(February 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 2)
The Modern Mindset of the Islamic People
Time magazine tries to calm our nerves with these words, “If the evil carnage we witnessed on September 11 were typical of the faith, and Islam truly inspired and justified such violence, its growth and the increasing presence of Muslims in both Europe and the U.S. would be a terrifying prospect. Fortunately, this is not the case. The very word Islam, which means, “surrender,” is related to the Arabic, salim, or peace…. In the Koran…the only permissible war is one of self-defense…. Islam is not addicted to war, and jihad is not one of its “pillars,” or essential practices…. Islam did not impose itself by the sword.”
The author of these words is overly optimistic, at best. First, the word Islam means “submission.” The word for peace in Arabic is “salam”, and while both words come from the same root, Islam itself means submission, resignation, or reconciliation, and that to the will of Allah (god). Peace would presumably come from submission to the will of Allah, but the word does not mean peace. Islam teaches slave submission to Allah. Man’s relationship to Allah is not that of father-child, but of master-slave. Islam’s idea of peace is to bring the world under the authority of Allah.
Secondly, to state that in the Quran the only permissible war is one of self-defense is simply not true. Such a statement would utterly amaze millions of Muslims who believe otherwise, and would be contrary to the history of Islam. Then to say that Islam did not impose itself by the sword is to simply rewrite history. Such a statement could only be made in ignorance or by banking on the ignorance of the reader.
The truth is, while militantism within the Islamic faith varies widely (from peace loving to terrorism) a large portion of the Islamic world is angry, and they are angry for reasons that most Westerners do not understand. To play the ostrich and ignore this fact accomplishes nothing. So why are they so angry? Partly because Muslims believe that the West has imported its hedonism, corruption, materialism and moral breakdown into their culture, and much of that has to do with the emancipation of women. Democracy is also despised because of their distrust of the masses. Many within Islam refuse to take this encroachment lying down. Muslim theologian of the Shiite branch of Islam, Ayatollah Baquer Al-Sadr states: “The world as we know it today is how others shape it. We have two choices: either to accept it with submission, which means letting Islam die, or to destroy it, so that we can construct a world as Islam requires.”
Militant Muslims are angry at a Western secularism that they believe must be stopped before it destroys their faith and culture. The United States, whom many call the “Great Satan,” is responsible for most of this corruption. A 1985 communiqué from Lebanon says, “Our way is one of radical combat against depravity, and America is the original root of depravity.”
A missionary to Pakistan, with first-hand knowledge of Islamic thinking wrote an insightful commentary on the anger that is driving Muslim terrorism. It is worth quoting at length:
Terrorism is a response to a build-up of grievances real or imagined. Therefore, one cannot drive out terrorism without dealing with the grievances that lead to it. The most obvious of these is the Israel-Palestine conflict…. Arabs and Muslims point to broken promises from the British who promised at the beginning of World War I to support Arab independence in exchange for the support in the War effort against their Ottoman Turkish masters; and to President Roosevelt’s promise in World War II to the Saudi king not to do anything about Palestine without consulting with the Arabs. They note that instead President Truman and many U.S. government officials twisted arms in the United Nations to grant the Jews over half of Palestine though they were only one-third of the population and owned only 12% of the land. In subsequent fighting the Israelis gained control of all of it and have continued, Muslims point out, to build settlements in the occupied West Bank despite UN resolutions to return the lands conquered in 1967.
I know something of Jewish desperation after the Holocaust having worked on a rusty tramp steamer out of Haifa that had previously smuggled Jews to Palestine following World War II, but I have also seen the Palestinian refugee camps filled with people whose families had owned the land for centuries. Now they watch its occupiers on television defending it and killing other Palestinians with missiles and F-16s made in the U.S. and purchased with $3 billion in American military aid each year. Bin Laden, the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei ask where were the Americans when they wanted justice? And Arabs and Muslims around the world agree – especially since Jerusalem is the third holiest Muslim site.
