A Letter to the Church about Islam and ISIS

2 February 2016
Glyn Carpenter

A Letter to the Church about Islam and ISIS

by | Feb 2, 2016

From Glyn Carpenter, NZ Christian Network

February 2016

(including a Muslim’s Response to Critiques of Islam)

Janet Daley has called ISIS a 'death cult'
Janet Daley has called ISIS a ‘death cult’

Every time there is an international terrorist attack these days it seems to generate a spate of articles and blogs about the connection between Islam and religious violence.

A few weeks ago Australian commentator Mark Durie wrote a blog titled Paris attacks were not ‘nihilism’ but sacred strategy, which was reposted on a couple of prominent New Zealand sites.

Durie’s idea that there is a rational motivation behind the attacks, that the terrorists were justifying their actions based on passages from the Qur’an and other sources, is beyond dispute. But any inference that their interpretation is the ‘correct’ one surely goes a step too far.

Any inference in the blog was made totally explicit by a commentator on one of the sites who stated “the texts which Glyn Carpenter (sic) dismisses in Suras 2, 5, 8, and 9 are eternal truths for every true Muslim for all time”.

(In case the reader is not familiar with Suras 2, 5, 8, and 9, they contain the frequently quoted violent texts from the Qur’an).

As National Director of NZ Christian Network (the NZ member and representative of the World Evangelical Alliance) this creates four problems for me:

  1. We would not accept people from other religions making such sweeping declarations about Christianity or the evangelical stream within Christianity. In fact, a few years back the WEA issued a statement which, in the face of negative stereotypes of evangelicalism, said “we reserve for ourselves the right to define who is an evangelical”.
  2. It is not me that is dismissing these texts – it is a large numbers of Muslim scholars who argue that they are not being interpreted in their proper context. I am simply drawing attention to that fact.
  3. When I dialogue with Muslim leaders who tell me this radical interpretation does not reflect the real Islam, I either accept what they say, or else I have to imagine (as another commentator said) that they are ignorant of their own religion, backslidden, or attempting to deceive me. (This is vaguely reminiscent of CS Lewis’s ‘Lord, Liar, Lunatic’ trilemma). Frankly I find the second option insulting and absurd.
  4. If, as I believe, this kind of sweeping critique of Islam goes too far, we run a serious risk of alienating Muslims in our communities, possibly radicalising some, we are not on the side of truth, and we undermine the opportunity for relationship and dialogue which are necessary if we are ever to persuade people of our convictions.

Shortly after Mark Durie’s blog was reposted in NZ I received the letter below from Hazim Arafeh, President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ). I have not yet met Hazim personally, but I have worked with his two predecessors Javed Khan and Anwar Ghani.

I have not edited the letter. It contains some raw emotion (which is evident) and it goes too far in my view in judging the motivations of people who comment on Islam. But if read with charity and with empathy for what it feels like to be part of a minority who feel they are regularly mischaracterised, I think you will find the letter useful.

For anyone who is uncertain about the position I represent on NZ Christian Network’s behalf, I close my introduction to Hazim’s letter by stating – for the record:

  • As well as points of similarity, I believe that there are also significant points of difference between Christianity and Islam
  • I seek to point out these differences gracefully and respectfully whenever it is appropriate
  • While I can see some value in the currently topical ‘Christians and Muslims worship the same god’ discussion, the fact that Christians worship Jesus as God and Muslims don’t, seems to me to place an obvious limit on how far that discussion can be taken.

Glyn Carpenter

National Director, NZ Christian Network

A Letter from the President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ)

Introduction

As an organisation that has ties with other groups of diverse religion, the piece entitled “Paris attacks were not ‘nihilism’ but sacred strategy” was recently brought to our attention by a concerned Christian associate, who correctly understood it to be misrepresentative of Islamic beliefs and values resulting from the authors lack of basic Islamic knowledge, which we agree with. The piece in question lacks understanding on a number of levels including the core texts of Islam and how they are to be interpreted, a blinkered understanding of history, and inability to differentiate between Daesh and Orthodox Islam, and an attempt to create an ‘us v them’ dichotomy based on the widely discredited ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis by Samuel Huntington.

The assertions presented in the piece in question are very common misconceptions, which are often used in an attempt to discredit Islam, and as such we have decided to release a statement addressing a number of these issues as a general document for future referral.

