The horrific murderous attack on New York’s World Trade Centers, the Pentagon in Washington, and the hijacked plane crash in Pennsylvania provoked a wide range of emotions and responses throughout America and around the world. Americans initially expressed shock, fear, anger, sorrow, compassion, and numbness. These reactions were followed by resolve, patriotism, reassessment of values and priorities, and an attitude of bonding or unity which transcended the many differences which separate a diverse America.
Incidents like these will bring out the best in people and the worst. The worst is exhibited in attitudes of revenge and more excuses to rationalize racist acts. There have been sporadic incidents of harassment, desecration, and violence towards Muslims or anyone who looked ethnically Middle Eastern.
Above all, people asked, “why” did this happen? This, was followed by “what are we going to do about it?”
But there have surfaced many more questions and issues which require answers. As Christians we should be aware that God has revealed that He “works all things after the council of His will” ([Ephesians 1:11]). So we can know some things truly, those which He has clearly revealed, and can still have the peace that goes beyond understanding in those things we do not yet know.
Roman Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus recently spoke here in Birmingham while lecturing at Beeson Divinity School, insightfully noted that the September 11th attack raised two fundamental and profound questions – Who are we as a country? and Who are they? I want to address these two questions and the two previous ones.
The world is trying to answer these questions as well. But there is much confusion. On one end of the spectrum, there are those calling for an aggressive campaign of annihilation against all hostile Arab or Islamic countries, and on the other end, there are those who are staging protests against any act of aggression.
President Bush said his staff are announcing that this is not a war between the US and Islam. And as I anticipated “moderate” Muslim clerics and some secular academics are supporting Bush’s claim that these terrorists are not practicing true Islam, but are a radical militant, extremist fringe group. They claim that Islam is fundamentally loving, peaceful, and tolerant. President Bush even hosted a Ramadan break-the-fast dinner at the White House honoring Islam’s holy month. And yet, the so called fundamentalist Muslims are calling for a Jihad, saying that this is a war against Islam.
One hand, we have a well known and respected Christian leader, Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, saying things like, “I was so concerned by the gap between Muslims and Christians that I thought Willow could do something about it.”
So what did he do? He hosted a local Muslim leader to speak to all of his 17,000 attendees on Sunday morning (perhaps Bill hasn’t read [2 John 8-11]). Hybels added, “There are some Christians spreading half-truths that the Quran encourages violence. When you take some stuff out of context, we’ve got major problems.”
On the other hand, many Christian mission societies and apologist echo the charge of Ion Warraq, author of Why I Am Not A Muslim, who writes, “to pretend that Islam has nothing to do with Terrorist Tuesday is to willfully ignore the obvious and to forever misinterpret events. Without Islam the long-term strategy and individual acts of violence by Usama bin Laden and his followers make little sense.
“The West needs to understand them in order to be able to deal with them and avoid past mistakes. We are confronted with Islamic terrorist and must take seriously the Islamic component. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, do not understand the passionate, religious, and anti-Western convictions of Islamic terrorists.”
Mayor Guiliani whose response to the tragedy earned him great respect, hosted a celebrity and ecumenical inter-religious prayer and unification gathering at Yankee Stadium and proclaimed to the United Nations Assembly that Muslims, Jews, and Christians are meeting in their places of worship and “getting through to the same God…in slightly different ways.” This view reflects and reinforces the unfortunate pervasive perspective of relativism and universalism.
Liberals and skeptics are also taking full advantage of this opportunity to express their own intolerance of all religious fundamentalists in general who attempt to justify their “intolerant and aggressive” view by claiming whatever they do is God’s will.
“Fundamentalists” Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson sent the unpopular message that this happened as part of God’s judgment against America, for its slide into immorality, pointing a finger specifically at homosexuals, radical feminists, abortion, the America Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way. Then under media pressure, Falwell sort of retracted. Are they right? Wrong? Right but intemperate?
And most recently we are hearing from some that the attack is Americas fault – not due to Falwell’s charges, but due to American arrogance and flawed foreign policy.
So which view is true, or is it somewhere in between? Either way, it is critical that we understand this vital issue.
I believe one clear purpose of this tragedy is that God wants to draw attention to Islam, both for Christians and for Western leaders. Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the world (1.2 billion) and in the US (6 million), yet it is one of the least addressed mission fields.
This article will attempt to answer or at least provide significant light on the issues and questions previously addressed, as well as a few more. We will look at a brief history of Islam, its teachings, how it relates to Christianity and somewhat with Judaism, a special focus on Jihad or what is often referred to as “Holy War or Struggle”, how should Christians respond, and what can America learn from this about herself.
To understand the horror of this Sept. 11 as well as the past and continuing history of other suicide bombings, killings, assassinations, torture, war and persecutions in Muslim related countries, in Israel, and in Palestine, we need to understand the evolution of Islam in its historical context.
Islam in Arabic means surrender or submission to the will of Allah (God). The word Muslim is derived from Islam and means one who submits to the laws and duties of Allah. Islam is the worlds second largest religion with about 1.2 billion followers. Islam is America’s second largest religion, numbering about 6 million behind Christianity (Protestant and Catholic).
