Christian/Muslim Dialogue: Question 2 – When is War Permissable?

The following is the transcript from the second question raised at a dialogue between Howie Gardner and Kamal Nawash in August of 2010; this one on the Christian and Muslim perspectives on the subject of just war.  

John Morine:

Okay, Question number 2: What, if anything according to your religion, would justify and sanction a nation going to war or retaliating to an attack? And, please incorporate into your answer any feeling that you may have on the current Middle East conflict.”

Kamal:

This is really asymmetrical. I think our answer is probably the same as in Christianity. Our religion only allows us to go to war in self-defense. Now, this may seem like a contradiction to you because you see what’s happening in the world today. But, if you want the basic answer, we are only allowed to go to war in self-defense. No other sanction has been allowed.

No, I mentioned earlier that I was on the radio show yesterday and they asked the question “Why do they hate us?” and the Muslims also ask “Why do they hate us?” And, I certainly don’t think it is because of religion. The people who are upset in the mountains of Afghanistan are not upset because you are Christians. I really don’t think so.

You see, Islam in the 20th century became a hybrid religion – a new type of Islam evolved. The Islam that you know today is what we refer to as “Political Islam.” This was a theory or a movement that started in the 1920’s with a guy from Egypt who was raised in the United States and went back. At that time, the entire Muslim world was occupied by some type of foreign power. And he said, “We were powerful at one time and we had more faith. So, let’s create an entire Muslim government.” And, he taught that we needed to get back to the way things were before. We had more faith then and we were more powerful. I think, and I am probably in the minority among Muslims here, but I think that was a disaster for us: the fact that religious parties ultimately became political parties. And, it went to extreme.

If you ultimately think you are doing God’s will you can justify anything. That would explain why probably even Bin Laden, who wouldn’t take a penny from you, justifies his actions. Now, Bi Laden has no religious training; I don’t know how many of you know that. But, he felt that, if you turn religion into a political party, you can justify political actions. Now, we cannot really blame you if you hate us in return. Yet, Islamists get all upset with this and respond, “Why do you blame us for everything?” And, I actually don’t sympathize with them, because you can’t combine politics and religion into some sort of theocracy and then, when someone complains that they see your religion in a bad way, complain that they are unfairly criticizing you when they see you do something wrong. You have to accept the consequences.

Now, I must tell you that, even if you were all to become Muslims, there is one issue that would prevent peace. One issue that the entire Muslim world is extremely angry about and they are not going to forget about it. It is the issue of Palestine and Israel. This is humongous for them. And, whether you agree or not, they believe that what happened to the Palestinians is just as big of an injustice as what happened to the Jews in World War II. Now, you may disagree with that, but the fact is that you have more than a billion people who believe that and they are watching on TV twenty-four hours a day with constant coverage.

Now, I’m not here to advocate for the destruction of Israel by any means. What I’m saying is that both people are claiming the same place and saying it’s theirs. So, for the last 20 years, they’ve been talking about separation and it hasn’t worked. Maybe that’s because separation is not the solution. I’m thinking that, if you want to find the solution to this, maybe we should look at the example of the United States. If blacks in this country had said, let’s go ahead and have segregation in this country, how many of you think there would be peace out there in the streets of the United States? I think it was the ‘backs versus Ferguson’ case where a black man was kicked out of the subway and he went to the courts and they told him that you do not have sufficient status to make such a case.

Well, guess what? I was born in what is now known as the nation of Israel. I am not a citizen there. I can never go back there as a citizen. I was born without citizenship because I’m not Jewish. You actually have a better chance of getting in there than me because I’m not Jewish. Now, I’m actually not talking against Israel. In fact, I think we could build a stronger Israel. But, I don’t think separation is the answer. Instead, give me equality. It has worked everywhere else. Give me the right to vote. Make me a citizen of the country and I might not want to destroy it. My solution would be, and you don’t have to agree with this but – make it one country. And, I’m advocating a stronger Israel. If you want a stronger United States, you cannot have a situation where 4 million people don’t have any rights. They can’t travel, they cannot vote, and they are not citizens. It didn’t work in the United States, it didn’t work in South Africa, and it isn’t working in the Middle East.

Now, this isn’t something that just the Palestinians are upset about. You’re talking about more than 50 countries that are upset about this. The entire Muslim populations and many of their allies, including many Christian nations, and most of Africa are upset about this. This is a constant issue and must be the focus of a search for peace.

Most people who take one side or the other, whether you are 100% pro-Israel or 100% pro-Palestinian, I think you are 100% wrong. I don’t want you to be on my side all the time. I want you to be an equal judge. When I do something stupid, tell me “you’re wrong.” But, if you side against me all the time, I’m probably going to be bitter. And, this is the basis behind Arab and Muslim disputes against the United States. That’s what is has been for the last 60 years and every time there has been a dispute it has been about that.

