Islam and Violence

In the aftermath of yet another attack by Islamic extremists in Europe, the claim that Islam is ‘truly a religion of peace’ becomes increasingly difficult to accept without question. Much has been written in recent days, but, for me, three great articles stand out as useful for Christian consideration.

Firstly, Adam Taylor writing in the Washington Post, notes the similarities in the regulation of society between ISIS and Saudi Arabia suggesting that we cannot simply dismiss ISIS as an isolated, extreme form of Islam.  The summary graphic created for the article is telling:

The second article appeared on the USA today website and is written by Nabeel Qureshi, a muslim convert to Christianity now working as a Christian evangelist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  He briefly assesses Quaranic teaching, hadiths and the related Sunnah.  He argues that the literal interpretation of many texts is indeed violent:

Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may “prevail over all religions” (9.33). It is fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys:Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).

Muslim thought leaders agree that the Quran promotes such violence. Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation in the United Kingdom, has said, “We Muslims must admit there are challenging Koranic passages that require reinterpretation today. … Only by rejecting vacuous literalism are we able to condemn, in principle, ISIS-style slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation & other medieval practices forever (all of which are in the Quran). … Reformers either win, and get religion-neutral politics, or lose, and get ISIL-style theocracy.”

This is significant in that, for example, ISIS recruiters are appealing not to (perceived) social inequalities of life in the West, but to their scriptures.  Their seemingly persuasive arguments are not so much social or political as they are theological:

I believe what the recruiters themselves say sheds the most insight on the radicalization process. ISIL’s primary recruiting technique is not social or financial but theological. With frequent references to the highest sources of authority in Islam, the Quran and hadith (the collection of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad), ISIL enjoins upon Muslims their duty to fight against the enemies of Islam and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, is an article on the ‘Together for the Gospel’ website by Caleb Greggsen.   Greggson argues that violence has always had a central place in the spread and growth of competing ‘Islamic traditions’.  Each grouping vies for the title of ‘true successors’ to Mohammed.  In doing so, violence is intrinsic to their progress – ‘might is right’ dominates this thinking:

A better question to ask is whether or not there is a legitimate place for violence within Islamic tradition. The answer is yes. The primary means of determining this right [to be recognised as the true successor] in Islam is power. According to Islamic thinking, if you are in power and succeeding, then God is clearly blessing and supporting you. If you are not, then God has chosen not to bless you. Of the first four caliphs after Mohammed, three of them were violently murdered, either by assassination, mob, or in battle, all by “fellow” Muslims who supported other leaders. The first two Islamic dynasties came into power by slaughtering those who held power before them. Islam’s history only gets bloodier from there, since might makes right in a way that is foreign to the Judeo-Christian world. Despite the shocking number of Christians or secular Westerners being killed by Muslims, Muslims are killing even greater numbers of other Muslims.

Whilst violence has characterised Islam throughout history, Greggson adds a biblical perspective noting that:

Physical violence has been a distinguishing mark of all humanity ever since Genesis 4. Violence is not unique to Islam. It’s a distinctive of sinful human hearts. In other words, Islam does not make people violent. Sin does. As a man-made religion, Islam is just one more tool people use to harden the heart and embrace sin.

And here’s the challenge with which Greggson concludes which should give all Christians pause for thought:

We know—or should know—that Muslims are humans created in God’s image and distorted by the fall. They need the same gospel as we do. Muslims are not the enemy, but they are in bondage to him.

Moreover, we cannot let the threat of physical violence prevent us from fulfilling the Great Commission. The gospel is not just for “regular” peaceful Muslims. It is also for those who will try to kill us. The threat of violence challenges the validity of our belief that the gospel is infinitely precious and worthy of being taken to all peoples.