Is Islam a peace-loving religion, or does it tend towards violence? Both! Islam has a whole spectrum of positions. Some Muslims are liberally-minded and adapt themselves to democratic and pluralistic values, others are fundamentalists who struggle actively for a reformation of society, and still others are militant extremists prone to violence. Among the dedicated Muslim activists are peace-loving conservatives as well as the terrorist jihad supporters. It is important not to lump all Muslims and Islamic fundamentalists together.
What has contributed to the rise of militant Islam?
For a start, there are a number of events that have been traumatic for Muslims. Thinking of the past, they mourn the loss of the “Golden Age” of the beginnings of Islam and the Islamic cultural and military predominance from the seventh to 17th centuries. In addition, they have suffered under Western colonialism until recent times. Worldwide, they constantly experience the political, economical and military predominance of the “Christian” West. They have a sense of being under attack through events in Israel, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. They hate the repressive regimes in the Muslim world, which are often supported by the “Christian” West. They see their young people in danger from the immoral Western (“so-called Christian”) global culture. Many feel powerless and despised, leading them to be full of anger.
For militant Islamists, the example of Mohammad and the verses in the Qur’an that call for war against the “unbelievers” (Surat 2:190f, 9:5 and others) seem to be the only answer to this crisis. According to the Qur’an, violence is allowed if Muslims see themselves burdened or attacked. Petrodollars have helped many in the process of promoting militant Islam. They are inspired by the historic examples of commitment even to death of well-known Islamic personalities (eg Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taimiyya, and Sayyid M Outb, the founder of modern jihad who was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966). It is probable that nearly every Muslim is convinced that one day all peoples will have to submit to Islam.
How can we pray for Islamists and for extremists?
1. Islamic fundamentalism, which is prone to violence, has evoked two types of reaction among Muslims: on the one hand, a stronger hatred of the West and stronger opposition to the gospel; on the other, a disillusionment with Islam and greater openness for the mercy and peace of God. Many Muslims are appalled by the acts of violence which are done in the name of Islam. This is verbalised in some internet chat room contributions as well as by testimonies of former Muslims in Algeria, Iran and Afghanistan who have turned their backs on Islam.
2. Some Islamic militants have come to understand something of God’s mercy and love from reading the Bible and observing the life of Christians. Interviews with more than 600 converts from a Muslim background have shown that these factors play crucial roles in about half of the decisions for Christ.
3. Some Islamic fundamentalists have experienced God’s direct intervention, ie through dreams, visions, healings or encounters with the risen Christ. Jesus encountered Saul, the persecutor of Christians (Acts 9); He can also reveal Himself to Muslim fighters and those involved in jihad in our day. Testimonies of converts from Islam make it clear that this is happening again and again.
4. Christians who work in the Islamic world and the Churches in the West need God’s help and a heart full of mercy to build up deep relationships with Muslims.
5. Churches worldwide need friendliness, love and creativity to express the love of God to Muslims. Only the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of Islamic militants to the truth. (This is no small matter. In Germany alone the National Office for the Protection of the Constitution estimates that there are about 30,000 Muslim militants who, under the right circumstances, could be prone to violence.)
6. We should also pray for God to frustrate the destructive plans of Islamic terrorists. Governments around the world need wisdom and the political will to counter these extremists in an appropriate way and protect the world from harm. We should also pray for the many victims of extremist Islam.
7. Let us pray for ourselves that we may be free from nationalistic and cultural attitudes concerned with defending the West. May we be free from fear (not seeing everything from a friend-enemy perspective) so that we can see militant Muslims through God’s eyes. Above all, may God give us His love for Islamic militants. Jesus also died and rose again for them, to bring them true peace.