British Prime Minister Theresa May has raised her country’s terrorist threat level to critical, meaning that another attack may be imminent. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the horrendous bombing in Manchester.
In yesterday’s Daily Article, I stated that the attacker “does not represent Islam” and that “radicalized Muslims are a small minority of the larger Muslim world.” I noted that “they have killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims” and quoted a Muslim authority who condemned the attack in Manchester.
Some readers questioned my position, claiming that Islam is a religion of violence and that attacks such as the atrocity in England express its ideology. This is a common and urgent question. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world; clearly, we need to know if each of them represents a threat to the rest of us.
I have been studying Islam since serving as a missionary to the Muslim world while in college. I have written a book and numerous articles on radical Islam and taught world religions with four seminaries.
In my experience, the relationship between violence and Islam is a complicated one that cannot be explained fully in an essay as brief as this Daily Article. I’ve therefore written a paper on this issue titled Islam: A Religion of Violence or Peace? which you can read here. I’ll summarize my view briefly but hope you’ll refer to my longer essay for a fuller explanation.
The Qur’an was given to Muhammed in two phases. The first (AD 610–622) was received when he lived in Mecca and is known as the “Meccan phase.” It contains 124 commands for Muslims to tolerate those who do not share their faith, with statements such as “let there be no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256) and “to you be your way, and to me mine” (Qur’an 109:6).
The second came when he lived in Medina (AD 622–32) and is therefore known as the “Medina phase.” It requires Muslims to defend Islam (Qur’an 2:190, 192) and calls them to “fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them” (Qur’an 9:5). Many scholars describe radical Islamists as “Medina Muslims.”
Some Muslims follow the doctrine of “abrogation” (from Qur’an 2:106), claiming that the Medina revelations requiring violence supersede the Mecca teachings on tolerance. Others believe that each verse in the Qur’an must be accepted as equal in authority. Still others teach that the Medina verses were necessary for establishing Islam but are not authoritative today.
According to Gallup, only 7 percent of the Muslim world can be considered “radical” or “militant jihadist.” This does not mean that seven of every one hundred Muslims in America are radicalized. The percentage would be much higher in Egypt or Saudi Arabia and much lower in Morocco or the US.
This is still a frightening number, of course. Seven percent of 1.6 billion Muslims is 112 million jihadists. But it is not equivalent to the larger Muslim world.
It is difficult to claim that militant Islamists represent all Muslims when they are killing vast numbers of their fellow Muslims. We should also note Gallup’s report that tips from the Muslim-American community are the largest single source of initial information to authorities about terrorist plots. It is tragically true that radical Islamists can cite significant portions of the Qur’an in defense of their atrocities. But it is also true that many Muslim leaders have publicly rejected their theology and their crimes.
How should we respond? As I explain in my paper, we should cooperate with Mecca Muslims to defeat the radical ideology of Medina Muslims. We should work tirelessly to defend ourselves from jihadists who would commit further acts of terror against us. And we should pray daily for spiritual awakening to sweep the Muslim world.
Scripture says of Jesus, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Have you prayed today for Muslims to meet Jesus?