Peace Train: Late Again!
Out on the edge of darkness there rides a peace train,
'O Peace Train take this country, come take me home again...'
My heartfelt sorrow goes out to the families of those who lost their lives in the tragic attack on Tuesday, 11 September. The perpetrators of this atrocity tried to derail humanity.
As an artist I always wrote my music in a way that reflected a mirror of life. My Lyrics were about searching for peace and happiness. The world was shocked when I entered Islam, but for me it brought a sense of peace and explanation to questions I was seeking answers for. Those who have followed my music and studied my lyrics would know that.
Like other Westerners I had been forewarned about Islam - that strange foreign religion which seemed to belong to people with a different colour of a different culture. But after being given the Koran in my late twenties, I discovered quite the reverse of what I'd expected. One of the first revelations was that the word Islam itself comes from Salam or 'Peace'. A faith and concept far away from the horrific violence, destruction and terrorism we have seen in recent weeks.
The Koran specifically declares: "If anyone kills a person, except (in punishment) for murder or spreading discord on the earth, it will be as if he has killed the whole of humanity." It goes on: "And if anyone saves the life (of a person) it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity."
As I surfed through he pages of the Koran in 1976, during those lonesome days back in the rock-world's oceanic wilderness, it amazed me how similar Islam was to my Biblical lessons as a schoolchild. But now it was carrying me beyond home and customary landscapes, to a new religious shore inhabited by Turks and Arabs.
I was nicely surprised. The Koran showed me a belief in the universal existence of God (Allah), one Merciful God for all. It did not speak against peoples or lands; it said that, although we may be from different countries and tribes, we were all human born of the same original parents, Adam and Eve. The Koran directly says, "The best of people in God's sight are the most pious".
The English translation of the Koran I held in my hands was full of stories and lessons from the history of humanity as a whole. The Gospel and Torah - the holy books of the Christians and Jews - are mentioned. So is Jesus and Abraham, in fact there is more mention in the Koran about Moses than any other Prophet. Why? Because Islam acknowledges all true faith began with God and accepts the existence of other cultures, showing how we can all live together in peace. It says: "There is no compulsion in religion" - meaning once a person is of a certain faith there should be no force imposed on that person to change. Elsewhere it states: "To you, your religion; to me mine". So respect for prayer, charity and law and order is at the Koran's core, even if another's faith is different.
But some extremists take parts of the Sacred Book out of context. This is a dangerous thing. For instance, some would quote verses which say: "Think not of those who are killed in God's way as dead. No, but they are alive, finding their reward with their Lord". This has been quoted to support the action of suicide bombers. However these verses are actually meant for innocent people who worship God and are legitimately defending their lives or property against tyrannical invaders. Never does it allow the killing of innocent civilians, women, children or the elderly. In fact, the Koran strictly forbids suicide itself; it says, "Do not kill yourselves...Whoever does this in hatred and injustice we shall cast them into the fire."
Today, as a member of the human family, I have been shattered by the horror of recent events. The display of death and indiscriminate killing we have just witnessed in the US has undoubtedly scarred humanity; terror on this scale affects everybody on this small planet of ours, and no one is free from the fallout. Not only did the terrorists hijack planes and destroy life, but also they hijacked the peaceful religion of Islam and split the brother and sisterhood of mankind.
It must also be mentioned that during these last twenty-odd years, there has been a noticeable build up of hostility and propaganda in the West against Islam. The growing number of violent films we have seen coming out of Hollywood depicting Muslims as terrorists, should have prepared us. But reality is much deeper and more complex than scripts written for mega blockbuster movies. Not every Muslim is a 'baddy'. So we welcome a recent decision of studio wise men to hold back the release of such films and hope we draw important lessons from it.
Therefore, it is good to hear spiritual and political leaders across all countries and cultural divides making it clear that such acts of murder as witnessed in the US have nothing to do with the universal beliefs of Muslims. But we should still be cautious about statements that divide the world into 'them' and 'us'. Two wrongs never made anything right. Indiscriminate attacks on more innocent victims will not correct the wrong that's already been done. What we need now is for the whole world to rally for justice, and not just revenge. The Koran again states, "And do not let your hatred of some people…cause you to transgress."
The targeting of unsuspecting civilians going about their daily work was powered by blind irreligious hatred. Yet we should remember, this kind of atrocity has been a common occurrence, year upon year in many lands. My personal experience of the prolonged suffering and death inflicted on Bosnia at the end of last century is something which I cannot and will not easily forget.
The Koran states: "Repel evil with what is better and he, between whom and you was hatred, will become as a warm bosom-friend." And so out of the shadows of death, positive signs are arising; human beings are beginning to feel each other's pain. In Chicago, three days after the attack, non-Muslim neighbours - Christian and other denominations - held hands in a circle to form a human chain around a Mosque in which Muslims were praying.
If people can learn to respect religious values, it is hoped that the tragedies of the past will herald a new day and a new dawn of understanding for people all over the world.
My sympathy and thoughts go out to the families of all those who lost their lives in this tragic act of violence as well as all those injured - but life must go on. Let's hope the wrecked tracks of that Peace Train I wrote about can be mended quickly with the help of everybody sojourning this earth so we can peacefully get on with life.I once wrote, 'Why must we go on hating; why can't we live in bliss?'
People need to live and learn more about their neighbours. Moderation is part of faith, so those who try to blame only Muslims of fanaticism should pause, and learn a bit more about Islam. These lessons are obviously necessary for Muslims as well.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), said, 'Ruined are those who insist on hardship in Faith'; he also said, 'A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he doesn't kill another person illegally' (outside the due process of Law). Such knowledge and words of guidance are desperately needed at this time to separate fact from falsehood; and to recognize the definition of that which makes a person representative, or otherwise, of the faith he or she claims to believe in.