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In the run-up to the recent UK General election, the Daily Mail reported on posters “plastered” on lampposts and bus stops in the Grangetown suburb of Cardiff, urging Muslims not to vote and claiming that under Islamic teaching only Allah can make laws. The article provided a transcript of their message:
None have the right to legislate except Allah.
Democracy is a system whereby man violates the right of Allah and decides what is permissible or impermissible for mankind, based solely on their whims and desires.
This leads to a decayed and degraded society where crime and immorality becomes widespread and injustice becomes the norm.
Islam is the only real, working solution for the UK.
It is a comprehensive system of governance where the laws of Allah are implemented and justice is observed.
At first glance there are some sentiments in the above which may echo positively in the minds of Christians, especially in view of the secularism which has been influencing Western society for many decades, but whose fruition is now painfully evident in changing laws and opinions. The purpose of this article is to consider first whether this poster properly represents a valid interpretation of Islamic teaching, and then to ask if it has any parallels in Christian teaching which is based upon the Bible.
As you can see, at the bottom of the posters was a Twitter feed address #dontvote4manmadelaw which is where I found the image. The feed began in March 2015 and most of the early tweets were by someone calling themselves “Rofi Islam”. There is no doubt that they are a person (or persons) who believes that extending the rule of Islam to include places like Britain is a legitimate Islamic objective. In one tweet they asserted, “Cardiff will be under shariah one day Inshallah” [Inshallah means ‘if Allah wills’] and in another, “Islam is the future and democracy (jahilliyah) is backwards” [Jahiliyyah means ‘ignorance of divine guidance’]. Clearly this is an individual or group with strong convictions, but Twitter is not the best place to find out on what foundations their convictions are based.
A wider search led me to a blog which at the time of writing has just five posts on it. This also goes by the title ‘DontVote4ManMadeLaw’ and the posts on it had the following titles:
An open letter to the MP’s and Candidates of Wales
An open letter to the mosques of South Wales.
Caution, Risk of Shirk
Fatwah on Participating in Democratic Elections
It is only when one reaches the bottom item in this list, (in fact the first item to be posted on the blog), that one discovers the foundation for the view it promotes. This post is the text of a Fatwah by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad identified as Fatwa No: L-221 – 20 Safar 1422 Hijri [Safar is the second month of the Islamic year (Hijri) and the date given equates to 15th May 2001 in the Western calendar.] A Fatwah is a legal ruling given by a Muslim Sheikh [scholar]. This Fatwah is therefore a legal opinion which dates from three weeks before the 2001 General Election. Next we should ask who this scholar is; according to a Wikipedia page dedicated to him, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad is said to be “an Islamist militant leader who was instrumental in developing Hizb ut-Tahrir in the United Kingdom before leaving the group and heading another organisation, Al-Muhajiroun, until its disbandment in 2004.”
Bakri Muhammad was born in 1958 and has significant connections detailed more fully by the Jewish Virtual Library. Here we read that he has described himself as participating in fund-raising for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and as being “in touch” with Hizbullah. It further states that Bakri has also claimed to have recruited volunteers for training in paramilitary camps located in the U.S. and Lebanon. Clearly this man is what has become known as Islamist, but what is an Islamist and how is this relevant to his Fatwah?
The first record of ‘Islamism’ in the English language according to the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1696, and in the first place it simply meant “The religious system established through the prophet Muhammad; the Muslim religion; Islam.” However, in the last two decades it has increasingly been used to describe a fundamental view of Islam. Sometimes this view is called Political Islam, because it argues that Islam should have total influence over social and political matters as well as personal life. In contrast to this, many Muslims live as if Islam were a guide for personal life only, and this distinction is an ongoing argument within Islam. For instance, when the BBC reported on similar posters being put up in Leicester (picture left),the report quotes Dr. Ather Hussain, an Imam, as saying “It’s laughable. Logically and religiously speaking they haven’t got a leg to stand on. I fail to see how voting would be considered as the most grievous crime possible for a Muslim to commit. The argument is shallow, baseless and it has absolutely no standing religiously or theologically in our religion. If they had a sound argument perhaps they would operate in mosques and in the right public spaces.” [Shirk means ‘idolatry’ or the worship of someone other than Allah.]
This is a central question for anyone trying to understand Islam today. It is at the heart of an internal conflict within Islam and it is not a new question. Some suggest, and at first glance one can see why, that Islamism dates from when Palestinian terror groups began to attack targets other than Israeli ones in their fight to reverse the establishment of the State of Israel by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Others cite Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 as the trigger, though around the same time the Wahhabi sect was being established in what is now Saudi Arabia and this has also contributed to modern political Islam. What is significant about events around the start of the 19th century is that they signalled a decline in the influence of Islam in the Middle East and elsewhere. At the start of the 2nd millennium AD, less than four hundred years after Muhammad had returned from exile in victory to Mecca, the religion he had founded (though he himself claimed it was much older than he was) had come to rule countries as far apart as Spain and India. In time much of this influence was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, which operated as a caliphate from 1362 through until 1909. Its ideology however was undermined by the influence of European culture, which escalated steadily after Napoleon landed in Alexandria.
