via Crisis Magazine
by William Kilpatrick
In reaction to the depredations of the Islamic State in Iraq, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement last week strongly condemning the militants. The statement also called on religious leaders, “especially Muslims,” to condemn the crimes and denounce “the use of religion to justify them.” “If not,” it asks, “what credibility will religions, their followers, and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?”
On the one hand, the statement is a positive sign. The veil of illusion about Islam, it appears, may at last be lifting. Since the Council for Interreligious Dialogue has probably done more than any other Catholic organization to keep alive the illusion that the Islamic faith is just like ours, it’s significant that they are calling on their Muslim counterparts to take a stand against Islamist aggression. Up until now, the Pontifical Council has been excessively concerned with the sensibilities of Islamic religious leaders. The new tone suggests a recognition that they also have a responsibility for the lives of Christians who are threatened by Islamists. With its detailed list of unacceptable Islamist practices, the statement indicates a willingness to take a more realistic view of Islam.
On the other hand, there are a few indications that illusions die hard. The statement is hedged with language which suggests that the bishops still don’t get it—“it” being a clear understanding of Islamic faith, tradition, and history. The main thing to grasp is that Islam is a political religion. It’s as much about power as about piety. Indeed, exercising your power over others is considered to be a valid expression of piety—as in the music videos on Al-Aqsa TV, which proclaim that “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.”
In several places, the statement calls on Islamic leaders to “condemn the use of religion as a false justification for terrorism.” “No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity,” says the document. That’s true if you equate “religion” with Christianity, but the religion of Islam can and does justify barbarity—although, from the Islamic point of view, what Allah commands is not barbarity, but simple justice.
The statement calls on “followers of all religions” to condemn a list of outrages committed by the Islamic State. It’s not clear, however, if the authors of the statement fully realize what they are asking. A devoted follower of the prophet can’t very well condemn these practices because most of them belong to the warp and woof of Islam. A Muslim who rejects them tears at the very fabric of the faith.
Take the first item on the list: “the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation.” It seems that all reasonable people could unite in condemning that one, but, as it turns out, the Koran contains numerous passages justifying the slaying of unbelievers simply because they are non-Muslims (e.g. 9:5, 9:29, 8:39, 9:123). Next on the list is “the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying, and hanging bodies in public places.” Yet verse 47:4 of the Koran says, “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads,” and Muhammad himself ordered the beheading of between 700 and 900 members of a Jewish tribe of Medina that had surrendered to his forces. Crucifixion? According to verse 5:33, “Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the land.”
The third item of condemnation is “the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of a tax (jizya), or forced exile.” In July, the Islamic State offered an ultimatum to Northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population: “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” Once again, this is no idiosyncratic interpretation invented by ISIS, but a well-established Islamic practice. Verse 9:29 of the Koran exhorts Muslims to fight Christians until they pay the jizya and feel themselves subdued, and the triple choice is spelled out in detail in one of the Hadith (the words and sayings of Muhammad):
When you meet your enemies who are polytheists [which includes Christians], invite them to three courses of action … [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them.… If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. (Sahih Muslim 19:4294)