The hashtag #bringbackourgirls has become a Twitter phenomenon in response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls.
I asked three Muslim religious leaders and experts in Islamic jurisprudence from Lebanon to share their reactions to Boko Haram.
In addition to discussing the group’s possible plan to sell the Nigerian girls into slavery or forced marriage, they commented on Islam’s teachings regarding education.
“I say education for girls and boys is very essential and there is no religious or nonreligious excuse to stop girls from learning or to tell a girl that she should only stay at home. I also saw that they veiled all the girls in the video. Many of these girls are Christians who [may have] converted to Islam,” Sheikh Muhammad Nokkari stated.
“It is important to remember that in Islam we cannot force anyone to become Muslim, and since they are under age, we cannot say they made this decision on their own. The Quran clearly states that ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ (Al-Baqra, 256),” he said.
Challenging Boko Haram’s views on education, Sheikh Fouad Khreis quoted the Prophet Muhammad as saying, “Seeking education is an obligation for each Muslim man and woman.”
Pragmatically, Fouad Khreis went on to say that the community would lose half of its power and influence if women were not educated.
Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zaid highlighted Al-`Alaq, the chapter of the Quran where Muslims are first told to read and to learn, “Read. Read in the name of thy Lord who created; [He] created the human being from a blood clot. Read in the name of thy Lord who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human being what he did not know” (96:1-5).
He went on to ask why then should anyone who claims to be Muslim seek to prevent our children from learning, and said, “If you are against the teachings of a particular school, fine. But open another school and teach what you want to teach there. But don’t stop children from learning. Seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim.”
Furthermore, Fouad Khreis made it clear that Islam gives to women a role of leadership and education, and accused Boko Haram of trying to bring us back to the dark ages, giving Islam a bad reputation around the world.
Fouad Khreis encourages us to get to know Islam from its sources and not through such movements and extremist groups in Syria, Iraq or Nigeria, and to look to modern moderate sources.
Finally, Nokkari stresses the following, “I believe these movements [such as Boko Haram and al-Qaida] are from outside Islam and did not emerge from our Islamic traditions, cultures and communities. These are groups that want to occupy the Arab world. This has become more prevalent ever since the fall of the Soviet Union.”
“Islam has become the new enemy to many in the West. However, this is not justified,” he said. “I want to tell the West, Islam is innocent from such claims, and I hope there would be a Christian-Muslim initiative to fight against such movements.”
It is true that these three voices may not reflect the totality of Islamic belief and practice.
It is also true that there are Muslims who would use the Quran to justify actions that are violent and destructive toward those both within and beyond the Muslim community, as Christians have often done as well.
To say something is or is not Islamic is not as easy as some would make it out to be—for in reality such decisions are often the result of a particular hermeneutical approach.
In the same way that it may be easy to say that Islam is a violent and oppressive religion and justify this position with proof-texts from the Quran, it is as easy to suggest that Islam as a whole is peace-loving and against such violent acts as have been carried out by extremist groups around the world.
The sheikhs quoted above are well versed in the Islamic tradition and learning; they each occupy very influential roles within the Lebanese Muslim community, both Sunni and Shi’a.
While not everyone may agree with everything they asserted, what they have said must not be ignored.
In his book, “Allah: A Christian Response,” Miroslav Volf said, “Practices disclose the God (or the gods!) individual Christians or Muslims actually worship better than anything they or their holy book says about God’s character or God’s commands.”
If this is true, the Muslims I know personally, my friends and colleagues, do not appear to be worshipping the same god as the one worshipped by Boko Haram.
Arthur Brown is the assistant director of the Institute of Middle East Studies based in Mansourieh, Lebanon. A longer version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @arthurandlou and IMES @IMESLebanon.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on Lebanon Muslim clerics responding to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls. Part one is available here. EthicsDaily.com’s documentary, “Different Books, Common Word,” shares stories of goodwill Baptists and Muslims finding common ground to work for the common good.
Arthur Brown is the BMS World Mission Regional Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and former BMS youth and theological worker based in Lebanon, working with a Christian theological seminary regularly dialoguing with Islamic scholars.