- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Some religious and secular scholars say Islamic belief does not require terrorism in the defense of the faith, and some argue that while the rigid orthodoxy of certain Muslim movements leads inevitably to conflict, Jewish and Christian Scripture also have a place for violence and martyrdom.

Other scholars disagree, arguing that this is merely a facile argument of theological equivalency.

"I reject the idea that there is something more inherently violent in Islam than in Christianity or Judaism," says Milton Viorst, author of "In the Shadow of the Prophet," a study of Islam. "The extremists are fed by a feeling of oppression, not by the dogma of Islam."

But Patrick Sookhdeo, director of London's Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, while decrying attempts to blame Islam for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, rebuts the argument of theological equivalency.

"Many horrific acts have been, and continue to be, perpetrated in the name of Islam, just as they have in the name of Christianity," he writes in London's Daily Telegraph. "But unlike Islam, Christianity does not justify the use of all forms of violence."

He cites as evidence "Sura 9, verse 5 of the Koran, [which reads] 'Then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them. And seize them, beleaguer them. And lie in wait for them, in every stratagem."

Others note that this, like biblical Scripture, is open to misinterpretation and distortion.

Mr. Viorst argues in his book that a millennium ago Muslim political forces determined that Islam would reject a rational element that could have helped it cope with modernity. Instead, a traditionalism curbed economic development, creating a gap with the West that today fans resentments and extremism.

"The problem is not Islam, it is the orthodox interpretation that discourages intellectual creativity," he said.

President Bush, fearful that anger over the terrorist attacks on the nation could lead to attacks on innocent Muslims, this week echoed Muslim teaching that the faith is dedicated to peace by "surrender" to God. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, who arrived in Washington yesterday to confer with the president, repeated similar cautions in London.

Some Western religionists note that, like Jews and Christians, Muslims are taught to believe in a cosmos in which God rewards good and punishes evil, and is merciful to human appeals.

The first of "five pillars" of Islam is its claim of monotheism, or belief in one God: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." The other pillars are to pray five times daily, give to charity, observe the daytime fasting month of Ramadan, and take a pilgrimage to Mecca.

A sixth pillar in some branches of Islam, which have developed over 1,400 years in many political settings, has been "jihad," a word in the Koran that means personal "effort" to improve or to wage war against aggressors.

"Scriptural interpretation is always tricky," says Barbara Stowasser, director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

"For example, you can find a scriptural basis for absolute repression or for democracy in the Bible. 'Jihad' means a just war that responds to aggression, so the terrorist acts would not qualify as jihad," she said. "In Islamic law, jihad can only come from a consensus."

Though the world's more than 1 billion Muslims all adhere to the Koran in one degree or another, consensus can be hard to identify. Islam has no central earthly authority or council, which has led to much disagreement or flexibility on what the Koran demands.

The Koran is made up of 6,666 verses, believed by Muslims to come from intermittent revelations Muhammad recited over 22 years. But only a few hundred verses are legally precise. The act of interpretation, or "hadith," is diverse across Islam.

Many experts on Islam argue that social frustration more than doctrine has produced the modern violence in Islam, though on the grounds of doctrinal purity, jihad often has been waged by Muslim against Muslim.

But in the Muslim faith, argues Mr. Sookhdeo, "the Koran is believed to be the very word of God, applying to all people, in all times, in all places."

There is no prohibition on killing no commandment such as "thou shalt not kill" and, Mr. Sookhdeo says, "it was through conquest that Islam spread. In Indonesia today, non-Muslims are offered a choice of conversion to Islam or death."

John O. Voll, co-author of "Makers of Contemporary Islam," says monotheists must see what is common in their traditions so Islam is not unfairly singled out.

"All these traditions have resources and inspirations for being a martyr, a warrior, or a peaceful person" he says.

But theological equivalence has gone too far for some.

"Until recently," Mr. Sookhdeo wrote, "Islam has had a negative and violent image in the West, but now the trend is to focus on Islam as a religion of peace … . Now that Islam is no longer demonized, it seems it can do no wrong."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide