Post Tagged ‘Islam’

            In the Arab world there are broadly two big competing ideologies, Arab nationalism or Arabism and political Islam or Islamism. These ideologies appeared most publicly when the Ottoman Empire began to lose its hold on the Middle East to European powers during the beginning of the twentieth century (Al Jazeera, 2008). After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain and France divided the Middle East into spheres of British and French influence. This colonial division, known as the Sykes Picot Agreement is still considered one of the main reasons for conflict in the Middle East nowadays. The Arabs had no say about this post-war partition of their lands. This unnatural emergence of the modern state in the Middle East left the Arab world ‘struggling between a widely held ideal of Arab unity and a reality of nation-state nationalism reinforced by nationalists struggles for independence’ (Rogan, 2016, p. 39). The ideal of Arab unity can be separated in two supra-state identities, Arab nationalism and political Islam. Both ideologies are based on identity, which means that it defines itself against the ‘other’ (Hinnebusch, 2016, p. 155).
Arab nationalism emphasized the historical and cultural affinity of all Arabic-speaking peoples. The most important goals of Arab nationalism are the unity of the Arab peoples and the fighting of Western colonialism. Pan-Arab nationalism was the leading ideology in the Arab world with the president of Egypt, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, as the leading exponent (Mandaville, 2016, p. 181). Political Islam emerged in the same time as Arab nationalism, on the one hand as an answer to Western colonialism and imperialism and on the other hand as  an ideological critique of the secular nation state in the Middle East (Mandaville, 2016, p. 177). The idea is to create unity on basis of the Islamic umma, the Islamic community. Political Islam has also its roots in Egypt, with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna (Mandaville, 2016, p. 181). After the Arab uprisings in 2011 a lot has changed in the Middle East and there is still a lot happening in the region. The nation state is under fire and several groups call for unity. The question is if this unity is more likely to be found in the Arab identity or in the Islamic identity.
In this essay I analyze which of these ideologies is the most potent force in the future. I first give a brief overview of the history of Arab nationalism. Then I do the same for political Islam. After that I make an analysis which ideology is most potent, based on recent developments like the Arab uprisings. In the end I conclude that political Islam is a more potent force than Arab nationalism, maybe not in its radical form but more in its ‘pragmatist’ form.

Arab Nationalism
                      According to the leading theorist of Arab nationalism, Sati al-Husri, Arab identity is the combination of the Arabic language and the sharing of a collective history:

Every person who speaks Arabic is an Arab. Everyone who is affiliated with these people is an Arab. If he does not know this or if he does not cherish his Arabism, then we must study the reasons for his position. It may be the result of ignorance – then we must teach him the truth. It may be because he is unaware or deceived – then we must awaken him and reassure him. It may be a result of selfishness – then we must work to limit his selfishness (Cleveland, 1971, p.127).

The founding of Arabism was the work of Arab intellectuals, using shared values and threats against the ‘other’ – the non-Arab states and imperialism (Hinnebusch, 2016. P. 157). Arab nationalism already emerged in the Ottoman Empire, against Turkification and Zionism. The rise of Arabism in the Ottoman Empire, called the Arab awakening, had two sources. First there were the minorities of Arab speaking Christians who transformed Arabic into a modern language. Second there was the Muslim elite emphasizing on the greatness of the Arabs resided in their privileged understanding of Islam (Kramer, 1993, p. 175-176). The Ottomans tolerated Jewish immigration because they believed it would benefit the empire, this policy united the Arabs in their criticism. Yet, as long as the Ottoman Empire lasted, the Arab nationalist movement was marginal.
After the first world war there were two commitments that played an important role in the rise of Arabism. First the Sykes-Picot agreement, that divided the Middle East into spheres of French and British influence. Second the Balfour Declaration, that promised the Jews a home in Palestine. The Arab nationalists felt a deep grievance towards the French and the British for this and Arabism began to redefine itself as a reaction towards Western imperialism (Kramer, 1993, p 178-179). Arabism gained popularity from the 1930’s and got an extra dimension in 1948 with the declaration of the state Israel. The war in Palestine showed the Arabs that they were weak and that there was a revolution necessary to strengthen the Arab peoples. This Arab revolution knows two movements, on the one hand Nasserism and on the other hand Ba’athism. Nasserism or pan-Arabism came up with the rise of the Egyptian colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser became a hero in the Arab world after his victory in the Suez Crisis. He came into power and combined a socialist agenda with the idea of Arab unity. Nasser saw Egypt as the bridge to Arab nationalism, connecting the Arabs of Asia and Africa (Kramer, 1993, p. 185). Ba’athism can be seen as a more stringent ideology, its founders were intellectuals from Syria. Ba’ath means literally resurrection, the resurrection of the Arab unity. They called themselves revolutionaries and wanted a single Arab state in which socialism was a necessity. The Ba’ath came to power in Syria and Iraq through military coups and installed there military dictatorship with the slogan: ‘unity, freedom, socialism’ (Kramer, 1993, p. 186).
From 1950 till 1970 Arab nationalism was the hegemonic ideology in most Arab states with the emergence of the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958 as its zenith (Hinnebusch, 2016, p. 158). This ‘marriage’ between Nasser’s Egypt and Ba’ath’s Syria turned into a struggle between both Arab nationalists camps and collapsed in 1961. The collapse was a beginning of a long slide of Arab nationalism. In 1967 the Arabs got defeated by Israel in six days, this defeat can be seen as the ‘Waterloo of pan-Arabism’. The Arabs expected to be stronger than in 1948, but this war showed them that they only had become weaker (Kramer, 1993, p. 187-188). This realization gave rise to another ideology, namely political Islam.