About 80% of Americans identify themselves as Christian but only 40%, based on their answers to a survey fall into the “born-again” minimally Christian category. When the survey elicits a more informed content based on response, only about 8% of the population are evangelical. These figures help in our understanding of the gap between an idealized or perceived Christian influence, and the more actual reality. This gap also has a bearing on the negative (hostile) perception and prejudice of most Muslims toward the USA and Christianity.
Most Americans perceive the ethnicity of Muslims to be mainly Middle Eastern or North African. Actually the Arab constituency is only about 13%, while 25% are South Asian, 42% are African American (other than the Nation of Islam cult) and 21% are either African or European Caucasian.
Beginnings and Early History
Islam’s prophet, Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Mecca, Arabia, His family was a member of Quraysh tribe, one of the largest and most powerful of a number of polytheistic, occult oriented tribes. He was married to Khadija an older businesswoman with an Ebionite (an early Christian heresy) background. Some of the heretical doctrines of the Ebionites had an influence in some of Muhammad’s later doctrinal formulations.
He claims to have begun to experience visions or visitations from the angel Gabriel in 610. Before Muhammad began to allege having visions he had contact with Jewish traders and merchants as well as Christians (including some Christian sects or heretics/cults). He was attracted to their monotheism and that they had written Scriptures – the Book.
The alleged trance/visions were later collected and compiled into the Quran (which means recitations) by his followers. The pagan polytheistic tribes, including his own didn’t receive his new messages, and his only allies at that time were Jews and Christians. This explains the content of some of these visions – Biblical characters and events, although flawed. And it explains the favorable disposition and respect in the earlier writing of the Quran toward Jesus and Christians.
Pressure and persecution followed and caused Muhammad to flee to Medina with about 100 families. Here he began to gather more followers and to develop a religious/political code to govern all of life through continuing revelations for the Quran. He began raiding caravans of his enemies – enemies of Allah to accumulate wealth and resources. He justified his actions with more revelations inserted into the Quran.
There exists a general disposition among most historians, especially Christian ones to charge Muslims with the use of the sword as a way of conversion and the advancement of Islam. However, much of its spread was done peacefully through its message and apparent attractiveness of its culture. But there was and is clearly a significant historical component to the spread of Islam by the sword.
Muhammad led thousands of followers, Muslims, and laid siege to Mecca which included several battles. Once he won Mecca, in 630 AD, he gained more followers because of his merciful acts of clemency. In the next 2 years before his death in 632, he had gained control of all of Arabia.
During the final 10 years of Muhammad’s life he served the Muslim community as a prophet, political and economic leader, and a conqueror in the cause of Allah. He established the umma (Islamic nation) with such strength that shortly after his death Islam advanced quickly to claim vast territories. Under his direction, the mission of Islam had been set. The world was divided into 2 domains: one which existed under Allah and one which was still in ignorance and disobedience and needed to be brought into submission under Allah’s theocratic rule.
After Muhammad’s death, Islam was led by a series of caliphs which means “deputy of the Messenger of Allah”. Four Caliphs served in the first 30 years and during that time Islam, by persuasion and warfare by the Muslim armies expanded their rule into Persia, Syria, Jerusalem, Palestine, all that had constituted the Babylonian and Byzantine, and Assyrian Empires, Egypt, and most of Iraq.
A few years later Libya and Iran came under their control. By 732 they had controlled Spain and a southern portion of France until Charles Martel stopped their further conquest of Europe. They later occupied Afghanistan and penetrated into what is now Pakistan and India. There were peaceful advances as well through missionaries and trade into Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.
The Ottoman Empire from 1517-1924 made up of Muslim Turks ruled much of Asia Minor and took over Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) in 1453. They expanded their rule from Austria in the west to India in the east. European countries began invading the lands of Egypt (France), India (British), Indonesia (Dutch), Central Asia (Russian), which began the colonization era and decline of the Ottoman Empire. WWI and the Ottoman’s alliance with Germany hastened its collapse.
Up until the 12th century, the Islamic umma, or collective community, enjoyed qualitative advances in art, science, technology, and medicine. The strict law made for a generally orderly society. But then things began to occur from the West that would ever foster deep rooted hostility toward Christianity, Israel, Western Europe, and eventually the United States.
The Crusades and Inquisitions
Even though Biblically, the New Testament worldview presents a separation of Church and State, the Church at Rome formed expedient and pragmatic alliances with secular governments in order to regain its strength and for a perceived protection. The Crusades were mounted as an attempt to regain the Holy Lands occupied by the pagan Muslims. There were six major Crusades fought between 1096 and 1212. After some initial success, the “Christians” were beaten back and the lands remained under the domination of Islam until the UN’s establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
This in the Muslim’s mind, their people in 1948, their people had been unjustly uprooted from the lands they had occupied and settled for almost 1300 years.
The influence of the “Christian” Crusades, the later Spanish Inquisition, and the colonization periods mentioned earlier upon the Muslim world, has caused a deep and bitter animosity within the Islamic umma or community, that is both politically and theologically fed.
