Scholars Differ That Islam Requires Terror in Defense

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Some religious and secular scholars say Islamic belief does not require terrorism in the defense of the faith, and some argue that while the rigid orthodoxy of certain Muslim movements leads inevitably to conflict, Jewish and Christian Scripture also have a place for violence and martyrdom.

Other scholars disagree, arguing that this is merely a facile argument of theological equivalency.

"I reject the idea that there is something more inherently violent in Islam than in Christianity or Judaism," says Milton Viorst, author of "In the Shadow of the Prophet," a study of Islam. "The extremists are fed by a feeling of oppression, not by the dogma of Islam."

But Patrick Sookhdeo, director of London's Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, while decrying attempts to blame Islam for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, rebuts the argument of theological equivalency.

"Many horrific acts have been, and continue to be, perpetrated in the name of Islam, just as they have in the name of Christianity," he writes in London's Daily Telegraph. "But unlike Islam, Christianity does not justify the use of all forms of violence."

He cites as evidence "Sura 9, verse 5 of the Koran, [which reads] `Then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them. And seize them, beleaguer them. And lie in wait for them, in every stratagem."

Others note that this, like biblical Scripture, is open to misinterpretation and distortion.

Mr. Viorst argues in his book that a millennium ago Muslim political forces determined that Islam would reject a rational element that could have helped it cope with modernity. Instead, a traditionalism curbed economic development, creating a gap with the West that today fans resentments and extremism.

"The problem is not Islam, it is the orthodox interpretation that discourages intellectual creativity," he said.

President Bush, fearful that anger over the terrorist attacks on the nation could lead to attacks on innocent Muslims, this week echoed Muslim teaching that the faith is dedicated to peace by "surrender" to God. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, who arrived in Washington yesterday to confer with the president, repeated similar cautions in London.

Some Western religionists note that, like Jews and Christians, Muslims are taught to believe in a cosmos in which God rewards good and punishes evil, and is merciful to human appeals.

The first of "five pillars" of Islam is its claim of monotheism, or belief in one God: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." The other pillars are to pray five times daily, give to charity, observe the daytime fasting month of Ramadan, and take a pilgrimage to Mecca. …