Thursday, August 21, 2008

Part XV: Islam and the Sword of the Religion

One of the most heated discussions I have had with a Muslim was about the topic of the sword. "The problem is that you believe in the sword of the religion, but we (Christians) know that there is no sword of the religion! Jesus said that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword."

The sword of the religion is a prominent theme in Islamic thinking. In fact one might name his son saif-iddiin--Arabic for Sword of the Religion. Indeed the name of the son of Libya's ruler: Saif al-Islam Kadafi: Sword of Islam Kadafi. It is there on the flag of Saudi Arabia beneath the Islamic confession that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet. There are also some hadiiths, or sayings from the life of Muhammad, on the sword:

"Paradise is in the shade of swords," embodies well the philosophy that paradise is a reward to be won by the use of the sword. (Sahih Al Bukhari, Jihad, 22:73)

Or this one, also from Al Bukhari, "Allah marvels at those who enter paradise in chains." While not explicitly using the word sword, one finds here the conviction that those who are enslaved by Islamic conquests and so receive Islam are have somehow been graced by Allah.

Being very fond of his swords Muhammad named them: Dhu al Faqar, Al Battar (which originally belonged to King David, according to one tradition), Al Ma'thur, Al Rasub, and so on (he owned and named nine swords).

Muhammad as a political leader was at times very diplomatic and humble. But at times we see a robust and some might say ruthless exercise of violence for the sake of maintaining and furthering his own domain and authority. While the non-Muslim may see this sanctification of violence and slaughter as an abuse of religion, we must remember that for the orthodox Muslim the domain and will of Muhammad are synonymous with the domain and will of God. Marking out a boundary between the will and action of Muhammad and the will and action of God is something that Islamic scholarship has been neither desirous nor able to do. For this reason several ex-Muslims call their former religion "the worship of Muhammad."

But whatever the reason may be, there is no recognition of a difference between Muhammad's will and Allah's will in Islam. Because of this the vigorous use of violence--the sword of the religion--in Islam emerges as an element of worship, gaining a sort of sacramental aura. In Christianity a sacrament is "an outward sign of an inward grace." And in Islam the presence and use of the sword of the religion, especially when it leads to the successful imposition of the will of its wielder, must be construed a sure sign of the presence and favor of Allah.

To allow Muslims to enter and reproduce in a country, as we especially see in Europe, while expecting them to lay down the sword of the religion, is to fundamentally misunderstand Islam. The sword of the religion is an essential part of Islam because it was essential to the success of Muhammad, himself the ideal man, the perfect man. There is no presupposition that violence is bad in Islam. VIolence when used for the cause of Allah is in fact a great good as it leads to the triumph of Islam and the shari'a. To expect a sudden wave of un-Islamic pacifism to envelope Muslims in non-Muslim countries is the worse sort of hypocrisy.

The strategic use of violence is and always will be near the heart of Islam, and conservative Islamic scholars today recognize few limitations in the use of said violence against non-Muslims. In fact Muslims who do not hold to their devout, strict (and accurate I would say) construal of Islamic practice make themselves kuffaar--unbelievers--thus surrendering their right to live. In other words, many people we would call Muslim are valid targets for the sword of the religion. This is how, for example, Al Qaeda can declare a Jihad on the leader of Pakistan, General Musharraf. Moreover his supporters, by supporting a leader who is not validly Muslim, forfeit their right to live as well. The name of this practice of Islamic excommunication is called takfiir, and is becoming more and more common.

All of this means that silly mantra that "Muslims condemn the murder of innocent civilians," is almost a meaningless statement. It must be followed by questions like, "Who precisely are innocent?" and "Who precisely are civilians?" There are scholars who would say that NO American tax payer is innocent, for he supports the military in its oppression of Muslims by the simple act of paying taxes. Other scholars have explained that since all Israeli Jews will eventually be part of the Israeli military, Israeli Jewish children can not be classified as civilians, rather they are legitimate military targets for the sword of the religion.

Words are slippery things. One man's jihad is another man's terrorism. One man's holy warrior (mujaahid) is another man's criminal. One man's moderate Muslim is another man's apostate who must be killed. As a gesture of trust and dialogue it is important to always ask for clarification of meanings when discussing these things.

Why? Among most Christians to say "the sword of Christianity" would be met with distaste and conjure recollections of a few isolated historical events. But for Muslims the sword of the religion is the sovereignty of Allah working out the slow but sure submission of the world.

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