"God is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature" is the essential statement in Emperor Manuel's verbal duel with his Persian interlocutor, which Pope Benedict quoted in his now famous Regensburg lecture last September. "Faith is born of the soul, not the body."
The world outlook based on this simple yet essential adage is light years away from the Verse of the Sword (9:5), the essential message of the Kuran. It is, in fact, so diametrically opposed to it that we may be forgiven for concluding that Muhammad's "inspiration" was indeed supranatural, but not divine.
The timeless Kuranic dictum to all faithful, to fight the rest of us infidels until we pay the poll tax (Jizya) with the trembling hand of abject submission, has a whiff of sulphur to it. It conclusively denies the possibility of "peace" (short of Islam's global triumph), or even of peaceful co-existence. "Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them" is an injunction both unambiguous and powerful.
Of course, Karen Armstrong, John Esposito et al. will reply with the verse "la ikraha fiddeen" ("no compulsion in religion"), but they will do so to deceive and misguide us. Verse 2:256 is not at all a proof that forced conversion is against Islam. Verse 2:256 does not leave non-Muslims free to make their religious choices unmolested and un-coerced, in accordance with their conscience and free will. As contemporary Islamic scholars explain, there is no compulsion in making the choice of whether you want to be a Muslim or not. Once that choice is made, however, your options are bleak -- death or submission -- if it is the wrong choice: "Faith and rejection, iman and kufr, cannot be forced upon one by others. So Islam does not say that others must be forced into Islam; that if they become Muslims, well and good, and if they do not, they are to be killed, that the choice is theirs." (In the same spirit, there was no compulsion to accept Communism under the 1936 Soviet constitution, but its insufficiently enthusiastic embrace meant death in the Gulag.)
The difference among Islamic scholars on 2:256 is that of degree, not kind. Some assert that it has been abrogated not only by 9:5 but also by 9:73 ("O Prophet, struggle with the unbelievers and hypocrites, and be thou harsh with them"). Other scholars -- more "tolerant" ones, we might say -- said 2:256 has not been abrogated, but it had a special application: it was revealed concerning the People of the Book (Jews & Christians), who should not be compelled to embrace Islam if they submit to the rule of Islam and pay the Jizya. It is only the idol worshippers who are compelled to embrace Islam and upon them 9:73 applies. As al-Nahas points out in An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, "this is the opinion of Ibn 'Abbas which is the best opinion due to the authenticity of its chain of authority." In exempting the Jews and the Christians from 2:256, the ulema agree that pagans and atheists can and should be compelled to accept Islam by force.
The foremost Islamic scholar of all time, Ibn Khaldun, summed up the mainstream consensus -- the consensus that is valid to this day -- when he defined systemic violence as a religious duty based on the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert all men to Islam either by persuasion or by force. He readily concedes that "Islam is under obligation to gain power over all nations."
The orthodox Islamic rationale for compulsion -- e.g. that given by Ibn al-'Arabi -- is worthy of dialectical materialism's somersaults; we find that "no compulsion" actually means compulsion, and that "freedom" is only the freedom to accept revealed truth:
The Prophet said: I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. This Hadith is taken from the words of Allah, "Fight them on until there is no more tumult and religion becomes that of Allah" (2:193). If someone asks how can people be compelled in the truth when the mere fact of compelling indicates a violation of the will of the one compelled? -- the first answer is that Allah sent Mohammad calling people to Him, showing the way to the truth, enduring much harm . . . until the evidence of Allah's truth became manifest . . . and His apostle became strong, He ordered him to call people by the sword . . . hence there is no more an excuse after being warned. The second answer is that people first are taken and compelled, but when Islam becomes prevalent . . . their faith strengthens and finally becomes sincere.
Translated into the language of contemporary and equally mainstream Islamic discourse, with "reasonable" people there is no need for compulsion because "after all the clear proofs, the logical reasoning and the manifest miracles there is no need for force at all." But with those who persist in their obstinate refusal to be reasonable and convert (or submit), coercion is both legitimate and necessary. After all is said and done, the authorities at al-Azhar hold, jihad is "a divine obligation: the Muslim is always mindful that his religion is a Qur'an and a sword . . . the Muslim is forever a warrior."
It is therefore inevitable that imperialism is immanent to Islam, as Ephraim Karsch argues persuasively. The apologists assert that Muslims are called by the Kuran to strive for peace, but the "peace" is possible only under an all-pervasive Islamic rule. Such "peace" does not only have the negative meaning of the absence of war. It is a positive state of security, attainable once all infidels are killed, converted or subjugated.
Islam may use the rational form, but in substance it is implacable in the view that only Allah creates our acts and enables us to act, and we are but transmission belts with a preordained balance of debit or credit that determines our destiny in the hereafter. A Muslim's prayer is not "communication," and it is offered in the hope of placating a capricious and unpredictable Master. The Master, Allah, is so transcendent as to be devoid of personality.
As then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger wrote back in 1979, "the unrelated, unrelatable, absolutely one, could not be a person. There is no such thing as a person in the categorical singular." In the end, Allah the unknowable and un-personable, is served out of fear, obedience, and hope of bountiful heavenly reward. Islam explicitly rejects the notion that "he who has my commandments and keeps them, he is it who loves me." (John, 14:21) The Kuran states the opposite: "Say, If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins." (3:31) This "love" is a means of winning love and forgiveness. It is the "love" of the self, the very opposite of true love; pure sulphur yet again ...
In lieu of the sordid "interfaith dialogue," the lasting benefit of the Regensburg controversy is that it forced some of us to reconsider the claim that three "great monotheistic religions" share common roots and "believe in the same God." But do Christians believe in the same God that Muslims say they worship?
Of course we do not.
The formal argument first. It is clear and fairly simple. The Christian God of the Creed is trinitarian: the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen; the Son, our Lord and Savior, eternally begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. This is the orthodox faith, "which except a man shall have believed faithfully and firmly he cannot be in a state of salvation."
The doctrine of the Deity of Christ is essential. Unless the Son is truly God and "one with the Father," Christians would be idolaters. If He were but a prophet, Christians would be foolishly entrusting themselves to a created creature in the vain hope of salvation. Islam, on the other hand, violently and explicitly rejects and condemns the Christian doctrine of God (Kuran 4:171), the Trinity (5:37), and the deity of Christ (5:72, 5:17), and Allah unambiguously condemns Christians as disbelievers worthy of destruction (9:29-30). Muhammad's insistence that there is a heavenly proto-Scripture and that previous "books" are merely distorted and tainted copies sent to previous nations or communities means that these scriptures are the "barbarous Kuran" as opposed to the true, Arabic one. (Let's leave aside for a minute the puzzling question of how any degree of "distortion" of the Kuran could produce either an Old or a New Testament.) The Muslim Tradition also regards the non-canonical Gospel of Barnabas, and not the New Testament, as the one that Jesus taught. To cut the long story short, orthodox Islam teaches that it alone worships one true God that Judaism and Christianity tell lies about -- lies for which Christians and Jews will be punished in hell.
"One God" cannot be trinitarian and infinitely transcendent. Christians and Muslims cannot be both right. Their convergent paths do not lead to the same hilltop.
Unlike the Christian faith in God revealing Himself through Christ, the Koran is not a revelation of Allah -- a heretical concept in Islam -- but the direct revelation of his commandments and the communication of his law. Christian God "comes down" and seeks man because of His fatherly love. The Fall cast a shadow, the Incarnation makes reconciliation possible. Allah, by contrast, is unknowable and so purely transcendent that no "relationship" is possible. He reveals only his will, not himself. Allah is "everywhere," and therefore nowhere relevant to us. He is uninterested in making our acquaintance, let alone in being near to us because of love. We are still utterly unable to grasp his purposes and all we can do is what we have to do, to obey his command.
Allah's absolute transcendence means that he cannot be fathomed, only worshipped. It is by virtue of being infinite, not loving, that he is inseparable from his creation. His absolute sovereignty means that his "closeness" to man is not a two-way relationship; man's experience of Allah is impossible. Any such attempt would imply heretical encroachment on his absolute transcendence. Ultimately, Allah's absolute transcendence means that he is everything and nothing. He cannot be grasped by the human mind and is greater than we can comprehend. Every thought about him is insufficient and false.
This is emphatically not the "same God" we believe in. Judging by Islam's fruits through the ages, we'd be fully justified to conclude that "Allah" is His arch-enemy . . .
Srdja Trifkovic is the foreign-affairs editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and director of The Rockford Institute's Center for International Affairs.
Read the entire article on the Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission of the author.