The flaw in the Fatwa on the so-called Islamic State


“I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing”

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The flaw in the Fatwa on the so-called Islamic State

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This really is quite magnificent. To those who insist Muslims cannot or will not integrate with or conform to British values, customs and traditions, this fatwa (= religious opinion; not death sentence) constitutes a scholarly refutation, not least because it addresses directly the “poisonous ideology” of the Islamic State, and it does so theologically and quranically: there no Warsi-like knee-jerk repudiation that "these are not Muslims" or "this is not Islam". The "so-called 'Islamic State'" may be "heretical and extremist", but its heresy is inspired by the Qur'an and its extremism derives from the example of Mohammed. You may cavil over the reliability of historical sources or quibble over the extent of theological abrogation, but Mohammed was undoubtedly something of a warmonger and Allah does indeed command that unbelievers ought to be beheaded: "I shall cast into the unbelievers’ hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them" (Qur'an 8:12).

For the theologian and historian, context is important - or ought to be. If we cannot discern what biblical scholars have long called a scripture's Sitz im Leben ("setting in life"), our theological exposition may be distorted by the lens of our own time and the imposition of our own deficient moral perspectives.

There is no doubt that Mohammed used what today would be termed "murder" and "terrorism" in order to propagate his beliefs and spread his ideology (Qur'an 8.17; 33.26; 8.67). He pillaged towns without warning, slaughtered unarmed men who had gone to the fields and markets on their daily business, captured their wives and children, and is said to have distributed the younger women among his soldiers while always keeping the prettiest ones for himself and having sex with them in the same day he murdered their fathers, husbands and loved ones. These are not fables and nor are they the bigoted musings of those who may be termed "Islamophobic": it is history as recorded in the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith. Ergo the problems of the so-called Islamic State may be seen to find their inspiration in the example of the so-called Prophet, who is considered the template for perfect manhood.

Of course, the vast majority of British Muslim are peaceable and fraternal, and so take a more latitudinal view of such scriptures and seek to set them in their historical perspective. They would quote from the Qur’an passages like surah 2:190: "Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but do not begin hostilities, for God does not love aggressors." Their daily jihad is private and devotional: it is against the sins of the flesh and the temptations of this world. But for their more robust co-religionists, including members and supporters of the so-called Islamic State, their daily jihad is public and combative: it is against the heretics, infidels and the political power of the "Great Satan".

But those who use surah 2:190 to insist that Islam means "peace" are quoting out of context. This passage is from the sixth year of the Hijrah, when the Muslims were a strong and influential community, but not supreme. Mohammed ordered them to defend themselves against Meccan attacks, but not be aggressors because they had a treaty. Many of them were exiles from Mecca, where the pagans had established an intolerant autocracy, persecuting Muslims. When they tried to assert their rights, the result was bloodshed. This surah was therefore concerned with a specific period of self-preservation; it is not a blanket command regarding all acts of violence. Being bound by context in time and space, there are many who reasonably do not consider it to be an eternal injunction.

But this is where this British fatwa derives its essential inspiration. The "religious opinion" is expressed and signed by six leading Islamic leaders and scholars:
Sheikh Mohammad Shahid Raza OBE
Executive Secretary, Muslim Law (Shariah) Council of UK. Head Imam, Leicester Central Mosque.

Sheikh Qamaruzzaman Azmi
Secretary General, World Islamic Mission. Head Imam, Manchester Central Mosque.

Sheikh Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Co-Director, The Association of British Muslims.

Sheikh Dr Qari Mohammad Asim MBE
Head Imam, Makkah Masjid, Leeds.

Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan
Author, ISIS Fatwa. Former Imam, Masjid Al-Tawhid Mosque, Leyton. Head Theologian, Quilliam Foundation.

Mufti Abu Layth
Founder, The Islamic Council, UK.
Some prominent names and organisations are notable by their absence..

It's not quite like convening a Nicaea III ecumenical council and omitting to invite the Anglicans, but, just as the Mughals and Ottomans don't really cut it for the Islamic State, one doubts that this array of moderate sheiks and muftis hold much sway over their throat-slitting co-religionists. And there is no supreme theological authority to which a disputatious party can appeal other than to their own fatwa, which is merely an opinion of what is halal or haram. One Muslim's "poisonous ideology" is another Muslim's door to Jannah.  

These scholars instruct Muslims to live by the law of the land in which they reside, and they do so by making appeal to the Geneva Conventions and (essentially) to the established social contracts (/treaties) of the UK and EU. But the Islamist's allegiance is not to Geneva; nor is to the values of liberal democracy or European oligarchy. And their citizenship is neither in Britain nor Europe: they are bound by no secular polity of man-made law. And there is no uniform Islamic theology or jurisprudence: Sharia is divided, disparate and contextual.