The irony of the specific piece in question, as well as most Islamophobic literature, is that it in fact adopts the same distorted mind-set of those within Daesh; Islamophobes and extremists are one in the same and their willful misunderstanding of the religion is blatant. Both parties appear to be driven more by their own whims, agendas, and money (see the book ‘The Islamophobia Industry’) than they are by a desire for truth and understanding.

This in itself is a tragedy because the need to learn and understand is the only thing that will curtail the twin evils of extremism and islamophobia – both of which have a symbiotic relationship that feed off, and benefit from each other. We will proceed in addressing just a few of the errors apparent in this article, in order to enlighten and broaden the understanding of these issues. Unfortunately we are not able to address all the points as there are simply too many to errors to address in a succinct manner, and instead I would invite the author and his readership to approach people of knowledge within the Islamic community to clarify any questions they may have about Islam.

Islam Is Against Killing Civilians

The piece in question states that “ISIS does not subscribe to the Geneva Convention.  Its actions and strategies are based upon medieval Islamic laws of jihad, which make no use of the modern Western concept of ‘civilian’”. The fact is however, that Islam has been in possession a code of combat outlined in the Quran and Sunnah – including the protection of civilians and the immunity and protection of non-combatants – well over a thousand years before the conception of the Geneva Convention, the principles of which are outlined briefly below:

Evidence From the Quran

Allah said: وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not love transgressors”. [Quran 2:190]

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) explained this verse saying: لَا تَقْتُلُوا النِّسَاءَ وَلَا الصِّبْيَانَ وَلَا الشَّيْخَ الْكَبِيرَ وَلَا مَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ وَكَفَ يَدَهُ فَإِنْ فَعَلْتُمْ هَذَا فَقَدَ اعْتَدَيْتُمْ

“Do not kill women, or children, or old men, or whoever comes to you with peace and he restrains his hand from fighting, for if you did that you would certainly have transgressed”. [Tafseer At-Tabari 2:190]

Evidence from the Hadith

Regarding Women and Children:

The killing of women and children in conflict was explicitly prohibited by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As reported by Abdullah ibn Umar: “In one of Prophet Muhammad’s battles, a woman was found dead. Upon this, the Prophet prohibited killing women and children in battles.” [Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim].

“Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person.” [Sunan Abu Dawud]

Regarding Workers and Servants:

These are people who are not actively involved in warfare. Whilst they may live in a state that are at war with the Muslims, their lives are not to be taken. When engaged in conflict, the Prophet Muhammad explicitly commanded the Muslim soldiers: “Do not kill the workers or the servants.” The lives of those not actively involved in conflict and warfare are protected in Islam.

Regarding the Mentally Ill

The mentally ill and the senile cannot be held accountable during conflict, and therefore their lives are protected. Narrated by Ali ibn Abu Talib (May Allah be please with him), the Prophet Muhammad commanded: “Three kinds of people are not responsible for what they do. A sleeping person until he wakes; a senile or insane person until they regain their mental health; and children until they grow up.”

Regarding Elderly People

It has been forbidden to kill those who are very old and they are to be regarded the same protected status as children. Narrated by Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet Muhammad would state the following every time he dispatched an army: “Set out in the name of Allah. Fight for the religion of Allah and in the name of Allah. Do not kill the elderly.” [Sunan Abu Dawud]

Regarding Non-Muslim Clergymen

Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: Prophet Muhammad would command the Muslim army, “…Do not kill the children or the members of the monasteries”. [Musnad Ahmad]

Regarding the Protection of Property and Infrastructure

“Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle.” [Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud]

Regarding the Protection of Plants and Animals

“Do not practice treachery or mutilation. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.” [Al-Muwatta]

Further Relevant Hadith

“Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience.” [Sahih Muslim]

“No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire.” [Sunan Abu Dawud]

“Accustom yourselves to do good if people do good, and to not do wrong even if they commit evil.” [Al-Tirmidhi]

