Thursday, 19 November 2015

ISIS, Islam and Westboro Baptist Church

I don't know much about Islam. But on Facebook there has been a lot of talk about it in light of the events in Paris. I even saw people defriended over their stance taken on this matter. The horror! Truly the terrorist have already won.

I've read Spectator's Guide to World Religions and picked up a few things from here and there about Islam, but I should be clear: the amount of things that I don't know about Islam could be squeezed into The Grand Canyon.

Lately the idea that Islam means a religion of peace has been thrown around, however before 9/11 I always though Islam meant a religion of submission (that is al-Silm and not al-Salaam in Arabic). One may find peace through submission (to Allah), but it would be good if we didn't shorthand this.

I do know that Muslims hold the Qur'an as a flawless book (in Arabic) which is in heaven and they are to obey its teachings, along with the Hadith. The Qur'an teaches that Jesus wasn't God but a messenger of Allah and that we shouldn't talk about "three" when talking about God for Allah is one:
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. - Qur'an 4:171
The Qur'an also states that Jesus didn't die on the cross:
And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. - Qur'an 4:157-158
I don't think I am taking these verses out of context as I have heard well respected Muslims saying these things.

Now, not holding to the Trinity or that Jesus wasn't God puts you at odds with Christianity, but so does believing Sukyo Mahikari or RaĆ«lism and that alone doesn't make you dangerous. Being "extreme" in your religion also does not makes you dangerous. I always think of the Amish, who are one of the most radical and extreme groups on the planet. They are harmless. It all depends on what you are radical or extreme about. Ideas matter, not just the intensity of holding to an idea.

Back to the Qur'an. I don't know what to do with other "verses" that appear in there. I honestly don't know the context, or setting and if you can string different parts together in a Systematic Theology kind of way or in some sort of historical or chronological kind of way looking at different sections of history as you can with the Bible. Or is the Qur'an to be interpreted through learned teachers and past traditions, like how the Rabbis did with the Old Testament. If this is the case, who decides who is a good teacher or what traditions in the past are accepted or filtered? I have no idea.

Some people have recently pointed out that the Qur'an says killing one person is like killing all of mankind:
Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. - Qur'an 5:32
However, others have said to read on:
Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment, Except for those who return [repenting] before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. Indeed, those who disbelieve - if they should have all that is in the earth and the like of it with it by which to ransom themselves from the punishment of the Day of Resurrection, it will not be accepted from them, and for them is a painful punishment They will wish to get out of the Fire, but never are they to emerge therefrom, and for them is an enduring punishment. [As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah . And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. But whoever repents after his wrongdoing and reforms, indeed, Allah will turn to him in forgiveness. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. - Qur'an 5:33-39
What do I make of that? To be honest I am a bit out of my league. To me it sounds like the penalty for fighting against Muslims (maybe in defense - Qur'an 22:39-40?) is that they can be killed or crucified or exiled, but there may be some sort of grace for people to turn to Islam because Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Same with someone who steals: you cut their hands off as punishment, but they can still turn back to Allah for forgiveness.

I'm sure there are nuances (and major points) to the above text that I have missed. My point is that I get annoyed when people take verses out of context from the Bible so Muslims probably get super annoyed at us doing the same with the Qur'an.

In defense of the Bible over the Qur'an I saw a mate on Facebook show that most of the violence in the Bible is in the Old Testament and how it is description of what happened, not prescriptive. Unlike what we find in the Qur'an. There was then a challenge for someone to find one verse calling for violence in the New Testament.

Now, the book of Judges in the Old Testament is a perfect example of being descriptive and not prescriptive. Nowhere in the text does it say "What so-and-so did was wrong" or "don't do this because it is bad", instead I think just telling the story is an indictment on the people in it. Some seem to miss the difference between a descriptive and a perspective text. Just because something happened in history doesn't' mean we also have to do it or support and condone it. I don't know if the Qur'an or the Hadith (or parts of them) are to be read in a descriptive or a perspective manner.

