Islam, Reason and War


There's a fascinating open letter to the Pope, posted at Islamica Magazine here, that grapples with the question of Islam's relationship to reason, warfare, religious compulsion, and other hot topics. I am struck by the unequivocal statement by a phalanx of leading Muslims about the importance of no compulsion in faith. One is even from Saudi Arabia, where the death penalty for apostasy is still in place in Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. The discrepancy is unaddressed. Are these countries anathema to Islam? Here is the argument about war and Islam:

The authoritative and traditional Islamic rules of war can be summarized in the following principles:

1. Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets. This was emphasized explicitly time and again by the Prophet, his Companions, and by the learned tradition since then.

2. Religious belief alone does not make anyone the object of attack. The original Muslim community was fighting against pagans who had also expelled them from their homes, persecuted, tortured, and murdered them. Thereafter, the Islamic conquests were political in nature.

3. Muslims can and should live peacefully with their neighbors. And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God. However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defense and maintenance of sovereignty. Muslims are just as bound to obey these rules as they are to refrain from theft and adultery.

If a religion regulates war and describes circumstances where it is necessary and just, that does not make that religion war-like, anymore than regulating sexuality makes a religion prurient. If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, His Prophet, or the learned tradition. God says in the Holy Qur'an: Let not hatred of any people seduce you into being unjust. Be just, that is nearer to piety (al-Ma'idah 5:8). In this context we must state that the murder on September 17th of an innocent Catholic nun in Somalia — and any other similar acts of wanton individual violence — 'in reaction to' your lecture at the University of Regensburg, is completely un-Islamic, and we totally condemn such acts.

I presume they also condemn the bombings of mosques, rampant Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Iraq and the murderous violence of al Qaeda. But they do not use this occasion to do so. I fervently hope that the arguments of this letter are indeed what Muslims believe. Given the empirical evidence in many Muslim countries, I fear this is not the case.

(Photo: Antonio Melina/Agencia Brasil.)