Is There Such a Thing As Religious Terrorism?
Posted Nov 1, 2005


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


CHRISTIAN TERRORISM? has an entry on Christian Terrorism as does Wikipedia - which includes the killing of abortion doctors, the Lords Resistance Army in Uganda, the Christian Identity Movement, Ku Klux Klan, The Order, GodҒs Army, the IRA, the Nagaland Rebels.

Surprisingly, the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians by the Serbs was not included, nor were many other events that Muslims would consider terrorism.  Why no religious designation for the perpetrators or victims?

In the case of Christianity includes the disclaimer that “Mainstream believers typically consider acts by “Christian terrorists” to be egregious violations of the religion’s ethics and regularly condemn all acts of terrorism, including those perpetuated by self-professed Christian terrorists.


“Is Eric Rudolph a “Christian terrorist”? Well, it depends on your definition. But if he’s not a Christian terrorist, Osama bin Laden isn’t an Islamic terrorist. His views and actions closely parallel those of Islamist radicals who attack targets inside majority-Islamic countries with a goal of instituting Islamic states.  Christians—and not just conservatives, but moderates and liberals—will say that Eric Rudolph isn’t really Christian. Christianity, of course, is a religion of peace. Now, where have we heard that before?  There is, of course, a long history of murder and war in the name of the Prince of Peace. It hardly stopped with the Crusades or the Thirty Years’ War. Nor is it confined to Ireland. I don’t believe there’s any creed that can’t be perverted to violence.”  From Actual Christian Terrorism, Mac Thomason

This is one of the difficult issues to dialogue about, but it is an issue that needs to be dealt with - What was the religious affiliation of:  - Those who enslaved and murdered the Native Americans; - Those who colonized most of what is now the “Third World”; - Those who dropped the atomic bomb; - Those who developed and participated in the political systems of Naziism and Fascism; - Those who participated in torture at Abu Ghraib; - Those who carried out ethnic cleansing against the Bosnian Muslims; - Those who were responsible for the death of millions in Germany’s death camps?

I know that if the answer to any of these questions had been - Islam - that the term Islamic terrorism would have been used to describe the event.  I don’t believe that these events represent Christianity, but I also don’t believe that the terrorist acts that are referred to as Islamic terrorism represent Islam.  They are deviant actions that happened in spite of the religion of the perpetrators.

There have been Christians that have defended terrorism, or at least some forms of what others would see as terrorism.  A recent example is Chuck Spingola and some Christian clergy have defended slavery, KKK lynchings, and even the Nazi regime.

In 1999 Pat Robertson called the assassination of foreign leaders “practical.”

Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson said it might be “practical” foreign policy to assassinate some international leaders. Speaking Aug. 9 on “The 700 Club,” Robertson said: “I know it sounds somewhat Machiavellian and evil, to think that you could send a squad in to take out somebody like (terrorist) Osama bin Laden or to take out the head of North Korea. But isn’t it better to do something like that, to take out (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic, to take out (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein, rather than to spend billions and billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country? It would just seem so much more practical to have that flexibility.”

And, now in 2005 he calls specifically for the assassination of the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. 


ԔMy sense is that history has come to a point where only one thing will save this venerable faith tradition at this critical time in Christian history, and that is a new Reformation far more radical than Christianity has ever before known and that this Reformation must deal with the very substance of that faith. This Reformation will recognize that the pre-modern concepts in which Christianity has traditionally been carried will never again speak to the post-modern world we now inhabit. This Reformation will be about the very life and death of Christianity. Because it goes to the heart of how Christianity is to be understood, it will dwarf in intensity the Reformation of the 16th century. It will not be concerned about authority, ecclesiastical polity, valid ordinations and valid sacraments. It will be rather a Reformation that will examine the very nature of the Christian faith itself. It will ask whether or not this ancient religious system can be refocused and re-articulated so as to continue living in this increasingly non-religious world. A Call for a New Reformation, Rev. John D. Spong

TAM has a list of articles on Christian terrorism


Under the heading Religious Terrorism such Jewish groups as the Jewish Defense League and Kahane Chai are listed.  Wikipedia has an entry on the Qibya Massacre by IsraeliӔ troops;  the Kafr Qasim Massacre by the IsraeliӔ border police; the Sabra and Shatila massacres which refer to the perpetrators as Maronite Christian Militias and to possible IsraeliӔ culpability; and the Lavon Affair including the Operation Susannah bombings in Egypt by the IsraeliӒs.  Why Israeli and not Jewish?  Why no mention of their religion?  Why Militias and not terrorists?

