Jihad – nothing to do with Islam?

So apparently some western leaders have been talking about the Charlie Hebdo massacre and saying stuff like: this is nothing to do with Islam.

And I think I kind of understand why they’re saying this – assuming they’re not just showing ignorance, I think I can understand the reasons why, for example, the French president might want to send out this kind of message. He has a large minority of Muslims in his country, and in the interests of greater peace and safety for the general population it probably seems a lot better to encourage that minority to distance themselves from the Jihadists – since there are Muslims who don’t believe in that stuff, why not encourage that moderate, peaceful element?

And before I go on, I want to repeat that: I’m well aware that there are Muslims who don’t believe in the Jihadi mindset, who don’t agree with killing people for blasphemy against Islam, and I was greatly encouraged to see such people speak out against the Charlie Hebdo massacre – so encouraged, that I posted a link to an article about it pretty immediately on Google+.

I posted that link because I found it encouraging that individual Muslims were daring to speak out against the atrocity. And also because I knew that, as night follows day, one reaction to the murder would be hatred towards Muslims, and I wanted to do my little bit in fighting against that. Because whatever I might think of Islam, I know that each and every Muslim is an individual human being, with their own thoughts and ideas, I know that they don’t all support the Jihadi mindset and they don’t deserve to be hurt in retaliation for something they didn’t do and that some of them don’t even support.

But to jump from “not all Muslims support this” to “this is nothing to do with Islam” is a huge leap, which shows either ignorance of Islam or a desire to pretend that things are not as they really are.

Not all Muslims support the concept of violent Jihad – some believe in a different variant of Islam, and obviously for those of us who would be targets for murder by the violent Jihadists, this is good news: it means there are less people wanting to kill us.

But the violent Jihadi guys? They’re doing what they’re doing in the name of Islam and no, they didn’t just make it up, it’s in the Quran. The fact that some Muslims interpret the Quran differently? That’s great, from where I’m looking, but it doesn’t mean we can pretend that violent Jihad just isn’t in there. We can’t pretend that the Quran doesn’t exhort Muslims, for instance, to “fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them” (Surah 9:5). That stuff is in there, and this is how Islam spread in the early days – by the sword. And since Muhammad himself led such battles, there’s not much room for claiming that he didn’t endorse this sort of behaviour.

The moderates tend to quote another verse, which says “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Surah 2:256) – but Surah 9 is later and therefore, according to the rule of abrogation, it takes precedence.

Oops, have I just told moderate Muslims that they’re not following Islam properly and that they have a duty to kill me? It does feel kind of suicidal to say this out loud… which is why I don’t judge Hollande and Obama quite as harshly as the “ghost of Charlie Hebdo” in this video clip. (though I think it’s pretty spot on apart from that)

Of course once someone dares to say that this actually is about Islam, the next thing that happens is that someone else says: why pick on Islam? all religions are evil.

Which, just like the “nothing to do with Islam” stuff that Obama and Hollande have been saying, shows either naive ignorance or a desire to pretend things are not as they really are. Because no, not all religions are evil, and most religions don’t command their adherents to slaughter those who refuse to submit to them.

Sure, people have at times used their religion as an excuse for horrible stuff, even murder – we humans have a shockingly huge capacity for twisting pretty much anything and using it for evil, and people have managed to twist even the teachings of Jesus and use them as an excuse for the most vile stuff; but while Muhammad actually commanded people to kill those who wouldn’t bow to Islam, and would applaud the behaviour of those who murdered the cartoonists in Paris, Jesus taught a very different way and would be horrified at the behaviour of those who killed or hurt others in his name. When they came to arrest him and one of his followers wanted to defend him with a sword, Jesus said a very clear “no”. That wasn’t his way, and it wasn’t the way he wanted his followers to go.

Jesus commanded us to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves. (“Neighbour” in that context is nothing to do with who lives next door – it’s a reference to all human beings, as Jesus made clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where, in reply to the question “who is my neighbour” he used an example of someone from another ethnic group which the Jews of his day didn’t get on with at all.)

Not only did he tell us to love our fellow human beings, but he also specifically told us that this includes even our enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44).

There’s a lot of talk these days about “extremism” as though any religion at all, if taken to extreme, is dangerous – but if my religion is about imitating Jesus and showing self-sacrificial love to everyone, then I ask you: how is that dangerous to anyone except for myself? If I take my faith to the extreme, then I’ll end up giving a lot to others, and the only risk to life is to my own. I could, like many of his followers before me and many in some countries today, end up being killed for my faith – not killing others. Extremism in itself is not evil – only extreme evil is evil. Extreme goodness is good.

Extreme Christianity means extreme love, compassion, kindness, generosity, peace, joy – Jesus said he came that we should have life, and have it abundantly. He didn’t tell us to go around killing people. He came to bring us life.

8 thoughts on “Jihad – nothing to do with Islam?

  1. Loved the article. Spot on! There should be more people writing stuff like this. Easier said than done. I mean it can be hard to remind myself that every Muslim is an individual human being, of whom our Jesus died for.


  2. You seem to be endorsing this argument: Muhammad was a military leader who waged war, and the Quran contains exhortations to violence, therefore Islam is an inherently violent religion. But, conversely, we might make two more observations: (1) Moses was a military leader who waged war, (2) the Torah contains exhortations to violence. Is Judaism therefore an inherently violent religion? If this argument succeeds against, Islam, it must also succeed against Judaism; conversely, if it fails against Judaism, it must fail against Islam too. (And Christians can’t escape this either – since they accept the Jewish Torah as part of their Bible, they have the same problem as Jews.)

    Compare Surah 9:5 (“kill the polytheists wherever you find them”) with Exodus 34:13 (“Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles”) or Numbers 31:17-18 (“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man”). If Muhammad is violent and intolerant, then Moses is too.

    Even Jesus, while he very often spoke in favour of peace, the Gospels also report him as saying “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). He also personally engaged in physical violence – using a whip (a violent instrument designed to inflict physical pain and injury) to drive the moneychangers out of the Temple (John 2:15). And Jesus repeatedly spoke approvingly of Moses, without ever condemning passages like Numbers 31:17-18 – and surely he knew of those passages, since he was so learned in the Jewish scriptures (e.g. Luke 2:47, 24:27). So, while Jesus often spoke in favour of peace, he also has a violent side – like Moses, like Muhammad.

    This is why, when Jews or Christians try to argue that Islam is an inherently violent religion, I find it hard to take their arguments seriously. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:42)


    • “You seem to be endorsing this argument: Muhammad was a military leader who waged war, and the Quran contains exhortations to violence, therefore Islam is an inherently violent religion.” – no, that is not my argument.

      The Quran contains exhortations to violence – not just as a one-off exception here and there but as a command to be followed in general. And according to the rule of abrogation in Islam, if a later surah says something different then the later one is to be obeyed.

      I mentioned Muhammad’s actions as a response to those who try to claim he was really a nice, peaceful guy. He wasn’t.

      Whether or not we should regard Islam as inherently violent – I’m not here to discuss that question. I am, as I said, fully aware that there are many muslims who interpret the concept of Jihad differently and who do not believe in going around killing people in the name of their religion. My point was this: these guys who *are* currently doing that – you can’t say that it’s nothing to do with Islam. It has everything to do with a perfectly valid interpretation of the commands in the Quran, backed up by the actions of Muhammad, their role model.

      Jesus, on the other hand, taught a very very different way, and also showed us a better way by example. He commands us to love our enemies. He went willingly to the cross to die a horrible death for us. When one of his disciples pulled out a sword to defend him, Jesus told him no, we don’t do this. (my paraphrase)

      People have misinterpreted Jesus’ teachings and did some really vile stuff claiming to be acting in his name, but when you read the Bible it’s very clear that this is not his way. On the other hand, when the Isis guys in Iraq give Christians the choice to say the words of conversion or die, and behead them for refusing – they are not going against the teachings of Muhammad, they are doing exactly what he said they should do and what he himself did.


      • “The Quran contains exhortations to violence – not just as a one-off exception here and there but as a command to be followed in general.” – The Torah contains exhortations to violence – not just as a one-off exception here and there but as a command to be followed in general. Leviticus 21:9 says “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire”. How is that not an exhortation to disgusting violence, on the same level as the Islamic State burning that poor pilot to death in a cage? Prostitutes deserve our compassion, not to be burnt to death. Nowhere in that verse is there any indication that is a rule for limited circumstances, as opposed to a rule of general application. And Jesus – on the one hand, he is reported to have treated prostitutes with compassion – but on the other hand, while he could have condemned this passage, instead endorsed it by saying “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt 5:18). Jesus’s compassion for prostitutes would have been greater if he had denounced this passage for the evil that it is. Was this rule ever carried out? I suppose it probably was; did Jesus express compassion for the victims of this atrocious rule by condemning it? If he did, that has gone unrecorded. Of course, both Rabbis and Churches will insist, for various reasons, that this verse is no longer to be followed today – but how is that any different from those Muslims who argue that parts of the Quran should not be followed?

        You can read the Quran from cover to cover, you will nowhere find any commands to burn someone to death. The Torah commands it twice (Lev 20:14, and Lev 21:9) – and neither command is qualified as being of non-general application. When the Islamic State burned that poor pilot to death, which book were they following, the Quran or the Torah? Well, neither; but their act was more in the spirit of the Torah (which commands such things) than that of the Quran (which nowhere contains any such command).


        • “Nowhere in that verse is there any indication that is a rule for limited circumstances, as opposed to a rule of general application.” – no, not in that verse but there is context to that verse, as there is for any verse in the Bible. If you want to understand what it’s about, you need to study it in context.

          The Quran may or may not contain a specific command about burning someone to death (I haven’t checked) but it does contain commands about killing those who refuse to submit to Islam – that was my point. [edit to add: Oops, actually my original point was about the killing of those who blaspheme against Muhammad, as I wrote this post in the wake of the Charie Hebdo killings, and I was writing about those western leaders who were claiming that the killing of the cartoonists was “nothing to do with Islam”. So my post was addressing the killing of people for blasphemy, but what’s a lot more fresh in my mind at the moment is the recent Isis beheadings of Iraqi Christians who refuse to convert to Islam – hence my comment here about the command to kill those who refuse to submit to Islam. Two concepts which are related but not identical – two concepts which are to do with how the Quran tells muslims to behave towards those outside of their faith, and involve killing people, for different reasons.]

          As for muslims who say that those parts of the Quran shouldn’t be followed – I have said, again and again: I know there are muslims who believe that. My argument was against people claiming that the muslims who are committing these acts are doing something that is “nothing to do with Islam”.

          It’s not “nothing to do with Islam” – it’s in the Quran and it is also what Muhammad himself did. That was my point.

          The fact that there are muslims who don’t follow that teaching – that has nothing to do with this point.

          But tell me, what is *your* point? You seem to be intent on defending Islam – are you a muslim, or is there some other reason why? And trying to paint Jesus in a bad light – what is your purpose in doing that? Jesus has not done you any harm. Jesus has gone to death so that you, if you only put your faith in him, can have your sins forgiven. Other people may have harmed you, but Jesus only wants to save you. Stop trying to fight him. He is on your side.


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