Boko Haram: How Should Christians Understand It?

howard duncan boko haram

The translation into English of the common name of this politicial/religious group in Nigeria has resulted in several iterations. “The People of the Book (Christians) are harmful”, “Non-Islamic education is a sin”, and “Boko…something (an idea or object) that involves a fraud or any form of deception” from a more academic source.

This group has gained world-wide notice recently with the kidnapping of over 200 school girls from Chibok, Nigeria. The raid and abduction has caught the attention of the world press and world governments when their localized violence, by a broad world view standard, has gone relatively unnoticed for several years.

NBC News has acknowledged in one story that the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, is fighting a religious war. “..he railed against Western education, music, and called for the imposition of sharia law, all now the tenets of Boko Haram.”

Al Jazeera reports that, “Boko Haram has released a new video claiming to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted last month, alleging they had converted to Islam and would not be released until all of its prisoners held by Nigeria were freed.”

The BBC reports, “Boko Haram’s trademark was originally the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticises it, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and Christian preachers.”

What of Nigerian Sources?

Ignatius Kaigama is the Archbiship of Jos, Nigeria. Jos is a city in the center of Nigeria that has suffered these terrorist attacks. He has said that it means, “Western educations is sinful”. This meaning is also given by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, a young Nigerian writer who has been published in the New York Times. She said in a different article for CNN that “…yet records its threats with hi-tech video equipment and employs advanced ammunition to destroy;”.

When the discussion about “true meaning” settles down and we realize that a literal definition can be difficult to translate and that meaning is what we are after, I don’t think that there is any doubt that this group has been assigned a name that is anti-Western, anti-Western religions, anti-Christian and anti-anything that is non-Muslim. That includes Hollywood and it’s reliance on an adolesent preoccupation with sex, nudity, fun, and rather contradictory – violence. Movies and television are a sophisticated technical achievement imported into Africa from the technically advanced West being used world-wide and as Western Christians are saying, promoting dubious moral values.

I suspect that what attracts the NYT or CNN to writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is her position on Islam reflected in this sentance, “…its (Boko Haram) conduct is as Islamic as that of the street preacher who kidnapped and raped Elizabeth Smart was Christian”.

Now We Have The Core Issue – What Exactly is Christian or Islamic Behavior?

What should concern Americans as well as the obvious just plain human tragedy of this kind of person-on-person violence, is how our government and media intends to face this not uncommon activity that has taken place here and around the world. We are flooded with headlines, stories and videos about this groups more recent activities focusing on the ranting of its’ leader and the violence of it’s conquests, declaring the non-religious validity of the motives behind this kind of warring is also just accepted without comment or analysis.

In closing arguments of the Elizabeth Smart case mentioned above, the prosecution said, “The defendant’s professed beliefs are highly consistent with fundamental extremists on what we might call the Mormon fringe — the belief that polygamy needs to be restored,…”.

To call Brian David Mitchell, the defendant in the Smart case, not a Christian adherent would be very accurate in my view, but, he claimed to be following Mormon theology as stated in his police interview. His kidnap and rape of Elisabeth though was based not upon a tenant of Mormon theology but a personal belief that she came into his custody “by the power of God”, even though the actual joining was involuntary on her part as she said and physically accomplished by him alone. He claims a gift direct to him from the one God or one Allah which is devoid of any particular religious affiliation. No theological argument can be offered to support the truth of his claim because it was a personal claim of a personal deed done by God and not mandated by any stretch of the theological mind. Even the Book of Mormon predates his birth. Further evidence was his excommunication “for activity promoting bizarre teachings….” before it was even known by the church that he had done a kidnapping. There might be disagreement among Mormons about the validity of polygamy in scripture but this was not a case arguing polygamy. It argued the validity of kidnapping and rape by one man – a false self-described servant of God.

So is Boko Haram just Brian David Mitchell reading Arabic?

I once asked a local imam why then do terrorists say that they are acting for Allah? He answered, “Because they are interpreting the Quran incorrectly”. There is an understanding here that differences in “street behavior” is a result of differences in interpretation of the dictated writings of Mohammad and later stories about him called Hadith.

Boko Haram claims to be acting in Allah’s interest and claims a theological basis, as do the other terrorist groups we see in the news and have had to deal with since the 9.11 tragedy. In contrast to Mitchell, they are not claiming a special deed done by Allah for their benefit. They clearly claim to be acting according to their understanding of Islamic beliefs.

