Religious Liberty, Islam, and Spiritual Warfare
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (Second Corinthians 10:4-6, The Holy Bible, ESV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:43-45, The Holy Bible, ESV)
“O you who believe, fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you and let them find firmness in you. And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty.” (Quran 9:123, p. 429 in The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Ohio, U.S.A.: Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore Inc. U.S.A., 2002 Edition))
“From the first it was evident that Muhammad believed that his message was for all Arabs – and perhaps for all mankind – and it had now become clear that they could be made to listen only by force. There could be no compromise with idolatry. Therefore it followed that all those who refused to believe in Islam must be quelled. Idolaters whose very existence was an insult to the one true God would have to accept Islam or the sword; other monotheists would have to acknowledged their inferiority by paying a special tax. This became the established principle of Islam during the few years of the prophet’s life at Medina which remained after the opposition of the Quraysh was quelled.” (p. 40 in Islam by Alfred Guillaume (London: Penguin Books; copyright 1954, 1956 Alfred Guillaume)
One of the best learning and growing experiences I was ever privileged to have was that of developing a friendship with a Muslim classmate in college. It was my senior year of college, and I had signed up to live in the international dormitory on campus. I was a religious studies major, and I needed to decide on a topic for my senior thesis. One of my hallmates that year was a gentleman from Pakistan, and over the course of my senior year we became friends. A serious student with a fun-loving streak and a zest for life, this gentleman had a deep curiosity to learn about American life and culture. As a Christian I felt it to be a tremendous privilege to have opportunities to share with my new friend the good news about Jesus Christ; and though he never converted while I knew him, we enjoyed some deeply stimulating conversations and dialogue. As a result of getting to know this new hallmate and friend I decided to do my senior thesis on Christian-Muslim Dialogue.
Ever since the tragic events of 9/11 the religion of Islam has been frequently in the news in recent years. In a laudable attempt to be sensitive and open-minded, many have insisted that Islam is a “religion of peace.” If my only exposure to Islam was my Muslim college friend, then I might be inclined to be sympathetic to such a claim. I have no doubt that many of our Muslim neighbors, like my Muslim friend in college, are peace loving, friendly and tolerant people. But while many Muslims may be peaceful people, it is simply not true that Islam as a religious system is a “religion of peace.” On the contrary, the origins and spread of Islam are drenched in bloodshed and violence, as attested by the quote above from Alfred Guillaume. And even today in most majority-Muslim nations (many of which have no real separation of Mosque and State) religious liberty as we have been privileged to enjoy it in these United States is virtually unknown. In many Muslim nations today it is illegal to “insult” Mohammed, to blaspheme Allah, and especially to convert from Islam to another religion (i.e., apostasy from Islam); and the legal penalties for such crimes can be severe (imprisonment, execution, etc.). “Religious Liberty” (at least for non-Muslims and ex-Muslims) is virtually non-existent in most majority-Muslim nations, and violent persecution of non-Muslims (such as Christians) and former Muslims is quite common, though rarely reported. (See the “Barnabas Aid” website for more information about the persecuted church: www.barnabasaid.org )
Now, some might respond by pointing out that in her history the Christian Church has been guilty of bloodshed as well. True, after Christianity became the state-endorsed religion under Emperor Constantine there were numerous regrettable and inexcusable instances of force, violence, persecution and repression being used by the church. These are grievous instances of deep moral failure among Christ’s professed followers, and I have no desire or intention of sugar-coating them. (Indeed, as a Calvinist I would view such instances as good evidence for the doctrine of “total depravity” and for the ongoing presence of sin even in the lives of believers.) But the difference is that such violent episodes in church history happened when the church was not faithfully following the non-violent teachings of Jesus and His Apostles (as recorded in the Scriptures). The truth is that Christianity began as a persecuted minority religion which spread its message, not by the civil power of the sword, but by the spiritual power of God’s Word, especially the good news about Jesus Christ, and through the voluntary sufferings of Christians who loved their enemies even unto death. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Second Corinthians 10:4-6, the “weapons” in the church’s armory are not “carnal” (for example, legal coercion, fines, imprisonment, swords, spears, guns, bazookas, missiles, bombs, etc.), but “spiritual” (for example, preaching, teaching, reasoning, evangelism, prayer, worship, serving, suffering for righteousness’ sake, etc.). Jesus Christ never committed any act of violence against anyone (though in His prophetic judgment teachings He pronounced violent eschatological judgments upon those who persisted in rejecting Him); on the contrary, He willingly went to the cross and absorbed the violence of His enemies in order to redeem sinners like us. Mohammed, on the other hand, used the violent power of the sword to defend his prophetic claims, and his followers have often used the “carnal” weapons of violence in order to spread and maintain Islam, and to violently persecute its dissenters.
