As the atrocities perpetrated by radical Islamists mount, we see two extreme reactions. Those numbed by political correctness insist that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam; those blinded by Islamophobia insist that Islamic terrorism has everything to do with Islam. Neither is right.
Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS are products of Wahhabism and Salafism, which belong to the literalist school of Islamic legal thought called Hanbali. This is a legitimate and influential school that emphasizes a strict adherence to the Qur’an and the Hadiths (the deeds and sayings of Muhammad). The terrorists find in these texts both a theological warrant and historical precedent for violent jihad. It is misleading, therefore, to maintain that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
However, there are three other schools of law for Sunni muslims (as well as two others for Shia muslims and one for Khawarij muslims), which are more progressive than Hanbali and give weight not only to the Qur’an and the Hadiths, but also to scholarly consensus (ijma), analogical reasoning (qiyas), and local Muslim customs (urf) that exercise a moderating influence. Moreover, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS do not heed the conditions necessary for violent jihad or observe the proper conduct for violent jihad delineated by their own school. It is unfair, therefore, to assert that Islamic terrorism is the quintessence of Islam.
It is incumbent upon Christians to engage muslims in critical dialogue without blaming and alienating them wholesale. Neither indiscriminate “inclusion” nor discriminatory “exclusion” will work. We must appeal to their religious consciences and question their allegiance to pernicious schools of thought.
Above all, we must tell them that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to save us from our sins—a truth that Muslims explicitly deny (Qur’an 9:30).