Political Islam
            Political Islam and Arab nationalism can be seen as rivals, although they have shared causes like anti-imperialism and the struggle over Palestine (Hinnebusch, 2016, p. 158). Peter Mandaville, a leading scholar in Political Islam defines Islamism as ‘an aspiration to institute a political order that reflects the norms of Islam, and the shari’ah more specifically’ (Mandaville, 2007, p. 239). He makes a distinction between Islamism and radical Islamism. Islamists seek to implement an Islamic political order and they try to do so within the modern state system, so often they are using democracy to reach their goal. Sometimes these groups emphasize on violent resistance, but their goals are defined in national liberation and Islamism within a single state. Radical Islamists reject the modern sovereign nation state and seek to establish a pan-Islamic polity or caliphate. In order to establish this, the violent struggle or jihad is the primary method (Mandaville, 2007, p. 237).
The Ikhwan al Muslimine or Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, can be seen as the prototype of all modern Islamist movements (Mandaville, 2016, p. 181). The goal of the Brotherhood is the Islamization of the society in a political way. Sayyid Qutb, their most important ideologist made a brief account of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood in 5 slogans (Qutb, 1964, p. 260).

Allah is our goal,

The Messenger is our example,

The Qur’an is our constitution,

Jihad is our way,

And Martyrdom is our desire.

In the beginning the brotherhood was a quietist organization that didn’t use violence, but that changed under the leadership of Sayyid Qutb in the 1960’s. Qutb was convinced that Egypt under Nasser was under threat of losing its Islamic identity through Western influence. He called this jahiliyyah, which refers to pre-Islamic times when there was ignorance. The only answer for him to this Westernization was an Islamic state,  a legal system based on shari’a. It was clear for him that the Nasser regime had to go and violence was the way to achieve that. Qutb got arrested and executed by the Egyptian regime for his anti-regime ideology, but his ideas lived on. Many other key ideologues got arrested and the Brotherhood was been driven underground (Mandaville, 2007, p. 240-242). The Muslim Brotherhood is most associated with Egypt but it has a broad ideology with movements in Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia (Mandaville, 2016, p. 181-182). Islamist organizations as the Muslim Brotherhood use only violence when they see no other option and they do it usually only on a national scale. The Muslim Brotherhood tries to gain power via electoral means which is been quite successful in recent times.
The so-called radical Islamists are different in two ways. They are politically radical because they reject the system of nation-states and want to replace that with a caliphate. Also their method is radical because they try to reach their goals mainly – or only – by the use of violent struggle (jihad). The legacy of Sayyid Qutb made several more militant factions of the Muslim Brotherhood depart and form jihadist groups. These groups didn’t agree with the Brotherhood’s commitment to political quietism and saw themselves as the inheritors of Qutb’s legacy of active struggle (Mandaville, 2007, p. 241).
Geopolitics plays an important role in the emergence of the global jihadi movement. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-89) mujahideen fighters fought a guerilla war against the Soviets. The war was framed as a jihad against the atheists and soon other radical Islamists joined the fight (Mandaville, 2007, p 242).. The diversity of countries of origin where the fighters came from gave them the feeling they were fighting for a Muslim cause. When the war was over these fighters went to their homeland and spread their radical ideas. As David Cook puts it:

The battlefield of Afghanistan was the religious and social incubator for global radical Islam in that it established contacts among a wide variety of radicals from Muslim antigovernmental and resistance movements and fused them together (Mandaville, 2007, p. 242).

One of the founders within this mujahideen movement was Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Azzam putted even more emphasis on waging jihad than Qutb did, and played a big role in shaping Usama bin Laden’s worldview. Bin Laden was a rich Saudi citizen who quickly developed a reputation as a dedicated fighter in Afghanistan. Together with the Egyptian Islamist Ayman al-Zawahiri he founded Al-Qaeda (The Base) in the period around the end of the Afghan war (Mandaville, 2007, p. 244). After the war the emphasis of the jihadi’s began to swift from the near enemy to the far enemy. Zawahiri reinterpreted Qutb’s concept of jahiliyya, and saw the whole world as ignorant which means jihad must be fought in all places. With the possibilities of transnational communication and travel in a globalizing world a global jihad was born (Mandaville, 2007, p. 254). Al-Qaeda was in the early 2000’s most ‘successful’, with big attacks in Bali, Madrid and London. The far most dramatic and important in its consequences were the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C. (Mandaville, 2007, p. 237).

            One of the consequences of 9-11 attacks was the so-called War on Terror waged by George W. Bush. In 2003 Iraq got invaded and the Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein collapsed. This led to a power vacuum with sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis as a result. In these circumstances a new radical Islamist group emerged, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (Weiss & Hassan, 2015). This group gave a new dimension to the global jihadi movement by proclaiming an actual caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The leader and caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claims he is family of the prophet Mohammed. ISIS acts far more professional than Al-Qaeda, and shocks the world with horrifying beheading videos. The groups makes professional promotion videos and even a glossy in English called Dabiq, to convince Muslims all over the world to join jihad (Weiss & Hassan, 2015). Thousands of Western Muslims can’t resist the call and leave to join ISIS.
The group has a twofold strategy, on the one hand it’s building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria and on the other hand it’s training and motivating Muslims to attack in the West (The New York Times, 2016). The first strategy is not that successful anymore, after a broad coalition started to bomb ISIS targets the caliphate is declining rapidly. Now the end of the caliphate is near, it is likely that the group puts full emphasis on the second strategy. ISIS is responsible for the big attacks in Paris and Brussels, by training the ‘mastermind’ of the Attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, in Syria (The New York Times, 2016). But the group also inspires so-called lone wolves to strike in the West as we have seen in Orlando and other occasions (CNN, 2016). The potency of ISIS as a real Islamic State can be considered small, they are too radical and they have made too many enemies to keep hold of a big territory. As an ideology and a threat to the West ISIS seems more potent than any radical Islamist group before, the group is capable of activating extremists all over the world and with the collapse of the caliphate many jihadists will go elsewhere. But as Mandaville puts it, ‘the popular appeal of radical Islam, particularly in its activist variant, will continue to be limited to a very small and highly extreme minority of Muslims’ (Mandaville, 2007, p. 273)
A much more potent force seems Islamism in its ‘pragmatic’ form. After the Arab uprisings in 2011 the Islamic political parties were quite successful – both classic Islamist and newly enfranchised conservative Salafis (Mandaville, 2016, p. 192). In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood became the dominant party and in Tunesia En-Nahda. Although the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was short, Mohamed Mursi had to leave after a military coup, it might be clear that the Muslim brothers still have a lot of followers. In Turkey the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in power and in Morocco the Partie de la justice et du développement (PJD) (Mandaville, 2016, p. 191). These pragmatic Islamists use democracy to achieve power, but once they have the power they often use it to eliminate the opposition, as we have seen in Turkey after the failed coup.
Yusuf al-Qardawi, a religious scholar from Egypt and ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, has a weekly television show at Al Jazeera where he spread his Islamist ideas. Al-Qardawi is very popular in the Islamic world and he influences Muslims all over the world (Benyaich, 2013). The Muslim Brotherhood has also branches in Europe with Tarik Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, as its most famous figure. In 2008 one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Youssef Nada, said in an Egyptian newspaper that the Muslim brotherhood counts more than 100 million people worldwide (Benyaich, 2013). We don’t know if that is true, but it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood with its several branches is a very potent force.
Arab nationalism looks the less potent force. Nasserism died in 1970 together with the dead of the pan-Arab hero and wannabe successors as Muamar Gaddafi failed (Hinnebusch, 2016, p. 159). The Ba’ath movement lost its power in Iraq and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria is likely to collapse soon. Some scholars like Abu Khalil think that Arab nationalism persists in a combination with Islamism and democracy, he calls this the new Arab ideology. He himself admits although that Islam – as a political ideology rather than as a body of theology – remains the single most popular movement in the Arab world (Abu Khalil, 1992).

