Part XXIV: Terror in London, Nihilism, and the Islamic State
by Abu Daoud
Some time ago I received an e-mail from a colleague and friend with ministry experience in the UK and Africa. He asked some questions about Islam, terrorism, and the Islamic State. I thought I would share my answers to his questions with you all. His questions are in italics.
I am (rightly or wrongly) slightly put off by some Christians who are very anti-Islam and see ISIS as the true face Islam. But I wonder if ISIS is not a Western phenomenon in many ways?
You are right in that many Christians are indeed very anti-Islam. I think it is important to not assume that ISIS is 'the' face of Islam. On the other hand, to dismiss it as 'not Islam at all' as all the pols in the UK (and many in the USA) do--that is clearly wrong too. When I share with Christians here about Islam, which I do often, I encourage them to form Christ-centered relations with Muslims. If Muslims are in fact the enemies of the Church, then we know how to treat them--love your enemy. If, on the other hand, they are merely our neighbors, we also know how to respond to them--love. The witness of the love of God in the life of a Christian is powerful and strong and is the main thing we see drawing Muslims to Christ around the world today.
As to ISIS being a Western phenomenon, I would say no. Islamic State has a very real and valid claim to trying to emulate the very first generations of Muslims, even with all their brutality and terror. Muhammad himself said, "Allah has made me victorious through terror." So why would Muslims not do this today? He, as the founder of Islam, imparted a very specific DNA to his community, and while it can mutate and change, it can only go so far. Same thing with Jesus and Christianity. Churches that become so divorced from the original praxis and doxa of the Church eventually die out (Church of Scotland, for instance) or become distinct religions (Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses). IS in killing and terrorizing and raping is following the Qur'an. They are doing it more literally than most Muslims do (thank God), but there is no question that they have a Qur'an warrant for everything they do.
If there is one area where the IS is Western, or modern, really, it is in their use of Internet and media. They are very good at this. This is a key reason why IS has been successful in doing what Al Qaeda (another important reform movement in 20th Century Islam) was not able to do.
I am also perplexed about the horrible bombings in Europe, and occasionally in America, which are seen as expressions of Islam rather than as expressions of a nihilistic Western culture - in which maladjusted and non-practising Westernised Muslims, usually drug addicts, seem to go crazy. The Anders Breivik, Thomas McVeigh and Columbine rampage killings seem to fit into the same category of deranged young men taking their frustrations out on society.
So the question is, can we believe people when they tell us why they are doing what they are doing? Breivik and McVeigh told us why they did what they did, and neither had to do with Christianity or the Bible or Jesus. They were motivated by nationalism or racism, if I recall the two cases. Similarly, when Muslims carry out attacks they are quite clear about why they are doing what they are doing. What warrant do we have to say that they do not in fact understand their own motives? Their answers are very clear and they cite the Qur'an and the hadith carefully. It is true that some of them (especially in Europe) are not well-educated. But many of them came from lives of frug use and morality and their decision to wage Jihad was part and parcel of their reformation as they left those things behind. In Christian circles it is not uncommon to hear of a drug-addict or criminal who had a dramatic conversion experience and went on to become an evangelist or pastor. We simply have the Muslim parallel here.
Is it perhaps really nihilism that motivates these young men (and increasingly, women)? Nihilism is a philosophical school that asserts that all religious and moral principles are to be rejected, and that life is meaningless. Now that is certainly not what these men and women believe. It is precisely because they believe that they are called to assert the absolute triumph of Allah and his Prophet that they are called to "slay the unbelievers wherever you find them" (Qur'an 9:5) and "fight in the way of Allah" (Qur'an 2:190) "until the religion--all of it--is for Allah" (8:39). After all, as the Prophet, the ideal human and template for all human action, said, "Paradise is in the shade of swords." Whatever that is, it is not nihilism. It is rather a community of young men who are rejecting the nihilism of the secular West which can no long alert any absolute truth about anything at all. They are rejecting that nihilism and they hate it--as they should, for it is inhumane and hopeless--and then they are taking up a great and noble quest: to establish the absolute of reign of Allah over the whole earth--until all religion--all of it--is for Allah.
So, on the contrary, it is against nihilism that these men strive.
It is also incorrect to conclude that these people are doing this out of thuggery. Some do come from that background. But many of the most eminent mujahidin were well educated. All of the 9/11 men were, the men who executed the July 7 operation in the London Tube were too. The head of Al Qaeda is a medical doctor. The Caliph himself holds a PhD in Islamic Studies. Many more examples could be given.But that sword cuts both ways (it always does). If we dismiss their sincerity and devotion because they are not educated, then we must surely toss out the window most of the Apostles and that uneducated peasant girl, Mary. Are you ready to do this? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
As to 99.9%, that is certainly wrong. Also, the word 'terrorism' is misleading. One man's terrorism is another man's struggle for freedom. What the West calls terrorism, many Muslims don't. In the UK alone there are 26,000 Muslims under the surveillance of MI5. One of the recent attackers at the London Bridge had been on that list, but there were other 'higher priorities' to deal with, so they stopped monitoring him. That doesn't equal .1% at all.
Thanks for the questions! Very good. And let me know what you think. I'm glad to continue this conversation.