Christian Responses to Islamism and Violence in the name of Islam

Introduction: Asking the Right Questions 1Revised version of a presentation given at a meeting of Global Connections (of the Evangelical Alliance) in London on 16 June, 2015. I have retained much of the style of the original oral presentation

Max Warren, General Secretary of the Church Mission Society from 1942 to 1963, used to tell a story from his time in hospital after returning from service in Nigeria with a serious illness. One day he was examined by a medical student as part of his final examinations in front of his professor. After the examination the student gave his diagnosis of Warren’s illness to the professor. Warren knew that the diagnosis was wrong. So when he saw the professor the following day, he said to him, ‘I suppose that student failed because he got the diagnosis wrong’. ‘Oh no!’ replied the professor. ‘The diagnosis was wrong. But he would have got there in the end because he asked all the right questions’.

While we have been living with Islamism for some years, the creation of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in June 2014 no doubt took all of us by surprise. And if there’s been a variety of responses among national governments, academics and journalists, there’s also been a variety of responses among Christians. So if none of us can claim to give a definitive answer to the question of how Christians should respond to Islamism and ISIS, can we at least attempt to ask some of the right questions? These would be the ten questions that I would want to ask.

(1) What do we Mean by ‘Islamism’ and How does it Differ from Other Kinds of Islam?

I hope we are past the stage of speaking about ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and are starting to use terms like ‘Islamism’, ‘political Islam’ or ‘radical Islam’. I am not talking about ordinary Muslims who may have a political agenda of one kind or another, but Muslims who have a clear agenda about creating some kind of Islamic polity. It is important to recognise, however, that Islamists are not all the same. Some believe in democracy, pluralism and human rights, while others do not. Some believe that violence is sometimes justified in pursuing an Islamic agenda, while others reject the use of violence. They all want to see Islamic principles applied in the public sphere; but they recognise the huge differences in the political make-up of states all over the world and have different ideas about how a particular state could be more Islamic.

Political Islam is therefore different from what we might call ‘Traditionalist’ or ‘Orthodox Islam’ where Muslims want to conserve Islam as far as possible as it has been practised for centuries. They want to grant a minimum of concessions to modernity, and have little desire to change the political status quo in the countries where they are living.

Political Islam is different from the Folk Islam or Popular Islam which is practised all over the world. Paul Hiebert and Bill Musk have explained how Islam is often mixed up with primal religion which includes a great deal of magic and superstition. These Muslims are generally not so interested in politics, and their main concern is to find a source of power to deal with all the evil forces in spiritual world around us and with all the problems of daily life.

Political Islam also differs from Liberal or Modernist Islam. These Muslims believe that Islam can and must change as society changes. They want greater freedom in their interpretation of the Qur’an and Islamic tradition and greater flexibility in the way they interpret Islamic law in the modern world.

When we speak of political Islam, therefore, we are thinking about Muslims who want to change the world by making their communities and their countries more Islamic and by ordering them more consistently in accordance with divinely revealed law. Some consider it appropriate to use forms of coercion if necessary.

(2) Is Islam Essentially More Political than Christianity?

This is a difficult question. Before I give my own answer, I want to point out the danger of ‘essentialism’; the idea that we can easily describe the essence or the essential nature of something. We make generalisations like ‘Islam is essentially this or that’; ‘Islam is by its very nature like this’. It is tempting for non-Muslims—and especially Christians—looking in from outside and from what we think is a neutral, objective vantage point, to believe that we know better than Muslims do what Islam really is.

I am hesitant therefore to use words like ‘essentially’ and have become more cautious about sweeping generalisations and sentence that begin ‘Islam is …’. I find myself speaking more about Muslims in all their variety and diversity than about Islam as something that is monolithic and unchanging. In answer to the question above, therefore, I believe there are several reasons why Muslims tend to be more politically-minded than Christians. A statement like this, however, needs several qualifications.

We would have to begin by pointing out one major difference between the lives of Jesus and Muhammad: Jesus died on a cross, while Muhammad in the Hijra moved from being the persecuted prophet in Mecca to become (using the title of Montgomery-Watt’s classic 2Watt WM (1975) Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) both ‘prophet and statesman’. When Muhammad received the invitation from the Muslim converts in Medina to become the leader of the whole city, he probably saw it as an opportunity to establish a truly Islamic community living under the law of God. This is why one Muslim scholar can write: ‘The basic emphasis of Islamic salvation lies … in … the establishment of the ideal religio-political order with a worldwide membership of all those who believe in God and His revelation through Muhammad …’. 3Abdulaziz A. Sachedina AA (1986) The Creation of a Just Social Order in Islam. In: Ahmad M (ed.) State, Politics and Islam. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, p. 116

By 732 AD, a hundred years after the death of the Prophet, a vast Islamic empire stretched from Morocco and Spain in the West to the borders of China and India in the East. Because of the example of the Prophet and centuries of Islamic history, and in spite of what has been said about the danger of generalisations, I believe Kenneth Cragg summed up a very fundamental conviction in the mind of most well-taught Muslims in this memorable sentence ‘Islam must rule’. 4Cragg K (1978) Islam and the Muslim. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, p. 78.  A few thousand Muslim Arabs were ruling over a population which for about three centuries was largely Christian. The first 300 years of Islamic history stand in sharp contrast to the first 300 years of Christian history in which Christians were a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire.

There are, therefore, are some very strong historical and theological reasons why many Muslims have been concerned about politics. Several qualifications are still necessary.

Firstly, there have been several examples of political Christianity in the past. 300 years before the birth of Muhammad, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman state. The capital of the empire moved to Byzantium in 324 and Muhammad must have been aware of this powerful Christian empire to the north-west of Arabia. The popes filled the power vacuum after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. The crowning of Charlemagne by the Pope in 800 was a significant date in the development of Christendom. At one point, Charlemagne offered baptism or death to the people he conquered. John Calvin wanted to make Geneva a thoroughly Christian city. In South America, Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors enforced Christianity with the sword. The other essays in this collection address warfare, killing and coercion by those who claimed to follow Christ.

Secondly, Muslims believe that they can see examples of political Christianity at the present time. Islamists frequently claim that the world of Islam is under attack from ‘the Zionist-Crusader alliance’ of the West. While we can challenge this kind of rhetoric, we must recognise that this is how we are perceived. Muslims might be justified in seeing the alliance between evangelical Christianity and the political right in the USA as an example of political Christianity. And they would certainly be justified in seeing Christian Zionism as a very obvious kind of political Christianity, because it uses Christians beliefs to support a very clear political agenda related to the state of Israel.

Thirdly, about a third of Muslims all over the world live in minority situations where they are not in a position of political power. They do not all look back to the first Islamic state in Medina as a Golden Age that they want to recreate where they live today. Some of them compare their situation to that of the first group of Muslims in Mecca, while others see themselves as being in a similar situation to the Muslims sent by Muhammad from Mecca to seek asylum in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. So we can never say that all Muslims are likely to have a political agenda.

In answer to this question, therefore, we can never get away from the contrast between the lives of Jesus and Muhammad. One of the temptations during the forty days in the wilderness may have been the temptation to seek political power. As Matthew 4:8–9 shows, Jesus was offered ‘all the kingdoms of the world in their glory … if you will only fall down and do me homage’. (Revised English Bible). Jesus said to Pilate ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world’ (John 18:30) But if the kingdom of God, the kingly rule of God, means anything, it cannot simply be about me and my relationship with God. If his followers are called to be salt and light in the world, how are the values of the kingdom to be expressed in communities and in society as a whole? If we are critical of the political agendas of some Muslims, we dare not abandon the public sphere to secularists and Muslims. Christians must have a clear vision of the kind of just and caring society we want to live in. And this must have something to do with public life and politics. If most Christians and Muslims are concerned about the transformation of their societies, they will inevitably have some interest in politics.

(3) Why has Islamism Become so Significant in Recent Years?

The rapid spread of ISIS in Iraq and the capture of Mosul in June 2014 made the world sit up and take notice. We might not have been so surprised, however, if we remembered the history of the last 150 years (the last 40 years in particular) and the many variations of political Islam.

In Algeria in 1989, for example, the army seized power after FIS, the Islamist party, had won a democratic election. In 1997 fifty eight tourists were gunned down at Luxor in Upper Egypt. Muhammad Mursi attempted to impose the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda on Egypt while he was in power from 2012 to 2013. Ayatollah Khomeini created the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist AKP have turned the tide after decades of secularism imposed by Ataturk in the 1920s and brought Islam back into public life. Hizbullah was created in 1986 as a resistance movement against Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon, and Hamas came into existence in 1986 as a response to 40 years of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. If we go back further to the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, we find that Hassan al-Banna was driven by two clear goals: the revival of Islam and the ending of the British occupation of Egypt. If we go back further still, we find that in India Muslims played a significant role in the 19th century in opposing the British Raj. 5See Allen C (2007) God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, London: Abacus.

In all these different expressions of political Islam there are two common factors: the desire to see the public sphere ordered by Islamic principles and the refusal to be ruled by foreigners. As we shall see shortly, context is all-important. In every case there has been something contextually specific—a perceived injustice—which has driven Muslim to take action and often to resort to violence.

So we could argue, for example, that if Israel in 1967 had complied with UN Security Resolution 242 and withdrawn from the territories it had occupied in the Six Day War, Hamas might never have come into existence. If Israel had not invaded Lebanon in 1982 and stayed on as an occupying power in the south for 28 years, there might have been no Hizbullah. And if the US and its allies had not invaded Iraq in 2003, there probably would be no ISIS.

In all these expressions of political Islam there is a real zeal for God, a passion to ‘strive in the way of God’, to use a common Qur’anic expression. As is well known, the basic meaning of the word jihad is ‘to strive’, and has little to do with the idea of ‘holy war’. However, it is not just a passion to fight injustice and to create a just society that has motivated Muslims. There is also the conviction, as summed up by Kenneth Cragg, that ‘Islam must rule’. Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential Islamist ideologues who was imprisoned and tortured by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government, summed up this Islamist conviction in the sentence la budda li-‘l-islam an yahkum (‘Inevitably Islam shall rule’). 6Qutb S (1980) Ma‘rakat al-Islam wa’-l-Ra’smaliyya, 7th ed. Cairo, 1980, p. 55, as quoted in JJG Jansen (1997) The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism. London: Hurst, p. 5.

In the light of the example of the Prophet and in the context of many centuries of Islamic history, it has probably seemed very natural for Muslims to be ruling over non-Muslims—and especially over Christians and Jews who were treated as dhimmis, (protected communities living under Islamic rule). It is much more difficult for Muslims to accept being ruled by non-Muslims. I suspect therefore that there is something uniquely Islamic about this, because I doubt if Hindus, Buddhists or Confucianists can find in their scriptures and history the same kind of clear and strong motivation to engage in political activity and seek to rule.

Once again, however, I would point out the danger of generalisation. The vast majority of Muslims in Britain and Europe would probably be shocked if you said to them, ‘We know that in your heart of hearts you Muslims want to rule the world’. Islam is a missionary religion just as much as Christianity is, and for some Muslims, jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam. But it is not true that all Muslims all over the world have clear political agenda and want the world to come under Islamic rule.

So why has political Islam become so significant in recent years? It is partly because Muslims have faced what they perceive to be injustice and oppression and so many situations in which they feel that their own Muslim rulers are not running their countries in accordance with Islamic principles.

(4) Where has ISIS Come From?

Patrick Cockburn, who writes for The Independent, is notable for his analysis of the origins of ISIS. 7Cockburn P (2014), The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, New York: OR Books; idem., (2015) The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. New York: Verso, 2015. In March 2015 Der Spiegel published some highly significant documents that had been captured from ISIS. 8Christopher Reuter C (2015) Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State. Der Spiegel, 18 April. These articles have shown that the  2003 war in Iraq and the 2011 civil war in Syria created the vacuum that allowed ISIS to rise in power. After bringing down Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘ath regime, the Americans disbanded the whole army, leaving 350,000 angry men without work or pay. Many of these soldiers, along with officials from the government and the secret services who had been running Hussein’s police state, joined forces with al-Qa‘ida in Iraq. They brought with them many skills (including skills in running a state, finance and digital media) that were then used in creating the new Islamic state. So there was a kind of unholy alliance between Islamists and Ba‘athists.

The other important factor is that the Sunnis in Iraq, who are about 20% of the population, were always resentful of the way they had been excluded from power by Hussein. They were again marginalised after his downfall in 2003 as the new government was dominated by the Shi‘ite majority. Many Iraqi Sunnis feared and hated Shi‘ites and would rather be ruled by ISIS than by the Shi‘ites.

It was in this political context that al-Qa‘ida in Iraq developed into IS or ISIS. If Iraqi and other Arab Sunnis provided the main leadership and the tactical skills, it was the Wahhabi beliefs of al-Qa‘ida that provided the ideological basis for ISIS, including four important Wahhabi convictions:

(a) the desire to copy the beliefs and practices of the salaf, the first generation of Muslims, sitting lightly to the teaching of the four main schools of Islamic law;

(b) the need for a close alliance between Islam and the state which requires that the state should be Islamic and uphold Islamic law;

(c) a strong antipathy towards Shi‘ites as heretical Muslims (which would include the Alawite regime of the Assads and the Iraqi and Iranian Shi‘ites) and towards non-Muslims  (which would include the West);

(d) a strong rejection of un-Islamic practices or beliefs (which would include those of the Yazidis).

When trying to understand ISIS, therefore, context and ideology are equally important. ‘ISIS is the child of war,’ says Patrick Cockburn. ‘Its members seek to reshape the world around them by acts of violence. The movement’s toxic mix of extreme religious beliefs and military skill is the outcome of the war in Iraq since the US 2003 invasion and the war in Syria since 2011 … It was the US, Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates that created the conditions for the rise of ISIS’. 9Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State, p. 8–9

(5) Can One Say that ‘ISIS has Nothing to Do with Islam’ or ‘ISIS is Nearer to Real Islam that Moderate Islam’?

In recent years, there have been two main responses to ISIS. It is easy to understand why so many Muslims—especially in western contexts—dissociate themselves from ISIS. They are thoroughly embarrassed to think that non-Muslims around them might assume that, because they are Muslims, they must have some sympathy with ISIS’ beliefs and actions. They therefore argue that many of the practices of ISIS are completely un-Islamic, and cannot be justified by the legal traditions that have developed over many centuries. A very thoughtful Muslim leader in Cambridge said to me recently, ‘They’re just a bunch of Marxists’. And an article in the Times by Ben Macintyre, with the heading ‘ISIS owes more to the Kremlin than the Koran’, argued that ‘Stalin is the godfather of Islamic State’. 10Ben Macintyre B (2015) Isis owes more to the Kremlin than the Koran. The Times, 24 April. Many politicians have been naively repeating the mantra ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. And I still remember hearing an Anglican bishop, a few days after 9/11, saying on BBC Radio’s programme, ‘This has nothing to do with Islam’. Although the claim is often repeated, it was particularly significant to hear a leading churchman saying this so soon after 9/11.

When the ideologues of ISIS spell out in great detail where in their scriptures, tradition and history they find the Islamic justification for what they are doing, it becomes untenable to assert that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. ISIS members believe their actions are closely related to Islam. It would be more accurate to say that ISIS has a lot to do with Islam, but is an extreme expression of one particular kind of Islamism. The rank and file of ISIS fighters from all over the world have joined the movement—and they have a variety of motives, related to idealism and the search for identity, meaning and adventure. It is also likely that many fighters have a minimal understanding of Islam. ISIS’ leadership, however, claims to be imitating some of the practices of the first generation of Muslims who fought alongside the Prophet and continued his struggle after his death. In interpreting the Qur’an, they use the principle of abrogation which enables them to say that later verses calling Muslims to wage war on unbelievers abrogate, or cancel out, earlier verses which call for patient endurance of opposition. An important document for ISIS, called ‘The Management of Savagery’ (2004) explains in some detail how their strategies and tactics are modelled on some of the practices of the first Muslims. 11Naji AB (2004), The Management of Savagery, 2004, See also, Atwan AB (2015), Islamic State: the Digital Caliphate. London: Saqi, chapter 8, pp. 153–164. Instead of saying that the warriors of ISIS are not real or faithful Muslims, other Muslims, therefore, need to explain why they believe ISIS is completely wrong in its interpretation and application of Islamic sources.

At the other extreme there are many Christians—and especially evangelical Christians—who believe that ISIS is much nearer to the spirit and practice of early Islam than moderate Muslims of today. As evidence, they point to particular verses in the Qur’an (e.g. about beheading, crucifixion and slavery) and passages in Hadith literature, the biographies of Muhammad and legal texts to show the connections between the brutalities of ISIS and early Islamic texts.

I believe it is appropriate to draw attention to the precedents from the early years of Islam—especially since ISIS is using this precedent to justify their actions.  However, there are two serious weaknesses in the approach which sees ISIS as faithful practitioners of early Islam. Firstly, they hardly engage with the arguments of mainstream Muslim scholars who believe they can demonstrate why ISIS is a clear departure from Islamic tradition. The main argument of scholars like Tim Winter, current dean of The Cambridge Muslim College, is that Islamist interpretations generally ignore the consensus in the Islamic legal tradition which developed over many centuries. They insist on going directly back to the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet. Winter believes that the legal traditions of the four main schools (the madhhabs) are like a telescope that enables us to see the stars clearly; and the Islamists, who ignore the tradition and make their own interpretations of the sources, are like people who refuse to use the telescope and insist on looking at the stars with the naked eye. 12Murad AH (1999) Understanding the Four Madhhabs: the Facts about Ijtihad and Taqlid. Cambridge: The Muslim Academic Trust.

Secondly, those who say ISIS is a faithful expression of real Islam assume that non-Muslims are in a better position than Muslims to determine what is ‘true Islam’ or ‘real Islam’. We must surely allow Muslims to speak for themselves and define themselves and their faith and not imagine that we understand what Islam is better than they do.

(6) Is the Root of the Problem Scriptural and Dogmatic or Historical and Political?

Many writers today seem to want to minimise the importance of history and politics and put all the emphasis on scripture and dogma. For example, in the book Islam in Conflict: Past, Present and Future, two well-known Christian scholars of Islam, Peter Riddell and Peter Cotterell, write:

In our view it is not the non-Muslim world that stands at the cross-roads, but the Muslim world. Islam has, throughout its history, contained within itself a channel of violence, legitimized by certain passages of the Qur’an, though put in question by other passages … Ultimately it is only the Muslim world that can deal with the roots of the problem, which, in our view, do not lie in Western materialism or nineteenth-century colonialism or American imperialism, but in Islam’s own history, both distant and recent. 13Riddell PG and Cotterell P (2003) Islam in Conflict: Past, Present and Future. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, pp. 7–8.

There are two main reasons why I feel deeply uneasy about this approach. In the first place, it seems to assume that everything that Muslim do can be explained by referring to texts, and that history and politics have little or no relevance. This approach is described by John Azumah as ‘textualism’. 14Azumah J (2014) The Challenge of Responding to Jihadi Islam. Lapido Media, 29 August. Human behaviour, and especially the relationship between a text and any particular action, is far more complex.

The second weakness of this approach is that it effectively absolves westerners of all responsibility for the mess that has been unfolding in the Middle East in the last hundred years. It is as if they are saying: ‘We haven’t done anything wrong. What we in the West have been doing to the world of Islam for centuries is hardly relevant. The root of the problem is their scriptures and tradition. It’s their problem; and they are the ones who have to change’.

Many Muslims and Arabs, likewise, are adept at the blame game - blaming everyone but themselves for all their problems. Having lived for eighteen years in the Middle East and tried to see the West as Arabs and Muslims see it, I believe that they have some good reasons to be angry. When I think of Israel and Palestine in particular, how can we possible argue that the West is innocent and that the root of the problem is in Islamic scripture and dogma?

Emphasising non-textual factors does not imply that texts are unimportant. I am simply arguing that history and politics are just as important as texts and dogma in understanding political Islam in general and ISIS in particular. We need to know how to challenge Muslims over their interpretation of their texts. But we also need to understand the historical and political contexts in which political Islam has developed in recent years.

(7) Is political Islam always likely to tend towards violence?

The answer to this question must be an emphatic NO! There are plenty of situations where Islamists do not resort to violence. At the same time, they face a real dilemma. They want their societies to be more consistently Islamic; but how are they to achieve this goal? Are they to work for a gradual and peaceful Islamisation of the country, or are they justified in using force to win power? And what happens when violence is done to them?

These dilemmas can be illustrated from the history of one particular Islamist movement - the Muslim Brotherhood. From its beginnings in 1928, the vision of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, was for a genuine Islamic revival which would transform the social and spiritual life of the nation and bring British rule to an end. At an early stage some of its members formed a secret military organisation, ‘the Special Apparatus’ which targeted British occupation troops and Egyptians who collaborated with the British. When they engaged in violence, they were always condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. The activities of the Brotherhood led to opposition from the British and the Egyptian government, and Hassan al-Banna was assassinated in 1949.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, former president of Egypt, had been a member of the Brotherhood since 1941. The coup that he led in 1952 had the approval of the leadership. Before long, however, friction developed between Nasser and the Brotherhood and after a year he dissolved the organisation. Many of its leaders were imprisoned and tortured. After Nasser’s death in 1971, Anwar Sadat released Muslim Brotherhood members from prison, hoping to enlist their support for his government. His toleration of the movement enabled it to regain power and influence. By the mid-1970s they had split into three groups. The Muslim Brotherhood continued to believe in peaceful reform through the Islamisation of the individual, the family and society. This, they hoped, would lead to the establishment of the Islamic state. The two other groups, the Gamaa Islamiyya of Egypt and al-Jihad, condoned the use of violence. Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and his signing of the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1979 led to his assassination by members of these last two groups. Many were put in prison, while others fled the country; and it was some who went to Afghanistan who later created al-Qa‘ida. Members of the Brotherhood were regularly put on trial. Others started working with political parties. Because the party itself was still officially banned, they stood as independents.

When the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was brought down in January 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood, after holding back for a short period, seized the opportunity to join in the revolution and effectively high-jacked it. Then, largely as a result of the goodwill they had built up through their networks and social work all over the country, they were able to get their Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi elected as President. He lost no time in attempting to impose an Islamist agenda on the country. This led to a popular revolt in June 2013, when around 33 million people took to the streets to depose him. While some would say that Abdel Wahab el-Sisi used this as an opportunity for the army to seize power, others would say that he was forced to step in and take control in order to save the country from chaos. The Brotherhood were furious that their democratically elected president had been ousted by this coup. There were violent clashes with the police and the army and arson attacks on around seventy churches.

