Violence in Contemporary Islam

On the off chance that any of y’all are interested in my thoughts about violence in contemporary Islam, here is something I wrote recently.

Violence in Contemporary Islam

Shocking reports of violence committed by fanatical Muslims have become common.  Nearly everyday some new violent atrocity makes the news.1  Amid this ongoing violence a worldwide debate rages over its religious significance.  Is Islam an inherently aggressive and violent religion or is the violence merely a product of deviant extremism that is unrepresentative of the religion itself?  Put differently, is the violence and terrorism occurring because of Islam, or in spite of it?

This paper will examine the subject of violence in contemporary Islam.  First, it will briefly discuss the origin of violent extremism in contemporary Islam.  Next it will consider the religious arguments used to justify, and to oppose, such violence.   Finally, the paper will conclude with a review of the Islamic case for tolerance and pluralism.

The Origins of Contemporary Fundamentalism: al-Wahhab and Qutb

While there have been groups of violent, extremist Muslims in the past,2 the particular form of violence that is a seemingly everyday occurrence today (most notably suicide terrorism) is a distinctly modern phenomenon.   It is the product of an extreme fundamentalist philosophy, which has found the contemporary political situation in the Middle East and the modernization of the Islamic world to be fertile ground within which to grow.  Its roots may be traced, in part, to the 18th Century Arab scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the 20th Century Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb.

In 1948 Qutb came to the United States to continue his studies.  There he encountered what he regarded as a shockingly promiscuous and impious society and was so repulsed by it that upon his return to Egypt he dedicated the remainder of his life to an effort to radicalize Muslims in opposition to Westernism and to advocacy of an austere traditional practice of Islam.3  Whereas the position of Muslim intellectuals had been to credit modernization to Islam and to call for its “repossession,”4 Qutb argued that Western modernization was actually an affront to Islam which should be strenuously resisted.  Qutb contended that Islam, in its original and undefiled state, was perfect and universally valid.5  He applied the concept of jahiliyaa, which Muhammad used to refer to the ignorance of pre-Islam Arabia, to modern Egypt.6  Qutb called for a return to what he regarded as the original, pure form of Islam, purged of all corrupting Western influences.  He also argued that Muslims should pursue creation of a theocratic Islamic state, in which non-Muslims would either have to convert or submit to Muslim rule.  Qutb contended that “being a Muslim means being a warrior,” and that Muslims must fight to gain Islamic control of the entire world.7  Qutb found support for his call in the writings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the example of his followers, the Wahhabis.8

Writing in the 18th Century, al-Wahhab took the position that the Quran requires Muslims to use force and violence to advance God’s will.9  His followers, the Wahhabis, practiced an extreme form of fundamentalism and believed they had a sacred duty to impose their practices on the rest of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. 10  Early in the 20th Century, Wahhabis allied with the Saud family were able to gain control of most of the Arabian Peninsula (what is now known as Saudi Arabia).  They imposed their version of Islam through a reign of terror which included tens of thousands of executions and hundreds of thousands of amputations.11   All practices other than their radical fundamentalism were violently subdued.

Wahhabism remained essentially limited to the Saudi state, however, and was of limited influence until rising oil prices and consumption greatly enriched Saudi Arabia and enabled it to begin aggressively proselytizing and disseminating that philosophy throughout the Muslim world.12   What had been a peculiar and numerically insignificant sect began to infiltrate the Islamic mainstream worldwide.  At the same time, the Wahhabi message (and the message of Qutb) began to resonate with many Muslims trying to come to grips with the consequences of modernization and with a series of humiliating political setbacks in the Islamic world.  The seeming impotence of Muslim militaries in the 1967 war with Israel, the failure to prevent or end the civil war in Lebanon, the Iran/Iraq war, the corruption and incompetence of secular regimes in Muslim countries, the squandering of vast oil revenues and the increasing impact of Western modernization on traditional Muslim societies, all contributed to an atmosphere receptive for a call to return to a faithful, traditional practice of Islam.13  “What has emerged from these (moral no less than political or military) defeats is an Arab world in crisis.  In the breach opened by the crisis, Islamism grows:  an anti-modern, anti-secular, and anti-Western political ideology whose aims are to convert each Muslim into an observant believer, to transform a merely nominally Muslim society into a religious community organized around service to God and to establish God’s rule over the world.”14

Eventually there were those among the Wahhabis who came to believe that even Saudi Wahhabism was not sufficiently pure and true to Islam.  These, the most extreme of fundamentalists, objected to the Saudi regime and began to agitate against it.  They called for purification of Islam, and labeled all Muslims who did not adhere to their brand of fundamentalism “heretics” and “infidels.”   They zealously embraced Qutb’s call for violent opposition to the advance of the non-Muslim world.  When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, many of them poured into that country to wage jihad against the atheist Soviets. There their leadership acquired military training and became even more radicalized.  Later, when U.S. military forces entered Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, the radicals identified it as among their enemies.   Eventually all the nations which joined in the invasion of Afghanistan were also targeted.  The extremists came to see themselves at war with virtually the entire planet.  As always, however, their violence continued to be focused primarily on fellow Muslims.15

Although their rhetoric is typically couched in religious terms, much of the violence of the Muslim extremists is, of course, politically motivated.  Attacks on civilians within Israel, for example, are products of the ongoing political dispute over Palestine, rather than some theological dispute between Muslims and Jews.  Typically, however, Muslim extremists conflate religion and politics, and even their frequent attacks on non-Muslims are justified in religious terms.  Of course the justification put forward for the ongoing violence directed at other Muslims, which is far more prevalent, is almost always couched in terms of religion, rather than politics, although there are often political dimensions to the violence.

Quranic Support for the Radicals and their Muslim Opponents

Naturally the violence attendant to Islamic extremism has provoked a debate within the Muslim world as to whether it is religiously acceptable or not.  Both camps can produce Quranic support for their position.

Those who make the case that Islam is a peaceful religion that does not sanction aggressive violence can point to the Quran itself to support their position.  For example:

And fight for the Cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not be aggressive.  Surely Allah does not like the aggressors.  (2: 190)16

And if they incline to peace, incline to it too, and put your trust in Allah.  (8: 61)

And the servants of the Compassionate who walk in the land gently and, if the ignorant address them, they say:  “Peace.”  (25: 63)

There is no compulsion in religion. (2: 256)

On the other hand, the Quran also provides support for those advocating violence.  For example:

Then, when the Sacred Months are over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them…  (9:5)

Fight those among the People of the Book who believe not in Allah and the Last Day, do not forbid what Allah and his Messenger have forbidden and do not profess the true religion, till they pay the poll tax out of hand and submissively.  (9: 29)17

So, when you meet the unbelievers, strike their necks till you have bloodied them, then fasten the shackles.  (47:4)

It seems, therefore, that both those Muslims who seek Quranic justification for their violence, and those who prefer tolerance and peace, have verses upon which they may comfortably rely.  Of course this leaves each camp needing to find an explanation for the verses that seem contradictory to their respective positions.

The radical Muslim fundamentalists who advocate violence and terrorism overcome the apparent inconsistencies by using the doctrine of abrogation.  Muhammad experienced what Muslims believe to be divine revelation on 114 separate occasions, occurring over a period of 22 years.  These revelations comprise what became the Quran, which is separated into 114 separate chapters or suras.    On some occasions Muhammad announced a revelation that contradicted or superseded a prior revelation.  On these instances, the subsequent revelation is said to have “abrogated” the inconsistent prior revelation.  The Quran specifically acknowledges that such abrogation may occur. (“Whichever verse We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring instead a better or similar one.”  2:106). Relying on this concept of abrogation, the radical fundamentalists argue that the so-called “sword verse” (9:5: “ …kill the idolaters wherever you find them…”) abrogated “all preceding verses pertaining to patience (sabr), persuasion (husna), tolerance (la ikrah), and the right to self-determination (lasta ‘alayhim bi musaytir).”18   Well over 100 verses of the Quran are claimed to have been abrogated in this way.19  Thus, by reliance on the doctrine of abrogation, the extremists simply declare invalid the body of Quranic text which contradicts their call for violence.

Many Muslim scholars object to this use of the doctrine of abrogation.  They respond that nowhere in the Quran is it said that the “sword verse” abrogates prior revelation, for example.  Further, they argue, it is unreasonable to conclude that  such wholesale abrogation occurred.    As Sohail Hashmi argues, employing the doctrine of abrogation in this way, “requires doing violence to the totality of the Quran’s message; it requires disregarding not only the entire Meccan Quran, but also much of the Medinan Quran that continues to speak of tolerance, forbearance and strictly defensive war where no other recourse to aggression is available.”20   Construing these passages, he says, requires not “the blunt instrument of abrogation,” but rather, “a more sophisticated hermeneutics.”21  Responding to the argument that the peaceful verses were abrogated once the Muslim community was no longer weak and unable to defend itself, Khaled Abou El Fadl says, “It defies logic that God at one point would instruct human beings to act in a moral fashion, only to completely reverse himself at a later point for purely opportunistic reasons.”22

Still, even if the pacific verses have not been abrogated, the Muslims who oppose the radicals must find a way to explain the verses, like the sword verse, which seem to sanction aggressive violence.  They cannot just sweep them aside, as the radicals do with pacific verses.  Rather, in order to make sense of the Quran, with its seemingly contradictory calls for peace and violence, most Muslims harmonize the verses by contextualizing them.23

For example, Muslim scholars note that during Muhammad’s lifetime the Muslim community was fighting for its existence.  Muslim warfare during that period was defensive, with the pagan Arabs being the aggressors.  Whatever encouragement Muhammad may have been giving the Muslim community to fight, therefore, it must be remembered that the fighting was always defensive, to preserve and protect the beleaguered Muslim community.   Verses such as the “sword verse” are, in their analysis, simply practical instructions for how to fight in the event a legitimate defensive conflict should break out.24   Understood in a proper historical context, therefore, these Muslim scholars contend that the Quran does not sanction aggressive violence.  Rather, any use of force which is not defensive, they insist, is “forbidden by God.”25   As the Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra puts it, “War is not justified to impose Islam as a religion on unbelievers or to support a particular social regime.  The Prophet Muhammad fought only to repulse aggression.”26   With regard to the “sword verse” specifically, Tarek Fatah argues:

Jihadis use this verse to justify their actions, not realizing that the verse was revealed for a specific narrow application for a particular skirmish with pagan Arabs.  Early classical commentators stated very clearly that this was not an all-encompassing direction for the future.  Sadly, other theologians have used this verse as their clarion call for jihad against the infidel.  This is insane.  Imagine using Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches as a call to wage war on Germany today.27

The dispute between the radical and non-radical Muslims is unlikely to be resolved, however, merely by appeals to the text of the Quran.28   Each side will continue to find support for its cause in the text.  Further, radicals take the position that even if the more pacific verses have not been abrogated, their actions are nevertheless consistent with the Quran because they insist they are in fact defending Islam.  They reason, therefore, that they are not aggressors and therefore not in violation of the verses condemning aggression.29

Moreover, notwithstanding the best efforts of many Muslim clerics and scholars to diminish the significance of the violence in the Quran, the undeniable fact is that Muhammad lived in a violent society, prone to warfare, and the Quran acknowledges that.  The Quran clearly calls upon Muslims to resist evil, with violence when necessary.  It seems that pacifism, perhaps unfortunately, is simply not a viable option in Islam.30   Yet while the Quran commands Muslims to fight in defense of their community when necessary,31  it also anticipates that Muslims will live among people of other faiths.  The hope for a more peaceful Islam rests not in pacifism, but in pluralism.

Pluralism in Islam

If a single factor had to be identified, which most accounts for the violence of the radical fundamentalists, it would be their refusal to accept a pluralistic society.  Their refusal to accept a multicultural community whose values and mores are not defined and limited by fundamentalist Islam, their fanatical insistence that only their peculiar fundamentalist version of Islam is true and valid, and their belief that anyone who is not practicing that version of Islam, Muslim or otherwise, is an infidel who may be summarily killed, prevents any meaningful dialogue and would seem to rule out peaceful coexistence as an option.

