Muslims comprise 15-20% of the world’s population, 1.2 billion souls, concentrated as majorities in nations from North Africa to Indonesia. However, there are huge populations of Muslims of diverse nationalities and ethnicities in the Western cities of Europe and North America.
Until recently, Islam rarely blipped the radar screens of Most Americans, unless it was to caricature Arabs on camels wandering desert sands. Now people are asking, "Who are these people, and what do they want?" Until we understand the nature of the religion that makes them tick, no matter how much of their culture and psychology we understand, we will always be slightly mystified by the ferocious commitment that drives them to throw their lives away with abandon in order to destroy us and all for which we stand. What is it about Islam that creates such fanaticism?
From its inception, Islam has been an all-encompassing religion, demanding utter allegiance to its principles. The very name, Islam, means "surrender, submission" i.e., a complete giving over of the self to Allah and his will, which then brings the subject peace and rest for the soul. It has "the characteristic of being able to generate a psychological certainty of possessing the Truth, of following the Right Path, and of wielding the Perfect Key to the gate of the great beyond." It has been at war with the world from the beginning.
Mohammed, Islam’s founder, was born about AD 570 in what is now Saudi Arabia. He lost both of his parents as a child and grew up with his uncle, who was an Arab merchant. Young Mohammed grew up in a time of religious turmoil, where he encountered many different religions: Christianity, Judaism, and multiple pagan religions of his own region. None of the religions of his youth seemed to "take" with young Mohammed, though he learned from them all, and sought after the true religion. Finally, in AD 610, in the month of Ramadan, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed and called him to be a prophet of God (i.e., Allah) and the true religion. He met and conversed with Jesus, Moses, and Abraham and ascended by a ladder provided by Gabriel to the seventh heaven. From then on, at various times over the rest of his life, the angel Gabriel would dictate a series of visions and prophecies, which he recorded in chapters, called Suras, and collectively would become known as the Qu’ran (or Koran).
As Mohammed began to communicate his visions, he met opposition, even from his wife! His own pagan peoples rejected him because he proclaimed a one, true god; Christians and Jews rejected him because he considered Islam to be the true and final successor to them both! While he (and all Muslims hence) held the Bible to be true, he maintained it had been corrupted and that the Qu’ran was the pure book. He was increasingly persecuted in his own town of Mecca, and therefore took all of his followers and made a famous pilgrimage to Medina in AD 622, which is recorded as year one in the Muslim calendar.
Here Mohammed continued to grow slowly but surely, adopting such practices as plural marriage and his own unique theology of marriage and the sexes. Sura 4 clearly establishes the inferiority of women to men, whose primary purpose is to bear children (especially sons). A rigorous, obsessive chastity is enforced upon the woman, reflected in practices from female circumcision to the wearing of the burhka, the head to foot suit that seals a woman’s body.
One of the great appeals of Islam is its simplicity. There are "Five Pillars" which constitute the basic practices of Islam:
- Shahadah - this is the confession of faith, so to speak, which asserts: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."
- Salat - this is the practice of prayer, exercised five times per day.
- Zakat - this is the giving of alms for the poor.
- Sawm - this is the annual practice of fasting to Allah during the month of Ramadan. The faithful fast from sunrise to sunset, taking food during the evening.
- Hajj - this is the pilgrimage, which reprises Mohammed’s pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina. It is to be done at least once in the life of the Muslim, if at all possible. There the faithful march around the black stone, the qa’ba, the reputed stone fallen from heaven to earth.
- Jihad - this is a sixth, generally unacknowledged pillar of Islam, but real and ever-present to every Muslim. Although it is often translated as "holy war", it is better translated as "struggle" or "exertion". Many Muslims further divide jihad into four further types:
- Jihad of the heart - here the faithful struggle against their own inner weaknesses.
- Jihad of the mouth and pen - here we have the verbal defense of Islam, which includes the art of cursing and verbal pronouncement, where to say a thing was to accomplish it. Thus, when Saddam Hussein said in 1991 that he would crush the United States forces in "The Mother of All Battles", he was waging a jihad of the mouth.
- Jihad of the Hand - this involves the doing of good deeds in the name of Allah.
- Jihad of the sword - this is the classic understanding of jihad, even among Muslims. Here the faithful are expected to defend the people of Islam and extend Islam by means of forced conversion and the imposition of Islamic law in the sharia.
Jihad thus goes to the heart of spreading the faith, an obligation of every Muslim and every Islamic society. First, try peace: "Invite all to the way of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching...argue with them in ways that are gracious and patient..."
But, if that doesn’t work: "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you...for Allah loveth not the infidel. Slay them wherever you catch them (Sura 2:190-4)...fight and slay the infidel wherever you find them; seize them; weary them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush." (Sura 9:5)
Over the centuries jihad, as an instrument of conversion and imposition of Islamic law and society, has been perfected into high art as in no other major world religion. After the death of Mohammed, the first caliph Abu Bakr led Muslim armies out of Mecca to conquer the entire Arabian peninsula and eventually into North Africa, Spain, India, and Asia. Many critics of Christianity make a superficial comparison here: "Christians are just as guilty of war and bloodshed in spreading their religion." Not true! The Bible gives no warrant for spreading Christianity as a faith by means of the sword. Here is a crucial distinction: Christianity does not countenance force as an instrument of conversion and imposition of Christian law and society.
"How about those parts of the Bible where God commands the Israelites to kill men, women, and children?"
We must observe several things about the brutal extinction of the Amalekites and others that Israel was commanded by God himself to utterly exterminate:
1. In addition to being the chosen nation that served to establish an earthly kingdom as a picture of the greater, heavenly kingdom, Israel was a nation that served as the instrument of God’s judgment par excellence. God himself promised that Israel would come into the land in the fourth generation from Abraham, because "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:16) When that day came, however, the Amorites were to be "devoted to complete destruction" (Deuteronomy 20:17,18) because - as the biblical record makes clear - they were frightfully debased and sinful. The peoples so destroyed by Israel were so corrupt and odious that they were a danger and a plague to Israel and her neighbors, an incorrigible stench in God’s nostrils.
2. Since the beginning of time, the means of entry and conversion into the kingdom of God have been essentially spiritual; that is, by means of the Word and Sacrament! Biblical conversion has never been by means of the sword. In the Old Testament, even a Gentile could become a "God-fearer" by hearing the Word preached and under-going the sacraments of circumcision and Temple worship, especially the Passover. In the New Testament, Jesus indicates the change of sacraments under the New Covenant, always having the Word as a means of grace: "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (conversion), baptizing (Sacrament) them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching (Word) them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20
3. When it comes to propagating the faith, our model is Jesus Christ: "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that lies within you. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing goood than doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." 1 Peter 3:15-18
These are but a sample of the abundant evidence in the Bible that, when it comes to propagating the faith, our means are spiritual and heavenly, not fleshly and earthly.
Another major misconception is that which sometimes follows closely upon the heels of a principle like this is: "Christians therefore shouldn’t kill or serve in the military or be in favor of the death penalty."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Military service and the death penalty are functions of the State as an earthly institution, which is a legitimate power given by God: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God...the magistrate is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Romans 13
The bearing of the sword is the power of life and death, i.e., the authority to wage war and exact the death penalty for capital crimes. Not only is it permissible to serve with sword in hand, it is a Christian’s duty to serve as a soldier, a policeman, a prosecutor seeking the death penalty, and as a judge presiding over capital cases. Christians throughout the ages have understood this:
Charles Martel and his troops understood this when they turned back the Muslim Moors at Tours, France, in AD 732.
-Stephen Sobeiski and his troops understood this when they defeated the Muslim Turks at the gates of Vienna in AD 1683.
We must understand this in our own day; make no mistake: we will not overcome Muslim aggression and violence but with greater Western aggression and violence. Let no Muslim talking head deceive you; let no tolerance talking pluralist persuade you that if we just understood them more and talked to them more and looked within and corrected what’s wrong with us that they would stop hating us. God fully intended for nations to be defended against the sword by magistrates who bear the sword!
The jihad of the sword is the instrument of choice for the militant radicals and increasingly for the average Muslim who reads his Koran and takes it seriously. While we recoil in horror to terror, enrollment in radical Islamic groups has swollen; Osama bin Ladin is a hero. The typical western response is perceived for what it is: weakness, and it will only encourage more terror.
What we need and what they understand is strength. What kind of strength? The key, missing component in almost every discussion of what it will take to defeat militant Islam is not budgets, guns, wealth, or determination. Rather, it is spiritual strength that comes only from the Christian God of the Bible. For example, the apostle Paul indicates the kinds of weapons we have available to us: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." 2 Corinthians 10:4,5
We must come to understand that the battle we fight is primarily a spiritual battle! May you be forewarned and forearmed for the warfare ahead, in your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.