Mark Durie, a human rights activist in Australia, recently replied to an Islamic spokesmen who discounted the deep-rooted incitements to violence in Islamic theology and law. I have many times received the same kind of brutally intemperate response that Sookhdeo receives here from Aly — instead of a thoughtful engagement of the points raised, a dismissal of the entire piece with the viciously unfair characterization of it as a “diatribe.”
Durie recounts the exchange:
In the September Melbourne Anglican, Patrick Sookhdeo published an essay on the theology of the jihad terrorists. He argued that theology was important in understanding and responding to Islamist terrorism, and that the theological aspect is not negligible or easily discounted.
A critical response followed in October, from Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Aly:
To which I sent in the following rejoinder, which has been published as a letter in the November edition of the TMA.
It is sad to see Waleed Aly, an obviously intelligent person, dismissing Dr Patrick Sookhdeo’s discussion of jihad as an anti-Islamic “˜diatribe”. In his rebuttal Aly promotes so many dubious notions, that it is hard to know where to begin in addressing them. For example, Andalusia (Islamic Spain) was never a multi-faith utopia, and it is not true that medieval jurists forbade the killing of non-combatants or the cutting down of fruit trees. One wonders, reading such claims, whether Aly has consulted any medieval Islamic jurists, including ones from Andalusia, on the subjects of jihad or the treatment of dhimmis (non-Muslims under Islam).
Such issues, and others besides, deserve a fuller treatment than is possible here, but one cannot let pass Aly”s peculiar exegesis of Sura 8:60. This verse calls upon Muslims to make ready for acts of terror against their enemies. Aly objects to Sookdheo’s use of verse 60 in connection with “˜terrorism”, and would instead interpret it in the light of verse 58 which refers to treaty breaking. However verse 60 is part of a passage which commences at verse 59, dealing with non-Muslims in general, and verse 58 it not part of its immediate context.
In fact the al-Qa”ida leader Mahfouz Walad al-Walid has cited this very verse as a justification for terrorism, in an interview for Al Jazeera on November 30, 2001: “This terrorism is a divine commandment. Allah has said: ‘Make ready for them whatever you can of armed strength and of mounted pickets at the frontier, whereby you may daunt the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others beyond them whom you know not’ [Koran 8:60]. Striking horror, panic, and fear in the hearts of the enemies of Allah is a divine commandment, and the Muslim has in this matter two choices: Either he believes in these verses, which are clear, or he denies these verses, and [becomes] an infidel. The Muslim has no other option.”
Aly also makes the astonishing claim that the battle of Badr, which was the historical context for Sura 8, was a “˜defensive war in which the Muslims were hideously outnumbered”. In reality it was the Muslims who were the aggressors.
What were the actual circumstances? When news came to Muhammad in Medina of a Meccan trading caravan consisting of 30-40 men, he summoned the Muslims together, and addressed them saying “This is the Quraysh caravan containing their property. Go out to attack it, perhaps God will give it as a prey.” The celebrated biographer of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq, comments further “The people answered his summons, some eagerly, others reluctantly, because they had not thought that the apostle would go to war”.
Yet go to war Muhammad did, taking a force of some 300 Muslims to loot a caravan of 30-40 idolators. However the Meccans, getting wind of the attack, dispatched additional forces to defend their people and their property. Despite this the Muslims continued with their attack plans. The outcome was that the Muslims achieved a great and historic victory at Badr, and did indeed make their enemies their prey.
After these events, chapter 8 of the Qur’an, entitled Al-Anfal “˜The Booty”, was “˜revealed” to Muhammad. This chapter, far from being merely a time-bound commentary on the Badr raid, lays out principles which came to be foundational for the subsequent development of Islamic jurisprudence. An example of a rule imparted through chapter 8 is that a fifth of any plunder (the khumus) goes to “God and the apostle”, i.e. to Muhammad (later to the Islamic state). At that time Muhammad commented to his companions that, unlike all God’s prophets before him, he alone had been victorious through terror; and he alone had received divine permission to take booty. Since Badr, these two marks of Muhammad’s prophethood – booty and terror – were established as themes of Islamic military dogma.
No, I do not believe that “Islam is war”, and neither, I suggest, does Dr Patrick Sookhdeo. Islam is a world faith which gives solace and comfort to hundreds of millions all over the globe. My point is also not to fear or hate Islam or Muslims, nor to insult them, but simply that Islam does include a traditional militaristic theological component, deeply grounded in Muhammad’s example, backed by the Qur’an, and directed against non-Muslims. The so-called terrorists — I prefer to call them insurgents — invoke this theological component in their numerous fatwas, finding it inspirational. Discussing such matters freely and openly, without obscuring the plain evidence of history, or hiding behind narratives of Islamic victimhood, must be an essential step towards a freer, safer world.
Christians should be unashamed in calling upon moderate Muslims everywhere to engage with their own historical inheritance in a way which goes beyond misleading and arid revisionist apologetics, and allows a pathway to reconciliation through a frank and honest reconsideration of the painful legacy of “jihad in the path of Allah”.