Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 14 September 2001
Islam : a complex faith - Page 2
Another verse from the Qur’an which is not often quoted in non-Islamic contexts runs:
“Ye shall be summoned to fight against a people given to vehement war: then shall you fight or they shall submit.” (Surah 48, verse 16). The meaning here is that the Muslims should fight until their opponents embrace Islam.
In the early days of Islam, the faith was indeed spread by the sword. Those who would not embrace Islam were killed. The same thing is happening today in Indonesia, where at least 8,000 Christians have been forcibly converted to Islam by well-armed Islamic extremists. Any who refused were killed.
Furthemore, many Christians are being killed by Muslims without any conditions being offered. Some ten thousand have been killed in Indonesia in the last two years or so, mostly by the well-armed Laskar Jihad group who have declared their intention of eradicating Christianity. In the same time period there have been many violent incidents in Nigeria in which thousands of Christians have been killed, their houses and churches destroyed. In Sudan, the Arab Islamic government has been at war since 1983 with the African peoples of the South, who are mainly Christians or follow traditional African religions, apparently intent on killing them all, civilians and military.
Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohamed of the British-based organisation, Al-Muhajiroun, published on his organisation’s website on 13th September (two days after the World Trade Centre attack) an interview in which he distinguished between civilian and military targets. He indicated that military and government entities were legitimate targets for Muslims to attack. On 31st August the Kuwaiti paper Al-Watan presented arguments to justify the killing of non-combatants by Muslims. The article was concerned particularly with Jewish non-combatants, but the thrust of the argument would make it applicable to any non-Muslims living in a democracy. Citizens of a democracy have voted for their government and pay taxes to it, ran the argument, therefore they can be attacked as if they were the government or military.
Television news has shown us the grotesque sight of Palestinian Muslims celebrating the World Trade Centre attack. They are not alone. Similar reports are coming in of grass-roots Muslim celebrations in other parts of the world. In London a poster appeared outside Finsbury Park Mosque the day after the attack. It showed the remains of the World Trade Centre and photos of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The text read: “Death to Bush. Death to Blair. Taliban.” It is hard to continue to argue that only “a few extremists” are hostile to the West and the non-Muslim world when this kind of response is so widespread.
So there are clearly two strands in contemporary Islam: the peaceable and the war-like. Islam is not one or the other; it is both at the same time.
In this it differs from Christianity. While many atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity, they are not sanctioned by the teachings of the Christian faith, whose founder is called “The Prince of Peace” and whose law is summed up as love for God and others. Atrocities committed in the name of Islam may be deplored by many individual Muslims, but it cannot be denied that they are justified by Islamic teaching.