Twice now I have been published in academic journals. Here are the two papers that have made their way into print.

Both electronic versions are verbatim from the print journals. The foot notes have been converted to end notes, and clicking on the citation hyperlink will take you to that paper's end notes section. 


This research paper was published in the OU Religious Studies Student Journal, Volume 7, by the University of Oklahoma Religious Studies Program, in Norman, Oklahoma, during the 2013-2014 academic year.

Analyzing Theological Justifications in Extremist Ideologies

The field of study that focuses on martyrdom and modern Islamic extremism is often approached from a singular caveat. Contemporarily, analyzing terrorist ideologies originates from a counterterrorism security perspective. The specific motivations of offensive martyrdom are perceived, as well as stereotyped, as an extension of Islamic rationales. While this theological connection is widely held as conventional wisdom, new research has rendered this approach antiquated and thus deemed the former conclusion to be arbitrary. Instead, an examination of extremist theologies in terms of their relationship with the afterlife has now yielded to the common wisdom. This intriguing yet overlooked route of investigation provides signature insights to the patterns of Sunni and Shia martyrdom.

The two extremist groups under examination are Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. They both claim to be theologically justified in their actions, as well as sharing similar aims in their tactics; the basis for their ideologies is an appeal to Islamic scripture. In order to illuminate the specific arguments or underlying themes, a survey of relevant scripture will be included and scrutinized. These extremist organizations’ doctrines were analyzed and related to the nationalist theory of suicide attacks. The result is an interesting mesh between underlying goals covered by a proclaimed religious justification. 

Forever Bound to the Scripture

Theological justification for actions, especially within the Abrahamic traditions, are inherently inseparable from their respective scriptures. A trilogy of religions penned by different perspectives, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam bare similar hallmarks in their prophetic traditions. Judaism is the cardinal ancestor of these traditions, and the subsequent theologies presuppose their predecessors’ foundations. Essentially, Christianity adopts Judaism, including the Torah along with the New Testament in order to create the Christian Bible. Islam, however, adopts a more revisionist platform. The claim of the Koran, and the greater Islamic faith, is that the prior Abrahamic revelations have been tainted, thus requiring this final adjustment. In a sense, the Koran serves as the ‘Final Testament’ in conjunction to the Old Testament and the New Testament. Albeit, Christianity does not recognize the continuation of the Koran as relevant to Christian theology, just as Judaism does not wholly recognize the New Testament as a valid continuation of their tradition. However, from the revisionist perspectives of the subsequent revelations, the newly prescribed suppositions coalesce with successive theologies – like how Christians see the Torah as prophecy for the New Testament.

There are two sacred texts in Islam: the Koran and the Hadith. The Koran, to faithful Muslims, is the word of God as revealed to the prophet Mohamed. In terms of authoritative supremacy in Islam, nothing comes close to the scripture contained in the Koran. However, there does exist a companion set of texts known as the Hadith, which is a collection of the Prophet Mohamed’s sayings. The quotes include well-known sayings of the Prophet, attributions [1], and contextual questions from the general public of seventh century Arabia. Meticulous dictation and record keeping have produced an expansive collection of the prophet’s sayings over a myriad of subjects. Two subjects that are in both the Koran and the Hadith explicitly tie in to the context of this study:  suicide and martyrdom.[2]

The act of suicide is extremely taboo in nearly every culture known to man. Likewise, suicide is a phenomenon that transcends ideological bounds and happens because of the human condition. The Islamic tradition explicitly forbids suicide in the Koran:
"2:195 Spend in God's Cause: do not contribute to your own destruction with your own hands, but do good, for God loves those who do good."[3]
However, a saying from the Prophet Mohamed found in the Hadith elaborates on the punishment awaiting those in the afterlife who commit suicide:
"Sahih Muslim, Volume 1, Chapter 48, 199: It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) observed: He who killed himself with steel (weapon) would be the eternal denizen of the Fire of Hell and he would have that weapon in his hand and would be thrusting that in his stomach for ever and ever, he who drank poison and killed himself would sip that in the Fire of Hell where he is doomed for ever and ever; and he who killed himself by falling from (the top of) a mountain would constantly fall in the Fire of Hell and would live there for ever and ever."[4]
The consequence described has quite a macabre irony to it. Those who choose to end their own lives must then spend eternity in that terminal moment of self-destruction. Prophet Mohamed makes it quite clear that suicide is a grave sin in Islam.

There are more passages in the Koran devoted to martyrdom than suicide. Here is what the Koran has to say about martyrdom, as represented by the two most commonly cited passages:
"3:139-140 Do not lose heart or despair - if you are true believers you have the upper hand - (140) If you have suffered a blow, they too have suffered one like it. We deal out such days among people in turn, for God to find out who truly believes, for Him to choose martyrs from among you - God does not love evildoers."[5]
The language and tone of this specific passage is quite terse in its pronouncement and does not immediately elaborate on the afterlife benefits associated with martyrdom, but rather emphasizes the positive nature of martyrdom. Another Surah discusses martyrdom:
"4:74-76 Let those of you who are willing to trade the life of this word for the life to come, fight in God's way. To anyone who fights in God's way, whether killed or victorious, We shall give a great reward. (75) Why should you not fight in God's cause and for those oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, 'Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! By your grace, give us a protector and give us a helper!'? (76) The believers fight for God's cause, while those who reject faith fight for an unjust cause."[6]
This passage combines the plight of the disenfranchised to rally those who are willing to fight in the name of Islam. The intent is to motivate participation in Jihad, even to the extent of martyrdom. In these passages, some ambiguity exists regarding the explicit will of proactive martyrdom. While the Koran certainly glorifies martyrdom, that does not serve as automatic encouragement.

However, the Hadith paints a starkly different picture of martyrdom. This first account is quite telling in terms of enthusiastic martyrdom:
"Muslim, Chapter 41, Book 20, Number 4678: It has been reported on the authority of Jabir that a man said: Messenger of Allah, where shall I be if I am killed? He replied: In Paradise. The man threw away the dates he had in his hand and fought until he was killed."[7]
The most explicit call for martyrdom in the Hadith, and veritably in Islamic scripture, suggests an endorsement for those who outwardly struggle in God’s cause:
"Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 54: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "By Him in Whose Hands my life is! Were it not for some men amongst the believers who dislike to be left behind me and whom I cannot provide with means of conveyance, I would certainly never remain behind any Sariya' (army-unit) setting out in Allah's Cause. By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.””[8]
A troubling passage, this Hadith certainly has wide appeal even in modern times. The repetition of the Prophet’s desire to become engulfed in a continuous loop of martyrdom  establishes the focus quite well. During battles, the Prophet could have easily used this dramatic refrain to boost morale and inspire martyrs. These six excerpts from the sacred Islamic scriptures are crucial for understanding the framing of the extremist ideologies that appeal to religious text or motifs to justify their theological models.

The Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism

The Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism challenged the link between Islam and suicide attacks. Their massive research efforts, headed by Chicago University’s Dr. Robert Pape, uncovered some fascinating revelations. In his book Dying to Win, Pape chronicles every known instance of suicide attacks in the world, totaling 315 attacks, from 1980 to 2003.[9] His analysis of these attacks provided unprecedented insight to the mechanics of suicide attacks as an act of resistance and terrorism. Pape constructed a new hypothesis for why organizations use suicide bombings and found a cardinal notion that transcends numerous locations, religions, and ideologies. The common denominator was nationalism.

The nationalist theory of suicide terrorism contains four major elements: occupation, value of the homeland, catalyst of the conflict, and religious difference. The first is occupation, or “the exertion of political control over territory by an outside group.”[10] The threat of an outside force is a compelling factor for resistance groups. Fueling the disdain for occupation is the second element, “the value of the homeland.”[11] The value of the nation is the heart of nationalism. Man’s historic tie to the land is a common motivating factor for war in much of recorded history. Nationalism can be a positive force for domestic cohesion, but can also yield horrific atrocities during a time of war. The third element is the “catalyst of the conflict,” which is comprised of three important categories: zero-sum conflict, demonization, and legitimacy for martyrdom.[12] In a zero-sum conflict, perceiving a lack of sovereignty by the indigenous population drives conflict. Both the visual presence of the occupation force and the lack of control over local resources are the fuel for this parameter. Demonization often arises from religious differences and results in the “belief that the enemy is morally inferior as well as militarily dangerous, and so must be dealt with harshly.”[13] Religious difference is also a major motivator for martyrdom’s legitimacy.  This is a key element for extremists in that “it reduces the degree of manipulation necessary to re-define acts of suicide and murder as acts of martyrdom for the defense of the community.”[14]

The formula and resulting pattern outlined by Pape is a convincing look at the phenomenon of suicide terrorism. The nationalist aspect accounts for the uncharacteristic and often spontaneous appearance of suicide attacks in a country just after an occupation has taken place. Furthermore, it reconciles the precipitating factors of a multitude of different occupation scenarios. Instead of just leaving it at occupation, Pape also analyzes the two, separate, extremist ideologies of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda  in terms of their respective theologies, as opposed to the nationalist theory of suicide terrorism.

Inside the Strategy of Extremist Ideologies

Fundamentalist denominations exist in limited numbers and represent fringe ends of the religious spectrum. In terms of religious extremism, representation shrinks even more. How religious extremism manifests itself in public life is often times cause for concern. The overwhelming public perception of religious extremism is a result of the violent portrayals in the news media. Outside of this security aspect, concerns also arise from how religious fundamentalists will behave in a democratic government. The modus operandi of Islamic extremist ideologies assumes primary Sunni or Shia doctrine, but then forges a specific set of behaviors needed to accomplish the organization’s goals. 

Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are similar machines, but have taken different paths. They built their tactics upon the same basic foundation of resistance and asymmetric warfare, but the overall scope of operations and field of targeting is vastly different. Nevertheless, as a principal of asymmetric shahid [15] operations, justification through scripture is undertaken with great care.[16] Both proclaim that their understanding of Islamic theology supports certain actions, but arbitrary liberties are taken as well. Each organization bases its foundation in occupation resistance, but their observable differences are indicative of their specific theologies.

The backdrop for the foundation of Hezbollah was “the mass destruction wreaked by Israel’s 1982 invasion [of Lebanon].”[17] The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) justified the occupation of Southern Lebanon by framing the continued conflict in Lebanon, as well as the presence of the Palestinian Liberation organization (PLO), as a threat to the security of the State of Israel. The IDF campaign was successful in expelling much of the PLO, but inadvertently created a new enemy. The ubiquitous demonization of the Jewish state in Arab lands was an early catalyst for the formation of Hezbollah in the summer of 1982. Shia groups in southern Lebanon became increasingly Islamist and a desire for militarization grew as the IDF occupation continued.