In the case of Jewish terrorists Wikipedia includes the disclaimer://: ԓSome of these Jewish groups believe that God gave Jews the land of Israel and so they advocate ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel, West Bank and Gaza). Most, if not all, however, support the transfer of Palestinians to other regions within the Middle East. and, while this entry on Religious Terrorism includes many entries for Islamic terrorism, doesnԒt even mention many groups affiliated with Christianity or Judaism who have resorted to terrorism. 

There have been some Jews who defended terrorism: In this terrible time of crisis, we remember the words of HaRav Yitzchak Nissim, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel that said in 1968, “The Land of Israel was, with its borders, defined for us by Divine Providence. Thou shalt be, says the Almighty, and there it is. No power on earth can alter that which was created by Him. In this connection it is not a question of law or logic, neither is it a matter of human treatment or that sort of thing.”  source . Rabbi Meier Kahane founded an organization called Kach which promoted ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.  The JDL defended the Hebron massacre of Palestinians by Dr. Baruch Goldstein.


“And how can you apply the adjective life-affirming to thousands of ferociously angry settlers in Gaza determined to rip down every brick in place, cut down every tree, root up every vine, people who have been widely reported to be poisoning the land they will have to surrender? It seems to me that Israel itself represents the focus of just such a struggle going on in Judaism, the only difference between it and what we see in Islam being one of numbers.” The Dumbest Story Ever Written, John Chuckman



The list of terrorist acts attributed to “Islamic” Terrorism doesn’t need to be repeated here because it so widespread as to be “common knowledge — common, but not accurate.  Any act committed by any criminal who happens to be a Muslim will be labelled Islamic Terrorism.

We need to question whether al-Qaeda is “an evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of Islam” as Tony Blair has said, or is it a violent response to perceived injustices, twisting Islamic belief in an attempt to justify that response by misusing the Qur’an and going against 1400 years of Islamic thought.

In the case of Islamist terrorism is much less generous than it was with possible Christian or Jewish terrorism and says only: ԓThe extent of support for “Islamist terrorism” within the Muslim population is disputed, although it is generally agreed that only the most extremist fringes support it. Many Muslims have denounced support for terrorism.

This is a deceptive wording that gives a very different impression than the disclaimers for Christianity and Judaism.


“Terrorism, which is termed hirabah (not jihad) in Arabic, was uniformly condemned by all the classical Islamic scholars, even by those who were imprisoned by the authorities (which included all the greatest scholars in Islamic history), because it was the classic example of the fasad (or societal corruption) that destroys civilization (al hadara al islamiya). Osama bin Laden is nothing less than a Beast of the Anti-Christ (the masiah al dajal) and his terrorism against America is hirabah al shaitaniyyah, a satanic war that can only plunge all of humanity into centuries or millennia of barbarism. ... We must understand where he is coming from, but also where he is going. Our task is not merely to stop evil, which can’t be done, but to promote good, which can overcome it, in sha’a Allah.” Economic Justice: A Cure for Terrorism, Dr. Robert D. Crane

Currently, to add to this misunderstanding and mutual distrust we have:

(1) blame leveled at the entire religion — the problem is not just Muslim terrorists but an “evil” Islam.  (TAM has a collection of alarming anti-Muslim quotes - many by “respectable” community and religious leaders);

“Responsibility” is a better word than “blame”. We demand it, rightly, of those who carry out the atrocities; we should demand it also of ourselves and our rulers. The bombers, or rather those who control and influence them, are clear they are at war. President Bush seemed to agree when he declared a “war on terror”. Is our role in this war a just one? Do we want to continue the war? If not, what will we do to stop it? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves.Ԕ The Responsibility We Share for Islamist Shock and Awe, Peter Wilby

