Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: jihad

God, jihad, crusades

“The Roman church had an unswerving belief in itself as the vessel of divine grace in the world and the source of all divine authority, ordained by God and founded by His Son Jesus Christ on the ministry of His disciple St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. In such a mindset it was impossible to conceive of the Roman Church as doing wrong, or of Rome admitting any rival to an equality of authority. To maintain the power and to extend the sway of Roman Catholic Christianity in the service of the Prince of Peace, even warfare was permitted.”

-excerpt from the Introduction to A Brief History of The Crusades, © Geoffrey Hindley, 2003, published by Constable & Robinson Ltd., London

Of course, the representatives of Islam have the same solid convictions about their prophet and their role in the world. After the death of Muhammad in 632, the caliphs, the “Commanders of the Faithful,” embarked on a massive campaign of jihad to extend the reign of Islam throughout Arabia, North Africa and into Europe.

Representatives of Islam today say that it is a religion of peace and that jihad means to struggle in the way of God, primarily in the form of an internal spiritual struggle against injustice and for purification in order to attain to paradise.

The Roman Catholic tradition of pilgrimage had much the same purpose, to step aside from the ordinary cares of life and devote oneself to an activity that would cleanse the soul from guilt, and prepare for heaven. The first crusade of 1095 was proclaimed by Pope Urban II as a pilgrimage. Thousands of people set off on this new pilgrimage, pushed by a profound fear of judgment on their sins and the promise that participating in the pilgrimage would ensure the pardon of their sins and entry into heaven. If they happened to die along the way, or in battle against the unbelieving Muslims, their salvation was ensured.

So they set out with the sign of the cross on their banners. Cross in French is croix and the whole project came to be called a croisade, which led to the English word crusade. Thus began centuries of cruel bloodshed, each side motivated by the firm conviction that they were doing the will of their God and thereby earning their salvation.

I won’t enter into a discussion on the correct meaning of jihad, but I think I can safely say that the Crusades were a perversion of the Christian faith and the teachings of the New Testament. Not all the crusades were directed against the followers of Allah, some were directed against the true followers of Jesus Christ. The Albigensian Crusades were directed against people who sought only to live out their faith in peace and who had no ambition to enter into the realm of secular authority. This was considered an intolerable affront to the authority of the Church of Rome and led to particularly cruel and bloody persecution.

As a spiritual descendent of the Anabaptists, Albigenses, and whatever other name the peaceful Christians were given in past eras, I want to clearly state that the Crusades were not a valid manifestation of the true faith in Jesus Christ.  The mere fact that our spiritual forefathers repudiated the use of force in matters of faith was enough to make them hated by the perpetrators of the Crusades.

As a corollary of this, perhaps it would be well to avoid terms like evangelistic crusades or campaigns. Evangelism should not be carried out in a way that could be understood as an attempt o conquer others.

Our Muslim neighbours

In our worship service yesterday evening, a minister told us about a young couple living in an apartment building in New York City. There was a Muslim family living in the same building, with children the same age as the children of this couple. The children played together, became friends, and the parents also became friends, often visiting each other. The young man in this account had been feeling under the weather for a few days when the Muslim couple dropped in for a visit one evening. His Muslim friend advised him to just take the next day off work and he decided to do that. This man worked in an office in the twin towers and the next day was September 11, 2001. The point of this little story was that taking the day off saved his life.

As for the Muslim friends, they were never seen again. They left quietly and quickly with no forwarding address. This raises two possibilities: either the husband knew what was going to happen on 9/11 and wanted to warn his friend; or, he knew nothing at all about what was going to happen and was overcome by the fear that his friendly advice might bring him under suspicion.

This brings us to the present day where our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, refers to ISIS and other groups and individuals involved in terrorist activity as jihadists.  Muslim organizations are objecting quite strongly, saying the original meaning of jihad has nothing to do with terrorism and that all Muslims should not be stigmatized by referring to terrorists in this way. President Obama, on the other hand, will not make a connection between Islam and terrorism for fear of radicalizing all Muslims.

Who has it right? I don’t want to get political here, but the fact is that the terrorists refer to themselves as jihadists, and the stated goal of ISIS is to establish a Muslim Caliphate. I am quite willing to admit that most Muslims in our country are not in sympathy with the terrorists. Most have come here because they preferred the tolerance and stability of Canada to conditions in Islamic nations. I am happy to hear their leaders taking pains to dissociate themselves from the radicals and making real efforts to reach their young people with teachings of moderation and respect for others.

I also realize that the victims of these terrorist movements are mostly other Muslims. That brings up a point that needs to be made. Much of the hatred of radical Muslims toward Western society is based on memories of the Crusades, when supposedly Christian armies were sent out to drive back and subjugate the forces of Islam. There is no doubt that many atrocities against Muslims were perpetrated by the Crusaders. But were the Crusaders true representatives of Christianity?

I call myself an Anabaptist, a spiritual heir of a Christian movement that was also the victim of numerous Crusades, and the Inquisition. The plain fact of history is that for hundreds of years the same Roman Catholic Church that was responsible for the Crusades against Muslims also systematically hunted down, tortured and killed many thousands of Christians whose sole offense was that they did not want to be Roman Catholic.

There is nothing sinister about the word catholic, it was originally used to describe the Christian faith as being applicable to all people, of all nations, of all eras. But the Roman Catholic Church appropriated that word for themselves and in the minds of many brought such disrepute upon it that they refuse to use it today. That is not the fault of the word.

It seems to me that Muslims will have to get used to the fact that jihad has been appropriated by the terrorists and it is probably no longer possible to dissociate it from that in the public mind. I am quite willing to believe that most Muslims in our country have as much horror of terrorism as I do. I wish them well in their efforts to make a clear distinction between themselves and the extremists, in the minds of their own young people and in the minds of the general public.

Life is precious

Remembrance Day in Canada has aroused more poignant feelings than it has for many years. For the first time in living memory Canadian soldiers have been killed on Canadian soil. The incidents appear to have been unrelated, uncoordinated. In each case, only one soldier and the attacker died.

Two young Canadian men had come to blame our society for their problems and converted to Islam. They found websites and met individuals who filled their minds with teachings of jihad and decided that Allah wanted them to kill some of their fellow Canadians, preferably those wearing uniforms of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The aftermath has been reassuring. Ordinary citizens rushed to the assistance of the soldier who was shot while standing guard at the National War Memorial and tried to resuscitate him, although without success. There has been an outpouring of sympathy for the fallen soldiers and their families. Most Muslim imams in Canada have come out strongly against radical Islamist teachings that lead to such actions. We have all been made freshly aware of the value of human life.

There are a few radical imams in the country. The RCMP and CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency) know who they are. The two attackers were being monitored by the police. We still live in a free society and such people cannot just be rounded up because they have expressed leanings toward radical Islam. There is no telling when such thoughts might turn to action.

While the RCMP and CSIS are necessary to restrain the forces of evil, they are not the real solution to the problem of evil. What we need is a renewed appreciation of the meaning and value of life.

Jesus said “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Griping Christians are not much of a witness of the abundant life. Neither is artificial enthusiasm. The peace and joy of a Spirit-filled life will be much more convincing.

%d bloggers like this: