“Bin Laden’s death does not matter much”

Islamic scholar Schöller sees misconceptions of jihad in the West


Prof. Dr. Marco Schöller


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The death of Osama bin Laden will not have any significant impact on the ideology of Islamic terrorists, according to Islamic scholar Prof. Dr. Marco Schöller of WWU Münster. “Jihadists might place more emphasis on the figure of bin Laden now again, after he had become considerably less important. But even if they try to sell attacks as acts of revenge for his death in the future, one cannot assume that there would otherwise not have been an attack”, said the scholar of the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” in Münster on Tuesday night. Schöller expects that “the extremists would simply have given a different reason for the same act of violence”. Considerable changes in the extremists’ activities should therefore not be expected, he explained during the Cluster of Excellence’s lecture series.

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Audio-recording of the lecture

At the same time, the Islamic scholar cautioned the West against misconceptions of jihad: “Jihad is not always a brutal fight or a ‘holy war of Islam’, even if it is mostly associated with violent terrorist attacks in Western perceptions.” It is highly controversial among Muslims what exactly jihad means, said Prof. Marco Schöller. He analysed numerous text passages from the Koran, the Hadeeth and their historical exegeses in this respect. “Extremist jihadism is the position of no more than an absolute minority in the Islamic world.” The biased perception of the term of jihad in the West frequently poisons the public debate about Islam, according to the expert. “There is no doubt that the notion of jihad as a war plays a role in Islamic history. However, it is neither as dominant nor as aggressive as Western observers like to make it appear.”

Schöller claimed that there is no text passage in the Koran in which jihad explicitly denotes an armed fight; only in some translations and exegeses of the Koran and the Hadeeth did this reading pick up, said the scholar. Often, the term of jihad even has a positive meaning in Islam. “For most Muslims, it is not about violence and war, but solely about an inner fight against the negative emotions of one’s own mind, that is, a fight for an upright life.” Some groups also understand jihad as a commitment to political change. Some members of women’s rights movements in Islamic countries, for example, speak of a “women’s jihad”, referring to the efforts to enforce their rights.

Fighting remains “an option”

The Islamic scholar underlined that there is not “the one jihad”. Even though Islamic tradition does provide numerous starting points for a jihad incorporating violence, fighting and war, “it is an open question, however, against whom, with which means and to what end the fight may be undertaken.” Besides, fighting remains “an option”. When and where this option will be updated is dependent on the political, economic and cultural circumstances, according to the Islamic scholar. “We are all accountable for these circumstances, both Muslims and Non-Muslims together.”

At the Cluster of Excellence , Islamic scholar Prof. Dr. Marco Schöller is head of the project “Islamic Concepts of Jihad in the Past and in the Present”. Representatives from different disciplines, such as historians, Germanists, theologians and religious scholars, will speak in the lecture series “Religion and violence. Experience from three millennia of monotheism”. The public lectures, each followed by a discussion, will take place on Tuesdays at 6.15 p.m. in lecture theatre F2 of the Fürstenberghaus at Domplatz 20-22. The lecture series forms part of the series “Dialoge zum Frieden” (dialogues on peace), for which the Cluster of Excellence works together with the city of Münster within the scope of the “Allianz für Wissenschaft” (academic alliance).

Next week, the Catholic theologian Dr. Thomas Lentes of the Cluster of Excellence will speak on the topic: “With invisible weapons against visible enemies. War and liturgy in the Middle Ages”. He researches in the cluster’s project D8, “Images of the Wound / The Wound as Image: Conceptions of the Passion in Pre-Modern Christendom and the Visual Arts of the Modern Period”. (han/vvm)