Islam and Violence -- By: James D. Chancellor

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 008:1 (Spring 2004)
Article: Islam and Violence
Author: James D. Chancellor

Islam and Violence

James D. Chancellor

James D. Chancellor is W. O. Carver Professor of Christian Missions and World Religions at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has a rich background in the studies of world religions and religious pluralism and has specialized in Islamic culture and New Religious Movements. Dr. Chancellor has taught in several countries and is the author of Life in the Family: An Oral History of the Children of God (Syracuse University Press, 2000).


Before offering any observations regarding the relationship between Islam and violence, it is necessary to reflect briefly on my ability to make such observations. I have studied Islam for the past twenty-five years. I have visited numerous Muslim nations, living and studying in Egypt, Nigeria, Malaysia, and the Philippines. For nearly a month, I lived with a group of Muslim fundamentalist men on the banks of the Nile. I have had encounters at various levels with Muslim scholars and lay people from around the world. So, I am hopeful of offering some cogent observations. However, I am not a Muslim; I am a Baptist. I no longer read the Qur’an in Arabic, nor do I fellowship with Muslims. As a Western Christian, my view will of necessity be one “from the outside.” I will attempt to step outside those limitations, but it is not easy. The task is made even more difficult by the recent murder of several members of my own faith community by a Muslim who was apparently motivated by religious concerns. I will do my best to offer a fair and balanced understanding of this most difficult issue.

Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, I have been asked any number of questions regarding Islam and these terrible acts of murder. The two most common are “Does bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network represent ‘true Islam’?” and “Are such violent attacks on innocent people consistent with the Qur’an?” Neither of these questions is particularly wise. The first assumes Islam is some kind of objective reality, clear and definable, by which the actions of all Muslims can be judged. Rather, Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition. In a real sense, Islam is what Muslims think, say, and do—as Muslims. And since there are nearly a billion Muslims spread over much of the globe, Islam is a varied and most complex phenomenon. Clearly what is “true Islam” to one Muslim is not to another.

As to the teaching of the Qur’an, a similar observation is to be made. Regardless of what the words are, the Qur’an means what Muslims believe it means. And again, that varies widely from community to community, and individual to individual. And certainly a Western Christian is in no more a position to say what it “really” means than an Arab Muslim is in a ...

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