(2) demands for the Muslim community to apologize for every criminal action that is carried out by any individual who happens to be a Muslim (Many Muslims are very frustrated by this demand for an apology for something that is not the fault of Islam).  Almost daily, one Muslim leder or another is called on to engage in what amounts to calling into doubt the sanctity of Islam - falling just short of being asked to condemn their religion;

ǔTerrorism and Islam’s Exceptionalism.  Modern forms of terrorism were introduced into the Middle East in the 1940s by Jewish groups in then British-occupied Palestine. It was the Irgun, the Stern gang, and the Hagana that began the practice of bombing “gathering places [and] crowded Arab areas [in an attempt to] terrorize the Arab community” (Smith, 1992: 19; 140). The Stern gang even attacked Jewish banks, resulting in “Jewish loss of life” (120). The Irgun, as we know, “slaughtered about 250 men, women and children whose mutilated bodies were stuffed down wells” in the village of Dair Yassin (143).  ...  Even though many such terror tactics continued until fairly recent times, people in the U.S. did not put world Jewry on call by asking Jews to explain what Judaism has to say about killing innocent civilians. ...  People may have denounced these terrorist groups-freedom fighters to many-but they did not call on all Jews to explain which Torah or Talmud the Jewish terrorists were reading, or ask the “real” Judaism to “stand up.” Why, then, this assault on Muslims to explain what their “bible” - as that savant, Larry King, calls the Qur’an - teaches about violence? (He even badgered Hanan Ashrawi, assuming that because she’s Palestinian, she’s a Muslim, even though she’s not.) The same people who say (like the anonymous author I quoted earlier does) that they don’t give a “rat’s—-” about Islam nonetheless are shrieking for the “real” Islam to stand up! In an atmosphere where only Muslims are expected to keep protesting our humanity and to defend our religion, my politics dictated that I should not speak at all in any forum on Islam. But, my religion teaches the jihad of knowledge and, as a Muslim, this jihad is obligatory for me. Interpretation and Exceptionalism, Asma Barlas

(3) an attempt (named “Religion Building” by Jim Lobe) to re-define Islam for us;

ԓIt is very unkind for Muslims to blame Christianity for the abominations of pagan secularists and their blind followers, especially because Muslims are victims of precisely the same sort of demonizing everywhere themselves. If Muslims want others to let them define Islam, they should let devout Christians define Christianity and devout Jews define the essence of Judaism. Confrontation through polemical denial of the other’s right to self-identity is universally to be condemned as perhaps the worst possible affront to human dignity. Peaceful Engagement Through Interfaith Action, Dr. Robert D. Crane

(4) requests for us to explain what it is about Islam that allows it to be hijacked; as if terrorism were inherent in Islam, but somehow mitigated by extenuating circumstances when committed by others.

(5) Verses taken out of context to “prove” that the Qur’an encourages terrorism, or that the Muslim world is backwards because of the teachings of the Qur’an;

ԔImagine asking Christians or Jews to reconcile Christianity or Judaism in light of an out-of-context verse from the Bible, such as: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)  Or this verse: “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (Hosea 13:16) ...  This is certainly not a fair or scientific way to understand the Bible nor the peaceful message of Christianity or Judaism. The Quran, like all other scriptures, cannot be understood except within its context. Taking a verse out of its theological or historical context can lead to misinterpretations, often the hallmark of extremists. Just as the Bible has been abused by fanatics to justify slavery and the holocaust, so have Muslim fanatics abused the QurҒan to further their murderous agenda. Quoting the QurԒan, Hussam Ayloush

(6) the constantly repeated “Where are the Muslim voices against terrorism?” - no matter how often those voices have spoken, they don’t seem to be heard or are discounted as being “insincere”;

The most recent of these blame Islam diatribes was by Thomas Friedman.  On July 8, 2005 Thomas Friedman wrote “If It’s A Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution” in which he said “To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.” 

I use Friedman as an example throughout this paper simply because his writing so clearly exemplifies so many of the issues raised.  His is the averageӔ American point of view.

