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Understanding Islam and the Theology of Jihad

Robert Spencer on Muslim Beliefs and Sources of Extremism

WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 27, 2003 (Zenit) - Catholics have a duty to be informed about Islam and the challenges it poses to Christianity. So says Robert Spencer, an expert on Islam who recently co-authored "Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics" (Ascension) with Daniel Ali, a convert from Islam.

Spencer shared why he and Ali are dedicated to informing Christians about one of the most misunderstood and fastest growing faiths in the world: They see it not only as the Church's chief rival for souls but as a serious threat to the peace and well-being of the Church and the Western world in general.

Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch and author of two previous books on Islam, is a board member of Ali's Christian Islamic Forum and an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Spencer: Daniel and I wrote this book in order to help Catholics become informed about Islam -- to clear away common misunderstandings and distortions and to give Catholics an accurate and complete introduction to the Islamic faith and the challenges it poses to Christians.

Q: Why is it important for Catholics to understand Islam?

Spencer: Islam increasingly poses a challenge to the Church and every Christian. By most accounts, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Even if he or she never meets a Muslim, much less proclaims the Gospel to one, it is every Christian's duty to become informed about Islam since that faith is the Church's chief and most energetic present-day rival for souls.

Q: What is the theology of the Islamic jihad?

Spencer: Jihad literally means "struggle." It is a central duty of every Muslim. Modern Muslim theologians have spoken of many things as jihads: defending the faith from critics, supporting its growth and defense financially, even migrating to non-Muslim lands for the purpose of spreading Islam.

But violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Many passages of the Koran and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed are used by radical Muslims today to justify their actions and gain new recruits. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, which denies unbelievers equality of human rights and dignity, is available today for anyone with the will and means to bring it to life.

In a lengthy and well-attested tradition, Mohammed delineates three choices for nonbelievers -- choices which are derived from Koran's Sura 9:29: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, [even if they are] of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Says Mohammed: "Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. ... When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. ... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the special tax on non-Muslims prescribed by Islamic law]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them."

Q: Can you describe for us some of the different schools within Islam, for example, Sunni and Shiite, and how their interpretations of Islam differ?

Spencer: Sunnis comprise around 85% of Muslims worldwide. The word "Sunni" is related to "Sunna," or tradition. Sunni Muslims follow doctrines and practices derived from the Sunna of the Prophet -- that is, the Hadith as interpreted by Muslim scholars throughout history.

The Wahhabis, who have become famous lately for their role in Saudi Arabia and global terrorism, are a Sunni subsect. Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab -- he lived from 1703 to 1792 -- was a reformer. He wanted to rid Islam of everything that developed after the first few centuries.

He stressed a literal reading of the Koran and Hadith that made the Wahhabis a furious, violent sect that even made war against other Muslim groups it considered heretical. The Wahhabis control Saudi Arabia today and from there aggressively export Wahhabism around the world.

The second largest Muslim group is the Shiites. The word "Shia" is a short for "Shiat Ali," or "the party of Ali." This is the largest non-Sunni sect: the group of Muslims who believed that Ali, the husband of Mohammed's daughter Fatima, was the Prophet's only rightful successor as leader of the Muslim community. ...

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