Global Context (International): The Crisis of Islam

This series of posts deals with the global context in its historical, social, cultural, political, economic, demographic, and religious dimensions in particular. We will provide book notices, book reviews, and brief essays on these topics. We hope that you will find this series helpful as you live and bear witness in an increasingly complex and hyper-connected world.

Bernard Lewis is the doyen of Middle Eastern studies. In this slim little volume, he provides the reader with a concise, level-headed, and very reasonable overview of the crisis within Islam. He gives a brief history of the rise and development of Islam, the Crusades, and of the conflict between Islam, Christianity, and modern western culture.

Lewis traces the rise and development of Islam, showing how medieval Islamic civilization was the most advanced in the world, as well as one of the most militant. Muslims overthrew Persia, and then in short succession conquered the Christian provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. By the 8th century, they had advanced as far as the Pyrenees. They launched several waves of crusades, conquering the birthplace of Christ and attempting to conquer Europe.

He refuses to lay most (or even much) of the blame for the Crusades at the feet of the Christian world. For him, “The Crusade is a late development in Christian history, and, in a sense, marks a radical departure from basic Christian values as expressed in the gospels. But jihad is a Muslim essential, present from the beginning, in Muhammad himself.” It is for this reason that Lewis finds it ironic that Muslims like to blame the West for the Crusades, particularly for the purpose of making them a prototype of European expansionism.

As Lewis tells it, European countries (“Christian” countries) did expand, as they expelled the Tatars from Russia and the Moors from Spain. Napoleon struck at the heart of the Islamic world as he raided Egypt. Muslims thought it was dandy for Muslims to conquer and rule Europe, but not vice-versa. The same goes for religious conversion. By the early 20th century, nearly all Muslims were ruled by European countries, and even worse, the Jews set up the state of Israel in 1948. This humiliated the Muslim world.

The late 20th century brought a bipolar world, ruled by two mighty powers, the USA and the USSR. Then the USSR collapsed, leaving the US as the lone world power. Muslim “freedom fighters” were central to the overthrow of the USSR in Afghanistan; indeed, Osama bin Ladin repeatedly has pointed out that Muslims defeated the mighty USSR. Bin Laden and others thought that the US would be an easier foe. “In their view,” Lewis writes, “the United States had become morally corrupt, socially degenerate, and in consequence, politically and militarily enfeebled.”

In fact, bin Ladin speaks to this theme in his November 2002 “Letter to America.” He accuses America of being an oppressive, deceitful country, full of debauchery, and without principles or manners. He argues that America should pack her bags and get out of Muslim lands so that he is not forced to send Americans “back as cargo in coffins.” The letter ends with bin Ladin saying that if Americans do not take his advice, “their fate will be that of the Soviets who fled from Afghanistan to deal with their military defeat, political breakup, ideological downfall, and economic bankruptcy.

All of this brings us to the heart of Lewis’ book, which is his answer to the question: What is happening in the world of Islam to bring about the “revolutionary” Islam we have seen in recent years? As Lewis sees it, there are four major components of revolutionary Islam: (1) Humiliation: Muslims see themselves as the sole guardians of God’s truth, and believe that they will subjugate the world for Allah’s sake, but at present they clearly are not able to subdue the infidels; (2) Frustration: Muslims have tried to remedy this humiliation in various ways, but have failed; (3) Confidence: The economic power of oil, and the words of the Qur’an, have given Muslims a new confidence and sense of empowerment; and (4) Contempt: Muslims see the moral decadence, and therefore the weakness, of the Western world.

Perhaps the one thing that Lewis should have included in his discussion of the major components of revolutionary Islam (although mentioned elsewhere in the book) is an extensive discussion of a fifth component which might be called “Mission.” Muhammad made clear to his followers that there are only two ways to live: One can live in submission to Allah, or in the way of ignorance. Those who live in submission to Allah live in Dar al-Islam, meaning “the territory of Islam.” Those who live in ignorance live in Dar al-harb, meaning “the territory of war.” The missionary program of Muhammad and early Muslims was to extend the territory of Islam over the territory of war by any means necessary, including military jihad.

This can be seen in numerous passages in the Qur’an. Take, for example, Surah 2:244: “Then fight in the cause of Allah…” Or Surah 9:5: “Then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them.”Or Surah 47:4: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.” Furthermore, those who do fight for Allah are rewarded with Paradise. In Surah 9:111, we see that “Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth.” But perhaps the most enlightening thing to read is Guillame’s The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Rasul Allah (Oxford University Press, 1995). This translation of the classic biography of Muhammad, written by a pious Muslim, makes clear on every page that Muhammad was not a peaceful man.