Hezbollah has always been a militarized and intensely nationalist organization in Lebanon. The introduction of the charter appeals to Islamic considerations, citing “solid doctrinal and religious connection of Islam, whose message God wanted to be fulfilled by the Seal of the Prophets” as their guideline.[18] Hezbollah also asserts their Shiism and connections to Iran by declaring their adherence to velayat-e-faqih,[19] and stating “We obey the orders of one leader, wise and just, that of our tutor and faqih (jurist) who fulfills all the necessary conditions: Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini.”[20] Even in light of their explicitly nationalist aims, Hezbollah also makes an appeal to “Muslims of the whole world” and “Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and elsewhere.”[21] Nevertheless, Iranian influence on Hezbollah is unmistakable, insofar as Ayatollah Khomeini’s further influence on Hezbollah theology. When clearing minefields during the Iraq-Iran conflict, Khomeini assured the children who would walk across the minefields to clear a path that "The purest joy in Islam is to kill and be killed for Allah."[22]

From this declaration of theology, their charter makes an abrupt shift. The common anti-West rhetoric emerges, charging the U.S. for the interventionist policies at play in Lebanon. This is the driving motivator behind the formation of Hezbollah. In their attempt to combat the occupation, Hezbollah embarked upon a pioneering role. They are considered the forefathers of suicide bombings in violent Islamist extremism in the Middle East.[23] Bolstering their justification of such acts was “Khomeini’s ruling on the permissibility of martyrdom operations.”[24] Hezbollah’s most successful and most infamous attack was perpetrated against U.S. military assets stationed in Lebanon. In April 1983, Hezbollah launched a devastatingly successful campaign, killing 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut.[25] Hezbollah essentially declared any occupying force to be a valid target. 

Hezbollah then continued a campaign against Israeli assets with similar effect. Hezbollah’s efforts culminated in the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon in the summer of 2000.[26] Israel’s retreat from Lebanon legitimated Hezbollah in Lebanon and in the region. This led to unprecedented support of Hezbollah and started a shift from within the organization. Their perspective turned to domestic affairs and Hezbollah entered the democratic processes of the Lebanese government. Hezbollah’s path to democratization has greatly benefited their movement and Lebanon. In 2001, after the September 11th attacks, Hezbollah vocally condemned the Al-Qaeda strikes and criticized the strike on a purely civilian target.

The Hezbollah case study of suicide attacks in the context of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism serves as a perfect model of Pape’s nationalism theory. Their ideological aims are stoked by nationalist ideals, supported by Islamic principles. When the Israeli occupation of Lebanon ended and the Shia population of southern Lebanon, including Hezbollah, felt that their sovereignty had been reasserted, the need for suicide tactics no longer existed. Since the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah has not employed suicide tactics, a policy they maintained even during their 2006 war with Israel. Even with this shift, Hezbollah is still a fervently Shia Islamist movement and endorses martyrdom, but they no longer apply heinous suicide tactics.

Al-Qaeda has a different base of operation altogether. Even within the organization, there are divergent perspectives of what constitutes ‘al-Qaeda.’ For the purpose of this analysis, a few clarifications are required. All references are to the classic understanding of the al-Qaeda ideology, pre-2010. In the latter years of Usama bin Laden’s life, his al-Qaeda brand had shifted from a fairly condensed hierarchy to a franchisee operation. Groups affiliated with al-Qaeda were deemed to be actual al-Qaeda as a result of the Global War on Terrorism narrative. Furthermore, the increased reclusiveness of bin Laden opened an internal power vacuum where the traditional authority of command roles changed significantly. What still gives the original al-Qaeda organization as well as the recent Al-Qaeda franchises their ‘al-Qaeda-ness’ is their connection to Bin Laden’s ideological platform.

The cult of personality surrounding Bin Laden was a major driver in the ascension of al-Qaeda. His vast resources and anti-West, anti-American stances served as great recruitment tools. Concerning the theological foundation of Al-Qaeda as an Extremist Sunni organization, Bin Laden’s fatwas in 1996 and 1998 are the literary manifestations of al-Qaeda’s constitution. Written by Bin Laden alone, the 1996 fatwa is formally titled, “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.” The 1996 fatwa is a prolonged rant against the West and laced with scriptural references. However, the 1998 fatwa is relatively concise and features the signature of Bin Laden, but also with the addition of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is the current leader of Al-Qaeda, post-Bin Laden’s death.

While Usama bin Laden’s authority as a religious leader is not recognized outside of Al-Qaeda or few other fringe extremist groups, the arguments he makes in the 1996 fatwa are somewhat theologically compelling:
"Martyr privileges are guaranteed by Allah; forgiveness with the first gush of his blood, he will be shown his seat in paradise, he will be decorated with the jewels of belief, married off to the beautiful ones, protected from the test in the grave, assured security in the day of Judgement, crowned with the crown of dignity, a ruby of which is better than this whole world and its' entire content, wedded to 72 of the pure Houries and his intercession on the behalf of 70 of his relatives will be accepted."[27]
His theological references incorporate Surahs from the Koran, passages of Hadith, and Islamic imagery of the afterlife. Bin Laden reiterates the reward for martyrdom in an attempt to compel the potential follower to sacrifice his life for the cause of Al-Qaeda. The expansive fatwa is laced with subtle and not-so-subtle political components, but the overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of theological citations buries them in a clever manner.

The 1998 fatwa aimed at a broader audience, to fully harness the wide range of anti-American extremism. It summarizes quite a bit of the 1996 fatwa and is less founded upon direct theological citations. The thesis of the fatwa is:
"The United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."[28]
This is a direct allusion to the Koran 4:74-76, setting the same stage as Mohamed found himself in. It also asserts the transnational organization of Al-Qaeda by including the entire Arabian Peninsula and Ayman al-Zawahiri, who at that time was operating out of Egypt.

The variety of suicide attack signatures [29] used by Al-Qaeda, as well as the geographically diverse locations of the attacks, has made reconciliation with Pape’s nationalism model difficult. The CPOST study was initially published in 2005. Since then, paradigm shifting developments, as well as the removal of Bin Laden, has altered the original input data. The franchise model of Al-Qaeda has shown that while the common philosophy is transnational in nature, the Al-Qaeda franchises are now more organic to their area of operation. The franchises are now dubbed ‘Al-Qaeda in [insert country or region name here].’ Without the central leadership, Al-Qaeda has now morphed into a loosely coordinated set of nationalist franchises. Additionally so, when theological justifications for an attack on a purely civilian target are stretched thin, the anti-American/anti-West rhetoric is present in great amount. So while the Al-Qaeda of old did not wholly coalesce with Pape’s model, the modern franchisee incarnation adheres to his outline.

Moving the Global Community Forward

While this dissonance between theology, nationalism, and perception is grasped by academics and analyzed in reports, it must also be conveyed to the masses. Educating the affected public is the key to this issue. In terms of educating people subjected to the onslaught of suicide terrorism, education will play a role here as well. The justifications used by extremist organizations will be exposed for what they are: nationalistic and not theological. Such is the case with Hezbollah. Since Lebanon’s sovereignty has been maintained, Hezbollah has had to operate more in the political theater than in a theater of war. Conversely, al-Qaeda has splintered and become a franchisee establishment. In doing this, the individual al-Qaeda affiliated factions have proliferated since the fall of classic al-Qaeda in 2011, because of the infusion of more nationalist mantras. Islam finds itself at a crossroads of public opinion and public perception. 

The scripture for the support of martyrdom is alarming, but the emphasis is incumbent on the individual Muslim – or to the outside intelligence analyst. Islamic extremists certainly have an easy time injecting their own sinister ends into ideology and theology. In the case of Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, their respective theologies are in a top-down model. The organization’s commanders and leaders are able to construct an argument that, while vague at best, can help justify their implicit goals. As demonstrated, when examined in realist terms a la Pape’s CPOST Study, the explanation for martyrdom and resistance become separated from Islamic theology. Nevertheless, while overlaps in various justifications exist between Islamic theology and Pape’s occupation model, the latter serves as a better rubric. If the West becomes educated on the multifaceted issue of suicide terrorism, they would see Islam is not some inherent threat. Yes, this – or any – religion can be co-opted, but nothing makes Islamic theology inherently more deadly than Christianity or Judaism.

1. Attributions are not direct quotes of the Prophet per se, but rather the essence of what he might have said.
2. For the sake of clarity and context, the verses most frequently cited from both the Koran and the Hadith will be chronicled according to subject.
3. (The Qur'an, 22)
4. (The Book of Faith (Kitab Al-Iman) 2013)
5. (The Qur'an, 44)
6. (The Qur'an, 57)
7. (The Book on Government (Kitab Al-Imara))
8. (Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihaad))
9. (Pape 2004, 3)
10. Ibid. 83
11. Ibid. 84
12. Ibid. 91
13. Ibid. 90
14. Ibid. 91
15. Martyr
16. (Rodgers 2008, 153)
17. (Saad-Ghorayeb 2002)
18. (Fadlallah 1985)
19. Guardianship of the Jurist – a tradition within Shia Islam where Islamic Jurists are charged with conservation of the faithful and Islamic law.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. (Reed and Stillman 2009, 297)
23. (Kimball 2008, 63)
24. (Moghadam 2012, 119)
25. Ibid. 123
26. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2000)
27. (Laden, Bin Laden's Fatwa 1996)
28. (Laden, Al Qaeda's Second Fatwa 1998)
29. High impact suicide strikes on civilian or otherwise soft-targets.

Works Cited

Akbarzadeh, Shahram, and Fethi Mansouri. 2007. "Contextualising Neo-Islamism." In Islam and Political Violence, by Shahram Akbarzadeh and Fethi Mansouri, 1-12. London: Tauris Academic Studies.

Alaolmolki, Nozar. 2009. Militant Islamists. Westport: Praeger Security International.

Blom, Amelie, Laetitia Bucaille, and Luis Martinez. 2007. The Enigma of Islamist Violence. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fadlallah, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein. 1985. "An Open Letter: The Hizbullah Program." The Jerusalem Quarterly. February 16.

Haleem, M.A.S. Abdel. 2010. The Qur'an. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hassan, Riaz. 2007. "Conceptions of Jihad and Conflict Resolution in Muslim Societies." In Islam and Political Violence, by Shahram Akbarzadeh and Fethi Mansouri, 125-150. London: Tauris Academic Studies.

Hezbollah. 2011. "Biography of Imam Khomeini May God Honor his Soul." Islamic Resistance In Lebanon. March 25.

—. 2009. "Martyrs Draw our Path to God." Islamic Resistance In Lebanon. February 12.

—. 2009. "Sayyed Nasrallah on the Tasu’a Night:." The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon. December 27.

