- Some religious and secular scholars say Islamic belief
does not require terrorism in the defense of the faith, and some argue
that while the rigid orthodoxy of certain Muslim movements leads inevitably
to conflict, Jewish and Christian Scripture also have a place for violence
- Other scholars disagree, arguing that this is merely
a facile argument of theological equivalency.
- "I reject the idea that there is something more
inherently violent in Islam than in Christianity or Judaism," says
Milton Viorst, author of "In the Shadow of the Prophet," a study
of Islam. "The extremists are fed by a feeling of oppression, not
by the dogma of Islam." But Patrick Sookhdeo, director of London's
Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, while decrying attempts
to blame Islam for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, rebuts
the argument of theological equivalency.
- "Many horrific acts have been, and continue to be,
perpetrated in the name of Islam, just as they have in the name of
he writes in London's Daily Telegraph. "But unlike Islam, Christianity
does not justify the use of all forms of violence." He cites as
"Sura 9, verse 5 of the Koran, [which reads] 'Then fight and slay
the Pagans wherever ye find them. And seize them, beleaguer them. And lie
in wait for them, in every stratagem." Others note that this, like
biblical Scripture, is open to misinterpretation and distortion.
- Mr. Viorst argues in his book that a millennium ago
political forces determined that Islam would reject a rational element
that could have helped it cope with modernity. Instead, a traditionalism
curbed economic development, creating a gap with the West that today fans
resentments and extremism.
- "The problem is not Islam, it is the orthodox
that discourages intellectual creativity," he said.
- President Bush, fearful that anger over the terrorist
attacks on the nation could lead to attacks on innocent Muslims, this week
echoed Muslim teaching that the faith is dedicated to peace by
to God. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, who arrived in
yesterday to confer with the president, repeated similar cautions in
- Some Western religionists note that, like Jews and
Muslims are taught to believe in a cosmos in which God rewards good and
punishes evil, and is merciful to human appeals.
- The first of "five pillars" of Islam is its
claim of monotheism, or belief in one God: "There is no God but God,
and Muhammad is the messenger of God." The other pillars are to pray
five times daily, give to charity, observe the daytime fasting month of
Ramadan, and take a pilgrimage to Mecca.
- A sixth pillar in some branches of Islam, which have
developed over 1,400 years in many political settings, has been
a word in the Koran that means personal "effort" to improve or
to wage war against aggressors.
- "Scriptural interpretation is always tricky,"
says Barbara Stowasser, director of the Center for Contemporary Arab
at Georgetown University.
- "For example, you can find a scriptural basis for
absolute repression or for democracy in the Bible. 'Jihad' means a just
war that responds to aggression, so the terrorist acts would not qualify
as jihad," she said. "In Islamic law, jihad can only come from
a consensus." Though the world's more than 1 billion Muslims all
to the Koran in one degree or another, consensus can be hard to identify.
Islam has no central earthly authority or council, which has led to much
disagreement or flexibility on what the Koran demands.
- The Koran is made up of 6,666 verses, believed by Muslims
to come from intermittent revelations Muhammad recited over 22 years. But
only a few hundred verses are legally precise. The act of interpretation,
or "hadith," is diverse across Islam.
- Many experts on Islam argue that social frustration more
than doctrine has produced the modern violence in Islam, though on the
grounds of doctrinal purity, jihad often has been waged by Muslim against
- But in the Muslim faith, argues Mr. Sookhdeo, "the
Koran is believed to be the very word of God, applying to all people, in
all times, in all places."
- There is no prohibition on killing no commandment such
as "thou shalt not kill" and, Mr. Sookhdeo says, "it was
through conquest that Islam spread. In Indonesia today, non-Muslims are
offered a choice of conversion to Islam or death." John O. Voll,
of "Makers of Contemporary Islam," says monotheists must see
what is common in their traditions so Islam is not unfairly singled
- "All these traditions have resources and
for being a martyr, a warrior, or a peaceful person" he says.
- But theological equivalence has gone too far for
- "Until recently," Mr. Sookhdeo wrote,
has had a negative and violent image in the West, but now the trend is
to focus on Islam as a religion of peace ... . Now that Islam is no longer
demonized, it seems it can do no wrong."
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