This article was recently picked up by Monomakhos blog, and lots of comments were posted. Many of the comments which stayed on topic tended to miss the point I was trying to make. Some felt I was tarring all Muslims with the broad brush of communal guilt for the violent acts of a few of their co-religionists. Others trotted out staples of the "religious equivalency fallacy" such as the atrocities committed by Christians against Muslims during the Crusades, and so on.
These are all very involved issues, and I eventually composed a fairly thorough follow-up comment, expanding my main point. Thankfully, it seems this was widely read at Monomakhos, and received positive comments and "likes." I am posting it below, as it is good to revisit these issues from time to time.
There is a Part 2 to this which I shall post soon, God willing.
I am the author of the original essay, “Message to Muslims: Time For Some Serious Questions,” which George reposted here, and I am glad to see such heartfelt discussion on this subject. I would like to mention a couple of things.
For context, my post was written very soon after the murder and beheading in broad daylight, on a London street, of British soldier Lee Rigby. The killer, with blood-drenched hands, still holding the meat cleaver and knife with which he committed this horrific crime, waited for police to arrive, and gave a defense of his actions, video of which was recorded by someone with a smartphone. In this he can clearly be heard citing verses from the Quran. A link in my essay points to an article by Mark Durie in which he discusses this.
More recently, we have seen the Ft Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan likewise justify his mass murder using passages from the Quran. Indeed, he pre-justified himself, based on his Powerpoint presentations given while he was still stationed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. If you would like to read my post concerning why I oppose the death penalty for him, you may find it here.
One of my main points in the “Time for Some Serious Questions” article is that jihadists, or extremist Muslims, or Islamists, always cite the Quran to support their actions. Suicide jihadists have often left videos behind where they make their confession of Islam and tell why they are going to perform an attack which will kill innocent people. Although there are peaceful Muslims who oppose this aspect of Islam (see The Clarion Project for profiles on and articles by such ‘moderate’ Muslims), it seems that the jihadists have Islamic scripture, tradition and teaching on their side. Jihad is mandated in the Quran, and Muhammad himself practiced and commanded jihad. Muhammad’s life and example is both a personal guide for Muslims (he is called “the most beautiful pattern of conduct” in the Quran), as well as the key to understanding the Quran and Islamic doctrine.
Muslims believe the Quran to be the literal words of Allah, which pre-existed in heaven before all time in what Muslims call ‘the Mother of the Book’. Allah sent the Quran via the intermediary of the archangel Gabriel to Muhammad during the course of the last thirty years or so of Muhammad’s life. Because many of the verses in the Quran are contradicted by other verses, Muslim jurists (the ‘ulema’) apply the principle of ‘abrogation’ to determine which of the verses are to be followed. The verses from later in Muhammad’s career abrogate, or replace, earlier verses with which they are in contradiction. This principle itself is enshrined in Quran 2.106:
Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We [Allah] abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?
Thus Muslim jurists look at not only the Quran, but at the Hadiths (sayings by and about Muhammad) and the Sira (the Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, written in the eighth century), in order to understand when in Muhammad’s life a verse was given, and therefore how it should be applied. So in Islam there are these divine words and commands which can never be altered, because they are the direct, literal words from Allah, yet they are understood and filtered through the example of Muhammad, who, after his flight to Medina with only a small number of followers, soon became a powerful warlord, transforming Islam into a religion spread by the sword, not by preaching.
After one early victory, Muhammad personally beheaded over seven-hundred Jews till their blood ran in the streets, as this passage from the Sira illustrates:
Then they [the Jewish tribe of Qurayza] surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of Bani al-Najjar. Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy bin Akhtab and Ka’b bin Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the Apostle they asked Ka’b what he thought would be done with them. He replied, ‘Will you never understand? Don’t you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!’ This went on until the Apostle made an end of them. (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, trans. by A. Guillaume, New York, 1980, pp 463-464.) [Keep in mind this is an Islamic source text.]
Following his hijra (flight, migration) from Mecca to Medina, and his initial victory at the Battle of Badr, Muhammad waged relentless war—complete with raping and pillaging—against dissenting Arab and Jewish tribes until he came to a position of power in Medina, eventually returning with an army of ten-thousand Muslims to conquer Mecca itself some ten years later. Before the end of his life, Muhammad sent letters to the rulers of all the Middle Eastern kingdoms commanding them to submit to his rule (and the rule of Allah), thus affirming the practice of offensive jihad, and setting in motion the endless Islamic quest to force the whole world to submit to Allah.
The Koran itself commands Muslims to fight against and terrorize the unbelievers till they embrace Islam or “feel themselves subdued” as is seen in these verses:
“Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth [i.e. Islam] among the people of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Sura 9:29)
“Kill the mushrikun [unbelievers] wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush.” (Sura 9:5)
“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes.” (Sura 8:12)
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the enemies of Allah and your enemies.” (Sura 8:60)
“So, when you meet those who disbelieve, smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly on them… Thus you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam.” (Sura 47:4)
These verses abrogate over one hundred earlier, peaceful verses from Muhammad’s Meccan period. These are but a few examples of the violent, offensive jihad verses.
The word Islam means “submission,” and Islam exists to bring about the world’s submission to Allah and his Prophet, as is seen in this foundational hadith:
“Allah’s Messenger said: ‘I have been ordered [by Allah] to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah… so if they perform all that, then they save their lives and property from me.” (Sahih Bukhari, 1:2:25, also Sahih Muslim, 1:10:29-35.)