Why is this important? One commentator Daniel Pipes, in an article written to mark the two hundredth anniversary of Napoleon’s arrival in Egypt, puts it this way, “The religion of Islam is essentially a religion of success; it is a winners’ religion.” He continues by explaining that Islam considers itself as being on top in every way one might measure superiority. The decline of the Ottoman Caliphate and its loss of influence therefore became a great trauma in the heart of Islam. This is a trauma similar to the one the Jews were experiencing in the time of Christ. Their God had promised that He would establish a Kingdom of righteousness (Dan. 2:44-45), but they had been invaded by the Romans and were now the underdogs. There were different responses to being an occupied nation in New Testament Israel; tax-collectors were amongst the collaborators of the day, the zealots were the resistance movement, whilst the Pharisees were the revivalists who saw the problem as Israel’s unfaithfulness to its God, Yahweh, and called for a stricter application of the Law of Moses. Islam likewise gives its followers the belief that if they are faithful to their god, Allah, they too will be superior to all. Pipes gives three responses in the Muslim world to its decline in influence over the last two hundred years: “secularism, which means openly learning from the West and reducing Islam to the private sphere; reformism, which means appropriating from the West, saying that the West really derives its strength by stealing from Muslims, therefore Muslims may take back from them, a middle ground; and Islamism, which stresses a return to Islamic ways but in fact takes hugely and covertly from the West.”
When Western politicians argue that Islam is not a violent religion, they are assuming that the secular version of Islam is the genuine expression of Muhammad’s teaching. In part this may be because they have been fooled by the retreat of the churches in response to the rise of secularism. The heart of this capitulation has been the acceptance of the argument that religion is a matter for one’s private life and not for the public sphere. Whilst personally I believe the historic merging of state and church to have been a significant mistake, we are now living at a time when the reaction against the influence of the churches in Western nations has swung through the balance point to a place where expressing Christian convictions in public is fast becoming a criminal offence. Having seen church leaders and many in their congregations bend before the winds of the secular agenda, it is no wonder that when faced with the weapons of Islamic terrorism, world leaders are hoping that Islamic revivalists are not true Muslims. On the other hand, those whom Pipes describes as secular Muslims are condemned by those who adhere to political Islam as committing ‘shirk’ and being in allegiance with the ‘kaffur’ [unbelievers or infidels]. For instance when “Rofi Islam” posted an image on Twitter urging Muslims to vote (shown right), they described those distributing such leaflets as ‘munafiq’ which means “hypocrites who outwardly practice Islam while inwardly concealing their disbelief”. This is the essential difference between Muslims like “Rofi Islam” and the majority of Westernised Muslims like Dr. Ather Hussain quoted by the BBC.
Given this fundamental difference of opinion within Islam itself on the nature of true Islam and the impact Islamism is having around the world, it would be short-sighted to agree with the approach one finds most palatable without first investigating which of these options is most loyal to the foundations of Muslim teaching. The Anglican Church prides itself in being able to accommodate all expressions of Christianity which it considers valid in its own eyes. Such generosity may be shared by secular Muslims but can it be justified from the Qur’an or from the other Islamic sources of authority? There are four such sources of authority in Islam: the Qur’an [the words of Allah], the Hadith [Mohammed’s sayings], Consensus [of scholars over the years] and Ijtihad [logic and reasoning].
We should note that these four authoritative sources have never been able to restore the unity within Islam which was lost following Muhammad’s death. For instance, current wars in the Middle East are as much Muslim against Muslim as they are Muslim versus non-Muslim. The biggest division within the religion is between the Sunni and Shia traditions, though these are not the only ones. Today Saudi Arabia is at the heart of Sunni Islam, whilst Iran is the champion of Shia traditions. As I write, the conflict zone in Iraq is a front line between Sunni Islamic State and Shia Iraq government forces supported by Iran. Similarly, in Yemen Shia Houthi rebels (reportedly armed by Iran) are at war with forces loyal to the beleaguered President who has fled the country, but who is backed by local tribesmen and a coalition comprising of five Gulf Arab states led by Sunni Saudi Arabia. (The picture here is complicated further by the involvement of groups associated with both al-Qaeda and Islamic State.)
I readily acknowledge that understanding the finer points of internal Islamic divisions is beyond this author and the scope of this article, but I do feel that if we return to our starting point and consider what the Qur’an says about the seat and scope of authority, we might be able to discern which expression of modern Islam is walking in the footsteps of its founding Prophet. If one takes the time to read the material on the website associated with the Cardiff fly-posters, it is easy to discover that besides relying on Bakri Muhammad’s 2001 Fatwah, its authors repeatedly quote a number of passages from the Qur’an which are cited in the Fatwah. Before looking at these we should note that many Muslims believe the Qur’an should be read and studied only in Arabic, which is considered a pure language. Therefore to translate the text of the Qur’an into another language is to corrupt it. Since I do not speak or read Arabic however, as I suspect most of my readers will not, I am restricted to relying on English translations.
The Qur’an is divided into chapters (Sura(h)s) and verses and, as with the Bible, these are often used to cite a section of a passage. The Fatwah the dontvote4manmadelaw blog is based upon two key passages. These are (in the translation used there):
‘Are many different Lords better or Allah, the one the irresistible, you do not follow, obey, worship beside him but only figures which you have named, you and your fathers for which Allah has sent down no authority, Verily the Command and the Judgement and the power of legislation is for none but Allah, he has commanded that you worship and follow none but him, that is the true path but most people know not’ [Sura 12:39-40]
‘And He made none share in his decision or rule’ [Sura 18:26]
The key phrase from Sura 12:40 is also translated by others as “The Hukm (judgement) is for none but Allah.” and “The Command is for none but Allah.”
In my electronic copy of the Qur’an, 18:26 is translated thus:
‘Say: “Allah knows best how long they stayed: With Him is (the knowledge of) the secrets of the heavens and the earth: How clearly He sees, how finely He hears (everything)! They have no protector other than Him; nor does He share His Command with any person whatsoever.’ [highlight mine]
It seems to me therefore that these two verses from the Qur’an demonstrate quite clearly that there is no need to look to any of the other sources of authority in Islam to verify that at the heart of the Muslim faith is a doctrine that sole and final authority rests with Allah. The question that remains therefore is whether this authority extends only to the private sphere of personal religion, or whether, as postulated by those who subscribe to Political Islam, it is that Allah’s rule concerns all things.
These days most Westerners are familiar with the term “Sharia law” which many Muslims, including those in Europe, seek to live by. Sharia law covers two areas of life, the first being al-ibadat [acts of worship] and this is concerned with the five pillars of Islam – confession, prayers, fasting, charitable deeds and pilgrimage. The second area, al-mu’amalat, is concerned with interactions between humans, but this is not limited to personal relationships. Personal areas covered by Sharia Law include finance, endowments, inheritance, marriage, divorce, child custody, foods and drinks. In the public sphere however, Sharia is concerned with judicial matters, penal punishment and matters of warfare and making peace. It is important to note that there is currently an internal debate within Islam as to how Sharia applies to Muslims in non-Muslim societies. Traditionally, Islam has seen the world divided into two “Houses”, Dar al-Islam [House of Islam] and Dar al-Harb [House of War] – the latter referring to all societies where Islam does not rule. The concept of jihad [holy war/struggle] has throughout history primarily referred to the obligation on all Muslims to work towards turning the House of War into places where Allah’s rule prevails.
The current debate within Islam concerns in part how Sharia applies to Muslims living in Western societies in particular. Secular, or as they are sometimes known, liberal and reformist Muslims have sought to argue that Western nations could be classified in some way as part of the House of Islam or alternatively as Dar al-Aman or Dar al-’Ahd [House of Security and Covenant respectively]. Such arguments have the objective of permitting Muslims to live in Western societies without complying fully with Sharia Law. However other more traditional leaders argue strongly that whenever the law of a nation contradicts Sharia, it should be disobeyed by all Muslims. Further, there is an ongoing move throughout the West to either adopt aspects of Sharia into national legislation or to permit (or turn a blind eye to) the establishment of parallel Sharia legal systems applying to Muslims. The increase in Halal [permitted] meat stocked by supermarkets for all their customers, is one example of how Islam is changing the culture in places like Britain. Another example is the increase on the open market in financial products based on Islamic principles concerning riba [interest]. Whilst such underlying responses to Sharia may seem inconsequential to some it has to be remembered that its scope is extremely wide, and includes the permitting of child brides, polygamy, female genital mutilation, the cutting off of hands and feet as well as the death penalty for a wide range of offences.
Sharia Law has been developed over centuries and is not based solely on the text of the Qur’an. Sura 5:41 is one example of where it is based on it, “As to the thief. Male or female, cut off his or her hands: A punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: And Allah is Exalted in Power.” This is a command which comes directly from the rule (or authority) of Allah and which is not limited to private matters. Other Sharia rulings are based more on the Hadith and past consensuses. For example there are four Sunni and one Shia schools of law and all these agree that adult male apostates [those who leave Islam for another religion or none] should be killed. (In cases where their lives are spared, their marriages are dissolved, they are disinherited, tortured and usually exiled or imprisoned.) The death penalty under Sharia applies also to Muslims whose views are considered unorthodox. Historically, this has been the justification for the ongoing violence between followers of Sunni and Shia traditions. However, traditional Islamists also consider secular and liberal Muslims as “heretical” and therefore worthy of death unless they repent. In contrast to the fate of male apostates, because it is not specifically covered in the Qur’an, the penalty for women apostates varies between the Islamic schools. (The differences are listed on the Wikipedia “Apostasy in Islam” page if you want to know more.)
Western politicians should recognise that traditional Muslims embrace Sharia law as the baseline for all societies, not just majority Muslim states. In some Muslim states the application of Sharia is on the increase. It has recently been reported that Saudi Arabia had executed more people by the middle of May 2015 than it did in the whole of the previous year. According to Yahoo! Maktoob News, the body count last year was 87. The same report observes that the Kingdom’s civil service recently advertised vacancies for eight swordsmen. It added that applicants would be exempted from the usual entrance exams and that the successful candidates would be expected to carry out amputations as well as beheadings as ordered by the courts under Sharia law. Whilst Westernised Muslims seek to portray a more conciliatory version of Islam, it is crucial that Western politicians recognise that these do not represent traditional Islam. It is also important for the general public in the West to understand that, unlike Christianity, Islam has never been primarily concerned with the individual’s responsibility to choose to believe, but in the authorities’ right to impose “faith” upon all.
The way non-Muslims in an Islamic society are defined as dhimmis [people of the pact by which they are permitted to live] illustrates this social application of Islam. Dhimmis are severely restricted in personal freedom and often treated with contempt. This is because the penalty for refusing to embrace the true religion of Islam is death, but by paying jizya and accepting dhimmitude they are considered to be paying a regular ransom for their lives. Sometimes jizya is portrayed as a tax, but theologically it is gratitude for not being executed. Readers may remember that Islamic State told Christians and other non-Muslims in the city of Mosul to either leave, convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death. The IS statement, according to the Huffington Post, said that Christians who wanted to remain in the ‘caliphate’ established by the Islamic State must agree to abide by terms of a ‘dhimma’ contract. Specifically it stated, “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” Later it was reported the IS officials were refusing to accept payment of jizya and forcing people to leave, convert or die. More recently (Feb. 2015), twenty-one Egyptian migrant workers in Lybia were executed for being Coptic Christians (reports: Open Doors & BBC). The tradition of forced conversion or death dates back to Muhammad’s own action. The book, “Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery” (p35), written by ex-Muslim M. A. Khan, recounts how Muhammad ordered the beheading of the whole Jewish population of Banu Qurayza near Medina in 627 AD. Khan describes how between eight hundred and nine hundred men were beheaded in a long day of executions overseen by Muhammad, who personally “chopped off the heads of two Jewish leaders.”
The above of course is far from an exhaustive examination of Islam, but I hope it is a serious investigation of whether or not the claim that voting in political elections violates the right of Allah to rule is founded in historic Islamic teaching based on the Qur'an and other sources of Muslim authority. The second objective of this essay is to consider whether a similar teaching is found in the Christian Bible. A first step in this task will be to consider similarities between Islam and Christianity. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are often called the three Abrahamic faiths, although this is not what is taught in the Qur’an. A section addressing those described as “People of the Book” (Sura 3:64-71) contains this comment: “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah’s (which is Islam), and he joined not gods with Allah.” (v67) According to the Qur’an therefore Abraham was a Muslim, with Judaism and Christianity both being perversions of what he taught. Consequently they are not simply inferior to Islam but dangerous lies; “Ye People of the Book! Why do ye clothe Truth with falsehood, and conceal the Truth, while ye have knowledge?” (v71).
Today, there are similarities between Islam and Christianity. As explained above, there is an ongoing debate in Islam between traditionalists, secularists and those who sit between these extremes. In what most would call the Christian Church there is also an ongoing debate between traditionalists and reformers. This is evident, for example, in discussions about women in leadership and about the approval of homosexual and lesbian relationships. A more conciliatory view tends to be put forward by liberal Christians who happily adopt secular attitudes, whilst traditionalists, be they evangelical or Catholic, argue against adapting teaching to accommodate “new ideas”.
Westerners who have a culture historically shaped by Judaeo-Christian teaching are often surprised today when such disputes escalate to the point where terror is used to impose one side’s opinion upon the other. We should not forget however that church history is full of examples of violence being employed in the name of Christ. The Crusades are perhaps the best known amongst these, and they certainly left a strong impression on Muslim hearts and minds. When Islamic State announced the execution of the Egyptian Christians in Lybia, a BBC report stated that in its on-line magazine “Dabiq” IS described them as “Coptic crusaders”.
The Crusades though are not the only instance of physical terror being used to “persuade” people to accept the dominant church’s doctrine. The Inquisitions are another clear example of this; the first began in 1184 in southern France and is known as the Medieval Inquisition. It was aimed mainly but not exclusively at the Catharist heresy. The infamous Spanish Inquisition began in 1478, but gained momentum in 1492 and 1501; through royal decrees Jews and Muslims were ordered to convert or leave Spain – very similar to the Islamic ‘dhimma’ mentioned above. The Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal continued into the early 1800s with the last execution, a garrotting, taking place in 1826. The methods of the Inquisition were used against those involved in the Protestant Reformation, then afterwards adopted by Protestants against both Catholics and other Protestant groups who did not follow their lead. Britain was not exempt from this religious cruelty; a list of martyrs executed in London between 1531 and 1681 (available from this page) lists a total of 411 known deaths, of which 225 were mainstream Protestants and 177 Catholics. There were a great many other men and women throughout Britain and across Europe on both sides of the Reformation divide who lost their lives during those years of religious intolerance.
If we take history as our guide, it is very difficult then to distinguish in the matter of violence between many of those who claimed to follow Jesus Christ and some of those in past or present who claim to be disciples of Muhammad. Is it possible therefore to separate between these two faiths in any way? Are they actually as different as chalk and cheese, or are they just blocks of differently coloured chalk or distinct flavours of cheese? Clearly if we look at the lives of those who have claimed allegiance to either of these leaders, we are left to wonder if either were prophets of peace!
This well-known children’s game does not rely on the words of whoever is taking the role of the leader, but on their actions. Participating children have to copy their actions or else they are taken out of the game. In life words can be misleading. The burglar who protests his innocence in court saying he was elsewhere at the time of the crime, will lose all credibility if the CCTV image identifies him as being in the building concerned at the time of the theft. When men claim to be sent by God, it is reasonable therefore to consider what their lives demonstrate over and above their words. This is far more informative than looking at the actions of those who claim to follow them. These are far too important matters to go by the ill-given advice “Do as I say, not as I do!”
I have mentioned above the incident where Muhammad ordered and supervised the beheading of over eight hundred Jews in 627 AD. It is widely acknowledged that in his early life, before he had to flee from Mecca, Muhammad was positively intentioned towards both Jews and Christians. It seems that he expected them to welcome him as a messenger from God, but whilst he was in Medina his attitude towards Jews changed after they refused to abandon the Law, and would not recognize him as the promised Prophet because he was not a descendant of King David (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). It was after this rejection that Muhammad claimed he had been told by Allah to stop facing Jerusalem when praying, but to face Mecca. According to Muslim tradition this revelation took place in 624, just three years before the slaughter at Banu Qurayza.