The radicals insist that Islam commands Muslims to actively seek to control and rule the entire world.  All the non-Muslims in the world today must either convert to Islam, or submit to Islamic rule.32   Further, the practice of Islam must be limited to their strict fundamentalism.  In their view, those Muslims who do not conform to their brand of Islam are heretics and infidels, just as non-Muslims are.

There is, however, substantial support within the Quran itself for the proposition that Muslims should coexist peacefully with people of other cultures and religions.  For example:

Had your Lord willed, everybody on earth would have believed.  Will you then compel people to become believers? (10:99)

Allah does not forbid you, regarding those who did not fight you in religion and drive you out of your homes, to be generous to them and deal with them justly.  Allah surely loves the just. (60:8)

Allah guides whom he wishes. (28:56)

           Whoever wishes, let him believe; and whoever wishes let him disbelieve. (18:29)

           We have not sent you as a guardian to watch over them; incumbent upon you is delivering the Message only.  (42:48)

There is no compulsion in religion.  (2: 256)

You have your religion and I have mine.  (109: 6)

Relying on these verses, and the example of the early Muslim community, many Islamic scholars have challenged the radical fundamentalists and argued that Islam not only allows pluralism, but may even mandate it. Shi’a scholar Abdulaziz Sachedina, for example, argues persuasively that Islam contemplates a pluralistic world of differing religious beliefs.33   As Ibrahim Shalaby puts it, “A world of one religion is categorically unthinkable in Islam, based on the Qur’anic verses which admit the differences and diversity in human religious beliefs.”34   Likewise, Feisal Abdul Rauf argues that, “Pluralism of religions is a fundamental human right under Islamic law.”35  Akhtarul Wasey declares that, “Islam not only does not have any room for any form of forced uniformity of faith but it is also actively against it, and forbids it….Islam not only accepts other religions but also posits their peaceful co-existence.”36

Clearly, therefore, a compelling argument exists that Islam can (and perhaps should) exist peacefully within religiously pluralistic societies.37   The Muslim worldview generally holds that was should be, is.  Because there are other religions in the world, Muslims should easily be able to conclude that Allah wills that to be true.  Surah 10:99 seems to make that point plainly:  had God wished everyone on the world to be a Muslim, he would have made it so.  The radical insistence on pursuit of a true Islamic state, which will govern the world in accordance with pure, undefiled Islam, has its roots not so much in religion, however, as in ongoing political disputes and a reaction to the influence of modernity on traditional Islamic culture and society.

The radicals’ conflation of religion and politics continues to be an obstacle to their acceptance of pluralistic societies.  Violence will almost certainly continue, as long as the radicals insist on a fundamentalist political state.  Tarek Fatah, distinguishing “Islamists” and Muslims, says “the former seek an ‘Islamic State,’ the latter merely desire a ‘state of Islam.’  One requires a theocracy, the other a state of spirituality.”38   Basam Tibi also emphasizes the political character of the radicals:  “the proto-type of an Islamic fundamentalist is a political man, a homo politicus, rather than a homo religiosus (a man of religion).”39   They use religion, he argues, to pursue political, non-religious ends.40

There are voices within Islam, however, which reject this conflation of religion and politics.   Egyptian scholar Husain Fawzi al-Najjar, for example, wrote:

We do not believe that Muhammad came to establish a kingdom or a state.  He was simply a Prophet and messenger to all mankind….Islam does not oblige the people to submit to this mission.  The Koran clearly says, There shall be no compulsion in religion….There is nothing in the Islamic shari’a that prescribes to bind religion to any state order.  The shari’a does not rule any specific system of government.41

Perhaps the failures of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran to produce just and righteous societies will disillusion many of those anxious for the creation of truly Islamic states.  Indeed, it seems that the examples of the radicals themselves are having the unintended effect of making Muslims less receptive to their message.42   It is likely, however, that as long as injustice and unresolved political disputes continue to exist in the Muslim world, radicals will continue to find eager audiences.

