Islam

“You filled cemeteries with our children”

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With the current focus on Ramadan and prayer for the Muslim world, we thought it would be good to highlight a recent music video that has come from the Middle East. In western media – and particularly in the minds of many Christians – Muslims are seen and portrayed as being violent, angry terrorists. But the plain reality is the vast (vast, vast!) majority of Muslims are nothing like that. In fact, they despise the way the minority of Muslims practice their faith.

This video in Arabic calls for the worship of Allah “with love, not terror” has gone viral on YouTube, with over two million views in just a few days. It was released at the start of Ramadan and slams terrorists for “filling cemeteries with children.”

Staring Hussain Al Jassmi, an Arabic-language singer from the United Arab Emirates, was released by Kuwaiti mobile telecommunications company Zain on Friday. Amazingly, the video bluntly speaks against terrorism and terrorists, denouncing the way they understand and portray Allah, and contrasting Allah – the giver of life – with terrorists who deal in death. 

The video starts with impassioned lines from a child who addresses terrorists: “I will tell God everything. That you’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks…”

So in this season of Ramadan, let’s make sure we know something about the vast majority of the people who are seeking God this month. Let’s pray that many will truly find the peace they seek in the God revealed in Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah).

How Should Christians Relate to Muslims?

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Developing a Biblical World-view on Islam By Ida Glaser Now that the Islamic holy month of  Ramadan has started, we thought it would be good to highlight some material on Islam. This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission as part of the LGA Media Partnership. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga.

The UK Times newspaper last autumn introduced its readers to the use of taweez[1] in popular Sufi Sunni Islam. Why? Because it was reporting on the conviction of a Salafi for murdering an imam who practised this form of Islam[2].

 

The variety of Islam

 

Times readers, already familiar with terms like Sunni and Shi’a, Sufi and Salafi, were being introduced to yet another sort of Islam that is practiced by 41% of Pakistanis and 26% of Bangladeshis[3]. How, I wonder, will they integrate this information into the categories of ‘extreme’ and ‘moderate’ Islam that the media have been using hitherto? And how do Christians integrate the variety of Islam into their worldviews?

 

Over the four and a half decades since I perceived God’s concern for Muslims, I have heard many discussions about how Christian mission should be directed. We should focus on ‘folk’ Islam—on the huge percentage of those who use taweez and whose lives are dominated by beliefs in jinn. We should focus on service—to abused women, to minorities suffering from racism and to people in poverty. We should focus on apologetics, on polemics, on dialogue, on co-existence . . . or maybe on political concerns. Perhaps Christians should be at the forefront of countering ISIS-type terrorism.

 

How should we view Islam?

 

Underlying such discussions are questions about how we should view Islam, and these are echoed in the polarized responses to Muslims that are tearing apart today’s evangelical world. I think that the major problem is that we do not know how to fit the variety of Islam into our thought categories. As the secular world struggles to add the world of taweez into its understanding of ‘religion’, so Christians struggle to find room for Islam in their understanding of the world; so we choose existing categories and focus on those Muslims who fit them. Our teachers and preachers urgently need a way of reading the Bible that enables the whole church to relate to the whole variety of Islam and of Muslims.

 

Put this way, we see that the challenge is broader: Islam may be a special case, but we need a biblical worldview that gives a framework for relating to all peoples of all faiths. My book, The Bible and Other Faiths,[4] seeks to provide just that: a way of reading the Bible that so takes into account the religious world ‘behind’ the biblical texts that it helps us to make sense of our own religious world. My recent book, Thinking Biblically about Islam,[5] deals with the special case of Islam.

 

Biblical frameworks

 

Thinking Biblically about Islam develops two biblical frameworks for thought, and applies them in two ways:

 

The biblical frameworks deal, first, with developing a view of humanity that includes Muslims and, second, with developing a way of understanding Islam. The two are related, because ‘Islam’ is practised by human beings—which is, of course, why it displays such variety.

 

The applications ask, first, how we might think about various aspects of Islam—the Qur’an, Muhammad, the Umma, and Shari‘a—and, second, how our biblical studies might transform us in our relationships with Muslim people.