In spite of this and other minor issues, The Crisis of Islam is a very helpful book for those who are seeking to understand the complex and significant issues surrounding contemporary Islam.

Book: The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (2003)
Author: Bernard Lewis
Region: The Middle East
Length: 184 pp.
Difficulty: Intermediate

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 22: A Great Commission Seminary

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series addresses biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

Looking for a Great Commission Seminary?

By Danny Akin

Why Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary exists is made plain in our mission statement: “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).” This is who we are plain and simple. Let me take the opportunity to unwrap that statement.

Southeastern Seminary exists to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is our passion and our priority. It is all about Him. If that ever changes, it would be best for us to disappear from planet earth! Our goal is to fulfill Colossians 1:18, that “He might come to have first place in everything.” Our hearts desire is to see Philippians 2:10-11 come to pass “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Southeastern Seminary aspires to be a Jesus-intoxicated seminary. We will be satisfied with nothing less.

Southeastern Seminary exists to equip students to serve the Church. We see ourselves as a servant to the churches who entrust their men and women, sons and daughters, to our care. Our reason for existing is “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing] into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12-13). Equipping students means teaching them what to believe and how to live. Southeastern Seminary is proudly confessional. We want people to know where we stand without apology or compromise. An outstanding faculty with well-trained minds and a missionary heart gladly teach in accordance with and not contrary to: 1) The Abstract of Principles; 2) The Baptist Faith and Message; 3) The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy; 4) The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Southern Baptists, the evangelical community, and for that matter the whole world can be certain of the biblical and theological instruction taking place in Wake Forest, North Carolina. They can also be confident that we are not interested in creating ivory tower theological eggheads who are disconnected from real persons and real life. We work hard to wed the head, the heart and the hands in fulfilling the Great Commission. We believe theology and missions go hand in hand. What we teach must be translated and transferred to where people live. Biblical truth is not only concerned with what we believe, it is also concerned with what we do.

Finally, Southeastern Seminary exists to fulfill the Great Commission. We are consumed with a passion to be a Great Commission Seminary. The call to take the gospel to the lost is a consistent drumbeat at Southeastern put before every student day after day after day.

Do our students need a reason to go to the nations? No! They need a reason to stay home! That is the heartbeat of Southeastern. 1.6 billion people have yet to hear the name of Jesus. Millions more have only a nominal witness. Our seminary exists to correct this problem! We believe there is no greater joy than seeing new believers place their faith in the Lord Jesus as they identify themselves with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. And, God has promised that they would be found in every nation and from all the peoples of the earth! What a gospel! What a mission! What an assignment! This is an awesome calling given to us by an awesome God!

Jerry Rankin is a dear friend to me and he is president of the International Mission Board. This is what he has said about Southeastern Seminary:

The increasing number and consistent flow of missionary candidates coming from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for service with the International Mission Board indicates a passion for missions that permeates the campus. Southeastern has emerged as a preeminent equipper for Great Commission fulfillment, and not only in the training of future missionaries. Those who go to pastor, serve on church staffs and in other areas of ministry are impacted and influenced by a focus on missions through studies in every department and academic discipline.

I believe in Southeastern Seminary. My calling to serve here is one of pure grace and goodness. I believe we are doing well, but I am also convinced our precious Lord wants us to do even more! My constant prayer is that God will raise up William Carey’s, Adoniram and Ann Judson’s, Bill Wallace’s, and Lottie Moon’s from the students who come to our campus. Do we need a reason to train students to take the gospel to the nations? Do we need a reason, as a seminary, to train a new generation of Great Commission Christians both at home and around the world? No, the commission is plain, and the need is self-evident.

Let me close with a personal word of appreciation that I hope will go out far and wide. Southeastern Seminary is particularly grateful for the faithful and generous support of Southern Baptists. They make it possible for us to provide the finest theological education at the lowest cost anywhere in the world. If you doubt this, just do a little cost comparison. You will be shocked at the difference! During this time of economic struggle, this commitment on the part of Southern Baptists is especially appreciated and it has never been more important. Southern Baptists make it possible for us to train Great Commission Christians. Thank you. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for believing in what we do. It is a joy to partner with you in glorifying Jesus and fulfilling His Great Commission.

Church Planting Boot Camp to be Held in Raleigh

Vintage 21, a thriving missional congregation that meets in Raleigh, will host a church planting “boot camp” February 4-5, 2009. The boot camp is sponsored by the Acts 29 Network. The speakers include Mark Driscoll, Wayne Grudem, Daniel Montgomery, and Southeastern’s own Danny Akin and Andreas Kostenberger. For more information about the boot camp, check out this online