In answer to this question, therefore, we can never get away from the contrast between the lives of Jesus and Muhammad. One of the temptations during the 40 days in the wilderness (‘all the kingdoms of the world in their glory … I will give you, if you will only fall down and do me homage.’ (Matt 4:8-9 REB) may have been the temptation to seek political power. But if the kingdom of God, the kingly rule of God, means anything, it can’t simply be about me and my relationship with God. Jesus said to Pilate ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world’ (John 18:30). But if his followers are called to be salt and light in the world, how are the values of the kingdom to be expressed in communities and in society as a whole? If we are critical of the political agendas of some Muslims, we dare not abandon the public sphere to secularists and Muslims. Christians must have a clear vision of the kind of just and caring society we want to live in. And this must have something to do with public life and politics.
One of my students asked me why would any Muslim in his right mind join ISIL. I said to her that I can give you right away at least five reasons but if you are willing to wait till tomorrow I will come up with a longer list. ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was the first name that was given to the organization since its territory was in Iraq and Syria. Their vision is far bigger than Iraq and Levant. They want to expand into Asia, Africa and Europe. The next morning I gave my students 25 reasons why Muslims are eager to join ISIL; here are 10 of them.
Success and a staying presence. Muslims see the black flag raised on expanding landmarks and they appear to be winners. Unlike foreign armies who would sooner or later leave, these people are there to stay.
Up-to-date attractive social media. Unlike the boring monologues of Ayman Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qa’eda, they use clever propaganda videos that have an appeal to the youth.
Purpose for living. So many young men and women whether in Muslim countries or in the West have no demanding or consuming purpose for living. ISIL offers young Muslims what they see as a large enough purpose for living and for dying.
America’s support for Israel. A Muslim American young man was arrested on his way to Turkey to join ISIL in Syria. His reason for wanting to join ISIL was: “Why should the taxes of American Muslims go to support Israel killing Muslims in Gaza.”
Western Societies are immoral. In spite of the abundance of church buildings in Europe and in the United States, Muslims see moral standards deteriorating rapidly as they see Americans and Europeans accepting as normal same sex marriages and people living together without being married.
Shock and Awe through decapitation. With their “shock and awe” strategy of decapitating some of their captives or burning them alive, they are aiming to intimidate not only individuals and armies but even nations. ISIL fighters are volunteers who are not afraid of death.
Influence of bridge builders. There are several famous bridge builders such as Anwar al-Awalaki who are well equipped to use the internet and can motivate and recruit disillusioned young men and women in the West to join ISIL and other radical groups.
The Shiites got inflated with power and they abused it. The Sunni majority in Iraq perceive the Shiites as syncretistic or even heretical. They would rather be ruled by the Sunni ISIL rather than by the abusing Shiites.
ISIL’s strong financial status is attractive. ISIL has a strong financial base. They have captured banks, sell oil, get taxes and get easy money in exchange for hostages. Muslims see ISIL as an organization which will keep going for a very long time and cannot be disarmed, dismantled and destroyed.
Hope for a restoration of the Caliphate. Many Muslims yearn for a day when the Caliphate will be restored and Muslims around the world will be united under one leader like Catholics are united under the Pope. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph of the Islamic State and called himself Caliph Ibrahim.
The answer to this question must be an emphatic NO! There are plenty of situations where Islamists do not resort to violence. But at the same time they face a real dilemma. They want their society to be more consistently Islamic; but how are they to achieve this goal? Are they to work for a gradual and peaceful Islamisation of the country, or are they justified in using force to win power? And what happens when violence is done to them? These dilemmas can be illustrated from the history of one particular Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the 16th Century, Martin Luther came across a short book detailing the religious rituals and customs of the Ottoman Turks. He was so impressed with the tract that he decided to reprint it with a new preface that he authored himself. This is not surprising as, given the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, Luther had much to say regarding the Turks, Muhammad, and the Qur’an. While the majority of Luther’s works on Islam and Muslims are polemical in tone, this particular writing takes a different approach…