Because Muslim view the world though the lenses of their own theocratic worldview, many do not understand that those actions were a incidental perversions of Christianity. Other Muslims are critical of Christianity because it does believe in separation of Church and State and therefore is far inferior to Islam’s theocratic Shari’a. Because of the past Muslims have tended to view Christianity as a warring, colonialistic, imperialistic, and political movement seeking to dominate the world, including the lands of Islam. They see Christian missionaries as agents of Western imperialistic societies, as well as preying upon Muslims with blasphemies. Islam’s own theology of the duty for every Muslim to engage in a “defensive” jihad, or holy war against invasion and oppression, necessitate their active animosity.
Thus these events have never been forgotten. In fact in many Muslim countries and in Muslim mosques, their children are raised with a steady diet of hostile propaganda against the West and Christianity in their primary and secondary school curricula, and in their sermons.
Muslims also view the establishment of the state of Israel and the subjugation of Arab Palestinians as an extension of this Crusader mentality and action. Add the United State financial support, its corrupt social influence (drugs, alcohol, pornography, television, bikinis, materialism, abortion, relativism, gambling – all under the rubric of freedom and democracy), their invasion into Iraq, and their military bases in holy Islamic territory, including the sacred land of Saudi Arabia, and you have aroused the deepest of angers and resentment, even rage.
Some of Americas foreign policy efforts have not helped either. From the Muslim perspective the US is thoroughly hypocritical. Muslims say that with all the talk about freedom and democracy, the real foreign policy priority is to maintain stability by supporting what they say are corrupt pseudo-Islamic government heads which suppress true Islamic law (shari’a) especially when it furthers the US expansion of its ideology and financial interests.
The true significance of this history coupled with their theology will become more clear later, especially when we understand the controversial doctrine of jihad.
At this point we need to examine what are the major beliefs of Islam.
- 2nd largest religion in America at 6 million
- 2nd largest religion in the world at 1.2 billion
- Islam in Arabic means surrender or submission. Today Muslims are attempting to project the meaning of “peace” with the implication of Islam being a peaceful religion.
- Not true etymologically, doctrinally, or historically.
- Muslim means a person who submits or surrenders his life to the will of Allah (God). Allah is the Arabic name for God. It is derived from Al (the) ilah (deity. The one true God.
II. Basic Beliefs and Practices
A. 5 Pillars – Essential Sacred Duties and Obligations
1. The confession, (Shahada) – there is no god but Allah and Mohammad is His Prophet or Messenger/Apostle.
2. Prayers, (salat) – ritual prayers 5 times per day facing the east (toward Mecca).
3. Fasting; (sawn) during the 9th lunar month, Ramadan, Muslim fast from sunrise to sunset (eating, drinking, and sex), for that month.
4. Alms giving, (Zakat) – to practice regular charitable giving, formalized in the Shari’a to be 2.5% of one’s income to the poor each year.
5. Pilgrimage, (hajj) – all Muslims must make a trip to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if possible, or intend to , to worship ritually at sacred sites.
B. 6th Pillar – Jihad
Literally means a struggle or effort in the cause of Allah. Most Muslims believe in a two tier application of this struggle. These are the “Greater Jihad” which involves the personal struggle over evil inclinations and striving for righteousness in submission to Allah.
The “Lesser Jihad” often referred to as “Holy War” involves mortal combat (the sword) defending Islamic people, territories, and propagation from outside aggression or oppression.
C. Prophets – Agents God sends to preach the message of Allah as guardian of the faith. The\
actual revelation of divine law is given by a Messenger. One can either or both.
D. Muhammad – The final messenger, Prophet, Apostle of Allah, the “Seal”. The one through \
whom the Quran was revealed.
E. Scriptures –
1. Quran – Recitation allegedly given to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel between 610-632 AD Islamic scriptures perfectly preserved, without error, written in Arabic. Any other language translation can dilute meaning.
2. Sunnah – the customs and traditions of Islamic life which are based on the teachings and practices of Muhammad.
3. Hadith – the narratives, teachings, and practices (sunnah) of Muhammad that are written by his close followers and preserved in written form. Most authoritative collection compiled by al-Badawi in 922 AD (7,300 out of 600,000).
4. Also the Torah of the Prophet Moses, the Psalms given to the Prophet David and the Gospel of Jesus through the Prophet Jesus were also scripture. But Muslims teach that they have been corrupted. Only the Quran is perfect.
F. Shari’a – sacred Canon or Constitutional Law of Islam containing the sum of Allah’s guidance for all areas of life. A Theocracy. Based on the Quran, Hadith, the consensus (Ijma) of the Muslim community’s scholars (Ulama).
G. Da’wa – Islamic missionary activity primarily through persuasion, example, economic, political, debate, and social means.
H. Umma – The community of Islam, the solidarity of faith and prayer. Unity of belief and practice under shari’a. Islamic state.
III. How Islam views Christianity
A. The Paradox –
1. Early Quranic passages show great respect for Christians, “People of the Book”.
2. Quran claims Christians have the Scriptures – Word of God.
3. Given protected minority status under shari’a.
4. Yet later in Quran, passages grow hostile.
5. Our doctrine considered shirk or blasphemy, therefore apparently we are infidels and idolaters – worthy of jihad.
B. Jesus –
1. A messenger/prophet of God
2. Born of a virgin, sinless, miracles
3. Coming again in judgment
4. Was not divine – God the Son or Son of God
5. Was not crucified and died
6. Assumption, not resurrection
C. The Bible
1. The Law, Psalms, and Gospel of Jesus considered Scripture
2. But those have all been corrupted, abrogated by Quran
3. Only true where agrees with Quran and Hadith
4. Yet. No Quranic verse says gospels corrupted.
5. References to Christians having God’s scripture poses major apologetic problem for Muslims (had all 27 NT books at the time).
D. The Trinity –
1. In Quran, described as Father, Son and Mary
2. Considered shirk, blasphemy because it associates Allah with human and considered polytheistic.
1. Muslims see a contradiction between OT (works) and NT (grace)
2. Islamic salvation based on good works outweighing bad deeds – Paradise (many levels)
3. Automatic paradise for martyrs who die fighting in the cause of Allah.
Currently, the attack on America of September 11 and the subsequent suicide terrorist attacks in Israel has forced America and the Christian Church to turn its needed attention on the complex matrix of middle eastern politics and to uncover the true nature of Islam. What is there in Islam that would lead Muslims to commit so many heinous terroristic acts? Does orthodox Islam sanction such atrocities? Or are they the aberration of a relatively few militant extremists?
Many Muslims in America are attempting to assuage the fears and animosity of the public, while at the same time attempting to take advantage of any opportunity to gain support of their cause or position in Palestine (West Bank and Gaza Strip).
But what is the truth? Does Islam sanction such terrorism, or is it truly a religion of peace and tolerance? That is the question. The answer is not so simple. The truth is that both dimensions exist in Islam and these two faces are in conflict with each other.
There are five major groupings of Muslims within Islam and each of those groups can have several sub-groupings. The five are nominal or secular Muslims, cultural Muslims, moderate Muslims, fundamentalists, and radical militants. The unstable, volatile, and ambiguous spectrum is the many Muslims who move between the fundamentalist and militant groups.
After WWII the territories of Islam became a political and economic pawn played between the US and the Soviet Union. The rich oil deposits were necessary to help run an increasingly industrial complex. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt began commercial partnerships with the US, and in the eyes of many conservative Muslims, saw all attempts at modernization as an insufferable spiritual compromise.
This time marked the rise of Islamic fundamentalism which is called “Islamism” led to Iran’s overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Iran is mainly composed of Shiite Muslims which differ in some ways from the major group of Islam – Sunni Muslims. In the struggle for a return to competing views of fundamentalist Islam, Iran and Iraq engaged in combat with one another, declaring a jihad (holy war). Iran also seized our American Embassy there and its personnel, holding them hostage, while calling the US, “the Great Satan”. The fundamentalists assassinated Egypt’s prime minister, Anwar Sadat after he did the unpardonable, signing a peace accord with Islam’s two biggest enemies, the United States and Israel.
It is very important to note that during the 1980’s and 90’s, Islam began escalating a significant revival of fundamentalism. In clashes against Israel and even one another (if a Muslim country was becoming too secular or compromised too much with the West), as well as more recently the United States (i.e. the first car bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 ; suicide bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983; the truck bomb attack against the US Marine compound in Lebanon killing 241 Americans in 1983, forcing US Troops to pull out; the 1994 bombing of the US Embassy in Kuwait, and the twin assaults on US Embassy’s in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 where 224 people died).
Fundamentalist Islam certainly has been heavily recruiting young Muslims into its ranks, people who are both poor and disenfranchised, and those who are more educated ideologues. Islamic militant organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, Al Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad have been active in their fight, especially terrorist style, against Israel, Russia, and the US.
The renowned Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis observed that Muslims accuse the West, particularly the US of sexism, racism, imperialism, tyranny, and exploitation, all of which they believe is contrary to Islam. Lewis believes that what is the highest evil and totally unacceptable to Muslims is the dominance of infidels over Muslims. This domination is blasphemous and unnatural and therefore true Islam must be protected and defended from such insult and abuse.
Islamic fundamentalism is also against secularism and much of modernism. Therefore, even Muslim countries whose leaders interact too closely and import Western things into their country or culture, are seen as an enemy of true Islam.
So what authority drives Islamic fundamentalism. It is the Quran and Hadith. In the midst of uncertainty and fragmentation, there is a search for the security of certainty. The belief in the absolute certainty of the literal Quran provides that drive. Thus men like Bin Laden and those who crashed the planes on Sept. 11 (as well as every other armed Muslim aggressor), were quoting the Quran repeatedly as their justification.
An Associated Press story (9/24/01) quoted students representative of more than and estimated several hundred thousand students in Pakistan in Islamic schools as saying, “I am ready for jihad, and so is every other student.” Many of Pakistan’s 30,000 Islamic schools have direct links to militant groups. Most of the Taliban’s leaders studied there. Christians can be attacked and killed under the nations blasphemous law.
