The revival of Islam throughout the world presents the Church today with an enormous challenge, a challenge which so far it has failed to either understand or respond to in a satisfactory way. In his new book The Third choice – Islam, dhimmitude and freedom, Australian theologian, author, activist and Anglican priest Dr. Mark Durie argues that this challenge is deeply related to the concept of dhimmmitude, a notion that lies at the heart of the Islam.
In countries or regions ruled by Islamic governments, non-Muslims basically have three choices. First, they can accept Islam and become Muslims. If they refuse to do so, they should either be killed, or (the ”third choice”) they can choose to become dhimmis. There is no other way. Dhimmis are those who voluntarily accept the position of dhimmitude, an Islamic institution offered to non-Muslims under jihad conditions. In essence, dhimmis are second-class citizens in an Islamic society.
In her preface, Bat Ye’or (author of many books including Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005), Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2001)), introduces this important book as follows:
“Durie exposes in clear language the multi-dimensional aspects of dhimmitude, a concept that pertains to a fourteen-centuries old civilization, birthed through jihad, and structured in accordance with the strict requirements of the Sharia….
Too few Westerners grasp that the concept of dhimmitude is crucial to understanding the relationship between Islam and non-Islam. As Durie argues, through a conspiracy of silence, the heads of state, church and community leaders, universities and media smother its reality under a blanket of ignorance. With numerous examples, the author denounces this intimidated concealment, which, he affirms, is undermining Western Judeo-Christian civilization and is contrary to human freedom and dignity….
[T]his specific type of evil is not something of the past, something that its promoters have renounced or agreed to relinquish; rather, this violation of human psychological and physical rights continues to develop freely in local and international politics, whether by violent jihadist threats and terrorism, or through entrenched and chronic religious discrimination.”
The best part of the book is devoted to a thorough review of the history of Islam over the past 14 centuries, an assessment of the current revival of Islam worldwide, and a textual analysis of Islamic literature. Durie analyses the life of Muhammad, and traces the historical development of Islam to the present day. He provides a detailed but clear overview of the basic literary sources of Islam, and how they are understood and interpreted within the different Islamic streams of thought. As such, it is a valuable tool for all Christians seeking to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of Islam.
Dr. Mark Durie is well placed to do so. He is a theologian, human rights activist and pastor of an Anglican church. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.
While based on extensive research, and containing many detailed notes and references, the book is intended for the average reader and is written in an accessible style. For the lay reader there is a useful Glossary of Arabic Terms, and for those interested in further research the author has compiled an extensive Bibiography. The book contains a detailed index.
Durie demonstrates that at the heart of Islam is the notion of rejection: rejection of all those who do not submit to the demands of Muhammad. Rejection was a key factor in Muhammad’s own personal development, and as a result has characterized Islam ever since. It lies at the heart of Islamic culture today. It has resulted in Muslims themselves adopting an attitude of “victimhood”, which, amongst other things, influences the conduct of Islamic government leaders in international relations. It has also led to the systematic oppression of non-Muslims over the centuries, and especially Jews and Christians. It is this attitude of rejection, asserts Durie, that all people, and in particular the Church, must understand and oppose:
”People of many faiths and none need to find freedom from the age-old legacy of the dhimma, and Moslims too, for dhimmitude degrades oppressors and oppressed alike. This book is therefore dedicated to the healing and freedom of all those who have fallen within the reach of dhimmitude, whatever their religious convictions, non-Muslim and Muslim alike.”
Dhimmi church leaders
Durie argues, in effect, that our understanding of, and response to, Islam tells us a lot about our understanding of our own identity as Christians. He recounts many alarming stories in the book that to my mind sum up the appalling failure (refusal?) of Church leaders to date to either understand Islam or respond in a meaningful way. They have unwittingly adopted a dhimmi attitude towards Islam, and in so doing betray a deep misunderstanding of their own identity as Christians and the calling of the Church in this world. For example:
• “In March 2003, Archbishop Frank Griswold, leader of the American Episcopalian church, was interviewed for an Islamic website www.soundvision.com. He stated that the US should not be a superpower but a “super-servant”. This well-meaning but naïve statement was consequently reproduced on a number of American Muslim websites, and applauded as a victory of Islam over Christianity.”
• “In 2007 a letter entitled A Common Word between Us and You was addressed by 138 Muslim scholars to the Christian world. A group of Yale theologians responded by placing a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, which was endorsed by 300 Christian leaders including Yonggi Cho, Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller, Rick Warren and John Stott. “Consistent with the worldview of dhimmitude, the Yale theologians adopted a tone of grateful self-humiliation and self-inculpation, using expressions such as:
- ‘it is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter’;
- the Muslims’ letter was ‘extraordinary’ and written in ‘generosity’;
- ‘we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world’.
No comparable expressions of humble gratitude or expression of guilt were offered from the Muslim side. No doubt the Christians believed they were relating from a position of strength, by invoking Christian virtues of humility and self-examination. However they appear not to have taken account of the dynamics of dhimmitude and the possibility that these statements could be understood by Muslims as a display of self-acknowledged inferiority.
Ironically, while this dialogue was being conducted on the pages of the New York Times, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic thought, which had initiated and hosted the Common Word process on the Muslim side, was broadcasting fatwas on its website by its Chief Scholar which condemned converts from Islam to Christianity as apostates, characterizing them as deserving of death or else they should be stripped of all legal rights and treated legally as non-persons (because they ought to be dead).”
Dhimmitude, the Jews and Israel
This book is also important in that it exposes how Islam is so fundamentally rooted in its rejection of the Jewish people, and that this attitude still informs the approach of Muslims today towards Israel and the Jewish people. Although in some times and places their treatment was more humane than in others, Jews and Christians have always been treated as dhimmis. It is this same basic philosophy that underlies the attitude of the Muslim world towards the State of Israel, and why so many Muslims ultimately cannot accept the notion of a Jewish State.
One begins to understand why Yasser Arafat in 2000 at Camp David was unable to accept the offer by Prime Minister Barak for over 95% of the West Bank. Had he done so he would have faced certain death at the hands of his own Muslim supporters.
Durie challenges the claim of historian Bernard Lewis that Islamic hostility towards Jews is a cultural and not a theological issue. Durie: “Islamic hostility to the Jews is theological to its bootstraps…. Lewis’s astounding claim … has been relied on by many Western intellectuals, corrupting their understanding of Islamic history.”
Durie’s book is a powerful warning to both Christian and secular leaders to confront the reality of Islam, and not to adopt a dhimmi attitude of submission. This requires holding onto the truth while acting in love.
”Love for the other and truth are two attributes to be held together, the one complementing the other. Truth without love can be harsh and even cruel, but love without truth can be equally dangerous, as, lacking discernment, it steers the soul into shipwreck after shipwreck. Neither of these alternatives is acceptable.”
The Third Choice – Islam, dhimmitude and freedom is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Islam and what it means for the Church and Israel today.