Jillian met Hasna last year on a flight from Casablanca to Paris in October 2015. Hasna grew up a Moroccan in France. She was proud of her Islamic faith but would have to admit that she didn’t know a lot about it. During her first year in college she was challenged by other young Muslim women about why she didn’t wear the hijab and go to Friday prayers at the mosque. Her acquaintances chided her for conforming to the secular Europe and selling out her people.
She was torn and shamed so she decided to start reading the Koran for the first time in her life. Many Muslims, like Hasna, only have a cursory understanding of what is in the Koran. As they sat on the plane, surrounded by other Moroccans all returning to their homes in France from their native Morocco, Hasna lowered her voice and got closer. She confided in Jillian that she has been shocked by the violence in the Koran. She began to cry. It was obvious that a deeper look at her religion of birth was shaking her to the core.
You might remember that it was one month later, on December 13th, 2015, that Islamic terrorists (mostly of Moroccan origin) attacked a concert hall, a stadium, restaurants, and bars in downtown Paris killing 130 people…all “b’ism allah” (in the name of Allah).
I met Ayoub on a plane from Germany to Morocco two weeks ago. He was born in Tangier, Morocco and had attended university in Germany getting a degree in computer engineering and even marrying a German woman that had since converted to Islam. This plane ride came mere days after a group of Moroccan Muslims had driving a van through a crowded tourist spot in Barcelona killing 14 and wounding 130.
Ayoub’s response was much different from the honest, shocked, and dismayed response of Hasna. As we spoke about this massive wave of terrorism in Europe perpetrated almost entirely by Muslims “b’ism allah” and by a majority of Moroccans, he was defiant. “Islam is a religion of peace. These men are not Muslims or doing this in the name of God. They have had their minds washed in Europe.” etc etc.
So, how are Muslims reacting?
In the West we often don’t know any Muslims personally so we are left to observe on the news how the 1.5 billion Muslims are responding in their hearts and minds to these shocking scenes on TV. We are getting mixed messages that require a greater understanding of the nuances of reactions and the causes of these reactions. How do peaceful Muslims reconcile this terrorism in the name of their religion? How many are sympathetic to this violence and why?
After interacting with thousands of Muslims over the last 10 years I have isolated their theological reactions about Islam in the modern world into five major categories:
1. Claim of Misinterpretation- Most Muslims fall into this category. They claim that Jihad (meaning “struggle” in Arabic) was never meant to be violent war against “kufar” (infidels) but was a struggle with one’s own self and unbelief. They think the young, impressionable terrorists have been led astray from real Islam by Imam’s ignorant of Islam. There is a popular story of how Mohammed had a Jewish neighbor in Medina that he showed great tolerance to and even attended his funeral. They quote a verse from the Koran that says, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “To each his own religion” (109:1-6). The Moroccan government promotes this sort of Islam quite heavily to combat terrorism.
Problem- This interpretation ignores both the historic context of Jihad as well as the textual context taking only the meaning of the word Jihad and assigning it a new, modern meaning disconnected from his historic roots. Mohammed’s life story very much exemplifies a Jihad that is bloody and violent in the effort to advance Islam and dominate other lands. The text itself promotes Jihad as a struggle against unbelievers not a struggle against unbelief in one’s self.
2. Deflection of Blame- Conspiracy theories are very popular in the Muslim world where one is accustomed to believing something with no proof or historical basis (like the Koran). So, many Muslims believe that Islamic terrorism is a creation of the American government. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me that America created ISIS. Some also blame terrorism on Muslim youth in Europe feeling disenfranchised. Barack Obama claimed that Islamic terrorism was mostly an economic problem because young terrorists are poor and uneducated.
Problem- The problem with this theory is that it ignores the express purpose stated by the terrorists themselves. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Khalif (leader) of ISIS, is a man who has memorized the Koran and obtained a doctorate in Islamic history and interpretation. The terrorists themselves have performed their acts in the name of God based on a clear interpretation and reading of the Koran. Logically, no poor kid would blow himself up to get a better life unless he believed the promises in the Koran that he would go to paradise and receive 70 virgins. Bin Laden definitely did not begin his terrorist agenda feeling disenfranchised. He was from one of the richest families in the Gulf region. The impetus for Islamic terrorism lies directly in the text of the Koran and the history of the Prophet.
3. Call for Reformation- There is a a movement, though still small, that believes that Islam can be reformed and modernized into a peaceful, coexisting religion. This reaction has come about by three things: 1. A conviction that Mohammed was an inspired prophet from God, 2. an honest admittance that Islam’s history is violent, 3. a desire to reconciled this love for Islam with a modern world and the human conscience that rejects such violence. A lady on the same plane as Ayoub and I fell into this category. She loves the culture of Islam but wants it to look different than it did 1,300 years ago.
Problem: The text and doctrine of Islam doesn’t leave any room to change and update it to modern sensitivities. The Koran claims to be for all people for all times as the last clear prophecy of Allah until the return of Christ.
4. Support- There is a minority of Muslims who are in support of these murderous attacks. Donald Trump told us that he saw Muslims celebrating in New Jersey when the towers fell. While this claim has been debunked http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/nov/22/donald-trump/fact-checking-trumps-claim-thousands-new-jersey-ch/, Sayid, a close friend and brother in Christ, told me that when he was still a Muslim he remembers celebrating in a cafe with other Muslim friends when they saw these images on the TV. This was 16 years ago and since then 127 terror cells have been dismantled by the police in Morocco. I personally have not met any Muslims in Morocco who would admit to me that they are in favor of these murders. I have, however, heard from Moroccan friends that there are some who would quietly support terrorism but not want to admit this to me, a Westerner.
Problem- The real problem here is for the moderate Muslim and their children. A real Muslim, taking a historic, literal interpretation of Islam must support Jihad against the West or be condemned by Allah himself. This is the reality of the Koranic teaching (See Sura #9 Surat Atawba). My wife asked a Muslim mother recently, “How would you feel if your son completely gave himself and became completely dedicated the teachings of the Koran and Mohammed?” She said she would be very afraid for him that he might become a Jihadist. My wife responded that she would be very happy for her son to be completely dedicated to the teachings of Christ. So, the Muslim must teach their children to love Islam but not too much, a difficult tension to maintain.
5. Doubt- This is the response that we pray for and are seeing in Muslims leaving Islam all over the world. A Muslim is forbidden from doubting Mohammed as the prophet of God or the Koran as the book of God. But what is happening is that many Muslims are quietly seeking for an alternative. They are not ready to drop a belief in God altogether but are doubting that this sort of hate and violence is the true religion of the true God. These people are connecting with our website every day asking for New Testaments and listening to our broadcasts.
Conclusion- The bold and consistent preaching and living of the Gospel is the only and best answer. Why?
The clear preaching of the Gospel challenges blatant falsehood and latent secularism with truth.
The compassionate preaching of the Gospel exposes hate and glorifies the love of God displayed on the cross.
The bold preaching of the Gospel shocks the Muslim world with the power of the resurrection to life over the death of terrorism.
The pure living of the Gospel in close proximity to Muslims illustrates a life-changing message and indwelling Spirit that they have never experienced.