While the majority of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, therefore, have genuinely wanted to bring about the Islamisation of society by peaceful and democratic means, the leadership has not always been able to control members who wanted to engage in violence to achieve their political ends. Their activities have provoked strong opposition from successive governments, which have regularly used violence to suppress them. While the Brotherhood have at times engaged in violence, a great deal of violence has been done to them, and many outside observers have been extremely critical of the way Sisi has set out to destroy the movement—ensuring that it can never seize power again.

The foregoing discussion has illustrated an ambiguity at the heart of the Brotherhood from the beginning, which is summed up by Alison Pargeter in this way:

Whilst the Ikhwan (MB) is keen to present itself as a peaceful organisation and has proven itself to be largely pacific, it does have a history of getting involved in violence when the opportunity has presented itself. Right from the outset the concept of violence was enshrined in its famous motto, which remains the maxim today: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” At its inception, the Ikhwan attached a far greater importance to the concept of jihad in both its violent and non-violent sense than was the tradition of the Islamic circles of the day. This differentiated it from other Islamic societies and organisations…

… the Brotherhood has a complex ideological relationship to the use of violence. Whilst its members broadly reject the idea of fighting against their own regimes, they do not entirely disown scholars such as Sayyid Qutb who was one of the early proponents of violent struggle against un-Islamic Muslim governments in the contemporary context and whose ideas radicalised a generation and more. They might refute some of Qutb’s ideas but there is still a certain pride in him and they consider him as one of their most important martyrs. This gives the impression that there is still an ambiguity in their discourse on violence and that they do not come down on one side or the other. 15Pargeter A (2010) The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power. London: Saqi, pp. 182–183.

We must acknowledge, therefore, that political Islam does not necessarily sanction violence. At the same time it is not hard to understand how some Islamists, who are frustrated at the slow progress in creating a more Islamic society or who suffer extreme violence from their opponents, can conclude - from their scriptures, dogma and history - that they have adequate justification for turning to violence.

(8) What are the Other Faces of Political Islam Today?

Two years ago I had a long email correspondence with a Messianic Jewish leader in Israel who was convinced that Hamas, Hizbullah, ISIS and Iran are all basically the same. In my responses I have tried to explain why I believe that this approach is in danger of breaking the fourth commandment, because it is in danger of bearing false witness against our neighbour.

To develop this point I want to commend a book edited by Asef Bayat. The title explains the basic point: Post-Islamism: the changing faces of political Islam. 16Bayat A (2013) Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press He defines Islamism as follows:

I take Islamism to refer to those ideologies and movements that strive to establish some kind of an “Islamic order”—a religious state, shari‘a law, and moral codes in Muslim societies and communities. Association with the state is a key feature of Islamist politics … The primary concern of Islamism is to forge an ideological community; concerns such as establishing social justice and improving the lives of the poor are to follow only from this strategic objective. 17Ibid., pp. 4–5.

He defines post-Islamism as follows:

It represents an endeavor to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to turn the underlying principles of Islamism on their head by emphasizing rights instead of duties, plurality in place of a singular authoritative voice, historicity rather than fixed scriptures, and the future instead of the past. It wants to marry Islam with individual choice and freedom …, with democracy and modernity, to achieve what some have termed an “alternative modernity” … Whereas Islamism is defined by the fusion of religion and responsibility, post-Islamism emphasizes religiosity and rights. Yet, while it favors a civil and nonreligious state, it accords an active role for religion in the public sphere. 18Ibid., pp. 8–9. Notice especially this last sentence (my italics).

All the contributors to the book describe the unique ways in which Islamist and post-Islamist movements have developed side by side in ten different contexts: Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria. Bayat concludes:

The narratives … show that the forms, depth, and spread of post-Islamist experiences may vary. Yet they all point to some shift in vision. In each of these cases, post-Islamism denotes a critical discursive departure or pragmatic exit … from an Islamist ideological package characterized broadly by monopoly of religious truth, exclusivism, and emphasis on obligations, towards acknowledging ambiguity, multiplicity, inclusion, and flexibility in principles and practice…

Clearly, then, post-Islamism represents a discursive and/or pragmatic break, a break from an Islamist paradigm. But the direction is not “post-Islamic”, as some erroneously call it; it is post-Islamist. In other words, I am not speaking about a shift away from Islamic faith toward secularism, even though post-Islamism does denote a process of secularization in the sense of favoring the separation of religious affairs from the affairs of the state. Rather, I am speaking about post-Islamization as a complex process of breaking from an Islamist ideological package by adhering to a different, more inclusive, kind of religious project in which Islam nevertheless continues to remain important both as faith and as a player in the public sphere. 19Ibid., pp. 25–26

The problem for many of us who are outside observers is that, while we have been slowly coming to terms with the rise of political Islam, we have failed to notice significant development within Islamism and therefore to recognise significant differences among Islamists.

I would also commend another book with a significant title, edited by Khaled Hroub, Political Islam: context versus ideology. 20Hroub K (ed.) (2010) Political Islam: Context Versus Ideology. London: Saqi, 2010. In looking at many different situations in the Muslim world, Hroub writes: ‘The persistent question … remains whether, in dealing with the world around them Islamist movements are led by their context or their ideology’. He explains the tension between context and ideology:

Facing endless specific and pragmatic situations, a process of immediate and ongoing negotiations continues to take place between the contextual pressures and the underpinning ideology, producing particular responses. My argument … is that what appears to be similar movements often show different responses to the immediate, and sometimes similar, practical pressures around them. These responses are shaped mostly, if not completely, by the nature of these pressures, not by a supposedly common theology. The ideology of these movements remains significant, but mainly at a theoretical level, thinly concealing politics and responses that are formed by the contextual reality. 21Ibid., pp. 9–10.

I conclude therefore that there are huge differences between Hamas, Hizbullah, ISIS and Iran. There is certainly a hard core of Islamist conviction which they all share. But if there is a ‘battle for the soul of Islam’ that is being waged at the present time—not only between moderates and Islamists; but also between Islamists and post-Islamists.

(9) What are the Most Appropriate Responses to Islamism?

Instead of attempting to spell out a strategy for defeating ISIS, which according to Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA, is likely to involve a 30-year war, 22Quoted in Atwan, Islamic State, p. 231. I want to make some general points about the way we respond to all kinds of political Islam.

1. We need to have a better understanding of history and of recent international relations. We cannot begin to understand political Islam without some kind of historical perspective on fourteen hundred years of Islam’s history and of Christian-Muslims relations. I can’t think of a better survey of this history than Philip Jenkins magisterial book, The Lost History of Christianity: the thousand-year golden age of the church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. 23

Jenkins P (2008) The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. New York: HarperOne.

When it comes to more recent history, many British and Americans are unaware of their countries’ involvement in Iran’s 1953 coup d’état in which the CIA and MI6 engineered a coup which brought down the first democratically elected government under Mosadeq. This led to the return of the Shah and then eventually to the return of Khomeini and the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Stephen Kinzer subtitled his book on this event: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. 24Kinzer S (2003) All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken: John Wiley. At the time of the attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, Robert Fisk had an article in The Independent entitled ‘The post-colonial wound that still bleeds in France’ in which he pointed out that in the 8-year Algerian war for independence (1954–1962) ‘perhaps a million and a half Arab Muslims and many thousands of French men and women died’. 25Fisk R (2015) The post-colonial wound that still bleeds in France. The Independent, 10 January.

