On 14 April, the Islamic militant group Boko Haram stormed an all-girls secondary school in the village of Chibok in Nigeria’s
Borno state, taking hundreds of young women with them asthey disappeared into a remote area along the border with Cameroon. The kidnapping occurred on the same day as a bomb attack that killed 75 in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, also carried out by Boko Haram.
Meanwhile in Sudan, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year-old doctor pregnant with her second child, was sentenced to death under the Islamic Sharia law for marrying a Christian man and renouncing Islam. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes after being convicted of adultery, as her marriage was deemed invalid.
These are only two headlines the past month that focused the world’s attention on a face of Islam that is becoming more and more repulsive in a world seeking the illusive peace the Bible speaks about.
Islam at a crossroads
There is no doubt that Islam is at a crossroads – not only in the eyes of the West, but also (and especially) in the eyes of millions of disillusioned Muslims witnessing millions of lives destroyed in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Egypt and countless other Muslim nations. In Syria alone, the deaths of more than 140 000 people make the conflict one of the largest humanitarian crises in recent history. All in the name of Islam. Nearly half the population (more than nine million people) is either internally or externally displaced. All in the name of Islam.
The response from Muslim clerics in the West expresses both embarrassment and distress. Dr Mark Durie1, in an article
posted on 16 May 2014 (‘Boko Haram and the Dynamics of Denial: Islam is not the victim here’) refers to how Qasim Rashid, an American Muslim, expressed his deep sadness at the kidnapping of the Nigererian girls in an article published on Fox News (‘What would Muhammad say to Boko Haram’). Rashid declared that Muhammad himself would not recognise this group as acting in line with his teachings: “Boko Haram’s claim that Islam motivates their kidnappings is no different than Adolf Hitler’s claim that Christianity motivated his genocide. This terrorist organisation acts in direct violation of every Islamic teaching regarding women.”
Qasim Rashid is not the only Muslim speaking out in support of the victims and denying that their plight has anything to do with Islam. Mohamed Ghilan, an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, told Al Jazeera on Saturday May 17 that Meriam’s sentencing “has little to do with religion and serves as a political distraction” and is “a ploy by the Sudanese regime to appear as ‘defenders of Islam’ to mitigate their corruption”.
Dr Durie emphasises that “it is a common refrain of pious Muslims in the face of atrocities done by other Muslims in the name of Islam that Islam must not be shamed: whenever an atrocity potentially dishonours Islam, non-Muslims are asked to agree that ‘this is not Islamic’ so that the honour of Islam can be kept pristine.” Dr. Durie continues as follows: “The real issue is not what would be good or bad for Islam’s reputation… Islam is not the victim here. The pressing issue here is not to get people to think well of to think well of Islam, but how these girls can be rescued, and above all how Boko Haram’s murderous rampage is to be halted.”
In a culture where honour and shame determines the Islamic worldview, repentance is clearly not going to be an option. The only way for Muslims to defend their faith without losing face is through deceit.
Deception within Islam has three pillars, and it is key for Western observers (Christian and non-Christian alike) to recognise these expressions of deceit in order to understand statements made in the media by so-called ‘moderate Muslims’.
1. The first pillar of deception is Denial: “This is not real Islam.”
2. The second pillar of deception is Diversion: “Why do the media always pick on Muslims?”
3. The third pillar of deception is Distraction: “What about radical Christians and the Crusades?”
It is true that not all Muslims are radicals and not all radicals are terrorists. But it is also true that most terrorists in the world today are Muslims. Ironically, it is also true that most Muslims who find themselves having to defend the atrocities of fellow Muslims live in the West and not in the contexts of the atrocities.
There are a few undeniable facts that need a response from those who claim to be ‘true followers of Islam’. There needs to be an explanation as to why the majority of peace-loving Muslims allow a small minority of fanatics to ‘kidnap’ a religion so dear to them. Paul Marek, in an opinion piece back in 2007, wrote the following: “I used to know a man whose family were German aristocracy prior to World War II. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since. ‘Very few people were true Nazis,’ he said, ‘but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.’
We are told again and again by ‘experts’ and ‘talking heads’ that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better and meant to somehow diminish the spectre of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.
The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honour-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.
The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the ‘silent majority,’ is cowed and extraneous.”
Does the claim that Boko Haram is ‘not Islamic’ hold up to scrutiny? Is asking ‘what Muhammad would say’ on the subject of educating women relevant to what Boko Haram has done? Who are the ‘real Muslims’ in Syria – the al Qaeda-backed rebels or the militia of al Assad, both guilty of horrifying acts of terror? The truth of the matter is that the Western world does not care to find out what is really at the heart of Islam, the biggest mass murderer of this generation.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to believe the words of Muslims who enjoy the freedom of the Christian West while minority Christians seldom enjoy the same freedom in the Islamic world. Until Muslims globally acknowledge and publicly criticise the actions of those who violate all aspects of human dignity, there will be no trust and no belief that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion’.
