Islam (الإِسْلاَمُ) is a stated ambition to Islamise all others into the influence of [the] Shari’ah (شريعة).

Islam (الإِسْلاَمُ) is a stated ambition to Islamise all others into the influence of [the] Shari’ah (شريعة).

What is Islam? What informs Islam? Why is Islam seen as a violent religious belief system by some people? Alternatively, else, why is Islam called a religion of peace by others? How is it possible to have two diametrically opposing views of the same belief system?

Ordinarily, a religious belief system is judged by the conduct of its adherents. So that if Muslims are violent, radical, exrteme or else zealous, and hold attitudes that are at variance with a liberal western democratic society, then Islam will be defined by the actions and attitudes of Muslims, in those terms. On the other hand, if Muslims are tolerant and thoughtful, given to true works and uphold the peace, then Islam will be seen as tolerant and peaceful. It is unlikely that many Christians would disagree with this general principle as a basis for expressing a liberal and just attitude toward Muslims. However, this does not mean to say that if Muslims are decent, right minded and tolerant, that Islam is of the same character. Similarly, if Muslims are radical and hateful, that may not of itself mean that Islam is inherently radical and hateful.

Unfortunately, it is precisely in this way that many people judge Islam. The effect of this is that people are left confused and incapable of forming a proper judgement. Even a casual look at Islam will tell us that Islam has a serious problem with radicalism. At the same time, those Muslims we personally know are often lovely people with a seeming sincere faith. It is my contention that the best way to understand Islam is to understand the mind that is behind Islam. If we do that, then it becomes immediately clear that Islam is dualistic. For every instance of tolerance and acceptable tradition in the Shari’ah (Islamic Law), we can find an opposing view as well. To quote Dr Bill Warner of The Center for the Study of Political Islam “Islamic dualism is hidden by religion. The “good” verses of the Meccan Koran cover the verses of jihad in the Medinan Koran. Thus religious Islam shields political Islam from examination.

This Islamic dualism is easily understood when viewed through a spiritual lens, and this view of Islam is best seen positively in the first instance, rather than negatively. What I mean by this, is rather than viewing Islam as either radical or tolerant it is best to see Islam as Islam sees itself. Indeed, the very character of all religious belief is that it is God who determines who He is, and it is God who establishes the basis for acquiring that knowledge. Therefore, if we lay hold of a universal attitude and agree that it is God that discloses God, then we can look beyond individuals and thereby remove ourselves from the need to judge individual Muslims. Instead, we can make a rational and proper judgement of Islam.

What this amounts to is a setting aside of preconceived ideas about people, their actions and their supposed beliefs. Instead, we can take the view, that belief in God is ordinary, so that how one expresses that belief, at its heart, means a desire to please God. When our focus becomes a first acceptance that religious people everywhere essentially desire to please God, then God Himself becomes our concern. That means that we can move outside of a confused landscape of opinions, and enter into a spiritual space where we can attribute a desire to please God as a causal factor in the behaviour of those who claim to have a clear belief in God and are following His direction in life according to God Himself.

It is essential in my opinion to also recognise that there is such a thing as a primitive faith in God, without necessarily having a formal understanding of God. Many people who are called Muslim may have no more real knowledge of Islam than to hold to a belief in God. The same thing is true for many who would call themselves Christians. Likewise, many others similarly hold to a basic belief in the existence of God and yet have no personal knowledge of God outside of a universal hope that God is good. That basic conviction is all that some people need to moderate their own conduct in life. Whether they are natural born Muslims or else are born into a Christian family or even a Hindu family, the idea that good behaviour is rewarded, and that poor conduct is punished, is a universal character of a belief in God.

The one word that sums up this way of thinking is spiritual. It is precisely because all humans have a spirit, that we are able to know that God is [a] Spirit also. If God, who is [a] Spirit, establishes the principle of right or wrong conduct, then taking account of that revelation of God, is itself, a spiritual activity. The clear weakness in this presentation is that when people behave in a way that is harmful to others, are we to say that God is harmful if those same people also believe in God?

In Two Minds

In addressing the adverse actions of given Muslims, whom some call radical or else fundamental, I find that they are in the character of those who opposed Christ in his day. Islam claims to hold Christ as a prophet of Islam, and yet Islam has within its folds a religious zeal and orthodoxy that is very much of the same attitude found in the leading religious men who knew Jesus personally, and who intentionally set about to destroy him. The unexpected direction of that knowledge, from a strictly religious position, is that we are required to recognise that radical Islam is an undoubted timeless enterprise informed by a spiritual mind. How do we know that? When religious people hate others, they do it for religious reasons. There is no more an unyielding spirit of malice that can be found in those, who, desiring to destroy others, do so believing that they are serving God. One word that we could use to make that mind accessible is the term intolerant. The term itself is a political term but its meaning is useful for our purposes. 

The number one political buzz word in the UK today is tolerance. If people are tolerant, then we imagine that everything will be okay. Intolerance, on the other hand, is said to be hateful. Being labelled hateful is conceivably the worst possible public censure than one can experience. After all, if a person is found to be hateful then what is there to concern anyone if that person is then maligned in public as deserving of contempt; who in some minds are to be  attacked, ostracised, verbally abused and scapegoated for all of societies ills? How will they defend themselves? No one will look twice at them, and even children will participate in their demise. Then when all is finished, and the odious malefactor is finally crushed and broken, whether into repentant submission or else rebellious chains, their accusers will turn away and feel that they have done an excellent job. Perhaps the only surprising element in this statement is the knowledge that it is an ordinary thing for people to react in this way. To say so is not an accusation. It is a fact of human nature to desire to press upon others, who being found guilty of hate, that same guilt which we ourselves feel because we too are hateful in seasons.

Clearly, in this narrative, two minds are being described. There is the spirit of those individuals who for reasonable motives express an idea that is quickly laid hold of by others in society. These people become accusers and serve to mitigate the likely restraint of a liberal and decent society to be unduly vocal in their condemnations, yet having a duty to resist all hateful and malicious speech. Then there is the mind of the one who is said to be hateful. We do not need to examine individuals’ minds and motives, however, we do have to look at what could be called the collective mind.

It isn’t difficult to recognise the specific words and actions of a particular person. If a person incites hatred and malice and deliberately sets about to cause disorder and disunity among peoples, then it is not difficult to see the individual at work. Similarly, it is an easy matter to recognise the one who speaks out to inform society of that which is harmful to its cohesion and stability. This cohesion and stability are called, the peace. The one who is hateful is said to be divisive, and their words and actions are said to disturb the peace. The one who speaks to maintain the peace holds that they must articulate societies’ concerns because the overwhelming majority of people may feel unable to express their concerns, themselves. Regardless of which mind is speaking, however, the greatest challenge is how to understand the unity and direction that a group can take; which for the sake of clarity we could call, execution; because it is this executive will and charge of the group, that delivers the outcome when the crowd swings into action. The crowd is a surer measure of what mind is at work.

The Eternal City

We can see this effect at the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Pilate made it very clear that his desire was to release Jesus back to the people (John 19:13-15). He stated this in explicit terms and regarded the accusations of the Pharisees and Sadducees to be based on envy. What Pilate could not have understood in making that offer was that a mind was at work in the crowd that would prove equal to the mind at work in Jesus’ accusers? When given an opportunity to do the right thing, the people, being suddenly found in that mind, would demand the same outcome as the Pharisees were themselves demanding? We are told from the New Testament account that Pilate yielded to that mind on the basis that he realised that a riot was about to take place (Mt 27:24).

This same crowd of people had witnessed Jesus throughout his ministry; they had seen evidence of his decency, his compassion and his general goodness; they had benefited from his miraculous gift, and they had benefited from his understanding of the onerous burden that the Pharisees and Sadducees laid upon the people. There are numerous instances in the New Testament where the Pharisees and Sadducees made attempts to incite the crowds to stone Jesus to death. On one of these occasions, Jesus asked the question for which sin do you stone me? (Jn 10:32). The reply was clear and unequivocal. The Pharisees wanted to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy, because, being, in their words, a mere man, Jesus made himself equal with God (Jn 10:33). That denotes a religious motivation, and it follows that the sentence of stoning would be an ecclesiastical sentence.

When Pontius Pilate tried Jesus, he did so on the grounds of a complaint brought by the chief priests and Judaic scholars. Having failed to kill Jesus by a religious incitement using their religious office and position as an authority, they then changed tack and sought to bring legal charges under Roman law. The charge was twofold. Firstly it was a claim that Jesus had attempted to incite the people to withhold paying taxes to Caesar. The second charge was that Jesus had declared himself King of the Jews. The first of these charges was unprovable; the second was a material fact. Pontius Pilate heard the charges, and despite that Jesus offered no defence, Pilate found Jesus to be innocent of any crime (Lk 23:3-4).

Pilate realised that whilst the charges were a matter of Roman law the motive for bringing the charges was envy (Mt 27:18). Pilate also had reason to know that Jesus was a popular figure (Lk 22:1-6). To that end when it became apparent that the chief priests and leaders of Israel would not withdraw the charges, Pilate took the step of addressing the people in terms that he believed would serve a just outcome. He firstly extended an invitation to the people to receive back to themselves, Jesus, as their king. When that was defeated (John 19:12) he further executed a tradition wherein the people themselves could choose between two condemned prisoners, and decide which of the two would be released. The choice was either to release Jesus, called the Messiah, or Jesus Barabbas.

In just a few hours the people had been moved from a position of holding Jesus in high regard, clearly seen by the fact that the chief priests had to wait to arrest Jesus away from the crowds for fear of reprisals. The chief priests and scribes pressed the legal charge and even reminded Pilate that if he released Jesus, then he was no friend of Caesar. Washing his hands of the blood of condemning an innocent man, and expressing disbelief that the chief priests wanted Jesus crucified, the people then settled the matter by proclaiming in a loud voice, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!”

We are now in a place where we can begin to address my original brief which I expressed in the introduction as, look[ing] beyond the visible attributes of religious belief, both ideologically and physically, to discern spiritual substance. I also said, Religious belief systems have at their heart an orthodoxy. That is to say; all religious belief systems have a written record, a point of origin, and a prophetic voice. Finally, I said, The term fundamentalism ought to mean that which pertains to the central orthodoxy of a given faith. That orthodoxy is essentially defined through the written account. It stands to reason therefore that a knowledge of the written account is the only accurate way of establishing what a fundamental view of any given belief system is.

Robert Chisholm

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