Scholar to address Muslim perspectives on just war

by Dan Morris-Young

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A well-known scholar of the just war traditions of both Islam and Catholicism, John Kelsay, will address the "phenomenon of the Islamic State and Muslim scholarly and popular responses to it" at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 21, according to a university press release.

Titled "The Debate over the Islamic State Group: Muslim Perspectives on Religion and Politics," the 5 p.m. free lecture is open to the public and will be held in the Jesuit school's Jepson Center's Wolff Auditorium.

Kelsay directs Florida State University's Center for Humanities and Society, and also serves as editor of the interdisciplinary journal Soundings which is affiliated with The Society for Values in Higher Education.

The New York Times lauded his 2007 book, Arguing the Just War in Islam, for making Islamic positions on war more understandable to the non-Islamic world.

His 1993 book, Islam and War: A Study in Comparative Ethics, included treatment of jihad compared to the Christian teaching on just war.

Gonzaga's press release for the upcoming event quotes Kelsay:

When leaders of the Islamic State group announced the selection of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph in June 2014, they set off a debate about the history and contemporary significance of a number of traditional political concepts, including khilafat (caliphate), jihad (here, in the sense of armed struggle), and hijra (migration).

The lecture will describe features of this debate, the release added, and "will compare the Islamic State movement with other Islamist militant organizations, like al-Qaida" as well as "highlight key criticisms of the Islamic State's approach by Muslim scholars and others."

Kelsay will also speak to how this "intra-Muslim debate matters for U.S. foreign policy."

In 2007, Kelsay visited the Sultanate of Oman on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where he urged students to challenge fellow Muslims who used the concept of jihad to justify acts of violence.

"Dr. Kelsay's lecture will give much-needed attention to the diversity of voices within Islam, and will hopefully serve as a catalyst for dialogue on Islamic traditions in the larger Spokane community," Shannon Dunn told NCR. A former doctoral student of Kelsay, Dunn is an assistant professor in Gonzaga's Religious Studies Department which is co-sponsoring the lecture with GU's Public Humanities Task Force and the College of Arts and Sciences.

[Dan Morris-Young is NCR's West Coast correspondent. His email is]

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