The “Theonomic-Secularist” Debate Within Islam


Bible Studies

A Parallel Struggle in Islam and Christianity

Written March 24, 2003

Recently, I read an excellent piece in the New York Times Magazine, “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror” by Paul Berman. Mr. Berman reveals the life and work of Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb (pronounced KUH-tahb), the devout Muslim who was hanged in 1966 by the secularistic, Pan-Arabist, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Several things struck me as I read the piece, pondering it through the filter of my own experience (I began my study of Islam roughly forty years ago, before I became a Christian.), expressing it in the nomenclature of my religious tradition. *

Saddam Hussein stands in the “secularist” tradition of Kemal Atatürk and Abdel Nasser, not in the “theonomic” tradition of Mohammed, Qutb and Osama bin Laden.

Osama’s al Qaeda and the other loosely connected, Islamicist terror networks did not look on Hussein with favor, even though they were willing to use him. Indeed, they view the secularist Muslim, Hussein, not unlike a really conservative Christian might view a Jimmy Carter or, especially a Bill Clinton:  there may be a common loyalty to the nation that overrides a lot of issues, but the relatively “secularist” Baptists, Carter and Clinton, are generally viewed with contempt.

In other words, just as Christianity is not a monolithic religion, particularly in terms of its political outworking, neither is Islam. Not only is Islam divided “religiously” into the Sunni majority and the large Shiite minority, with many smaller sects, such as the “Charismatic” Sufis, but also there is a major political disagreement over the role of the “Law of God,” Sharia, in society. That is why Jews and Christians have had a measure of religious freedom under Saddam Hussein’s more secular Baath party, but virtually none within Wahabi run Saudi Arabia.

As I reflect on all this, it brings me back to consider the connection between Iraq and Islamic terrorism, particularly that of the al Qaeda.

1. Both share a common hatred of “secularistic” American culture.

2. Both share a common hatred of American economic and military dominance in their world.

3. Both share a common Pan-Arabist passion:  Saddam in the Nasser tradition, Osama in the Qutb tradition.

The real threat to which Mr. Bush is responding is not an absolutely proven connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, even though they have obviously given some support to each other, but the threat that Mr. Hussein, in producing weapons of mass destruction, including, eventually, nuclear weapons, would be only too happy to sell some of these to terrorist groups, particularly to those who share his hatred of Israel and America. Of course, North Korea and to a degree, Iran, also fit this threat. (Reflecting on Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz’s views, I can only wonder if these nations are next on Mr. Bush’s list of target states to invade.)

Reflecting further, one sees that Saddam Hussein’s core of loyal military personnel will not fight in a “civilized” way: they will dress as civilians; they will use civilians as shields; they will wave white flags in order to trick Coalition forces; they will execute, torture and publicly humiliate prisoners of war. All of which will, of course, bring the pain of this war home in a terrible, terrible way to Iraqi non-combatants and cost many more Coalition lives than would be the case if Saddam’s forces “played by the rules.”

The question that I have wrestled with since September 11, 2001, is the game plan of the al Qaeda network. Given the philosophical gulf between the “theonomic” Osama and the “secularist” Saddam, is their common bond of Pan-Arabism and hatred of America and Israel sufficient to cause them to stand together in real unity, or are they simply using each other as cobelligerents, each viewing the other as ultimately expendable?  If the later, one wonders if the al Qaeda game plan was to use the September 11th attacks to provoke the United States into a bloody conflict and long drawn out occupation of “secularist” Iraq, once again fighting a land war in Asia with no effective exit strategy, thereby galvanizing the more moderate elements in the Islamic world into action against “the great Satan.”

All of which is to say that Christians need to cry out to our dreadful Sovereign as never before that he would have mercy on us. We must pray for our troops, especially for those poor men and women who are now in the hands of the Iraqi military, and we must pray for the victims of Saddamism in Iraq as well. But we must cry out to God that he would revive his anemic, divided Church and suppress the gross wickedness that America has come to represent to the rest of the world, not only in such things as abortion and sexual immorality—when I think of Hollywood’s honoring the child rapist, Roman Polanski, I want to vomit—but also in greed, materialism, exploitation, and racism. We export these to the rest of the world as well.

Earthly conflicts, the rise and fall of nations, reflect a greater struggle in heavenly places, where principalities and powers engage in spiritual warfare.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12; Cf. Daniel 10:11-21.)

Would you join me in praying?

“Acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends,” through the merits of our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Vincent

When I use certain terms within quotation marks, I do not mean to infer that those corresponding elements in Islam are in any way connected to the Christian movements whose names I have borrowed.  Please see my Disclaimer.