“The second false presupposition Mr. Friedman puts forward is that bin Ladenite jihadism is a Muslim problem that begs Muslim solutions. I wonder whether throughout the years that the IRA terrorized Britons in London any pundit ever called the predicament of the Irish a “Catholic problem with Catholic solutions.” ... It is true that Islam, like any other religion, is understood in competing and at times contradictory ways. But each of these competing interpretations of Islam corresponds and reacts to particular situations in which Muslims find themselves. One cannot understand violent interpretations of jihad outside the violence to which Muslim majority nations have been subjected. In other words, Islam is not innately predisposed to violence; it does not breed savagery ex nihilo, thus the fallacy of terrorism as a “Muslim problem.” Somehow it is easier for many western pundits to understand that rather than a “Catholic problem,” violence in Northern Ireland had much to do with British Empire.” Thomas Friedmans Muslim Problem, Behrooz Ghamari

Muslims have spoken up just as loudly against terrorism as any other group.  Hundreds of clerics and theologians have condemned al Qaeda’s and Osama bin Laden’s violence.  There have been fatwas issued on every aspect of violence and terrorism and even fatwas to clarify who is qualified to issue a fatwa. 


“Fatwa has entered the media’s vocabulary. Fatwa, like other borrowed Arabic terms, (e.g., intifada, jihad, madrasa, sharia) carries an assumed meaning, is draped in mystery, and leads to misunderstanding. Linguistically, fatwa means “an answer to a question” Җ the question may be rhetorical or actual. The answer represents only the opinion of the person who offered it. In Islamic jurisprudence, fatwa means the opinion of a scholar based on that scholar’s understanding and interpretation of the intent of the sources of Islam, that scholar’s knowledge of the subject in question, and the social milieu that produced the issue or question. The scholar’s answer or fatwa is not a binding rule; rather, it is a recommendation. The answer (fatwa) may be opposed, criticized, accepted, or rejected. In addition, the answer (fatwa) may itself become the subject of debate or questions. ... In an egalitarian system such as Islam, a fatwa gains acceptance based on the integrity of the person who offered the fatwa (in Arabic, a mufti), that person’s knowledge of Islamic sources as well as knowledge of the issue and of the social context that raised the issue. Any of the aforementioned prerequisites may be challenged and the answer (fatwa) is an opinion and that opinion may be incorrect. To consider a fatwa issued by anyone as binding on all Muslims is a dangerous contemporary trend that merely stifles Islam’s rich history of debate and dissent. Moreover, it would allow individuals to claim authority over others by virtue of their supposed knowledge of God’s will. The purpose of a fatwa is to offer an opinion, not to silence discourse.” Demystifying the Fatwa, by Dr. Maher Hathout

TAM has a lengthy collection of references under the heading Muslim Voices Against Terrorism  The fatwa recently issued by the Fiqh Council of North America (which was insulted as coming late) was simply the latest in a long list of such fatwas.  Perhaps if we continue to issue such fatwas and statements enough times they will finally be heard even by the deafest of those who continue to deny that such statements have been made.

“Whether we are American, Nigerian, Indonesian, or British, we look like them, we dress like them, we speak like them, and we pray like them. We cannot identify them before they strike. They hate us because we reject their ideology. They would kill us as ‘‘infidels.” We are Muslims. So are they. But they are terrorists and we are not. That is the distinction. This is where we must make our stand. ... As troubling as it is for Muslims to be identified as potential terrorists, the truth is that the terrorists conducting such barbaric acts in today’s society are Muslims. That is not to say that they are the only or the biggest terrorists, but they are the most mindless, unpredictable, and deliberately merciless. Driven by motives or grievances that they may legitimately share with countless other Muslims, they have devised their own demonic modus operandi that almost all others abhor and are repulsed by. In an open society they bear no distinctive traits. ... While the recent terror acts have been committed by Muslims, there is nothing ‘‘Islamic” about them. They are totally antithetical to the fundamental principles of Islam and represent a heretical deviation of the religion. When the 9/11 Commission went out of its way to define terrorism as not just any generic terrorism, but specifically as ‘‘Islamist,” this pejorative label, despite the banal niceties of ‘‘Islam being a religion of peace,” sent a chilling message to Muslims worldwide that terrorism is a hallmark or prerogative of Islam, or that when committed by other groups it is in some way mitigated by intrinsic extenuating circumstances. ,,, The leap from deviant Muslims perpetrating atrocities to a religion being impugned for the sins of its supposed adherents is breath-taking in its audacity. This distinction has become critical ever since the ‘‘showdown with Saddam” transmuted into the ‘‘war on terror.” With the daily mind-numbing imagery of maniacal Muslim ‘‘insurgents” savaging troops and civilians alike, a transformation rapidly took place: The problem was just not Muslim terrorists but an ‘‘evil” Islam itself. This is a theme broadcast with malevolent glee by talk shows on a daily basis thereby intensifying suspicion, fear, contempt, and hatred of Islam. Demonizing Islam makes it the enemy in the ‘‘war on terror.” ... Ironically, it is us Muslims who have the greatest vested interest in eradicating terrorism. We need to do this to salvage our religion and our self-respect. As long as we are marginalized by the West and taunted by the extremists, we are made to feel as if we were part of the problem rather than of the solution, and our commitment becomes ambivalent. If the so-called war on terrorism has any chance of being won, there needs to be an immediate redefinition of the enemy.” Foe isn’t Islam, it’s Binladenism, Abdul Cader Asmal

To say that recent terrorist acts are specifically a Muslim problem is to remove them from the historical context.

“The terrorist acts of a few Muslims are terrible tragedies: but do they have a history behind them? Is there a history of Western provocations in the Muslim world? Does the Western world at any point enter the historical chain of causation that now drives a few sane Muslims to acts of terrorism? The only history that Friedman will acknowledge is one of Western innocence. There is no blowback: hence, no Western responsibility, no Western guilt. ... Mr. Friedman speaks on this authoritatively and with clarity. The Muslim world has produced a “jihadist death cult in its midst.” “If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere.” His two-fold verdict is clear. Inexplicably, the Muslims have produced a death cult, a religious frenzy, that is driving those infected by it to kill innocent Westerners without provocation. Equally bad, the Muslims have done nothing to condemn, to root out this death cult they have spawned. ... There is not even a hint of history in these words. The historical amnesia is truly astounding. Does Mr. Friedman know any history? Of course, he does; but the history he knows is better forgotten if he is to succeed in demonizing the Muslim world. The oppressors choose to forget the history of their depredations, or substitute a civilizing mission for their history of brutalities, bombings, massacres, ethnic cleansings and expropriations. It is the oppressed peoples who know the history of their oppression: they know it because they have endured it. Its history is seared into their memory, their individual and collective memory. Indeed, they can liberate themselves only by memorializing this history.”  A Muslim Problem, M. Shahid Alam
“Two weeks ago, we saw how a group of young Muslims swallowed the bait of fiery rhetoric riddled with out-of-context verses spun in order to serve a nihilistic ideology of anger and despair offered to them disguised as Islam. Within a short period of time, these young men fell prey to the hate-filled dogma and were transformed into beings capable of blowing themselves up, taking with them innocent lives whom God has also blown in them from his spirit and “conferred dignity on the children of Adam” (Quran 7:70) which cuts through barriers of race, gender and creed…As they commit the crime against themselves and others, they drag with them the reputation and image of the religion they claim to venerate. They not only violate its basic teachings, but disfigure the message of “mercy to the worlds” into a justification for cruel, cowardly and repulsive behavior. In this way, hearts that were supposed to be opened to the word of God got closed and minds that were hoped to have been opened to the light of guidance are shut.”  Dr. Maher Hathout

To remove the discussion of terrorism from the historical context makes it easy to turn this in to an us and themӔ struggle that has no other solution but violence.

The triumph of the West, or the resurgence of an Islam interpreted by bestselling Pentecostal authors as a chastisement and a demonic challenge, signals the end of a growing worry about the religious meaninglessness of late modernity. Tragically, however, neither protagonist seems validly linked to the remnants of established religion, or shows any sign of awareness of how to connect with history. Fundamentalist disjuncture is placing us in a kind of metahistorical parenthesis, an end-time excitement in which, as for St Paul, old rules are irrelevant, and Christ and Antichrist are the only significant gladiators on the stage. Fundamentalists, as well as mystics, can insist that the moment is all that is real. ... In such a world of pseudo-religious reaction against the postmodern erosion of identity, it follows that if you are not ԑwith us, you are with the devil. Or, when this has to be reformulated for the benefit of the blue-collar godless, you are a ґcheese-eating surrender monkey. Where religion exists to supply an identity, the world is Augustinian, if not quite Manichean. The West’s ancient trope of itself as a free space, perhaps a white space, holding out against Persian or Semitic intruders, is being coupled powerfully, but hardly for the first time, with Pauline and patristic understandings of the New Israel as unique vessel of truth and salvation, threatened in the discharge of its redemptive project by the Oriental, Semitic, Ishmaelitic other. In the West, at least, the religious resources for this dualism are abundant and easily abused.Ҕ Bombing Without Moonlight: the Origins of Suicidal Terrorism, Abdal-Hakim Murad

There have been some Muslims who defended terrorism or at least justified some form of it.  The most striking example is what is called the Palestinian exceptionӔ to the rules of war.


“No doubt, Muslims are facing a deep spiritual crisis. Islam has been hijacked and turned into an ideology in pursuit of worldly success instead of a religion meant to purify the soul and focus one’s life on Almighty God. ...  I don’t deny that there are “Muslim terrorists” out there. Rather, like many people, I’m rather cynical about the conduct of what so far has been a rather selective war on terrorism. Indeed, a blind-eye is being turned to other great atrocities in the world and problems that cost far more human lives are being ignored. In the hands of ideologues who seemingly believe that military force can solve many of the world’s complex problems, the “War on Terror” has been expanded to include not only countries that are seemingly uninvolved, but carried out in gross violation of the very international laws that the terrorists are guilty of violating. Unfortunately, we live in an age where well-intentioned criticism is often considered un-patrioticespecially when coming from a Muslim. Being a good citizenship these days seems to mean shutting up and climbing on the bandwagon. Critical thinking and moral courage seem to be in short supply. Finding a semblance of them is as tough as finding an honest man in Congress. We only hope that our attempts to understand the motives for a crime are never understood to be endorsements of it. In order to develop reasonable, coherent and viable solutions to the plague of ignorance and extremism that we’re facing, we need to study the sources, context and motives behind the crimes. Simple solutions are bogus solutions, and most of the tough problems facing the human race can’t be solved by using military force. ... As a God-fearing and morally upright community, we’ve got to join together and bring our resources to bear in order to refute with a vengeance these extremist “Protestant Muslims” and their flaky “Do-It-Yourself” religion that has cast aside over 1,400 years of peerless scholarly tradition. In this undertaking, it’s crucial that we stay balanced, moderate and true to our blessed tradition. ...We need to explain the high moral standards of our faith; that it is a religion that primarily emphasizes not only the infinite mercy of God but encourages mercy between all human beings. Indeed, Islam condemns terrorism, murder, hijacking, kidnaping, taking the law into your own hands and so on. None of this is compromised by the fact that we also have a “Just War” theory which is extremely similar to the ones advocated not only by various churches, but by international law as well. Our beloved Prophet was sent as a mercy to the worlds (Qur’an 21:107), so we have to save Islam from the reckless few that have made a large part of humanity feel that it’s a scourge rather than a blessing.” Monkey See Monkey Do - Not an Islamic Ideal, Abdur Rahman Squires

We are in the midst of wars between the different families of Abraham ח Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Some of the family members actually define these wars as religiously required. ... Even worse, there are groups within the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities that are trying to incite and create an all-out war between Islam and “the West.” Such a war would bring misery upon the peoples of all nations.

This article is part of a 5 part series entitled “A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism”
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V 

by courtesy & ש 2005 The American Muslim  republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.