Last year Boko Haram, the West African ultra-radical group opposed to all things western (except guns), kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls. On one of their notorious raids, they carried off sisters from my own fellowship, the Churches of Christ. The goal: forced conversion, followed by sale as brides.
Would that this were a rare occurrence. Thanks to groups like Boko Haram and their radical partners, ISIS, such atrocities are weekly news. But is this really representative of the faith? Didn't we hear somewhere that "Islam" means peace? Wouldn't the gentle prophet Muhammad roll over in his grave if he witnessed such deeds perpetrated in his name?
This week's newsletter asks you to consider whether violence is an historical part of the Muslim faith -- or not. The goal is neither offense nor fear-mongering, but clarity. When we're thinking clearly, we're less reactionary, better listeners, and more likely to make a connection with the 25% of the planet who are Muslim.
Most Muslims long for peace -- we should not doubt that. I've met hundreds of Muslims, perhaps thousands (especially in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa), but never a violent one. Yet some consider jihad a fundamental duty of all Muslims, the "6th pillar" of Islam. Jihad is Arabic for striving: sometimes for justice or righteousness, but usually violent struggle to establish Islam as the global religion of mankind.
Granted, the jihadis and their supporters are a minuscule fraction of the whole. However, given nearly 2 billion adherents, even a fraction of 1% equates to millions of potential terrorists. That's a strong reason for us to be informed. Further, Islam does not mean peace. It means submission. It's an ultimatum.
There is a violent strand within Islam, and its roots are historical (Islamic practice); scriptural (the Qur'an), and personal (the life of Muhammad, recounted in the Hadith).
War and peace
Converts were few in the early years (starting in 610 AD), but once Muhammad authorized attacks on caravans, compelling people to join the movement or suffer the consequences, the numbers began to swell. Not that Islam always spread by the sword. To be fair, it has also spread through commerce and a prolific birthrate. Yet the Muslim Conquest received its impetus from the sword. The 600s-800s, from Afghanistan to Spain, were centuries of explosive growth.
The vision of a Muslim world was not only fueled by desire for booty, but also facilitated by simplistic thinking. The entire world fell into two categories: the house of Islam and the house of war. You're with us or you're (potentially) against us. The house of Islam are the faithful. The infidels -- the house of war -- will face hellfire. Some Muslim scholars add a third house, the house of peace, Dar es Salaam (like the large city in Tanzania, across from Zanzibar).
But isn't this just history? Some Muslims may have taken up the sword, but does that prove violence is intrinsic to the faith? After all, many Christians have attacked their enemies; does this mean that Jesus sanctioned their actions? Good point.
It is written...
Let's go to the sources. Compare the teachings of Jesus with those of Muhammad. Read the following passages, selected from the Qu'ran (Q), the Hadith, and the Gospels, and decide whether you think the founders of Christianity and Islam shared the same view on force and violence.
Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” - Luke 23:3
“And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out.” - Q 2:19
“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” - Matthew 5:39
“I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers.” - Q 8:12
“For he who insults you [Muhammad] will be cut off.” - Q 108:3
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart..." - Matthew 11:29
“Allah’s apostle said, ‘I have been ordered to fight the people till they say, “None has the right to be worshiped but Allah.’” - Bukhari 1.387
“Killing disbelievers is a small matter to us.” - Tabari IX.69
“Love your enemies and pray those who persecute you.” - Matthew 5:44
I have read the entire Qur'an several times. In addition, I've spent dozens of hours scouring the Hadith. I learned that Islam permits killing, maiming, starving, and abusing one's enemies; dispatching one's enemy in order to confiscate his property (your actions are vindicated if you can prove he was your enemy); execution of (male) apostates; killing those who, presented with the choice, refuse to convert; executing adulterers; amputating limbs, per Sharia law, sometimes with anesthetic; torture; slavery; wife beating; revenge; and cursing. Although Muslims cite the verse "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (Q 2:256), this is not how the faith has played out historically, nor is it an entirely accurate depiction of Islam in the 21st century.
No cartoons, please
The truth is, Muhammad was a warrior. He killed his enemies and even executed those who mocked him. The Qur'an frequently threatens hellfire: in 4% of cases, for serious sin, but in 96% of the verses, for merely disagreeing with Muhammad. Freedom of speech has been a weakness within Islam from the very beginning. To insult Muhammad is to insult Allah; it is blasphemy. Yet when Jesus was insulted, or treated unjustly, he did not lash back (Matthew 26:52-54; 1 Peter 2:21-23).
Maybe it's best not to compare Muslims with Christians -- let alone the worst of Islam with the best of Christianity (a common yet unfair tactic). Let us rather compare Muhammad and Jesus. How did they live? How did they treat their enemies?
The four gospels tell us all about Jesus. For Muslims, little is learned of Muhammad in the Qur'an (which actually names Jesus more than it mentions Muhammad). They rely therefore on the Hadith. These are the 1000s of recollections of the words and actions of Muhammad. They're interesting, since they give us a real-life picture of the prophet of Islam. If you think the Qur'an is violent, just read the Hadith!
Some counter that Jesus violently attacked the temple (John 2), yet there is no evidence that he harmed anybody. Others point out the "sword" of Matthew 10:34. Yet this sword is clearly figurative, bringing relational division, not bloodshed. The Prince of Peace turns swords into plowshares; the Messianic age is one of peace. Even in the Apocalypse, Christ's sword isn't a literal sword, but the powerful word of God (Revelation 1:16; 2:12,16; 19:15; see Hebrews 4:12).
So when Christians are violent, they act in spite of what Jesus taught. Violence is inconsistent with Christ. But when Muslims resort to force, they are imitating Muhammad's personal example, obeying his directives. Several centuries after Pentecost, Christians used compulsion, resorted to violence, were increasingly intolerant, and would eventually authorize torture to maintain doctrinal uniformity. But they were ignoring Jesus' message, not following it. Herein lies the difference between faith in Christ and faith in Allah and his messenger Muhammad.
Some Christians would go further, denying that Allah is God at all. Certainly there are major differences. Allah does not love sinners. He is Monarch, not Father. Yet we must be careful not to exaggerate the differences. To be fair, Miroslav Volf, arguing that the Muslim and Christian gods may be identified, makes several insightful and balanced points in his Allah: A Christian Response. At the very least, however, it holds true that how we perceive God affects how we treat our fellow human beings.
The bottom line
Islam is not peace. It is submission. Indeed, as in Isaiah and Philippians, "Every knee will bow" (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10). Yet the Bible makes it clear that this submission may not take place in this life, and certainly not at sword-point. It's not our job to force conversion. If we have the truth, we ought to have faith that the word will achieve its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). We need to leave outcomes to the Lord, not take things into our own hands (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Ignorant, uninformed, or careless?
No follower of Christ wants to be ignorant (Take the Quiz!), uninformed (The basics - Islam 5-4-3-2-1), careless (Jihad), or unloving (next issue). We want the cross to draw the world to Christ (John 12:32), not push them away. We will conclude our mini-series on Islam next week.
Want to learn more about political Islam? There is a podcast on Jihad and political Islam. Or follow up with Aaron Taylor's podcast Alone With a Jihadist. Spend some time in the Qur'an; learn about the Hadith. (There are two other podcasts on the Hadith at the website, all with notes.) Books on the dark side of Islam are Christ, Muhammad and I, by Mohammed Al Ghazoli; Son of Hamas, by Mosab Hassan Yousef; and Jesus & Islam. A better, broader bibliography will be provided at the end of the final installment, next week.
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