 

John Morine:

Howie, same question for you.

Howie:

Well, let’s first recognize that, with rare exception, the term anti-war refers to every one of us. None of us want war. The question is rather: Are there times when going to war is a necessity, which can ultimately save lives?

It seems to me that, in regards to the current war, whenever two individuals come together with different opinions, both of them must ultimately resort to speculation. Obviously, we can point to the 4000+ individuals who have lost their lives – those are the cold hard facts. But, beyond that we must speculate.

We know, for example, that Osama Bin Laden told his followers that there would be not one, but three major terrorist attacks on the United States, each one more deadly than the previous. And, here we must speculate: Did he have the ability and the will to carry out these threats? All I can say is that I am glad I am not the President of the United States.

In regards to Iraq, we know that Saddam Hussein was operating torture chambers and rape rooms. We also know that he was responsible for the holocaust over some 600,000 plus of the Kurdish people. And again, we must speculate: Would he have ceased this action if there had been a few more United Nations sanctions? Again, I am glad I am not the President.

Now, I have previously mentioned that Jesus’ initial approach to hostile opponents was to turn an enemy into a friend. He says that if they slap you on one cheek, to turn the other cheek, but He leaves open the question as to what to do if they slap that one, also. I believe that Muhammad followed this principle to the best of his ability. There is a tradition about Muhammad, which most Muslims seem to feel is historical. It seems the he initially encountered much opposition to his position that there is only one God. Each day as he would walk down a certain path, a lady would stand out throwing garbage at him. Muhammad never retaliated, but took her actions in stride. Then one day, the lady was not there and he inquired about her. Hearing that she was ill, he went to visit her. She was overtaken with shame and became a follower. Muhammad had indeed succeeded in turning an enemy into a friend.

Now, there are some Muslims who would say that this story is not historical. That is irrelevant. The real question here is this: Was Muhammad of the sort of noble character that such a reaction would indeed be feasible? Practically all Muslims will say that he was and, if so, then we need to look at the recent cartoons ridiculing Muhammad and the response to them. No one can deny that the cartoons were insulting and repulsive. But, from all indications, Muhammad himself would not have responded with violence, nor would he have encouraged his followers to do so. So, we must conclude, then, that the ensuing attacks upon newspapers carrying the cartoons only served to bring reproach upon Islam – another example of hijacking.

Please understand that we are not looking to affix the blame for these things upon the Muslim Leadership or upon Islam itself. We are more than willing to accept the assumption that Muhammad himself would have voiced disdain toward such teachings. However, for us to say that – carries little weight. It needs to come from the Muslim Leadership itself. Some years ago, the Muslim Leadership labeled the Ahmadiyya sect of Pakistan as being “Not Islam.” The end result was that followers of Islam shunned adherents to this bizarre movement. Such needs to happen with proponents of terrorism as well as the publishers of such hateful school literature.

Now, I must take exception here to something that the Chaplain of the Pentagon wrote me. He stated that the people carrying out terrorist attacks are not even religious – they are simply evil people who use religion to justify their actions. Regarding the terrorist leaders, he is right. They have, indeed, hijacked Islam. However, a great many of their followers, I think, simply have a fervent zeal to follow God, but have a misunderstanding as to His nature. Would God, indeed, reward His followers for blowing themselves up in an effort to kill others?

One theory says that they receive 72 virgin women in heaven as their reward for doing so. But, this is not the nature of God in either the Bible or the Qu’ran. Rather, it is a distortion of the Hadith. It reflects the teachings of Abu Hurayra; a very violent man who opposed the rights of women and claimed to have heard Muhammad speak the same. His contemporaries accused him of making up statements and pointed out that he falsely quoted Muhammad without benefit of a second witness.

I am pleased to announce tonight that, even as we speak, scholars in Turkey are in the process of properly interpreting the Hadith in such a manner that it will not be falsely understood to promote the abuse of women or of Christians or Jews. As previously noted, Muhammad never regarded either Christians or Jews to be infidels. And, we are extremely hopeful that such teachings will be removed from school literature being used in the Middle East.

Now, there are two other points to be made in regards to peace in the Middle East. First, much friction has centered on the question of who owns territorial rights to the Holy Land. Let’s, please, understand that both sides of this issue come from a Biblical perspective. Typically, Evangelical Christians have viewed the prophecies in Ezekiel 37 and 38 as being fulfilled by the Zionist movement and the Balfour Declaration, which assigned the land to Israel in 1948. However, we must be aware that alternate interpretations are possible.

For example, Ezekiel’s prophecy could have actually been fulfilled approximately 160 years later in 445 B.C. when the Persian King Artaxerxes granted the Hebrew people permission to reinhabit the land. Years later in Matthew 21:43, Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders who are plotting to have Him killed that because of this, the kingdom of Jerusalem will be taken away from them and given to another who will bear its fruit. They, of course, were driven away again by Rome in 70 A.D. as Jesus prophesied and later the Arab people began to settle in the land.

