‘Religious’ Terrorism Is an Oxymoron

Sheila Musaji

Posted Aug 31, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Sheila Musaji

Extremists on both sides would like to see a clash of religiously defined civilizations. And the more extremists define conflict in those terms, the more it will turn out to become a true clash of civilizations. There is thus a real danger of this being a self-fulfilling prophecy, a danger that the rest of us must fight against. Clash of Civilizations or Opportunity for Dialogue? David Smock

Is there such a thing as Christian terrorism, Jewish terrorism, Islamic terrorism, Hindu terrorism, Buddhist terrorism, etc.?  What is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist terrorism?  What could distinguish this from any criminal act committed by an individual or group of individuals who happen to be members (no matter how nominally) of any particular religious community. How can we stop terrorism? 

What elements need to be present in order for a particular act of terrorism to be defined as Christian terrorism, Jewish Terrorism, or Muslim terrorism?  Is it enough that:  the individual or group is a member of a particular religious group; the individual or group claims the act in the name of their religion;  the individual or group defines themselves in their name as belonging to a particular religion; does the individual need to be a practicing member of the religious group?

Is there within the Abrahamic faiths a context in which the politically alienated can be radicalised?  Are there fanatics because of some legitimate interpretation of religion or are they fanatics in spite of their religion?

When an interviewer for the Britain-based Independent asked celebrity journalist Christopher Hitchens what he considered the real axis of evil, he replied

“Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the three leading monotheisms.”
ԔThe question arises in Western civilization, including Islam, what happens when one abolishes belief in the transcendent, whether de jure as in post-modern thought, or only de facto in the politicalization of Islam as a cover for alienated individuals to express their hatred through nihilistic violence. In Western culture one is left with belief that utopia on earth can come now. It will not come at the behest of God but through the free will of man embodied in a leader who claims to know the laws of history or promises to create them through his own unlimited power. The purpose of man in the new secular dispensation is to conquer the world through man’s rational intellect in order to bring forth heaven on earth. ... This is the ultimate polytheism, because it amounts to the worship not only of oneself but of the human species as God. Robert D. Crane in a Colloquium on the Nature of Evil

Possibly when we mix religion and political power (church and state) we are in danger of losing the spiritual dimension.

ԔDespite our secularism, the United States has rarely been so publicly and politically “Christian” as it is today. Or perhaps it is because of our secularism. We can no longer tell good theology from bad. We, mainline denominations, need to take our share of the blame: For decades we took it for granted that Christianity and citizenship were inextricably linked, that American power was the natural outgrowth of American righteousness. For too long we, too, preached American triumphalism. We did not remind people of the overarching guidance God gives all people in search of redemption: the necessity of the examined life. Ironically, our triumphalism may have fueled America’s secularism. With God on our side, there didn’t seem to be much need for self-examination and humility. ... It is clear now that a sectarian Christian view of history, a dualism that views war as a kind of redemptive purgative, is having at least some influence on the administration’s rhetoric. It is characterized by a stark refusal to acknowledge accountability, because to suggest accountability is to question American purity, which would undermine the secular theology of “good versus evil” inherent in present U.S. policy. ... The dominance of the religious right in political affairs makes it appear that a Christian worldview dominates American politics. But if, as I believe, this worldview is really American triumphalism, Christianity has taken a backseat to joyous secularism. Within Christianity and Judaism in this country, there are denominations and branches with the philosophical and institutional power and authority to challenge that triumphalism, but bold stands such as the NCC’s are still the exception. ... With the political emergence of joyous secularism, the churches are challenged to preach an alternative message: grace, hope and redemption—the truth of Biblical faith. This is both our pastoral and our political responsibility. In a nuclear age, American triumphalism is not only spiritually bereft, it is, quite possibly, apocalyptic in its implications. Of God and Man In the Oval Office, Rev. Fritz Ritsch

No matter what supposed religious justification anyone attempts to put forward for violence - it is a lie!