Another obvious grievance is the continued sanctions against, and occasional bombings of, Iraq ten years after the Gulf War. The reasons are obvious, but pictures and reports of civilian casualties or UN reports of the thousands of children dying from malnutrition and disease – the major victims – continue to inflame passions. For many Arabs Saddam Hussein was another Nasser uniting the Arab World, to many Muslims another Saladin fighting the most recent Crusade, and to many Third World people another Robin Hood stealing from the corrupt rich to share with the poor. Sanctions against Syria, Libya, Iran, and Sudan – plus bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan without convincing proof of its military use – have fanned the flames of hatred.
A third grievance is the stage on which all the others play – the Muslims’ sense of being humiliated and in danger. For over a millennium the Islamic empires were the superpowers, and the Sunni Islam of the majority did not develop a theology of suffering, for God seemed obviously to be on their side. Then Western colonial powers divided the Muslim World between them. Today Muslims have not only been humiliated by the Jews in Palestine, but by the Christian Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, by the atheistic or Christian Russians in Chechnya, and sometimes by the Hindus in Kashmir. After the bomb blasts that killed 24 Americans in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, Bin Laden is quoted as saying, ‘They have raised the nation’s head high and washed away a great part of the shame that has enveloped us.’
The ascending of the West is seen, fourthly, as affecting Muslims in a number of ways. It has corroded morality with the flow of alcoholism, drugs, materialism, sexual immorality, and arrogance through movies, television, and two-way travels. Modernist Muslim states have tended to continue the adoption of Western law codes rather than what is believed to be the divinely ordained Islamic laws. Economically the world is seen as controlled by Western global economic ideas based, for example, on charging interest which is not allowed by Islam. To sum up, Islamics are angered by the fact that they believe they have superior culture but the West, especially Americans, have the superior power.
Lastly, with their superior power Americans have espoused democracy but backed Muslim regimes that Islamics feel have tried to crush their own aspirations in, for example, Iran under the Shah, Kuwait, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. For many years Americans have built the Saudi military bases and overseen the training and equipping of both their military and National Guard. A significant number of the alleged hijackers in the September 11 tragedies came from the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia where all of us who lived there had daily reminders of the American presence with the planes flying out of the local air bases. Osama bin Laden directed his sights on Americans after the Saudi government declined his offer to use Muslim veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviets, for the Gulf War. Instead they brought thousands of ‘infidel’ Americans on the holy soil of Islam’s prophet, and a significant number stayed after the conflict. In 1998 he protested: ‘For more than seven years the U.S. has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic people.’
Even with all this pent up anger, why can’t all the interested participants get together and iron out the differences? Michael Youssef suggests that it is because “Muslims, unlike Westerners, cannot forget the past very easily. To them the Crusades happened yesterday. To them colonialism still exists in the form of the state of Israel and, thus, the United States and Western Europe are to be blamed for every conceivable problem in the Middle East. These are not just wild accusations; they are deeply felt convictions.”
To many frustrated Muslims the only weapon left to establish Islamic rule is jihad, or holy war. This war was proclaimed first (in recent history) during the Iranian revolution by Shiite Muslims – members of a centuries-old minority who believe they are persecuted because of their special revealed knowledge. Shiites believe only the adoption of Islamic law can legitimize a government, which in turn will hasten the return of the Prophet Muhammad as Messiah. In the view of some key Islamic thinkers, violence and coercion are not only permissible, but are divinely sanctioned means for spreading the rule of Islamic law. Since this war is against not just a nation but a culture, there are no civilians. Noncombatants are legitimate targets.