 

The double two-fold analysis reflects a tension that underlies much of the polarization of Christian responses to Islam: that we are trying to understand Islam as a system that post-dates Jesus Christ and sees itself as superseding Christianity, and also trying to relate to the huge proportion of human beings who are Muslims. On the one hand, many Christians feel that Islam should never have come into existence, and that Muslims are intruders in their world. On the other hand, many Christians live in places where they meet Muslims every day, and have Muslims as friends and colleagues and family members whom they love.

 

Here is a ‘taster’ of the two biblical frameworks:

 

The framework for a view of humanity that includes Muslims

 

This is developed from Genesis 4-11. It is a standard analysis of text as a chiasm(the Greek capital chi looks like X)—that is, it has a shape ABCB’A’ or ABA’ or ABCDC’B’A’ etc. The first and last elements ‘match’ as they set themes and subjects, and may repeat words. The central element is the heart of the matter. The intermediate elements ‘match’ (here, they are both genealogies) and tell you how the whole argument sticks together.[6] Hence the analysis matches Genesis 4 and 11, Genesis 5 and 10, and then sees Genesis 6-9 as central.

 

From Genesis 1-3, we learn that all human beings, including Muslims, are both made in the image of God and fallen. Genesis 4-11 gives an analysis of a religious fallen world that can be read as a chiasm. The beginning and the end deal with individual and societal religion; the centre point is the flood story; and in between come the genealogies that are so important to the whole structure of Genesis:

 

A Chapter 4: Human beings outside Eden seek to approach God through a religious act. It is not clear why one is accepted and another is rejected, but it is clear that this results in violence.

 

B Chapter 5: Humans have a common origin, and all (except Enoch who points to a hope of life) share in the genealogy of death.

 

C Chapters 6-9: God’s response to spreading violence is one of anger and pain (6:6). The flood story is read as offering two possible ways for God to deal with the evil—the judgment of the flood, and the covenant commitment that follows Noah’s sacrifice. The latter indicates God’s preference for the duration of history.

 

B’ Chapter 10: Human societies have a common origin, and are under the providential life-giving hand of God.

 

A’ Chapter 11: There is a human tendency to use religion to propagate a particular people’s power and territory. This is dangerous religion, which God will judge in order to limit the resulting evil.

 

This analysis provides some simple but powerful categories for thinking about Sunniand Shi’a, about Sufi and Salafi, and about users of taweez and ISIS supporters who kill idolaters.

 

A: Individual religion. We can understand all Muslims as people trying to approach God, whether with Abel-like or with Cain-like motivations. We can expect violent religious quarrels to arise over questions of what pleases God.

 

So we can expect schisms like those between the Sunni and the Shi’a. However, we can also expect some of the Sufis, who seek the face of God as a lover seeks the beloved, to be ‘Abel’s’ of the Muslim world. The story makes us ask how far we can judge which of the ISIS supporters who sacrifice their own lives are like Cain, and which are like Abel.

 

A’: Societal religion. We can understand the various political dimensions of Islam as manifestations of a normal human tendency to fuse religion, ethnicity and power.[7]We can be sure that, where this fusion builds exploitative power structures that are against God, he will limit the damage that they do to his good creation.

 

B and B’: Genealogies. All this is the shared human condition. Muslims are not intruders in our world: we are all part of God’s world. One implication is that we can expect the Genesis patterns among Christians as well as among Muslims. Christians, too, can argue over who is acceptable to God. Christians, too, can fight and kill each other. Christians, too, can use religion to build empires.

 

C: At the heart of it all is the problem of evil. I do not mean here the question of the origin of evil, although the book does explore some key differences between Muslim and Christian views on the subject through a study of the Adam stories in the Qur’an and the Bible. Rather, the big question raised by the Genesis Noah story is how God deals with evil, and that has implications for how human beings should deal with evil in themselves and in others.

 

This suggests a key to biblically based thinking about the varieties of Islam: we can ask what these particular Muslims see as evil, and how they are trying to deal with it. Take, for example, the taweezusers’ and ISIS supporters’ polarization. Taweez users focus on evils that affect them and their families in their everyday lives; they deal with this through ritual and, often, through trying to control the jinn whom they see as responsible for their troubles. ISIS supporters focus more on political evils, which they see as caused by wrong worship; they often deal with them by trying to destroy the causes.

 

I hope that the Christian reader is by now sharing something of the pain as well as the anger in the heart of God (Gen 6:6). I hope, too, that, like the One whom we serve, that reader is determined to prefer the way of sacrifice and covenant commitment to the way of judgement in response to evil. That takes us to Jesus and His cross, and to the blood which cries out so much louder than that of the martyr, Abel. Perhaps our biggest pain is that that the cross and the blood is missing from Islamic thinking, and so not considered by either taweez users or ISIS supporters in their struggles with evil. That takes us to the heart of the second analytical framework.

 

The framework for understanding Islam

 

This is developed from the transfiguration. Writing the book has led me to realise the centrality of the transfiguration to the synoptic gospels; and John’s Gospel can be read as an exegesis of the transfiguration.[8]

 

The questions to which the transfiguration is the answer are Islamic questions: How does Jesus relate to the previous prophets? What does it mean that he is Messiah? How do we deal with the scandal of His insistence that he will be shamefully killed?

 

Up to this point, the Gospels have been largely in harmony with the qur’anic view of Jesus; and the Qur’an raises the very questions that the Gospels raise. However, Muslims answer them differently.[9] They deny the crucifixion and put Jesus on the same level as all the other prophets. In effect, they reverse the transfiguration and then develop a prophetic-legal tradition built on a figure who combines the law-giving community-founding paradigm of Moses with the law-enforcing monotheistic zeal of Elijah.

 

Such observations provoke a re-reading of the legal and prophetic paradigms represented by Moses and Elijah, not least as ways of dealing with the evils of human sinfulness. On the one hand, how can the biblical material help us to appreciate the strengths as well as the weaknesses of Islam? On the other hand, why is it that the biblical accounts of these prophets find their fulfilment in the cross of Christ rather than in the Medina of Muhammad?

 

Hence, an understanding of the purpose and nature, riches and limitations of biblical law and prophethood offers some categories for thinking about Islam; and it opens a way of reading the New Testament that sheds light on how and why it holds such good news for Muslims. From cover to cover, the Bible speaks into the world of Islam, and into the bewilderment of secular and Christian people who are struggling to understand it.

 

What is the implication for evangelical leaders? Let us seriously put the Bible ‘in conversation with’ Islamic thinking and with Muslim people, and let us preach the whole counsel of God into our hurting world.

 

Muslims are still waiting for the coming of Jesus and other messianic figures, to deal finally with evil by destroying the wicked and rescuing the good. As Christians, too, wait for the final judgment, what difference does it make to our preaching and to our lives that the Messiah has already come, and has dealt with evil on the cross? The cross is the acceptable sacrifice available for the Cain’s as well as for the Abel’s; it challenges all fusions of religion and power, and it brings together, once and for all, the judgment that cleanses and the pain that forgives. How can we make that cross the basis of all our responses to Islam?

30 Days of Prayer

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If you receive our mailings you will have received a flier about the ‘30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World.’ For over two decades Christians around the world have been praying for Muslims throughout Ramadan – their special month of focused prayer and fasting. It’s a time Muslims are seeking an encounter with Allah, and since the 30 Days of Prayer movement started, many Muslims have encountered the living Christ during this season. Prayer really does change things.

During my time with an Australian mission training centre, Ramadan was set aside to pray for the Muslim world. Once a day a call to prayer in Arabic was blasted through the sound system across our centre. Up to 100 of us would drop whatever we were doing to gather in the courtyard so that we could pray for a specific location or people group. I’m sure it confused our neighbours to no end, hearing a Muslim-sounding call to prayer coming from a Christian centre during Ramadan. But in those moments we took our attention off ourselves and paused long enough to get a glimpse into God’s heart for this group which makes up almost a quarter of the world’s inhabitants.

The question is: what will you be doing this Ramadan (27 May – 25 June)? Copies of the prayer booklet can be purchased from marn.org.nz

Prayer during Ramadan

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The 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World is a prayer focus which coincides yearly with Ramadan (27 May – 25 June), an important month of fasting and religious observance for Muslims. Christians worldwide are called upon to make an intentional but respectful effort during that period to learn about, pray for and reach out to Muslim neighbours.

While Media sound bites about Islamic extremism can too easily incite anger, fear and even hatred towards Muslims, we seek to resist this temptation to generalise, and instead, resolve to respond and pray with the mind and heart of Christ.

Join the millions of Christians around the world who regularly participate in this largest ongoing international prayer focus on the Muslim world. A new full-colour prayer guide booklet—available in both adult and kids versions—is produced each year, and is a proven tool helping Christians to understand and to persistently pray for Muslim neighbours and nations.

Find out more and order copies of the prayer booklet at marn.org.nz

The Women’s Mosque Movement

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By Moyra Dale.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission as part of the LGA Media Partnership. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga.

 

A female religious scholar of 15th century Hadramawt, Yemen, al-Shaykha Sultana bint ‘Ali al-Zubaydy was well known for her piety, knowledge, and teachings. One of her male counterparts, expressing the conventional opinion that religious scholarship and teaching were the domain of men, challenged her in verse: ‘But can a female camel compete with a male camel?’ She completed the couplet, responding: ‘A female camel can carry the same load as a male, and produce offspring and milk as well.’[1]

As I approach the mosque in a Middle Eastern city, my all-covering full-length coat and headscarf clothe me anonymously among dozens of other women who are entering through the gates and across the yard, past the places for men to wash, away from the spacious main door of the mosque, to pass behind the curtain hung between the corner of the building and the surrounding wall. The curtain conceals the small side door, which opens to a set of carpeted stairs. Wooden shelves are at the bottom of the stairs and on the landing, and we remove our shoes and leave them in the shelves, making our way up the stairs in socks or stockinged feet.

There is not much furniture in the upper meeting hall: the carpet, some shelves for books at the back, a few plastic chairs, sponge mattresses to sit on around the side of the room, and a desk-and-seat for the speaker. Framed pictures of Arabic text hang on the wall. This is the hall where women come and go for the different meetings, do the ritual prayer (salah), greet friends, softly recite pages of the Qur’an or just sit quietly on the floor. The hall opens onto the balcony overlooking the main mosque area where the men pray. Theirs is the high roof, sense of space: here there is more limited space, a lower roof, looking through balustrade or windows onto the main men’s part below—behind, seeing, and unseen.

Women in the history of Islam

Women in mosques are not new in Islam. Traditions (Hadith) that refuse to forbid women from mosques are ascribed to Muhammad, Prophet of Islam. They support stories that women attended the mosque in Muhammad’s time, including Friday sermons and feasts. However, over the centuries as Islam expanded, men went to the mosque and women stayed at home to pray.

There have been women leaders[2] and teachers throughout the history of Islam. Aisha (Muhammad’s wife) and Fatima (his daughter) are often mentioned, along with some of Muhammad’s other wives and companions, as muhaddithat—women who taughthadith to others. A number of religious histories mention famous women scholars and teachers, women who were active in Islamic law (fiqh), interpreting the Qur’an and giving legal rulings (fatwas), exercising the same authority as men scholars.

Women scholars flourished more in the 7th-8th centuries (the early days of Islam) and 12th-16th centuries (times of disruption and invasion from the Crusaders and Mongols).[3] These women were often taught by a male relative such as their father, and sometimes also had private tutors. Education, a male patron, and often, social class were important factors.

A recent influential example was Zaynab al-Ghazali (1917-2005) in Egypt, who founded the Muslim Women’s Association (Jama’at al-Sayyidaat al-Muslimaat) when she was 18 years old. She claimed it had a membership of 3 million throughout the country by the time the government dissolved it in 1964. She gave lectures to thousands of women who attended each week at the Ibn Tulun Mosque. Her association offered lessons for women, published a magazine, maintained an orphanage, offered assistance to poor families, and mediated family disputes. Al-Ghazali worked closely with the Muslim Brotherhood, and spent six years in prison until released in 1971 by President Anwar Sadat.