Of course the spread of modern Western culture will also continue to fuel the radicals, who resist it in the name of Islam.  The fundamentalists refuse to consider any arguments that Islam should adapt to changing circumstances.  Instead, they insist, circumstances should conform to Islam, which is itself perfect and unchanging.  Thus Pakistani fundamentalist scholar Muhammad Muslehuddin contends:  “Those who think of reforming or modernizing Islam are misguided, and their efforts are bound to fail…Why should it be modernized, when it is already perfect and pure, universal and for all time?”43

Fundamentalism is not, however, the only contemporary Islamic response to the challenges of Western modernization.  While the fundamentalists retreat into “nostalgia for a lost Islamic paradise,” reformists seek “to reconcile Islam and modernity, taking something from each.”44   As Nathan Funk and Abdul Aziz Said argue:

What is necessary is a balanced view that does not regard progress as the child of secularity alone, and that acknowledges the role of new religious thinking in participatory governance, public accountability, human rights and social justice.   Just as surely as figures like Osama Bin Laden can misappropriate religion in the pursuit of revenge, fresh applications of Islamic values can no doubt play an important role in mobilizing human energy to overcome barriers to change in the Middle East.45

All of the great world religions, including Islam, have been rocked by the effects of cultural changes throughout history, but all have survived.  It should be evident to the vast majority of the world that the extremist dream of converting the earth to 7th Century Islam is a mere fantasy.  It is likely those who seek harmony between “progress” and faith who will survive.


The violent intolerance of the radical fundamentalists, and their vision of a world under their domination, must be as unattractive to most Muslims as it is to the non-Muslim world.  Fortunately, as argued above, sincere and devout Muslims may comfortably reject this extremism, while staying safely within the parameters of their historic faith.  While violent extremists may continue to conflate religion and politics, claiming the mantle of “true Islam,” it seems highly probable that they will remain a small and hated minority.  If political tensions recede and injustices (actual and perceived) are overcome, the appeal of violent extremism will diminish.  Moreover, in a continually shrinking world, it is likely that the vast majority of Muslims will continue to prefer to live peacefully and respectfully in religiously pluralistic cultures.  While clearly modernization and secularization threaten the traditional practice of Islam (as they in some sense threaten all world religions), these are forces which cannot be held back by terrorism or retreats into anti-intellectual fundamentalism.46   Modernization does not require the abandonment of religion generally, or Islam in particular.  Rather, Muslims should heed the voices of those who are showing that Islam is fully compatible with a modernized, religiously pluralistic world.


1  For example, on November 6, 2010, as this paper is being written, radicals attacked worshippers at two mosques in Northwest Pakistan, killing over 70 people.

2  Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Place of Tolerance in Islam (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), p. 6 (citing as examples of violent extremists groups in Islamic history the Khawarij and Qaramites, both of which eventually became moderate and blended into Muslim society).

3  See Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 312-315.  The racism and popular support for Israel that Qutb observed and experienced while in the U.S. also contributed to his radicalization.

4  Basim Tibi, Islam Between Culture and Politics (New York:  Palgrave McMillan, 2005), p. 142.

5  Peter R. Demant, Islam vs. Islamism:  The Dilemma of the Muslim World, (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), p. 98.

6  Sohail H. Hashmi, Islamic Political Ethics:  Civil Society, Pluralism, and Conflict, (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 48.

7  Samir Khalil Samir, 111 Questions on Islam (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), p. 86.

8  Ruthven, p. 277.  Qutb also relied on the writings of the ultra-conservative Pakistani Abul al-Mawdudi. Demant, p. 98.

9  Amritha Venkatraman, “Religious Basis for Islamic Terrorism:  The Quran and Its Interpretations,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30: 229-248, 238 (2007).

10  Ibid. “The Wahhabis claim that their duty to Jihad will continue ‘until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule.’” (citing Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam:  Holy War and Unholy Terror  (New York :Random House, 2003), p. 31).  Wahhabis accused any Muslims who did not practice their version of extreme fundamentalism, or who used reason in their interpretation, of being heretics.  Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wresting Islam From Extremists, (San Francisco:  HarperSanFrancisco, 2005). All Shia were deemed by them to be heretics as well.  “The significance of calling a Muslim a heretic was enormous:  a heretic was to be treated as an apostate, and thus killing or executing him was considered lawful.”  Ibid, p. 48.