Muhammad later strengthened his hatred of the Jews and this is reflected mostly in the Hadith [collections of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of Muhammad]. There are various books which different Islamic traditions selectively accept, though some minor groups reject the authority of them all. A very strong statement is found in a Sahih Hadith [which is highly regarded in Sunni Islam], Book 041, Number 6985 (source) and it reads:
“Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger [Muhammad] (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.”
When I read of Muhammad’s reaction to the Jews’ rejection of him as the promised prophet, I saw immediately how this contrasted with the way Jesus Christ responded when the Jews of His day rejected Him. The difference is even more striking given that He was a Jew Himself. Jesus practised what He preached. He had told His followers:
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Luke 6:27-33.
We do not have any record of Jesus claiming to be the promised prophet like Moses, but his followers were convinced that He was. Peter stated this clearly in Acts 3:22-26 and Stephen, just before he was stoned to death, alluded to it in his overview of Jewish history (Acts 7:37) which highlights that their rejection of Jesus was entirely in character with their forefathers’ refusals to believe The LORD their God. What is well known though is that Jesus did turn the other cheek when the Jewish leaders pressurised Pilate to execute Him. When it was not enough for His enemies to see Him cursed under their Law by being hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23 & Galatians 3:13), when they persisted by taunting Him whilst He was suffering suspended at Calvary, He prayed for mercy on those who were treating Him with spite. His words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:33-35) show a care for His enemies which is second to none.
Let me be clear then; when Jesus was rejected by His own people, He laid down His life for them and for all non-Jews. Muhammad’s reaction to being rejected by the Jews, was not to serve them but to hate them and to call on those who would follow him to seek their deaths right through to the end of time.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the recent call made to Muslim communities in Britain with which I began this article. I hope you will remember that the second of my objectives was to contrast this doctrine with the understanding put forward in the Bible. One important contrast is the difference in character between the two men who founded these two religions. One loved His enemies whilst the other hated those who rejected him. Next I want us to consider what their expectations were for the outcome of their teaching.
Above I outlined the Islamic teaching of jihad – the obligation on all Muslims to work towards turning the Dar al-Harb [House of War] into places where Allah’s rule prevails, Dar al-Islam [House of Islam] being the places where it is argued that Allah is in direct rule through Sharia law. Today in Islam there is a significant debate as to the actual nature of jihad, the more secular scholars arguing that it simply means an internal, personal fight. In contrast to this are the written sources; the Arabic word ‘jihad’ appears in 164 verses in the Qur’an and 199 times in the standard collection of Hadith, and in all these instances it favours the view of radical Islamists. It occurs four times in these five verses from Sura 2:190-194
Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult or oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression. The prohibited month for the prohibited month, - and so for all things prohibited, - there is the law of equality. If then anyone transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.
It is thought by some that jihad in the Qur’an was originally intended for the nearby neighbours of the Muslims, but as Islamic influence spread so did the cause of military jihad. The Hadith supports this view with all of the 199 references in the Sahih al-Bukhari (probably the most ‘standard Hadith’) implying that jihad implies physical war.
It has been reported that three statements from the Hadith are being widely quoted today by Muslims (see here and here for identical examples). “The best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive Sultan [ruler]” (source: Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, ibn Majah) has been cited as justification for the protests in what has been called the “Arab Spring”. The Book Of Jihad by Ibn Nuhass provides two other popular definitions of jihad attributed to Muhammad. In one he records a report from Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, in which Muhammad stated that the highest kind of Jihad is “The person who is killed whilst spilling the last of his blood.” [Ahmed 4/144] This is echoed by another which reports “Ibn Habbaan narrates: The Messenger of Allah was asked about the best jihad. He said: ‘The best jihad is the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled.’” [Al Baqarah 15]. In an article on kidnapped school girls in Africa being used as suicide bombers, the IBTimes reports a 13-year-old girl, who was rescued from a Boko Haram camp in Bosso, as saying that they were repeatedly told this definition of the best jihad. In the text of the Hadith this latter statement is followed by, “See, may Allah have mercy on you, how the Messenger of Allah made the best of the best of the best of Islam to be jihad, and then he made the best of jihad to be martyrdom.”
It is impossible to truthfully deny that traditional Muslim beliefs portray Muhammad as teaching the need to spread Islam, and that doing so by the sword was not just valid, but an essential aspect of being loyal to Allah. All this highlights how, based on their founder’s words and actions, many Muslims today believe their mission is to bring every part of the earth under Islamic rule by whatever means is necessary. How does this contrast with the teaching and life of Jesus Christ? Let us consider an often overlooked and historically ignored statement which Jesus made in response to Pilate during His ‘trial’. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead, but He could only be executed legally if He was guilty under Roman law, and for this they needed the governor’s agreement. For this reason they sent Jesus to Pilate, but did not explicitly say what He was guilty of, simply asserting, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” Pilate returned to Jesus and John reports the following conversation (John 18:33-36):
Pilate: “Are You the King of the Jews?”