—. 2009. "Sayyed Nasrallah: Hizbullah´s New Political Manifesto." Islamic Resistance in Lebanon. November 30.

Humphrey, Michael. 2007. "From Diaspora Islam ro Globalised Islam." In Islam and Political Violence, by Shahram Akbarzadeh and Fethi Mansouri, 107-123. London: Tauris Academic Studies.

Ibrahim, Raymond. 2007. The Al Qaeda Reader. New York: Doubleday.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2000. The Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon- Background Points. May 24.

Keller, Nuh Ha Mim. 1994. Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law. Beltsville: Amana Publications.

Kimball, Charles. 2011. When Religion Becomes Lethal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

—. 2008. "When Religion Becomes Evil." New York: HarperCollins.

Kurzman, Charles. 2011. The Missing Martyrs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Laden, Usama bin. 1998. "Al Qaeda's Second Fatwa." PBS NewsHour. February 23.

—. 1996. "Bin Laden's Fatwa." PBS NewsHour. August 23.

Menashri, David. 2012. "Ayatollah Khomeini and the Velayat-e Faqih." In Militancy and Political Violence in Shiism, by Assaf Moghadam, 49-69. London: Routledge.

Moghadam, Assaf. 2012. Militancy and Political violence in Shiism. London: Routledge.

Pape, Robert. 2004. Dying to Win. New York: Random House.

Pope, Hugh. 2010. Dining With Al-Qaeda. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

Redissi, Hamadi, and Jan-Erik Lane. 2007. "Does Islam Provide a Theory of Violence?" In The Enigma of Islamist Violence, by Amelie Blom, Laetitia Bucaille and Luis Martinez, 27-45. New York: Columbia University Press.

Reed, Thomas C., and Danny B. Stillman. 2009. The Nuclear Express. Minneapolis: Zenith Press.

Reuter, Christoph. 2004. My Life Is A Weapon. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rodgers, Russ. 2008. Fundamentals of Islamic Asymetric Warfare. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. 2002. Hizbu'llah Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press.

Sahih Bukhari. 2013. "Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihaad)." USC Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. May 1.

Sahih Muslim. 2013. "The Book of Faith (Kitab Al-Iman)." USC Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. May 1.

—. 2013. "The Book on Government (Kitab Al-Imara)." USC Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. May 1.


This research paper was published in the OU Religious Studies Student Journal, Volume 6, by the University of Oklahoma Religious Studies Program, in Norman, Oklahoma, during the 2012-2013 academic year.

“I cannot believe — and I say this with all the emphasis 
of which I am capable — that there can ever be any good excuse 
for refusing to face the evidence in favour of something unwelcome. 
It is not by delusion, however exalted, that mankind can prosper, 
but only by unswerving courage in the pursuit of truth.”
-Bertrand Russell. Fact and Fiction, 1994

Evolution is a magnet for visceral controversy and debate. This maxim holds true whether examining the scientific theory of evolution or the numerous court cases that have argued the merits of both sides – for and against the teaching of evolution as well as the call for equal time for creationism and/or Intelligent Design. This ongoing battle in United States courts has lasted nearly a century and is sure to continue as time progresses. Along the way, this debate will continue to confront theological understanding, scientific discovery, and legal precedents. Both sides have a base that is diverse and expansive, but one group has its evidence rooted in science while the other has theirs rooted in theology. Both views have at one point challenged the status quo, but there can be only one valid scientific theory regarding the explanation for the origin of species.

The history of this question would culminate in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District court case just six years ago. Examining the main questions and the general arc of the associated history therein will serve to frame the current state of this ongoing national debate.  The evolution debate is certainly a pressing and intriguing issue that has already had its fifteen minutes in the public spotlight and will most certainly have its day in the United States Supreme Court in the coming years. Therefore, providing the context with which to properly view the Kitzmiller v. Dover case is integral to understanding the future implications of this debate. Ultimately which lens, scientific or theological, one needs to look towards the future with will become clear.

Legal Principle in Question

            In accordance with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the federal and state governments must be in agreement with the Establishment Clause. Thus the legal principle in question surrounding the evolution debate is the establishment of religion. The state cannot endorse theological ideologies, tacit or implied, by way of public services offered. The public education provided to the denizens of a state, city, township, district, etc. is a direct extension of the government and therefore funded directly by taxpayer money. The providers of public education have to walk the fine line of education and establishment concerning the sensitive areas of religion and biological science, such as the teaching of the history of humans.

Historically, the debate concerning the establishment of religion has been about teaching the history of religion’s role in the U.S. and throughout the development of western culture. While the simple answer seems to be just to remove all religious references when teaching these subjects, this protocol has no validity in application. While this aggressive blanket protocol might solve the problem of the state sponsoring religion, a student will not be able to understand today’s society or even the modern world without the juxtaposition of religious influence onto historical periods. The sentiment of the courts and the general public seems to be that as long as there is no proselytization, religious history can be taught as historical fact and religious texts can be examined as purely literary works. It is clear that the government—state or federal—cannot advocate or establish a religion, but the question has now come to a matter of to which degree should the state support religion?

There is still a rift, however, concerning the concept – or rather the misnomer – that religion and science are in direct conflict with each other. Proponents of the theory of evolution, most notably Dr. Richard Dawkins, need to operate within their field of study and not leave the lab to pursue the arena of pseudo-philosophy. Likewise, religious authorities - mainly Christian Evangelical Fundamentalists[1] - need to understand that Genesis is not a science book and that when theology steps out of the metaphysical realm, it only advocates pseudo-science. The perception that evolution is an assault on conventional theism has given rise to the pushback manifested in the likes of (the now defunct) creationism and, more recently, Intelligent Design.

The Evolution of the Evolution Debate

The start of this ongoing series of court battles can be traced back to the 1927 John Thomas Scopes v. The State of Tennessee case. The Scopes trial set the state precedent that it was constitutional to teach the theory of evolution in a classroom setting. The debate has since morphed into the question of ‘equal-time,’ as seen first in the 1975 Daniel v. Waters court case in Tennessee. This new argument was that Evolution was to be taught in conjunction with Creationism, affording equal time in the classroom to both concepts. This precedent was used over 40 years later in the 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas U.S. Supreme Court case to allow evolution to be taught free from persecution anywhere in the country.

The public perceived that ‘God’ had been removed from the public school classrooms across America. This is when the religious right and the fundamentalist Christians introduced the idea that removing God from the history of the origin of man strips away any morality humanity may have, away.[2] The memory of Nazi Germany’s war crimes still lingered in the annals of history, and thus the ruling provoked a fear that this potential removal of morality could create a resurgence of eugenics in modern society too reminiscent of the Nazi death camps and the underlying message of Hitler’s ‘final solution.’ This idea motivated proponents of creationism to promote the reintroduction of religious values in American education.

The response by the anti-evolutionists was a doctrine of ‘equal time’ in the classroom for the theologically anchored theories in opposition to evolution. To counter the fact that evolution could now be taught in the classroom, anti-evolutionists asserted that creationism should be offered as an alternative theory, to be implemented in as a side by side comparison in science classrooms. However, this idea was struck down in Tennessee, during the Daniel v. Waters case in 1975, which did proceed up to the district court but failed to make it to the Supreme Court.  But only two years later, this issue returned to the courts, this time in Indiana, in the 1977 Hendren v. Campbell case. The issue this time was the textbook that was proposed to teach creationism in public schools and its inherent promotion of biblical creationism.[3] Once again, the judge struck down the teaching of creationism in the classrooms of Indiana. While this was an obvious milestone for removing pseudo-scientific creationism from public schools, it still only applied to the individual state of Indiana. This trend of ruling the teaching of creationism as an infringement on the Establishment Clause continued with the 1982 case McLean v. Arkansas. This case was nearly identical to the Daniel v. Waters case but with a different location—Arkansas.

The question of equal time for creationism would finally be answered in 1987. Anti-creationist sentiment had spread all the way down to Louisiana, revealing itself in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard. This court case again dealt with the issue of teaching creationism alongside evolution in a public school classroom. Different about this case, however, was that it made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Edwards v. Aguillard case was a formidable success for the Evolutionist camp. Drawing from the precedents and merits of the previous cases concerning creationism, the Supreme Court knocked down the notion of equal time for creationism and evolution in the science classroom. The implications of the ruling meant that teaching creationism as a scientific theory in class was banned on the federal level, putting the final nail into the coffin of creationism as a teachable scientific theory.

What arose from this landmark decision were the reheated leftovers of creationism or, depending on perception, an entirely new scientific theory to combat the monopoly of Darwin’s theory of evolution in public classrooms. Introduced was the ‘Intelligent Design movement.’ This new attempt to inject an alternative view about the origin of life into American classrooms emerged suspiciously and suddenly after the deathblow creationists had suffered in the 1987 ruling. This new movement would buy more time for an alternative theory to evolution, as Intelligent Design (ID) had a twenty-year run before it faced its day of reckoning in court. The proponents of ID—Michael Behe, The Discovery Institute, (to a lesser extent) and the Biologic Institute—as well as the overall support from the conservative religious right had to go through the paces and fend off the intellectuals that had already taken down the theory of creation science.[4] Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was the first place that a court had heard arguments for or against ID as well as its new challenges to the theory of evolution.

The Facts of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

            The Dover Area School District, located in Dover, Pennsylvania, was sued by the students’ parents for changing the school curriculum and their subsequent use of the Of Pandas and People biology textbook that taught Intelligent Design alongside the scientific theory of evolution as a viable alternative explanation for the origin of species. When the parents found out that a scientific disclaimer was to be tacked onto any discussion of Darwinian evolution and also followed by a lesson and discussion regarding ID, they marched into the school board meeting in unprecedented numbers. After exhausting all channels within the school district’s official bylaws, the parents took their plight to the middle district court of Pennsylvania. This was the first time the fledgling Intelligent Design movement was heavily scrutinized by a public audience. This fact became increasingly obvious as the trial proceeded.

            Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican-nominated Judge appointed by then President George W. Bush, presided over the court. Arguments for the case began on September 26, 2005, and lasted just over a month, ending on November 4, 2005. This court case became a lightning rod for national attention, as both sides called in their respective heavyweights. The most notable faceoff ensued between Dr. Michael J. Behe from the ID movement and Dr. Kenneth R. Miller from the Darwinian evolution camp. Both men claimed to be Roman Catholic and both were leading experts in their respective fields. These two men were integral to the outcome of the case.

