A duty to kill and burn? | WORLD
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A duty to kill and burn?

Muslim mobs in Pakistan follow a tradition that calls for violence against those who insult Muhammad

A Christian woman and her children walk through the rubble of homes vandalized by a Muslim mob in Jaranwala near Faisalabad, Pakistan, on Aug. 17. Associated Press/Photo by K.M. Chaudary

A duty to kill and burn?
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In Muslim-majority nations, Christians are often vulnerable to discrimination and persecution. They are treated as lower-class citizens, with their rights rarely protected like the rights of the majority Muslims. Worse, Christian properties and possessions are often openly targeted for violence, demolition, and vandalism.

Two weeks ago in Muslim-majority Pakistan, some Muslims accused a local Christian of desecrating the Quran. In response, thousands of Muslims launched attacks on churches and Christians homes in the region. First of all, it’s highly improbable that a Christian would desecrate the Quran in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Nevertheless, an angry mob immediately considered the accusation factual and began its jihadi pursuit of defending Islam.

Some videos show the mob wielding swords, sticks, and iron rods, attacking homes and destroying church buildings. According to press reports, they did so “as the police appear to watch without intervening.”

This was not a small random attack against Christians. The Pakistani government had to deploy additional police and send in the army to control the violent mob. Official reports have not yet specified casualties, but the mob set ablaze over 26 churches and dozens of Christian homes. Of course, the actual numbers are much higher.

Christians in Pakistan represent less than 2 percent of the population, and the history of anti-Christian attacks there is long and well-known.

What drove the mob to attack Christians in the first place? Why do Muslims sense the urge to attack Christian minorities?

The answer lies in the Muslim mindset of defending Islam against blasphemy. By definition, blasphemy refers to any hint of insult against Islam, Muhammad, or the Quran.

While Pakistan’s blasphemy laws call for the death penalty for anyone accused of insulting Islam or its sacred figures, mobs are often faster and louder to enforce judgements with violence. Muslims in majority-Muslim countries feel entitled and know that the government will not take the side of Christians.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws basically shield Islam and Muslims, while marginalizing Christians and other non-Muslims. These laws pave the way for religious discrimination and persecution. The world knows it.

The Pakistani government did not invent these laws to defend Islam. They are driven by precise precedents from the life of Muhammad.

However, to be clear, the Pakistani government did not invent these laws to defend Islam. They are driven by precise precedents from the life of Muhammad, who is cherished by Muslims as their prophet and the best human example who ever lived.

In one incident, a Jew named Ka’b reportedly wrote a poem to insult Muhammad. In response, Muhammad asked his loyal Muslim companions, “Who is ready to kill Ka’b?” A devoted Muslim hastened and asked, “Do you like me to kill him?,” to which Muhammad “replied in the affirmative.”

Muhammad’s example gives no tolerance to anyone insulting him. This is just one story from the most sacred Sunni Muslim traditions, and there are many similar examples in Muhammad’s biography and sayings. The examples describe Muslims acting as defenders of Muhammad by launching raids and organizing attacks to kill anyone who insults him. To be sure, these defenders are portrayed as heroes of Islam.

Today, Muslim enthusiasts view these tales as sacred examples to emulate. This is why we end up with events like these attacks in Pakistan.

But what does Muhammad’s example really look like in Muslim traditions?

Unlike biblical examples of Christ commanding his disciples to forgive those who insult them and to bless those who curse them, Muhammad’s example, as given in Muslim texts, is not concerned with forgiveness and lenience.

He is portrayed as a man of valor, power, and hegemony, raiding caravans and marauding against tribes, in his pursuit to apply what he identified as Allah’s laws and justice. To advance his political domain, Muhammad—the Muslim tradition insists—launched attacks against pagans to seize their possessions, against Jews to expel them from their homes, and against Christians to have them pay money as tribute. All of this follows in the pursuit to proclaim Islam.

Anyone reads the Muslim texts will encounter this image of Muhammad. You cannot miss it. While this image is cherished by the masses among Muslims, it is highly problematic for obvious reasons. This is why many modernist and liberal Muslims try diligently to dismiss the entire image, and claim it is forgery.

Whether Muhammad’s example as found in the tradition is true is not really the issue, as the Muslim masses—in Pakistan and elsewhere—are driven by religious examples they want to imitate. These examples receive authority from claims of religious authenticity.

Who are the victims? Non-Muslim minorities residing under Islamic rules. The picture is heartbreaking, but it has been this way for centuries. Is the larger world paying attention?

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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