A great debate going on at the moment is whether the Jihadists such as those from Al Qaeda and ISIL, or the independents such as Man Monis are Muslims or not. Some claim they are Muslims, and others argue they are not, as they violate Islam.
Looking from the outside in, it would seem to me that the answer is decidedly that these people are Muslims. A Muslim holds to the six articles of faith—belief in Allah, angels, the prophets, the revelations of Allah especially in the Qur’an, judgment, and the will of Allah. A Muslim lives out of the five pillars which affirm the exclusivity of Allah and Muhammad as his messenger, the five-fold prayer ritual, almsgiving, Ramadan fasting, and pilgrimage (see http://www.gotquestions.org/Islam.html#ixzz3OwYp6Igj).
It would seem to me from what I have heard and observed about the Jihadists of various persuasions, that they would uphold these with great discipline – indeed many of them believe they hold to them as all Muslims should. Further, they define themselves as Muslims, as evidenced by names such as Islamic State. Moreover, they are not the first Muslims who have taken to Jihad – Muslim history is full of such movements (not that Christians can claim the moral high ground here!) As such, I think it has to be said, despite the protestations of many, that these are Muslims. Of course, at the end of the day, assuming the existence of Allah as Muslims maintain, he will decide. If there is no Allah, the question is academic. That said, from my perspective, without doubt these people should be seen as Muslims.
On the other hand, we must take care not to consider all Muslims Jihadists; in fact, the evidence is that they represent a small but significant minority of Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, uphold peace and justice, and do not agree with their view of the Muslim faith. That said, the Jihadists seem to me to represent denominations from a stream within Islam.
A Christian parallel may be those from Westboro Baptist Church and other extremist fundamentalist denominations. As a Christian I abhor their views of many things such as homosexuality and capital punishment etc. But, it is not for me to decide if they are Christians or not. After all, there are heaps of Christians who hold variant views across the range of denominations – me included. And in the end, it is God decides if they are Christians or not (assuming we are on the right track of course—otherwise, the question is moot). The standard in the NT of what a Christian is salvation by faith and faith alone. All Christian believers are also sinners who have false ideas. In the case of the Jihadists in Islam, it is just that the ideas of the Jihadists are extreme and life-threatening. Yet, one could also ask whether George Bush and the many Christians who were involved in the USA invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 are Christians? I have yet to be convinced that these invasions were just. Yet, even if they were not, if these people had a genuine faith in Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord, they are Christians. One is saved by faith and not a flawless life.
Of course none of this justifies the unethical behaviour of Jihadists and Christians who do spurious things in the name of their faith. Such things are heinous. They are evil. Yet, it does not mean they are not members of the faith they claim. One can be a Christian and do wrong – after all, all Christians do this to some extent or another.
Neither does it mean that we should repudiate all Muslims and victimise them. That is unjust. There are evil Pakeha New Zealanders who commit horrendous crimes. However, this does not mean all Pakeha New Zealanders are to be treated with injustice and prejudice. Similarly, Maori, Polynesian, Asian, Christian, Jew, Palestinian, and so on, are guilty of the same. We need to be quite sophisticated in our thinking in this age, refusing to fall into the trap of living out of fear and prejudice toward others including Muslims just because of some who violate their name such as those from the Jihadist stream of Islam.
Yet we must also acknowledge the real and genuine religiosity of these people; they are driven by a holy zeal, they believe “God is on their side,” and this is central to their philosophy. To understand them we must recognise that they come from a religious mindset, without the separation of church and state that secularism understandings, and to understand them, we must think outside of our pre-programed western dualisms. I get greatly disturbed when I hear people say this is not a Muslim issue. This is going too far in one direction. It is a Muslim issue. Yet of equal concern is people who condemn all Muslims and Islam because of these dangerous people and movements. We need to really think deeply of appropriate responses.
One way to start is not to baulk when we see Muslims in our community, but show them welcome, respect and love. I was getting on a plane recently and a woman with a birkha got on and sat in front of me. My first thoughts sadly were concern. Then I gave myself a good kick up the proverbial and acknowledge her warmly. She smiled. As Christians we need to be determined to reach out and love and not fall prey to prejudice and fear. Yet, we should not be afraid to name that this is a Muslim movement; albeit one stream within Islam. Walking this balance is a challenge. Yet we should welcome it. And most importantly we need to guard ourselves from falling prey to a Christian form of Jihadism, which can be cloaked in respectable political military action. We need to heed the word of the Master and love our neighbour, our enemy, and refuse to compromise this, whatever the cost.