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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.


Greetings Greg:

   A couple of questions:

1. Are there two kinds of Islam?   Extremist and moderate? 

2. Imagine that a convicted criminal moves into your neighbourhood. Would it be more prudent to really check out what makes him tick, or to simply talk at length about depravity and the sins you or your neighbours might have committed? 

I ask these two questions because your rhetorical questions would seem to be designed to lead the reader down a certain path of thought. What is not said, however could lead them down the wrong path. For instance it would seem that you have conflated the spiritual solution and a political solution. It would appear to be wise to tease these apart..

a. It is clear that humans love power. ISIS and company have found the perfect recipe for seizing power. That is to say, it is a religious justification to seize such, and they have found it in the example of their founder, and they are just applying the adage WWMD.  Hand-wringing about Christian wrongs will not change this dynamic. Yet from a Christian standpoint it is only the power of love which will overcome this love of power, topped off by a good dose of Jesus always wins, and prayer changes things. That is the spiritual side of things.

b. On the political side of the equation, take the example of Churchill who was willing to look the evil of Naziism in the face, call it for what it was, and use equal and opposite military power to confront the tyranny of Hitler and company. By contrast Chamberlain was a fool who bought into the peace rhetoric and lives were lost needlessly.


In the face of the religiously justified brutality fully in line with WWMD,  directed against Christians brothers and sisters in Iraq I wonder if you would call yourself a Churchill or a Chamberlain?





Thank you Salaam for your comments and I especially liked your comment about the power of love overcoming the love of power. The problem that ISIS is presenting to the world is a serious one, and I noticed in the news that even the Pope has changed track and allowed for limited military engagement to protect religious minorities in Iraq. He did say that they should be stopped although he did not want to use the word bombed. He also (rightly I think) urged more of a UN response rather than a unilateral US response. The protection of religious minorities is a clear need in this case (Christian and other). But I hesitate to promote the use of force further than necessary - especially as other factors play into the stability of Iraq - sunni - shia conflict for example. It is not always easy to separate the spiritual from the political in the Middle East. To quote Dr. Shenk, Muhammad rode into Mecca with an army of 10,000 soldiers. Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by children. It seems that our default position should be to seek peace, encourage Muslims to speak out against violence as a doctrine of jihad, find peace building opportunities for dialogue (perhaps around the minority view that violent passages of the Quran are limited to the time of Muhammad). In general help Muslims find peace. I think the Saudi ruling class is just as alarmed by ISIS as a threat to their state as is the West, so perhaps this opens up new opportunities to rethink Wahabi teaching.

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