               In this essay I have argued that Arab nationalism is a less potent force than political Islam. The only way Arabism can survive is by adjusting Islamism. Recent developments have shown the potency of Islamism in both its radical and its ‘pragmatic’ form. With the rise of ISIS, radical Islamism got a new dimension and their use of modern media showed that their ideology can attract more people than ever before, even in the West. Although the popular appeal of radical Islam stays relatively small, it can become or already is a major threat. The ‘pragmatist’ form of Islamism is even more potent. Islamists have a majority in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, even in ‘modern’ countries like Turkey and Morocco. The Muslim Brotherhood has a lot of followers worldwide and can be seen as a very potent force. It is worth noting that the distinction between radical and ‘pragmatic’ Islamism is not always very clear. The Muslim Brotherhood had also some radical periods and their leading ideologue Sayyid Qutb is still a big inspiration for many radical Islamists. Political Islam is very potent and that’s something to seriously worry about.






AbuKhalil, A (1992) A New Arab Ideology: The Rejuvenation of Arab Nationalism, Middle East Journal, 46/1, Winter 1992, pp22-36

AlJazeera (February 4, 2008) The two ‘isms’ of the Middle East. Can Islamist and Arabist ideologies converge on the issue of unity?

Benyaich, B. (2013). Islam en Radicalisme bij Marokkanen in Brussel. Kessel-Lo: Bilal   Benyaich & Uitgeverij van Halewyck

Cleveland, W.L. (1971) The Making of an Arab Nationalist: Ottomanism and Arabism in the Life and Thought of Sati’ al-Husri (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971), 127.

CNN (June 13, 2016) Orlando shooting: 49 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance

Hinnebusch, R. (2016) The Politics of Identity in Middle East International Relations – in Fawcett, L. (2016) International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press: Oxford – chapter 7

Kramer, M (1993) Arab Nationalism: Mistaken Identity, Daedalus, 122/3, Summer 1993, pp 171-206

Mandaville, P. (2007) Global Political Islam, Routledge: Oxford – chapter 7 and 8

Mandaville, P. (2016) Islam and International Relations in the Middle East – in Fawcett, L (2016) International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press: Oxford – chapter 8

Qutb, S. (1964). Milestones.

Rogan, E.L. (2016). The Emergence of the Middle East into the Modern State System – in Fawcet, L. (2016) International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press: Oxford – chapter 2

Weiss, M. & Hassan, H. (2015) ISIS Inside the Army of Terror, Regan Arts: New York

Spoiler alert: the main reason is not colonialism or discrimination

CosfIP3WAAAhb6TIn the new edition of their glossy Dabiq ISIS is so friendly to explain us again why they hate us. I know, we’re not really interested in what ISIS tells us because we already have our own narrative: It’s basically our own fault: colonialism, discrimination, the whole foreign policy of the USA. Dude, Bush, he was such a badass. In comparison with him, Bin Laden and Al-Baghdadi are saints. So yeah, that bit of terrorism that happens to us now is the backlash we could expect, we kind of deserve it. The nice thing about this narrative is that if it’s our own fault, we should also be able to fix it. A hopeful thought. And I don’t want to ruin your day, but maybe – just maybe – we should question that thought..

The articles starts with stating that the Western narrative on jihadism, as outlined above, is wrong: ‘it is nothing more than a political act and a propaganda tool. The politicians will say it regardless of how much it stands in opposition to facts and common sense just to garner as many votes as they can for the next election cycle. The analysts and journalists will say it in order to keep themselves from becoming a target for saying something that the masses deem to be “politically incorrect.” The apostate “imams” in the West will adhere to the same tired cliché in order to avoid a backlash from the disbelieving societies in which they’ve chosen to reside. The point is, people know that it’s foolish, but they keep repeating it regardless because they’re afraid of the consequences of deviating from the script.’

To fight this false narrative ISIS gives us 6 reasons why they hate us and why they fight us in order of importance:

  1. We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers..
  2. We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited..
  3. We hate you and wage war against you because you disbelieve in the existence of your Lord and Creator..
  4. We hate you for your crimes against Islam and wage war against you to punish you for your transgressions against our religion..
  5. We hate you for your crimes against the Muslims..
  6. We hate you for invading our lands and fight you to repel you and drive you out..

