On April 15, terrorists from Boko Haram abducted 276 Nigerian girls sleeping in their high school dormitory. The girls awoke to a nightmare of violent gunfire as the terrorists forced them into their vehicles and vanished.
Recently the leader of Boko Haram has garnered media attention with his video arrogantly taking credit for the kidnapping. He added a religious element to his repulsive actions:
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women.”
Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an impassioned response to Boko Haram’s leader that speaks for me: “Human beings are not for sale…This is the bastardization of Islam, of decency, of liberation, of all that is good and beautiful.”
Who Is Allah?
Boko Haram’s abduction of these innocent girls is the bastardization of Islam because it is the bastardization of Allah. To justify abducting and selling young girls into slavery in the name of Allah is to reduce the God of Islam from a higher state to a despicable state.
As a Christian, I stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters in asserting that this is not Allah. Allah takes the side of victims; Allah does not create victims.
To understand this Islamic theological principle, we must understand the theology behind pre-Islamic Arabia. Most people think that pre-Islamic Arabia was polytheistic, but it was actually henotheistic. The high god, whose name was Allah, or “the God”, lived far away and had very little concern for human affairs. Between Allah and the world were intermediaries to whom one could pray, but for pre-Islamic Arabians one’s social, economic, and political circumstances was determined by the mystery of Time. As Farid Esack says in his book The Qur’an: A User’s Guide, “Time had pre-arranged the four fundamentals of existence: food, the sex of children, happiness or misery, and one’s life span.”
The pre-Islamic Arabian theology that believed Allah didn’t care about the victims of human culture created a very distinct anthropology where those in power didn’t care about victims either. “Time” had pre-arranged one’s place in life, so, in fact, there were no victims.
Allah and Tawhid
Islam brought a distinct challenge to the theology of pre-Islamic Arabia. The most important theological principal in Islam is tawhid. This principal claims that Allah is One, but it would be simplistic to say that tawhid means that all the intermediaries between Allah and the world were now located in Allah, who remained somewhere far away. Tawhid claims that Allah is not somewhere far away, aloof, and uncaring. Rather, Allah is radically present and cares for all people, but especially for the victims of human culture. It is because of tawhid that Reza Aslan can say in his book No god but God,
In the strongest terms, (the Qur’an, and thus) Muhammad decried the mistreatment and exploitation of the weak and unprotected. He called for an end to false contracts and the practice of usury that had made slaves of the poor. He spoke of the rights of the underpriviledged and the oppressed, and made the astonishing claim that it was the duty of the rich and powerful to take care of them. “Do not oppress the orphan,” the Quran commands, “and do not drive away the beggar” (93:9-10).
Tawhid means that Allah cares about the marginalized and the weak. And so faith in Allah means to care for and protect the marginalized and weak members of human culture, not abuse them.
But there’s much more to the tawhid of Allah. Tawhid means that Allah is internally one, or internally consistent. Nothing within Allah can contradict Allah, otherwise Allah’s tawhid would be broken. So, what is God’s Oneness like? Look no further than the basmalah, the formulaic prayer that begins 113 of 114 Surahs, or chapters, of the Qur’an. There are various translations, but the basmalah essentially states, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” In his commentary on the Qur’an, Abdullah Yusuf Ali explains the implications of God’s Grace and Mercy, stating that God’s,
Mercy may imply pity, long suffering, patience, and forgiveness, all of which the sinner needs and God Most Merciful bestows in abundant measure. But there is a Mercy that goes before even the need arises, the Grace which is ever watchful, and flows from God Most Gracious to all His creatures, protecting them, preserving them, guiding them, and leading them to clearer light and higher life.
Islam’s theological concept of tawhid means that Allah is more merciful and more gracious than we could ever imagine. It means that Allah cares deeply about the world. It means that Allah seeks to protect “all His creatures,” but especially those who are weak and vulnerable; those who can easily become the victims of human culture. In fact, pre-Islamic Arabians would bury their infant girls in the sand, killing them because they were seen as an economic burden. Allah said through the Qur’an, “do not kill your children from fear of poverty; We will provide for you and for them” (6:151).
Allah stood with the Arabian girls who were buried in the sand, and Allah stands with the Nigerian girls who were abducted by Boko Haram. Allah stands with and seeks to protect all victims of human violence. Boko Haram’s views are not Islamic at all. They reflect a pre-Islamic theology that Allah doesn’t care about victims. Boko Haram has bastardized Islam, it has bastardized Allah, and as a Christian I stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters in asserting that Boko Haram’s vision of Allah is heretical because it breaks the most fundamental principal of Islamic theology.
So in the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, bring back our girls.
For more on Islam theology and history, see my Islam 101 series.