Many centuries later, after World War I, the land came under British control and Jewish Zionists began launching a series of terrorist attacks on the inhabitants in a effort to persuade the British to hand the land over to them. They set off explosions at Deir Yassin and at the King David Motel, which killed hundreds of innocent people. Additionally, they orchestrated the assassination of the British Eastern Minister Lord Moyne. Ultimately, the British agreed to hand over the land to them as a result. But, please note that this is a far cry from the manner in which the ancient prophet Nehemiah got access to the land. He, in fact, was such a nice, friendly fellow that King Artaxerxes went out of his way to give him access to the land.

So, what are we to make of this? In God’s eyes, just who, in fact, does have a right to the land? Well, I know of no passage in either the Bible or the Qu’ran, which directly addresses that question. The only clue we are given is that they will bear its fruit – that is the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faith, and meekness. There hasn’t been a whole lot of this sort of fruit produced from either side in recent years.

Perhaps the best answer, here, is to seek the face of God. Perhaps we need to stop putting this in the hands of the politicians and allow the people of faith to intervene. There is an old song that says, “There will never be any peace until God is seated at the conference table.” Let’s give that invitation to God. Let’s seek his face on this matter. It may be that He would most enjoy seeing brothers and sisters come together peacefully and share the fruit of the land. And, brothers and sisters are exactly what the Jews and Arabs are.

Consider something for a moment: The Jewish people have made tremendous contributions over the years in the fields of medicine and computer technology and, as previously mentioned, the Arab people have led the way in both science and mathematics. Imagine if you put the two of them together working side by side. The benefits to society as a whole are unfathomable. It staggers the imagination.

Still, one other point that needs to be made in regards to the war is the misunderstanding of the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle in the Pentateuch. If I happen to yawn and hit you in the eye, are you just in hitting me back? Absolutely not! This particular command originated, not with the Law of Moses, but with the law code of the Pagan King Hammurabi. And, it happened that, while the Hebrews were traveling in the wilderness, they were passing through territory governed by this very code. What God is saying to the people of Israel is that, while you are in the other guy’s backyard, you are going to have to abide by his laws no matter how unjust they are.

We follow this same principle today. Anyone remember the young American boy a few years ago who was caught breaking car windows in Singapore? The judge sentenced him to be cained six times with a martial arts weapon. And do you remember his response? “You can’t have me cained. I’m an American. In America that is considered cruel and unusual punishment.” And do you remember the judge’s response? “This ain’t America, boy.” So you see, the eye for an eye principle applied only as long as the Hebrew people were in Hammurabi’s backyard. It ended the moment they entered Caanan. And, as God’s people, we need to stop living by it and realize that we answer to a higher law.

Kamal:

Now, you mentioned that there are two different views as to what the Bible says about the Middle East. And, that is just the point. The Qu’ran says just what you want it to say and the Bible says whatever you want it to say. These are books that are written in such a way that they are open to more than one interpretation. If that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t have all these different denominations of Christianity.

You told me earlier when I asked you “What are the Assemblies of God’ that it came about because of certain Christians in the early 19th century that said that the age of miracles was over, basically, since the time of Christ, whereas the Assemblies of God said, “No, we still have miracles.” Now, maybe someone else, maybe a Catholic or a Pentecostal may not share your opinion. And, that’s what we have in Islam. You can have someone who is moderate politically and, yet, is convinced that he is absolutely correct. Like that lady who wanted to give you that bone marrow, she and her mom probably didn’t look at you as a Christian. She probably just looked at you as a great man, as God’s child and knew that God would not discriminate against His own child.

As a lawyer, I see parents who still think their child is a great person even if he’s a criminal. They still love their own child. So, I think that, when God created us, he loved us all the same. I have to concede that I’m a Muslim because I was born a Muslim. You’re a Christian because you were born a Christian. So, we can strive to be good regardless of what we are. Until Jesus Christ comes back and straightens us out, we can work toward doing good together.

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About openlettertoday

Howie Gardner has been pastor of Bel Air Assembly of God in Bel Air, Maryland since 1987. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and has done graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, United Theological Seminary and ORU's Graduate school of Theology. He is the author of two books; "Oral Exam" (originally titled "Oral Roberts in the Eyes of One of His Students") and "The Church and Terri Schiavo." Gardner is a three time cancer survivor and, as recorded in "Church & Terri" has had a "clinical death" experience and a personal glimpse of the other side" He is quite an active distance runner with a number of awards; most recently a bronze medal in the Senior Olympics. Howie and his wife Angie have three children: daughter Lindsey (whose bone marrow donation spared his life) and twin boys Bernie and David. They live in Bel Air.
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