So yeah, foreign policy plays a role, but they point out very clearly that this role is secondary. They will never stop hating us, not even if we submit: ‘What’s important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list. The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam. Even if you were to pay jizyah and live under the authority of Islam in humiliation, we would continue to hate you. No doubt, we would stop fighting you then as we would stop fighting any disbelievers who enter into a covenant with us, but we would not stop hating you.’

Sweet fellas as they are, they also point out that they terrorize us for our own good: ‘What’s equally if not more important to understand is that we fight you, not simply to punish and deter you, but to bring you true freedom in this life and salvation in the Hereafter, freedom from being enslaved to your whims and desires as well as those of your clergy and legislatures, and salvation by worshiping your Creator alone and following His messenger.’

But that would be a bit too nice to end with, so they make it very clear one more time: the only option we have is ‘soumission’.

‘So you can continue to believe that those “despicable terrorists” hate you because of your lattes and your Timberlands, and continue spending ridiculous amounts of money to try to prevail in an unwinnable war, or you can accept reality and recognize that we will never stop hating you until you embrace Islam, and will never stop fighting you until you’re ready to leave the swamp of warfare and terrorism through the exits we provide, the very exits put forth by our Lord for the People of the Scripture: Islam, jizyah, or – as a last means of fleeting respite – a temporary truce.’




my_image_of_the_quran_by_msnsam-d50xawoThe same question keeps coming back: is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violence? As often, the truth is found somewhere in the middle. Fact is that Islamic terrorists use religious texts to legitimate their actions. What strikes me is that a lot of people – even Muslims – still don’t seem to know what’s written in the Quran, this does no good to the religious discussion. One person only recites peaceful passages from the Quran, the other only hateful passages. In this article I quote some verses (Ayas) from the Quran about peace and violence to show that it’s not merely a matter of interpretation, but mainly a matter of cherry picking.

I am aware of the fact that my approach is vulnerable in the sense that I’m cherry picking myself and that there is a danger of ‘quoting out of context’. However, one should know that the Qur’an contains 114 chapters (Suras) arranged roughly from longest to shortest with the exception of the short first chapter (the Fatiha or ‘Opening’). This arrangement means that chapters often bear very little relation to preceding and following ones. I only quote complete verses and if I think it’s relevant also the surrounding verses to avoid quoting out of context. However, I strongly encourage you to read the Quran yourself if you’re interested in this subject. For a broader context and deeper understanding you should also read the ḥadīṯh which is about the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.

Peaceful verses

“There is no compulsion in religion: rectitude has become distinct from error. So one who disavows the Rebels and has faith in Allah has held fast to the firmest handle for which there is no breaking; and Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing.” [2:256]

“That is why We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul, without [its being guilty of] manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind. Our apostles certainly brought them manifest signs, yet even after that many of them commit excesses on the earth.
Indeed the requital of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle, and try to cause corruption on the earth, is that they shall be slain or crucified, or have their hands and feet cut off from opposite sides or be banished from the land. That is a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter there is a great punishment for them,
excepting those who repent before you capture them, and know that Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful.”

Parts of the verses above are often recited to show that Islam is a religion of peace. Some scholars claim that Sura 2:256 is abrogated (I explain the ‘Law of Abrogation’ later) by other Suras like Sura 9:5 that orders to kill the polytheists. Sura 5:32 says that killing one soul is the same as killing all mankind, but Sura 5:33 says that those who wage war against Allah should be slain or crucified. This contradiction leaves some space for interpretation. Most Islamists consider ‘the West’ as a homogeneous group that is waging war against Islam, so in their eyes it’s legitimate to kill all Westerners.

Violent verses

“Warfare has been prescribed for you, though it is repulsive to you. Yet it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you love something while it is bad for you, and Allah knows and you do not know.” [2:216]

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress. Indeed Allah does not like transgressors.
And kill them wherever you confront them, and expel them from where they expelled you, for faithlessness is graver than killing. But do not fight them near the Holy Mosque unless they fight you therein; but if they fight you, kill them; such is the requital of the faithless.
But if they relinquish,1 then Allah is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Fight them until faithlessness is no more, and religion becomes [exclusively] for Allah. Then if they relinquish, there shall be no reprisal except against the wrongdoers.” [2:190-194]

“Then your Lord signaled to the angels: ‘I am indeed with you; so steady the faithful. I will cast terror into the hearts of the faithless. So strike their necks, and strike each of their fingertips!’” [8:12]

Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and maintain the prayer and give the zakāt, then let them alone. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful.
If any of the polytheists seeks asylum from yougrant him asylum until he hears the Word of Allah. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.” [9:5-6]
Note: Zakāt is a religious tax.

“Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give your victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people.
And remove the fury in their hearts. And Allah turns in forgiveness to whom He wills; and Allah is knowing and wise.”

“When you meet the faithless in battle, strike their necks. When you have thoroughly decimated them, bind the captives firmly. Thereafter either oblige them [by setting them free]or take ransom till the war lays down its burdens. That [is Allah’s ordinance], and had Allah wished He could have taken vengeance on them,1but that He may test some of you by means of others. As for those who were slain in the way of Allah, He will not let their works go awry.” [47:4]

Parts of the verses above are often recited by jihadi ideologists to encourage Muslims to fight the unbelievers. And indeed, the call for violence in this verses is very clear. But there again is a contradiction, because there is also space for forgiveness. The verse after the famous Sword Verse even tells Muslims to grant asylum to the polytheists because ‘they are the people that not know’.


“If you are slain in the way of Allah, or die, surely forgiveness and mercy from Allah are better than what they amass.
And if you die or are slain, you will surely be mustered toward Allah.”

“Do not suppose those who were slain in the way of Allah to be dead; rather they are living and provided for near their Lord.” [3:169]

“Not equal are those of the faithful who sit back —excepting those who suffer from some disability— and those who wage jihād in the way of Allah with their possession and their persons. Allah has graced those who wage jihād with their possessions and their persons by a degree over those who sit back; yet to each Allah has promised the best reward, and Allah has graced those who wage jihād over those who sit back with a great reward:” [4:95]

“Those who have believed and migrated, and waged jihād in the way of Allah with their possessions and persons have a greater rank near Allah, and it is they who are the triumphant.
Their Lord gives them the good news of His mercy and [His] pleasure, and for them there will be gardens with lasting bliss,
to remain in them forever.
With Allah indeed is a great reward.” [9:20-22]

In these verses we see that a reward is promised to the ones that die in the way of Allah. What exactly dying in the way of Allah means, is a matter of interpretation. Scholars make a distinction between ‘the greater jihad’ which is the inner battle of the soul and the ‘lesser jihad’ which is the violent battle against unbelievers. Since Sura 4:95 makes an exception for disabled people we can assume that this verse is about the violent battle. Some Islamist scholars claim that jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam, most Muslims strongly disagree with that.

It’s very important to keep in mind that the Quran is written a long time ago, in a totally different world. The problem is however that most orthodox Muslims believe that the Quran was uncreated and that the earthly Quran is simply an exact copy of Allah’s eternal word. To excuse or explain parts of the Quran by referring to historical context is therefore highly problematic. If the Quran is indeed Allah’s eternal guidance to mankind, human beings should be able to follow it at all times and under all circumstances. If we read the verses above we see a lot of contradictions. Sometimes in different chapters, but even in the same verse. It usually starts with a call for violent battle and ends with the phrase that Allah is forgiving and merciful. Important here is that there is only mercy for people that convert to Islam. Furthermore there are verses that say that there is no compulsion in religion and that killing is bad – but also verses that call to kill the unbelievers. Important here is that the Quran works according the ‘Law of Abrogation’, which means that where two verses contradict each other, the more recent one cancels out (abrogates) the earlier one. In general terms, it can be stated that passages ‘revealed’ in Medina will always abrogate passages ‘revealed’ in Mecca if there is any conflict between them. Unfortunately most violent verses have been revealed later than the peaceful ones and thus have more religious authority.

If you believe in God and if you believe the Quran is the infallible word of God, then it’s pretty hard to resist the call for violence towards infidels. We see that both jihadi ideologists and moderate Muslims only use the verses of the Quran they like. On the one hand we should be happy that most Muslims ignore the violent passages, on the other hand we should acknowledge that they are there – and we should discuss that problem. The inspiration or excuse for violence is not coming out of nowhere, it’s coming from the Holy Book.



Averroes, “The chapter on Jihad” of Bidayat al-mujtahid [A manual of Islamic legal thought] in: Peters (1996), 27-42.

Peters, R. “Jihad, an introduction” in: Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, 1996, 1-8.

The Quran. Online Translation and Commentary.

Townsend, P. Arabic for Unbelievers. 2014.

Via een blog met deze weinig originele titel hoop ik jullie de komende weken op de hoogte te houden van mijn ervaringen in Marokko. Deze titel heb ik gekozen omdat ik geïnspireerd ben door de alom geprezen serie Onze man in Teheran van Thomas Erdbrink. Het mooie aan deze serie is dat juist het persoonlijke karakter een fascinerende inkijk geeft in een, voor ons westerlingen, ongrijpbare wereld. Nu weet ik ook wel dat Teheran en Marrakech werelden van verschil zijn, maar toch hoop ik vanuit deze standplaats een kijkje te geven in de Arabische cultuur en religie.

Waarom ga je juist naar Marrakech of all places? Ten eerste vooral omdat het op mijn pad kwam. Ik was op zoek naar een internship in Afrika of Zuid-Amerika en toen tipte een Duitse vriend me over dit project. Het is de bedoeling dat ik content ga schrijven voor een reisapp, vanuit Nederlands perspectief. Je zult begrijpen dat de culturele verschillen tussen het conservatieve Marokko en het liberale Nederland nogal groot zijn: aan mij de taak om dit te verwoorden en een gulden middenweg te vinden voor Nederlandse toeristen. Verder zal ik de sociale media bijhouden en af en toe Engelse les geven. Kortom, ik ga drie van mijn grootse passies combineren: reizen, schrijven en onderwijzen.
De tweede reden is echter mijn grootste drijfveer, namelijk een enorme fascinatie voor de Arabische wereld. Er is geen plek ter wereld waar de politieke situatie interessanter en complexer is dan het Midden-Oosten. Ik weet dat Marokko niet tot het Midden-Oosten behoort maar het is voor mij een unieke kans om me meer te verdiepen in de Arabische en islamitische cultuur. Wat vind ik zo fascinerend aan de Arabische wereld? De onderwerping aan gezag, de nederigheid, de rol van religie, het belang van tradities, het leven voor iets groters. Eigenlijk alles waar wij in ons liberale, seculiere Westen zo tegen zijn. Ik ben opgegroeid met het Midden-Oosten als brandhaard. Het conflict tussen Israël en de Palestijnen. De aanslagen van 11 september 2001 en de daaropvolgende oorlogen in Irak en Afghanistan. De angst dat Saddam Hoessein met zijn massavernietigingswapens (die hij achteraf niet bleek te hebben) de wereld zou vernietigen. Ik zat aan de krant gekluisterd, een tv hadden mijn ouders niet vanwege religieuze principes. De jubelstemming die de Arabische Lente in eerste instantie teweegbracht en de puinhopen die het achterliet. De oorlog in Syrië, de opkomst van IS en de dubieuze rol die het Westen bij dit alles gespeeld heeft en nog steeds speelt. De lijst is onuitputtelijk.

Deze ontwikkelingen hebben mijn interesse in de Arabische wereld versterkt. Daarnaast ben ik door mijn afkomst (Bible Belt) altijd al geïnteresseerd geweest in de relatie tussen politiek en religie. Ik denk dat, ondanks wat vele ‘deskundigen’ beweren, politiek en religie voor fundamentalisten niet los van elkaar te zien is. En met fundamentalisten bedoel ik geen extremisten, maar gelovigen die hun heilige boek letterlijk interpreteren en geen andere interpretatie dulden. Dit alles heeft ervoor gezorgd dat ik zelf een ‘deskundige’ wil worden op het gebied van het Midden-Oosten, hoewel ik weet dat dit een mission impossible is. Een master Midden-Oosten studies is waarschijnlijk dan ook de volgende stap in mijn academische carrière, maar ik ben me er terdege van bewust dat zelfs een leven lang studeren te kort is om deze complexiteit te vatten. Vandaar dat ik niet alleen vanuit mijn westerse wereldje de betweter wil uithangen, maar de cultuur zelf ook wil ervaren. Het paradoxale daaraan is dat je enerzijds dichtbij moet staan om te begrijpen en eventueel te verklaren, maar anderzijds afstand moet houden om je kritische blik niet te verliezen. Kortom, een mooie uitdaging. In deel 2 van deze serie meer over het land Marokko.

Luttele seconden nadat ik uit solidariteit en in mijn emotie een spotprent van de profeet Mohammed op mijn Facebook-pagina plaatste, schoot het even door mijn hoofd: misschien is er wel een gek die dit ziet en een daad wil stellen. Ben ik bereid mijn leven te geven voor het vrije woord? Het antwoord moet ik schuldig blijven, maar het feit dat ik deze vraag stel zegt genoeg. De aanslag op Charlie Hebdo is veel meer dan 12 doden. Er is lef voor nodig om de profeet belachelijk te maken. En waar lef is, is angst.