Evidence from the Islamic Scholars

Ibn Al-Qayyim said: فَإِنَّ الشَّرِيعَةَ مَبْنَاهَا وَأَسَاسُهَا عَلَى الْحِكَمِ وَمَصَالِحِ الْعِبَادِ فِي الْمَعَاشِ وَالْمَعَادِ وَهِيَ عَدْلٌ كُلُّهَا وَرَحْمَةٌ كُلُّهَا وَمَصَالِحُ كُلُّهَا وَحِكْمَةٌ كُلُّهَا فَكُلُّ مَسْأَلَةٍ خَرَجَتْ عَنْ الْعَدْلِ إلَى الْجَوْرِ وَعَنْ الرَّحْمَةِ إلَى ضِدِّهَا وَعَنْ الْمَصْلَحَةِ إلَى الْمَفْسَدَةِ وَعَنْ الْحِكْمَةِ إلَى الْبَعْثِ فَلَيْسَتْ مِنْ الشَّرِيعَةِ وَإِنْ أُدْخِلَتْ فِيهَا بِالتَّأْوِيلِ

“Verily, the Sharia is founded upon wisdom and welfare for the servants in this life and the afterlife. In its entirety it is justice, mercy, benefit, and wisdom. Every matter which abandons justice for tyranny, mercy for cruelty, benefit for corruption, and wisdom for foolishness is not a part of the Sharia even if it was introduced therein by an interpretation.” [I’lam Al-Muwaqqi’in ‘an Rabb Al-Alamin 11]

From the above it can therefore be seen that the targeting of civilians and terrorism is completely unacceptable within Islam. These evidences from the primary and secondary texts also extinguished the fundamental points made in the piece in question.

Statements from Orientalists

In the book, ‘Islam: The Religion and the People’, well known Orientalist academic Bernard Lewis, wrote that “At no time did the (Muslim) jurist approve of terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism (in Islamic tradition). Muslims are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged, not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners, to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities, and to honour agreements…The emergence of the now widespread terrorism practice of suicide bombing is a development of the 20th century. It has no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition. It is a pity that those who practice this form of terrorism are not better acquainted with their own religion, and with the culture that grew up under the auspices of that religion.”

Verses Out Of Context

As with many Islamophobic diatribes, the piece in question also makes a number of errors through its literal and decontextualized reading of the Quran. A selection of these errors are addressed below.

Quran 9:5

The piece in question states that “ISIS believes that killing disbelievers is a moral act, in accordance, for example, with Surah 9:5 of the Qur’an, which states: ‘Fight and kill the idolators (mushrik) wherever you find them’”. The reason Daesh believe this is because they – like Islamophobes – misinterpret the text either willfully or through a lack of knowledge. In fact it appears that they do not interpret it at all, and instead read it literally, which is at complete odds with orthodox Islamic exegesis. Orthodox Islamic exegesis takes into account the verses before and after from Quran 9:1 to Quran 9:15, and therefore contextualise the verse in question. Failure to do this indicates a lack of integrity on the part of those interpreting the verse. Ustadh Faraz A. Khan comments on Quran 9:5 by asserting

“The Verse of the Sword deals specifically with the situation of Meccan polytheists breaking peace treaties and openly declaring war on the Muslim polity. The verse, then, commands the Muslim state to take up arms and defend itself against those that breached their covenants and attacked out of treachery. This explanation is confirmed by the most reliable Imams of Qur’anic exegesis [tafsir], including Imam Razi, Imam Jamal, Imam Zamakhshari, Imam Baydawi, Imam Nasafi, Imam Biqa`i, and others. [Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb; Jamal, Hashiyat al-Jalalayn; Zamakhshari, Kashshaf; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil; Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzil; Biqa`i, Nadhm al-Durar] The verse, therefore, can by no means be generalized to refer to all disbelievers. Such an interpretation is not confirmed by scholars of Qur’anic interpretation. It would be both contrary to the intent of the verses as well as disastrous for the security of both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens and nation-states”.

Dr. Muhammad Abdel Haleem in his highly recommended book entitled ‘Understanding the Qur’an Themes and Style’, writes that

“the main clause of the sentence “kill the polytheists” is singled out by some Western scholars to represent the Islamic attitude to war; even some Muslims take this view and allege that this verse abrogated other verses on war. This is pure fantasy, isolating and decontextualizing a small part of a sentence. The full picture is given in 9:1-15, which gives many reasons for the order to fight the polytheists. They continuously broke their agreements and aided others against the Muslims, they started hostilities against the Muslims, barred others from becoming Muslims, “expelled” Muslims from the Holy Mosque and even from their own homes. At least eight times the passage mentions their misdeeds against the Muslims. Consistent with restrictions on war elsewhere in the Qur’an, the immediate context of this “Sword Verse” exempts such polytheists who do not break their agreements and who keep the peace with the Muslims [9:7], it orders that those enemies seeking safe conduct should be protected and delivered to the place of safety they seek [9:6]. The whole of this context to v. 5, with all its restrictions, is ignored by those who simply isolate one part of a sentence to build their theory of war in Islam on what is termed “The Sword Verse” even when the word sword does not occur anywhere in the Qur’an.”

