Last September an email from Foster Friess introduced me to the article by the Dr. Tawfik Hamid, Does moderate Islam Exist? At the National Prayer Breakfast last week Barack Obama suggested that violence committed during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition can rightly be said to have been done in the name of Christ. But as I pointed out in a recent essay on my blog, Christ’s words and example offer no justification whatsoever for atrocious violence, even against people who blaspheme his name and reject his teachings.
Obama’s assertion that past atrocities were committed in Christ’s name assumes moral equivalence between the words and authority of Christ, as reported in the New Testament Scriptures, and the words and authority of Muhammad, as reported in the Quran and other writings regarded as authoritative sources of Islamic law and doctrine. Is this assumption justified? Christ nowhere commands deadly violence, even against those attack him by name and/or reject his teachings. Dr. Hamid’s essay goes to prove that the same cannot be said of the authoritative Islamic texts.
The guiding principle of the Islamic State (IS) is that Muslims must fight non-Muslims all over the world and offer them the following choices: Convert to Islam, pay a humiliating tax called “Jijya,” or be killed. This violent doctrine was the primary justification for the Islamic conquests by the early Muslims.
Following the latest in a long string of inhumane and barbaric attacks by the IS, who offer only these three options to non-Muslims, it becomes mandatory to ask whether this principle that the IS uses is Islamic or Un-Islamic.
In other words, can a young Muslim become more religious-and more obedient to Allah-without subscribing to this ancient brutality? Will he be able to find an approved Islamic theological source or interpretation that clearly contradicts this principle, or at least teaches it in a different way (i.e., contextualizing it in time and place)?
The sad answer is: NO, he cannot.
Traditionally there are five sources for Islamic Law: the Quran, the Hadith of Prophet Mohamed (such as Sahih Al-Buchakry), the actions of the disciples of Mohamed (Sahaba), the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and the Tafseer (or Interpretations) of the Quran.
If a young Muslim were to do some research to examine whether what the IS is doing is in fact Islamic or Un-Islamic, he would find some shocking results.
Dr. Hamid goes on to make it clear that all the authoritative Islamic texts literally command or give examples of the use of deadly force against those who refuse Islam. He concludes that “A basic search of almost ALL approved interpretations for the Quran supports the same violent conclusion. When it comes to the text cited by ISIS terrorists as the motive for their murders (Quran 9:29) “The 25 leading approved Quran interpretations (commentaries)- that are usually used by Muslims to understand the Quran- unambiguously support the violent understanding of the verse.”
Dr. Hamid’s description of the difficult task faced by a young Muslim is diametrically opposed to the challenge to which a Christian has to respond. Christ’s words and example, as well as the actions of his Apostles as reported Acts, put the weight of New Testament authority on the side opposed to violence, even in circumstances where natural reason suggests that the use of deadly force as a defensive measure is a law of nature. The plea of self-defense satisfies natural reason. But Christ, by word and deed, gives reason to reject that plea.
Where Dr. Hamid suggests that a Muslim must apply himself to justify an interpretation of Islamic scripture that eschews aggressive violence against non-believers, the Christian conscience has to wrestle in order to justify its use in any circumstance whatsoever. In light of what Christ says about the authority of the Old Testament’s account of God’s will, reasonably construed, Christian scholars have developed doctrines of just war and self-defense. But with the perfection of God as the Christ-set standard of our actions, every resort to deadly force ends in a doubtful surrender to necessity that, even when it seems justified to us, leaves us in the humble position of the publican, seeking the mercy of God for the sinful aspect of killing another, which even our physical body rejects, at first impulse, as though it were a deadly poison which we must vomit up.
The upshot of all this is simple: When a Muslim terrorist kills in the name of Islam, Islamic law and doctrine literally uphold his righteousness, even when human reason condemns his action. When a Christian kills in the name of Christ, his Christ sent spirit reproves his action, even in circumstances where human reason allows it. The follower of Christ is thus never led to commit atrocity except by his own depraved will. Even when natural necessity requires the use of deadly force he mourns, with Christ upon the cross, the sinful condition of humankind. That no law can truly heal, but only God’s loving mercy, which Christ offers to all who are willing trod his way. And so we pray, again and again, according to the example he praised, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”