Many people that I talk to are pretty traumatized by events in Iraq, especially as Christian (and other religious) minority groups are impacted. The reality is that groups like ISIS (Islamic State), Boko Haram and al-Qaeda find inspiration for their ideology in the Quran, the Hadith and Islamic history – especially in the Wahabi – Salafi modern movements of Islamic interpretation. Such groups desire to return to the so-called glory days of Muhammad and the first four Caliphs who followed him – deemed the Rightly Guided Ones. In those days religious minority groups were given the opportunity to pay a tax (jizya) or convert. For those who chose to remain and pay the tax, life became regulated under the rules of dhimmitude – relegating Christians and Jews to the status of second class citizens. Modern day extremist groups are seeking to re- apply such rules.
The problem is that we in the Christian west forget that we have also persecuted religious minorities, for example during the Spanish Inquisition. While I condemn vigorously the methods of these extremist Islamic groups, it is important that we remember the doctrine of depravity. We are all prone to violence, and there is only one route of liberation – the Way of Jesus.
Although the Muslim critique of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is that it is too idealistic, it seems that the world is desperately in need of exactly this teaching. Here is a place where we can open up a dialogue with our Muslim friends and neighbors. When is a war defined as just in Christian and Islamic theology? How can Christian traditions of pacifism lead us today in resolving current conflicts? What does the doctrine of Jihad mean today and does it always mean violent conflict? Is there a tradition of pacifism in Islam?
The reality is that if we declare Islam to be the problem in light of current geopolitical conflicts we will have made no progress. Islam is not going away – and you can’t ban a whole religion. As well many Muslims are struggling with these events and what they mean for Islam. These extremist groups and their actions have been condemned by many moderate Muslim leaders. This is why the timing is so good for a dialogue with Muslims who are also concerned about violence and want to find ways to stand up together against violence – and against extremists of all stripes. This would be more constructive than the two alternatives – to fear on the one hand or to retaliate on the other. The reality is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rather than casting stones, let us examine our sins of hatred and desire for retaliation first. Then let us pray for our enemies as Jesus instructed us to do.