            There are two ways in which teaching ID in public schools can be deemed unconstitutional: its similarities to creationism and whether it establishes or advocates a religion. Under heavy scrutiny was how ID was to be taught in the classroom. The plaintiffs subpoenaed the publishers of the textbook and as a result obtained a pre-1987 Aguillard decision edition of the book. They compared the definitions of “creation” in the older version to the definition of Intelligent Design in the latest edition. The definitions are below in order:
Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent creator, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.” [5]
Intelligent Design means that the various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.” [6]
So according to the ID movement’s own propaganda, the only difference between Intelligent Design and creationism is roughly three words. A point of even greater concern is the definition’s striking likeness to the creation accounts in the book of Genesis, at least in the King James Bible:
“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good.”[7]
Of Pandas and People even used the examples of marine life and birds to demonstrate its theory. The text book definitions describe this account of Biblical creation. This indeed diminishes ID’s credibility as a scientific theory and links it closer to the criteria of being simply the reheated leftovers of creationism. Furthermore, old publications of Of Pandas and People revealed where the transformation from creationist to design proponent took place: on numerous pages, a typo had occurred—“cdesign proponentsists.”[8] What seemed to be an automated search for “creationists” in the preexisting text resulted in a failed attempt to change “creationists” into “design proponents.”[9]

            Dr. Behe failed to make a case for Intelligent Design. “Defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to ‘change the ground rules’ of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces.”[10] "On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for Intelligent Design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how Intelligent Design of any biological system occurred.” Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed."[11] Furthermore, “Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.”[12] It is clear that Intelligent Design operates on a looser definition of what science is, does not have any empirical data or peer reviewed journals to defend ID claims, and is inherently dependent upon a belief in God. So it follows that any advocating of ID in a public school is the State promoting religious belief.

            Justice Jones ruled the school district’s inclusion of Intelligent Design into the curriculum unconstitutional. He reasoned that “the proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. [Therefore] our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.”[13]

Critiquing the Courts

            With the initial ruling in the Scopes v. State case, the court ruled that evolution was described too broadly and that the arguments to ban this broad term were all theologically motivated and dependent upon theological belief, thus seen as an attempt to establish a form of state religion.[14] The court saw these as sufficient grounds to rule the Butler Act as unconstitutional; a Tennessee law from the 1920’s forbidding school teachers from denying the Biblical account of man’s origin. This was, however, a state ruling and did not make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.  It was not until 1968 when the same basic principle from the Tennessee case would be litigated in Arkansas. The benefit of the forty-year wait took shape in the form of Epperson v. Arkansas, which the Supreme Court heard. The court unanimously ruled 9:0 that any ban against teaching evolution in the science classroom clearly violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.[15] Not only was the vote unanimous, but precedents were clearly referenced and applied as well. The justices put a solid foot forward concerning the future path of the evolution debate.

            Following this landmark decision, the Supreme Court was almost able to go two decades without having to address the evolution-creationism debate. Two other lower level court cases heard cases concerning the concepts of biblical creationism—Daniel v. Waters in 1975 and Hendren v. Campbell in 1977—and one regarding creation science—Mclean v. Arkansas in 1982. The precedents set by these cases all invoked the First and Fourteenth amendments to confirm the unconstitutionality of biblical creation and creation science as scientific theories because of their inherently theological implications. Again, the U.S. Supreme Court acted in accordance with these precedents and declared once and for all that creationism could not be taught in public schools in the context of legitimate scientific theory or in the domain of a science classroom. The vote in the Edward v. Aguillard case, however, was not unanimous like the first.  The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Scalia—and concurred by Justice Rehnquist—was quite intriguing. Justice Scalia saw the battle that the scientific theory of evolution had to go through to be heard, yet wondered why creation science was being written off so eagerly.[16] His argument echoes a freedom of speech type of approach to the marketplace of scientific theories presented in a classroom. Important to note, though, is that just because a person can hypothesize a theory does not give it automatic entry into the classroom. The Supreme Court’s ability to act concisely when issuing its rulings for these cases helped to further build up the integrity of our educational standards by simply reaffirming and correctly the first amendment. This verdict was successful because of Justice Brennan’s apt application of the Lemon Test to find the Louisiana law unconstitutional.[17]

            The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision and written opinion by Justice John E. Jones III are perhaps the most noteworthy rulings in the modern era of the courts. The right decision became obvious when the Intelligent Design camp’s main witness Dr. Behe seemed to steer their own ship towards the iceberg after making the one concession that had yet seemed to be the difference between Intelligent Design and creationism. I find that Justice Jones’ 139 page opinion is more akin to a work of legal precedent artwork than just simply an opinion to justify a ruling.[18] Justice Jones was able to accurately anticipate the gravity of his ruling and made sure his opinion was thorough and that it incorporated the legitimate claims that science has to refute Intelligent Design. He was able to give a succinct and workable definition for what science was and what could qualify as a scientific theory. After this groundwork, he used the expert testimony on evolution in conjunction with the numerous missteps and errors of the Intelligent Design camp’s own witnesses and evidence to really crush the idea that Intelligent Design offers possible defeaters to the theory of evolution. He then proceeded to eviscerate any claim made by the Intelligent Design proponents that they had any sort of workable scientific theory at all. Some may see this as legislating from the bench; some may see it as over kill, I see it as a fair treatment to the absurd notion that theology can be cleverly masqueraded as science.

Moving Forward

            The lack of education, concerning what the theory of evolution actually teaches, among the fundamentalist camp is what is continuing this ignorance. This just enables and purveys not only the perception that the Darwinian theory of evolution is a secular conspiracy theory to eliminate religion, but also continuing the fallacious science vs. religion myth. Should the teaching of Intelligent Design or even creationism be prohibited? No, as long as it is presented as what it is. Such as if creationism was included as part of a religious studies themed elective course that a student could freely choose to enroll in. But it is this masquerading as science that is disingenuous and fraudulent. Nowhere else is the theory of gravity, the germ theory of disease, the atomic theory, or the plate tectonic theory challenged with such vigor.

