Originally published under the title, "Challenging Islam's Warrant to Kill."
Last week the Islamic State's 'Hacking Division' released the names and addresses of one hundred US military personnel. It urged the 'brothers residing in America' – i.e. American Muslims – to 'deal with' them, which is to say, it wants them killed.
There is much talk these days of radicalization and deradicalization. At the heart of both processes are religious ideas: theological dogmas. What are some of the key theological principles that might cause a Muslim to take this call seriously? What is the Islamic reasoning given by the IS Hacking Division in support of its call to kill non-Muslims?
The Hacking Division quote two verses of the Qur'an:
- Sura 9:123 'fight disbelievers who are near to you' and
- Sura 9:14 'Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them, and satisfy [actually yashfi 'heal'] the breasts of a believing people'.
The meaning of these two verses hangs upon the word qātilū, translated here as 'fight'. The verbal root q-t-l from which qātilū is formed means 'kill', so the Arabic actually means 'fight to kill' (see discussion here). These Qur'anic verses truly are commands to kill non-Muslims.
The second quoted verse, from Sura 9:14, puts forward a view concerning what Muslims should do about emotional pain and anguish they may experience because of unbelievers. 'Allah', the verse says, 'will heal the breasts' of Muslims, – and then the sentence continues into the next verse – 'and remove the rage of their hearts'.
Persuading Muslims to take the words of Muhammad seriously is the core strategy of radicalization.
The key concept here is that if Muslims have strong feelings, including anger, against non-Muslims, their emotional distress will subside and be 'healed' as they kill, humiliate and triumph over non-believers. Strange therapy indeed for the human soul! According to the Qur'an, in order to secure inner 'peace', calm within the Muslim soul can be secured by shedding non-Muslim blood.
These are stock-standard verses used to urge Muslims to go for jihad against disbelievers. However what most caught my eye in the Hacking Division's call to arms against infidels in America was but a reference to Muhammad's teachings. The Hacking Division refers to hadith 4661 in a published English version of the Sahih Muslim (translated by Abdul Hamid Sidiqqi).
The Sahih Muslim is one of the most revered and authoritative sources for the teaching and example of Muhammad, whose life is considered exemplary and compulsory for Muslims to emulate. This particular hadith can be found on page 1263 of Volume 3 of the English edition:
Chapter 789 (DCCLXXXIX)
About a man who killed a disbeliever and embraced Islam.
(4661) It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: A disbeliever and a believer who killed him will never be gathered together in Hell. [See here.]
This is a most significant statement. It is saying that if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, they cannot both end up in hell. The alternative to hell is paradise, so in other words, killing a non-Muslim – who is destined for hell due to their unbelief – can provide a sure ticket to paradise for a Muslim.
This tradition is the authority for a view widely put about by jihadis, that if a Muslim personally gets to kill a disbeliever, the Muslim will gain paradise. Put together with the famous belief that for a Muslim to be 'martyred' in jihad opens the gates of paradise (see Sura 3:169-170; 9:111; and 22:58), fighting to kill non-Muslims can be a ticket to glory, win or lose. Either one kills and gains a get-out-of-hell free card, or one is killed and gains a get-into-paradise-free card. This is a win-win proposition for the jihadi.
Persuading Muslims to take the words of Muhammad seriously is the core strategy of radicalization. This tactic works as well as it does because it appeals to a plain reading of Islam's holy texts.
To be deradicalized, a Muslim needs to repudiate the theological authority of the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur'an. This is a hard call for pious Muslims. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was surely correct in her recent essay calling for reform of Islam when she wrote that
the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.
Hirsi Ali also declared:
we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice. We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.
Hirsi Ali was right: the West needs to engage with and repudiate the Islamic dogmas that killing or being killed in murderous attacks against non-Muslims is some kind of golden key which unlocks the gates of paradise. Until these beliefs and the canonical teachings they rely on are acknowledged and repudiated, the lives of non-Muslims will continue to be discarded as the 'ticket to paradise' of Muslim belligerents.
Hadiths such as 4661 from Sahih Muslim, and the Qur'anic verses cited here are a genuine part of the Islamic canon. Such verses remain un-renounced and un-repudiated by a great many Muslims and Islamic institutions today.
As long as such texts are not repudiated, the theological winds of Islam will all too easily continue to sweep pious Muslim hearts and minds towards radicalization, a process which exalts the idea that the lives of infidels are disposable.
Islam's warrant to kill infidels is an idea which deserves to be exposed, challenged, thoroughly debated, and rejected.
Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, Anglican pastor, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.