Political Islam: 10 questions


Recently I taught a course on “Islam and Current Events” at Denver Seminary. I taught the intensive course the week of June 22-26, 2015 – seven hours a day, each day. On the fourth day, one of my students came to class in the morning and he was obviously distraught. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that the previous night he had watched an ISIL video where men were murdered; not through decapitation, but through other disgusting ways. I asked him to send me the link, and I watched it. This was the first time that I watched an ISIL video where the execution was fully shown and the ugly segment was not cut out by the U.S. media. The following night I couldn’t sleep. It was disgusting and I could only conclude that it was something driven by the demonic. 

The name of the operation that started the Iraq War in 2003 was “Shock and Awe.” It seems that ISIL decapitates some of their prisoners for the purposes of shock and awe. They want to communicate the message that they can outmatch the United States Air Force, Navy and Army in producing shock and awe. Furthermore, the orange color of the uniforms that the prisoners wear before their execution is a reminder to the West that the Muslim prisoners at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wear the same orange uniforms. At the time of its establishment in January 2002, the prison camp in Guantanamo was established to detain dangerous persons and interrogate them without bringing them into the U.S. judicial system. 

It seems that since decapitation has started to lose its shock and awe value, ISIL is now resorting to other more shocking means. The video I watched showed three sets of four men each, being executed through  burning, drowning and explosives. 

The people of the Middle East, and especially in Iraq and Syria, are facing unimaginable horrors. So I looked at the Scriptures for comfort after my terrible experience with that video, and the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament came to mind. It was most probably written by the prophet Jeremiah, where he described the devastation of the city of Jerusalem after the invasion by Babylon in 586 BC. Lamentations 4:9-10 summarizes the horror that the people of Jerusalem experienced after the Babylonian invasion. “Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field. With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.” Jeremiah was devastated by the horror, but he did not lose his mind because he had hope. I will return to the text on hope at the end of this blog; in the mean time, what can we learn from the situation of our broken world? 

In my next blogs, I am going to share with you ten critical questions that my friend Colin Chapman addressed in a presentation at a meeting in London, England, on June 16, 2015,  when the main speaker was David Garrison, author of A Wind in the House of Islam. I have known Colin since the early 1980s, when we were both in Egypt. For years I used his book Whose Promised Land as required reading at all the seminaries where I teach. In the last two years, I have replaced that book with another book written by him titled Cross and Crescent. This book is now required reading at all the seminaries where I teach. I recommend both books to you. They are the kind of books that are worth reading more than once. 

Upon reading Chapman’s presentation, I found myself agreeing with most of what he wrote. Reading his concise responses to these ten questions will add clarity to what is happening in our world. Here are the ten important and basic questions.   

1. What do we mean by “Political Islam” and how does it differ from other kinds of Islam?

2. Is Islam essentially more political than Christianity?

3. Why has political Islam become so significant in recent years?

4. Where has ISIS (ISIL) come from?

5. Is it true to say “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam” or to say “ISIS is nearest to real Islam than moderate Islam?” 

6. Some say that the root of the problem is Islamic scripture and dogma, while others say it’s a matter of history and politics. Is it either/or or both/and? 

7. Is political Islam always likely to tend toward violence?

8. What are the other faces of political Islam today?

9. What are the most appropriate responses to political Islam? 

10. What are the most appropriate Christian responses to political Islam? 

In my next three blogs those ten questions will be addressed by Colin Chapman.

As Jeremiah reflected on the total destruction of Jerusalem after the Babylonian invasion, he acknowledged his feelings and discouragements in personal language in Lamentations 3:1-20. (God wants us to acknowledge our feelings. Suppressing them or getting carried away by them is not healthy). Then Jeremiah chose the right attitude in verse 21, as he reminded himself of a fact on which his hope is built, and that is the reason he did not lose his mind. The fact is stated in Lamentations 3:22-23: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Imagine if you have a bank account that every morning gets replenished, no matter how much you spent the day before. It seems that in those very difficult days in Jerusalem, Jeremiah lived one day at a time. Each day he could count on God’s everlasting love and mercy, which was fully sufficient for that day. Then the following morning he had new mercies sufficient for that day, and on and on. In Lamentations 3:24, Jeremiah points out that it was this fact that he kept reminding himself of and meditating on, and that was why he did not lose hope or lose his mind. So the fact that appears in verses 22-23 is sandwiched between verses 21 and 24, which describe a conscious decision on the part of Jeremiah to choose the right attitude. He did not leave it to his feelings and when they would change; instead, he chose actively to remind himself to meditate and to renew his mind. He chose the right attitude after he acknowledged his feelings. And we can do the same when we look at our broken world. 

Dr. Nabeel Jabbour