Why attack innocent civilians?
On Tuesday, October 31, Sayfullo Saipov cowardly killed eight innocent civilians and injured over a dozen more in a so-called "lone-wolf attack". These kinds of attacks are being promoted by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) as a way to spread terror around the world. Some of these lone-wolf attacks include what some Muslims call "martyrdom operations" in which the attacker becomes a shahid (martyr) because he kills himself in a bombing or is killed during his attack.
How should we understand these kinds of senseless attacks? Are they--as some would tell us--the logical outcome of a literal reading of the Quran? Or is there another explanation?
For most of Islam’s history jihad (struggle) has been understood to mean "a struggle for personal piety" (greater jihad) or "struggle for the freedom to propagate their religion or in defense of freedom against a perceived oppression" (lesser jihad).1 Today, however, new voices in the Islamic world are promoting a new form of jihad and martyrdom. The Arabic word for martyrdom is istishhad. Istishhad is the heroic death of a Muslim in jihad. Today some Muslims encourage istishhad calling this death by self-annihilation "martyrdom operations" or what others call "suicide attack". The main proponents and sponsors of martyrdom operations are Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Al Qaeda, and ISIS.
Muslims believe that they should have the freedom to propagate, spread, and promote their religion. When that freedom is somehow stifled or resisted, some Muslims, particularly Shi’a Muslims, believe that the Quran gives them permission to fight against those obstacles and conduct military jihad. For example, Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmud Taleqani gave a sermon Jihad and Shahadat (Struggle and Martydom) in which he said:
[Jihad] will be for the purpose of announcing risalat (message of the prophet) to the masses of the people.2 Bernard K. Freamon in his study Martyrdom, Suicide, And The Islamic Law Of War: A Short Legal History says,
This new conception of martyrdom challenges traditionally strong and universal Islamic prohibitions against suicide and represents a profound shift [in Islamic thought and practice].3
The vast majority of Muslims do not agree with this change in understanding of jihad. Most Muslims don’t agree with attacks on civilians and do not agree that suicide is a legitimate form of martyrdom. Unfortunately there are many Muslims who have taken a different path—a path where jihad can include attacks on civilians and shahadat (martyrdom) can be achieved by suicide attack.
As Christians we need to try our best to understand the complex world of religious pluralism in which we live. A proper understanding of Islam means that we distinguish between traditional Islam that promotes peace and the extreme views of Hamas, Al Qaeda, and ISIS. The Bible says,
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:It is mine to avenge; I will repay,says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-9)4
Trusting in God,
Pastor Steve Lorenz
November 1st, 2017
1 John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path. Third Edition. p. 93. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
2Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmud Taleqani, Jihad and Shahadat, Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project, Al-Islam.org at: https://www.al-islam.org/articles/jihad-and-shahadat-ayatullah-sayyid-mahmud-taleqani. Internet accessed November 1, 2017.
3Bernard K. Freamon, Martyrdom, Suicide, And The Islamic Law Of War: A Short Legal History. Dr. Freamon is Professor of Law and Director, Program for the Study of Law in the Middle East, Seton Hall Law School.
4Romans 12:17-19; THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. All other references to the Bible are from the NIV.
Pie and Praise Thanksgiving Celebration
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