I’ve started reading yet another Muslim book explaining why True Islam is a religion of peace that utterly rejects terrorism: Terror and Suicide Attacks: An Islamic Perspective, edited by Ergün Çapan.
That’s fine and good: the more Muslims who reject jihadi ideology, the better. But immediately, the book gets off on the wrong foot. Fethullah Gülen, a very prominent Turkish religious leader, writes, in the first paragraph of his chapter, that “In Islam, killing a human is an act that is equal in gravity to unbelief.” Which presumably also means that unbelief is equal in gravity to murder. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, his last paragraph states that
Ibn Abbas said that a murderer will stay in Hell for all eternity. This is the same punishment that is assigned to unbelievers. This means that a murderer is subjected to the same punishment as an unbeliever. In short, in Islam, in terms of the punishment to be dealt on the Day of Judgment, a murderer will be considered to be as low as someone who has rejected God and the Prophet (an atheist in other words).
So Gülen is addressing an audience that already agrees that atheists are horrible human beings. He’s trying to convince his readers that murder is also unacceptable. In fact, murder is so bad, it is as bad as atheism!
Gülen, I should note, enjoys an international reputation as an apostle of tolerance and moderation. But as is often the case with Muslim religious leaders, his toleration refers to a modus vivendi between different religious communities—usually, in fact, between Abrahamic religions only. It will be a long time before atheism becomes as acceptable among Muslims as, say, among Southern Baptists.