From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Ethicists Learn about War in the Islamic Tradition

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date Mon, 27 Jan 2003 16:48:40 -0600


January 27, 2003


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- About 45 ethicists and pastors of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) discussed war in the
Islamic tradition.  Staff of the ELCA Division for Church in Society
hosted the annual gathering of Lutheran ethicists Jan. 8-10 at the St.
Paul of the Cross Retreat Center, Pittsburgh, prior to the Society for
Christian Ethics meeting Jan. 9-12 in Pittsburgh.
     War in the Islamic tradition was not a familiar topic among
Lutheran ethicists, said Kaari M. Reierson, ELCA associate director for
studies.  "Usually we discuss something in which people have had more
experience.  So, in this case, people were more open to being taught."
     The featured speakers were Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of
Islamic studies, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., and Dr.
Sohail H. Hashmi, assistant professor of international relations, Mount
Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.
     Respondents were Dr. John Kelsay, professor of religion, Florida
State University, Tallahassee, Fla., and Dr. David L. Perry, lecturer in
ethics and religious studies, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara,
     Sachedina presented the development of several Islamic concepts
from their roots.  Muslims were in a minority and were persecuted in
their early years.  "Jihad" referred to the struggle of believers to
defend themselves against the persecutions of the powerful Meccan tribes
and not the offensive wars that were to take place subsequently as
Muslims became powerful and began to conquer neighboring countries, he
     Jihad grew to become a divinely ordained duty to expand Islam's
influence into non-Muslim lands, said Sachedina.  An ethical
consideration of that time was whether or not such expansion should
exercise moral restrictions in the conduct of war, he said.
     Today, such ethical questions are not raised by such extremists as
Osama bin Laden, who simply justifies violence in any form to fight
Western domination, said Sachedina.  The urging of militants for Muslims
to undertake jihad against Western hegemony symbolized in the Israeli
treatment of Palestinians has come to place more emphasis on seeking
martyrdom as a religious duty to fight injustices, he said.
     "Ethics is the central message of the Quran, but in the Muslim
world it is now de-emphasized in favor of empowerment -- such as the
power of martyrdom," said Sachedina.
     Pacifism or nonresistance is not possible in Islam, said
Sachedina.  Islam places an emphasis on resistance to injustice and
oppression, resorting to force if necessary, he said.
     Hashmi discussed various ideologies in the Muslim world.  He said,
key figures in Islam during the past two hundred years are divided about
the relationship between Islam and war.
     "Apologists" tried to prove that Indian Muslims were loyal to the
British colonial authorities and said Islam only fought defensive wars,
said Hashmi.  "Modernists" of the 20th century claimed only defensive
wars were justified by Islamic tradition and jihad was never a war for
religious conversion, he said.
     "Fundamentalists" of today hold defensive jihad as central, said
Hashmi.  Islam has a mission to establish a just social order -- to
"command the right and forbid the wrong," he said.
     Fundamentalists believe expansionist jihad is directed at
governments, not at belief systems, said Hashmi.  There are no forced
conversions, but Islamic moral order is to be enforced, he said.  Jihad
was needed to resist a corrupt and decayed secular order.
     Kelsay responded to the presentations by moderating a discussion
about current issues in the Muslim world regarding war.  Muslims affirm
criteria similar to "just war" criteria familiar to many Christians, he
     Respected Islamic mullahs distinguish between combatants and
civilians in considering war, clearly denouncing such extremists as
Osama bin Laden for targeting civilians, said Kelsay.  He said bin Laden
argues that, because the United States is a democracy, all U.S. citizens
share in responsibility for America's attacks of Islam.
     Kelsay posed several questions for the ethicists to consider.
"What constitutes honorable combat?" he asked.	"Where does Islam fit in
Christian salvation history?"
     Perry asked the presenters a series of questions, comparing what
they had said to what the popular U.S. media report about Islam.  "Is
there a notion of offensive war in the Quran?" he asked.
     Sachedina said there are two terms for jihad in the Quran.  One
means to initiate hostilities to spread Islam's message, he said.  The
other means to respond defensively to aggression.
     Several Lutherans made presentations during the Society of
Christian Ethics meeting: Dr. H. David Baer, Texas Lutheran University,
Seguin, Texas; Dr. Carl-Henric Grenholm, Faculty of Theology, Uppsala
University, Sweden; Dr. Gilbert Meilander, Valparaiso University,
Valparaiso, Ind.; Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, School of Theology and
Ministry, Seattle; Dr. Larry L. Rasmussen, Union Theological Seminary,
New York; and the Rev. Christian A. Scharen, First Lutheran Church, New
Britain, Conn.
     The group of Lutheran ethicists includes seminary and college
professors, retired professors, graduate students, ELCA staff and other
guests.  Bioethics will be the topic of their next gathering -- Jan. 7-
9, 2004, in Chicago.
-- -- --
* Dr. Stewart W. Herman, assistant professor, Religion Department,
Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., provided information for this story.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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