Islamic Perspectives


To John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the USA

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(February, 2002)

Dear Mr. Ashcroft, 

Peace be unto you! 

You have been recently quoted to compare Islam and Christianity in the following words: "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him.  Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you". This dramatic statement, Mr. Attorney General, is theologically shallow and politically opportunistic and short-sighted. 

If your statement refers to the Islamic concept of martyrdom, then it forgets that a similar concept exists in Christianity and the Christian Bible. Early Christian literature is full of accounts of men and women of faith who gave their lives rather than submit to what they considered powers of darkness. The New Testament Book of Revelation is full of glorification of martyrs. In this regard it follows the earlier Jewish Books of Maccabees. Some of Jesus' sayings in the gospels likewise encourage martyrdom. For example in the Gospel of Mark, when John and James want to have the most honored positions in Jesus' kingdom, he tells them that they first need to be baptized with the baptism with which he was to be baptized, which is understood to mean that they should undergo martyrdom like he himself was about to (8:35-40). In general he tells his people to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (8:34). The perceived execution of Jesus himself was originally viewed as a martyrdom before tradition made him a son of God and his death a cosmic event for the salvation of the world. 

Mr. Ashcroft, you and your children will one day die and according to the Christian concept of God, this death will be caused by God, albeit because of your inherited sin. The concept of martyrdom is simply that sometimes we have to be prepared to die on our own accord. The USA glorifies those of its citizens who knowingly go in harmís way and then die in defending its interests and security. If dying for the interests of oneís country is something good, then why should one deride dying willingly for higher moral and spiritual values? 

If you are thinking specifically about the hijackers who attacked the WTC and the Pentagon, then your own Administration has repeatedly dissociated that action from Islam. Your own earlier statements also point to the same dissociation between Islam and the events of September 11. It is unfortunate that you have now chosen to connect Islam with those events. Or, perhaps you have one way of talking to America at large and a completely different way to talk to your Christian constituency. This seems like political opportunism. If so, this is a short-sighted strategy. For, in todayís America, politicians who identify themselves with narrow prejudices of one group within one religious community will not see longevity in their career. 


A. Shafaat