The women’s movement in Islam today

The women’s piety movement has roots in the history of women scholars within Islam. However, it is also a contemporary movement, with unprecedented numbers of women involved in the Islamic revival movement, which has spread through the Muslim world since the 1970s. It has become more visible through the increasing number of women wearing hijab. In the 1980s and 1990s a new wordmutadayyinat, ‘religious women’, was invented, to describe the growing piety movement among women.[4]

Women’s literacy worldwide has increased at the same time as expanding access to Islamic teaching through pamphlets, cassettes, radio, TV, satellite, and Internet. These two factors have helped to grow the Islamic revival movement and women’s part in it. Some women preachers are self-educated; but increasingly religious institutions in the Muslim world are offering training to women.[5] Al-Azhar University in Cairo began training women preachers in 1999.

Where they face social restrictions, Muslim women have always used religious occasions in the home, such as Qur’anic recitations or recitative prayer (dhikr) to gain blessing. So religious practices provide support for the chance to gather and talk together over a glass of tea or a meal. Women began to organize religious lessons in their homes to learn the Qur’an and other religious materials. Increasingly, homes and special gatherings became used as places where women were encouraged to make sure that their behaviour and clothing fit with what Islam teaches. A birthday party might include a time to urge all the young women attending to wear hijab.

Throughout the world

In the Middle East in the 1990s and early 2000s, women began to move more into mosques for their gatherings, and to become involved in public religious teaching, including on television. Mosque classes train women how to behave as good Muslims, and also how to teach others at community events such as weddings or births. Furthermore local neighbourhood mosques are used as centres to organize activities including both religious instruction and medical and welfare help for Muslims in need.

Elsewhere in the world, in Indonesia from the early 1900s, both the reformistMuhammadiya and traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama Muslim organisations have offered Islamic education to women as well as men, from grassroots informal religious classes up to Islamic training schools (pesantren). So now large numbers of women are equipped to discuss and teach about Islamic texts and legal rulings.[6]

In China, the growth in women’s mosques and women’s religious culture among the Muslim Hui people has been connected to China’s move in the 1980s towards reform and openness to the outside world.[7] In the Indian sub-continent, the efforts of the conservative Tablighi Jama’at was at first directed at men. However, women are now included among those who travel for shorter or extended periods to promote reformist Islam (while maintaining the rules of purdah).[8]

A new space for women

This has led to a generation of women literate and competent in the Qur’an and the traditions, and able to interpret them with regard to the issues of women’s everyday lives. A growing number of publications by women give women’s perspectives on reading the Qur’an and its teachings. In Malaysia, the Sisters of Islam draw on the religious texts in their effort to enable women and to help them get justice in issues of family law such as divorce.

Women’s authority in Islam has traditionally been in the home and at times of rites of passage, family transitions. Now they are taking up authority in the area of religious texts and teaching. It is still within conservative Islam, and women support their place in mosques and teaching, by conforming to conservative religious practices of dress and general behaviour. By reading the Qur’an and traditions for themselves, to answer the questions from women’s daily lives, they are reforming the role of women within Islam.

Implications and suggested responses

We recognise that Muslims and Christians may both meet questions about the place of women in a conservative reading of our faith and our books. We have common cause in working for women who face unjust marriage or divorce laws, or violence. So there is a place to meet and work alongside women in the Muslim piety movement. We need to bring a robust understanding of the place of women in Christ to our meeting.

It is good to be able to interact with the discussions around the Qur’an, the nature of the Messiah, the authenticity of the Bible—the arguments in which they have been trained. Going beyond argument to telling the stories of Jesus, of his interactions with women—including the place he gave them in his ministry (Lk 10:39, Jn 4); his power to purify (Lk 8:26-56); his refusal to condemn (Jn 8:1-11)—speak right into the aspirations and longings of women in the piety movement.

We can share from our own hopes and struggles, and how Jesus meets and answers us. As we pray, they may encounter the Messiah who is powerfully present to hear and answer our petitions.

The women’s mosque movement reminds us that within the Muslim world, there are different understandings of the place of women, just as there are different understandings of violence and its use. In the end, the basic place of meeting between Christian and Muslim is our shared regard for Jesus the Messiah; and the most fundamental point of difference is not the place of women or of violence, but who we believe the Messiah to be.

 

Image: ‘Enjoining the mosque’ by Giuseppe Milo (CC BY-NC 2.0). 

The Jihad of Jesus 

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By Jeff Fountain, director of YWAM Europe and the Schuman Centre for European Studies.

