This past week, a high-profile White House meeting with the title “Countering Violent Extremism” went out of its way to avoid labeling acts of brutal violence by Al Qaeda, ISIS (the so-called Islamic State), and their allies as “Muslim” terrorism or describing their ideology as “Islamic” or “jihadist.”
The concern is wanting to stay away from any sense that the United States is at war with Islam itself, much less to lump the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims with vicious terrorist groups. But a growing number are saying that this is failing to look at the very real threat that is militant Islam.
To understand why, one must understand a few things about Islam itself. First, that there are five practices, or “pillars.”
*The reciting of the "Shahadah," which is when you say "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet."
*To offer seventeen cycles of prayer each day, usually spread out over five periods of time.
*To fast during the daylight hours of the ninth lunar month of Ramadan.
*To give at least 2.5% of their income in offering.
*To make the pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca.
But some Muslims add a sixth practice - The Jihad. This is an idea that is often misunderstood even by Muslims. In essence, the Jihad is a personal war you wage against yourself in terms of submission. It has to do with mental or spiritual striving.
But it can also include actual war for the sake of the Islamic faith against others, either to defend or extend the interests of Islam. Then it is called Jihad of the Sword, or a holy war. It’s based on certain passages within the Quran that urge people to fight for the cause of Allah, and to kill pagans wherever they are found.
For example, in the second chapter of the Quran there is a passage that teaches that whenever believers meet unbelievers, Muslims are encouraged to smite their neck (Quran 2:244; 47:4; 9:5; 9:29).
Islamic tradition approves of violence against infidels and those who leave Islam as their native or chosen religion.
Fighting and killing are described as beloved activities.
And according to the 47th chapter of the Quran, if you die in the course of this kind of Jihad, as a martyr, you go straight to paradise (Quran 47:4-5).
In fact, Muhammad is quoted as saying the following:
“The sword is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer: whoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven, and at the day of judgment his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim.”
With that kind of rhetoric, and that kind of reward, you can imagine that you are going to get some takers. And all it takes for this kind of Jihad to take place is for a Muslim leader to issue a “Fatwa,” which is a legal ruling by a man of high standing in Islam that someone is in violation of Islamic principles and should be punished by faithful Muslims.
So while Islam itself implies peace, as Muslims will quickly tell you, the Quran does contain calls to violence. And the peace that Islam calls for is a very unique kind of peace, and is granted only to those who follow the path of the Quran. When Islam is opposed, the Quran states, and I quote, “Fight them [meaning the non-believers] so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame.”
Now you say, “What about Christianity? Doesn’t the Bible have its share of violence and bloodshed?”
And the answer is “yes.”
But as former Newsweek reporter Kenneth Woodward once wrote,
“The Bible, too, has its stories of violence...But these stories do not have the force of divine commands...Moreover, Israeli commandos do not cite the Hebrew prophet Joshua as they go into battle... [the way] Muslim insurgents...readily invoke the example of their Prophet, Muhammad,...And while the Crusaders may have fought with the cross on their shields, they did not – could not – cite words from Jesus to justify their slaughters.”
So why is militant Islam arrayed against the United States?
In many ways, it’s due to a single place:
Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims because Muhammad selected Jerusalem as the first direction of prayer, until they rejected him as a legitimate prophet, which made him change the direction of prayer to Mecca. Muhammad is then said to have ascended to heaven from the stone that is now enclosed by the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The Mosque there is considered the third holiest Mosque in the Muslim world, after the ones at Mecca and Medina.
So why does this cause hostility toward America?
The main reason is because America has historically supported Israel, the nation who is seen as keeping the area out of Muslim control. Thus America, in the eyes of some Muslims, has declared war on Allah himself.
But that’s just part of what’s going on – because this isn’t just about a practice or a place – it’s also about a goal that is part of the heart and soul of Islam.
Muslims believe that humans are born good, but are corrupted by non-Islamic cultures. This is very different than the Christian faith, which sees all humans as being born in sin, and facing the same sin-struggle.
For Muslims, the problem isn’t sin as much as it is living in cultures and societies and under governments that do not follow Islamic Law. So the way to battle that corruption is to put everything and everyone under Islamic Law.
According to Islamic beliefs, the best hope of salvation for a Muslim is the elimination of non-Muslim influences and to advance Islam in a socio-political way. They seek the perfect society through the enforcing of Islamic law. The goal is having everything, and everyone, under Islamic law.
Even if it means by force.
This was how Islam initially spread throughout the world under Muhammad. It was through military expeditions, or Jihads. Within twelve years after Muhammad's death, that strategy resulted in the occupation of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.
Islam is, at its heart, a political religion. In fact, it has been said that Islam is the world’s only major faith that can truly be defined as political. Which is why our world is ablaze with conflict between militant Islam and the West.
It brings to mind the now prescient writings of Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington. Seeing this conflict looming on the horizon, he called it the “clash of civilizations.”
Released before 9/11, Huntington contended that there were three great civilizations (Western, Asian, Islamic), that there would be great conflict between the West and Islam, and that Islam’s militarism would force itself upon the world.
He was right.
Not every Muslim is a wild-eyed terrorist that wants to bomb the world to bits or kill every American in sight. And many, if not most, Muslims around the world condemn any and all terrorist acts.
But the fact remains that while the aims and actions of September 11th did not represent all Muslims, it was still done in the name of Islam. So have been the beheadings of ISIS. As Graeme Wood writes in the most recent edition of The Atlantic,
“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
Radical Islam, militant Islam, yes,
James Emery White
Scott Shane, “Faulted for Avoiding ‘Islamic’ Labels to Describe Terrorism, White House Cites a Strategic Logic,” New York Times, February 18, 2015, read online.
Kenneth Woodward, “In the Beginning, There Were the Holy Books,” Newsweek, February 10, 2002, read online.
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March, 2015, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.