Archive for September, 2010


Sayyid Qutb has been called martyr, ideologue and theoretician of Islamic fundamentalism—an indication of sufferings he endured and the way his radical thinking shaped the movement.  Such terms also reveal his total faith in Islam, and how much he was loved and respected by those who witnessed his moral courage and intellectual capacity. 

He was born in 1906, in the village of Qaha, in the province of Asyut, Egypt.  His father was a well-to-do farmer and respected member of the community.  Yet with a dark complexion, slight build, and frail disposition, the boy was not at all striking or attractive.  Besides he was naturally timid and sensitive.

Nevertheless what he lacked in physical appearance he more than compensated for in intellect.  By the time he was ten he had already memorized the entire Muslim holy book.  This thorough knowledge of the Qur’an early in life proved to be the beginning of a life totally dedicated to Islam.

At age thirteen Qutb was sent to Cairo for schooling.  There he quickly displayed a remarkable penchant for English literature and read everything within sight.  Upon graduation from Dar al-Ulum (House of Knowledge) he had become well-acquainted with the “Westernizing tendencies” of many Egyptians.  As a result of his mental prowess, he was appointed inspector in the Ministry of Education, but later abandoned this prestigious post in order to write.  Thus, he provided a “system” whereby Egyptian nationalism could be combated.  He felt Nasser’s bid for the Arab world was a challenge to Islam so he gave fellow-Muslims in Egypt, and elsewhere, sound reasons for rejecting it.

As to literary achievement, Qutb resembles Maududi of Pakistan.  He wrote a total of twenty-four books and numerous magazine articles.  Several of his publications have been translated into English by the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations in Kuwait.  His books have also been popular with Black Muslims in the United Starts and influenced Iranians to overthrow the Shah.

His major publication was an interpretive study of the Qur’an.  Again, he was influenced by Maududi in that he held to Qur’anic “literalism.”  His thirty-two volume commentary is famous for homiletical content, simplicity of style and clarity of thought.  It has sold thousands of copies, and today is being used as a standard in the privacy of Muslim homes and the public arena of mosques all across the Arab world.

In 1949, Qutb went to the United States and studied educational administration for two years, but his exposure to American life turned him totally against the West.  First, partially because of a swarthy complexion, he sensed deep racial prejudice.  Second, he observed overwhelming support for Israel in the newspapers.  For Qutb this was a combination of personal and national rejection.

Moreover, like many of his Arab contemporaries, he experienced a profound sense of displacement.  He felt the British had denied the Arab right to self-determination at the end of World War II and the United States supported and perpetuated this deplorable crime.  Eventually his bitterness grew to the point that he hated and despised everything for which the West stood.

This negative reaction included all Western methods, models, values and styles as dangerous and harmful to Muslims and non-Muslims.  So he began calling fellow-Muslims to total and irrevocable rejection of Christians and Jews whom he viewed as synonymous with the “West.”  Based on his own Qur’anic interpretation he forbade contact with “people of the book” because he felt they led Muslims astray. 

Furthermore, for Qutb there was no difference between a communist and capitalist West.  Both were enemies and harmful to Muslims.  He concluded that communism and capitalism would surely fall for their failure to protect and provide for the good of humanity.  Rooted in human origins, they were doomed, whereas the divinely-revealed Islam would triumph in the end.  Interestingly his prediction–at least in reference to the fate of communism–has already taken place. 

After his brief, but unfortunate stay in the United States, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and continued his literary influence.  Although he learned from Maududi, he went further into militancy than the Pakistani leader ever intended–or even dared to go.  Consequently, he was arrested along with others for extremist views, and for attempting to assassinate Gamil Abd Nasser.  The sentence was fifteen years–hard labor.

Qutb was released after ten years–now a victim of deep hardness and bitterness from the torture he had endured.  What he once offered as advice now became rigid dogma.  He spoke openly of violence for the good of the ummah (Muslim community) and enjoined jihad (struggle for Islam) against forces that resist by force.  In this spirit he wrote his most controversial book, Maalim fi al tariq (Milestones), a publication that precipitated his re-arrest in 1965.  Qutb was executed in 1966 by the Egyptian government and buried in an unmarked grave.  He had become “Martyr of the Islamic Revival.”

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Mahmoud Taha

Sayyid Qutb

Will the Real Muslim Please Stand Up?

