It is too soon to know for sure exactly what their motives were. Friends and acquaintances find it hard to believe that they would have been capable of such a crime. But there is some evidence to suggest that the older of the two brothers, Tamerlan, had become more serious about his Islamic faith in recent years, and that he was troubled by what his fellow Chechens had suffered at the hands of the Russians, as well as the ongoing civil war in Syria. He also reportedly had difficulty relating to American culture.
The bombing was just one more in a string of events involving the Islamic world that has left Americans baffled. Why the hostility? What have we done to them? How can one justify terrorism in the name of religion?
Part of the problem is that we tend to assume that Islam is much like the religions with which we are familiar: Christianity and Judaism. But it is not, and understanding the differences is crucial to making sense out of the world situation today. Consider two key events: one in Christianity and the other in Islam.
According to the Gospel of John, shortly before His crucifixion, when Jesus appeared before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked Him straight out: "Are You the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33; NKJV). Jesus answered that "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (v. 36).
The Jews had been looking for a political Messiah to deliver them from Roman rule. But in its present form at least, Jesus' kingdom is not an earthly kingdom – it is not a geo-political entity that can be defended through force of arms. Rather, it is a spiritual kingdom – it exists in the hearts of believers who embrace the gospel.
Now fast forward nearly 600 years. The scene is a valley near the city of Badr, about eighty miles southwest of Medina in the Arabian Peninsula. On the one side is a relatively small band of Muslims led by Mohammed. On the other side was a larger force from Mecca determined to stamp out the Mohammedan nuisance (the Muslims had been raiding caravans). Mohammed pleas for divine guidance. He believes he received it; the Muslims attack, and the Meccans are routed. It was the beginning of a long march of conquest through the Near East and North Africa.
In a Surah written shortly before the Battle of Badr, Mohammed lays out the rules for his community. He says, among other things, "Fight in the cause of Allah / Those who fight you, / But do not transgress limits; / For Allah loveth not transgressors. / And slay them / Wherever ye catch them, / And turn them out / From where they have / Turned you out; / For tumult and oppression / Are worse than slaughter; / But fight them not / At the Sacred Mosque, / Unless they (first) / Fight you there; / But if they fight you, / Slay them. / Such is the reward / Of those who suppress faith . . ." (2: 190, 191).
It is important to recognize two things here. One is that the use of force in the defense of the faith is explicitly sanctioned in the Koran. The second is that there are rules that govern the use of force: indiscriminate killing is not permitted.
|Sir John Glubb
Sir John Glubb, a former British army officer who was once Commander of the Arab Legion, summarized the difference between the two cultures this way: "Their respective attitudes to the legitimacy of physical force has, ever since then, been one of the most marked contrasts between Muslims and Christians . . . The fact that Muslims believe that war can sometimes be a religious duty has resulted in the fact that Muslim soldiers are often extremely religious and enjoy a far higher status than they do in Christian countries." But then he went on to add, " . . . once violence is admitted, it is all too easily abused" (A Short History of the Arab Peoples, chapter II).
The majority of Muslims today do not support the terrorist campaigns of the radical jihadis, but the jihadis themselves believe that they have just cause. They can point to the actions of Israel and to tyrannical governments in their own countries, and to the tacit support that the U.S. government gives to both as ample reason to attack us. We need to understand and address their concerns. Simply calling them "terrorists" resolves nothing. At the same time it will do little good to pretend that Islam is no different from Christianity. Muslims cannot be expected to think and act like Christians. And "by their fruits you shall know them."