Warren Larson is Academic Program Director and Associate Professor of Muslim Studies at Columbia International University. He served as a missionary in
Pakistanfor 23 year and has written extensively on Islam, including: Islamic Ideology and Fundamentalism in : Climate for Conversion to Christianity? He lives with his wife in Pakistan . Columbia, South Carolina
Ever since 9/11we have been bombarded with generalizations as to the peaceful nature of Islam: “Islam is traditionally a religion of tolerance.” “Our enemy is fanaticism not Islam.” “Jihad does not mean holy war.” “Islam calls for racial and religious harmony not violence.”
It is not surprising such generalizations have confused a number of people as to another “face” of Islam they have witnessed—militancy. For a fuller understanding of how Islam sees itself, we will not only look at the Qur’an, but at other Islamic roots and sources. We will then consider practical suggestions as to how Christians might respond biblically to the current threat of Islamic terrorism. But first it will be helpful to see how one extremist has influenced an entire generation of Muslims.
Syed Qutb has been called martyr, ideologue and theoretician of Islamic fundamentalism—an indication of sufferings he endured and the way his radical thinking shaped the movement. Such terms also reveal his total faith in Islam, and how much he was loved and respected by those who witnessed his moral courage and intellectual capacity.
He was born in 1906, in the
Nevertheless what he lacked in physical appearance he more than compensated for in intellect. By the time he was ten he had already memorized the entire Muslim holy book. This thorough knowledge of the Qur’an early in life proved to be the beginning of a life totally dedicated to Islam.
At age thirteen Qutb was sent to
As to literary achievement, Qutb resembles Maududi of Pakistan. He wrote a total of twenty-four books and numerous magazine articles. Several of his publications have been translated into English by the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations in
His major publication was an interpretive study of the Qur’an. Again, he was influenced by Maududi in that he held to Qur’anic “literalism.” His thirty-two volume commentary is famous for homiletical content, simplicity of style and clarity of thought. It has sold thousands of copies, and today is being used as a standard in the privacy of Muslim homes and the public arena of mosques all across the Arab world.
In 1949, Qutb went to the
Moreover, like many of his Arab contemporaries, he experienced a profound sense of displacement. He felt the British had denied the Arab right to self-determination at the end of World War II and the
This negative reaction included all Western methods, models, values and styles as dangerous and harmful to Muslims and non-Muslims. So he began calling fellow-Muslims to total and irrevocable rejection of Christians and Jews whom he viewed as synonymous with the “West.” Based on his own Qur’anic interpretation he forbade contact with “people of the book” because he felt they led Muslims astray.
Furthermore, for Qutb there was no difference between a communist and capitalist West. Both were enemies and harmful to Muslims. He concluded that communism and capitalism would surely fall for their failure to protect and provide for the good of humanity. Rooted in human origins, they were doomed, whereas the divinely-revealed Islam would triumph in the end. Interestingly his prediction—at least in reference to the fate of communism—has already taken place.
After his brief, but unfortunate stay in the
Qutb was released after ten years—now a victim of deep hardness and bitterness from the torture he had endured. What he once offered as advice now became rigid dogma. He spoke openly of violence for the good of the ummah (Muslim community) and enjoined jihad (struggle for Islam) against forces that resist by force. In this spirit he wrote his most controversial book, Maalim fi al tariq (Milestones), a publication that precipitated his re-arrest in 1965. Qutb was executed in 1966 by the Egyptian government and buried in an unmarked grave. He had become “Martyr of the Islamic Revival.”
Obviously, Qutb does not speak for all Muslims, but he does speak for some of them. His pilgrimage from reformer to radical sheds light on the world of militant Islam and provides a context for what follows.
Islam is more than the Qur’an as all through history Muslims have drawn on several sources: the Qur’an, the Hadith (canonical Tradition), ijma (Islamic community consensus) and qiyas (analogy). By community consensus, these four sources form the basis of the Shari’ah, God’s holy law and the manifestation of his will and guidance for all humankind. The Shari’ah moulds Muslims into “the best of peoples, evolved for mankind” (Qur’an, 3:110).
At the heart of the Shari’ah is first the Qur’an, God’s verbally inspired, eternal and unalterable Word revealed to Muhammad and the Muslim community. Next is the Hadith, God’s inspired accounts of the words and actions of Muhammad, who was the recipient of the Qur’an. As such the Hadith serves as an indispensable commentary for Muslim understanding and interpretation of the Qur’an. It is also the “path” for all Muslims to follow because Muslims must obey God and their Prophet. These sources give us a self-understanding of Islam.
Peaceful Islam does in fact exist. The Qur’an says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an, 2:256); and, “… nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians’” (Qur’an, 5:82).
Militant Muslims supplement Qur’anic peaceful verses with militant references: “Fighting is prescribed upon you …“(Qur’an, 2:216). “... Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them … “(Qur’an, 9:5).
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an, ).
As in the above verses, Muslim theologians have appealed to their “Doctrine of Abrogation.” Thus, in this case, the “Sword Verse” (Qur’an, 9:5) has abrogated other peaceful verses because it is chronologically later. In Milestones, ideologue of fundamentalist Islam in
Islam’s official calendar dates from the Hijrah (A.D. 622), when Muhammad emigrated from his home town in
Does Islam mean peace? Muslims want us to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion, claiming that the Arabic word “Islam” means “peace.” The word for peace in Arabic is “Salaam,” not “Islam.” The word “Islam” is a related word, but means “to surrender, or to make peace by laying down one’s arms in submission” (military use), or “slave submission to one’s master—Allah (religious use). To claim that “Islam” means “peace” is just one more attempt to mislead the public. The Islamic “peace” can only come when all people submit to the rule of God and obey his Apostle.
