Islam and Terrorism
A review of Mark A. Gabriel’s book: Islam and Terrorism, Charisma House, 2002.
Made available by HonestThinking.org
Review 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 article was printed in the Norwegian daily Vårt Land, 13th December 2004.
An unwelcome look at Islam
If we should attempt to comprise in a few words the perceptions and impressions that dominate our world’s public universe of opinions, it can conveniently be expressed as follows: There are good Muslim and there are bad Muslims. The good ones are those who smoothly allow themselves to be integrated into our society and with our values. The bad ones are those who do not. Among them we find repulsive phenomena like repression of women, so-called circumcision of women, forced marriages, and murder for the sake of honor. Towards the extreme edges we will find holy warriors and terrorists; crazy psychopaths doing unbelievable actions. We explain them and their actions as a result of desperation and repression by other Muslims, and that they are not representative of Islam at all. According to Mark Gabriel, this view is totally wrong.
He has written the book Islam and Terrorism which has been translated into the Norwegian language and published by Prokla-Media publishing house. What he says is that the holy-war-ideology is the real core and gravitational centre of Islam, the nucleus around which everything else in the religion revolves around and gravitates toward.
This view is so unwelcome among us that there is every reason to give it a closer examination. But first we need to take a closer look at the author. According to the self-biographical information given in the book, the name Mark Gabriel is a pseudonym for an Egyptian, previously an Imam and Professor, teaching Islamic history and religion at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He became so shocked and disillusioned by his own religion that he departed from it, converted to Christianity and moved to the west. There he has dedicated his life to enlighten western people and convert other Muslims.
The author describes the main theme of the book as follows: “The main thesis in this book is religious terrorism within Islam, also called jihad, meaning ‘Holy war’… (page 17). The book should be read in this somewhat narrow perspective, not as a general introduction to the religion Islam and its multiple part and aspects. Further, one should always be critical towards new converts describing what they have converted from.
This reviewer has tried to do two things in order to establish a sound opinion about the author and the core message of the book. The first is about the author’s credentials: Is he what he pretends to be. A professorate at the Al-Azhar University is not exactly an anonymous position. It did not take long to verify that Mr. Gabriel’s self-biographical presentation is totally correct. His original name and identity, and the main items in what might well be presented as his CV, are verified information.
The second concerns the book’s factual information about Islam. A fruitful way of reading this book was reading it in parallel with other books about the same subject; e.g. some highly Islam-critical books like John Laffin’s Holy War – Islam Fights, or books written by Muslims primarily for the purpose of informing their own about the concept of Jihad. Also available are smaller or more extensive writings by Sayyid Qutb – Mark Gabriel’s fellow national in addition to writings about him. Mr. Qutb has been called the real father of Islamic fundamentalism. Ms. Lillian Jeanette Abrahamsen (Norsk Lærerakademi - 2000) has published a very interesting main thesis ( in the Norwegian language) about him and the use of the concept Jihad. In order to get a different perspective in addition to the Sunni-Muslim views of Mark Gabriel, I found the relatively short but informational book by the Iranian Ayatholla Murtaza Mutahhari very useful.
In relation to the Islam-critics writing from the outside, Mr. Gabriel presents a typical perspective as seen from the inside. Even bearing in mind that this is the new convert emotionally distancing himself from what he once stood for, the man obviously knows what he is talking about. At the same time, the reader may do well in disregarding the dissenter’s agitatorial passages in the book (of which there are several).
In relation to Muslim writings, including those having an apologetical purpose, all his factual information is sound. This is not only valid for those that are easily controllable, like the Quran- and Hadith citations, but also interpretation traditions and the Islamic paradigm of self understanding. It is, therefore, the opinion of this reviewer that provided one can disregard the many preaching- and slogan-like proclamations in Mark Gabriel’s book, it forms a good basis for insight and understanding of what constitutes Islam of today in a world wide perspective.
His message may seem somewhat hopeless. Terrorism will not go away. It is so deeply rooted, both religiously and culturally, that it will continue to be there and even increase in the future.
What do we do about that? Mark Gabriel appears to suggest that the only solution is that Muslims convert to Christianity like he did it himself. Hardly realistic! But even less realistic is it to believe that the great masses of Muslims around the world will start believing that holy war with weapons is wrong and then elect our ideals with democracy, tolerance, equal rights, peace and freedom and all the other slogans that we try to convince ourselves that we stand for. Sooner or later we have to face a situation where the world’s cultural basis, as it can be read out of the UN Charter, or the Declaration of Human Rights, or the Geneva Convention, is too narrow and culture-specific to survive in a world which with increasing frequency reminds us that other cultural ideals, pointing in entirely different directions, are representing the majority of the world’s population.
Mark Gabriel is most likely correct when he says that terrorists and holy warriors are not crazy fanatics. They are rather rational people solidly planted in a consistent, religious culture with a clear and easy to understand purpose. They know what they want, and they know how to get it. And they are thriving on an ever more fertile ground. All research and reports indicate that the hatred towards the western world and all it represents is on the increase in the Muslim world as well as other places. That hatred is further nourished by attempts to “win the Muslim mind and heart”. Whoever does not understand why just humanitarian aid and aid workers are targets for terrorism in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, is just plainly dangerously ignorant.
Possibly the most important prospect Mr. Gabriel presents us with in his book is the situation for Christians in Muslim countries. A little reading and only moderate historical knowledge shows clearly that the popular image of Islam’s great, historical tolerance towards Christians, Jews, and other minorities, is a fairytale picture. It is well suited for the mandatory teaching of religious knowledge in our schools, but not for understanding the real world. Suppression of religious minorities in the Islamic world has always been marked by heartless intolerance, and at this time it is getting worse every day. In my opinion, Mr. Gabriel unfortunately shows little empathy towards the situation under which his Egyptian Christian fellow countrymen live. He describes the pressure they have to endure, but criticizes them – quite unduly in my opinion – for lack of courage and candor. We should not do that. If we want to have anything meaningful at all to convey to the Islamic world, it should be unconditional solidarity with persecuted Christians. That will be noted and understood.
Is the future relationship between Islam and our world as gloomy as Mark Gabriel draws up? Maybe! But if we take a look at a little parallel, we might possibly discover something else. The Jihad theology of Islam today has to a certain degree its equivalent in European, Christian, crusade-ideology of the middle ages. That ideology disappeared, not because of any new acknowledgement or cognition from the inside, but because of catastrophic defeat. Large parts of the Islamic world are convinced that we are still on a crusade against them. If we manage to understand the underlying reasons for that, we might be able to convey the message that both crusade- and Jihad-motivated war and aggression cannot lead to anything else than loss of what we are trying to achieve.
Reviewed by Jan Rantrud
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