islam and the Quran Teach Terrorism?
Before reaching a conclusion on this issue, let us understand the context of the verses which are frequently cited in this connection. Verses that refer to fighting non-Muslims were talking about a state of war between Muslims and the pagans of Makkah.
This state of war is not the norm and therefore the order to kill the pagans can not be generalized and applied to non-Muslims in every time and place and under all circumstances. This is what happened. These verses were taken out of the historical context and claimed to have encouraged Muslim to kill innocent people.
Throughout the Quran we find many passages calling for coming into good terms with people of other faith communities and arguing with them in the best manner. Islam also calls for having a dialogue and building peace with them. The Quran is a book of peace and should be understood in the proper context.
Those who carry out terrorist attacks in the name of Islam have nothing to do with Islam. Islam is about peace, tolerance, love and cooperation.
Jihad Not a Holy War
Jihad is an Arabic word from the root jahada, i.e. to exert an effort and strive to achieve a better state and attain righteousness. There are many Quranic verses that support this meaning. Read for example 6:135, 4:124, 16:11, and 3:30. All these verses talk about the reward awaiting those who do good deeds and strive to attain perfection.
According to Islam, there in no holy war because war can not be holy by any means. Muslims are ordered to fight the oppressors, the tyrants who persecute people and do injustice to them. So jihad is about establishing justice and peace.
Sometimes fighting is made obligatory on everybody when one’s country is occupied by another country. In this case, fighting is necessary to put an end to injustice and oppression.
Jihad and fighting are not the norm, they are the exception. The original situation is peace and justice and once they are broken, the oppressors must be fought against. Therefore, we can say with certainty that jihad is a war on terrorism and it is a tool to protect one’s faith and human rights.
Even at times of war, Muslims are prohibited to attack women and the elderly. Muslims should not attack houses of worship and should not cut trees or terrorize the innocent people. If Muslims succeed in taking captives, they are to treat them gently and not to torture them. These are the principles of fighting in Islam.
How Did Islam Spread?
Those who do not relent in their efforts to distort the image of Islam claim that Islam was spread by the sword. Which sword are they talking about? If history is read well, we can conclude that Islam did not spread by the sword. If there is a sword by which Islam spread, it is the sword of the word.
In Muslim Spain Muslims granted freedom to the people to practice their religion and protected their houses of worship. In Southeast Asia, Islam spread by the manner of Muslim traders who settled there. When Muslims came to Egypt, they protected the Christians and their houses of worship.
The Quran made it clear that there no compulsion in religion. Whoever wants to accept Islam, let him do it. Belief in Islam is based on conviction not coercion. If you force someone to believe in something, he might accept it for a day or two. Once he feels free from pressure, he will quit what he believed in by force.
Islamic Judicial System
The Islamic Law (Shari`ah) is meant to regulate the life of people. Muslims are urged to abide by such laws so that they can lead a happy life.
To protect the society, Islam has prescribed certain punishments for wrong doers. The philosophy behind the punishments is to deter them and make them think twice before committing any crime against the individuals’ interests, in general, and the interest if the society, in particular.
The word hadd in Arabic means the limit. Therefore, hudud (prescribed punishments) are the maximum limit which is resorted to when other means of punishments fail to deter the wrong doer.
There is no clear text that suggests that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) applied a certain punishment immediately after the clear confession of those who committed a certain crime. He did his best to find excuses for them.
The Shari`ah put very strict conditions for applying hudud. If we think of such conditions, we will know that hudud are not prescribed just to torture people, but they are a means to have a society free of crimes.
I hope this answers your question.