A World magazine story (9/8/01) reported that since 1999 Muslim armies have attacked Christian villages killing between 500-800 in Indonesia. The Laskar Jihad group proclaimed a jihad against Christians have destroyed 400 churches, and people were forced to convert to Islam.
In Sudan fundamentalist Muslims are fighting to establish Islamic Shari’a or strict Islamic law over the country.
My own church has many reports from missionaries in Islamic countries who report either personal or eye witness accounts of beatings, torture, rape, and killings by Islamic fundamentalists.
My own view is that Islam is schizophrenic. It suffers from a multiple personality disorder. When Muslim clerics and “moderate” Muslims say that those who practice these things are not practicing true Islam, I have to ask, “On what basis do you say that? Who ultimately officially speaks for Islam? How many and which Muslims make up the Ijma or “consensus,” or which ulama, of what is Islam?”
I ask because there are huge numbers of “fundamentalist” Muslims who claim that the “moderates” are not truly representing Islam but have compromised and are relativizing the Quran.
There is much confusion in the messages we hear from Muslim scholars, Muslim leaders, and the actions of Muslim militants all over the world. The Muslim world, in fact, is anything but homogeneous. It has dividing lines which have been further exacerbated after September 11.
On one hand, there are many more moderate Muslim elites who are largely Western-educated, who favor Muslim state built on some kind of synthesis of the Islamic tradition and modernity, instead of the canonical Shari’a patterns.
On the other hand, there are many fundamentalists who say that only when religious purity is restored, will the community thrive once again. The obstacles to this are the corrupt leaders in the Muslim world and their allies (the West). Their formula is to eliminate the Western support. The only difference among fundamentalists and the radicals is in the means to accomplish this.
This is the heart of the crisis within Islam. Fundamentalists are trying to import a 7th Century cultural theocracy into the 21st Century. This internal crisis (which also effects the external) is exacerbated because Islam is essentially a dominant creed (non-Muslims vanquished or ruled), a theocratic creed (all aspects of public and private life are governed by Islamic law), and a dogmatic creed (where there is a significant roadblock to reinterpret tradition in terms of modern life).
Understanding Muslim Rage
1. Events and Theology – Israel-Abraham- Isaac- Ishmael theological fundamental conflict
- Jewish and Christian rejection of Muhammad – Quranic verses (jihad)
- Ongoing tradition of jihad against “Christian” Byzantine Empire first few centuries (and later “Christian” Europe) in spread of Islam
- “ Christian” Crusades from 1099- 1212
- Spanish Inquisition began in 1478 and over 10,000 “heretics” tortured and killed, many Muslims
- Colonization Period (18th and 19th century), European West and Russia retaking many territories
- 1948 U.N. establishment of Israel
- Israeli annexation of Palestine
- Israeli partition, inequity, and treatment of Muslims in Palestine
- U.S. political and commercial domination grows
- Blame of U.S. spread of materialism and immorality for the cause of decline of Islamic culture
- Compromise of Islamic political leaders with West
- Rise and resurgence of Islamic “fundamentalism” from the 1960’s
- Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini’s overthrow of “corrupted” Muslim government and takeover of U.S. Embassy- hostages
- U.S. military intervention in Beirut, Lebanon- premature pullout resulted in massacre of over 800 Palestinian men, women, and children (1982)
- U.S. forces reentered Beirut, established base – thrust into bloody mosaic of conflicts- Hezbollah and martyrdom
- CIA attempt to assassinate Hezbollah leader Sheik Fadallah failed- Mosque bombing killed 80 innocent Arabs
- Reagan’s arms to Iran deal to aid Shi’ites over Iraqi Sunnis
- U.S. bombing of Libya (1986) in retaliation to Kadaffi’s role in TWA hijacking and other hostages/ murder
- Military bases and presence in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon Continual “compromise” of Islamic political leaders with U.S. (West) in economic and cultural affairs
- U.S. waited until Muslims almost exterminated in Bosnia before stepping in, yet immediately came to the aid of Kuwait in Gulf War (self interests)
- Bombing of Iraq and ongoing embargo causing “millions of Iraq’s children to starve” \
$3 billion annual aid to Israel, \$0 to Palestine per Camp David accords ($450 million to Arafat).
- American/Christian alliance with Israel- politically and religiously
- Steady diet of the above reasons to hate America fed in many thousands of Islamic schools in recent decades producing large generation of “fundamentalists”
Is Islam a religion of peace? Are the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and many others just cultic perversions of Islam? Does the Quran and Islam reject terrorism? Is Islam compatible with democracy in America? Does Islam permit or encourage suicide bombers? How does Islam view Christians, Jews, and the Bible? Are Christians being Biblical in their response?
The event of Sept 11 has awakened America to the pressing reality of the issues of being a part of the global community. It has shaken us out of our impregnable mind-set and awakened us to our vulnerability.
What God has allowed and ultimately ordained leaves Christians with many opportunities in the kingdom of God. It is a time for Christians and Americans to reassess what is true, important, and to reevaluate our priorities. It is a time to rethink our leadership responsibilities in the world.
It is a time to seriously consider the question who are we as a country and exactly what does it mean to be a “Christian nation”.
Satan is not asleep though and the flesh of man is weak. There are many distortions of the issues and reactions/responses which will ultimately lead to weakness and death because it is not of the truth.
The following are some examples of the expert voices which precipitate the confusion:
1. Muslim scholar Dr. Farid Esack of Auburn Theological Seminary states, “In Islamic Law there is absolutely no justification for this kind of dastardly deed.”
2. Veteran religion editor of Newsweek, (Sept. 24) Kenneth Woodward recently quoted Imam Yohya Hendi, Muslim chaplain of Georgetown University deploring the slaughter of September 11, “It violates the very foundation of Islamic Law.”
An article in the Los Angeles Times (Sept. 24) also supported Hendi’s view, “Most Muslims and non-Muslim experts on Islam are quick to say that extremists are distorting the faith and violating its fundamental principles of peace.” Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University states, “Nothing in the Quran, Islamic theology or Islamic Law in any way, shape, or form justifies ramming two airplanes into civilian buildings.”
3. Several years ago after a number of Muslim terrorist attacks on US holdings, a local Muslim leader wrote a letter to the Birmingham News. he wrote “According to Islam’s deepest instincts political or military subjection is unnatural and calls upon Muslims to resist through Jihad. The reality of the present time is the dominant penetration of secularist and excessively permissive Western civilization in the Muslim world…the decadent excesses of immorality with its incalculable degenerating effects are rejected. This major aspect of struggle is the Islamic Jihad exercised by Muslims wherever they live. Jihad in Islam is a continuous struggle by Muslims, individually and corporately, to enhance the quality of the human condition, resist transgression and disfranchise selfishness.”
Now is he talking about the greater Jihad or the lesser Jihad? The fact is that the condition he relates and the condition related for the “lesser” jihad are congruent.
After the September 11th attack, the local Birmingham Muslim Center staged an open house as a public relations effort. “You should know that Islam categorically condemns such action.” Also written was, “You should know that the terrorist act is not an act of Jihad (Holy War),” and “You should know Islam has always preached love, mercy, justice, and peace…that an American Muslim condemns the attacks just as any other American.”
4. President Bush hosted a meeting at the White House, with Muslim leaders from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Muslim Council (AMC), received a Quran, and mutually condemned the September 11th attack.
Yet shortly after that, the media revealed that the leaders of these groups were activist in supporting other militant jihad groups. According to chief of the FBI’s counter-terrorism section, these two groups have been defending, exhorting, and raising money for the Islamic terrorists groups, Hamas and Hezbollah.
CAIR has a long history of intimidating more moderate or secular Muslims who disagree with its more totalistic agenda.
5. Publicly, some American mosque leaders say Islam means peace and tolerance, and we are Americans from one side of their mouths, but from the other side comes something far different.
For example, a recent Washington Post story revealed a profile of Fawaz Damra, Imam of the Cleveland Islamic Center. He is seen inviting Jews to break Ramadan with him and hugging the local Catholic bishop.
Yet several years ago, Damra was taped raising money among Palestinians in Chicago for the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, where he said, “The Jihad stabs Jews…12 Jews, who will give $500?
6. Salman Rushdie, a British author who had a death warrant issued on him by Iran’s late Ayatollah Khomeini states, “This war is about Islam…If it isn’t about Islam, why the worldwide Muslim demonstrations in support of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Why did those 10,000 armed men mass at the Pakistan-Afgan border answering some mullah’s call to jihad?”
In fact, a whole chorus of writers ask the questions, “Which Muslim nation is an example of freedom and human rights and where is there not a Muslim nation where there hasn’t been bloodshed in the name of Islam?”
7. Salih bin Mohammad Lahidan, chairman of the Judicial Council in Saudi Arabia wrote of September 11th, ” Those who commit such crimes are the worst of people. Anyone who thinks that any Islamic scholar will condone such acts in totally wrong.”
8. Zaid Shakir, former Muslim chaplain at Yale University writes, “The Quran pushes us in the opposite direction as the forces at work in the American political spectrum.” From this he argues that Muslims cannot accept the legitimacy of the existing order here in the U.S.
9. We have in our files a number of news reports as well as personal experiences of the attitudes of some Muslims on the street of not-so-private condoning the attack of September 11. Locally, one such Muslim from Pakistan who has lived here 9 years said that bin Laden to Muslims is like the Pope is to Christians.
10. Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi is the Grand Sheikh of the al-Azhar Mosque and University in Cairo. He is reported to be the highest spiritual authority for the nearly 1 billion Sunni Muslims.
While Tantawi indicated bin Ladin’s aggressive acts do not represent true Islam (whose Jihad is allegedly defensive), he nevertheless calls the Palestine suicide bombers, martyrs of Islam. He also publically disapproves of the coalition the U.S. has forged to fight terrorism, stating that Muslims cannot attack other Muslims.
Yet even more recently (Dec. 4, 2001) he condemned (per Shari’a) the 3 suicide bombers in Jerusalem and Haifa (early December 2001). He stipulated that terroism was aggression against innocent men, women, and children (which is contrary to Islam), and jihad is legitimate self-defense against injustice and oppression.
