“Islam is not unusual in having a tradition of martyrs. What is unique to Islam is the tradition of murderous martyrdom, in which the individual martyr simultaneously commits suicide and kills others for religious reasons.”
― Ayaan Hirsi Ali
What radical muslims are looking for, I believe, is hope of salvation- the promise of a reconciled relationship with our creator and the gift of eternal life. I also believe the Quran is very ambiguous on this point. Most of its teaching seems to depict salvation as a final judgement of one’s good works against bad, with God ultimately ignoring our evil works and letting us off the hook if we have done enough good.
Romans 3:23 informs us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” John Piper expands on this fact, explaining that “all human ‘virtue’ is depraved if it is not from a heart of love to the heavenly Father– even if the behavior conforms the biblical norms.” (1) If our eternal destiny is determined by the weight of our good works, we are all doomed.
Mattaqi Ismail, writing for the website Islamic Learning Materials, made the following admission regarding Allah’s love:
“There’s no precise way to know if Allah loves you because you are not receiving revelation from Allah. All you can do is try to do those things that will make Him love you and try to stay away from those things that will lose His love.” (2)
While not directly speaking of salvation, this quote captures the exact level of confidence Muslims have in their standing before God. By contrast, Christians are assured of salvation because it is a gift that has already been purchased for us. We do not reconcile ourselves to a Holy God through our effort and good works. Rather, we are saved by the blood of Christ despite our lack of good works. This is the hope that all man-made religions lack.
Sadly, the ambiguity regarding salvation in the Qur’an seems to have an exception: Martyrdom.
Sura 4:74 reads:
“So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory – We will bestow upon him a great reward.” (3)
Similarly, Sura 9:111 reads:
“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah , so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah ? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment.” (4) (emphasis added)
Those desperate for the hope that their false religion cannot deliver will find only one guaranteed path to righteousness- die fighting for the god of Islam. This seems to be especially true when Allah’s cause is entangled with conflicts of nationalism, political activism, and land. Given this knowledge, It is not hard to see how young muslims are then manipulated into attacking westerners by radical leaders of their faith.
This view, even if only partially accurate, makes Jesus’ difficult teaching to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44) seem possible for Christians in a world rattled by Islamic terrorism. While we can hate what groups like ISIS or Al-Shebab are doing (defending ourselves with deadly force when necessary), we should also feel pity for our enemies. They have been deceived and have suppressed the truth about God just as all mankind does (Rom 1:18).
If I’m correct about these points, I believe it means the key to peace isn’t simply hunting down and imprisoning or killing all of our radical muslim enemies. While I respect the complexity of this topic, peace is ultimately impossible without turning muslims to Jesus Christ.
Predictably, the unbelieving world rejects this solution. After posting this sentiment publicly, I immediately received responses such as “Can’t you see that religion is the cause of terrorism?” and “How do you expect to fix a religious problem with more religion?” This criticism is based on the atheistic assumption that all religious beliefs are equally false, and that these false beliefs persuade otherwise good people to commit evil acts. (5) Yet we know from scripture that all of humanity is in rebellion against God and sinful by nature (Rom 3:9-11). No false religion has a monopoly on evil or violence.
A second category of criticism is that this view is unrealistic. “We need to get real and deal with the issue. Not philosophy our way out of it” wrote one commenter. Again, this view assumes atheism, or at least that Jesus has no power in the real world. While the unbeliever might see conversion as a human-initiated cultural phenomena, we know that true conversion is God-initiated. In John 6:44, Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In 2 Corinthians 4:4-6, Paul writes that the minds of unbelievers are “blinded” and that it is God who has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This means that the Holy Spirit can choose at His will to overcome any and all resistance within the unbeliever. (6)
As a parting thought, I do not want to appear to be oversimplifying what is a very complex problem. Religion, politics, nationalism, culture, and history have all contributed in some way to the rise of violent Islamic extremism. Yet at its most fundamental level, we are talking about a false worldview that leads to violence.
I believe any secular strategy that fails to exchange this false worldview for the truth will ultimately fail. Jesus Christ is the sacrifice these Islamic martyrs fail to be. While their sacrifice comes as an act of self-righteous evil, His was perfect, and we must bring this good news too them.
- John Piper, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace (Scotland, 2001).
- Mattaqi Ismail, “Warning, Allah Might Not Love You.”
- The Quran, 4:74
- The Quran, 9:111
- Richard Dawkins, Is Religion Good or Evil?, Al Jazeera.
- John Piper, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace.