I think for purposes of Western sanity and security it is necessary for us to move beyond the debate over whether Islam is a religion of peace or a religion of militant jihad. I personally have never been able to see the rational grounds for the former position given the historical record of Islam’s conquests of Christian lands in its first millennium by military force and the subjugation of non-Muslims, who were given the loaded choice either to convert, or to pay a burdensome “protection” tax, or to suffer death, or to become exiles if they were able to flee, as many did. All of this is historical fact and has once again been thoroughly documented by the excellent research found in The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, by Dario Fernandez-Morera of Northwestern University.
Nonetheless, let’s just move beyond this peaceful/militarist dialectic regarding Islam in general and simply recognize the present reality of a militaristic jihad being carried on and supported by millions of supporters of what we can denominate as Alt-Islam. It is simply a fact that today a very sizable contingent of Alt-Muslim believers have committed their very lives to the proposition that their form of Islam requires them to conquer and subjugate the world by violent jihad. If they are not true Muslims at all, as Pope Francis seems to believe, then Catholics should not consider Protestants to be true Christians. These jihadist Muslims believe in Allah as the one God and the other five basic articles of faith; they believe in Mohammed as his Prophet, in the Quran as Allah’s direct revelation and in fulfilling the five pillars of Muslim religious life. Not even the Muslims who totally reject the jihadist atrocities of these Alt-Islam warriors would deny that they are true Muslims. They perhaps would see them as misguided or heretical but not as apostates from Islam.
So, we non-Muslims, i.e., we infidels, should respect the internal debates in Islam as to what the true interpretation of the Quran is and what is required of a true Muslim in terms of religious obligations, and whether jihad is primarily (or exclusively) internal conversion or is both internal and external, that is, a war against the infidels that will only cease when the whole world is subjugated to Islamic political and religious rule. I am not sure whether the various divisions within Islam itself could possibly be resolved except by a final war between the various versions of Islam. Such a struggle, or war, has been going on between the Shia and the Sunni from the earliest years of this religion, and it is going on today. The only pause occurs when the Alt-Islam faction in both sects are fighting the infidels, like today,
Frankly, I am totally convinced that the Alt-Islam folks have the greatest legal scholars of the first centuries of Islam on their side when it comes to the meaning of jihad and to the obligation of Muslims, and especially Muslim political rulers in conducting jihads. Now we Catholics believe that one cannot accurately grasp the meaning of the Scriptures if Tradition is set aside. Vatican II in Dei Verbum taught the necessity of recognizing the inseparable unity of Scripture, Tradition and the living Magisterium for a true handing on and understanding of revelation. Living Tradition, which is handed on in various ways, is not only a source of revelation but also the most important interpretive principle for the true meaning of Sacred Scripture.
Now, Islam has no infallible magisterium but only a collection of disparate imams. However, Islam historically has had a long legal tradition and that is crucial since Islam is a legalistic religion beginning to end. If one wants to know what the Quran teaches in regards to religious duties, then one has to look at the way Muslims have actually lived under Islamic rule, political and religious authority melding into one system. And of course the most honored legal traditions come down to us from the earliest pre-Medieval and Medieval schools. These legal texts were the reference point for religious life in Islamic societies in their own day and are today. The founders and great legal disciples of the four great schools of Islamic legal thought – Imam Abu Hanifa of Kufa, 8th Century; Imam Malik bin Anas of Medina, 8th Century; Imam Muhammad al-Shafi of Medina, 8th Century; and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad, 9th Century – were they to come back today, I suspect would feel much closer to the Alt-Islam interpreters of the sacred writings of Islam than the peace schools that dominate our western Islamic institutions.
Let us take just one notable instance, well documented by Fernández-Morer, the great philosopher and jurist of the Malik school teaching in the early Middle Ages, the Cordoban jurist Ibn Rushd, known to us Westerners as the great Muslim philosopher Averroes. Basing his teaching on the writings of Malik himself, Averroes considered jihad only as a Holy War, not as some internal mystical process. Likewise, Averroes taught that all apostates, men and women, must suffer death, and the same for blasphemers. Sound familiar? The great philosopher also taught that women were simply for procreation and must be kept at the service of their husbands for that purpose.
The modern academic myth that jihad is historically a spiritual reality would have been laughable to the four great founders of Islamic jurisprudence. Another great teacher, Al-Shafi, who actually studied under Malik before founding his own legal school again speaks of jihad exclusively as Holy War and sums it up this way: “God has imposed [the duty of] jihad as laid down in his Book and uttered by His Prophet’s tongue.” That was the virtually universal opinion of those great interpreters who lived closest to the time of Mohammed, and it is the firm and driving conviction of today’s Alt-Islam. In short, then, the early legal/religious texts of the first centuries of Islamic caliphates never mention anything like a purely spiritual, internal jihad.
So my suggestion is that we leave the dialogue-only approach with the Islamic proponents of a peaceful Islam to the Vatican and other religious leaders. Those responsible for the safety and security of their nations, however, should be dealing otherwise with the terrorists of the Alt-Islam movement, religion, branch, or whatever it is. There can be fruitful dialogue only among true national leaders, the leaders of Muslim nations, so the front lines of the Alt-Islam militarists must be dealt with by military means. That is the only sane approach to the current problem. We should not expect the Pope to lead the defense of Europe from this new threat as Popes did for centuries out of necessity. That is the job of the secular governments today. But, what we definitely don’t need is any undermining of these efforts by the more pacifistic oriented Church leaders of our day.