While I was in Beruit [Beirut] in January 2015, a Syrian Presbyterian pastor summed up developments in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011: ‘Syria and the Middle East are suffering from the game of nations’. Patrick Cockburn recently described this complex game:

The conflict is so difficult to end because it is half a dozen crises and confrontations in one: Sunni Arabs against ruling Alawites and the minorities; better-off against poor; secular against Islamists; city against country; Kurd against Arab; Kurd against Turk; Sunni against Shia; Iran against Saudi Arabia; Russia against – but sometimes cooperating with – the US. The complexity was described by one commentator as being like three-dimensional chess played by nine players, with no rules’. 26Cockburn P (2016) Every Syrian fighter is waging an existential battle that can only end in victory or death. The Independent, 19 August.

2. We should not be surprised that Muslims are looking to their own Islamic roots to find new political solutions. In some countries in the Middle East, when western imperial powers withdrew, they left behind puppet rulers. These were then replaced by dictators who created one-party police states which adopted a wide variety of different ideologies: socialism, communism, nationalism, pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism, Ba‘athism, and Arab nationalism. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when these ideologies (mostly imported from the West) have failed, and when they look at the Golden Ages of Islam in the past, Muslims in the region begin to wonder if they might find new inspiration and direction within their own history and traditions. It is not surprising that they want the religion of Islam to have a significant place in their public life. And it is arrogant for westerners to assume that western-style democracy is the only system that will work in the Middle East.

3. We need to accept our share of responsibility for all that has happened. These are some of the major mistakes that I believe the West has made:

- Having contributed so much to the creation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the beginning of the 20th century, the West has allowed it to go on for so many decades without a peaceful and just resolution.

- The UN sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War in 1991 may have led to the deaths of around 1.7 million Iraqis.

- The Iraq War of 2003 was based on false claims about weapons of mass destruction and did not have the support of the UN. After the war the US had little or no plan for the reconstruction of the country.

- After 9/11, instead of trying to understand the anger of Muslims, the USA and its allies put all their energies into the so-called ‘war on terror’, and went after the wrong countries. Richard Holbrook, the US Special Representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan said at the time: ‘We may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country.’ 27Quoted in Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State, p 5 And Patrick Cockburn writes:

The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement. The US did not do so because these countries were important American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated, and on occasions purchased, influential members of the American political establishment. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of 180 million and a military with close links to the Pentagon. 28Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State, p 58

4. Muslim-majority countries need to accept their share of responsibility for all that has happened. Although I have disagreed with the emphasis that Peter Riddell and Peter Cotterell place on scripture and dogma, I agree totally with them that the Muslim world stands at a cross-roads – provided we also accept that the western world also stands at a cross-roads. So having stressed our share of responsibility, I want also to stress the responsibility of Muslim countries:

- Sunnis need to address the virulence of the Wahhabi hatred of Shi‘ites.

- Saudi Arabia has been using its billions of oil wealth for many decades to export Wahhabism all over the world, and many Saudis have been supporting ISIS directly or indirectly. It must now be very anxious that this extreme form of Islamism has almost become mainline Sunni Islam in the Middle East and has therefore contributed to the rise of ISIS. And one of ISIS’ next targets is likely to be Saudi Arabia.

- Pakistan has been playing a double game – supporting the Taliban on the one hand and at the same time joining with the US in its war or terror.

- The majority of Egyptians at the present time seem to be supporting Sisi, seeing him as the only strong man who can guarantee security and rescue the economy, and many are prepared to accept the return of the powerful police state and the restrictions on freedoms. Instead of trying to engage with Islamists in dialogue, Sisi’s government has set out to suppress them completely. Egypt under Sisi, therefore, seems to be sending the message to the world that the only alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood is dictatorship.

- Turkey has done little to stop jihadis and supplies crossing its 560-mile border with Syria, and at various times has indirectly helped ISIS because it is strongly opposed to the Kurds.

5. We may need to be far more critical of the foreign policies of our governments. In November 2017 we shall be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, and I hope there will be some public heart-searching over the involvement of Britain in the Middle East over the last century. I do not find many people in the United Kingdom who still support the way Tony Blair took the country into the Iraq war in 2003. However, I find many American evangelicals are remarkably un-critical about American foreign policy in general and the Iraq war in particular. One notable exception is Jim Wallis of Sojourners. He recently argued:

1. There are no ‘holy wars’.

2. We must admit that our primarily military response to terrorism since 9/11 has not worked; it has made things worse.

3. Only new political and economic solutions in the Middle East will finally transform the current state of affairs.

4. Fundamentalism, in all our faith traditions, is a politicized use of religion based on fear and power, and it is best defeated from the inside, not the outside.

5. Understanding and addressing the roots of terror to build a strategy to defeat it does not dismiss terror’s evil barbaric behavior. Whatever ISIS’s beliefs may be, and whatever grievances they might have against the Iraqi and Syrian governments, the West, and others, evil is never justified. 29Wallis J (2015) 5 Things to Know About ISIS and the Theology of Evil. The Huffington Post, 29 April.

(10) What are the Most Appropriate Christian Responses to Political Islam?

Alongside what we have said about general responses, I would suggest the following as seven distinctive Christian responses:

1. We ought to have some sympathy with what Islamists are trying to do. Lesslie Newbigin, in the years before his death, alerted Christians to the way Christianity in the West had become a privatised religion. In one of his last books, Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in ‘Secular’ Britain (1998), co-authored with Jenny Taylor and Lamin Sanneh, he pointed out that both Christians and secular-minded people in Britain were finding it difficult to face the challenge of Muslims who really believe in the sovereignty of God and want him to be honoured in the public sphere. 30 Newbigin L, Sanneh L and Taylor J (1998) Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in ‘Secular’ Britain. London: SPCK. Perhaps Christians are in a unique position to be bridge-builders: if we think we understand the secular mind-set, we ought at the same time to be able to understand that many Muslims are trying to bring their faith to bear on society. As a result, Christians might be able to interpret each side to the other.

2. We need to recognise the weaknesses of some expressions of evangelical Christianity. If some kinds of pietism have made us think only of ourselves and personal salvation, of course we are going to be shocked when we find Muslims speaking about their vision for a godly society. At the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, John Stott and others were willing to listen to people like Rene Padilla and Sam Escobar from Latin America and wrote into the Lausanne Covenant specific points calling on Christians to engage with political and social issues. 31John Stott (2009) The Lausanne Covenant: Complete Text with Study Guide. Peabody: Hendrickson. See especially the section on Christian social responsibility. This was a challenge to a purely individualistic, conversionist approach to Christian faith.  Since 1974 Padilla and others have articulated a theology of holistic mission which takes seriously the social context of mission and evangelism. 32Woolnough BE and Wonsuk M (2010) Holistic Mission, God’s Plan for God’s People. Oxford: Regnum

3. We ought to be able to share with Muslims what we think we have learned from twenty centuries of Christian history. We agonise, of course, over Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the glue to hold the Roman Empire together. Some believe that it was one of the greatest disasters in Christianity history. We all feel a sense of shame over the Crusades—although some Middle Eastern Christians tell us that we should not feel so guilty because the Crusades were simply the delayed reaction of Christendom to the first Islamic conquests. In Christian history, where the church has been closely allied with the state, there have been many attempts to impose scriptural law, force conversion and suppress dissent. On the other hand, Christians at different times have helped to build up civil society by fighting for social justice and establishing standards of honesty and trust in business. It ought therefore to be possible for us to share with Muslims both the positive and the negative lessons we think we have learned from our history.

4. We need to engage with Muslims in personal testimony. Let’s not be afraid to talk  about the example of Jesus. There is the story of an ISIS fighter who has actually killed several Christians and who had a vision of a man in white who said to him ‘You are killing my people.’ Just before he killed a Christian, the man said to him, ‘I know you will kill me, but I give you my Bible.’ After he killed the Christian he started to read the Bible and had more dreams of Jesus. 33Assist News Service, 7 June, 2015   If Saul, who was ‘breathing our murderous threats’ against the Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:1), can be converted, so can a brutal ISIS fighter.

5. Redouble our efforts in doing good. 1 Peter 3:15 tells the Christian: ‘Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’. 1 Peter 2:15 is also intensely relevant: ‘It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men’. J. Dudley Woodberry tells this powerful story from Pakistan:

A Christian organisation imported thousands of sandals for children in a very primitive Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar. However, they decided not just to hand out sandals, but first to wash the feet and dress the wounds of the children. Months later, a local grade school teacher asked her class, “Who are the best Muslims?” A girl raised her hand and said, “the Kafirs.” [“the unbelievers”] When the shocked teacher asked why, the girl responded, “The mujahidin killed my father, but the Kafirs washed my feet”. 34Woodberry JD (2013) Fruitfulness from the Perspective of the Fruit and the Farmer. In: David Greenlee (ed.) Longing for Community: Church, Ummah, or Somewhere in Between? Pasadena, William Carey, p. 144.

Truthful witness concerning Christ should be coupled with loving actions that show the love of God in practical ways.

6. Demonstrate how Christians can contribute to nation-building and the creation of a just society. A few years ago I contributed to a document entitled ‘Gracious Christian Responses to Islam in Britain’ that was produced by the CRIB network (Christian Responses to Islam in Britain). Another contributor, Tim Green, pointed out that if Muslims, and especially Islamists, had a vision for the kind of society they wanted to see in Britain, we Christians ought to have something to say on the subject. He therefore suggested the following point under the heading ‘A Vision for Society’:

While we no longer live in Christendom and do not seek to build a Christian state, we have a vision for a society in which the values of the kingdom of God are upheld and honoured. We believe that such a society will safeguard expression of faith in the public sphere without its imposition, the exercise of free speech without unreasonable giving or taking of offence, and the uniform rule of public law without this being unnecessarily intrusive on private conscience. In seeking the common good of the whole society, we work together with Muslims within these broad parameters, seeking justice and peaceful co-existence. 35Bell S and Chapman C (eds.) (2011) Between Naivety and Hostility: Uncovering the Best Christian Responses to Islam in Britain. Milton Keynes, Authentic, pp. 284–85.

On the international scene, we could say that Israel-Palestine is near the top of the list of grievances of the Muslims world. I dare to suggest that a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict might go a long way towards reducing the anger of Muslims towards the West, and that Christians have a very significant contribution to make.

7. We need to be open to the new things that God is doing through the present turmoil. Perhaps one day we may see how God has been at work—both in judgement and in redemption—through all the persecution, the movement of peoples and relief work among refugees. Whereas Christians may not fully understand how God relates to these events, they should try to understand what God might be doing in all of this. They must also be aware of the importance of how they respond to what is happening. Muslims in Egypt, for example, cannot fail to have noticed the way Christians responded to the burning of their churches in August 2013, and Muslim refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have been deeply moved by the way Christians have ministered to their needs.


It should be clear that the ideology and brutality of ISIS require condemnation in the strongest possible terms from people of all faiths and of none. I have argued that the creation of the so-called Islamic State needs to be understood in the wider context of the development of political Islam and what has happened in the Middle East in the last century. We should not be surprised when Islamists have political agendas of different kinds, and there are very understandable reasons why in recent decades – and recent centuries – Muslims have been politically engaged. History and politics are therefore just as important as Islamic scripture and dogma in understanding the motivation of Islamists. Moreover, there are many different kinds of Islamists, and while some resort to violence, others emphatically renounce violence.

As we watch events unfolding in the Middle East at the present time, therefore, Christians ought to be able to make a distinctive contribution to the public debates about how to respond to Islamism and violence in the name of Islam. I am well aware that in developing this kind of approach, I will be accused by some of ‘going soft on Islam.’ Even if readers disagree with my general approach, however, I hope I have at least asked some of the right questions.

This article originally appeared as Colin Chapman, "Christian Responses to Islamism and Violence in the Name of Islam", Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies (Volume 34, Issue 2), March 2017, pp. 115-130.  Copyright © [2017] (Colin Chapman). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.  The published version is available from the SAGE website.



1 Revised version of a presentation given at a meeting of Global Connections (of the Evangelical Alliance) in London on 16 June, 2015. I have retained much of the style of the original oral presentation
2 Watt WM (1975) Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
3 Abdulaziz A. Sachedina AA (1986) The Creation of a Just Social Order in Islam. In: Ahmad M (ed.) State, Politics and Islam. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, p. 116
4 Cragg K (1978) Islam and the Muslim. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, p. 78.
5 See Allen C (2007) God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, London: Abacus.
6 Qutb S (1980) Ma‘rakat al-Islam wa’-l-Ra’smaliyya, 7th ed. Cairo, 1980, p. 55, as quoted in JJG Jansen (1997) The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism. London: Hurst, p. 5.
7 Cockburn P (2014), The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, New York: OR Books; idem., (2015) The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. New York: Verso, 2015.
8 Christopher Reuter C (2015) Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State. Der Spiegel, 18 April.
9 Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State, p. 8–9
10 Ben Macintyre B (2015) Isis owes more to the Kremlin than the Koran. The Times, 24 April.
11 Naji AB (2004), The Management of Savagery, 2004, See also, Atwan AB (2015), Islamic State: the Digital Caliphate. London: Saqi, chapter 8, pp. 153–164.
12 Murad AH (1999) Understanding the Four Madhhabs: the Facts about Ijtihad and Taqlid. Cambridge: The Muslim Academic Trust.
13 Riddell PG and Cotterell P (2003) Islam in Conflict: Past, Present and Future. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, pp. 7–8.
14 Azumah J (2014) The Challenge of Responding to Jihadi Islam. Lapido Media, 29 August.
15 Pargeter A (2010) The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power. London: Saqi, pp. 182–183.
16 Bayat A (2013) Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press
17 Ibid., pp. 4–5
18 Ibid., pp. 8–9.
19 Ibid., pp. 25–26
20 Hroub K (ed.) (2010) Political Islam: Context Versus Ideology. London: Saqi, 2010.
21 Ibid., pp. 9–10.
22 Quoted in Atwan, Islamic State, p. 231.

Jenkins P (2008) The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. New York: HarperOne.

24 Kinzer S (2003) All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken: John Wiley.
25 Fisk R (2015) The post-colonial wound that still bleeds in France. The Independent, 10 January.
26 Cockburn P (2016) Every Syrian fighter is waging an existential battle that can only end in victory or death. The Independent, 19 August.
27 Quoted in Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State, p 5
28 Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State, p 58
29 Wallis J (2015) 5 Things to Know About ISIS and the Theology of Evil. The Huffington Post, 29 April.
30 Newbigin L, Sanneh L and Taylor J (1998) Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in ‘Secular’ Britain. London: SPCK.
31 John Stott (2009) The Lausanne Covenant: Complete Text with Study Guide. Peabody: Hendrickson. See especially the section on Christian social responsibility.
32 Woolnough BE and Wonsuk M (2010) Holistic Mission, God’s Plan for God’s People. Oxford: Regnum
33 Assist News Service, 7 June, 2015
34 Woodberry JD (2013) Fruitfulness from the Perspective of the Fruit and the Farmer. In: David Greenlee (ed.) Longing for Community: Church, Ummah, or Somewhere in Between? Pasadena, William Carey, p. 144.
35 Bell S and Chapman C (eds.) (2011) Between Naivety and Hostility: Uncovering the Best Christian Responses to Islam in Britain. Milton Keynes, Authentic, pp. 284–85.

