Good Muslims, Bad Muslims, and ‘Moderate’ Muslims

By William Kilpatrick Published on December 4, 2023

The cross-border surprise attack by Hamas terrorists on October 7 left 1,200 Israeli settlers dead. The attack included the killing of both children and the elderly, and other atrocities such as rape, beheading of children, killing children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children, and burning a baby to death in an oven. Many in the West assume that the terrorists (and Gazan citizens who later took advantage of the situation) were bad Muslims — that they had betrayed their faith by slaughtering innocents and doing so in horrific ways.

Yet, many in the Muslim world responded to the news of the massacre with cheering, celebration, and jubilation. They looked upon the terrorists not as bad Muslims but as good Muslims, and even as heroes.

Hamas Isn’t a Fringe Group

This was not a one-time aberration. Palestinian Muslims who kill innocent Jews and are killed in the process by police or soldiers, have been honored as martyrs for decades in Gaza and the West Bank. Memorials are built in their honor, and streets, squares, parks, and schools are named after them. In addition, the Palestinian government pays generous benefits to the families of the martyrs and also to the families of imprisoned terrorists. It’s nicknamed the “pay to slay” program and it acts as a strong incentive for poor families to encourage their children to grow up to be martyrs.

As in Gaza, killers of the innocent — people who we would assume are bad Muslims — are praised and held up as models to emulate. Far from being bad Muslims, they are considered as the best Muslims. And this celebration of jihad goes all the way back to Muhammad who asserted that the Muslim who kills infidels in battles will have a higher place in paradise than the Muslim who stays home and merely offers up prayers.

Almost One in Five Americans Thinks the Hamas Attack Was Faked

Because the Hamas-Israeli conflict is in part a propaganda war, one might be tempted to think that the atrocities against the Jewish settlers were made up. In fact, according to a Harvard/Harris poll, 17% of American voters think that the report of the October 7th atrocities was fake news.

Yet there is extensive video evidence of what happened. The Hamas terrorists were so proud of what they had done that they recorded the rapes or had their friends record it for them. Some also called their friends and families to brag of how many Jews they had killed or raped.

Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 799

The elation over the October 7th massacre was not only felt in Gaza and Palestine, but also by Muslims throughout the world. Crowds of Muslims celebrated the “victory” in Greece, Australia, Germany and in numerous Muslim countries. As you may recall, many Muslims in various parts of the world reacted with similar jubilation to news of the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.

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This exultation over the murder and/or rape of innocent civilians can mean one of two things. Either the celebrators misunderstand Islam or we in the West do. Many in the West are quite confident that “Islam” means “peace.” But the vast majority of people in the West have never read the Koran, the sharia law books, the Sira (the Life of Muhammad), or the hadith (the words and deeds of Muhammad.) By contrast, a young Palestinian learns to recite the Koran from an early age, is familiar with many of the words and deeds of Muhammad and has heard numerous sermons in mosques.

Who seems most likely to have a good grasp of Islamic teaching? A twenty-two-year-old Palestinian or a twenty-two-year-old American?

Tales from the Palestinian Nights

The American has little if any first-hand knowledge of Islam. What he does have is a pleasant narrative — a narrative about Islam that has been fed to him by teachers, television, and sometimes by priests, ministers, and rabbis. The narrative says that Islam is a religion of peace and that Muslims want the same things that we want. Above all, the narrative fits into the widely-accepted uber-narrative which holds that all religions teach the same values. Since Islam’s atrocities don’t fit this narrative, they tend to be disregarded either as fake news or else as examples of moral equivalence (both sides engage in atrocities.)

But what about the moderate Muslim, you may ask. Aren’t the vast majority of Muslims moderate?

There are of course, moderate Muslims. But it is probably a great exaggeration to claim that the vast majority are moderate. For example, a Pew opinion poll found that the vast majority of Muslims in Muslim countries are in favor of stoning for adulterers, amputation for theft, and death for apostates.

Not a Moderate Religion

If by “moderate” you mean someone who believes in equality for all, looks at all sides of every question, and doesn’t take the Koran literally, then there are far fewer moderates in the Muslim world than you may think. Yes, there are moderate Muslims. But their moderation stems from doubts about Islam. Generally, they are lukewarm about their faith, don’t believe that they have an obligation to participate in someway in jihad, and take a live-and-let-live attitude toward life. We look upon them as “good” Muslims and naively think they are in the majority.

But, as President Erdogan of Turkey has observed, Islam is not a moderate religion. Thus, the majority of Muslims who are trying to be good Muslims will look askance at the moderate Muslim.

Islam is primarily a religion of jihad and martyrdom. The martyrs are, for Muslims, like saints are to Catholics. Most Catholics don’t think of themselves as saints, and many would prefer to avoid the sacrifice demanded of saints, nevertheless, the saints are held in high honor.

Martyrs Versus Slackers

Likewise, the martyrs are held in highest esteem by Muslims. They are willing to give their all, and to die for their faith. For most Muslims they are the good Muslims. By contrast, moderate Muslims are looked upon as slackers because that is the way Muhammad portrayed them. He had harsh words for those who seek exemption from jihad, and made it quite clear that “he who gives a drink to the pilgrim and pays a visit to the Sacred Mosque” is not held equal by God to “the man who … fights for God’s cause” (Koran 9: 18). Moreover, “If you do not go to war, He [Allah] will punish you sternly” (Koran 9: 39).

In short, the person that we think of as a good Muslim is looked upon by Muslims as a bad Muslim and the person that we think of as a bad Muslim is looked upon by Muslims as a good Muslim — and even as a hero.

Muslim Lives Matter. Other Lives? Not So Much

One final point. The fact that Hamas terrorists who raped, tortured and murdered on October 7th were cheered by fellow Muslims does not mean that Muslims see nothing wrong with rape, torture, or murder. As in Western culture, such behaviors are looked upon as crimes. The difference is that it’s only a crime if the victim is a fellow Muslim. According to Reliance of the Traveller, a widely-cited sharia law book, crimes against non-Muslims need not be punished, or, if they are, the punishment should be much less severe. Why? Because non-Muslim lives are considered to be of lesser value. In fact, Reliance is quite specific on the point. Thus, for purposes of compensation the law book stipulates “the indemnity paid for a Jew or Christian is one-third of the indemnity paid for a Muslim.” (Reliance of the Traveller: o4. 9).

One assumes, however, that if the Jewish or Christian victim is killed in the course of a jihad for the sake of Allah, no indemnity is called for.

Note: Readers may enjoy watching the linked video of a 2010 debate between author Robert Spencer and Prof. Peter Kreeft on the topic, “Resolved: The Only Good Muslim is a Bad Muslim.” The debate was organized and moderated by John Zmirak, now Stream Senior Editor.


This column is reprinted from Turning Point Project by permission of the author.

William Kilpatrick is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including What Catholics Need to Know About Islam; Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West; The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad; and Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong.

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