Islam, Jihad, and Syria

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra
Translation: Blowing up a pagan temple in Palmyra.

Two days ago I shared my new article at Christianity Today contrasting Muslim and Christian polls about eschatology. As ISIS surged in the Middle East, it activated also Christian visions of Armageddon.

But it is good also to look at the raw material. This article by Josh Landis contains many interesting tidbits on how Syria ignites the Muslim imagination. Not only the sometimes jihad-bent Salafi trend can be animated, but the generally assumed peaceful Sufis also see the early centrality of Sham, as greater Syria is called in Arabic.

If some judge this as confirmation of Islam’s essential violent core, here is one passage to highlight. I suppose it could be read either way, but it does show the focus of the early community on empire-building:

Salafi-Jihadis may be very different from classically conceived Jihad but they believe that they are continuing in the footsteps of an old tradition which goes all the way back to the earliest days of the Prophet.

Whilst it is noteworthy that Jihad occupied a very small part of the Prophet’s life, the first books written about his life was about his battles. From there a whole literary genre called maghazi developed.

Moreover, there are historical compendiums such as Futuh al-Buldan of al-Baladhuri, one of the earliest surviving texts on how Islam conquered the classical world with offensive jihad.

Apart from the jurisprudence dealing with the legal issues surrounding the concept of religious warfare, there are plenty of works written on the battles of the Companions, as well as books dealing with the concept of Futuwwa, martial and spiritual chivalry, and of course there are biographies of famous warriors.

Contrast, perhaps, with the Civil War and WWII literature popular among Americans. Yes, it is a contrast between a nation and a religion, and therefore not exact.

But it also highlights the difficulty of examining Islam, which stands in between ‘religion’ and ‘nation’.

Let it at least be an example of the shared propensity of mankind to glorify battle. Most Muslims, and Americans, would quickly defend the rightness of their particular historical cause. Perhaps they are not wrong.

But allow it to give pause in defending the rightness of any particular current cause –  religious, national, or otherwise.

And if you like, review again the CT link showing how some read forward the battle into the future, perhaps the near future, perhaps even the present.

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s