What is it that causes people to discount this religious motive or insist that it is an incorrect one in this case and others usually without some analysis or at the lest a hint of a reason. One would expect scholars and imams to offer argument for a conclusion but governments can only pick a favored side for some self serving purpose. Is legitimacy of interpretation a matter of which group is the most populous, or more peaceful, or the most powerful and influential? Is not interpretation of Quranic writing a matter for Quranic scholars? I was told once by a Muslim student that I would understand the correct meaning if I read the Quran in Arabic and read it correctly! More of an argument for slavishly accepting temporal authority without question.

How Our Government Views It.

Boko Haram’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” according to the BBC.

In a recent Senate hearing we get a closer look at our State Department’s view of what they are.

Senator Marco Rubio quoting a statement by from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau:

This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution. Allah says we should finish them when we get them.

Then Rubio asks:

I don’t think there’s any doubt about what’s motivating them, one of their leading motivators here is this is not simply — and there’s no doubt that this is a part of it, but this is not just about girls going to school and it’s not just about raising money. There is a strong anti-Christian element of this organization and of this activity. Am I right in saying that?

Testifying and representing the Executive branch of our government is Robert P. Jackson Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs:

Senator, there is a strong anti-Christian element, but I would offer that more of the thousands of people who have died as a result of Boko Haram’s activities are Muslim than Christian.

Senator Rubio:

I am not claiming that this is somehow driven by legitimate teachings of Islam. What I’m arguing is that there is a strong anti-Christian element to this and that it is part of a broader anti-Christian persecution that we are seeing repeatedly throughout the world. Would you disagree with that statement?

Robert P. Jackson:

I do not disagree, but I continue to want to emphasize that Boko Haram terrorizes all people.


Senator, I respectfully suggest while anti-Christian sentiment is a strong motivator, the fact of the matter is that Boko Haram is trying to portray its philosophy as being a Muslim philosophy, and that’s just not accurate.

So it Seems That Our Government is Now Deciding the Truths of Islam!

When we note the claim that the kidnapped children had accepted Islam, it seems that Mr. Jackson has failed to understand that “all people” does not appear to include those that agree with the groups religious views, especially regarding war against infidels. Senator Rubio seems to be overly fixated on trying to pin the unpinnable and slides right by this global question of true belief. The State Department responds automatically without fear of questioning with what has become common a knee-jerk reaction to a legitimate question. Why is not the violent activity of an increasing number of Islamic followers and governments in many countries not a legitimate continuation of the death and violence that Mohammad pursued as a military leader during his life, claiming to only be following what God has commanded?

Our government has in the past declared it’s position when dealing with the governments of Iran or Pakistan or Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan when actual or potential violence comes through them. Do we now have an insight into it’s thinking process and should understand that it considers the question of the legitimacy of others beliefs when debating what the reaction should be to their actions?

It seems just as our government has decided to become the dictator of Christian morality and force what Christians must do regarding contraception and abortifacients via an unnecessary free handout called the HHS mandate, it has decided to become the dictator of Islamic beliefs instead of staying out of theology and continuing it’s rightful role as the protector of life and liberty. It has decided to now also try and control what Muslims think.

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18 thoughts on “Boko Haram: How Should Christians Understand It?”

  1. “contraception and abortifacients”
    Haven’t heard yet heard a priest or bishop give a sermon on this subject, thought that with HHS there might be something, but still nothing. Root of abortion, divorce and SSM.. Still nothing… Government imposition.. Still nothing..

    1. The readings provide the subject matter for homilies. Even, in my opinion, the best priests and deacons don’t seem to preach much about present day problems and endlessly preach about the root causes. Of course the root of all our problems is original sin, hence the usual homily. The Church is much more than Sunday Mass preaching. Check out my site here and key “HHS” into the search box.

    2. Howard,
      I respectfully disagree. We’re not being fed by sermons that inspire by taking the readings and applying them to everyday life. God provided opportunities to sometimes speak on the tough subjects. Case in point is St. John Vianney the patron saint of parish priests no less. He preached on a variety of subjects, including swearing, that were not directly, but indirectly related to the Readings. Oh if he were on earth today!

      Thanks for your work in the website.

    3. I understand what you are saying. Even as devoted to the Church as I am, I find myself pleading silently that some priests would cut short their dull, dull, dull pleadings for me to be good and love everyone. I need better sheep food that that. I believe their theology is good but the public speaking ability needs some work. Maybe it takes a saint to preach to us so we will get it.

    4. The Word of God is dimensionless, there’s always a way to interleave today in the Gospel and the Readings. And for the most part I don’t see that being done. I’m frustrated by this. My wife and I have four children and their not hearing anything from their pastors, only me and my wife.