As for a New Testament verse calling for violence, I have this one:
He [Jesus] said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. - Luke 22:36
Here Jesus is telling his followers to buy swords. There you go. Violence! A call to arms! Yes I know two verse later someone says they have two sword and Jesus says "that's enough" (Luke 22:38), essentially Jesus is saying "calm down, you are missing the point of what I am saying" (which is a repeated theme throughout the Gospels). But still, it is possible to take verses out of context. The Westboro Baptist Church is built around it. (I think just saying their name is a lie, as they aren't Baptist or a Church).

Sometimes this family of Christian nutters are compared to ISIS for they are considered both the lowest example of their religion. However, as someone pointed out, how many Christians are leaving their station in life and joining the Westboro Baptist Church? Compare that to how many are joining ISIS.

There could be a few reasons for this. Maybe western Christians have a better method to reading and teaching from the Bible. We even have sarcastic videos teaching how Christians interpret the law in light of Christ (I take a more extreme view). It could be that the Westboro Baptist Church is obviously too far from the faith that Christians can't identify with any of it. But what does that say about ISIS? Do they have more overlap with Islam than the Westboro Baptist Church has with Christianity? I honestly don't know. It could be more related to a promise of utopia by following some simple steps. Westboro aren't really promoting a new world order, just judgement.

Obama said that ISIL is not Islamic (nor a state). Others point out that the first "I" in their name is a bit of a giveaway. If names were an indication, then we are back to accepting the Westboro Baptist Church as "Baptist" and a "Church" and not as a small family that knows how to publicly offend people on camera.

I do know that ISIS's choice of flag colour and it's inscription is a theological one. I would suspect we should try and understand them in their own theological framework- even if we think they aren't truly representing the broader religion (like Westboro). Like it or not, ISIS directly quotes Qur'an 59:2 in regards to the Paris attacks.

So what should we do about all this? A good start would be to listen to people who are way smarted than me. We should also not project our Western ideas on to them, but understand them from their own worldview/theological position. Religious illiteracy will get you nowhere.

Adam Hill says we should be nice to Muslims and we should mock ISIS. I agree, not because it will get ISIS to put down their guns, but because it is kinda fun to do.

Waleed Aly's editorial on ISIS is getting lots of buzz. He is not wrong in calling us to love one another. Hating Muslim in Australia may strengthen ISIS (although hating Christians in Australia doesn't strengthen Westboro Baptist Church). However, if you think Australians being tolerant is going to actually stop ISIS you are more naive than I am. I don't think the ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria are going to put down their guns once they all hear that Australians are accepting of their Muslim citizens. Something more pro-active and forceful needs to be done.

A Christian Facebook page posted the #prayforISIS image on the left. It really annoyed me. I see ISIS as an objectively evil group who should face their rightful destruction. It did challenge me to think about praying for our enemies, of which Jesus told us to do. However, I do take comfort in the Psalms where they too pray for their enemies, and for their destruction (see Psalm 35, 59, 83, 109, 139). It should be noted in these Psalms the person isn't to act, it is a prayer to God to for Him to deliver them. Christians see the state as a tool in God's hand and not something to be circumvented.

The book of Habakkuk is a complaint to God about letting violence and evil happen only to have God say he was sending the Chaldeans to take care of  it. This then leads to a second complaint because the Chaldeans weren't the nicest of people and would be ruthless in dealing with the current state of affairs. However, the Lord is sovereign over all and the Chaldeans will get their comeuppance in good time.

Christians should be praying for ISIS to repent, to be stopped and to face their just judgement. This may sound a bit like Qur'an 5:33-39 (quoted above), but it is a little different. I appeal to general (Western and pseudo Christian) justice standards and not to specific religious ones. I think ISIS should be stopped because they are doing terrible things, not because they do or do not believe in Allah. I wouldn't be opposed to French, German, American, Russian, Egyptian and Iraqi armies joining forces to wipe out ISIS. ISIS may want World War III, and if it comes to that, to bring about their demise, then I would be all for it because I think this holds to a just war theory.

Until then, pray for ISIS.

1 comment:

  1. I think you may find some of this relevant and interesting. Its a long article but I think very interesting.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

    ReplyDelete