By John A. Azumah
The world is being subjected to horrific images of religious violence. The Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria records its beheadings. Boko Haram in Nigeria parades hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls. Al-Shabaab in Somalia attacks a shopping mall in Nairobi. These barbaric acts can make us feel helpless, fearful, angry, and even guilty, because there seems to be little we can do to stop them. Meanwhile, commentators traipse from one television channel to the other, presenting their analyses. Some condemn IS and Boko Haram but assure viewers that their acts have nothing to do with true Islam. Others opine that IS and Boko Haram do represent Islam’s true face. Neither perspective is helpful. Both distort the nature of Islam and its relation to terrorism and violence.
Evangelical views on Islam understandably hardened after 9/11. Ted Haggard, past president of the National Evangelical Association, said, “The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health. The Muslim god appears to value the opposite. The personalities of each god are evident in the cultures, civilizations and dispositions of the peoples that serve them.” A leading British Evangelical activist, Patrick Sookhdeo, expresses a similar view: “The violence perpetrated by [jihadi] groups is rooted both in the ideology of large contemporary Islamist movements and in the traditional, orthodox and classical version of Islam, especially its doctrines of jihad, da’wa anddhimmitude, and also the law of apostasy, presented in the authoritative Islamic scriptures and commentaries.”
In other words, for most Evangelicals, Islam is the problem because it warrants the violence of jihadi groups. The claim is not without grounds. Contrary to repeated Muslim denials, key aspects of the ideology of radical violent Muslim groups are indeed rooted in Islamic texts and history. Al-Qaeda, IS, and Boko Haram have their origins mainly in Wahhabi and Salafi thought. These are traditions of fundamentalist Islamic interpretation that have widespread influence across the Muslim world. Founding leaders of jihadi groups have either been students of leading Wahhabi-Salafi scholars or were inspired by their works.
Islam is similar to Judaism in the importance it gives to legal interpretation. As one Muslim scholar put it, “Shari‘ah instructs man on how he should eat, receive visitors, buy and sell, slaughter animals, clean himself, sleep, go to the toilet, lead a government, practice justice, pray, and perform other acts of [worship].” Unlike Christianity in the West, where divisive debates often have focused on theological doctrines, in Islam the most important schools of thought reflect differences in jurisprudence. There are four main schools of law for Sunnis (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools) and one for Shi’ites (Ja‘fari). The main distinctions between these schools lie in divergent opinions about authoritative sources or roots of law. All accept the Qur’an and the sunnah (Muhammad’s example) as foundational but differ on the importance of consensus in collective scholarly reasoning (ijma) and individual analogical reasoning (qiyas). The most conservative school, Hanbali, tends to emphasize the Qur’an and sunna and is suspicious of ijma andqiyas, while the most liberal, Hanafi, tends to emphasize qiyas and individual opinion.
Wahhabi and Salafi thought in their modern expression derive from Islamic jurist-theologians Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) and Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792). They are both renowned students and teachers of the Hanbali school of law. Salafi teaching upholds the first three generations of Muslim history (salaf) as sacrosanct alongside the prophetic example. Not all Salafis are Wahhabis. The latter brand any practice or teaching later than the third century of Islam (salaf) as satanic innovation (bida‘). Wahhabism is the most literalist and iconoclastic branch of Hanbalism, which itself is the most conservative of the four main schools. For instance, while other Muslims might urge abstention from alcohol, Wahhabis also prohibit stimulants, including tobacco. Not only is modest dress prescribed but also the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women (a black abaya, covering all but the eyes and hands). Religious education includes training in the use of weapons. Wahhabism emphasizes the importance of avoiding non-Islamic cultural practices and non-Muslim fraternity on the grounds that the sunna and the central importance of Muhammad as exemplar forbid imitating non-Muslims. Wahhabi scholars have warned against taking non-Muslims as friends and against smiling at or even wishing them well on their holidays.
Since the oil boom of the 1970s and ’80s, Saudi Arabia, whose official creed is Wahhabi Islam, has exported Wahhabism to parts of Africa, Asia, and the West through scholarships and the funding of radical mosques, preachers, and groups. Al-Qaeda is a direct spinoff of Wahhabi Islam, and IS an outgrowth from al-Qaeda, while the origins of Boko Haram lie in a network of Wahhabi-Salafi groups in Nigeria. This religious context provides the framework for justifying violence. Jihadists quote from Islamic scripture, prophetic traditions, and legal opinions to support their claims and activities. Jihad against non-Muslims and the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be killed are in fact based on Islamic law. The same is true of the tactic of capturing women and children as war booty and keeping or disposing of them as slaves. Islam also promises rewards and pleasures awaiting the martyr. It is therefore simplistic if not misleading to argue that groups like IS and Boko Haram have nothing to do with Islam.
Nevertheless, it is equally misleading to argue that the jihadi groups represent the true face of Islam. While the legal and doctrinal edicts that the jihadists cite are integral parts of Islamic law, the jihadists without question violate that law by taking it into their own hands. Their failure to consider the conditions necessary for the declaration of jihad, as well as for its proper conduct, provides an obvious example. Questions of which groups can be targeted, and of how and toward what end, are enormously complicated and sharply qualified in the authoritative legal texts. For instance, all four Sunni schools of law, including the Hanbali school, agree that the declaration of jihad can be justified for the sake of preserving or extending the government of an Islamic state. Therefore, as is the case in Christian just-war theory, in which the power to declare war is carefully limited to governments, in Islamic law only legitimate Islamic governments can declare a jihad, not individuals or nonstate actors. An exception is made when a Muslim land comes under attack or occupation by an enemy force, which renders jihad or resistance an individual responsibility. But even then, jihad has to have been formally declared by the legitimate authority properly representing the people of the occupied nation. By declaring and conducting jihad on their own, al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, and other such groups act as heretical usurpers. Read the full article here http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/01/challenging-radical-islam