My blood boiled with rage as I read last week’s report in The New York Times, revealing that ISIS has been promoting the systematic rape of women and girls — even some younger than 12 years old. The article starts with a horrific description:
He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her. When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
I have a daughter who will soon be 12. I’ve also been the youth pastor of teenage girls. Although I’m a staunch supporter of nonviolent action in the face of evil, and I don’t believe in hell as a place of torment after death, there is a significant part of me that wants to blow those bastards into a million pieces, sending them to the hell that they so richly deserve.
But there are two points that I would like to make in response to the article. First, ISIS is not what it means to be Islamic. We need to stop calling ISIS a form of radical Islam. ISIS and other terror groups don’t deserve to have the name "Islam" attached to their identity.
As a Christian with many Muslim friends, I cannot just allow ISIS to set the theological terms of Islam. When an ISIS fighter prostrates himself in prayer before and after raping a woman or a girl, he is not praying to Allah. He is praying to the devil.
In Islamic terms, Allah is not a god who justifies rape and murder. Allah is the God of mercy and compassion. The chapters of the Qur’an begin with the phrase, "In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy." In Islam, mercy is God’s fundamental nature and Muslims are to imitate God’s mercy by acting in the ways of God’s mercy.
God states in the Qur’an that, "My Mercy and Compassion embrace all things" (7:156), but just what is God’s mercy like? The Arabic word for mercy is rahmah. It is intimately related to the Arabic word rahim, which means "womb."
In his book The Heart of Islam, scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr claims that the connection between mercy and womb indicates that, "the world issues from the womb of Divine Mercy and Compassion."
In Islam, Allah is like a merciful mother who loves and cares for her children. Now, one might claim that Allah’s children are only Muslims, and thus, only Muslims deserve mercy and compassion. But that would be false. As the Qur’an states, God’s "Mercy and Compassion embrace all things." All that exists is embraced by God’s mercy. It doesn’t matter whether we are believers, polytheists, or atheists. In Islam, Allah responds to all things, including all people, with mercy and compassion.
Mercy and Compassion are so integral to Islam that Nasr states, "It is impossible for a Muslim to pray to God or even think of God without awareness of this essential dimension of Compassion and Mercy."
Which leads me back to heinous acts of rape committed by ISIS. Their "theology of rape" has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, it is anti-Islamic because it goes against the very mercy and compassion that is the nature of Islam’s theology of God. True Islamic theology doesn’t lead to rape; it leads to compassion and mercy.
As Nasr claims,
"There are numerous teachings in the Quran and Hadith emphasizing the importance of having compassion toward the people who are one’s neighbors and being aware of their needs. Then beyond one’s neighborhood there is society at large, in which the same attitude of compassion and kindness must exist even beyond the boundary of one’s religion."
This leads me to my second point. As much as I’d like to blow ISIS away, if we are to take seriously the fact that God’s "mercy encompasses all things," then God’s mercy might extend even to ISIS. Will bombing ISIS stop their violent quest? It may stop their violent quest — but as we’ve seen during the last 13 years in the "War on Terror," when we violently destroy one enemy, another more dangerous enemy emerges.
In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that the mismanagement of Iraq by the United States has "encouraged thousands of skilled Iraqis to take their expertise to the anti-American insurgency that eventually became the Islamic State."
We don’t need more bombs. The "War on Terror" has taught us that attempting to solve our problems with violence only reinforces a worldwide culture of violence. It teaches us and our enemies that violence is the only real solution to our problems. It reveals that we don’t really believe in God or Jesus or Allah. We and our enemies believe in the same god. And that god’s name is Violence. Our faith in the demonic god of violence will only lead us to a future of mutually assured destruction.
I believe that the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would have us look reality in the face. Violence is mimetic. It only leads to more violence. We must lay down our weapons and find more creative ways to solve our problem of violence. We have wasted enough money on a war that will only doom us to a future of apocalyptic violence.
I’ll end with a quote from Jean-Michel Oughoulian, who describes a better and more merciful way to solve our worldwide problem of violence in his book Psychopolitics:
Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace.