Religious Wars Alien to Idea of Jihad, Tunisian Says

Islamic Term Refers to a Defensive Action, Congress Told

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ROME, MAY 14, 2001 ( The Islamic notion of jihad is getting a bad name.

So says former Tunisian Minister of Education Mohammed Charfi, who addressed a congress here on the subject.

«Religious wars fought in the name of the jihad are false,» Charfi said. «In the Koran, the jihad is referred to only as a legitimate action of self-defense, and can never be used as an offensive action.»

He made his comments during the congress May 11 entitled «Religion, Human Rights and Education,» organized by the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, in collaboration with the U.S.-based Bradley Foundation.

«Only when religion has been usurped by politics have there been wars, abuses and violence,» Charfi added. «These are political reasons, which have abused religion and, consequently, violated human rights.»

The «three monotheist religions are messengers of an announcement of love and charity,» the Tunisian professor said. «Around this message, rabbis, priests and sheiks have elaborated ethical and also legislative codes. From this point of view, the men of faith constitute a moral power parallel to the civil.»

According to Charfi, only Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan hold the view that politics controls religion.

However, in 80% «of the Muslim world, corporal punishments and the death penalty for apostates have been abolished and women have more or less been able to emancipate themselves,» he added.

Charfi said that to cut off hands is «part of a tribal tradition. In fact, today there is no country where the theft of a cow or camel is punished with this form of mutilation.»

In regard to the death penalty, «there is no verse in the Koran that upholds capital punishment for apostates,» he added. «The real problem is that the educational process does not follow this tendency, as there is a great fear of introducing changes. Everyone in the Muslim world is afraid of canceling the Shariah,» or Islamic law.

Tunisia, however, is seeing an evolution in its educational process, Charfi added. «We are forming youth as practicing believers, not sanctimonious persons,» the former Education Minister said.

For example, he said, «in every class during the entire basic general education just before entering university, students read and discuss the universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and, in the seventh year of school, Tunisian students are asked to compare the Ten Commandments with verses of the Koran.»

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