How is “Islamist terrorism” a “perversion of a great faith”? The learned imam Theresa May did not bother to explain. For her and her ilk, it is self-evident.
Yet one might get the impression that violence against unbelievers is not at all a perversion of Islam from the authoritative sources in Sunni Islam, the schools of Sunni jurisprudence (madhahib):
Shafi’i school: A Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that was certified in 1991 by the clerics at Al-Azhar University, one of the leading authorities in the Islamic world, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, stipulates about jihad that “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by Sheikh Nuh Ali Salman, a Jordanian expert on Islamic jurisprudence: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)…while remaining in their ancestral religions.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.8).
Of course, there is no caliph today, unless one believes the claims of the Islamic State, and hence the oft-repeated claim that Osama et al are waging jihad illegitimately, as no state authority has authorized their jihad. But they explain their actions in terms of defensive jihad, which needs no state authority to call it, and becomes “obligatory for everyone” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.3) if a Muslim land is attacked. The end of the defensive jihad, however, is not peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims as equals: ‘Umdat al-Salik specifies that the warfare against non-Muslims must continue until “the final descent of Jesus.” After that, “nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent” (o9.8).
Hanafi school: A Hanafi manual of Islamic law repeats the same injunctions. It insists that people must be called to embrace Islam before being fought, “because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith.” It emphasizes that jihad must not be waged for economic gain, but solely for religious reasons: from the call to Islam “the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war.”
However, “if the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax [jizya], it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.” (Al-Hidayah, II.140)
Maliki school: Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a pioneering historian and philosopher, was also a Maliki legal theorist. In his renowned Muqaddimah, the first work of historical theory, he notes that “in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with “power politics,” because Islam is “under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
Hanbali school: The great medieval theorist of what is commonly known today as radical or fundamentalist Islam, Ibn Taymiyya (Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, 1263-1328), was a Hanbali jurist. He directed that “since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.”
This is also taught by modern-day scholars of Islam. Majid Khadduri was an Iraqi scholar of Islamic law of international renown. In his book War and Peace in the Law of Islam, which was published in 1955 and remains one of the most lucid and illuminating works on the subject, Khadduri says this about jihad:
The state which is regarded as the instrument for universalizing a certain religion must perforce be an ever expanding state. The Islamic state, whose principal function was to put God’s law into practice, sought to establish Islam as the dominant reigning ideology over the entire world….The jihad was therefore employed as an instrument for both the universalization of religion and the establishment of an imperial world state. (P. 51)
Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad. In his 1994 book The Methodology of Ijtihad, he quotes the twelfth century Maliki jurist Ibn Rushd: “Muslim jurists agreed that the purpose of fighting with the People of the Book…is one of two things: it is either their conversion to Islam or the payment of jizyah.” Nyazee concludes: “This leaves no doubt that the primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizya] is to be exercised only after subjugation” of non-Muslims.
All this makes it clear that there is abundant reason to believe that violence against unbelievers is not a perversion of Islam. It would be illuminating if Theresa May or someone around her produced some quotations from Muslim authorities she considers “authentic,” and explained why the authorities I’ve quoted above and others like them are inauthentic. While in reality there is no single Muslim authority who can proclaim what is “authentic” Islam, and thus it would be prudent not to make sweeping statements about what “authentic Islam” actually is, clearly there are many Muslims who believe that violence against unbelievers is not a perversion of Islam.
One might also get the impression that violence against unbelievers is not a perversion of Islam from these Qur’an verses:
2:191-193: “And kill them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is worse than slaughter. But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, kill them — such is the recompense of unbelievers, but if they give over, surely Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s; then if they give over, there shall be no enmity save for evildoers.”
4:34: “Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that Allah has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for Allah’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; Allah is All-high, All-great.”
4:89: “They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and kill them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”
5:33: “This is the recompense of those who fight against Allah and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement.”
8:12: “When thy Lord was revealing to the angels, ‘I am with you; so confirm the believers. I shall cast into the unbelievers’ hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!”
8:39: “Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely; then if they give over, surely Allah sees the things they do.”
8:60: “Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to strike terror thereby into the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them that you know not; Allah knows them. And whatsoever you expend in the way of Allah shall be repaid you in full; you will not be wronged.”
9:5: “Then, when the sacred months are over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”
9:29: “Fight those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, and do not practice 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.”
9:111: “Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon Allah in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran; and who fulfils his covenant truer than Allah? So rejoice in the bargain you have made with Him; that is the mighty triumph.”
9:123: “O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you; and let them find in you a harshness; and know that Allah is with the godfearing.”
47:4: “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads. So it shall be; and if Allah had willed, He would have avenged Himself upon them; but that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will not send their works astray.”
There are some tolerant verses in the Qur’an as well — see, for example, sura 109. But then in Islamic tradition there are authorities who say that violent passages take precedence over these verses. Muhammad’s earliest biographer, an eighth-century Muslim named Ibn Ishaq, explains the progression of Qur’anic revelation about warfare. First, he explains, Allah allowed Muslims to wage defensive warfare. But that was not Allah’s last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur’anic verse: “Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s’, i.e. Until God alone is worshipped.”
The Qur’an verse Ibn Ishaq quotes here (2:193) commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until “the religion is God’s” — that is, until Allah alone is worshipped. Ibn Ishaq gives no hint that that command died with the seventh century.
The great medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350) also outlines the stages of the Muhammad’s prophetic career: “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.”
In other words, he initially could fight only defensively — only “those who fought him” — but later he could fight the polytheists until Islam was “fully established.” He could fight them even if they didn’t fight him first, and solely because they were not Muslim.
Nor do all contemporary Islamic thinkers believe that that command is a relic of history. According to a 20th century Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, “at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory.” He also distinguishes two groups Muslims must fight: “(1) against them who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims) . . . (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah . . . as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah (II), Al-Imran (III) and At-Taubah (IX) . . . and other Surahs (Chapters of the Qur’an).” (The Roman numerals after the names of the chapters of the Qur’an are the numbers of the suras: Sheikh Abdullah is referring to Qur’anic verses such as 2:216, 3:157-158, 9:5, and 9:29.)
Here again, obviously there is a widespread understanding of the Qur’an within Islamic tradition that sees it, and Islam, as mandating violence against unbelievers. And we see Muslims who clearly understand their religion as mandating violence against unbelievers acting upon that understanding around the world today. So will Theresa May defend her claim? Of course not.
“Islamic State claims responsibility for London car, knife attack that left four dead,” by Jill Lawless, Associated Press, March 23, 2017:
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Thursday for an attack by a man who plowed an SUV into pedestrians on a crowded London bridge and then stabbed a police officer to death on the grounds of Britain’s Parliament.
The attacker was born in Britain and known to authorities who had once investigated him for links to religious extremism, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday in a sweeping speech in which she also encouraged Britons to go about their lives.
The Islamic State group said through its Aamaq News Agency that the attacker was a soldier of the Islamic State who “carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting citizens of the coalition” of countries fighting IS in Syria and Iraq. In addition to the police officer and the attacker, who was shot by police, two people died on Westminster Bridge and at least 30 others were injured, seven critically.
British officials did not release the attacker’s identity or confirm a link with the Islamic State group, though May did say it would be wrong to describe the attack as “Islamic” extremism.
“It is Islamist terrorism,” she said. “It is a perversion of a great faith.”