The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom
Deror Books, Melbourne, 269pp.
The image of giant passenger airliners being flown into the twin towers in New York remains burnt into our retinas. For those of us in the West, it remains a baffling puzzle: what could motivate anyone to do that?
By stretching our imaginations we can, perhaps, imagine, an act of violence undertaken in the white heat of anger. And we know enough history to have some comprehension of commando attacks on military targets in a war behind enemy lines. But the September 11 attacks in 2001 fit no category within our comprehension.
In the absence of declared hostilities between governments, what could motivate an organization to so meticulously plan and execute an attack designed to kill thousands of unarmed civilians? And, in the absence of a direct provocation by those civilians, what would motivate the attackers to choose a method that would guarantee their own deaths?
Governments seem to have responded by talking about ‘fringe groups’ and ‘radical Islam’. If they’re right, what is there in Islam that can be pushed to that extreme? And what if they’re wrong? What if mainstream Islam sees all non-Muslims as enemies deserving of conquest or death?
The way Islam views non-Muslims is the subject of Mark Durie’s book The Third Choice. The author is the rector of St Mary’s Anglican Church in Caulfield, Victoria, and a scholar whose interest in Islam began with his studies into the language and culture of the Indonesian province of Aceh. The Acehnese are at the front line of Christian-Muslim relations. In 1959 the Indonesian government granted Aceh a ‘special territory’ status, giving it a degree of autonomy from the central government in Jakarta, and allowing the regional government to construct a legal system independent of the national government. In 2003, a form of sharia, or Islamic law, was formally introduced in Aceh.
During his research as a linguist in Aceh, Mark Durie witnessed what happens to Christian communities living under sharia law. He saw churches burned, and local Christians attacked in the streets, with no possibility of justice or protection from local courts.1
The title of the book comes from the three choices that Islamic teaching says non-Muslims face:
- The sword (fighting to the death against Islam)
- Conversion to Islam
- A humble inferior status as a second class citizen, paying a tribute tax to the Muslim community and denied the rights and status of a full (Muslim) citizen.
The first and second options are the intended outcome of jihad. In the calm language of carefully researched scholarship, Mark Durie makes the point that non-Muslims who refuse to convert and refuse to accept an inferior status (the Arabic word is dhimmi) are deserving of death. Muslims, Durie argues, would prefer that we either convert to Islam or, if we insist on remaining Christians, acknowledge our inferior status and pay tribute to the Muslim community (losing some of our legal rights and status as citizens in the process). If we reject both those choices then we must be put to death.
Does that sound like the picture of Islam frequently painted by Western politicians and statesmen? I think not. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, President George Bush famously said, “Islam is a religion of peace” (p. 155).
In fact, Durie argues that statements such as this (and he cites many other Western leaders making similar statements) are seen by Muslims as expressions of the dhimmi status of Western civilization. The dhimmi is meant (under sharia law) to express gratitude to the Muslim community and acknowledge the moral superiority of Islam (and, hence, the moral inferiority of non-Muslims).
This is what Durie sees the West doing much of the time:
“Under the dhimma, Christians are not supposed to confront Islam, but they are permitted to look for the best in Islam and affirm it. They may challenge it only by praising it. This strategy conceals and disempowers the moral worth of non-Muslim value systems. It is the strategy of those whose existence is marginal and threatened. If you adopt the posture of praising Islam, you are already acting like a defeated or threatened person.” (p. 122)
But adopting this self-rejecting posture is the only choice left if the first two choices, death or conversion, are unacceptable.
The word ‘dhimmitude’ has been coined to describe the plight of Christians (and other non-Muslims) living under Muslim regimes. Durie records their plight in grim detail—and the reluctance of the West to respond to the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. How many in the West know that over two million African Sudanese have perished in the Sudanese jihad?
Durie reports that this stance of ‘dhimmitude’ is already at work in Western nations with community leaders apparently eager to grant the high moral ground to Muslims and deny what (up until now) have been basic human rights to non-Muslims.
Durie quotes a report from Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, International Director of the Barnabas Fund, and a spokesman for persecuted Christian minorities:
In Bradford (in the UK), a Christian family converted from Islam have had their lives threatened … Their car has been arsoned and they have been threatened with violence. The Bishop of Bradford met this family with his interfaith advisor. At this meeting he stated that the Diocese of the Anglican Church would not welcome such converts into it … He did not want Muslim converts [coming] into the Anglican Church. The convert was extremely disappointed and deeply saddened by the stance of the bishop. He
felt that the bishop was more concerned with his relationship with the Muslim leaders in Bradford than with his plight with him as a convert. He felt deeply betrayed. (p. 220)
For Durie, the emergence of an unthinking, self-abasing ‘dhimmitude’ among community leaders following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the rise of Al Qaeda and the wave of terrorism that has risen around the globe, all spring from Islam re-asserting what it sees as its destiny—the conquest of the globe in the name of the final revelation of God. Durie calls what is now happening, Islam’s ‘Reformation’.2 And, just like the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, it is driven by a return to the original source documents of the faith.
In the case of Christianity, this meant looking at an institutional church deeply entwined in secular power, and contrasting this with Jesus’ claim that “My kingdom is not of this world”.3 But for the Muslim, any parallel reformation means going back to the Koran and the life of Muhammad. And while Jesus preached, healed and died for his sheep, Muhammad conquered the Arabian peninsular by force of arms.
For an orthodox, mainstream, faithful Muslim, you and I (as Christians) have only the three options listed prior. Durie quotes Osama bin Laden as saying that those ‘three choices’ are the whole reason for conflict between Muslims and the West.
The Third Choice is enlightening but not alarmist. Mark Durie still sees the way ahead as one in which we pray for Muslims and offer them the truth of the gospel in love. And, of course, all Muslims are individuals—some will hold strongly to these core teachings of Islam and some will not. So the first step when we are in a conversation with a Muslim is, as always, to listen carefully. But we cannot expect to make any ground if we fail to understand the mindset and worldview of Islam. And that is where this book is so powerfully illuminating.