11  Fadl, The Great Theft, p. 64.

12  Fadl, The Place of Tolerance in Islam,  p. 9.

13  Demant, p. 94.  Feisal Abdul Rauf cites additional factors, such as the injustices attendant to the rapid accumulation of wealth, the aftermath of European colonialism, “militant” modern secularism, western support for despotic regimes, and the psychological sense that the Islamic world had “fallen behind.”  Feisal Abdul Rauf, What’s Right With Islam (San Francisco:  HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), p. 8.  El Fadl includes “the impoverished intellectual climate” caused in part by political manipulation of Islam and the absence of clergy and a church hierarchy.  El Fadl, The Place of Tolerance in Islam, p. 28, 44.  Obviously there is a complex mix of religious, political and cultural factors to which the rise of radicalism may be attributed, a complete examination of which is beyond the scope of this paper.

14  Demant, p. 94.

15  David Cook, Martyrdom in Islam, (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 164  (“The course that radical Islam has taken over the past thirty years has proven that radical Muslims really prefer to kill each other….Radical Muslims…have killed far more Muslims than any infidel ever has.  Through the use of suicide attacks, the rise in Muslim deaths has been exponential.”)  The vast majority of the victims of terrorism are also Muslims.  Beverly Milton-Edwards, Islam and Violence in the Modern Era (New York:  Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), p. 92.

16  All cites to the Quran in this paper, unless they are internal quotes, are taken from Majid Fakhry, tr. An Interpretation of the Qur’an:  English Translation of the Meanings (New York:  Washington Square, 2000).

17  Abdulaziz Sachedina argues that other than this verse, “There is no other place in the Qur’an…where there remains room to interpret its directive to combat disbelief as going beyond the consistent defensive posture that must be adopted by the Muslim public order.”  Abdulaziz Sachedina, “Justification for Violence in Islam:  Part II, The Interplay Between Religion and Power in Islam,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics, Volume 3, Issue 2 (February, 2003).

18  Abdulhamid Abu Sulayman, Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations (Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1993), p. 44.

19  Ibid., estimating that between 124 and over 140 verses were abrogated by the “sword verse” alone.  See also, Samir Khalil Samir, 111 Questions on Islam (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), pp. 70-71.

19  Jamal J. Elias, ed.  Key Themes for the Study of Islam (Oxford:  Oneworld, 2010), p. 344.

20  Ibid.

21  El Fadl, The Great Theft, p. 218.

22  See Hashmi, pp. 194-216.

23  Aziz Ahmad, et al., Muslim Self-Statement in India and Pakistan 1857-1968 (Wiesbaden:  Otto Harrassowitz, 1970), p. 47.

24  Venkatraman, p. 232 (2007).  See also Abdulaziz Sachedina, “Justification for Violence in Islam:  Part II, The Interplay between Religion and Power in Islam,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics, Volume 3, Issue 2 (February, 2003), (“The use of force, then, as far as the Qur’an is concerned is defensive, and limited to the violation of interpersonal human conduct.”)

25  quoted in Hashmi, p. 208.  See also, Ibrahim M. Shalaby, “Islam and Peace,” Journal of Religious Thought, Vol. 34, Issue 2 (1977), p. 47 (“(O)ffensive war is categorically prohibited.  Only the defensive war is permitted, as indicated in the Qur’an.”)

26  Tarek Fatah, Chasing a Mirage:  The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, (Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), p. 270.

27  It is likely, however, that the contemporary radical fundamentalist movement will eventually die out and fade away, as its predecessors have in the past.   Fadl, The Place of Tolerance in Islam, p. 6 (“The essential lesson taught by Islamic history is that extremist groups are ejected from the mainstream of Islam; they are marginalized and eventually treated as heretical aberrations to the Islamic message.”)

28  El Fadl, The Great Theft, p. 232, 246.  The radical tactic of suicide bombing is, however, a particularly controversial subject.  Islam specifically forbids suicide.  The fact that suicide bombing attacks often kill women, children and noncombatants is also seemingly in violation of the Quran.  In fact, according to Muhammad Munir, suicide bombing violates at least five separate provisions of Islamic law.  Muhammad Munir, “Suicide Attacks and Islamic Law,” International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 90, Issue 869 (2008), pp. 71-89.  Some Muslim scholars and clerics have concluded, however, that Islam legitimately permits suicide bombing.  See Halim Rane, “Muslim Views of Violence,” viewed at

29  Sohail H. Hashmi, Islamic Political Ethics:  Civil Society, Pluralism, and Conflict, (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2002).  But see, Malcolm Brown, “Reflections on Islam and Pacifism,” Australian Journal of Human Security, Volume 2, No. 1 (2006) arguing that Islam is compatible with pacifism.  Note also that the Islamic Ahmadiyya sect teaches and practices pacifism.