In the article mentioned above, Dr Durie writes the following: “Acknowledging the potent religious roots of Boko Haram is the basic first step in shaping a credible response. To accept this is not the same as saying that Boko Haram’s interpretation of Islam is correct. One can be completely agnostic about what is or is not true Islam but yet grasp that Boko Haram is an interpretation of Islam, which at least for its followers has become the most compelling interpretation around. Finding a solution to the challenge of Boko Haram can only start from this premise.”
The most common response by Muslim scholars in the face of criticism is the accusation that the media is ‘at war with Islam’ and creating a ‘culture of Islamophobia’. Diversion can involve placing blame on someone else or shifting attention to someone else’s offenses, and in a world that is obsessed with political correctness, the Western media often take an apologetic stance in order not to offend Muslims.
Dr Durie addresses the problem of Islam being cast as the ‘victim’ and blame being shifted away from Islam: “Qasim Rashid writes: ‘Do not give the terrorists known as Boko Haram the dignity of attributing any religion to their name.’ However the real issue is not what might be good or bad for Islam’s reputation. The sight of Boko Haram’s leader saying on video that ‘by Allah’ he will go to market and sell the captive girls, because his religion permits him to do so, has already dishonoured Islam. Muhammad and Saladin, by their actions, could equally be considered to have dishonoured Islam, but this is beside the point. The real challenge here is not preserving the honour of Islam, but what can be done to counter Boko Haram.
What is crystal clear is that nothing can be gained by denial of the truth about the jihadis’ religious ideology. Other Muslims may – and do! – disagree with Boko Haram’s beliefs. That is a not a bad thing. But what will not help anyone – least of all the victims of this outrage – is putting forward weak arguments that no-one should judge Islam on the basis of Boko Haram’s actions. That line of thought is completely irrelevant to addressing the problem.
Islam is not the victim here. The pressing issue here is not to get people to think well of Islam, but how these girls can be rescued, and above all how Boko Haram’s murderous rampage can be halted.
To achieve progress with this second goal it is necessary first and foremost to acknowledge the theological character of the challenge. Attempting to persuade non-Muslim Westerners that Islam is not the problem actually makes it much harder to formulate an effective strategy for countering jihadi insurgencies. The aversion of the US State Department to acknowledge that Boko Haram was an Islamic religious movement – they only classified it as a banned terrorist organization in late 2013 – has had a crippling effect on America’s ability to make a difference in Nigeria (see Nina Shea’s analysis of the Obama administration’s decisions as published in the ‘National Review Online’).
Another method of deception is finding a similar offence and accusing someone else of similar atrocities. “What about Christian fanatics and the Crusades?” is often the first accusation made. Another example is Qasim Rashid’s reference to Hitler and Christianity, which draws attention away from the real issue.
There is a difference between the Crusades and the current situation. In the hearts of most Christians, if not all, the Crusades are seen as a dark part of Christian history. Eventually, Christians at that time saw the truth and the error of their ways, turning from them and seeking change. The Church does not deny her guilt and Christians have repeatedly repented and asked forgiveness for their religious past.
It could have been easy for Christians to try justifying those dark ages by saying that ‘it was the Catholics that did it’ and that it was not ‘real Christianity’. But attempting to deny responsibility due to different interpretations of the same religion is invalid, as all modern Christian denominations have roots in Catholicism, and this does, at some point, become part of their past.
Likewise with Islam. Drawing the attention away from the violence within their religion will not negate the ‘corruption’ in Islam, if indeed it is corruption.
Romans 16v18: “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery
they deceive the minds of naive people.”
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general, strategist and tactician. It is commonly known to be the definitive work on military strategy and tactics of its time and for the last two thousand years it has been recognised as the most important treatise for Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.
Sun Tzu emphasised the importance of positioning in military strategy. He thought that strategy requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Sun Tzu concluded that “all warfare is based on deception and that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting…”
Even though we, as Christians, know that our battle is not against flesh and blood2 and that our weapons are not the weapons of this world3 , it remains critical to identify the strategy of the enemy and positioning our activities in changing situations. The Church needs to be aware that the spiritual battle field is not only filled with the violent faces of the Boko Harams, the Al Qaedas and the Talibans, but also with the skilful words of flattery and deception of the same enemy. Satan is a fallen angel and will therefore always reveal himself either with the face of a devil to create fear, or the face of an angel to spread deceit.
In a time such as this, the Church dare not be naive, because it is through naivety and ignorance that the spiritual battle will be lost.4 The enemy is a master deceiver, referred to accordingly as the ‘father of deceit’. His first move was in the Garden of Eden where both Adam and Eve were deceived through their ignorance and lack of alertness. His strategies have not changed and will continue to the last days.5
Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, pastor of an Anglican church, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum, and director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
2 Corinthians 10:4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
Romans 16:17-18 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
Revelation 20:7-8 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth.