By Jan Rantrud, theologian and associate professor at Norsk Lærerakademi (Norwegian Teachers’ Academy). Mr. Rantrud has spent several years as a missionary in the Middle East. He holds membership in Mid-East based groups for coordination between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.


This is a translated and slightly modified version of an article that was originally published in the Norwegian daily Vårt Land on 5 january 2004 with the title Can there be peace in the house of war? (”Kan det bli fred i krigens hus?”)


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Can we criticize Islam? - Enemy images and Peace Visions



Two new books in Norwegian translation about Islam have attracted some attention. Islam and Terrorism by Mark Gabriel and Why I am not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq. Together they offer a presentation of Islam where the Jihad-concept, which indeed means holy war, is an integral and inevitable part, and as a religion which has as its final goal the conquest of the world by all available means; e.g. war, proselytizing, bribes, marriage, threats, immigration, and propaganda. Further, they state quite categorically that Islam is incompatible with human rights and democracy as these are understood in the western world, and further that this religion is suppressing women, intolerant towards freedom and without possibilities for sufficient change to smoothly being integrated into western societies.



What do they say?


There is really nothing new or spectacular about the contents in any of these books. What is important is the fact that they are written and published here. Knowing that they have been censured and deleted from certain academic web sites is informative, but hardly surprising.  


The best documented and most serious of the books is written by a previous professor in Islamic history at the world’s most prestigious Islamic University. It is published by a Christian publishing house and for the most part overlooked. The other one is written by a secular humanist from an unknown Islamic country and published by one of the world’s most politically correct publishing houses. The latter one has set things in motion. 


It is undoubtedly correct to say that such books presents an unsympathetic picture of Islam to whoever reads them without having read or heard the same things before. Everything these books say corresponds well with readings of Koran texts and Norwegian interpretations of these. Mark Gabriel’s book offers the insider’s argumentation for why the rather kind and pleasant reading of the texts that dominate in our textbooks and publications are not representative of contemporary Muslim theology. Somewhat simplified it may be said that the early and short suras of the Quran are quite accommodating and tolerant in their references to other religions like Christianity and Judaism – as Mohammed knew them. The later and longer sequences in the Koran are rather aggressive with strong call for extreme violence to eliminate all unauthorized belief and worship. Representative Muslim theology says that the later suras shall form the basis for interpretation of the earlier ones (the naskh principle). In other words a totally different impression of the basics of Islam than what we are usually presented with.  


The same message is being transmitted when reading Hadith literature and the primary sources of our time; Arabic language newspapers, books and Internet information. Islam translated is something else than Islam presented in its own, original language.


However, it is far from politically correct in Norway to say the same things about Islam as Islam always has said about itself and about us.



War and Crusades?


The above contentions can only be presented if we simultaneously admit that the basis for Christian beliefs and forms of expression give a very similar image. The old and the new testaments of our Bible are loaded with uncompromising and hateful passages towards enemies of our beliefs. The same is valid for Christian literature from the very beginning until today. The impressions left are made on basis of what selection one is making .We have a long tradition of meting out harsh judgment on our opponents, and we have been crusading for more than a thousand years with a lot more than just the power of the word.


We have to close our eyes for a long history if we elect not to acknowledge Muslim contentions that the present world conflicts are the West’s conspiracy and crusade against Islam. It is not extremism to call for holy war against the West. Seen from that perspective it is a normal and informed attitude that is being displayed. It should not be all that difficult to understand the frustration felt when the martyrs of the Islamic world fly airplanes into the Twin Towers or ignite bombs in human crowds, all with high shouts of Holy War, and we simultaneously insisting that there is no war between Islam and those targeted by the actions. Bombing of Afghanistan and invading Iraq has nothing to do with war on Islam, we proclaim – while our bombs are killing Muslims. We have always used the same means towards them as they use towards us. That is what we are doing when we drop peace-keeping, satellite-guided bombs and provide humanitarian aid with tanks and armored vehicles.


Who do we think we can convince that whatever we see in the gun-sight is not an enemy? Because we are the World of War – Dar-al-Harb, and we have to acknowledge that. Set aside ten seconds for some reflections and you will see how the picture is perceived from the other side.  




Integrate them!


This type of reflections is something our secular society will never do. Muslims have their place in political goals and society’s cultural objectives neither as friends nor as enemies but rather potential objects for integration. Just reinforce the integration process and all Muslims will end up believing in equality and democracy, same sex marriage and human rights, and total political agreement on drug policies.


It is frightening to know that some people actually believe this, although it is possible to realize that strong forces want this and use all means and all power available to complete that project; Compulsory religion education in school, complete gender equality, and minimalist formulations in marriage laws. Our educational system uses the concept of “inclusion” as a most important linguistic tool to make compulsory study of religion legitimate for both teacher and student. 


But Islam is already an integrated religion by itself, and it can neither be integrated nor included by anything else without disintegrating. Integration is, therefore, by no means a harmless project. It has never before been successful, and there are no indications that it ever will. A slogan like “If we only get acquainted and get to know each other, we will respect each other and live peacefully together”, is, at best, misleading. The Balkan Muslims, Serbs and Croatians have known each other intimately for six hundred years. Jews and Mid-East Muslims have known each other even longer, sharing lots of history. But they hate each other not despite of but rather because they know each other. Unfortunately, it seems we will only learn these first lessons when it will be too late.        



Only Enemies can make Peace


Islam is a religion and Christianity is a religion. They speak the same language and they can understand each other in an entirely different way than any secular power ever will.


For that very reason, having similar patterns of thought and using very similar means, Muslims and Christians are able to meet each other with unsentimental realism and realistic hope if we can all get out of the politically correct fog. We know that it is not a matter of the same worship of God or two versions of the same belief. Christianity and Islam are just as incommensurate today as when Muhammad established his society in Medina. One party’s creed is the other’s blasphemy.


We are enemies. Enemies can make peace. In fact, we can only make peace with our enemies. For that reason it is possible. Within Islam, making peace with your enemies is close to an exact science, with it’s own terminology – from Suhl to Salaam – and consistent theory. If we open our eyes and our books, then we can seriously communicate with each other. We are at war with each other, and we have been so for a long time. Both have as an objective to see one’s own religion dominating the world – just read the Great Commission of the New Testament. None of the two religions have succeeded so far and it does not look like they are going to make it in the foreseeable future.


That does not mean that we have to give up hope or expect the other one to give up hope. But in the meantime we can make peace. We don’t pray together and we hold the Bible and the Koran apart while we learn about our own and talk to our enemies about peace. We should give our own and the other’s children the right to go to schools where they can wear head dress and religious symbols and where they can learn about their own religion from their own teachers. Then we might even learn from each other. Christians should see that Islam’s constitutional integration of faith, food, hygiene, piety, politics, dress, prayer, and daily rhythm is an entity that our form of Christianity has lost and could need a mirror to rediscover. Islam should learn from it’s own history that only where Christian and Jewish influence have been allowed to work freely has Islam built cultures to be proud of.    


As it is, Christians and Muslims also have traditions of friendship to build on. This writer will never forget a visit to a true Christian saint’s – Mar Sharbel Makhlouf’s – grave in Lebanon while the civil war was at it’s most intense. Maronite and Melchite Christians, Shi’a and Sunni Muslims came together as they had done for generations, this time bringing along a Jewish physician and a Nordic ignorant. The locals had put away their weapons and prayed to their God; prayed about freedom from hate and war. Thereafter they collected all the money they had brought and put it into a common coffer in order to provide care for each other’s wounded. They were still enemies, and the war was not over, but whoever had prayed by the Saint’s grave was no longer in that war. We will only understand what it means to love our enemies the day we can penetrate the fog and look our enemies straight into the eyes .Only enemies can make peace with each other.



Written by Jan Rantrud


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