The post-9/11 idea of Islam in America is lot of things, none of them very positive... I have been asked with a straight face why I would want to talk to a Muslim. This question was asked by a Christian. I don't know what kind of Christian has so little love for people that they can't see the value in nearly 25% of the entire world population (an immature one?). I talked to a minister who was on deputation to raise money to go to the Middle East as a missionary to a predominately Muslim country and he couldn't get a single church in his district to even schedule him for a presentation. This was after he was commissioned by the international headquarters of the organization and given their stamp of approval. He told me that several churches in his district held to the belief that there was no hope of salvation for Muslims. In their mind, they are the enemies of God, of America, of Christianity, and of everyone in the Western world.
Why is this idea of Islam prevalent among many Christians in some areas of the U.S. and other Western countries, especially given this is such a clearly anti-Christian attitude? What do these people really think about Muslims?
- Muslims are full of hatred.
- Muslims are militant.
- Islam is anti-Christian.
Is this really what Islam and Muslims are all about?
The short answer is no.
The more technically correct answer is sometimes...
This is an undeniably complicated issue and I won't pretend that we can even begin to scratch the surface in this short blog post. We will, however, have a better understanding of the issue than we did when we began.
How Should We React to Islam?
In light of the current strained relationship between Christianity and Islam (some of which is based on fact, but most of which is based on misinformation), it is of utmost importance that Christians maintain a Christlike attitude both in our dealings with the Muslim community and in the way we talk about Islam, whether publicly or privately. Unfortunately, the reactions I have seen most often from the Christian community, especially the religious right, is not healthy, well-informed, or aligned with the mission of the cross. The tendency is to:
- Write all Muslims off as unreachable.
- Bash Muslims on social media.
- Avoid talking to or being around Muslims.
I have three serious issues with these reactions:
- None of these actions are Christlike, in the least.
- These knee-jerk reactions reflect a lack of understanding of the issues, as well as a lack of spiritual maturity.
- None of these reactions are in alignment with the Greatest Commandment or the Great Commission.
As Christians, our number one concern should be that our actions and reactions are aligned with the Great Commission and grounded firmly in the Greatest Commandment.
The People of the Book
There are three distinct groups of people who Muhammed considered to be "The People of the Book". Let's take a look at his beliefs regarding those religious groups and how they relate to one another. (These general beliefs began to change after the death of Muhammed and vary wildly to this day, although the majority of the world's 2 billion Muslims are not hostile to Christianity or Judaism.)
- Jesus was the greatest of the prophets, but not the Son of God.
- Christians in Muslim controlled areas should be protected and respected, as long as they pay a tax.
- Christians should be allowed to practice their religion and engage in social and economic functions of society.
- The God of Christianity is the same as the God of Judaism and Islam.
- Trinitarians should not be considered Christians, as they do not adhere to the doctrine of "One God". Byzantine Christianity should not be considered Christianity at all.
- Jews in Muslim controlled areas should be protected and respected, as long as they pay a tax.
- Jews should be allowed to practice their religion and engage in social and economic functions of society.
- The God of Judaism is the same as the God of Christianity and Islam.
- The God of Islam is the God of Abraham and Isaac, the same as the God of Christianity and Judaism.
- Muhammed was the prophet of Allah sent specifically to Arabs, just as Abraham (and many others) had been a prophet to the Jews and Jesus had been a prophet primarily to the non-Arab Gentiles, as he was rejected by his own people.
- There is no God, but God. Therefore, there is no obligation to protect anyone who believes in more than one God. (According to Muhammed, this would include pagans and Trinitarian Christians.)
- The doctrine of jihad prevents Muslims from engaging in any war that is not a just response to an attack on their community. Therefore, forced conversion or conversion by the sword is forbidden by Allah. (You can find more on the concept of jihad near the end of this post.)
- There is no need to attempt to convert Christians or Jews at all, as they are already serving the God of Abraham and Isaac.
Common Ground with Muslims
There are many commonalities shared between Christians and Muslims, both in social values and religious beliefs. This is where we can truly connect with those of the Muslim faith. Here are just a few of those values/beliefs.
- We should love God. (The good news for Christians to share with our Muslim friends is that God also loves us, something that is not emphasized in many Muslim circles.)
- We should fear God. (Understanding of this principle varies greatly among Christians and Muslims.)
- We should obey God. (This is the foundation of Islam.)
- There is only one God. (Summed up in the Muslim creed, "No God, but God.")
Commonly Misunderstood Terms
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding Islam in the US. Ever since 9/11, anything related to Islam is emotionally charged and therefore prone to exploitation and a lot of hype by the media and politically minded individuals who don't care about the accuracy of information... Let's do our part to correct that by looking at a couple of these often misunderstood terms objectively.
- Definition: "struggle, striving, a fight"
- There is a common misconception that "jihad" means "holy war". Although the doctrine can be interpreted as such, especially among fundamentalists, that is not the meaning of the word.
- The Greater Jihad
- The inner struggle between the flesh and the will of God.
- The Lesser Jihad
- The outward struggle against the enemies of God.
- The Doctrine of Jihad
- Prevents war except in cases of defense.
- Forbids harming non-combatants.
- Places severe restrictions on what constitutes "just war".
- Classical Jihad
- This is the concept of jihad that is embraced by fundamentalists and jihadists (terrorists).
- Classical Jihad is the concept of physical fighting against unbelievers.
- Classical Jihad promotes fighting against infidels and conversion at the sword.
- Classical Jihad is NOT the original doctrine of jihad.
- Classical Jihad is also NOT the view held by the majority of Muslims.
- Definition: "struggle, striving, a fight"
- Definition: "God"
- Allah is literally just the Arabic word for "God".
- This word is used by Arabic speaking people of all religions.
- Arab Christians also refer to God as "Allah" since that is the word for "God" in their language.
- Islam teaches that there is only one God and Allah is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael, therefore, he is the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
(Un)Common Ground - Week 1: (Un)Comfortable Christianity
(Un)Common Ground - Week 2: The Wolves and the Sheep
(Un)Common Ground - Week 3: Connecting with the Unchurched and Non-Religious
(Un)Common Ground - Week 4: Connecting with Atheists, Agnostics, and Anti-Theists