Quran 8:12 & 8:15

The piece in question further asserts that “This strategy is commended by the Qur’an, for example in Surah 8:12, ‘I shall cast dread into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So strike above (their) necks and strike (off) all their fingers!’”. Again, quoting these verses literally, and out of context is devoid of orthodox Islamic exegesis, and is not how the verses are to be understood, nor how they have been understand throughout history by the scholars.

The above verses were revealed at the battle of Badr. Reading from verses 8:9 to 8:19 will give a complete contextual perspective of the verse in question and demonstrate the specific context for which it was revealed. When read in context it does not promote or justify the killing of innocents and instead refers to a specific battle between two sets of armed combatants, and 8:12 refers to killing on the battle field of Badr. Furthermore, as can be seen in 8:19, God is instructing the Muslims to seek peace if the opposing party ceases hostilities.

Quran 33:26-27

The piece in question asserts that “As well as by the successful example of Muhammad in fighting the Jews of Medina, referred to in Surah 33:26-27, ‘He brought down from their fortifications those of the People of the Book who supported them, and cast dread into their hearts. You killed a group (of them), and took captive (another) group. And he caused you to inherit their land, their homes, and their wealth, and a land you had not set foot on.’

Again, this faulty claim is a result of ignorance as to the orthodox Islamic exegesis, both on the part of the author, as well as Daesh, if in fact they do interpret the verse in this way. The fact is that this verse specifically refers to a Jewish tribe that had made and repeatedly broken a treaty with the Muslims, betraying them, and joining the enemy in battle against them.

It is of great relevance to note that the Constitution of Medina, was signed by 8 Jewish tribes, whilst this specific passage refers to one single tribe that betrayed the treaty and waged war against the Muslims. Again, this is not a blanket statement and is specific to one tribe in one specific historical situation.

Motivations

Guilt by Disbelief?

The piece in question incorrectly asserts that “However the important question is how ISIS sees its own motivations.  Their ideology teaches them that infidels deserve death, simply by virtue of their unbelief”. While this may or may not be true about Daesh, this is certainly not true in regards to the teachings of Orthodox Islam:

Evidence from the Quran

“Let there be no compulsion in religion:  Truth stands out clear from error:  whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks.  And God heareth and knoweth all things”.  [Quran, 2:256]

“Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors”.  [Quran, 2:190]

“…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…” [Quran 5:32]

“Those who invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause, nor commit fornication; – and any that does this (not only) meets punishment.  (But) the Penalty on the Day of Judgement will be doubled to him, and he will dwell Therein in ignominy”.  [Quran, 25:68-69]

“But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things)”.  [Quran, 8:61]

“God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes. God loves just dealers”. [The Quran 60:8]

“Again and again will those who disbelieve, wish that they had bowed (to God’s will) in Islam.   Leave them alone, to enjoy (the good things of this life) and to please themselves: let (false) hope amuse them: soon will knowledge (undeceive them)”.  [Quran, 15:2-3]

Colonialism, Postcolonialism and Neo-colonialism

The piece in question goes on to assert that “This has nothing to do with France’s history of colonialism or its treatment of Muslim minorities”. However, many International Relations scholars would disagree with this assertion. In fact, there is an entire sub-field entitled Critical Terrorism Studies dedicated to understanding the root causes of terrorism, and explain that terrorism is often related to, and motivated by, postcolonial conditions and neo-colonial realities. As such, I would suggest the author familiarise themselves with literature from this field of study in order to further their understanding of the numerous psychological, social, historical and political motivations for terrorism.

