A Christian Response to the ‘Islamic State’
Over the past couple of years, the so called Islamic State (IS) and its actions have captured significant international media and political attention. Their brutality has been a significant factor behind the refugee crisis and seems to have strengthened anti-Islamic sentiment and the desire for tougher border controls. Anti-immigration feelings accompanied by border restrictions have in part contributed to the recent vote for Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. As a historian of the modern Middle East, I wanted to offer a few thoughts for our reflection, response and prayer in light of the considerable impact of IS in global affairs today.
First, how are Muslims responding?
There seems to be a small minority of Muslims who support IS and its actions. They tend to acknowledge that IS is nearer to true Islam than other forms of Islam. They believe that IS is forging a legitimate Caliphate or global Islamic rule, demonstrated by its territorial expansion through military victories and its leader’s apparent claim to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammed – a requisite of being a Caliph or over-all leader of Islam. In part due to the genuine desire that many Muslims have to live in a ‘pure’ Islamic society, IS seems to have attracted a small minority of Muslims to its cause from around the world. Violence and Quranic texts that seem to favour brutality are applied to those who oppose the ‘rightful’ rule of the Caliphate.1
However the majority of Muslims contend that IS and its actions are ‘just wrong’ and have nothing to do with true Islam. This view is shared by many Muslim leadership associations, universities, scholars and religious leaders such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that represent 59 countries and Al-Azhar University (the leading Islamic university in the world). As Quranic interpretation tends to require wide scholarly consensus within Islam, the majority of Muslim leaders and scholars claim that IS has wrongly ignored the consensus view and have misinterpreted the Quran. 2 Instead of tracing the roots of IS from Quranic texts that seem to support violence, many Muslims perceive that IS was formed out of contemporary history where the weakening of dictatorships in Iraq and Syria created an environment for greater sectarianism and civil strife.
What about Christian responses?
Like Muslims, Christians also have various responses towards IS. Some might respond with fear and/or support for greater military action in a ‘just war’. Others may respond with compassion, humility, ‘turning the other cheek, loving your enemies and doing good to those who hate you’ (Luke 6:27-29). Some consider IS to be an inevitable outworking of Islamic texts and roots which seem to give credibility to a very small extremist element within Islam. Other Christians find it more helpful to follow the lead of the majority of Muslims, who believe that IS misrepresents Islam, in order to build bridges and identify with the sorrow that many Muslims also feel towards IS.
As Christians we want to respond to IS, and all Muslims, with grace, love and kingdom purpose. How practically can we do that?
We can avoid putting all Muslims in the same ‘box’ – Islam is not monolithic, having varying interpretations of and approaches to its own texts.
We can seek ways to offer compassionate assistance to the many suffering and displaced due to IS actions, such as the Syrian refugees – the majority of whom are Muslims.
We can pray for the transforming power of Christ in the lives of those who inflict evil and terror – just as Saul was transformed as he was carrying out terror against the early followers of Christ.
We can extend grace, mercy, love and goodwill to the many Muslims who live alongside us who are concerned about being unjustly discriminated against.
We can affirm the call and example of Christ who laid down his life for others and ‘love our enemies’ or those who consider us their ‘enemies’.
We can pray for and seek to help persecuted Christian minorities, brothers and sisters in the Lord (Hebrews 13:3), and affirm that martyrdom for Christ is a powerful testimony (Revelation 12:11) and is often the ‘seed of the church’.
We can proclaim Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness to the secular world as Islam has renewed the discussion of faith within the public sphere in the West.
We can promote respect and grace in our discourse when certain secularists or Muslims use their ‘freedom of speech’ to foment disdain, violence and/or hatred through offensive words or depictions.
We can see with eyes of faith that recent events could bring reforms and questioning within Islam that draw many to Jesus.
We can pray that, as a result of the increased awareness of the Muslim world due to recent events, followers of Jesus would be moved to pray for, support and be part of efforts to go, serve and communicate Christ with Muslims.
We can take hold of this time as a great opportunity for the Gospel – with the attention on Islam, the great socioeconomic needs in the Muslim world, potentially more questioning within Islam, the many technical tools at our disposal, and unprecedented movements to Christ.
Dr L Mak