The American press likes to portray Islamic terrorists as radical fringe elements within a peaceful religion. “The beliefs that guide their actions are as much a corruption of the spirit and law of their faith as those of radical Christian fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics,” a journalist for U.S. News & World Report wrote. But in the very next article of that same magazine a different picture unfolds. There we are told that in Pakistan alone upward to 4.5 million young boys are being trained in the art of jihad. Speaking of one school the reporter writes, “Haqqania is austere, devoid of almost any social distraction to religious studies…. Here, as at other madrasahs [training schools], the first major requirement for new students … is to memorize the entire Koran in Arabic. Sitting on the floor behind bare, low-slung wooden desks, the boys parrot their instructors and repeat Koran verses by rote for hours each day. They speak a language they do not understand and take up to three years to memorize the holy book. They also study the sayings of the prophet Muhammad and the basics of sharia, or Islamic law. There is no instruction in math, science, geography, current events, or history beyond the Muslim world. Visitors describe youngsters who never mix with females, who cannot do elementary arithmetic, and who have no idea man has walked on the moon. One thoroughly studied topic, however, is the concept of jihad.”
Fortunately there are many decent Muslims who would be against terrorism. This is true for some because of the moderate form of Islam they embrace. For others it is because they are Muslim in name only, much as many who claim to be Christians are. For others it is because they have accepted Christian values if not always Christianity. It is safe to say that the majority of Muslims are not involved in violence. On the other hand it is not true to portray those who are as a small pocket of fanatics. Literally millions of Muslims have been taught to hate the West and have been trained in jihad.
Points of Interest and Clarification
- While the word “Allah” is Arabic for God, the god of Islam is not the same as the true God. Allah is an omnipotent master with no interest in a personal relationship with his servants. He has made no provisions for redeeming mankind from sin. The Christian God is not only one of unlimited power, but also a merciful Father who sent His Son to die for mankind’s sins. He desires our fellowship and loves us supremely. At best, under Islam, man is a servant. With the true God, the redeemed are His children.
- Not all Arabs are Muslims. The word “Arabs” refers to the Arabic speaking people, while the word “Muslims” refers to those who follow the Islamic religion. While 95% of Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa are Muslims, only 20-23% of Arabs in the U.S. are. 77% of Arab-Americans claim to be Christians, of one stripe or another.
- According to Islamic law a Muslim is not allowed to leave Islam, to do so invites rejection and even death. This explains, in part, the difficulty of spreading the gospel in Muslim countries. Additionally, in some, but not all Muslim countries, freedom of religion does not exist and therefore Christian churches are illegal. Not a single known visible church exists today in Saudi Arabia, supposedly America’s closest friend in the Islamic world.
- One remark often heard is that Christians have been just as guilty as the Muslims in perpetuating atrocities on those who resist them. Just look at the Crusades for example, they tell us. But there are at least two differences with which we must be aware. First, those crimes committed in the name of Christ have been done in defiance of the clear teaching of the Word of God. Jesus, the founder of Christianity, told His followers to love their enemies, and at no point is the Christian told to take up arms or persecute others for the cause of Christ. Islam, however, was founded and expanded at the edge of the sword, and the Quran clearly teaches such actions. Secondly, the Crusaders and those who have followed in their footsteps, for the most part, were not Christians at all. The Crusaders were Catholics during an extremely corrupt period of church history. Many joined the Crusades because of promises of eternal reward for a martyr’s death, just as is being promised to the Muslims today.
What should we as Christians do? We could seek revenge, but this is not in compliance to our own theology (Romans 12:14-21). We could ignore the Muslim world and hope it straightens up. Or with courage we could face squarely our own sin while seeking justice. David Hunt has written, “We have arrived at a defining moment when truth could triumph if the world would recognize that terrorists are not ‘fanatics’ but devout fundamentalist Muslims who are earnestly following their religion. This recognition could bring fresh sympathy for Muslims of all nationalities who are tragically trapped in that system. The exposure of the truth could embarrass Muslim nations into opening the Islamic Curtain and allowing freedom to enter their borders. It could be a new day of open evangelism for the world where not force, but love and reason permit each person to determine the faith he would embrace from his heart.”
On a bright note, Muslims are not forbidden to read the Christian Scriptures, and the Quran actually encourages the reading of the Gospels. This is an open window for the Good News if we can open dialogue or provide materials to them on the Gospels. The great problem of the Islamic people is that lacking the truth of the gospel they live in spiritual darkness. They too need the Savior. May the Lord help us not to forget this.