      I have to think that if John Vianney were alive today (visibly) on earth today with half of his congregation taking contraceptives and abortifacients, and a society fallen into abortion and other evils, now acceptance of SSM. John Vianney who preached sermons on swearing would say something! Yes his Bishop might chastise him for not staying with the readings and fellow priests might ridicule him. But certainly he would say something. Satan is keeping priests from saying anything. It might be a complex, in fact I’m sure it is, a complex set of reasons why priests aren’t supposed to say anything, certainly (but not really) something a layman would understand..

    5. You have a point that really should be addressed in more
      depth by priests and I hope they will step up, maybe here, and address this. I have heard this complaint many times and I really have never settled on a strong opinion. On one hand we have a very real need to impress on our fellow
      Catholics the importance of the doctrines of the faith as they relate to present life. Then on the other, the reluctance of the clergy to press too hard in a society that is self deterministic.

      I asked a priest once why he did not speak about abortion.
      His candid answer was that he puts it in once in a while but is afraid of driving people away. There was an incident when he said something in a homily (I couldn’t find out exactly what it was) and people took offense that resulted in a refusal to take up the collection for that Mass. Not a leader at all but he has still dedicated his life to the priesthood and is a loyal follower of the bishop. When asked by someone else why he did not “draft” alter servers his answer was, “that is the old way”.

      I do not believe you are a person that fits this description, but my usual reaction to strident complaints of this nature is to wonder why the complainer does not get what he or she wants from Church – doctrine is everywhere. The internet, here, on TV (ewtn), on radio, in books, from reliable news sources. Vat2 has tried to involve the laity more in the
      life of the Church seeing the future danger that we now easily experience. That means that we need to preach a homily to our peers as well. Since the wide spread news stories in the popular media about the HHS attempts to suppress the Church, how many do not know that abortion and contraception are against Church teaching?

    6. Howard,
      Thanks for you comments. I have also heard a priest say that he doesn’t want to “loose anyone” by touching on contraception and abortion, but I have to wonder what the objective here is: 1-keep the person in the pew or 2-save his/her soul. Jesus certainly did not shy away from difficult teachings. The Bread of Life discourse for example. Jesus always acted with Love.
      Is it Love – not to say anything?

      There is also the father/Father principle: would I be a good father if my daughter or daughters came home with birth control pills and I did not say anything? Would it be acceptable for me to say in defense my not saying anything, that I am “afraid” of loosing her? Wouldn’t it be appropriate to pray and fast, then speak with her.?

      There are fathers who do not guide and correct their children, for sure, is this a good?
      Why do we call priests Fathers? Are fathers following the bad example of the Fathers?

      I really think that what we are speaking of here is a systemic problem…. It’s a mask of false fear, false humility, cowardice, a shirking of responsibility and moral relativism.

      Fathers, Be a Father!

    7. Thomas,

      What a position to be in for a priest. What to do, what to do? He loses you if he says nothing directly about current problems and loses whomever, if he does.

      If I were a bishop (I can hear my friends laughing) this is how I would approach it.

      “Okay guys we are going to do this. Start slow. Sneak up on them. Weave into the lesson direct plain talk about the
      issues we face. Push them to the point of rebellion but not over it. But please go slowly until you can gauge your effectiveness.”

      Then I would have to rely on the skill of my priests and the relationship they have with their parishioners.

    8. Howard, None of us are in this alone. If God is with us, who can stand against us. Preaching on contraception is certainly not harder than preaching on monogamy and permanence of marriage at the time of the Apostles (And by the way the Apostles did preach on contraception, it’s recorded in the Didache)
      NFP is not…that… difficult….. and it’s effective. We have it easy.

      Every year a million unborn children are killed in this country alone. New mothers bring the new child in their womb to be killed by doctors. How/Why does this happen?? It happens because abortion is back up birth control, and birth control in the vernacular of the world is the demand to have sex and not have children.

      There will be no real end to abortion until there is an end to the widespread contraception. If that is not a reason to preach, I don’t know what is.

    9. I get your frustration.

      Yes I have read Msgr. Pope before and he is very good. You both are preaching to the choir here. I am currently working on an article about homosexual marriage myself. I wish it could get the circulation that he can. Just as we get frustrated having to tell our children the truth of something over and over, the truth alone regarding human behavior is not always enough to change that behavior.

      I have two friends who also know each other. Probably not an
      unusual two people. One, an older lady in her 80s and Catholic all her life. Another, a man about 50 and raised Catholic who started asking me theological questions when I got interested in the Church! What did I know besides the
      current passages I was reading?