30  Ibid., citing 8:60, 73.

31  Pakistani scholar Abdul ala Mawdudi was an influential proponent of this view. Qutb, for example, drew heavily from Mawdudi.  Mawdudi called for jihad aimed at Muslim domination of the entire world.  He contended that, “Islam wants the whole earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof.”  Quoted in Milton-Edwards, p. 32.  In 1948 Mawdudi wrote, “in order to eradicate evil and to prevent wrong, Islam has prescribed that by jihad—and, if the necessity should befall, by war and bloodshed—all such governments should be wiped out.  In their place a just and equitable system of government should be erected which is founded upon the fear of God and based upon the canons He has ordained.”  Quoted in Aziz Ahmad, et al., Muslim Self-Statement in India and Pakistan 1857-1968 (Wiesbaden:  Otto Harrassowitz, 1970), p. 156.

32  Abdulaziz Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

33  Ibrahim M. Shalaby, “Islam and Peace,” Journal of Religious Thought, Vol. 34, Issue 2 (1977), p. 42.   Some Muslim pluralists even go so far as to argue that in 3:19 (“the only religion approved by Allah is Islam”), the word “Islam” is a verb not a noun, and that true religion, therefore, is a submission to God which may be done through Moses, Jesus or Muhammad.  Of course this position is generally denied and extremely controversial.  See Sayyid Muhammad Rizva,  “Introduction” to  Shahid Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, Islam and Religious Pluralism, (Toronto:  Islamic Publishing House (Canada), 2004).

34  Rauf, p. 104, citing 109:6 as support.  Rauf, a Sufi Imam who has been the focus of a lot of attention recently due to his proposal to build a mosque/community center near the site of the World Trade Center, argues that Islam permits not only pluralism of religion, but also pluralism within religion, allowing pluralistic interpretations to exist within Islam.

35  Akhtarul Wasey, Islamic Response to Contemporary Challenges (Delhi: Shipra Publications, 2008), p. 120.

36  Demant makes the interesting observation that:  “From the outset, Islam confronted the dilemma of Judaism and Christianity, its ‘ancestral’ religions, which it could neither deny nor accept as equal partners without calling its own veracity into question.  The result was a permanent tension between fanaticism and pluralism.”  Demant, p. 78.

37  Fatah, p. xii.  As Basam Tibi puts it, “The exponents of political Islam are religious fundamentalists because they define their counter-challenge and the alternatives they present in terms of a religiously articulated claim for political power.”  Tibi, p. 3.

38  Tibi, p. 3.

39  Ibid. p. 68, 102.

40  Ibid, p. 264.

41  Moussa Bongoyok notes that Islamism has made Muslims more receptive to Christian evangelism, for example.  See J. Dudley Woodberry, From Seed to Fruit:  Global Trends, Fruitful Practices, and Emerging Issues Among Muslims (Pasadena:  William Carey Library, 2008), pp.297-310.  See also Cook, p. 164 (noting that mass killing of Muslims by suicide bombers has created “volumes of hatred” between those who would otherwise be neighbors.)

42  Quoted in Tibi at 164.

43  Demant, p. 174.

45  Nathan C. Funk and Abdul Aziz Said, Islam and Peacemaking in the Middle East, (Boulder:  Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2009), p. 240.

46  Demant argues that “Islamism” is at present the “only significant coherent ideological challenge to the ‘Western’ (but really universal) mode of modernity.”  Demant, p. 172.  Essentially, he says, the radicals are trying to come to grips with an “unbalanced world,” and that “Islamism’s answer may be wrong, but the question is right.” Ibid, p. 218.  One may reasonably wonder whether there is a better and perhaps universally compelling answer to the question of how to respond to a world unbalanced by modernity.