Again, the problem is that the above pronouncements are inconsistent and therefore ambiguous at best. On top of that, many fundamentalist or traditional Muslims point out that Tantawi is respected but his views are not binding. In addition to that, Palestinian Muslims in the Gaza Strip dismiss as irrelevant the “moderate” views of government-appointed clerics.
11. Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, chairman of the Sunna and Sira Council in Qatar is one of Islam’s most prominent Sunni scholars. He too approves of the Palestinian suicide bombers and calls for opposition to the American entry into Afghanistan. He has harshly criticized the U.S. for its support of Israel.
Yet he led a panel of prominent Muslim scholars in the Middle East in issuing a fatwa, a declaration denouncing the terrorist attacks on the U.S. and proclaimed that it is the “duty” of every Muslim to help apprehend the terrorists.
12. Sheik Hamoud bin Oqla Shuaibi, a senior cleric in Saudi Arabia criticizes his own government, “Whoever supports the infidel against Muslims is considered an infidel… It is a duty to wage Jihad on anyone who supports the attack on Afghanistan. The campaign by the criminal Bush, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, is nothing but a Crusade as before in history.”
13. On December 6, 2001, the FBI announced the freezing of funds of 153 Muslim groups and individuals in the U.S. who are possibly funding terrorist activities abroad. The leader of one charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Shukri Abu Baker is an official in the terrorist group Hamas, and Holy Land raised $13 million last year.
14. Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, writes, “Nothing has been more completely missed than the threat posed by Islamic terrorism to the United States and the West.” He adds that the majority of experts “failed to ask the right questions at the right time about Islam. They underestimated its impact in the 1980s; they misrepresented its role in the early 1990s; and they glossed over its growing potential for terrorism against America in the late 1990s.”
Yet another leading American scholar of Islam, and founder of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, responds, “some believe that all Islamic fundamentalist groups or movements are a threat. The others, represented by myself and several others, would say that you have to distinguish between mainstream Islamic society and those extremists who attack people in their own societies and now in the West.”
Kramer answers: “In their view, any Islamic movement is either moderate or potentially moderate. So every time there is a disagreeable act by some Muslim group what they say is: ‘Well, this doesn’t represent Islam; this is not true Islam.’ But the real question which they don’t ask is why do the people who perpetrate these acts justify them in terms of Islam?”
What is Jihad
What we continue to encounter from Muslim spokesmen is that Islam is a religion of peace and not one of terrorism, violence, or of coercion. Indeed we often see this latter point quoted in the Quran, “There is no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256).
Great pains are taken by the Muslims to repeat, “terrorism is not Islam.” But this is by in large a rhetorical devise. First, one must define “terrorism”. Depending on how one defines it, a case can be made from Islamic sources on either side. This is why I refer to Islam as a schizophrenic religion, suffering from a multiple personality disorder.
But the real issue that the Muslim must respond to is that of jihad – the sword of Islam. The fundamental problem here though is that the Muslim is faced with the question – “who ultimately speaks for Islam as the final authority?” Since the passing of the Caliphite in 1924, Muslims are personally responsible for finding out the truth through personal study and the learned views of the Muslim clerical scholars – who don’t always agree with each other.
Let’s hear how jihad is defined by various Muslim authors of Islamic publications. Iqad Hilal writes, “The Islamic ideology…is universal ideology meant to liberate all mankind. Consequently, one cannot expect this ideology to be confined to a specific people or land. In order to deliver this ideology to the rest of humanity, the State that adopts this ideology shoulders the responsibility of carrying it to new lands. As would be expected, this goal will lead to a conflict with other states and their ideologies. This conflict has to be resolved either through diplomacy or through force” (Islam: A Complete Way of Life, 3rd ed. p. 73).
He goes on, “Islam adapted Jihad as its method of carrying its authority, justice, and ideals to other lands…Jihad…at best, its legal meaning can be understood as using the military force where diplomacy fails, to remove the obstacles the Islamic state faces in carrying its ideology to mankind…summary, Jihad is the method adopted by Islam to protect its lands and save humanity from the slavery of man-made regimes.”
Another Muslim leader, Ahmad Sakr of the Foundation for Islamic Knowledge writes about Jihad being among other things effort “and fighting to defend one’s life, land, and religion…Jihad is not a defensive war only, but a war against any unjust regime. If such a regime exists, a war is to be waged against the leaders, but not against the people of that country…in war Islam prohibits civilians.” These are latter claims and somewhat comforting but we must ask, “on what authority or basis can you make that claim?”
Lebanese scholar Mahmroud Ayoub, professor of Islamic studies at Temple University writes, regarding the so-called “lesser” jihad, he writes, “only in worship, unity of purpose, and social consciousness can Muslims protect those who are weak, exposed and oppressed. In fact, the main aim of jihad in society is to eradicate wrong doing and oppression. Again the challenge to the first Muslims is most appropriate to us today in view of Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and wherever else Muslims suffer oppression.”
Ayoud goes on to explain, “What then is the Qur’an enjoining on the people of faith to investigate the need for fighting and whether it is justified or not.” And what is the justification “that should motivate them to fight?” He answers, “It is to make the world of Allah uppermost. When this consideration calls for a jihad of arms, then fighting becomes an obligation on every Muslim able to carry arms.