Called The Jihad of Jesus, it’s a handbook for reconciliation and action, a do-it-yourself guide for all Christians and Muslims who want to move beyond the ‘clash of civilizations’ and struggle for justice and peace nonviolently side by side.

I’ve known the author, Dave Andrews, for four decades, during which he has been consistently provocative and radical in his application of Jesus’ teaching to daily life and contemporary society.

Dave doesn’t pretend to be an expert: ‘I have not written this book as a specialist. I am not. I have simply written this book in conversation with Muslim friends, seeking to find a way we can struggle for love and justice that is true to the best in our faith traditions.’

Frequent misleading references to ‘jihad’ in newspaper, radio and tv headlines prompted some of Dave’s friends, both Christian and Muslim, to suggest he write a book about Jesus and ‘jihad’ and call it ‘The Jihad of Jesus’.

They hoped the provocative title would get a lot of attention, and introduce Christians and Muslims to a Koranic reconstruction of the concept of ‘jihad’ in the light of the radical practical nonviolence of Jesus.

Presently in Europe to promote his book, the Brisbane-based Australian has had prominent attention from the major papers in his home country with front page and full-page stories. Also the influential American Huffington Post review urged ‘all Christians and Muslims to join the Jihad Of Jesus’.

Oxymoron

For most of us, the book’s title seems an oxymoron. That word ‘jihad’ clashes with the Jesus we know. And Dave admits that the word conjures up images of terror and atrocities–from 9/11 to the recent aborted Thalys would-be massacre.

But if you go back to the Koran, he explains, the word jihad actually means struggle, not war. The word for war in the Koran is qital. The overwhelming emphasis of the word jihad in the Koran is non-violence.

Which means that what most ‘jihadists’ are involved with is totally unacceptable in Koranic terms, Dave argues.

‘So rather than taking the anti-jihad stand–which won’t succeed because jihad is such an important view in the Koran–we’re saying let’s reclaim it from the extremists, reframe it as a sacred nonviolent struggle for justice,’ proposes the author.

‘If both Christians and Muslims believe Jesus is the Mesih or the Messiah–which they do–let’s look at Jesus as a role model for non-violent jihad. Rather than see Jesus as a poster boy to legitimate crusading against Muslims, we see Jesus as a Messiah who can bring Muslims and Christians together, to work together non-violently.’

But achieving common ground it is not as simple as condemning violence, concedes Dave. Rather, it involves a critical reflection of the way religions have been constructed.

He argues in The Jihad Of Jesus that we are caught up in a cycle of so-called ‘holy wars’, but while this inter-communal conflict may be endemic, it’s not inevitable. And this gets to the core of the book’s argument: our religions can be either sources of escalating conflict, or resources for overcoming inter-communal conflict. For that to happen, we need to understand the heart of all true religion as open-hearted compassionate spirituality.

Open-set

When we define religion as a closed set–where you’ve got people who are in the right, and people who are in the wrong–we tend towards the violence of religion, believes Dave.

People who believe they are right feel they have the responsibility to impose their views on others non-violently, or if necessary, violently, he reasons. We all know examples of Christians and Muslims who operate like that.

However, an open-set mindset exists within both traditions which recognises that it has no monopoly on God, or a franchise on the truth. It includes the other in a way that is empathic and respectful. It leads to non-violent resolution of conflicts instead of violence.

‘There’s a thousand years of conflict between our communities,’ explains Dave. ‘So you’ve got this strong paranoia and this great underlying fear of one another that has erupted again since 9/11 in explicit and graphic and catastrophic ways. That is the challenge.’

Dave acknowledges theological differences between Christians and Muslims, but intentionally tries to focus on those beliefs about Jesus that Christians and Muslims have in common as the place to start conversations.

Such ‘common ground’ is not suspect compromise, but is ‘sacred ground’ on which we can stand and speak to one another, Dave believes. He urges Christians and Muslims to reflect the kindness and humility of Christ, who they should follow ‘with every beat of their hearts, through every vein in their head, their hands and their feet.’

For further information, see jihadofjesus.com, or order the book here.

 

Thanks to Jeff for letting us repost this. The original article can be found by clicking here.

Is Islam Inherently Violent?

