We all wonder what makes a killer* tick. People want to know what goes on in the mind of a terrorist. I can shed light on one: Elton Simpson; my former co-worker and frequent debate partner.
The Christian must think theologically about such people. The Christian must not think the murderer – or any sinner, for that matter – is so different, so much worse. The Christian must remember that outside of Christ, we too face God’s judgment for our sin, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Still, not everyone is ready to drive across the southwest United States to commit murder as Elton was. Why? That is the question. The answer: Elton’s theology.
“Are you a Wahabist?”, I asked. Elton waved his hands emphatically: “That is the name Orientalists [British scholars of Islam] gave to those who practice true Islam. I am a Salafi.” Non-Salafi Muslims consider the Salafi understanding of Islam to be strict, rigid, limited, and narrow. Salafis believe Salafi Islam is closest to the Islam of Muhammad and his companions. Estimates indicate Salafi Islam is the fastest-growing form of Islam; the headlines indicate Salafi Islam is also the most violent.
Elton Simpson was a Salafi Muslim – and proud of it.
Zakir Naik, arguably the most prominent Islamic apologist alive, is a Salafi Muslim. Naik, along with Ahmed Deedat (deceased), were Elton’s favorite two Islamic apologists. I learned this when I name dropped the high-minded apologist Shabir Ally. Elton’s response: “We don’t all like Shabir, you know.” I asked who he did like: “Zakir Naik and Ahmed Deedat”.
Elton’s response illustrates the divide between academic discussions of Islam and Islam in real-life.
Ally: an intellectual; a professor with an elite pedigree.
Naik: only debates opponents whom he knows he can defeat.
Deedat: notoriously shoddy arguments which suffered from a lack of logical rigor.
Why then are the latter two considered the YouTube Islamic champions of debate? Passion. Rhetoric. Intensity. Perceived devoutness.
Elton preferred apologists like Zakir Naik and Ahmed Deedat over Shabir Ally.
OSAMA BIN LADEN
Very early in our relationship, I asked Elton his opinion of Bin Laden. “Hero.” Elton gave his answer almost before I finished saying the name. I paused; he looked at me and waited with sincere eyes. He wasn’t goading me; he wasn’t toying with me; he wasn’t playing. Elton was for real.
In Elton’s mind, Osama Bin Laden was clearly a hero – no qualifications needed.
During one talk, I brought up Islamic republics. Elton quickly told me none of the current countries calling themselves Islamic Republics actually were; he found the idea laughable. I wondered what nation could meet his standard, so I asked. Elton answered: “Pre-2001 Afghanistan.” Elton did not think this was debatable, he viewed it as self-evident.
Elton believed pre-2001 Afghanistan was the only true modern Islamic Republic.
When I expressed frustration with Elton about the nature of shariah law, he seemed exasperated: “We don’t follow shariah to please man; it is the command of Allah. Allah’s law is not there to make you feel nice and cozy. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not.” Elton’s Twitter handle was “Shariah Is Light”. How tragically insightful! He understood shariah to illumine humanity’s path about how we should live.
Elton believed all people should submit to shariah law for their own good.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHRISTIANS
Surah 5:51 instructs Muslims not to take Jews or Christians as friends. I asked Elton if he could take a Christian as a friend. He indicated “no”. If I remember correctly, Elton waffled a bit. Perhaps he was considering another interpretation of this aayat (verse), such as “don’t take them as ‘protectors’”? I don’t know.
I do know that later on in our first (rather lengthy) conversation, Elton said he would potentially marry a Christian girl. That struck me as odd.
Me: “How could you marry a Christian? I thought you said you couldn’t take a Christian as your friend?”
Elton: “I said I couldn’t have one as my friend. I didn’t say I couldn’t have one as my wife.”
I figured Elton was simply being arbitrary. Since then, I learned there is Hadith precedence for this ruling. Elton wasn’t out of line with Islamic thought; Islamic thought itself is what’s out of line.
Elton’s theology of marriage: your wife is not your friend.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Before his death, Elton Simpson went to great lengths to stop an act of free expression: drawing pictures of Muhammad. I do not consider events of this nature to be wise or kind. However, I believe events like this should be allowed. So should the Book of Mormon musical. Same goes for Piss Christ.
Islamic thought holds that creating an image of anything with a soul is haram (forbidden). Drawing Muhammad is especially forbidden. I imagine Elton viewed this art contest as too flagrant to allow; too blasphemous to let stand; too disrespectful to let go unfettered. Somebody had to do something to stop this shameful event – but nobody seemed to be doing anything.
Elton must have thought he was the one. This was his time, his chance. Elton Simpson was willing to kill others and let himself be killed in order to defend his Prophet’s honor. For Elton, it was worth it to protect Muhammad’s name.
In one chilling moment, Elton told me jihad was not one of the Five Pillars of Islam, “jihad was the pinnacle of Islam.” He was explicit: he did not mean an “inner struggle”, he meant a physical struggle against the House of War (the non-Islamic portions of the world).
Elton embraced jihad. Elton embraced death.