ntemporary Catholic Church has wholeheartedly endorsed that idea that Islam is a religion of peace, and that Muslims are the first victims of jihad terrorism. This proposition is enforced as an iron dogma, the one non-negotiable point in today’s comfortable suburban Church: anything goes, everything is winked at, moral teaching is discarded or ignored left and right, but whisper that Islamic jihadists point to the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism, and you’ll be the new Jan Hus.
The piece in the Los Angeles archdiocesan newspaper is just one example of the barrage of nonsense that comes from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on this issue, but it is noteworthy in being particularly counterfactual. It spends a great deal of time admonishing us that the first victims of Islamic jihad terror groups are other Muslims, as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser apparently believes, with Barack Obama and numerous other Western leaders, that this proves that the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the rest are un-Islamic. In fact, it only establishes that they believe their Muslim opponents to be un-Islamic, and because Islam mandates death for heresy and apostasy, they kill those opponents.
Rolheiser also says: “But the Muslim religion is not to blame here. There is nothing inherent in either the Koran or in Islam itself that morally or religiously undergirds this kind of violence.” Well, let’s see. Apparently Rolheiser has overlooked just a few passages from the Qur’an, including:
2:191-193: “And slay them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is more grievous than slaying. But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, slay them — such is the recompense of unbelievers, but if they give over, surely Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s; then if they give over, there shall be no enmity save for evildoers.”
4:89: “They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”
5:33: “This is the recompense of those who fight against Allah and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement.”
8:12: “When thy Lord was revealing to the angels, “˜I am with you; so confirm the believers. I shall cast into the unbelievers” hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!–
8:39: “Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely; then if they give over, surely Allah sees the things they do.”
8:60: “Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to terrify thereby the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them that you know not; Allah knows them. And whatsoever you expend in the way of Allah shall be repaid you in full; you will not be wronged.”
9:5: “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”
9:29: “Fight those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden — such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book — until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.”
9:111: “Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon Allah in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran; and who fulfils his covenant truer than Allah? So rejoice in the bargain you have made with Him; that is the mighty triumph.”
9:123: “O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you; and let them find in you a harshness; and know that Allah is with the godfearing.”
47:4: “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads. So it shall be; and if Allah had willed, He would have avenged Himself upon them; but that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will not send their works astray.”
But of course the Bible is full of violence, too, eh? Sure, although there is actually nothing in it remotely equivalent to the Qur’an’s open-ended and universal commands to wage war against and subjugate unbelievers. And also, one finds the same calls to violence when one turns to the authoritative sources in Sunni Islam, the schools of Sunni jurisprudence (madhahib):
Shafi’i school: A Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that was certified in 1991 by the clerics at Al-Azhar University, one of the leading authorities in the Islamic world, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, stipulates about jihad that “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by Sheikh Nuh Ali Salman, a Jordanian expert on Islamic jurisprudence: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)…while remaining in their ancestral religions.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.8).
Of course, there is no caliph today, and hence the oft-repeated claim that Osama et al are waging jihad illegitimately, as no state authority has authorized their jihad. But they explain their actions in terms of defensive jihad, which needs no state authority to call it, and becomes “obligatory for everyone” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.3) if a Muslim land is attacked. The end of the defensive jihad, however, is not peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims as equals: ‘Umdat al-Salik specifies that the warfare against non-Muslims must continue until “the final descent of Jesus.” After that, “nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent” (o9.8).
Hanafi school: A Hanafi manual of Islamic law repeats the same injunctions. It insists that people must be called to embrace Islam before being fought, “because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith.” It emphasizes that jihad must not be waged for economic gain, but solely for religious reasons: from the call to Islam “the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war.”
However, “if the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax [jizya], it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.” (Al-Hidayah, II.140)
Maliki school: Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a pioneering historian and philosopher, was also a Maliki legal theorist. In his renowned Muqaddimah, the first work of historical theory, he notes that “in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with “power politics,” because Islam is “under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
Hanbali school: The great medieval theorist of what is commonly known today as radical or fundamentalist Islam, Ibn Taymiyya (Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, 1263-1328), was a Hanbali jurist. He directed that “since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.”
This is also taught by modern-day scholars of Islam. Majid Khadduri was an Iraqi scholar of Islamic law of international renown. In his book War and Peace in the Law of Islam, which was published in 1955 and remains one of the most lucid and illuminating works on the subject, Khadduri says this about jihad:
The state which is regarded as the instrument for universalizing a certain religion must perforce be an ever expanding state. The Islamic state, whose principal function was to put God’s law into practice, sought to establish Islam as the dominant reigning ideology over the entire world….The jihad was therefore employed as an instrument for both the universalization of religion and the establishment of an imperial world state. (P. 51)
Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad. In his 1994 book The Methodology of Ijtihad, he quotes the twelfth century Maliki jurist Ibn Rushd: “Muslim jurists agreed that the purpose of fighting with the People of the Book…is one of two things: it is either their conversion to Islam or the payment of jizyah.” Nyazee concludes: “This leaves no doubt that the primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizya] is to be exercised only after subjugation” of non-Muslims.
Blissfully or willfully ignorant of all this and much more, Rolheiser says: “It’s time to establish a greater solidarity with Islam.” With Islam, mind you — not with Muslims who genuinely reject all this and want to live in peace with non-Muslims as equals in a secular society without trying to gain hegemony over them. No, Rolheiser thinks the Catholic Church should establish greater solidarity with Islam, which denies that Jesus is the Son of God (Qur’an 19:35), denies that he was crucified (Qur’an 4:157), denies that he is divine (Qur’an 5:17 and 5:72), says that those who say Jesus is God’s Son are accursed (Qur’an 9:30) and calls upon Muslims to make war against and subjugate them (Qur’an 9:29).
When reality becomes so horrible as to be undeniable, people like Fr. Ronald Rolheiser and the publishers of Angelus will be asked why they kept their people ignorant and complacent in the face of the advancing jihad threat instead of preparing them for what was coming.
This is not a good time to be a Muslim in the Western world. As the violence perpetrated by radical Islamic groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram becomes more and more prevalent, huge numbers of people are becoming paranoid about, and even openly hostile towards, the Islam religion, seeing all Muslims as a threat.
Popular opinion more and more blames the Muslim religion itself for that violence, suggesting that there is something inherent in Islam itself that’s responsible for this kind of violence. That equation needs to be challenged, both in the name of truth and in the name of what’s best in us as Christians.
First of all, it’s untrue: Painting all Muslims with the same brush is like painting all Christians with the same brush, akin to looking at the most depraved man who calls himself a Christian and saying: “That’s Christians for you! They’re all the same!”
Second, it’s also unfair: Islamic militants no more speak for Islam than Hitler speaks for Christianity (and that comparison isn’t idly chosen). Finally, such an equation misleads our sympathy: The first victim of Islamic terrorism is Islam itself, namely, authentic God-fearing Muslims are the first victims of this violence.
When we look at the history of any terrorist Islamic group such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda, we see that it first establishes itself by terrorizing and killing thousands of its own people, honest, God-fearing Muslims. And it goes on killing them. ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram have killed thousands more Muslims than they have killed Christians or persons of any other religion. While their ultimate target may well be the secularized Christian West, more immediately their real war is against true Islam.
Moreover the victims of Islamic terrorists are not just the thousands of moderate Muslims who have been direct victims of their violence and killings, but also all other Muslims who are now painted with the same brush and negatively judged in both their religiosity and their sincerity. Whenever Islamic terrorists perpetrate an act of violence, its victims are not just those who die, are injured, or who lose loved ones, it’s also all true Muslims, particularly those living in the West because they are now viewed through the eyes of suspicion, fear and hatred.
But the Muslim religion is not to blame here. There is nothing inherent in either the Koran or in Islam itself that morally or religiously undergirds this kind of violence.
We would holler “unfair” if someone were to say that what happened during the Inquisition is inherent in the Gospels. We owe Islam the same judgment. One of the great students of world religions, the renowned Houston Smith, submits that we should always judge a religion by its best expressions, by its saints and graced-history, rather than by its psychopaths and aberrations.
I hope that others offer us, Christians, this courtesy. Hitler was somehow a product of the Christian West, as was Mother Teresa. Houston Smith’s point is that the latter, not the former, is a truer basis for judging Christianity. We owe our Islamic brothers and sisters the same courtesy.
And that’s more a recognition of the truth than a courtesy. The word “Islam/Muslim” has its origins in the word “peace,” and that connotation, along with the concept of “surrender to God,” constitutes the essence of what it means to be a Muslim. And for more than 90 percent of Muslims in the world, that is exactly what it means to be a Muslim, namely, to be a man or woman of peace who has surrendered to God and who now tries to live a life that is centered on faith, prayer, responsibility and hospitality.
Any interpretation of Islam by a radicalized group that gives divine sanction to terrorist violence is false and belies Islam. Islamic extremists don’t speak for God, Mohammed, Islam, or for what it means to surrender in faith, but only for a self-serving ideology, and true Muslims are, in the end, the real victims of that.
Terrorist attacks, like the recent ones in Paris and Mali, call for more, not less, sympathy for true Muslims. It’s time to establish a greater solidarity with Islam, notwithstanding extremist terrorism.
We are both part of the same family: We have the same God, suffer the same anxieties, are subject to the same mortality, and will share the same heaven. Muslims more than ever need our understanding, sympathy, support and fellowship in faith.
Christian de Cherge, the Trappist monk who was martyred by Islamic terrorists in Algeria in 1996, wrote a remarkable letter to his family in France shortly before he died. Well aware that he had a good chance of being killed by terrorists, he shared with his family that, should this happen, they should know that he had already forgiven his killers and that he foresaw himself and them, his killers, in the same heaven, playing together under God’s gaze, a gaze that lovingly takes in all of God’s children, Muslims no less than Christians.\