Muslim leaders are quick to explain that Jihad does not mean “Holy War,” but rather to strive in the cause of Allah by study and personal devotion. This is true if only the literal meaning of the Arabic word is considered. Muhammad’s exhortation to Jihad however is almost always in the context of fighting infidels (pagans), Jews and Christians. It is this meaning that Jihad is given in the commentaries and classical writings of Islam. Jews, Christians and munaffiqin (hypocrites), who do not convert are allowed to live, but they must pay jizya, a protection tax levied on “People of the Book.”
Islamic sources frequently refer to fighting and holy war. In fact, nearly one-third of Volume 4, of the nine-volume, canonized collection of Bukhari’s Hadith, deals with Jihad. The Qur’an says Jihad receives the highest reward and is the surest way to paradise if the “fighter” dies: “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead … they live … in the presence of their Lord” (Qur’an, 3:169). “… To him who fighteth in the cause of Allah … soon shall we [God] give him a reward” (Qur’an, 4:74). Ibn Ishaq, the oldest biographer on the Arabian Prophet, says “… [when] the Arabs knew that they could not fight the apostle … they entered into God’s religion ‘in batches’ as God said, coming to him from all directions” (p. 628).
Let it be clearly stated, however, that it is wrong to say that Muslims have always converted non-Muslims through the sword. In the
As noted, Muslims particularly in the West, say that Islam proclaims freedom of religion. They quote 2:256 in the Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” But does this exhaust Islam’s commentary on the subject? No doubt Jews and Christians can remain in the religion they were born into, but a Muslim is not free to abandon Islam and embrace another religion. One of Islam’s most respected theologians and prolific writers in the last century, Pakistani Abu’l Ala Maududi, insists that both Qur’an and Hadith demand an apostate’s execution. He quotes the Qur’an (-12) and the canonized Hadith: “Any person, i.e. Muslim, who has changed his religion, kill him” (Al-Bukhari, Vol. 9, p. 45). The Islamic scholar, Majid Khadduri, agrees that Qur’anic commentaries say a believer who turns back from his religion must be killed if he persists in disbelief (p. 150).
In the Middle Ages, Islamic governments were usually more tolerant of Jews and Christians, than Christian governments were of Jews and Muslims. But today, in Muslim nations from
Several hours away in the city of
Whether all Muslims are aware of it or not, Islam is not a religion in the same way religion is understood in the West. Islam is much more than a religion. A leading expert on the history of Arabs and Islam was the late Lebanese-American scholar, Philip Hitti, who taught at
Muhammad taught his followers that all religions before him, including Judaism and Christianity, were good in their time, but that Islam is the final and universal religion. Where Islamic law has been instituted, no other religion is tolerated, unless it agrees to submit to Islamic rule. Today, more than forty nations have a majority population of Muslims, and Muslim leaders have spoken of their goal to spread Islam in the West until Islam becomes a dominant, global power.
Whenever we face calamity, the Bible instructs us to humble ourselves, repent of our own sins and turn to God (II Chronicles ). As horrific as the September events were, we must recall the words of our Lord: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3). Or, “… unless you repent, you too will perish” (Luke 13:1-5).
Christians need to trust that God is in control and will bring good out of evil in these turbulent times: “And we know that in all things God works for the good to those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). After immense suffering, Joseph was able to say to his brothers: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:2). It has been refreshing to see how this generation, often bent on selfishness, has banded together to sacrifice and service. Since the arrest of Christian aid workers in
In some cases Muslim activists have been given an open platform in churches to explain Islam. If we do invite a Muslim to speak in church we should also invite a Christian who is knowledgeable in Islam to present the Christian perspective on the subject at hand. Giving Muslims an open platform to propagate their faith confuses Christians and sends the wrong message about Islam. Also, it only seems fair that Christians should in turn be invited to mosques to give the Christian view, in order to have true Muslim-Christian dialogue.
We should anticipate greater Muslim receptivity in the days ahead as they hear the gospel. Christians have been praying for centuries that Muslims would respond but often there has been little lasting fruit. Research study on Islamic fundamentalism and Christian conversion indicates that when Muslims see the rigidity and severity of the Shari’ah, they tend to reject Islam and embrace the “Prince of Peace.”
There is a parallel between our present crisis and biblical records about the circumstances surrounding Queen Esther. Her people were targeted for destruction, but facing this dilemma, she sensed that God had placed her in the kingdom “for such a time as this.” In simple faith, she said, “If I perish, I perish.” As God worked out his plan then to save his people through Esther, it seems that God now wants to use the church to avert the eternal destruction of innocent Muslims around the world. With more than a billion Muslims in our world, who awaken daily without the Scriptures, and without any assurance that their sins are forgiven, we must redouble our efforts in prayer, giving and going. Will we respond as our Lord desires for such a time as this?
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Copyright© 2001, Dr. Warren Larson. Used by permission. This article also appeared in Evangelical Missions Quarterly.