“We condemn the abuse of religion by fanatics whose sole purpose is to rouse hate and beget further violence. Nothing is as antithetical to all religion and especially to Islam, as the wanton violence. ... We cry out against such violence, and seek to console those who have suffered from it. ... We declare that all religions have the same relative value with respect to the high goals we seek to reach as humans, and the same lack of value of when they fail to call forth the unity of God. ... We pray for a future that is replete with peace and love for all of humanity across the world, and for a future that is far, far different from the tumultuous, hateful times that we live in now…” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

TAM has a list of articles on religious extremism. and a very long list of fatwas and statements that have been made by Muslim scholars against terrorism, extremism and violence at Muslim Voices Against Terrorism



ԔSince Cain, the son of Adam, killed his brother, Abel, human beings have struggled to understand evil.  If God created humans in His likeness, why do we see so much evil in the world.  Through the Quran, Allah has made clear three principal reasons, and the third is the greatest of them all.  First, individual persons are evil because they have the free will to do and be whatever they want.  Otherwise they could not choose good, in awareness that this is the Will of Allah.  Also there would be no merit in doing good if they could not choose its opposite.  But why does God permit people to choose evil?  Why did he permit fanatics on September 11th to kill thousands of innocent people in cold blood, and to do it in the name of Islam?  The second explanation revealed in the QurҒan for the existence of evil is that we are here to be tested.  Allah tells us, I will test you by means of each other,Ӕ that is, the greatest tests will be by other human beings.  During Ramadhan, which in shaa Allah starts this evening, we are to strengthen ourselves so that we can withstand these tests, and so that we can help ourselves and others to be better people.  And there is a third, still greater reason for what we perceive as evil.  This can be understood perhaps best by the analogy of the ant slowly creeping across the beautiful Persian carpet.  The carpet is decorated with elaborate designs and symbols of AllahҒs attributes, a beautiful work of art.  But, the ant knows nothing about all this.  The vision of the carpets creator is beyond the antҒs comprehension. Challenge of Islam for America, Dr. Robert D. Crane

There are many claims to understanding this terrible phenomena - and they may all contain a seed of truth, but the TRUTH is far more complex than any single explanation.  We need to search impartially and understand the underlying causes before we can begin to find a solution.

There are two primary schools of thought. One school links terror directly to the war on Iraq, another believes that terror groups are ideologically, rather than politically motivated, thus reinforcing the “clash of civilizations” argument.

“Not only do these arguments fail to candidly inspect a variety of other factors that might have contributed to the spread of terrorism, but they imprudently encourage measures that will most probably give terrorists more fuel to carry on with their mission of violence, cajoling additional recruits and resources.”Blaming the Mosques for the Sins of Governments, Ramzy Baroud

A recent study by Robert Pape dismissed many of the commonly held illusions about terrorism.

“While Friedman may be concerned with “shutting people up”, he’s much less concerned with the real origins of terror. His own paper the New York Times ran a very scholarly article just 3 weeks ago by Robert Pape, “Al Qaeda’s Smart Bombs” (7-9-05) that dismissed many of the commonly held illusions about terrorism. Pape, who documented every case of suicide bombing between 1980 and 2004, says that the “core motivating factor behind suicide terrorism” is “a nationalistic response to occupation”; “The root cause of terrorism is occupation, not Islam.” ... Wow. ... Pape’s “fact-based” analysis directly challenges Friedman’s “hate-mongering” theory of terror. The distinction between the two hypotheses is colossal. If Friedman is correct than the West is justified in invading Muslim countries to rid them of, what Tony Blair called, “an evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of Islam”. This is the rationale that supports the US occupation of Iraq; presenting the conflict as “the central battlefield in the war on terror”. ... However, if Pape’s analysis is right then the real catalyst for terrorism is the American occupation itself; a permanent recruiting sergeant for Muslim extremists and jihadis. If that is the case, the only reasonable solution would be a quick transfer of power and a complete withdrawal of American forces. ... This is not a debate that Friedman or his colleagues in the corporate establishment can afford to lose. Pape threatens to derail the Iraqi master plan by simply presenting the facts of his investigation and changing the hearts and minds of the American public. That explains why every media bullhorn is feverishly broadcasting some variant of Friedman’s “hate mongering” theory; trying to keep alive the fading belief that America is fighting “Islamo-fascism” in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil. It is a storyline that grows more threadbare by the day.”Decoding Tom Friedman , Mike Whitney

We are all held captive by a fanatical, criminal minority.