Evidence from the Attackers

Coupled with the authors faulty assertion that “their objection to Europeans is that they are not Muslims, and their objection to European states is that they do not implement sharia law”, the piece not only decontextualizes Quran verses as described above, but also seeks to decontextualized the immediate situation itself, and completely ignores the words of the gunmen themselves, who stated their motivations clearly, as recalled by a survivor of the Bataclan Theatre attack in an interview with RT. The survivor – Pierre Janaszak – asserted that they (the attackers) said: “’It’s because of Francois Hollande’ – our President – ‘because he attacks our (the attackers) countries’… Syria and Iraq, yeah, and he says: ‘when you kill terrorist, you kill innocent people, so you are bad. Now, today, we kill innocent people, so you feel the same thing that we feel in those countries’”. Another survivor claimed the attackers stated “This is because of all the harm done by Hollande to Muslims all over the world”. As such, it can be seen as an act of revenge and reprisal for the bombing of Iraq and Syria as opposed to the assertion by the author that it is motivated by Europe’s lack of Sharia law. The assertion that it is motivated by solely by religious factors can be further undermined by asking why France was attacked as opposed to the Vatican. After pondering this question, it becomes clear that this attack was in fact motivated by the factors that the author attempts to dismiss.

Clash of Civilisations Debunked

The piece in question asserts “To combat this ideology it is necessary for Europe to prove ISIS wrong on all counts. It must show strength, not weakness. It must have confidence in its cultural and spiritual identity. It must be willing to fight for its survival. It must show that it believes in itself enough to fight for its future. It must defend its borders.  It must act like someone who intends to win an interminably long war against an implacable foe”.

This perspective stems from Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis, which is an outdated and much criticised paradigm in the field of International Relations. I would suggest reading scholars such as Amartya Sen (Democracy as a Universal Value), Paul Berman (Terror and Liberalism), Tariq Ali (Clash of Fundamentalisms), as well as Edward Said (The Clash of Ignorance) who stated that the Huntington ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis is “the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims”.

The piece in question further demands that “Islam renounce its love affair with conquest and dominance”, which shows a misunderstanding of how Islam spread, and is in fact highly ironic given that this statement is completely blind to the bloody European history of colonial conquest and dominance which costs the lives of tens of millions of people (at a conservative estimate) and continues to be a causative factor in many contemporary geopolitical issues as asserted above.

The ‘Problem’ of Jihad?

The piece in question also asserts that “One hope for Europe is that Islamic populations will get tired of the doctrine of jihad and all its bitter fruits”. This suggests that Muslims do not understand the doctrine of Jihad, which is an incorrect assumption. The fact is that many Muslims do understand the concept of Jihad and also possess the ability to identify when the concept is misappropriated to cause unnecessary violence that is at odds with the sharia. Again, it is the extremists and the Islamophobes that lack an understanding of this matter. It is pertinent to explain here that the principles of legitimate Jihad is actually enshrined in the UN Charter VII Article 51, which states

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security”.

Both the principles of Jihad and Article 51 are in agreement as to the legitimate use of force.

The piece in question further asserts that “They (Muslims) could, even at this late hour, demand that the large and rapidly growing Muslim communities now well-established across Europe engage in constructive self-criticism of their religion, for the sake of peace”. However, as stated previously, it is not the religion at fault – it is those who choose to misinterpret the religion either willingly or out of ignorance. What is in fact required is widespread education in relation to Orthodox Islamic principles.

Conclusion: Education as the Catalyst for Change

This piece as a whole exemplifies how its author possesses the same approach to perceiving the ‘reality’ around them as Daesh – a ‘black and white’, ‘us v them’ worldview. It is an approach that lacks nuance, academic integrity and a correct understanding of Islam, and in fact it is exactly this kind of worldview that Daesh wants to promote. By writing and propagating such pieces, the author is in fact tacitly promoting Daesh and fulfilling their objectives to split the world into two camps. Thus we must be aware of the hate peddlers that occupy both sides of the same coin (extremists and Islamophobes), and we in the majority of society must resist this polarisation and stand in solidarity against the wilful perversion of facts and information motivated by furthering both agendas. We as humanity must come together to reject hate in all forms – the first step of which is to actively learn, educate and understand, as opposed to passively consume, assume and sensationalise through ill-informed polemics.

We have released this statement not merely to rebut these points, but also as a way for Islamophobes to reflect on the little that they know, in order to for them to change for the better, open their minds and hearts with sincerity, and become part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.

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