Surely the imams of Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester and London know that?

Of course, we thank them for their wise and reasoned exhortation to the radicalised Muslim youth who prefer Jihad in Syria to weight training in the Islamic Youth Club of Wandsworth. But theology is a bit deeper than invoking secular treaties or plucking scriptures out of the air and seeking to bash them into a particular religio-political worldview. And what, in any case, is the political worth of a spiritual fatwa in a religious tradition that entertains taqiyya?

Archbishop Cranmer @ September 2, 2014

“I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing”

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Some images are just too awful to publish. It would be easy to scour the internet to find pictures of headless Christian children in Nigeria, summarily slaughtered by Boko Haram for no other reason than that they were not Muslim. Thousands have been and are being tortured and murdered, but our attention has been deflected by the horrors of Syria and Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State. It's rising in northern Nigeria, too. Whatever happened to 'Bring Back Our Girls'?

The Voice of the Martyrs reports the beheading of a six-year-old boy:
Over 100 militants dressed in military uniforms swarmed the predominantly Christian village just as Sunday church services were beginning on June 1. The rebels opened fire on the village and went after people with their machetes. 55-year-old Sawaltha Wandala witnessed the Boko Haram slaughtering children at a church as he arrived for the second service. He saw the men throw one child into a ditch. More concerned for the child than his own safety, he picked up the 6-year-old boy, who had survived being severely slashed, and immediately rushed to take the child to the hospital in Cameroon. Sawaltha was stopped by five insurgents, who grabbed the boy from his arms and beheaded him, before turning to beat Sawaltha with tree branches. They finished their attack striking him in the head with a large rock, leaving him for dead with blood running from his nose and mouth.

After decimating the village and sending residents fleeing, Boko Haram returned two days later in a second series of attacks on several other villages in the Gwoza district. The back to back attacks left an estimated 200 people, including small children, dead. John Yakubu and his family were among those who fled across the border into neighboring Cameroon.

With his family facing starvation in the refugee camp, John decided to make a quick trip back to Attagara to retrieve some of his animals hoping he could sell them to support his family. Though it was dangerous, there seemed to be no other choice. At home, he decided to pick up some of the family’s other belongings, including the family Bible.

Boko Haram insurgents spotted him entering the house, and quickly captured him. “We know you’re John,” the militants said to him. “You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death.”

When John refused, the men tied him to a tree binding his arms and legs. The men hacked both of John’s hands with a heavy knife and mocked him. “Can you become a Muslim now?”

“You can kill my body, but not my soul,” John shouted in pain.

Using a machete as well as the knife, the men continued to torture John. They repeatedly cut into his feet and his back, stopping only to ask him if he would give up his faith in Christ and follow Allah. John refused. “We will show you,” they told him. The insurgents used an axe to cut so deeply into his knee that it reached the bone. His head was slashed with a knife.

Eventually, John lost consciousness. At some point, the terrorists left, and John was left bleeding and tied to the tree for three days before someone rescued him and he was taken to a hospital in a coma.

In the hospital, a VOM worker met John. When the worker asked John how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing.”
The words are liberating; they tell of an appalling horror over which love triumphs. Christians are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It's easy to preach and it's cheap to believe - until you're confronted by such evil that every fibre of your being cries out for retaliation and revenge, which breeds mutual hostility and creates a cycle of hatred from which there is no escape.

"You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death” is what many thousands of Christians and other minorities are hearing right across the Islamic abyss. How many of us would be strong enough to refuse, as John did? How many of us would refuse to renounce Christ while our hands are being hacked off?

And how many would say "I forgive you" to those who wish to torture and kill our bodies?

We can only be free when we stop allowing the enemy's strategy and beliefs to dictate ours. We can only find peace when we end our obsession with the threat. We are all children of God, and He lets the sun rise on evil and good; He sends rain on the just and unjust. Anyone who repays evil with evil is doing as the world does. Those who repay evil with good have ceased simply reacting to oppression; they are creating light in the darkness; proclaiming the sovereignty of the Risen Christ over all creation; incarnating the love which nullifies hatred and conquers hostility.

If we are ever to find peace on earth, it will not be through the alienation, exile or extermination of the enemy. It will be through rejecting the 'rational' thoughts, feelings and reactions to the evil that confronts us. The Islamic militants who hack off the limbs of Christian children are as spiritually blind as the Muslim gangs who rape the children of Rotherham. Their eyes will not be opened by suspicion, invective and loathing. Their tyrannical rule will not be ended by the sword. They need to encounter the Risen Christ and be renewed from within. And that means we must love them and forgive, because they do not know what they are doing.           

Archbishop Cranmer @ August 31, 2014

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No Remorse – “See You In Valhalla” Compact Disc

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No Remorse – “Blood Against Gold” Compact Disc

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The difficulties of dialoguing with Islam

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"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" asked Tertullian in his Prescription against Heretics (VII), as he sought to defend the purity of the gospel of faith from the faithless philosophy of men. The question was answered partially at least by St Paul himself in his mission-pulsing Areopagus speech, where the Jewish doctrine of God was expounded to the heathen of Athens. Perhaps it wasn't fully addressed until a thousand years after Tertullian, when Europe's scholastics asked: "What has Jesus to do with Aristotle?" In the Latin traditions of the Hellenised West, we are still living with the socio-theological and religio-political consequences.

What has Mecca to do with Rome? What has Mohammed to do with Jesus?

Christianity does not dialogue with Islam: Christians talk to Muslims and Muslims talk to Christians, and thence flows mutual understanding of theological precepts and perceptions of divinity. But bishops tend to be deficient in Arabic, and imams aren't too good at Koine Greek. They can chat in broken English over a kebab and a plate of hummus, but truths are veiled in the mutual misunderstandings of dynamic equivalence. What has justice to do with القاضي?

In an manichæan-eschatological frame of mind, we have long heard about a coming "clash of civilisations" and, more recently, warnings of "Muslim encroachment" and an "Islamic conquest of Europe", as mass immigration and multiculturalism challenge our religious traditions and cultural identity. We observe an increasingly precarious cohabitation. The Christian response ought to be the peaceful proclamation of the day of salvation; instead we get wrapped up in assertions of morality and expressions of dominion.

Many of those who comment on "the problem of Islam" have never met a Muslim, let alone read the Qur'an. And the meeting of Muslims is as depthless as the reading of the Quran, for they must be made our friends and it must be examined, expounded and understood. There is no dialogue in a handshake on the steps of a mosque.

Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini lived in predominantly Muslim nations for 50 years. His comments below were written following a Christian-Muslim synod in October 1999, in Izmir, Turkey.

Most British Muslims are very happy to talk about their faith, expound the transcendence of Allah and justify the actions of their prophet. Many are eager to talk humbly about their religion and their beliefs about its place in pluralist society, and they will do so respectfully and courteously over a plate of fish and chips and a pint. But there can be no dialogue with fundamentalist forms of Islam, which is what many term "proper" or "true" Islam, because it has nothing to learn. We can discuss with Muslims the devotional similarities of Ramadan and Lent, and this may well extend to musing about doctrines of soteriology and the meaning of salvation. But fundamentalism knows no moderates and tolerates no compromise.

Archbishop Bernardini has found that there is no happy via media in Muslim-Christian dialogue; there is no halfway house in the Dar al-Islam. And his experience will confirm in the minds of many what they think they already know. For others, it will fortify them in their missiological desire to reach out and inculturate to know and understand. Still others will seek to forge a "reformed" Islam that is contiguous with the political values of liberal democracy, respecting diversity and tolerating difference. 

But fundamentalist Islam despises humility, liberty and democracy. While our arms ache with holding out olive branches, fanatical Muslims are busy sharpening their scythes. We cannot ignore a programme of expansion and conquest which is being facilitated by the very liberties we prize and which they seek to eradicate. They are determined in their politics and dogmatic in their religion. Our polity is plural and our religion is liberal. They have carved out supremacy under our laws of equality.

Interfaith dialogue is good for forging relationships and building confidence. In a secularised world of spiritual decline and moral decay there is much upon which Christians and Muslims can cooperate and make common cause. But let us not forget the way, the truth and the life.  And let us not be ashamed to preach the gospel in season and out of it, and live the faith in our every word and action.

What has xenophobia to do with Christianity?

Archbishop Cranmer @ August 26, 2014

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The Islamic State presents us with a wholly abnormal situation of national emergency

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Say we catch the barbarous "Jihadi John" or "John the Beatle" or "John the Jailer" or whatever he's called. And say we then gather the evidence against him and bring a charge of murder. He'll be entitled to legal aid (which will cost), prosecuted (which will cost), and, if found guilty, imprisoned 'for life' (which will cost). He might then be freed in 15 or 20 years or so to wreak revenge on the liberal democratic state he so loathes and despises - a few bombs, a bit of torture, the odd beheading. If we're lucky, we might catch him again. If we're luckier, the police might shoot him dead in the process. How exactly should we punish the Islamists found amongst us?

Some BNP types favour rounding up all the Muslims and deporting them en masse, as if such 'cleansing' is any better than the Islamist vision of the purified Caliphate. Others favour an enforced assimilation; the suspension of their liberties and the suppression of their democratic rights. Nigel Farage apparently wants to revoke their citizenship, which is relatively straightforward for those a-jihading in Syria or Iraq. We could, in theory, prevent their return. But whither do we send (and by what right do we impose upon another state) the Islamists who possess a British passport and EU citizenship? Certainly, we may agree they are not 'British' in the sense of respecting our culture or sharing our values. But the act of revoking citizenship results in stateless exile, perhaps wandering through the deserts of Syria or Iraq where they already feel quite at home. That is a woeful retribution.

A multi-faith consortium has written to the Telegraph:
SIR – What we are witnessing in northern Iraq today is a tragedy of historic proportions in which thousands of innocent people are at immediate risk of death for no other reason than their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion and belief, a right set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is being denied in the most gross and systemic way possible through the attempted extermination of religious minorities. There is no justification for the violation of this inalienable human right.

Such violations as are currently taking place are crimes against humanity that must be both stopped and punished. The culture of impunity within which these dehumanising atrocities have been committed needs to be challenged most vigorously. Given that Iraq is not a state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Government must now work towards a United Nations Security Council Resolution that refers this matter to the ICC for investigation and, where necessary, prosecution. The international community must send a clear signal to those who are committing such atrocities that they will be held accountable for their actions.

These violations are, however, sadly part of a wider global pattern of increased societal hostility to, and government restrictions on, freedom of religion or belief. Governments, international institutions and non-governmental organisations need to recognise this wider crisis and commit the necessary time, energy and resources to ensure greater respect for this fundamental freedom and forestall further such tragedies.

The Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth
Bishop of Coventry, Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Foreign Affairs
Dayan (Judge) Ivan Binstock
Court of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Ayatollah Dr Sayed Fazel Milani
Imam al-Khoei Islamic Centre, London
Ramesh Pattni
Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain
Commissioner Clive Adams
Territorial Commander, Salvation Army
His Grace Bishop Angaelos
General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
The Rt Rev Richard Atkinson
Bishop of Bedford
Malcolm M Deboo
President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
His Eminence Gregorios
Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Senior Rabbi, The Movement for Reform Judaism
The Rt Revd Declan Lang
Bishop of Clifton
Chairman, International Affairs Department, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
Moulana Mohammad Shahid Raza
Principal Imam, Leicester Central Mosque
Dr Shuja Shafi
Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Vice-Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief
That's six Christians, two Jews , three Muslims, a Hindu, a Sikh and a Zoroastrian.

That's nice.

The thing is, the United Nations has been so utterly deficient in the defence of religious liberty that it is highly unlikely to prove adequate in the administration of justice. When the United Nations Human Rights Council is already captive to those who despise human rights, and when it agitates for religion (ie Islam) to be protected from "defamation", it beggars belief that a body of international judges would ever agree that those who plot the extermination of Christians and other religious minorities are committing crimes against humanity. Are they not Allah's warriors and Mohammed's freedom fighters?

Are the values of the Islamic State so very different from those of Saudi Arabia or Iran? Persecution? Imprisonment without trial? Forced conversion? Beheadings? Saudia Arabia and Iran might not crucify their Christians, but the international community turns a very convenient blind eye to their appalling treatment of religious minorities.

These faith leaders are doubtless well intentioned, and a resolution of the United Nations Security Council might indeed trigger an investigation by the International Criminal Court. But to what effect? The signatories say these violations are crimes which must be punished. How exactly?

It is estimated that somewhere between 800 and 2000 British Muslims are fighting with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Surely the "culture of impunity" within the British state has contributed to this. Our shared commitment to multiculturalism; the diminution of our Judæo-Christian notions of honour, justice and freedom; and our embrace of moral relativity and a positivist conception of nature have fundamentally challenged our understanding of national identity. We cannot "send a clear signal of intent" to those who violate human rights or commit atrocities because we can no longer agree what we mean by "clear", "violation" or "atrocity".

Surely the Jihadis that went out from amongst us ought to be tried in British courts? And surely, if found guilty, their life must be forfeit? For the commandment of God against killing is an expression of His will for the protection and affirmation of the lives of those who dwell in peace; not an absolutist expression of their inviolable and intrinsic worth.

The preservation of life may, paradoxically, occasionally require its termination. The problem, then, is that by taking up the sword against Jihadists we potentially create a legion of Islamist martyrs, who, by their submission to the will of Allah and sacrifice in the name of Mohammed, may inspire another wave of Christian-crucifying zealots.

Peacemaking is the fundamental task of Christian ethics, but the Islamic State presents us with a wholly abnormal situation of national emergency. We either confront and kill, or surrender our hard-won liberty, our cherished freedoms and our national independence. We cannot wait for the United Nations to deliberate and proclaim their resolution any more than we can depend on them to guard our freedoms of religion and belief. We are talking here about the physical, intellectual and spiritual lives of the British people, and their relationship to God. We cannot abdicate our national responsibility to supranational deficiency.

Archbishop Cranmer @ August 22, 2014