            People, especially of a devout religious nature believe what they assert on faith claims to be infallible and inerrant and that there way is ‘the only way.’ But it is that arrogance that is holding this country back in the larger and more global considerations. The American public education system is in shambles and is constantly losing ground to rival nations. There seems to be a drive to promote morality via public policy, but this shortsighted ideologue realism is holding the entire nation back. Other world super powers are definitely enjoying this lag the U.S. experiencing. It has always been this nation’s positioning on the forefront of science and development that have put it in such an advantageous forefront in the world concerning innovation.[19] Creationist and Intelligent Design movements are counterproductive to scientific breakthroughs and understanding. Not to mention the inherent danger of assuming everything was created – this creates a stagnation concerning the examination of how things operate. Like how the ‘father of the Intelligent Design movement’ – Phillip Johnson – can claim that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) does not lead to Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) [20]; effectively establishing the AIDS-Denialist platform.[21] Obviously religious belief does not automatically lead to the denial of AIDS. Rational thought must be injected into these pseudo-science subjects so that the negative implications can be examined before they are pointlessly thrust into American classrooms.

The fervor exuded by the anti-evolutionist camp may appear to be well placed, but the consequences stemming from their actions may be quite regrettable. The fear and ignorance towards science in the fundamentalist communities needs to be phased out. Quite perplexingly, the denial of scientific theory has somehow become an affirmation of faith. Ironically, with the continued trajectory of the anti-evolutionists, they could land at the front door of a greater moral quandary than eugenics. It is important that the foundational education taught to the children of the future is widely applicable and inclusive to all (reasonable) faith traditions. Enacting these policies would greatly benefit the future generations of American students and promote education beyond the theologically biased bantering of fundamentalists and fanatics. Thanks to the due diligence of Justice Jones – ironically appointed to be a judge by then President George W. Bush – there is now a working precedent for how to treat future state, district, or even a federal case concerning Intelligent Design.

1. Establishing a specific and targeted demographic (Kimball, 2011, p. 159)
2. An overview of the Religious and Secular culture war (Radan, 2008, p. 126)
3. “The question is whether a text obviously designed to present only the view of Biblical Creationism in a favorable light is constitutionally acceptable in the public schools of Indiana. Two hundred years of constitutional government demand that the answer be No.” (Dugan, 1977)
4. Fundamentalist & Conservative religious right support for ID (Media Matters, 2004)
5. (Miller, 2008, p. 115)
6. (Ibid., 2008, p. 116)
7. (Genesis 1:20-21, King James Bible)
8. (National Center for Science Education (NCSE), 2008)
9. (Ibid.)
10. (Jones III, 2005, p. 68)
11. (Ibid., 2005, p. 88)
12. (Ibid., p. 28)
13. (Ibid.5, pp. 136-137)
14. Scopes v. State (Supreme Court of Tennessee, 1927)
15. Epperson v. Arkansas (United States Supreme Court, 1968, p. 393 US 109)
16. Edward v. Aguillard (United States Supreme Court, 1987, pp. 482 US 611-615)
17. Edward v. Aguillard (United States Supreme Court, 1987, pp. 482 US 583-593)
18. (Jones III, 2005)
19. (Miller, 2008, p. 165)
20. (Johnson, 1994)
21. (The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis, 1991)

Works Cited

Dugan, M. T. (1977). The Talk Origins Archive. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from Hendren v. Campbell:

Johnson, P. (1994, June). What Causes Aids? Retrieved November 20, 2011, from Reason:

Jones III, J. E. (2005, December 20). Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from The United States District Court for The Middle District of Pennsylvania:

Jones, J. E. (2009). We Find That Intelligent Design Is Not Science. In K. Frazier, Science Under Siege (pp. 91-98). New York: Prometheus Books.

Kimball, C. (2011). When Religion Becomes Lethal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McMaster, J. (Director). (2008). Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial [Motion Picture].

Media Matters. (2004, December 21). Religious conservatives tout "Intelligent Design" as a "secular," "scientific" alternative to evolution. Retrieved November 21, 2011, from Media Matters for America:

Miller, K. R. (2008). Only a Theory. New York: Penguin Books.

Morrison, D. (2009). Only a Theory? In K. Frazier, Science Under Siege (pp. 124-129). New York: Prometheus Books.

National Center for Science Education (NCSE). (2008, September 25). Cdesign Proponentsists. Retrieved November 22, 2011, from National Center for Science Education:

Pigliucci, M. (2009). Is Intelligent Design Creationism? In K. Frazier, Science Under Siege (pp. 130-132). New York: Prometheus Books.

Radan, P. (2008). From Dayton to Dover: the Legacy of the Scopes Trial. In P. Cane, Law and Religion in Theoretical and Historical Context (pp. 123-156). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Supreme Court of Tennessee. (1927). Decision on Scopes' Appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from UMKC School of Law:

The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis. (1991, June 6). The Group. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from Aids Virus Myth.

United States Supreme Court. (1987, June 19). Edwards v. Aguillard. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from Justia:

United States Supreme Court. (1968, November 12). Epperson v. Arkansas. Retrieved November 22, 2011, from Justia:

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