Jesus: “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”
Pilate: “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
I have highlighted the phrases I want to concentrate on. Jesus could not be clearer. Having been accused of being a rival to the Roman Caesar, an earthly king, Jesus cannot deny that He is a King, but tells Pilate that He is not a threat to the occupying forces nor to their emperor. His kingdom, He explained, was not concerned with establishing an alternative empire.
What Jesus said to Pilate was the very opposite of what the Jews were expecting their Messiah to be. From prophetic books like Isaiah and Daniel, they were looking for a political Messiah who would free them from the Romans and set up an everlasting kingdom on earth (e.g. Isaiah 11:1-10, Daniel 2:44-45). This belief was an argument used by Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nahmanides) at the Disputation at Barcelona in 1263. The Jewish Encyclopedia records him as arguing that Jesus could not be the promised Messiah and justifying his view by going “on to show that the Prophets regarded the Messiah as a man of flesh and blood, and not as a divinity, and that their promises of a reign of universal peace and justice had not yet been fulfilled. On the contrary, since the appearance of Jesus, the world had been filled with violence and injustice, and among all denominations the Christians were the most warlike.” [Emphasis mine]. This expectation of an earthly kingdom helps us appreciate one reason why the Jews failed to recognise their Messiah and why they accused Jesus of being a rival to Caesar (John 19:12-15).
Jesus by that time had already assured Pilate that His kingdom was not of this earth and, by implication, that He was no earthly king. Notice too what He implied about His rule being something different from a normal political leader. He had emphasised to Pilate that had He been a rival to Caesar, then His followers would have taken up arms and fought Caesar’s troops. This of course is an important truth which the “Christian” Church ignored for a significant part of its history. I have already mentioned the Crusades and the Inquisitions, but note too Nahmanides’ observation that of all religions “the Christians were the most warlike”. Whilst it may be debatable if the once so-called “Christian nations” are the most violent at the present time, it has to be recognised that the historic desire to spread their influence caused many of these same nations in the past to use violence both to extend their empires and to keep conquered peoples in order. Sadly, such wars have been prosecuted in the name of Christ, even though He could not have been clearer that His Kingdom was not political in any way. History reveals that when those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, have failed to take Him seriously on this matter, they have confirmed the truth of His words by resorting to violence to propagate their own earthly kingdoms over and above His eternal one. Just a few hours before His appearance before Pilate, Jesus told Peter, who was trying to prevent His arrest, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
Jesus’ rebuke of Peter and His affirmation before Pilate contrast sharply with the Islamic view, based on Muhammad’s example, that Allah’s kingdom has to be established on this earth through violence. His teaching is the reason why many Muslims have for around 1,400 years been prepared to take up arms in the name of their God. Today the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas and other militant Muslim groups are doing no more than walking in Muhammad’s footsteps. It is also true that those who put up the “Don’t Vote” posters in some British cities are also acting on a traditional Islamic understanding. Islam is a political as well as a religious system, and Sharia law is not simply a guide for individuals or mosque communities, but for whole societies. We have also seen the truth of the Qur’an’s statement that “The Hukm (judgement) is for none but Allah.” (Sura 12:40) Whilst many Muslims seek to distance themselves from such convictions, it is not reasonable to argue that those who continue to hold to them are not true Muslims; in fact their assertions that secularised Muslims are, as “Rofi Islam” Tweeted, ‘munafiq’ [hypocrites] may be more factually based.
This is the final question I want to consider in this paper. If Allah reserves all authority for himself and if, as Muslims believe, he is the God of the Bible as well as of the Qur’an, then is this teaching also found in either the Old or the New Testament? I believe the Bible teaches that The LORD has shared His authority with others, though, with the exception of Jesus, only partially.
When The LORD declared His intention to create man and women He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” He then repeated this decision to share His authority with them in their hearing (Gen.1:26-28). Now many people today do not like the concept of mankind having “dominion” over other living creatures, because we commonly abuse our authority. Nevertheless, we cannot avoid the fact the Bible records that from the outset The LORD gave Mankind responsibility to look after a wide variety of animals and the earth itself. That we have done a very bad job in this respect is not disputed, but it is a responsibility He wanted to share with the people He desired to create. The Hebrew word translated “dominion” [‘radah’ – Strong’s No. 7287] is elsewhere translated ‘rule’ and ‘reign’. If The LORD did not share some of His responsibility with us, then we would not have been created in His image. To be like Him, whilst not His equal, we had to be able to exercise authority over other living things and also over territory. Let me stress though, that like Him we are to care for what He has placed under our authority, not mistreat it – our tendency to repeatedly do the latter stems from our introduction of rebellion into His good creation.
Our Creator did not stop there; we also discover that as societies developed He gave the responsibility to govern those societies to some and not to others. At first this was in families. The Mosaic Law makes clear that parents have the authority, and its accompanying responsibility, to bring up the children The LORD had given them in the way He told them to. Under that Law the priests, who were not rulers, were given the authority to examine people and property for signs of leprosy and fungal infestations. On their pronouncement people could be excluded from society, and property could be destroyed. This Law also called for the community to try and execute those who broke it in some (but not all) ways. Islam of course reflects this aspect of capital punishment, but seemingly its followers would argue that they are only carrying out legislation given to them by Allah through his prophet.