Islam is a religion of honor. That is why there are often public expressions of rage, protests in the streets, and even violent acts committed whenever the Muslim world feels that Muhammed or his religion of Islam have been “insulted.” That is why Muslim-majority countries place such stringent restrictions upon genuine, unfettered religious liberty, and apply a double standard (allowing Muslims to treat non-Muslims as second class citizens and to insult their non-Muslim beliefs, while not permitting open and public dissent from the teachings and beliefs of Islam). Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, is not a religion of honor, but a religion of grace. God in Christ willingly endured the insults and hostility of sinners, and He did so in order to redeem and forgive such sinners. Through Christ’s humiliation on the cross God’s honor was ultimately vindicated, as Jesus paid the penalty for sin as our Substitute, and the resurrection of Christ was ultimate proof of that vindication. Indeed, it is through Christ’s humiliation on the cross that God’s honor is most powerfully magnified. Jesus’ followers are often maligned, insulted and dishonored, but, ironically, it is through such faithful sufferings that God’s holy and gracious Name is most highly honored.
One of the things that we as American Christians should be aware of is the apparent push by some to make it illegal to “insult” another’s religion. It is my understanding that there is a push among some Muslim and secular groups to have non-Muslim nations make it a crime to “insult” Islam. As I hope the reader can see, this push is rooted in the reality of Islam as a religion of honor, and it is nothing less than an attack upon genuine free speech and freedom of religion. It is my understanding that even in some western nations today you could face fines or other legal sanctions for so-called “hate speech” (insulting Islam being one form of “hate speech”). (I believe this is the case in some parts of Canada and in the UK.) If this is the case then it would be wise to be aware of the implications of this upon our own religious liberty.
Now, someone might assert: “No one should insult the sacred beliefs of another. It is an assault on human dignity and respect for others.” But, in response to this kind of thinking (?) I would ask, “Who defines what an ‘insult’ is?” In our hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned cultural climate it seems that for many people simply disagreeing with their sincerely held religious views or calling their beliefs wrong is viewed as an “insult,” and thus a lack of affirmation of their religious beliefs is viewed as an assault on their “human dignity” and a manifestation of a “lack of respect.” But if that kind of logic (?) is taken to its extreme, then I as a Christian could make the case that both the Quran and my Muslim neighbors who actually believe it have assaulted my human dignity and manifested a lack of respect for me. How? By “insulting” my sacred belief that Jesus Christ is the Divine Son of God and the only Savior of humanity. Since my beliefs have been thus “insulted,” should I feel compelled to work for legislation that would punish my Muslim neighbors for such insults by seeking to have them fined or imprisoned for “hate speech” or by seeking other means to have their free speech censored and their freedom of religion curtailed? Or should I feel justified to “take to the streets” and commit acts of violence and murder against my Muslim neighbors since, according to my own sincerely held religious beliefs, they have insulted (indeed, from a biblical standpoint, blasphemed!) my Savior by denying His Divinity and by refusing to worship Him? Not in a sane, tolerant and truly civilized society!
From a biblical Christian perspective, any individual or people group that has to rely upon “carnal weapons” like legal sanctions, brutality and violence in order to propogate or maintain their religious beliefs demonstrates a fundamental weakness of character and a deep insecurity. And any religion that is compelled to rely upon such “carnal weapons” as violence, torture, murder and rioting in order to compete with other religions manifests itself as being unworthy of being taken seriously in a truly free, democratic and civilized society. The only “force” that Jesus and His Apostles relied upon to spread their religious message was the force of truth, the power of the Word (combined with a willingness to endure mockery, persecution and even martyrdom from their enemies without returning evil for evil, but instead blessing those who cursed them). The peaceful way of Jesus Christ is the only way that God views as being truly honorable. The way of carnal violence – the way of the “religion of honor” – is actually the way of ultimate dishonor, and those who follow it impenitently will experience everlasting shame and contempt on the Day of Judgment (Daniel 12:2).