Nu is het helemaal niet mijn ding om gevoelens van mensen te kwetsen zonder daarbij een doel te dienen. Ik ben een christelijk atheïst, dus ik richt me in mijn kritieken vooral op het christendom, domweg omdat ik de destructieve werking van die religie heb ervaren en goed ken. Ik probeer niet te vloeken, vooral niet in het bijzijn van mijn vader omdat ik weet dat ik hem daarmee verdriet doe. Maar ik ga wel met hem in discussie, ik probeer hem wel met argumenten aan het denken te zetten. Ik weet dat ik christenen kwets door soms keihard te ageren tegen hun religie, maar dat doe ik altijd met een ‘hoger’ doel. Ik neem geen blad voor de mond, ik ben soms ver gegaan, maar ik ben nooit bedreigd. Veel verder dan verwijtende opmerkingen, blikken of geen blikken is het niet gekomen.

Ik ben altijd wat terughoudender geweest in mijn kritiek op de islam, domweg omdat ik er minder van weet. Of ben ik diep van binnen toch bang? Zowel het christendom als de islam zijn religies die tegen alles ingaan waar wij in het ‘vrije Westen’ voor staan. Deze religies zijn volkomen intolerant tegenover andersdenkenden. En dan heb ik het over de fundamentalistische vorm zoals beschreven in de Bijbel en de Koran. Met name ongelovigen moeten het in deze heilige boeken ontgelden en geweld wordt daarbij niet geschuwd. Nu is het grote verschil tussen het christendom en de islam dat het christendom door de verlichting is gegaan. Westerse waarden hebben in meer of mindere mate een plekje gekregen binnen het christendom. Het christendom heeft haar scherpe kantjes verloren, maar deze groeien er bij de islam dubbel zo hard weer aan. Uit onderzoek van professor Ruud Koopmans blijkt dat ongeveer 45% van de West-Europese moslims een fundamentalist is, tegenover 5% van de West-Europese christenen.

Helaas blijkt uit dit onderzoek niet hoeveel moslims daadwerkelijk bereid te zijn geweld te gebruiken, dus daar ligt een uitdaging voor toekomstig onderzoek. Wat uit dit onderzoek wel blijkt is dat deze 45% de Koran letterlijk neemt en de religieuze wetten boven de seculiere, nationale wetten stelt. Uiteraard is lang niet iedere fundamentalist bereid om geweld te gebruiken, maar zij zijn er wel gevoelig voor. Ik weet dat ik me niet te veel moet aantrekken van wat er op de krochten van het internet wordt gezegd, maar vele reacties schokken mij wel degelijk. Aan de ene kant groepen die de aanslagen toejuichen en vinden dat de cartoonisten erom vroegen. Aan de andere kant groepen die moskeeën in brand willen steken en alle moslims het land uit willen trappen. En misschien nog wel gevaarlijker: de intellectuele Foucault-knuffelaars die alles als een groot complot zien van de machthebbenden. Als we niet meer geloven wat we dagelijks zien gebeuren, hoe kunnen we dan ooit de problemen aanpakken?

Ik liep, toen de lijken nog warm waren, aangeslagen een werkgroep Politicologie binnen op de UvA en er werd met geen woord over de aanslag gesproken. Er was zojuist een aanslag gepleegd op de persvrijheid, op de vrijheid van meningsuiting, op alles waar wij voor staan – en iedereen zweeg! We hebben het hier …verdomme over politicologen! Wetenschappers die bezig zouden moeten zijn de grootste bedreiging voor onze maatschappij op te lossen. Maar nee, laten we het vandaag voor de verandering eens over ongelijkheid hebben.
Ik hoop toch echt dat we inmiddels de naïviteit voorbij zijn door te denken dat het hier gaat om een kleine groep gekken. Deze aanslag is geen incident en het zal hier niet bij blijven, word wakker! Tijdens het schrijven van dit stuk druppelt het nieuws binnen dat de islamitische terreurorganisatie Boko Haram in Nigeria op brute wijze 2000 mensen heeft afgeslacht, voornamelijk vrouwen en kinderen. Het houdt niet op, niet vanzelf. Bij deze een oproep aan alle sociale- en geesteswetenschappers: laten we ons bezig houden met het grootse vraagstuk van de huidige tijd. Wat moeten we met de fundamentalistische, of zo u wilt, extremistische islam?