The Law of Moses made no direct provision for Israel to have a king, but it did tell them the responsibilities of their king should they decided to “set a king over me like all the nations that are around me”. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, 28:36) Note that whilst The LORD stated He would not give them a king Himself, He did make clear that when they wanted one, the selection was to be His not theirs. When that time came, Samuel the prophet was displeased by their request (1 Samuel 8:1-9). The LORD reassured him by saying, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” [emphasis mine] This reminds those who know the Bible well, that Israel was unlike the surrounding nations in that The LORD had committed Himself to being their King. Were those other nations being specifically rebellious like Israel in appointing kings for themselves? The simple answer is no, because the New Testament teaches that The LORD delegates His authority to rulers. (Historically this delegation has been used as the basis of the doctrine of ‘The Divine Right of Kings.) When the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes, His answer foreshadowed His reply to Pilate. Telling them to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Mark 12:14-17) He made clear that in the same way as they had a responsibility to their God, they also had a responsibility to their earthly rulers. The Holy Spirit makes this even clearer through Paul when he wrote, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgement on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-7) See also 1 Peter 2:13-17, which instructs Christians to submit “for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”.
It could not be any clearer – the rulers of this world, be they believers or unbelievers, good men or tyrants, wise or fools all have been given their authority by The LORD and to resist their God-given authority is to resist His order in this world. Of course when they act outside of their endued authority, then Christians have a responsibility to God over and above men (Acts 4:15-20). But when they are doing things such as raising just taxes, keeping law and order and looking after the welfare of their citizens, then Christians should normally relate to them as appointed by The LORD for their good as well as the wider good of society. It is not wrong, in fact it is the duty of a prophetic Church, to remind these rulers that they are accountable to the One who has put them in place for how they use the authority which has been delegated to them. Of course there is a danger for Christians who remind rulers that God expects them to be righteous in all ways. When John the Baptist warned Herod about his immorality The LORD did not kill Herod there and then, but allowed Herod to execute John a little time later. Perhaps the danger inherent in being a prophetic voice is why so many churchmen over the years have sought to pacify rulers who were abusing their God-given responsibilities rather than reminding them that they were required to rule in righteousness as does their Creator.
The Biblical understanding that The LORD has delegated authority to men as rulers contrasts with the view stated in the Qur’an which portrays Allah as not sharing His power to legislate with anyone. These two very different world views do lead to widely divergent attitudes towards national leaders on the part of citizens and also the leaders themselves. The Christian understanding has influenced Western societies much over the years, but now that atheism (God is irrelevant) has begun to dominate their leaders’ thinking, the sense of accountability for how they use their authority has been mostly shifted from God to the electorate. In this sense I do agree in part with the phrase on the poster at the start of this article which reads, “Democracy is a system whereby man... decides what is permissible or impermissible for mankind, based solely on their whims and desires. This leads to a decayed and degraded society where crime and immorality becomes widespread and injustice becomes the norm.” Democracy is not a Biblical method of ruling. It has its roots not in the English Magna Carta, but in Greek paganism which, like modern secularism, elevated the rights of man over their responsibilities to their Creator. The Islamist poster is correct in as much as that when men rule by seeking to please people (the electorate) instead of God, it will lead to an increase in godlessness expressed in “a decayed and degraded society”. This outcome is described in some detail by Paul in Romans 1. (See my article ‘The Question Christians are not Asking’ for a fuller study of this passage.) This decline occurs because, as Jesus said, “men love darkness rather than light.” (John 3:19-21)
The Bible is clear that the human race’s hatred of righteousness did not take The LORD by surprise. Having made us in His likeness with the freedom to choose, He knew that the time would come when many would choose darkness in preference to His light. In so doing, they would abuse the authority He had shared with them be that as gardeners, husbands, parents, priests or rulers. His remedy, and also His means of rescue, for people who found themselves abusing their responsibilities was to send His Son, who loved light rather than darkness and who was willing to die though He had done no wrong. It was Christ’s complete obedience to His Father which allowed the Father to raise Him back to life and later to take Him back into Heaven. Just before He left earth, Jesus commissioned His disciples to take the good news worldwide. The basis on which He could do this was in His own words, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) In the context of this discussion, we need to pause and ask who gave Him that authority and did they hold back anything from Him?
Let me remind you that in asking these questions I am contrasting the Qur’an’s assertion that Allah does not share His authority with any man with what The Bible states about The LORD’s willingness to give responsibility to men. The Qur’an considers Jesus to be a prophet of Islam, but denies that He is the Son of God. This means that He was nothing more than a man. The New Testament teaches that Jesus is the eternal God, who became a man to fulfil the will of His divine Father. Doing His Father’s will resulted in His death, but His Father raised Him back to life (e.g. Acts 2:24 & 32). If His Father raised Jesus from death, then it is reasonable to understand that it was His Father who gave Him all authority, so He could commission His disciples to go and rescue people from all over the world. It is important to note that Jesus claimed that His Father had not held back from sharing any part of His authority with Him. If this were not the case and He had only received some of His Father’s authority, then the resurrected Jesus would have been lying and one is left to wonder why One who had lived without sin would at the very moment He was about to finally return to His Father, would want to overstate the truth?
Other passages in the New Testament assure us that His Father has already honoured Him completely, and will do so in the future. In Hebrews 2 there is a section which contrasts the resurrected Jesus with angels who, it seems, some were tempted to worship. In v5 the author asserts that God has not put angels in charge of the new creation He is preparing. The next three verses remind the reader that, as we have observed, He has set Mankind “over the works of Your hands”. But here the author acknowledges a dilemma; whilst man was given authority over the whole of creation, we do not witness that reality in daily life. Taking His eyes off the plight of fallen humans, the writer affirms His assurance that in sharp contrast to the human plight, believers “see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” (v8) The Holy Spirit and the author of Hebrews together confirm in this passage what Jesus claimed just before His ascension, that having suffered death for the benefit of sinful humans, His God and Father had not just raised Him from death, but had also bestowed glory and honour, and therefore by implication, authority upon Him!