6 thoughts on “Christian Responses to Islamism and Violence in the name of Islam”

  1. Colin states that “Hamas came into existence in 1986 as a response to 40 years of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank”. The correct figure is 20 years. It was Egypt which occupied Gaza from 1948 to 1967, and Jordan which occupied the West Bank for the same period. Jordan made West Bank residents citizenship, but it relinquished its claim to the West Bank in 1988. Egypt never afforded citizenship to Gaza residents.

    Re “In all these different expressions of political Islam there are two common factors: the desire to see the public sphere ordered by Islamic principles and the refusal to be ruled by foreigners.” Actually it was not ‘foreign’ occupation that Hamas opposed, but non-Muslim rule (see the Hamas Charter). There is a difference. It has been a consistent theme of all the jihadi theorists that rule by infidels must be resisted by force. This derives from one of the classical rules of war in sharia law, namely that occupation of Muslim lands by infidels triggers jihad as an individual obligation (fard ‘ayn) upon all Muslims. This theological justification for the objection to non-Muslim rule is based on the Qur’an and Sunna. All this is well-known and uncontroversial.

    No, the rise of ISIS, did not ‘take us all by surprise.’ ISIS’s actions were true to the ideological statements of a host of jihadi theorists, from its reimplementation of jizya upon the heads of Christians, to its re-establishing Islam’s classical rules of jihad, including back slavery, and offering non-Muslims who are not considered People of the Book, such as the Yazidis, only two choices: Islam or the sword. None of this should have been surprising to anyone who has read Islamic jurisprudence on the rules of jihad.

    Colin also writes: “As is well known, the basic meaning of the word jihad is ‘to strive’, and has little to do with the idea of ‘holy war’.” While is true that the Arabic root j-h-d means to struggle or strive, nevertheless, in Islamic jurisprudence, the term jihad refers to warfare against non-Muslims to establish Islam. A sharia textbook’s chapter on jihad will invariably be about the rules of war, and the ‘Book of Jihad’ in collections of hadiths is always about warfare, not about struggle in general. The (Saudi-published) Noble Qur’an uses the phrase ‘holy war’ to translate jihad, as does a widely used English translation of the Sahih Bukhari, also endorsed by eminent Muslim authorities.

    It is troubling that what Colin has written here is misleading and unbalanced. Perhaps a fear of ‘essentialism’ has lead him to misrepresent Islamic dogma and minimise its significance as an influence on human behaviour. This kind of thinking does not lead to peace.

    • Colin Chapman has sent me the email below in response to Mark and asked me to post it on his behalf:

      I’m grateful to Mark Durie for the correction concerning the 20 years of Israel’s occupation which led to the creation of Hamas.

      In referring to the refusal to be ruled by foreigners, I was thinking not only of Israel/Palestine, but of India, Indonesia, Sudan, Algeria and Libya, where Muslims were resisting foreign colonial/imperial rule. In the case of Palestinians, their basic grievance has been about dispossession. Islamic ideology has given them a further motivation for resistance. But in all these situations Islam is not the root of the problem.

      I’m fully aware of the traditional Islamic doctrine of jihad and the fact that is has traditionally meant ‘warfare against non-Muslims to establish Islamic rule.’ My article spelt out the basic Islamic conviction that ‘Islam must rule,’ and jihad for many Muslims is obviously the way to achieve that goal.

      My main response to Mark, however, would be that his comments seem to me to be a perfect example of the ‘textualism’ that I spoke about – the idea that things like Jihadism can be explained primarily in terms of texts. One of my ten questions was about whether the root of the problem we are dealing with is Islamic scripture and dogma or about history and politics or a mixture of both. While I tried to argue that it’s a mixture of both, Mark makes it clear that he wants to put all the emphasis on Islamic dogma. This to me is pure textualism.

      He is right to correct me about a date relating to Gaza. But I don’t detect an ounce of sympathy for the people of Gaza who live in the largest open-air prison in the world, and whose situation the UN has said will be ‘unlivable’ by 2020. I don’t sense any empathy for millions of Muslims all over the world who resented being under the rule of western imperialists and naturally aspired to independence. I can’t see any admission of the role of western powers in contributing to the disaster that continues to unfold in Iraq.

      In trying to respond to Jihadism, I suggest there is quite a lot more involved than Islamic texts and dogma.

      • Colin Chapman’s response to my critique is disappointing. Note the pattern. When his argument is criticised, he responds with an ad hominem attack on my character, claiming that I lack compassion, not having even an ‘ounce of sympathy’ for oppressed Muslim peoples, and that I am a ‘textualist’.

        Of course human motivations are complex. And of course Western colonial occupation was oppressive of the conquered peoples whose lands they occupied and exploited. I certainly do NOT believe everything can be explained by texts. (I have previously answered this charge; see .) The fact that human motivations are complex doesn’t excuse us from maintaining accuracy in discussing them.

        The problem is not that Chapman is compassionately aware of the complexity of the motivations behind conflict and I am not. The issue is that he consistently downplays and misrepresents the role of Islam in these conflicts.

        Although Chapman now admits to being ‘fully aware’ that in Islamic jurisprdunce jihad meant ‘warfare against non-Muslims to establish Islamic rule,” in his article he baldly led his readers to think that jihad “has little to do with the idea of ‘holy war'”.

        Chapman alleges that Muslim resistance to western powers was primarily not religious, but a ‘refusal to be ruled by foreigners’. My point was that in asserting this, he downplays the testimony of the resisters themselves. He is silencing Muslim voices, even the ones he himself names. It was not that the occupiers were foreigners that they objected to, but that they were non-Muslims.

        For example Al-Banna, whom Chapman cited in his article, objected to colonial occupation because, in his own words: “Muslims … are compelled to humble themselves before non-Muslims, and are ruled by unbelievers. Their lands have been trampled over, and their honor besmirched. Their adversaries are in charge of their affairs, and the rites of their religion have fallen into abeyance with their own domains … Hence it has become an individual obligation, which there is no evading, on every Muslim to prepare his equipment, to make up his mind to engage in jihad, and to get ready for it until the opportunity is ripe and God decrees”. Note in Al-Banna’s statement there is no objection to the occupiers being ‘foreign’. The bone of contention, the heart of the issue for Al-Banna, was that they were not Muslims.

        Egypt occupied Gaza for 20 years, and Jordan occupied the West Bank for the same period, but these oppressive occupations — and they were oppressive — did not lead to the formation of Hamas. It was the Jewish, i.e. non-Muslim, occupation that could not be tolerated. This is precisely that Hamas itself has made crystal clear in its charter, which calls, not for the overthrow or eviction of ‘foreigners’, but “the reinstitution of the Muslim state”. But Chapman does not report this. Instead he changes the resistors’ messages, and reports instead that they objected to the occupiers being ‘foreign’.

        Chapman also mentions other contexts where Muslims opposed colonial rule: India, Indonesia, Sudan, Algeria and Libya. I have a great personal sympathy and familiarity with the Acehnese resistance to Dutch colonial rule, and have read a great number of Acehnese accounts of their resistance in their own tongue, but this does not change the fact that their resistance driven by jihadi ideology, specifically the dogma that it was the individual duty of each Muslim person to resist non-Muslim occupation. (It was only when the Dutch introduced policies to minimise the religious impetus for the conflict that they were able to make headway against the Acehnse insurgency.) Morally I side with the Acehnese in what they called the Prang Kaphé (‘infidel war) against the Dutch. But this sympathy doesn’t prevent me from acknowledging the key role of Islam in their motivation to fight.

        All kinds of military occupation of one nation by another are oppressive, in diverse and varied ways. The centuries-long Ottoman occupation of Palestine was morally offensive, but Palestinian Muslim residents accustomed themselves to it, without calls for jihad against the Turks, because the Ottomans ruled in the name of Islam.

        Sadly, Chapman appears to have a track record of misrepresentation where the influence of Islamic dogma is concerned.

        Another example was his claim at a Christ at the Check-Point Conference in March 2010 that ‘the first occasion when any Arab government invoked the doctrine of jihad [against Israel] was in 1969’. This was also to support his contention that the resistance was primarily not religious. But in fact King Abdullah of Jordan announced in May 1948, referring to the war with Israel: “He who will be killed will be a martyr; he who lives will be glad of fighting for Palestine … I remind you of the Jihad and of the martyrdom of your great-grandfathers,” and in December 1947 Al-Azhar scholars called for a ‘worldwide jihad in defense of Arab Palestine’, in an effort to annihilate the Zionists (Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, Yale University Press, 2008, p. 65, 209).

        Yet another misleading claim was a statement in Chapman’s book Cross and Crescent that Jews and Christians under Islam paid taxes (jizya) in lieu of military service or paying the Islamic zakat. These notions are no older than the 1890’s, and derive from Muslim apologists’ response to the challenges modernity. In reality every Islamic Quranic commentary I have consulted (over 80 of them) on this issue agrees that the jizya payable by non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state is a compensation for their blood, i.e. for being permitted to keep their heads after conquest.

        It is neither respectful nor compassionate to distort the beliefs and motivations of others, oppressed or not. Chapman says he is tracing the pattern of resistance to Israel, but he is merely tracing the frame through which he views it. This imposed reality is misleading and unhelpful. It does not promote peace.

        • Colin sent me the reply below some time ago and it got lost due to holidays and personal circumstances – apologies to both Colin and Mark for the delay in posting.

          I’m really sorry that Mark has taken my response as ‘an ad hominem attack’ on his character. This was certainly not my intention. I was simply drawing attention to the fact that, apart from his one reference to Hamas, there was no reference to all the political factors at work in situations where Islamists are engaging in violence today. All his comments and criticisms were related to the Islamic dimension of these conflicts.

          In my paper I argued that we need to address both the Islamic issues and the political issues at the same time. I would add that we need to attach the same importance to both at the same time. I repeat that I believe this is the root of the difference between us. Whereas Mark insists on ‘the key role of Islam’, I believe that the historical, political, social and personal issues are just as important as the Islamic issues, and that we cannot claim that Islam should take precedence over all of these other issues.

          To illustrate the point, I would come back again to the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I repeat that in my view the root of the problem for Palestinian Arabs has not been Islam, but dispossession. Ever since the 1880s they have been dispossessed of more and more of their land by Zionist settlers. Inevitably their religious and political leaders have often (but not always) expressed their opposition to the settlers in Islamic terms. But not all Palestinian Muslims would have articulated their resistance in this way. The basic complaint of peasant farmers was that they were losing their lands, not that it was non-Muslims who were taking them. The longer the conflict has gone on and the more intense it has become – with dispossession followed by occupation – the stronger has been the Islamic rhetoric that has been used.

          In talking about the history of this conflict, I’m surprised that Mark uses the word ‘occupied’ to describe Egypt’s rule over the Gaza Strip and Jordan’s rule of the West Bank for 20 years after 1948. Is he really suggesting parallels and similarities between these situations (undesirable as they were) and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967 – which most of the world regards as illegal in international law? I very much doubt if Gazans and West Bankers see much similarity between their earlier experience under Egyptian and Jordanian rule and their experience under Israeli occupation for 50 years. If Israel had not continued its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for so many years after 1967, Hamas might never have come into existence. If Israel had not maintained its occupation of Southern Lebanon for so long after 1982, there would probably be no Hizbullah.

          I’m well aware that Mark will argue that it’s my views about Zionism and western colonialism which provide the distorted lens through which I approach all these issues and which therefore make it impossible for me to recognise the key role played by Islam. But I would respond that the processes that I see at work in Israel/Palestine are very similar to those at work in other situations elsewhere in the world: a basic grievance (about dispossession, oppressive rule by foreigners or by rulers who are not sufficiently Muslim) is articulated by Muslim leaders in Islamic terms (‘it’s unthinkable that we should be ruled by kuffar, unbelievers’). The writings of Muslim nationalists in the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and in Indonesia need to be taken very seriously – but in the total context in which they were speaking.

          So, Mark I really don’t think I’m downplaying or misrepresenting the role of Islam in all these conflicts. I take very seriously what people like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb have written, but try to understand it in the total context in which they were living. If I were writing my article again, I might well take Mark’s point and word the sentences about jihad differently. But I have not watered down or minimised the basic Islamic conviction that ‘Islam must rule’ or the fact that jihadis claim they are following closely the example of the first generation of Muslims. I don’t think I’m distorting the beliefs and motivations of Muslims. I’m trying to interpret the Islamic language of the political and religious leaders alongside the reactions of ordinary men and women – some of whom were not as well versed in Islamic law or theology as the scholars – and trying to understand what they are up against. I try to give as much weight to the historical, political, social and personal issues as I do to the Islamic issues. I don’t think we can begin to articulate a credible Christian response to Islamism and all the current violence in the name of Islam by focusing all our attention on the Islamic dimension. Islam is certainly one key, but not the only key.

          • I do very much agree with Colin that history is complex, and the causes of historical events are multiple. However it’s difficult to engage take Colin’s perspective of history seriously when so much of seems to be driven by feelings Given that the causes of conflict are complex and multi-factorial, one must be disciplined and careful when making generalizations and attributing causes. As an example of how Colin’s ‘gut’ works, consider his objection to naming the military occupations of the West Bank and Gaza by Jordan and Egypt as ‘occupations’. In reality most of the world considered Jordan’s occupation and then annexation of the West Bank to be illegal. It was hardly a period of sweetness and light – the King of Jordan was assassinated by a Palestinian during the Jordanian occupation. Yet Colin does not wish to call Jordan’s military takeover of the West Bank an ‘occupation’ because this could imply some kind of moral equivalence with Israeli occupation! This is about sentiment, not actual meanings of words or history. As another example, jihad wasn’t an idea that only became influential for Muslim Palestinians in the late 1960’s, as Colin has would like to imply. The promotion of jihad was already being vigorously advanced in Palestine in the 1920’s and 30’s under the tutelage of Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam of Haifa, and Hajj Amin el-Husseini, the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem. Also regarding Colin’s claim that dispossessed peasants, apparently from as early as the late 19th century, were ignorant about Islamic theology, and really only concerned with losing their land — surely this needs some basis in evidence. Or are we to trust Colin’s gut on this too? Surely the peasants’ situation was very difficult, all the more so since under the Ottomans, much of the land the peasants worked was owned by landlords who lived outside of Palestine. However to make his case in a reasonable way, Colin would need take into account the not inconsiderable evidence of anti-Jewish prejudice among the general Palestinian Muslim population which already existed before the Zionist movement began, and the religious dimensions of that prejudice. He would also need to take into account the pogroms against non-Muslims (including against Orthodox Christians, Armenians and Jews) throughout the Levant during the late 19th century and early 20th century, and the degree to which these were influenced by Islamic theology or dispossession or offensive acts by the victims of these progroms. But instead of making his case in a serious way, Colin argues from his gut. And that is the problem.

  2. How should we respond to Islam? We must take it seriously. One way to do this is to look at it through the lens of Lewis’s trilemma. At its heart is either the final revelation of the one true God or Mohammed was a liar or deceived. In the end, it is Christ or Mohammed. You cannot have both. Even without the resurrection, Mohammed’s moral failings count strongly against Islam.

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