Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Finally finished with Jihad

My paper that wouldn't end, ended. Thanks to me going back on my medicine. I can't seem to think without it. So I'm going to wait for the pill-free life until I don't need to think anymore, which will be after this Sunday's sermon is finished. It's going to be quite unpleasant, from what I've experienced so far: basically always feeling dizzy with a massive headache, and pretty much being unable to string words together very well or concentrate on anything very long. Luckily I have Netflix to help me get through the rough spots. Ah, Paxil - it's great while it lasts, but I don't recommend the withdrawal.

Anyhoo, I thought I'd post the final section of my paper (starting a bit before). I'm not posting the whole thing because it's really long and while not boring, it is a lot of info you can get elsewhere. So I'll just post the last bit, which is where I put my own head into the game. I don't come to a lot of conclusions but I definitely try to ask some provocative questions.

E. Islam’s Civil War
Reza Aslan stresses that “jihad is neither a universally recognized nor a unanimously defined concept in the Muslim world.”[1] David Cook wonders if jihad can still be understood in its grand historical context, “Or has the fact that any political and religious malcontent, such as Usama [sic] b. Ladin, can label his struggle jihad caused the term to lose all meaning?”[2] The radicals have not been declared apostate by the greater Muslim community, so Cook concludes that theirs must be “a legitimate expression of Islam.”[3] But not all Muslim scholars will accept this; they insist that Islam itself is engaged in a civil war of sorts over which interpretation of jihad – and the religion itself, by extension – will prevail. The fundamentalists and modernists argued their points over two centuries, and today the debate rages between academics and imams, peasants and ayatollahs, in speech, print, and – too often – violent action. For the most part, the scholars here cited have not given up on peace or accepted the radical position. They request patience:
What is taking place now in the Muslim world is an internal conflict between Muslims, not an external battle between Islam and the West. The West is merely a bystander – an unwary yet complicit casualty of a rivalry that is raging in Islam over who will write the next chapter in its story.[4]

Muslims ask for the same grace to be given them that Christians allow themselves in light of Christianity’s violent past: namely, that what happened then does not have to define them now. Like Christians who see the overarching narrative of their Bible presenting a God of love and mercy, Muslims wish to stress the overall attitude of the Qur’an as promoting justice and peace even as it acknowledges the harsh realities of life. Ali wrote that it was “very unfair of the Christians to make too much of the wars of Muhammad, which were purely of a defensive nature, and offer apologies for the most cruel wars of conquest and extermination by Moses, Joshua and other Jewish worthies under the express commands of God.”[5] Aslan references the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in which Protestants and Catholics massacred one another, ending the lives of nearly one third of the German populace. It was that war which “signaled the end of the Reformation,” and peace between Christians was eventually attained through a progressive revolution in philosophy and doctrine that began with wary mutual acceptance and has concluded with ecumenical cooperation. “This remarkable evolution in Christianity from its inception to its Reformation took fifteen vicious, bloody, and occasionally apocalyptic centuries” – and Aslan reminds us that Islam is only just beginning its fifteenth.[6]

V. Jihad and the Christian Worldview
This brings the discussion directly to the task of putting the Christian worldview in dialogue with Islam. Jihad is perhaps the most misunderstood concept – and the most necessary to understand – in inter-religious dialogue in the current world climate. Interfaith encounter is poised to heal deep divisions in the world, if it takes advantage of the information available through studies such as this one rather than relying on stereotypes. When Christianity and Islam meet, what similarities, differences, and questions need to be addressed in regards to jihad?

Like in Christianity, there is a wide range of views on scripture and tradition in Islam. Ironically, the fundamentalist Muslims do not advocate a “Qur’an-only” approach but realize they must go beyond the scriptures to support their cause – which is the opposite approach of most fundamentalist Christians. The modernist Muslims use exegetical methods quite similar to those of Liberal Protestants, such as the historical-critical approach. But in both faiths, the majority of laypeople do not agree with the exegesis of the academic elite, preferring to trust their spiritual leader (pastor or imam) to interpret the holy text for them. How will religious leaders handle this disconnect?

Scholars like Cook approach the Qur’an and early traditions as a fundamentalist Christian would the Bible and early church: inerrant and unchangeable. He says that later movements of Islam (Sufism, nineteenth century theologians, today’s scholars) do not hold as much weight as early history in understanding Islamic doctrine. But not all Muslims or Christians feel this way: another viable option is to see religion as an ongoing relationship between God and humanity that has struggled through rough patches, but can continue improving on the past. Scholars like Hathout, Aslan, Köylü, and Zawati believe in the progression of their faith into a new era of peace supported by Qur’anic teaching, just as violence has been sanctioned in former times.

Reza Aslan theorizes that Islam is evolving, going through a Reformation of sorts. Who will determine the future of Islam? Can those from other religions help, or will our participation simply hinder the process? What can Christians do to promote better understanding between Muslim and Muslim? Perhaps our best option is to not directly interfere in conflicts between Muslims, but work instead on promoting a better understanding of Islam among Christians. If we realize the complexities of jihad, we may live in less fear and confusion about the present state of the world. Christians must learn – and teach others – the distinction between jihad and “holy war,” and not conflate jihad with the Crusades. It is true that both Christianity and Islam have violent histories, and we must allow one another the grace to move out from under the shadow of the past.

Up to now, Islam has not been a compartmentalized religion but encompasses all of life. Will Islam need to undergo a revision of mind and secularization of its practices to overcome the violence it has been locked in for so long? Christians may be able to more charitably consider the quarrels and fractures within Islam if we consider our own history. What saved Christianity from civil war, in the end, were philosophical movements that took Christ from the center of public life to an exclusive private realm of individual devotion. Would we wish for Islam what has become of us? Should we use our own history to suggest answers to the present Muslim debates over the future of their religion?

Fundamentalist Sayyid Qutb offers additional points of connection between the faiths. His goal of “freeing” the people of the world by putting them under God’s rule sounds quite similar to some early Christian missionary or colonial activities. Certain Christians see America as the land where God’s rule is modeled. But when we understand that ours is not the only religion with this aim, how will we respond? The “culture wars,” fighting for the “souls of America,” aggressive wars to defend our way of life or spread democracy abroad – all of these smack of Qutb’s rhetoric. When God approves of what you do, justification and reasoning are irrelevant. Are we willing to align ourselves with this school of thought?

One very important difference between Christianity and Islam is highlighted by this study: Muslims have no scriptural or historical mandate to love their enemies. This needs to be recognized for Christians to understand where Muslims are coming from. It does not mean that Islam does not support love, human rights, and pacifism – it does, in great measure. But Muslims start with reality, which includes the inevitability of people fighting. Islam recognized this, and the suffering it causes, and addressed these problems by providing a just war theory in jihad. Jesus also knew that fighting and suffering are inevitable, but offered a very different response.

The pressing question for Christians is whether we have been acting more like Jesus or Muhammad. Islam can be used as a mirror to help us see where we might be justifying something that is not actually part of our religion. Just war theory (ironically, created by Christians) can definitely be supported by the Muslim principle of jihad. But is it upheld by Christian Scripture? Those Christians who believe in self-defense and just war theory may be following Muhammad rather than Jesus. Christianity deals with violence by absorbing it, following a God who is self-sacrificial and does not fight back when he is hung on a cross. Are we able to do the same: to, like Muslims, accept the reality of human sin – and then let it do its worst to us?

This paper has provided me with a far-reaching education into a topic I knew very little about, and when considering how I will use it in my ministry situation, especially in interfaith encounter, I find I am left with more questions than answers. However, they are good questions, questions that will lead to dialogue and perhaps even better understanding. Hopefully they are questions that will cause those of us in each religion to step back and really take in the Other as he or she is, thereby gaining a better understanding not only of the person, but of the faith. I would like to bring the questions raised by this study in an actual situation of interfaith dialogue one day.

VI. Conclusion
This paper has taken some first steps in understanding jihad from the Muslim point of view, in all its variation and complexity. It began with the basic doctrinal background and moved into the two major schools of interpretation, fundamentalist and modernist. It then brought up the issues that contemporary scholars are struggling with as they seek to define the doctrine for the present day. It closed by asking difficult questions that uncover new challenges for interfaith dialogue and for Christians to examine themselves in light of what Islam teaches us.

True learning cannot happen unless we listen to Muslims themselves: reading their interpretations and debates rather than assuming we know what they have to say. This is how we do appropriate scholarship and find correct insight. This paper offers an understanding about jihad specifically from the Muslim perspective as a model of effective scholarship and as a help to those who wish to approach Muslims in a sympathetic and thoughtful manner.

[1] Aslan, No god but God, 87.
[2] Cook, Understanding Jihad, 163.
[3] Ibid, 164.
[4] Aslan, 248.
[5] Moulavi Chiragh Ali, “War and Peace: Popular Jihad,” in Contemporary Debates in Islam: An Anthology of Modernist and Fundamentalist Thought, 89.
[6] Aslan, 248.

Qutb's article is Sayyid Qutb, “War, Peace, and Islamic Jihad,” in the same book as Ali's.


Anonymous said...

A couple comments:

"Perhaps our best option is to not directly interfere in conflicts between Muslims, but work instead on promoting a better understanding of Islam among Christians."

Unfortunately, since Islam has "bloody borders," we don't have that luxury. When ancient Jewish and Christian Middle Eastern communities are being driven out by Muslims and thousands of non-Muslims in non-Islamic countries lose their lives to Islamic terrorists, we have no choice but to become involved to some extent.

"Those Christians who believe in self-defense and just war theory may be following Muhammad rather than Jesus."

If you had any knowledge of the development of the just war theory, you would know how laughable a statement that is. Islam contribued absolutely nothing to just war theory in the Christian tradition as it stands now.


Stasi said...

I know plenty about the development of just war theory. Just because Christians made it up, doesn't mean it follows Jesus' way. And there is no evidence that Islam did or did not contribute to the theory - it arose during the time of the conquests, and Christians and Muslims were not out of touch with one another for most of history.

The point of the statement was that just war theory fits better with Islam than Christianity, strictly going by Christianity as it was founded by Jesus, not as it developed. I think your comment borders on rude, Michael. I did my homework on this one (about 50 hrs of research), and I know an awful lot about this topic. Despite the Church's sanction of just war, it is NOT in any way a Christian concept as per Jesus' teachings. The Church simply has it wrong if it thinks otherwise.