Al Mohler: Islamic theologies and extremism

In his podcast “The briefing” of 18 February 2015, Albert Mohler Jr. discusses the topic “Atrocities of past week and year seem to lead to significant shift in Western view of ISIS.”

Quotes are from his “rush transcript” which do not differ from his podcast.

Mohler says, “the West (intellectual and political elite) is denying what is fundamentally true.” With regard to Islam and violence, Mohler says that Obama denies that the problem is theological, which Mohler says it is.

A crucial hinge” in the conversation is an article published by Daniel Burke, religious editor of CNN, entitled “Religion’s Week from Hell” in which he describes the last seven days of horrific violence where all of it except the murder of three Muslims in North Carolina, apparently by an atheist.” (Not “apparently;” and it was over a parking space).

Another important article is by Robert Cohen in the NY Times entitled “Is Islam and the West at war?” He begins the article relating the murders in Denmark at a Seminar on “on ‘Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression’ and a Danish Jew guarding a synagogue were shot dead in Copenhagen, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, uttered a familiar trope:” She said: “We are not in the middle of a battle between Islam and the West. It’s not a battle between Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s a battle between values based on the freedom of the individual and a dark ideology.”

Cohen, relates Mohler, then writes,

This statement — with its echoes of President Obama’s vague references to ‘violent extremists’ uncoupled from the fundamentalist Islam to which said throat-cutting extremists pledge allegiance — scarcely stands up to scrutiny. It is empty talk…“To call this movement, whose most potent recent manifestation is the Islamic State, a ‘dark ideology’ is like calling Nazism a reaction to German humiliation in World War I: true but wholly inadequate. There is little point in Western politicians rehearsing lines about there being no battle between Islam and the West, when in all the above-mentioned countries tens of millions of Muslims, with much carnage as evidence, believe the contrary.”

President Obama says that 99.9% of Muslims are not at war in the West. Mohler says that the truth is although “the vast majority of Muslims are not at war with the West, millions of others are.”

Mohler then discusses an article that “eclipses” the one in the NY Times. The very long article (about 30 pages) “What ISIS really wants” by Graeme Wood appeared in the Atlantic monthly, March 2015:

Graeme Wood explains that this wilful blindness on the part of the West to the theological challenge we face explains why President Obama just a matter of something like a year and a half ago, would refer to the Islamic state as not Islamic…[ISIS] It is growing, not receding, and it is inherently theological – abundantly so – and that’s the point Graeme Wood is now seeking to make…it’s a theology that will not accept peace as a matter of policy. It is a theology that understands world conquest, at least in terms of the dominance of Islam, to be absolutely necessary. It is a worldview, a theological worldview, that make it, says Wood, ‘…constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival;” And most hauntingly, remember those words, …it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.’”

[A]s Graeme Wood makes clear, continues Mohler, one of the reasons why the Islamic State is winning the argument is because they have a more ancient and enduring tradition in Islam to claim as their own and as their justification, at the expense – not to mention of the West, not to mention of more mainstream leaders in the Arab world – but even at the expense of al Qaeda.”

The reality, says Graeme Wood, is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam. Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combated, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.”

Mohler continues:

According to [Professor] Haykel, he [Graeme Wood] writes the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through wilful ignorance.”

There’s the rub: ISIS is not distorting the Koran/Qur’an and the Hadiths, and it would be, says Haykel, “preposterous” to say this was so. The question is: “Does Mohler believe that ISIS reflects authentic Islam. Does he have anything to say on the matter besides quoting Haykel? No. The next and final words on the topic are:

Now at this point I simply have to say that in terms of the article we’re only nine pages in of an almost 30 page article. That tells you just how important this long-form journalism really is. And just how historically important I believe this article will turn out to be.”

The impression I get in his other podcast discussions of Islam (“The Briefing”) is that for Mohler, the “radical Islam” of ISIS is a distortion of genuine Islam, which contrasts with Haykel – whom Mohler quotes approvingly – who says that ISIS is following the precepts of the Qur’an to the letter. ISIS is indeed very faithful to the words of Allah. Read the Qur’an and Hadiths!

What is the different between “radical Islam,” “Islam” and “Muslims.” All Islamists are Muslims, but not all Muslims are Islamists. Why is  this so? Because an Islamist is one who follows the letter and the spirit of the Qur’an to a Q, while many Muslims don’t. Who are the Islamists par excellence? ISIS, Al Qaeda and their ilk? The ignorant or pusillanimous refer to the latter as “radical.” In one sense, they are right – the etymological sense. “Radical” derives from the Latin root “root” (radix). Islamists dig deep into the roots of Islam, while many Muslims play in the branches, In sum, “Islam” in its unmutilated form is radical. That explains its mutilations, which embrace two kinds: verbal – chopping and changing Qur’anic revelations (for example, abrogation – see Abrogadabra in the Qur’an) and chopping off heads. Most of those in the branches either encourage the radicals – or remain mum, for fear of attacking the root from which they sprout and the certain repercussions coming down upon their heads.

Al Mohler seems either not to get it, or not want to say it (himself) – ever. Here is a hadith binding on all Muslims: “The Holy Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) said: ‘Seventy-two (of the 73 sects of the Muslim nation) will be in the fire, and only one will be in Paradise; it is the Jama’ah (i.e. Ahle Sunnah Wa Jamaah).” (Abi Dawud, Ad-Darimi, Ahmad).” Sects who cavort like ISIS believe they will end up as the Jama’ah, numero 73, and so does every other sect doing delish things like chopping off heads. (Jama’ah has several meanings. One meaning is “majority”).

I return to the beginning of Mohler’s podcast and of this article: Mohler says, “the West (intellectual and political elite) is denying what is fundamentally true.” With regard to Islam and violence, Mohler says that Obama denies that the problem is theological, which Mohler says it is. Mohler is, of course right. Mohler might have said elsewhere that “radical Islam” theology is in reality true Islam theology, but I would be surprised and stand corrected if he said that. Would it be correct to say that only “blindness and wilful ignorance” (Mohler, referring to the worldview of “modern secular materialism”) will cause someone to see it – namely, that the two theologies are in fact one – otherwise?

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