Toay there is a polarization as to the nature of Islam: Some say Islam is violent; others insist it is peaceful.  The truth lies somewhere in between those two statements.  CAIR’s agenda (Council of American Islamic Relations) is to convince us of the latter, and they use the Qur’an to support their argument: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256); and, “… nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians’” (5:82).   

The problem is CAIR overlooks verses that are not that warm and fuzzy: “Fighting is prescribed upon you …“(2:216).  “Fight those who believe not in Allah, nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29).  One Muslim scholar, Tawfik Hamid, says: “Don’t Gloss over the Violent Texts” (The Wall Street Journal).

Moreover, certain Muslim theologians have appealed to the “Doctrine of Abrogation” and say the “Sword Verse” (9:5) abrogates other peaceful verses because it is chronologically later, that is, from the Medina period.  In Milestones, ideologue of militant Islam in Egypt, Sayyid Qutb forcefully argues for jihad from the Qur’an (4:74-76; 8:38-40; 9:29-32).  These passages alone, he states, suffice to justify the universal and permanent dimensions of Jihad (pp. 53-76).  See The Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd edition) for a detailed explanation of this doctrine.  But other Islamic scholars throw out the whole idea of abrogation suggesting the eternal message of Islam was revealed in the earlier Mecca period.  See for example, The Second Message of Islam by Mahmoud Taha. 

When Muslims themselves cannot see eye to eye as to the nature of Islam how can we be so sure?  In 1953 a consultation of expert Pakistani theologians could not even agree on what it means to be a Muslim.  Neither could they define the essence of Islam nor the constitution of an Islamic State (The Report of Inquiry Constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to Enquire into the Punjab Disturbance of 1953, Lahore, Pakistan: Government Printing Press, 1954, 205).

We must therefore be careful not to box ourselves into a corner by insisting that the closer a Muslim gets to Islam the more violent he or she becomes.  Some Muslims read the Qur’an, pray five times a day, and offer to give you the shirt off their back.  We need to be aware of stories like the following: During the Boxer Rebellion in AD 1900, Muslims rescued a well-known missionary family from the Boxers.  Giving up his only pair of shoes to Jonathan Goforth, an elderly Muslim said this:  “We are Mohammedans and this is what God would want us to do.” 

Perhaps we should let both Muslims stand up and concentrate on how we can reach them for Christ.  Such an approach means we let Muslims be the teacher while we are the learner.  We allow Muslims to tell us what they believe rather than assuming we know because we listen to select news media.  We ask Muslims what Muhammad means to them and look for felt needs so that we can present the Gospel with love and understanding.

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Is Islam a Violent Religion?

I asked the graduate students enrolled in my course “Islam through Christian and Muslim Eyes” to reflect on the problem with conventional wisdom that says, “Islam is a violent religion.” Below are the responses from the forum discussion:

    To say that “Islam is a violent religion” would be over generalizing and ignorantly making a statement about a religion that has multiple layers and sub groups. Saying that Islam as a whole is violent would be one of many misconceptions and widespread ideas from what media might portray to us or what we might conclude in our own thoughts without much exposure and/or knowledge of the religion. This statement would probably not come from a person with knowledge of the religion and the people behind it. Within the key principles of Islam, there is no mention of or compulsion toward violence. It calls for submission, confession, totality, justice, equality (among men) and other principles, but not for violence as a way of life or as an expression of their religion.


     The issue with the statement that Islam is a violent religion is that while this is held as a conventional truth is it not utterly true. Although the basis for the violence in Islam finds its roots in the Qur’an (2:190-194; 2:216; 2:217; 3:121; 3:169) and also in the teaching of the Hadith it is unreasonable to say that Islam is completely violent and cannot be separated from its violence. I would venture to say that most people believe that to be Muslim is to be violent. Some of the most peace-loving people that I have met are Muslim. They break the mold of violence within Islam. While I would say that you cannot deny the fact that violence is a part of Islam and the practice of Islam it would be unfair to say that all Muslims are therefore violent and condone violence. Yes, Islam can be a violent religion but not in the entirety of its expression and practice. We cannot assume because some Muslims are violent that all are violent, this exposes our ignorance.

– Jennifer

     This statement seems myopic, stereotyping all Muslims by those seen in the news. And who makes the news? Terrorists and radical groups who often use violence in the name of Islam. Is it true that the Koran allows for violence against infidels? Definitely. Does this make Islam a violent religion? Not necessarily…
     The Old Testament and revelation are filled with graphic images of war. Does this make Christianity a violent religion? What if we were taking this class 1000 years ago at the height of the Crusades; would we consider Christianity a violent religion?
To say Islam is a violent religion is to say that violence is inherent to Islam. Put again, a good Muslim should exhibit violence. Muslims would tell you that this is not essential to the faith; rather Islam is a religion of submission. If this submission requires violence, then so be it. If it requires peace, then so be it.
     The truth is, the vast majority of Muslims are not violent people. It is therefore damaging to the cause of evangelism to categorize the entire faith as violent, especially when most aren’t. If we do, we will be seen as believing only by what is seen in the news. What if we were characterized only by the Christians seen in the news? Scary thought. If we want the right to be heard let’s be sensitive to discern the reality of the core of Islam.


Islam has two faces. One is moderate Islam and the other is Extremist Islam. We cannot simply say, “Islam is peaceable religion by the side of moderate Islam.” Most Muslims are peaceable and moderate. But minority extremist Islamic movements are militant and warlike. Besides the vibrant history of Islam it is getting more violent than before. Despite the variety of the Muslim world, the widespread problems of democracy, human rights and religious freedom indicate major problems in Islam. Modern Islam has faced a serious crisis. This caused the growth of Islamic extremism. The target of the extremist Islamic movements is a secular Islam which has forsaken true Islam. They believe that the only solution to their problems is that they return to the purity of the faith. They regard ‘Christendom’ as an enemy and it caused crisis of Islamic world. So they try to attack and threaten the Western and Christians so as to escape of collapse of modern Islam. Despite Daniel Pipes has suggested 10 to 15 percent of Muslims throughout the world agree with the radical’s idea. This is a small minority of Muslim, but it is still tens of millions of people. We can not ignore this aggressive and violent movement in the face of extremism. We need to propagate moderated Islam to our society to prevent from hostile emotion to Muslim. We must support the voice of the moderates for the sake of reachable Muslims. But also we need to be aware of violent part of Islam. They are organized and threaten to attack the moderates along with nonbelievers like us.


     The problem of making the statement, “Islam is a violent religion” is that Islam becomes a sweeping generalization that would give the attribute of violence to every person that calls themselves Muslim. The same limit in logic would occur with the statement that “Christianity is a charitable religion.” It implies that the attribute of charitable exists within every person who includes themselves in the name Christian; one would not go far in history to find that not every Christian is charitable. One would also not have to go far in history to find both violent and non-violent Muslims.
     Gaining a reputation as a violent religion may be another matter entirely. One must consider their theology, history and current situations worldwide. In listening to the lectures, I was quite baffled by the union of religion and politics that was portrayed. Islam’s reputation of violence may be due to the present day examples of Islamic theocracies existing today. Because politics and power are inseparable and power can be abused so easily once gained, the universally dirty work of politics is then inseparable from the religion they all claim to adhere to. It is a generalization that is fallacious, but understandable when watching or reading news of modern day honor killings when the news does not also cover Muslim charities. I guess those articles wouldn’t sell as many copies.
     On a note of personal experience, I lived with a Tatar Muslim family for 5 weeks as a teenager and did not find them to be at all violent. In fact, I was in a city of thousands of Muslims and found myself much safer than I had ever felt walking the streets of Columbia, SC.


     Islam is often portrayed in the public eye as a violent religion.  Personally, I have seen a non-violent side to Islam through relationships with Muslims and while living for two years in a Muslim country.  In general, Muslims are people of relationship.  They value hospitality and respect people who care about them.  This is demonstrated by willingness to spend time getting to know each other.  Muslim extremists are violent people when they go to extreme measures to purify the world of people who are not Muslims.  I have also seen examples of violent Christians, violent Hindus and violent Buddhists too.  I was raised in India and Thailand and had friends from different religious and cultural backgrounds.  Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism (and other religions too) are not violent in nature.  Within different religions, there are evil people who do acts of violence.  Generally, the news portrays acts of violence when referring to Islam, especially related to the war on terror.  I know from personal experience that Islam is not a violent religion and deeply desire that Christians seek to build relationships with Muslims, earn the right to be heard, live lives that Muslims respect, and then seek to share our faith with a people that God created,  loves, and sent His Son Jesus to die for their sins.  Therefore, we can see that Islam is not a violent religion.

– Erin

     It is the belief held by many that Islam is a religion surrounded by violence and the unnecessary taking of lives, unless one studies and takes the time to fully understand the ins and outs of this complex religion, it is quite right that this is the conclusion to be held. As we listen to many news reports and stories portrayed in the media, it is easy to understand why this is the conclusion that is being held. A further study of Islam shows that there is a tolerance for violence within the guidelines of the Quran. In essence is Islam a violent religion? Yes and no, having spent time among Muslims in Indonesia I have come to the conclusion that though theologically Muslims have the potential and in some cases the right to exercise violent behaviors, the vast majority do not. The Muslims that I have interacted with are the kindest people who feel the pressure of being stigmatized because of the generalization that they are given by the media to the western world.


      Well it is not good to knock down another religion. All we can do is use scripture text, and see if our actions line up with the word of God. We know that the bible our way of life. So saying that Islam is a violent religion is crazy. Saying that Muslims are violent is stereotyping to me. It seems that the news media have a way of bashing this religion, and reporting all types of bad things. Truth be told they are not that bad. I’m sure every religion has its obstacles, and we can’t judge. The vast majority of Muslims really don’t bother anyone. News media really have a way at times bashing and marking people for the bad; when they really aren’t that bad. So we must get to know the religion and research in order to better know the people. -Rick

 It seems, to me, that this statement is too narrow. Like Christians, Muslims come from many different areas and places, with an array of beliefs, about what it means to live out their faith. This is the very same kind of generalization that we as Christians would find repugnant if it were said of us.


      This topic has been subject to much debate over centuries and certainly has picked up steam in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.  Maybe proponents, who argue Islam is not violent and only a few Muslims are violent, are correct.  Maybe a few Muslims have hijacked parts of the Qur’an and made Islam seem violent.  After all, a few Christians have taken similar actions in the past to justify violence (think Eric Rudolph). However, when one looks at the history of Islam and its spread across North Africa and Asia, they are hard pressed to find non-violent conquests.  Much of the spread of Islam was conducted under violent campaigns.  Today, justified violence in the name of Islam can be seen in governments such as Iran and Saudi Arabia and in societies throughout the world where Muslims take a few sayings of the Qur’an and use them to justify violence. 

     Muhammad may not have intended Islam to be connected to violence, but the connection certainly exists.  Perhaps the connection is stronger in cultures and societies where violence is an everyday norm.  Christians use violence in many regions in Africa.  We would not condone their actions as Christian, but they would claim to Christians nonetheless.  Their actions are products of the society and culture in which they live in. 


      I think that part of the problem is that there is an element of truth to the statement (at least from an outsider’s perspective), but it does not encompass all that is Islam or all that are Muslims.
     For the longest time, I only had been taught a few things about Islam: the militaristic push across Africa and into Spain in the early history of Islam (also alluded to in the lectures), how people reacted to possible traffic accidents in Egypt (throw up your hands and say, “As Allah wishes”), and a very little bit about the Crusades. Some of this is historical and some is anecdotal, but it is not complete. For context, this teaching was also in the mid to late 1980s.
     One conversation I will not forget is one I had with a cab driver in Singapore a few years ago. He just offered up the question [paraphrased], “Do you know why you will never hear of a Singaporean Muslim Terrorist?” He said that it was because there was no need for a Singaporean Muslim to fight that way. There was no incentive when the local government took care of their needs and was not hostile.
     I guess my point is that there are many things that go into making one radical or violent. It is difficult to just pin it all on one thing when the category of people we are referring to consists of 1.3 billion people on several continents.


      As one who has little knowledge of Islam and whom the Triune God is giving grace to study it greater in depth, I can personally say that most of the things I have seen in the media through life portray Islam as violent and negative. I think this is mainly related to the radical terrorist aspect that is directly linked with Islam; particularly in reference to Jihad. Since 9/11, Islam being identified as a violent religion has increased more and more. With the many radical terrorists claiming the name of Islam, it is an easy case for the media and the general public to label Islam as violent. For example, not too long ago, there was a crazy guy in Chapel Hill, NC who tried to run over a mob of UNC college students in the name of Islam. Shortly after this in Raleigh, NC, there was a big federal trial of a suspected “Islamic Terrorist.” After watching years of television that show the images of Islamic men and women coming out of federal court buildings and seeing videos of Muslims shaking machine guns around like Osama, it is easy to identify Islam with violence.
     Of course there is the small, small voice of the local Mosques and Muslims who publicly combat this view of violence by claiming Islam is a peaceful religion; but the voice is mostly unnoticed. I have heard US Muslims make the claim that Islam is a peaceful religion, but the only reason I heard the claim in the first place is because I take notice of world religions. To the average secular, tv watching man, the small voices make no difference. The Islamic voice of peace cannot overcome the American’s mental image of the World Trade Center collapsing with people jumping out of the windows with Osama laughing in the background.