      Both of these people have left the Church because, they claim, the priest is a very rude man. I have seen his behavior myself and he has surely been rude even at Mass. My friends surprised me the other day at breakfast out when they told me that they might visit the local Baptist church.

      The priest is not the problem, the problem is a lack of grounding in the faith. A lack of trust in what the Church teaches. No amount of berating these people about abortion or contraception will do anything if that initial trust is not there. The one friend attended his lesbian sisters wedding in order to “show her support”.

      An example to try and make my point that trust
      building back to where we were, is going to be a slow process if any progress is possible at all. It has been eroded for decades by a more popular worldliness. Giving people facts will work for some, but the loss of acceptance in the Church as an entity that should guide your life at all is what is rampant today.

    10. A few additional thoughts. 1- The priest is wrong for being rude, love is not rude, and love is not always silent either. It’s the silence today, that I find to be unloving.
      2- If I did not have faith in the Christ, and Knowledge of His real presence in the Eucharist, I might leave the Church, but I won’t, no matter what.
      3- The problem of a lack of faith today, actually stems from the widespread dissent from HV published in 1968. Once a person, starts to say, that something is “just the official teaching” everything starts to unravel, and that person is not equipped to pass the faith on successfully to his/her children. People today, most often, do not believe that the Church is infallible in faith and morals.
      4- This is ironic, because HV in fact is proof that the Church is infallible in faith and morals. Before 1930 all Christian churches taught that use of contraception was a sin. Now only the Catholic church Stands. And now the effects of widespread contraception can be seen….
      5- The priest scandals that rocked the Church are also seen as a reason to loose faith, but one should not. First because in spite of the failings of Her members the Church still Stands. It’s a miracle really.. ….. Second because the scandals were related to the widespread dissent from HV..
      6- With the widespread dissent from HV, Bishops began acting less as Apostles and more like a business manager. They knew there was wide dissent and acted to “keep everyone in play”. The Bishop is the expert on Sin and head Teacher, but instead of fulfilling this Role, they sought experts to inform them as to what to do… On the priests who sinned grievously, they were not formed properly in the widespread dissent, (watch it) widespread dissent on what the Church taught on sexuality.

      ** In a real way the priestly scandals are still with us, they’re with us in Bishops not acting like Apostles: experts on Sin and Teachers.. .and the Church not effectively Teaching the faithful on matters of sexuality…. and by that I mean Homilies.

      Thanks for a good discussion.

    11. Maybe it’s your dioceses?

      I’m in the Seattle one, and we did actually have at least one with direct mention of contraception. We have reflexively liberal hippy priest who actually gave a really good sermon about respecting life at all stages, and rolled contraception, abortion and killing the sick or old into one. (As it should be, but it was a very good tactic for a subject that is hard to get through to people on.)

      I say at least one because I don’t get to hear a lot of them, our priests have very soft voices and I usually have the kids in the crying room.

    12. Thanks. I live in Massachusetts, and that I know is part of the problem. There are a few priests some distance away that do give faithful Homilies. Before leaving (abandoning) my parish, I am attempting to remedy the problem by speaking with my pastor. Have already spoken with him. I may also give a talk myself on NFP to break the ice.

      I’m speaking of this lack of good Homilies here, to speak to what I think is a general problem, priests are in a rut left over from years of “don’t ask don’t tell” on Humanae Vitae. That in and of itself was a bad decision, continuing to not speak on things now is just plain (&*#%$@!)

    13. In support, though– before we moved here, I’d NEVER heard abortion mentioned from the pulpit. A priest was removed basically because he mentioned that Catholics can’t divorce. (Did cover it properly, but that’s the short.)

  2. boko haram, al quaida, all the same – islam…
    Informed rational freedom loving people have all the reasons in the world to fear islam. The twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. Even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

    Mohamhead was a 7th century murdering warlord who rose to power on a river of blood surrounded by thugs and gangsters using intimidation, violence, deception and trickery to expand their criminal empire while mercilessly suppressing and killing their opponents and enriching themselves on stolen booty.

    The evil koran is a collection of sayings and speeches by this diabolical madman claiming divine guidance from some mythical sky-god which has inspired generations of crazed fanatics to abhorrent behavior resulting in historys worst ever crimes against humanity starting 1400 years ago and still continuing even today.

    Islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

    and some snappy infographics, great for emailing…

  3. Pingback: What If We Misunderstood Pope Francis -

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