EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of three explorations of events in the Middle East by Mike Edens, professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an emeritus missionary who served 25 years in the Middle East with Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board. Subsequent articles by Mike Edens will appear in Baptist Press the next two Wednesdays, March 23 and 30.
NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Should I be afraid that radical Islamic governments may result from the uprisings in various countries of the Middle East?”
As an emeritus missionary who served God in the Middle East for a quarter of a century with the International Mission Board, I am familiar with questions such as this one posed in a theology class I have been teaching in a Southern Baptist church recently. The people in the class are actively praying for God’s will concerning these matters.
Concerning the question of the fear of potential radical Islamic governments in the Middle East, the first part of my answer is that overcoming fear, not ignoring it, is an important part of life especially for those of us who are “in Christ.”
We are usable in the hands of God to the extent that we trust Him rather than be paralyzed by fear.
The reality is that any change of government in a Muslim country can result in a stronger expression of Islam. However, that need not be the only outcome. The most common command from God in the Bible is “fear not.” Uncertainty about current unstable events must not limit our faith in God’s ability to accomplish His purposes among the nations.
However, the question also touches on the political nature of Islam in the Middle East and elsewhere. In trying to understand political possibilities in the Islamic countries, Westerners, due to our worldview lenses distinguishing between church and state, have a limited means of comprehending the relationship between Islam and government. This situation is both helped and hindered by comparing countries which have “state churches” with Islamic countries. For instance, the relationship between the government of the United Kingdom and the Church of England helps us understand the same potential for powerful interaction between religion and government.
However, Islam regards her prophet, Mohammed, as the primary influence in both religion and government, and Muslims expect a strong interrelationship between these powerful realities. So, in the Muslim world, Islam expects governmental expressions as a part of its faith practice. This understanding of government and religion working together is the mark of a country with an Islamic majority in its population.
To respond to the specific concern with the development of radical Islamic governments, we need to understand the distinction between different types of Islamic governments.
In today’s world several relationship patterns between Islamic populations and their rulers exist, each of which is Islamic.
Before he was ousted from office as president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak led Egypt through one of these patterns, combining Islam and secular philosophy. However, the new combination of Islam and government in Egypt will be decided by the military and other internal and external power brokers, including the masses of young demonstrators. Their desires that their children would have a better future will be combined with some form of Islam.
Another pattern is sometimes called Islamist, Jihadist or radical. None of these labels really works well for Muslims. The first, “Islamist,” really does nothing to identify the view of Islam being described. The second, “Jihadist,” does point to the “exertion for the cause of Islam” which, when expressed in violence against outsiders, is a cause of concern to non-Muslims. However, as a label “Jihadist” also is unsatisfactory because every Muslim is to commit self to an unyielding internal “exertion” against personal behavior that does not express Islamic ideals.
This is also the problem with “radical.” Again, it is not the intensity of religious faith which is troubling but a religious expression which responds to outsiders with personal violence. It should be noted, however, that many more Muslims have been killed by these expressions of violence than non-Muslims.
The Qur’an contains patterns for governments of peaceful coexistence as well as violence, and history is marked by both choices. What the current governmental choice will be is unclear from country to country. So we pray that the outcome of this time of change will be governments which allow persons to think, speak and worship more freely and to relate to others more openly.
Is it possible for this to be an outcome? God knows. I am assured that whatever the outcome, the path will be long and have bends which may seem to us as hopeless dead ends. However, the God of the Bible is able to work in just such confusion to draw people to Himself in Christ Jesus.