Is Islam a Religion of Peace in the Modern World?

John ArmstrongIslam

Most international peace keepers agree with the idea of bringing international forces into the south of Lebanon to end Hezbollah’s decade-long reign. What is unresolved is how to accomplish this and when. What is not surprising here, at least to me, is the growing evidence that a groundswell of support for Hezbollah is growing in the Arab world. Originally regional Arab governments criticized Hezbollah for provoking this present conflict but that response is virtually muted after several weeks of intense fighting. Even in the United States voices agianst Israel are also growing louder by the day. It is odd to me that we can justify “defending” America when it is attacked by Islamic terrorists but if Israel defends itself this is seen in the world’s opinion as a militant nation that must stop all such action to defend itself.

As an illiustration of my point Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, one of the country’s most influential religious leaders, described Hezbollah raids on Israel as a "defense of its country and not terrorism." But Hezbollah doesn’t even have a country and its goals are openly stated in terrorist terms that are aimed at destroying Israel completely.

Egyptian cleric Sheik Youssef el-Qaradawi, one of most prominent Sunni religious scholars in the Arab world who lives in Qatar, issued a religious edict saying that support for the guerrillas was "a religious duty of every Muslim." This is not the statement of the militant leader of a group of guerillas but the word of a prominent Sunni religious scholar. Can you imagine Billy Graham or a Mark Noll issuing such a statement from Christian leadership or scholarship in the West? The thought, of course, is ludicrous precisely because we have an entirely different mindset about these matters.

Does anyone doubt that the overwhelming belief of Muslim clerics is that Hezbollah is in the right in this conflict and Israel should be destroyed, or at least resisted violently as a “religious duty”? Who is kidding who? Hezbollah exists for this purpose and its violence will not cease through simple good will and pacifistic talk. The problem for Israel is simple—how do you protect yourself against these kinds of attacks when the enemy lives among the civilian population of a neighboring country that seems unwilling, or perhaps powerless, to do anything at all to root these militants out.

The Associated Press reported today that Hezbollah intends to escalate the battle by announcing that it used a new type of rocket to strike the northern Israeli town of Afula. This rocket, a Khaibar-1, is named after the site of a historic battle between Islam’s prophet Muhammad and Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula. Again, is there any doubt that in the minds of millions of Muslims, especially thousands of clerics, this present struggle is part and parcel of a centuries old battle to oppose Jews everywhere? Please do not try to tell me that most Muslim clerics, at least in the Middle East, are peace-loving ministers promoting tolerance. This view of things is hopelessly naïve.

Hezbollah is clear about what it wants to do in the Middle East. In a statement issued yesterday it said: "With this, the Islamic Resistance begins a new stage of fighting, challenge and confrontation with a strong determination and full belief in God’s victory.” The problem is that Islamic Resistance is woven closely with Islam itself and thus Islam is itself part and parcel of this type of thinking. Though I wish I could arrive at a different conclusion I believe Islam is not, at least historically, a peace-loving religion that has been hijacked by a few modern militants. It is inherently a religious worldview at war with the modern world and the values of democracy and freedom. Make no mistake about this—Israel is anything but a perfect state. It denies rights to some and does not consistently practice what it affirms constitutionally (which nation does?). But the truth is clear. Israel is the only constitutionally-based free state in the Middle East.

As I have written elsewhere Islam has never had a reformation as we experienced in the West among Christians, thus Islam has never renewed itself religiously or intellectually in light of the modern world. (Again, there are exceptions to this statement but it is a general truth beyond real question.) A reformation is desperately needed within Islam and every one who loves peace ought to pray that this will happen sooner than later. I see no evidence, however, that this is happening now, except in a few academic towers in the West. Christians ought to foster such dialogue among earnest open Muslims as the friends of peace. But do not be deceived, Islam itself is not anywhere near having a peaceful co-existing spirit toward Israel, the West or our basic ideals of freedom.