There is no Islamic terrorism, there is only terrorism

Wies3awa Lewandowska talks to Fr Rafal Markowski.

Wies3awa Lewandowska: - The Koran, the sacred book of Islam, sanctions the so-called 'holy war', which is still a threat to Western civilisation, and today has the form of cruel terrorists' attacks. Are we dealing with 'jihad'?

Fr Rafal Markowski: - In the period of the first Muslim community the holy war, jihad, was a political act, aiming at defending this community. It was also an economic act because the war created a perfect occasion for new material resources. On the other hand, as a religious act it was to proclaim the Koranic revelation through fight. In the Koran, the Polish translation by Prof. Bielawski, in the commentary on the principles of the holy war (II sura), there are admonitions, which are obligatory for faithful Muslims who wage holy war. They include: the fight is only in the cause of God and only when the community has been attacked. War is justified only when it is waged against a regular army and it is never directed against civilians and cannot harm them. Therefore, what we today call 'holy war' hardly meets the criteria of the Muslim holy war and even one can say that it does not meet them at all.

- But there are some translations of the Koran, which enhance the idea of ruthlessness of the holy war.

- The Koran contains many statements concerning war and peace, and the fact is that they are sometimes contradictory. But there are also such statements that make us think that Islam is a religion of war. However, we should not see the contemporary evil in these statements but first of all in the fact that the Arab world is much divided today, and since the fall of the Caliphate in 1924 it has had no central authority that could speak on behalf of Islam. Therefore, all attempts of Islam, which wants to dissociate itself from contemporary terrorism, sound too weak. This lack is used by various groups, which having been based on religion, create the so-called Islamic fundamentalism (for example the Association of Muslim Brothers). However, one cannot treat this trend, although it is the loudest one, as representative of the whole Islamic world.

- Western Europe stresses the importance of the so-called 'moderate trend'. Is 'moderate Islam' not a contradiction? Since one cannot be a true Muslim and go along with the Western lifestyle.

- Obviously, one can discuss what moderate Islam means. It is estimated that there are about 23 million Muslims in Europe (ca. 7 million in the West). These are people who face the need to combine their own religious values with the Western lifestyle because of the very fact that they are living in Europe. This is hard. In the spiritual sense these people remain Muslims in the fullest sense of this word, they are living in the world of the Muslim faith, but they must accept, for example, the separation of state and religion.

- And here we have the fundamental charge that such an agreement is actually a departure from Islam.

-I would not exaggerate this problem. In the contemporary world the encounter of cultures, religions and values is a natural and obvious thing. We are bound to co-exist.

- In Europe we deal with certain duality of looking at this problem. On the one hand, President of France speaks with great favour about the Muslim roots of Europe and on the other hand, politicians see more and more the need to limit people's mobility, the necessity for closing ourselves, especially to Muslims.

- Muslims appeared in Europe as early as the beginning of the 8th century; through northern Africa they reached Spain, which they conquered in the year 717 and arrived in the territory of today's France. The expansion of Islam was successfully stopped by the Franconian army. So we can hardly speak about Muslim roots of Europe, although we cannot forget the influence, which the Muslim culture and philosophy had on Europe in the later period. It is most of all Christianity that lies at the foundation of the European culture and one cannot forget that, but that does not mean that Europe should close itself to Muslims.

- If it is closed this is not because of fear of an alien religious tradition, but of the terrorists who refer to that religion. Can suicidal terrorists' attacks be religious acts?

- Together with justifying the term of 'holy war' there appeared the term of shahid, i.e. martyr. The shahid is someone who gives up his/her life for the cause of God, for which he/she has a promised eternal reward, which is life in paradise. This doctrine has been developed and functioning in the Muslim tradition for many ages. However, one cannot apply it to the people who get on a train, underground or bus, having peaceful conscience, sit at a table in some restaurant and blow themselves up, killing people around. Can this be a religious act?

-They think so, they believe so.

-But I try to look at this from a human point of view. Apart from religious values there are also all-human principles of co-existence. Peace, justice, honesty - these are values resulting not only from religious messages. But they peacefully kill people who are not their enemies in any war, who are not involved in any conflict!

- The frustrated terrorists have a different opinion. They think that all people of the West take part, in some way, in the conflict between the Islamic civilisation and the Western civilisation, and therefore, they must bear responsibility for 'the rot' of the latter...

- Today one speaks about the clash of two civilisations. And in fact, the encounters of the cultures and civilisations of the East and the West have occurred many times throughout ages and in various circumstances. However, since Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in the 18th century there was a period of some decadence of the Muslim world, the time of the strong political and economic penetration of the Arab territories by European countries, especially in the 19th century. This was a tragedy for the world of Islam that could not understand its humiliation. It was in that period that much prejudice towards the West originated and it has functioned until now. The West is identified with evil because in some way it led to the greatest fall of the world of Islam in its history.

- And now the Western world is afraid of the renewal of Islam on its territory.

- Certainly, in the world of Islam there has always been a desire for ideal beginning, for ideal state community, which would, beside religion, embrace political, social, economic and even military life like in early Islam. The desire for a state as an overpowering community, in which a religious leader is at the same time a state leader and the obligatory state law is the holy law of the Koran. All those things go beyond the imagination of the Western people and sometimes they are in fact horrifying things although the real renewal of Islam in such a pure form is quite unreal and almost impossible. Though, people actually say that it is the Muslims that will convert godless Europe in the future...

- Serious European authorities speculate that by the year 2100 Europe will have been totally Arab and the more pessimistic ones give the year 2017 as the probable date, and predict that the Arab empire will be restored on the territory of Europe.

- It is true that from the social point of view Muslims' presence in Europe is marked in a more and more evident way. And perhaps in the light of the demographic decline in Western Europe there is the danger that the Muslim community will dominate there in the future... Surely, there will be many new problems but the most important thing has always been that we should not see mutual threat in ourselves but seek all ways to co-exist, with all respect and understanding for mutual religious convictions. To build a civilisation of love, as John Paul II wanted to do.

- This is difficult when we face the increasing fear of terrorism, which we unfortunately connect with Islam.

- Although there have been numerous abuses of the principles of the Koranic law in the history of Islam, one must state categorically that what we today call terrorism has nothing to do with these principles. This is terrorism, which is explicitly connected with politics. There is no Islamic terrorism, there is only terrorism.

- Thank you for the conversation.

"Niedziela" 41/2005

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: