Over recent decades, there have been too many violent attacks in Europe on non-Muslims by Muslims claiming a religious mandate. This has been happening in numbers that are disproportionate to the Muslim presence in Europe. Why is this so?
Theological Drivers of Jihad
We need to dig deeper to explore potential theological drivers for these atrocities.
One theological driver is an old, long-established teaching in Islam that certain categories of people can be freely killed without breaking Allah's laws. For such people, the blood of those killed, as some sharia textbooks put it, is "halal": permissible to be shed without incurring guilt.
Who are these unfortunates? They include Muslims whom sharia law considers guilty of a capital offence, including anyone who has killed another Muslim, committed adultery or left Islam. Muhammad himself said that there are three reasons for killing a Muslim: apostasy, adultery and murder of another Muslim.
There is a further, large class of people whom Islamic law has traditionally considered to have "halal" blood, namely non-Muslims who have not been afforded the protection of an Islamic state. During periods when Islam was expanding its territory by warfare, enemy infidels were deemed to have such blood. The sharia rules of war stipulated that infidel adult men could freely be put to death, while the women and children could be enslaved.
There is a long history of fatwas being issued against those who have opposed the imposition of Islam.
In addition, there is a long history of fatwas being issued against those who have opposed the imposition of Islam. The renowned Muslim jurist and Koranic commentator Ibn Kathir issued a fatwa in the fourteenth century stating that Mongol rulers who governed by laws established under Genghis Khan could be freely fought against and killed, because the Mongols did not rule by the Islamic sharia.
In the months after 9/11, I found that a Melbourne Salafist organisation had published on their website a translation of Ibn Kathir's fatwa, with commentary by the Salafi cleric Abd al-Qadir bin Abd al-Aziz. This document concluded by stating that Ibn Kathir's ruling was still current, and could be applied to anyone who rules other than by the sharia. In effect, this implied that every Australian politician could be fought against and killed.
A global Islamic Awakening has been building steam since at least the nineteenth century. Its single "big idea" is the conviction that, if only Muslims followed the sharia more faithfully, Islam would once again be triumphant in the world, reversing centuries of decline. The myriad sharia-revival movements inspired by this idea have again and again called Muslims to embrace violent jihad, along with its regulation according to sharia principles. Thus, the shedding of "halal" blood has continued.
One theological driver of this violence is a hadith, a saying attributed to Muhammad, which states that if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, the two will not end up in the same place: the non-Muslim will go to hell, while the Muslim will attain paradise. From this tradition arises the belief that shedding the blood of infidels can assure a Muslim a place in paradise.
Combating Theological Drivers
What to do about these theological drivers? It is certainly not enough for Muslim individuals or groups to state that a particular event is an "indefensible atrocity". It is also understandable that many Muslims intensely resent their cherished faith being maligned by association with the heinous acts of people they would write off as bad or mad. I feel sympathy for these beleaguered believers, for it is wrong, and indeed offensive, to tar all Muslims with the same brush. But the theological drivers remain. They are real, and they need to be countered if the killings are to stop.
In the past, Islamic societies imposed a covenant of surrender, known as the dhimma, upon non-Muslims, according to which non-Muslims who lived under Muslim rule were "protected". This protection was dependent upon the non-Muslims' historic surrender to Islamic rule, and the ongoing payment of an annual "head tax" by adult males to ransom their heads year by year. This arrangement also validated the underlying principle that non-Muslim blood is halal unless special conditions apply.
Muslim leaders should state unequivocally that killing a non-Muslim is as much a crime as killing a Muslim.
What is needed from Muslim leaders is a thorough-going renunciation of the idea that the blood of the kafir (non-Muslim) is worth less than the blood of a Muslim. Indeed, one should go further and declare that all blood is equal in the sight of Allah, so every human life is equally precious and deserving of respect, and anyone who claims otherwise is a disbeliever. This would establish the principle that to kill a non-Muslim is as much a crime as killing a Muslim, certain strands of thought in Islamic tradition notwithstanding.
Non-Muslims also bear some responsibility for naivety in responding to Islamically-inspired killings.
Some years ago I raised the publication of Ibn Kathir's fatwa on an Australian Muslim website with an officer of the Australian intelligence community. Was it not, I suggested, an act of incitement to murder, or an act of sedition, to declare it lawful to attack anyone who rules other than by sharia law? Shouldn't people who teach such things deserve to feel the full force of the law? No, it wasn't, and they should not, this guardian of our liberties said.
Security services don't go after those who teach the theology that fuels Islamist violence.
What I took away from this depressing conversation was that the security services will go after people planning actual acts of terror, but not those who teach the theology that ploughs the soil to receive the seed of violence. Such ploughing can make murderous attacks out to be noble, righteous and deserving of paradise. The voices who prepare the soil and water the theological roots of these attacks should be made culpable for the violence that their actions inspire.
A challenge in countering the theological drivers of individual jihadism is that the killers claim to derive authority from sacred Islamic texts, backed by traditions of Muhammad, verses of the Koran, and centuries of Islamic jurisprudence. It is not easy to challenge the weight of this tradition. Easier by far is to lament and deplore individual heinous acts, declare that these acts have nothing to do with Islam, and worry about unpredictable "lone wolves". Yet such hand-wringing will do nothing to stem the flow of "halal" blood.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a senior research fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.