Just 29 days after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, Oprah Winfrey invited Queen Rania on her television show. Rania is a devout Muslim and royalty of the Islamic country of Jordan. That’s why she can, allegedly, speak on behalf of her faith. Her job that day was to help repair Islam’s massive public relations problem.
Rania assured the American people: “The fact that Islam is very tolerant means that it doesn’t impose anything on other people.” President Bush, shortly after 9/11, said that “Islam is a peaceful religion and Muslims are a peace-loving people.” Just last month, President Obama responded to the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by stating the terror group “is not ‘Islamic.’”
But we see a different face of Islam in the news. Besides the September 11 attacks, there have been riots, bombings, and beheadings all done in the name of Islam. Are the perpetrators of this violence not following true Islam? What do we make of Islamic leaders who decry the violence of jihadists? How do we make sense of the contradictory claims by Islamic spokesmen? Will the real Islam please stand up?
I use a simple tactic to help me sort through the confusion. If I want to know whether a teaching or behavior is truly Islamic, I ask a simple question: Is it based on authoritative sources in Islam? There are three primary sources.
The first is the Qur’an. Muslims believe this book contains the literal words of Allah and is, therefore, the highest authority in Islam. The corollary in Christianity, Muslims claim, is not the Bible, but Christ.
The second is hadith literature. These are written traditions that record what Mohammed said, did, or approved of. Although hadith is not on par with the Qur’an, it’s nonetheless authoritative because it gives practical applications to the broad principles in the Qur’an. Sharia law in Islamic countries is derived from hadith literature.
The third is the Sunnah. This is the life example set by Mohammed. Since he perfectly embodies Muslim behavior, how he lived in his day is authoritative for Muslims today.
These authoritative sources provide a handy tactic to determine whether a teaching is Islamic. If it’s taught in the Qur’an, hadith, and Sunnah, then it’s legitimate. It doesn’t matter what Queen Rania, the Presidents of the United States, or mosque leaders say. They could claim Islam is about flying kites, but it wouldn’t make it so.
Let’s, then, apply this tactic. Is violent jihad a valid Islamic doctrine? According to the Qur’an, yes. There are 164 verses (out of 6,236 total) that teach jihad. Although jihad literally means “struggle” and can refer to a struggle of the heart or mind, these verses all refer to the struggle to fight in warfare for Allah.
What about hadith literature? There are hundreds of written traditions about violent jihad. Indeed, there’s an entire section that it is titled “The book of jihad” that details who to fight, when to fight, and how to fight.
Finally, there’s the Sunnah, the precedent set by Islam’s prophet. According to the earliest extant biography (The Life of Mohammed, written by a Muslim), Mohammed led military campaigns and even ordered the assassination of non-combatants. Most troubling, though, is he ordered the execution—by beheading—of an entire Jewish tribe. Mohammed’s biography indicates he killed 600 to 700 men in one night.
Are Islam’s authoritative sources clear about the question of violent jihad? Crystal clear.
I hear two kinds of responses, though. The first thing most Muslims say is that they don’t practice violence, nor do most Muslims they know. I agree. But this is in spite of what the Qur’an, hadith, and Sunnah teach, not because of them. Let me be clear, however. Virtually every Muslim I’ve met, both in the United States and the Middle East, has been kind, friendly, and peaceful to me. My point is not that most Muslims engage in violence, but that their authoritative sources teach that it’s permissible.
The second response I hear is, “Islam is a peaceful religion that’s been hijacked by violent terrorists.” I disagree. I think the opposite is true: Islam is a violent religion that’s been hijacked by peaceful Muslims. At its core, Islam teaches violence, but thankfully most Muslims don’t live consistently with this mandate.
We need to realize, then, that Muslims are not the enemy. Our battle is not against them. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 10:3–5 that “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, the weapons we fight with have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”
It is the enemy, Satan, who has erected the stronghold of Islam. He has set up that religion against the knowledge of God. Our war is against Satan, his army, and his lies. He’s the true terrorist.
That’s why training Christians to reach Muslims is so critical. Muslims are not the enemy, but hostages of the enemy. I will continue to fight with weapons, not of this world, to demolish strongholds.