Ayoud explains what it means to “make the word of Allah uppermost.” He states, “It is to insure His will as revealed in the Qur’an, exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad [Sunnah] and his companions and enshrined in the Shari’ah be done.” In other words, that all the world comes under the theocratic rule of Islam.
So what is the will of Allah as revealed in the Quran and exemplified in the life of Muhammad concerning the jihad of warfare by the sword?
1. Speaking of “those who suppress faith” [Islam], “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits…and slay them wherever you catch them” (Sura 9:120-121).
2. “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in God.” (Sura 9:123).
Commentaries on the above passages claim that this is applicable only to a “defensive jihad”, similar to a Christians “just war” perspective. While we can understand this, when one adds other Quranic passages and the concepts of the U.S. and Christian military action, military station, cultural and doctrinal presence in the Islamic territories, this amounts to an “oppression”, which justifies even this jihad. But there are additional passages which do not reflect a “defensive jihad” either in scriptural or historical context for example:
3. “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle [Muhammad], nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] until they pay the Jizya [compensation] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (Sura 9:29; see also 5:33).
4. “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight them and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them to every stratagem (of war)” (Sura 9:5).
Yusuf Ali in his commentary on the above verse states that jihad must be pursued with “vigor” which may take the “form of slaughter” or “ambush and other stratagems.” Could that not include suicide bombings? Many Muslim leaders are saying no, it could not because the Quran prohibits suicide and it limits warfare only to combatants. But attain, that is not the whole story as we shall cover momentarily.
5. “It is He who got out the unbelievers among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering of the forces. Little did you think that they would get out; and they thought that their fortresses would defend them from Allah! But the wrath of Allah came to them from quarters from which they had little expected it, and cast terror into their hearts” (Sura 59:2).
Now does that not strike a familiar chord?
6. “Remember your Lord inspired the angels with the message, ‘I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror [there is that word again] into the hearts of unbelievers: you smite [cut off] them above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them” (Sura 8:12; see also 8:60).
7. “Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you to have victory over them, and heal the wounds of the Believers” (Sura 9:14).
8. “Fight in the cause of God and know that God hears and knows all things” (Sura 2:244).
9. Some other jihad passages are Suras 47:4; 9:123; 4:10; 4:102; 5:17; 9:52; 61:4.
Some Recent Examples of Jihad/Terrorism Against the US
1. 14,000 killed by terrorist Jihad in past 20 years (many Americans)
2. From 1983-mid 2001, 300 suicide attacks documented worldwide
3. Truck bomb U.S. Embassy in W. Beirut (63 died)
4. U.S. stabilization attacked in Beirut -1982
5. U.S. Embassy bombed in E. Beirut 1983 (241 died – also 60 French paratroopers)
6. TWA hijacked (1 Marine hostage beaten and killed)
7. 30 Americans kidnapped as hostages, including priest, pastor, professors – CIA station chief killed
8. World Trade Center in NYC car bomb, 1993, killing 6, wounding over 100
9. Bomb on Pan Am flight killed 241 and 11 ground on Dec. 21, 1988
10. U.S. personnel in Riad, Saudi Arabia, suicide bomb killed dozens of US Air Force personnel
11. 1998, 2 US Embassies bombed in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania) 224 died
12. Bomb attack on USS Cole Oct. 1, 2000 (17 killed, 39 wounded)
13. Over 3,000 killed on September 11, 2001 in NYC and Washington
14. So far 3 dead in Anthrax bioterrorism attack
15. 13 Egyptian Christians shot dead May 14, 1992 (10 farmers, 1 schoolteacher, medical doctor)
16. Many thousands of other Christians have been killed by Muslims in Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, and other Muslim countries
To summarize, I return to my earlier description, Islam is schizophrenic. Traditional, orthodox, fundamentalist Islam cannot escape from their intrinsically militant roots. The more moderate Muslims, which include most of the heads of Islamic countries, are caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” They are trying to play both ends. On one end are the militant fundamentalists to whom the “moderates” have to mollify and appease (which includes paying them large sums of money and turning their heads from their terrorism). On the other end, they realize that they must modify or liberalize traditional Islam in order to move into the 21st century to acquire the technology and commercial benefits (i.e. progress) of modernity from the West. The U.S. is trying to reinforce the latter.
It is often said that the militants are a small percentage. This is true of those who are overtly acting out their militant Jihad. But the concern is about those “closet” fundamentalists who are being more pragmatic and biding their time as they work more toward power. But even if that “small percentage” is say, 10% (which is probably an underestimate), then we are talking about 120 million militants!
Muslims we encounter personally may be anywhere along the spectrum of the five categories mentioned above. Christians should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as we interact. Share sympathetically concerning the possible flaws and inequities in past foreign policy and the perversions of the Crusades. Ask good questions regarding their personal understanding of Jihad. Hopefully, they may be more moderate and therefore more open to the gospel.
The next section of this paper will focus on a Christian apologetic approach (more to come).