     Yet it is absurd to associate the entire Muslim population with violence just because a select few are crazy. Likewise, it is absurd to discount all of Christianity because of an ungodly TV preacher who claimed the name of Christ, but then cheated on his wife and didn’t pay his taxes. Islam as a whole must be studied and analyzed. Unfortunately, Johnny and Jill from 1st Baptist Church may not take the time necessary to understand Islam as a whole and therefore never change their view of Islam as a violent religion.
     Finally, I must say that because I have such little knowledge of Islam, I still am inclined not to discredit all the things I have heard to this point in life about the violence associated with Islam. With the many books floating around on Jihad, there is no doubt that Islam portrays violence, but I still have much to learn. I am glad to have sat under Dr. Emir Caner for a semester to hear some of his views on Jihad. I hope to grow in more knowledge as the semester goes on.


      One of the big problems is that conventional wisdom is based primarily on the amount of media coverage that a group is given.  While there seems to be new efforts to portray a more balanced view of Islam, news outlets  always give more attention to sensational attention grabbing stories, and violence gets ratings in our culture.  There are probably just as many negative stories about Christians who abuse power, but they tend to be focused on individual offenders, and since we are more likely to know and interact with many Christians (especially here in the south where I live) we are less likely to generalize and stereotype based on peoples offenses.


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 It’s a critical time for the American church and a prophetic voice is needed. Christian leaders have spoken out against what’s happening in Florida, but most Bible-believing, mission-minded, evangelical Christians are fixated on political problems and political solutions. Take for example the mosque in Manhattan. Christians feel threatened and are focusing on their rights and liberties, but not seeing their responsibility to witness to Muslims and pray for their salvation. I believe Muslims have the right to build a center (including a mosque) near Ground Zero, but I don’t think they should do it. Muslims need to be sensitive to the feelings, particularly of those who have lost loved ones nine years ago, and they should relocate. But wherever the mosque is built the real issue for the American church is whether or not Muslims know Jesus. I don’t think most evangelical Christians are thinking along those lines.

The way most American Christians are responding to Muslims makes me think of John 4. When Jesus was concerned about the Samaritan woman’s need of salvation from sin, his disciples were thinking of their culture, their bias, their values and their needs. In the past most Christians ignored Muslims; now they are jumping on the band wagon and vilifying them. I have written about fear-mongering literature, often perpetrated by the Conservative Right, and in particular, the Christian Conservative Right. I feel more Christians need to hear about good things Muslims have done, like the story I heard years ago: During China’s Boxer Rebellion in AD 1900, Muslims rescued a well-known missionary family from the Boxers. Giving up his only pair of shoes to Jonathan Goforth, an elderly Muslim said, “We are Mohammedans and this is what God would want us to do.”

As for Muslims, I sense there is growing uncertainty and fear among them, too. At the largest mosque in Columbia, SC, tomorrow (Friday) Eid prayers are at 8:00 AM, and celebrations will run throughout the weekend, including Saturday, September 11. It is worrying Muslims that they will be celebrating when others are mourning. In response to a request by some Columbia International University students to celebrate with Muslims, the imam uncharacteristically said there wasn’t time to prepare. Damage has already been done by the church in Florida because of the media coverage and images are not going to go away. Immigrant Muslim neighbors living near the home of Zwemer’s Assistant Director kept asking his wife last night why Americans don’t like them. Our purpose is not to beat up on Islam or pick a fight with Muslims but to help them understand the Good News. We need to pray for Muslims. We need to respond biblically, as Jesus taught his disciples, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44; Lk. 6:27-28) and as Paul said, “Vengeance is mine” (Rm. 12:19). We need to pray that American Christians will realize that Muslims are not the enemy; Satan is (Eph. 6).

We need to pray that God will purify this nation, so filled with immorality, and that he will revive the church. This is not a Christian nation and it’s no use pretending it is. We need to pray for and support efforts to reach Muslims for Christ. For years, the Zwemer Center has struggled financially because most Christians don’t’ see the need to support our efforts to equip workers to work among Muslims. Finally, the church needs to remember that God is sovereign. What extremist Muslims are doing is turning out for the furtherance of the Gospel and the American church needs a strong dose of optimism that God is in control.

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