Last September an email from Foster Friess introduced me to an article by 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, 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 who 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 “Jizya,” 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 way a conscientious Christian is challenged to respond. Christ’s words and example, as well as the actions of his Apostles as reported in 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 it.
Where Dr. Hamid suggests that a Muslim must apply himself to develop an interpretation of Islamic scripture that eschews aggressive violence against non-believers, the truly Christian conscience has to wrestle in order to justify the use of violence in any circumstance whatsoever. In light of what Christ says about the authority of the Old Testament’s account of God’s will, 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, 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 verifies. For its first reaction to killing is to vomit it up, as though it were a deadly poison promising death to those who perpetrate it.
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 to be just.
The follower of Christ is thus never led to commit atrocity except by his own depraved will. When natural necessity demands the use of deadly force Christ’s followers mourn, with Christ upon the cross, the sinful condition of humankind. That is a condition no law can truly rectify, but only God’s gracious mercy. This is the mercy which Christ has offered, and offers still, to all who are willing to trod in his way. And so we pray, again and again, according to the example he praised, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”