“There are several reasons for the continuation of violence. The first and foremost reason is the notion promoted by a tiny minority that claims to speak in the name of religion that justice is secured through the barrel of a gun. This minority tends to justify its actions by using religious scriptures and interpreting them to suit its interests. ... The second reason is the inability of activists to control their anger in adverse situations. When they read or see an anti-Islamic incident, the first response that comes to the mind of these angry people is to resort to violence against those responsible for the action. They are also often provoked by leaders who use others to settle their scores with the power elites.  ... The third reason is the manipulation of innocent individuals in the name of religion by those who are working for various intelligence and spying agencies. Such groups have already established religious groups with their own religious leaders to recruit young Muslims to carry on attacks in the name of religion. Their main purpose is to create chaos and turmoil and destabilize societies. ... The fourth reason is the prevalence of extreme inequalities where the powerless find themselves chained in the bonds of poverty and inequality almost on a daily a basis. For such people, life has lost any meaning. They find no hope to overcome their own sufferings, hence they lose confidence in their ability to change their conditions unless those whom they perceive responsible for their plight are avenged.  ... The fifth reason is the presence of large scale mercenaries who are willing to kill anyone if the price is right. They come from all ethnic and religious groups and make a living from taking others’ lives to sustain themselves.  ... The most effective voice to control violence is the voice of forgiveness. It is a voice that can make a definite change in the lives of people if it is raised from the pulpits of religious institutions. The religious leadership must raise this voice if it truly wants to serve God. Anatomy of Violence,  Dr. Aslam Abdullah

The real cause, the real taproot of terrorism is the bankruptcy of materialist ideologies which may pay lip service to ԓreligion but are devoid of spirituality.

The real causes of terrorism are not poverty and oppression per se, but rather the bankruptcy of materialist ideologies, like Neo-Conservatism, which promise much but deliver little. ... They fail to comprehend the need for a paradigm of justice and therefore are blind to what concerns most of the people in the world. This failure is the taproot of terrorism. ... Terrorism has arisen as the new threat to civilization because the ԓterrorists know that all the dominant paradigms of the twentieth century are bankrupt. In their hopeless rage they will not consider even the possibility of anything else, other than their own blind rampage of destruction. What they do not know is that they are creatures of this bankruptcy. They are part of the problem, not of the solution. Terrorists are products of Western cultural disintegration, even though they will die for the illusion that they are not.Ԕ Taproot to Terrorism, Dr. Robert D. Crane



Religion is a powerful tool. Correctly used, it has led to the vision of God. But when usurped by violent men, religion has proven extremely effective in rousing the masses to violence and aggression.  For those souls who have sought and found union in the vision of God, religions are but a diversity of creeds and practices that are merely ways to the One Goal, the vision of God. We who have grasped this truth recognize that everything is a veil hiding the Essential, and therefore seek to peel away those veils that hide the knowledge of the sole true Reality. We recognize that all religions have the same relative value with respect to the high goal to be reached, and the same lack of value if they fail to call forth the love of God. This alone is the uniform standard of value in the assessment of religions. Our voices, raised together to proclaim the recognition of the unity of God, serve to bring mankind together, while those voices that focus on the differences of our laws cause division and loss.  The great 13th century mystic poet Jalal ud-Din Rumi (1207-1273) expressed this when he wrote in one of his poems,  The lovers of ritual are one group, and those whose hearts and souls are aglow with love of God are another. ԓ A Call to Bridge the Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Sadly, one of the things we have in common is that the Abrahamic religions (as well as other religions) have the capability of producing extremists of the most brutal kind - terrorists. 

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths have all been used as a justification for violence and terrorist acts.

It is possible to use verses amputated, distorted, perverted, or misrepresented from religious texts (the Torah, New Testament, Qur’an) to justify terrorism and individuals and groups have done this throughout history.  There are verses in all of these texts that can be easily abused either through purposeful or malicious manipulation of meaning or through ignorance of even the fundamentals of scriptural analysis.

There have been many crimes committed and millions of people killed by individuals, groups and governments in the name of one religion or another - justifying their actions by some perversion of the revealed texts.  The victims come from every race, ethnicity, and religious group.  At the current moment, although many of the perpetrators are MuslimsӔ, the primary victims are also Muslims.  All of us are targets.

And worse, this could not have happened or continue to happen if most of us were not complicit in our silence.

There is self righteousness on both sides - Osama bin Laden exploits powerless people to fight for him by making them believe they are morally superior people - and governments exploit their citizens to fight by making them believe that they are morally superior.

Mainstream Muslims, Christians and Jews regularly condemn terrorism and consider such acts to be an egregious violation of their religious beliefs.  And, yet the violence continues to escalate and spread.

We have to live together. If we are to survive we must find ways to live together in peace. There are no more options left except the option of peace.  Peace between man and nature and between men and other men. Let us focus on what we have in common. Let us take the first step of getting to know one another.

The Qur’an gives us a mandate to do just this.

Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but He willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has revealed to you. Compete then with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.Ӕ


True piety (or righteousness) does not consist in turning your faces towards the cast or west but truly pious is he who believes in God and the last day and the angels and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggar, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and truly pious are they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril, it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.Ԕ 2: 177

The Qur’an is appealing to us, both Muslims and non Muslims to acknowledge that we do have different religious practices, but not to allow those differences to stop us from doing what needs to be done, and in fact to compete in doing good deeds. And, the Qur’an is telling us clearly that what is essential to our faith is simply how we treat one another. We need to take this advice to heart. To realize that we are brothers and sisters. That we are in this together. Hopefully, through coming to know each other we will be able to discover our similarities and to find ways of resolving our differences and solving our problems.

Diana Eck of Harvard has asserted,

One world cannot be built on the foundation of competition and polarization between the superpowers. One world cannot be built on the foundation of science, technology and the media. One world cannot be built on Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Sikh triumphalism. One world cannot be built on the foundation of mutual fear and suspicion. Laying the foundations for one world is the most important task of our time. These foundations are not negotiated statements and agreements. These foundations are, rather, in the stockpiling of trust through dialogue and the creation of relationships that can sustain both agreements and disagreements. Moving forwardӅin dialogue with those other faiths we will create the foundational relationship of One World. Moving forward alone, we will not.Clash of Civilizations or Opportunity for Dialogue? David Smock

THERE IS A STRUGGLE GOING ON WITHIN ALL THE RELIGIOUS GROUPS, not only for the soul of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but beyond that, all of us together for the soul of humanity. 

Some individuals have experienced a profound spiritual event and named it “the dark night of the soul”. Civilizations have experienced the same phenomena. For example, Western Civilization went through such a period and named it “the Dark Ages”. Today, humanity is experiencing a dark night of its collective soul, a historical event as yet unnamed, which could lead us further into darkness, or provide an opportunity to do good works and be a source of light in the darkness. More than ever before in history it is becoming clear that all the races, all the species, all the nations, all the religions, are in this together. All of us are at a crossroads. All of us are living in an epidemic of violence for which we must find a solution. We have had a lot of experience with violence. We are surrounded by it now and have been surrounded by it through our history. And yet we still don’t always recognize its many faces and we donԒt seem to know what to do about it. We still haven’t learned how to settle differences peaceably between friends, between family members, between nations, between races or between religions.

The imperative need for a more inclusive, universal, values based approach to religion is underscored by the increasing influence of the exclusive, sectarian, ritual oriented interpretation of religion in the contemporary world. This is one of the most formidable challenges confronting almost every religion. In Hinduism for instance the narrow Hindutva ideologues with their chauvinistic articulation of the religion are seeking to repudiate the inherent universalism of the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. In Buddhism, a small segment of the clergy is now attempting to present the religion in dogmatic terms thus betraying the all-embracing enlightenment of its founder. Within the Jewish community there are Rabbis who have adopted a bellicose stance towards the `infidels’ without any regard for some of the universal notions of justice contained in Judaism. Some Christian evangelists today are trapped in a distorted, perverted understanding of the religion which negates Jesus’ central message of love and mercy for the whole of humanity. Likewise, among Muslims, as we have seen, there are bigoted elements who are trying to hijack a religion whose very name is linked to peace and which describes God as `The Compassionate and The Merciful’ in every Chapter of the Quran. ... It is only too apparent that there is a struggle of singular significance unfolding within each and every religion. It is a struggle that has serious implications for inter-religious encounters. For those who subscribe to an exclusive view of religion have very little interest in communicating with the religious `other’ let alone establishing empathy with her. Those who espouse an inclusive approach to religion, on the other hand, are willing to transcend religious boundaries and embrace the whole of humanity—especially in their quest for universal justice and dignity.” Hegemony and Civilizational Interaction, Chandra Muzaffar

Our beliefs may be different, but our suffering is shared.  The murderous acts of a few, whether Muslims or others, should not shake our eternal faith that we, as human beings or believers in God, can live in harmony.


The Cherokee tell a story about this being a battle between two wolves.  One wolf is EVIL - it is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  One wolf is GOOD - it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The wolf that wins the battle is the wolf that you feed!!

I pray that we begin to feed the good wolf.


“O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light, and
Where there is sorrow, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved
as to love; for it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

“There was a time when I took it amiss in my companion if his religion was not near to mine;  But now my heart takes on every form; it is a pasture for gazelles, a monastery for monks,  A temple of idols and a Ka`ba for pilgrims, the tables of the Torah and the holy book of the Qur’an.  Love is my religion, and whichever way its riding beasts turn, that way lies my religion and belief.” Muhyi’d-Din Ibn al`Arabi