The apostle Paul gives a similar testimony to how the Father honoured Jesus His Son after He had been rejected and killed. Remember it was because He had not earned death through sinning that God the Father was able to bring Him back to life. Writing to the Christians in a city called Philippi, Paul encourages them as disciples of Jesus to develop characters like His. He then describes Christ’s character in this way:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
Notice again the result of Christ’s total obedience to His Father; having suffered at the hands of men, He has been exalted by the will of God the Father, all this to the end that every person who has ever lived on this earth will kneel in worship before Him and acknowledge that Jesus is LORD over all things. The contrast between this passage and the teaching of the Qur’an is sharp. Allah is not a father and has no son (Sura 6:101, 18:4-5 & 23:91) and as we have seen, does not share His authority with anyone. The LORD, whose name is Yahweh, declares that He has a Beloved Son (e.g. Luke 3:22, Matthew 17:5 & 2 Peter 1:17), and because that Son as a man was obedient to His Father in everything, His Father has now shared all His authority with Him.
It is because The LORD created us in His image that He has always shared something of His authority with the human race. An image of a person needs to resemble that person, but it will never be that person completely. In every way it will be less than the one it resembles. A statue or portrait of a person, or even a photograph of them, brings the person to mind but it can never do all that the person can do. In films and videos, whilst a person appears to move and speak, they can never change their minds – no matter how many times the film is played, they will always repeat the same actions, say the same things and not once do anything original. Whilst images resemble the person, they are always less than the person.
We however could not have been made in our Creator’s likeness if like Him we did not have something to take responsibility for. In setting us over the works of His hands, He made us to be like Him but less than Him. However, if we are to be responsible as our God is, then we must also have the freedom to abdicate that responsibility, or else it would not be responsibility at all. The book of Genesis records that it was not long at all before Adam, the first son of God, failed to act like His Father and did what he had been told not to do. His failure to fulfil His responsibilities brought ruin into a very good creation, but The LORD was prepared for that moment. He and His Son had already committed themselves to a redemption plan which would be made available to every human being through the death of the Son.
His purpose however, is not just to salvage people from this spoilt creation, but to demonstrate what this world would have been like if men and women had listened to Him and taken the responsibilities He had shared with them seriously enough to do His will at all times. Through the Qur’an and its other sources of authority, Islam teaches that Allah’s kingdom will be established on the earth through jihad. The struggle of jihad as noted above is not simply the wrestling within individuals to live as Allah wants, but it is also the use of force to intimidate others to submit to Allah’s rule as defined by Islam. When Islam talks of ‘peace’, it is referring to the lack of violence which results from surrendering to the rule of Allah, as opposed to the violence and humiliation which it prescribes for those who will not convert. (Whilst it is often claimed that ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’ in Arabic, it actually means “submission”.) Muhammad believed the kingdom He was called to establish was one in which Allah would rule the whole of this earth through the imposition of Islam.
We find a very different kingdom promised in the New Testament. As mentioned above the Jews were expecting a political Messiah, but Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. Luke records an occasion when He had told the Pharisees the same thing, but in a different way. “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!” For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’” (Luke 17:20-21) The rule of Jesus is one which deals primarily with hearts, and from there changes our lifestyle. Politicians and kings need to know the reality of a life lived in fellowship with Him as much as the man and woman in the street. Whilst He offers to rescue all from their sin and sinning, He always knew that few would seek for His help. This is why the Bible tells us that rather than becoming a better place to live, this world will continue to descend into chaos and violence, as the majority reject the authority of their Creator.
All is not lost though - eventually, when the time is right, God the Father will declare it is time for His Son, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to return and to demonstrate what life would have been like had mankind not continually rebelled throughout history. It is then and only then that nations will beat their swords into ploughshares and war will cease on earth. However, Jesus will only rule on this earth for a limited time before people are once again offered the opportunity to submit their wills to His or to rebel against Him and His Father. Surprisingly, the New Testament states that many will reject Him even then, and their rebellion will immediately precede the complete defeat of all who have made themselves enemies of God, including Satan. Then this universe will be discarded and replaced with a whole new creation, where the Father and the Son will live for eternity alongside those from this earth who responded to Their call for each of us to repent and believe what they say. (Revelation 19-22)
The Kingdom which Jesus came to establish is being built today in people’s hearts, not imposed upon them through force. One day His rule will be established on the earth by His authority being made known through His presence, not through sword, gun or missile. We can experience many of the benefits of this kingdom before that day arrives if we seek Him. Amongst these is the peace He promised to give to those who choose of their own free will to follow Him seriously. He knows that men and women cannot change by their own efforts, but He has promised to change from the inside out all who believe in Him. This He has accomplished by sending the Holy Spirit to be our companion and teacher. The peace which Jesus Christ offers to us is not like the peace of Islam, or anything else of this world. In His own words to His disciples on the night before He was unjustly executed, it is a peace which has nothing to do with this world:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27
Hardy – June 2015
Copyright Randall Hardy – July 2015
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