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Since it’s Ramadan, it’s worth taking the time to think about our perceptions of Islam. When talking about other religions, it’s important that we Christians get into the habit of ‘truth-telling.’ Is it fair that we compare the best of Christianity with the worst of other religions? The following are some reflections by Grey Boyd about Islam. Re-blogged from here.

An increasing number of people, especially in conservative Christian circles, are claiming that Islam is an inherently violent religion. They point to all the violence in the history of Islam and all of the violence being carried out by Muslims today as proof of this. I believe this claim is as misguided as it is dangerous.

Two considerations demonstrate the erroneous and prejudicial nature of this claim. First, the percentage of Muslims engaging in violence today is a minute fraction of the total Muslim population, which is now around 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population). If you add together even the highest estimates of participants in all the Islamic extremist groups (e.g., ISIS, Al Queda, the Taliban, Boko Haram), the total is a fraction of 1% of this population. Claiming Islam is inherently violent on the basis of the behavior of a tiny minority of professing Muslims is like claiming Christianity is inherently racist because groups like the Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan profess to be Christian.

Second, if the violence of professing Muslims proves Islam is inherently violent, then consistency demands that we conclude that the Christian religion also is inherently violent, for up until three and half centuries ago, professing Christians routinely engaged in violence that was every bit as barbaric as what Islam extremists are doing today. Beyond the horrific Crusades and Inquisition, there was a century and a half (1524-1648) of almost uninterrupted Christian-on-Christian violence that wiped out a significant percentage of the population of large sections of Europe.

It wasn’t radical extremist groups that claimed to be Christian that carried out this violence. All the violence of this period and throughout Church history was sanctioned by all the major ecclesial denominations and carried out by mainstream professing Christians. To their credit, the only Christians that abstained from this bloodletting were Anabaptists, and they were almost completely exterminated by the other groups. So if, in spite of all this violence, Christians today do not want to accept that the Christian religion is inherently violent, then Christians must stop claiming that the violence of professing Muslims implies that Islam is inherently violent.

Now, some will object that religiously motivated violence on the part of Christians is a thing of the past, proving that the Christian religion is not inherently violent.   Thankfully, it is for the most part true that we no longer see Christian organizations carrying out violence. But this is not because Christians suddenly matured three hundred years ago and realized their violence was inconsistent with their religious convictions. Christians only stopped killing their religious and political adversaries because secular authorities decided this relentless warfare was politically and economically disadvantageous, so they agreed to make religious violence illegal (the “Peace of Westphalia,” 1648).

It was at this time that the West thankfully began to finally embrace the idea of a neutral secular state that had been proposed by Thomas Hobbs (1588-1679) and others. While some have tried to argue that the concept of a neutral state protecting the freedom and rights of people of different faiths was birthed out of Christianity, it was actually birthed out of a secular reaction to a century and a half of “Christian” states that were violently trampling on this freedom and these rights. (A good book on this is The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla).

So you see, the reason why a minority of Muslims continue to engage in religiously motivated violence while Christians do not is not because Islam is inherently violent while Christianity is not. It’s rather because Islamic countries have not, on the whole, embraced the concept of a secular neutral state, outlawing religious violence. In fact, while the secular concept of tolerance has now become deeply ingrained in westerners, I am convinced that, if there were no laws preventing religiously motivated violence, masses of western Christians would still be carrying it out, and I, for one, would likely have years ago gone the way of Michael Servetus!

To close, while I’ve argued that Islam is no more inherently violent than the Christian religion, one could easily turn the tables and argue that both religions, and even all religions, are to some degree inclined toward violence. For as long as people place their ultimate allegiance to a belief above loving other people at all costs, they will feel justified, whenever they deem it necessary, to kill people in the name of their belief.

The only ultimate allegiance that cannot ever lead to violence is the allegiance to the one who commanded his disciples to sacrificially love and do good to all people, including life-threatening enemies (Mt 5:38-47; Lk 6:27-36). Those who share this ultimate allegiance do not adhere to a religion; they rather manifest the Father’s kingdom. And they are grateful for secular authorities that protect them from those who embrace religion, whether it be the religion of Islam or of Christianity.

 

Thanks ReKnew for letting us share this. Re-blogged from here.