Sunday, January 18, 2015

Are Jihadists Muslims?

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 

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.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The spirit or the Spirit

I am somewhat perplexed at the way many contemporary Christian writers whose works I am reading who are longer using a capitalised S in their references to the Spirit. One that does this rather surprisingly is N. T. Wright, for example in his recent tome on Paul where he constantly refers to the Spirit as spirit. One of my colleagues at Laidlaw recently published a book and followed the same pattern. Why are these writers doing this? I am intrigued. What does this say about their view of the Trinity? Or am I missing something? Is there a nuance here I have not discerned such as sometimes they capitalize and sometimes they don’t? If there is, it is interesting because when God is mentioned whether it be as Lord, the Almighty, etc, most use the capital. Similarly, when Jesus is mentioned by name or as Christ, or Lord, or even Saviour, most use the capital. I must say I don’t like this new trend, I find it irritating and cuts at the heart of belief in the Trinity. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Do Not Sit in the Seat of Mockers

Don’t get me wrong as you read this. I deplore the recent terrorism in France (and Australia, Nigeria, etc). It is tragic and unacceptable; it is evil. It is the very thing Jesus came to call humanity away from. My heart goes out to the French nation for what they and the rest of the world are facing.

Yet, I have to admit to being uncomfortable with the whole rhetoric around freedom of speech that seems to lie at the heart of the western narrative of response. Freedom of speech is great, as long as the free are singing your tune. How far does freedom of speech take us when it includes the “right” to mock anyone for their race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, etc.? We may like freedom of speech, but it haves consequences.

One of the reasons that these terrorists are rising up, whether it be North Korean hackers, or Jihadists in Sydney or France, is the flippantness of the west. Freedom of speech supposedly means you can mock Muhammad (or any other religion and political system) in cartoons. Such “freedom” fails to acknowledge how important Muhammad is to many people in our world. Mocking Muhammad attacks the foundation of the mindset of the devout Muslim. Similarly, Sony Pictures think nothing of ridiculing the leader of another nation and making a movie about a couple of American twats killing him. While I deplore the regime, he is an important person to the North Koreans. Perhaps the west needs to think carefully about its so-called “freedom of speech” perspective realising that yes, one can make such movies and cartoons, but one is deeply offending the other in so doing.

How about someone makes a movie about killing Obama and a couple of clumsy North Koreans set about doing so. Or, they make cartoons mocking gays, women, the gun lobby, African Americans (perhaps using the N word), American supremacy, or Jews. Is that ok? Is the rest of the world free to do this? After all, people lose their jobs in the west for their freedom of speech if it includes mocking some of the above mentioned. This may not lead to Jihadism, but it will certainly offend. We may be free to speak, but they are free to respond.

A couple of biblical themes spring to mind. One is that freedom from a Christian perspective is a freedom that is governed by love (e.g. Rom 14-15; 2 Cor 8). Such a love includes respecting the other and not mocking and ridiculing them, no matter how different or even silly they may seem. The west needs to think about this and show a lot more respect to people of other viewpoints. I don’t like despotic leaders but I have enough respect not to make a stupid movie directly mocking the North Korean leader. Similarly, while I am not a Muslim, I see no need to offend them whether it be in cartoons or whatever. There are other way to change the world.

The second theme is mocking. Psalm 1:1 warns the reader not to “sit in the seat of mockers.” Humour is great, and political correctness drives many of us up the wall. Yet, when we know something is of deep significance to others, we need to think carefully about exercising our so-called freedom. Yes, we should be free to say what we think, but we need to realise that the tongue is powerful and will lead to response. And the world is free to respond even if we don’t like it.

I despise Jihadism and all forms of the use of violent retribution; yet, I am increasingly uncomfortable with western arrogance. I think we need listen to the Psalmist and show a bit more respect to people who are different from us.