The resurgence in the 20th century of what we might call “pure” Islam, as seen in the Salafi, Wahhabi, and to a lesser extent in the Muslim Brotherhood movements, has overwhelmed moderate, Westernized, secular Islam, which finally lost its attractiveness in 1979 with the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of the ayatollahs. Simple clues like culture and clothing bear this out. Fifty years ago, you couldn’t find a Muslim woman wearing a hijab in Cairo; now it’s completely the reverse. With a return to traditional Muslim attire and culture comes a return to the foundational principles of Islam such as jihad and the humiliating treatment of non-Muslims, primarily Christians and Jews, through the dhimma contract and the payment of the crippling jizya tax.
Whether ancient or modern, the timeless, relentless doctrine of jihad is mandatory for Muslims, which means the struggle to make Islam dominant throughout the world. Though it may begin peacefully, if the unbelievers resist submission to Islam, the umma (the Muslim community) are then enjoined to wage war to spread the religion of Muhammad, for “the earth belongs to Allah and his Apostle” (Sahih Muslim, Book of Jihad, 3:17:4363; also Bukhari, Book of al-Jizya, 4:58:3167). This assertion of Allah’s ownership of the world is a key component of the doctrine of jihad, and concerns issues of both national sovereignty and personal property; because Islam sees the entire world as belonging to Allah, the unbelievers have no innate, natural claim to the land or resources they may possess.
The doctrine of jihad is clearly presented in this key passage from Reliance of the Traveller, published by Al Azhar University in Cairo, which is the foremost handbook of Islamic doctrine for orthodox Sunni Islam, published by the most revered school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. This is from a modern edition of a revered traditional text, readily available through mosques, Islamic bookstores, and Amazon:
Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada signifying warfare to establish the religion.
The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus (def: b7) is such Koranic verses as: “Fighting is prescribed for you” (Koran 2:216); “Slay them wherever you find them” (Koran 4:89); “Fight the idolators utterly” (Koran 9:36);
and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet said:
“I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah”;
and the hadith reported by Muslim,
“To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it.”
Jihad is a communal obligation. (o9.1)
The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians… until
they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax. (o9.8)
The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim. (o9.9)
The call for Muslims to wage jihad is universal, though not all Muslims wage offensive jihad. Yet if they cannot do so, they are still enjoined to support jihad through other means, such as financial, material, or in their heart and through their prayers (the lesser jihad). This is openly taught in mosques. In fact, four separate studies over the last ten years have consistently shown that approximately 80% of all mosques in the United States preach/teach jihad, promote reading materials which urge violent jihad, and/or advocate the overthrow of the US Constitution and installation of Sharia Law.
It should be quite clear that there is nothing comparable in either the Old or New Testament, in Christian tradition or teaching, nor even in Christian history to the mandatory doctrine of jihad in Islam. Yes, there have been atrocities committed by Christians, even in the name of Christ, but these are not in accordance with the Scriptures, the example of Jesus, or His teachings. You can even find “Christian” writers today who are advocating for a literal “nuke and pave” strategy towards the Muslim world. But this is not the Orthodox Way.
I think we would say that in each person, including in each Muslim, remains the image of God, and we appeal to that divine spark, holding out hope to the last that even the most vile jihadist murderer can still repent and turn to Christ. Remember the Wise Thief whom we sing so movingly about every Holy Week, and recall every time we receive the Holy Eucharist.
This is along the lines of what Archimandrite Daniel Byantoro, convert from Islam and founder of the Indonesian Orthodox Mission teaches:
I think it is very important for Christians to wake up and return to their roots, to be serious about their faith, and to try to share that faith with Moslems. This is the greatest defense against Islam.
My original essay which George re-posted was written as an invitation to those Muslims who are waking up to what their own religion teaches and what their violent co-religionists are calling them likewise to do. My essay and part of my mission for my little blog, Facing Islam, is a call to Muslims of good conscience, who consider themselves peaceful seekers after the True God, to “Come and see,” to encounter Jesus Christ within the Orthodox Church.
In this I am simply trying to follow — however inadequately — in the footsteps of New Martyr Father Daniil Sysoev of Moscow (†2009), about whom his friend and co-laborer Deacon Georgi Maximov has written:
Among those who call themselves Orthodox, I have met such strange people who say that Fr. Daniil should not preach to Muslims, that one must respect their religion, and that there is no benefit from his preaching. But Fr. Daniil thought, as did the Lord, the Apostles, and all the saints, that one must respect mistaken people but not their mistakes. Truth is one, that which contradicts and negates truth is a lie, and respect for a lie is contempt for the truth. [Source]
Father Daniil converted some 80 Muslims to Jesus Christ, including some hard-core Wahhabis. He is our example and teacher, both in boldly refuting Islam as a false religion, and in holding out the Gospel of Life to Muslims. It is up to us to be abiding in Christ, acquiring the Holy Spirit, so that we are prepared to greet with love and thanksgiving whatever or whomever the Lord allows us to encounter. I had the good fortune to play a small part directing a Muslim seeker to Fr Justin Patterson at St Athanasius Church (OCA) in Lexington KY a year ago. Muslims are hearing about Jesus, sometimes from the Lord Himself! Their stories are quite inspiring, and there are many examples on the Journey to Orthodoxy site.
Forgive me if I have caused any offense to anyone. Please pray for me a sinner.