Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Christianity and Islam:
What Common Ground? Part II

March 31, 2008

 

The Yale response submitted in its language to the Muslim terminology. It is a dhimmi response, not a response of equal dialogue partners who both assert and explain what they truly believe.(Jochen Katz, “The Yale Response and ‘the Prophet Muhammad’”*) 

The responses to the “Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders” to their Christian counterparts, published in October 2007, brought to the fore a wide gulf between the two world religions. But it also brought into the open the painful reality that there exists a deep cleavage right within the household of contemporary Christianity. 

On the one hand, a number of leading orthodox (in distinction from liberal) Christian leaders were outspoken in their rejection of the Open Letter’s attempt to whitewash the fundamental difference between the two religions. On the other hand, some influential professional academic and church leaders have responded enthusiastically to this Muslim initiative. Their reasoning tell us a great deal about the state of Christianity in the West. 

A clear demonstration is the letter “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You,” published in the New York Times of November 18, 2007 (www.acommonword.com). This document was drafted by four scholars at Yale’s Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture, and endorsed by almost 300 other theologians and leaders.  The same scholars are planning a series of major conferences and workshops to promote constructive engagement among international Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders. 

Fawning Deference

What is striking about this important letter of response is the totally uncritical attitude toward the Muslim leaders’ redefinition of Christianity (see Part I). No less telling is their uncritical acceptance of the Muslims’ sanitized version of what the Koran and hadith actually teach, and their silence about the long history of those who preach and practise hatred in the name of Islam. The overriding tone of this response is one of fawning deference.

The Yale scholars write that they were “deeply encouraged and challenged” by what they call the  historic open letter” which they receive as “a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide.”  They regret that relations between the two religions have sometimes been hostile, and then proceed to imply that it is especially the Christians who have been guilty. They single out the Crusades and the present excesses of the “war on terror” and ask “forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and the Muslim community around the world.” 

The Crusades happened almost a thousand years ago, an event that Muslims one-sidedly present as a major crime committed by Christians. The ambiguous phrase “excesses of the war on terror” for which Christians are supposedly responsible shifts the attention away from   the real terrorists who have killed more fellow Muslims than any Western army - and who continue to commit such crimes every day.

The respondents to the Muslim letter agree that the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. They applaud its stress on the fact that the foundation for agreement and peace between Christians and Muslims is possible because of what is central to both: love of God and love of neighbour. 

They write that they find deep affinities with their own Christian faith and the claim of the Muslim letter when it “insists that love is the pinnacle of our duties toward our neighbors.”  They then proceed to juxtapose Muhammad’s alleged saying that faith without love of the neighbour is impossible with Jesus’ statement to the same effect. 

Without any sign of irony, they accept at face value the Muslims’ claim that in the absence of justice and freedom, there cannot be any love for God or the neighbour. They simply repeat the Muslim assertion that Islam, too, stands for freedom of religion, and that Muslims are not against the Christians.  

They then quote Jesus’ saying in Matthew 5 where he instructs his followers to love their enemies and even pray for their persecutors, hastening to add that Muhammad expressed a similar sentiment when he was violently rejected and attacked.  They write that Muhammad is known to have said: ” The most virtuous behavior is to engage those who sever relations, to give to those who withhold from you, and to forgive those who wrong you.” 

They reiterate their admiration for the Muslims’ generosity in writing their “courageous letter”, calling for interfaith dialogue aimed at reshaping relations between our communities and our nations. They call this a daunting task in which the stakes are great, given “the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today.”  They conclude: 

If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well. We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another. It is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter, and we commit ourselves to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose. 

Where to start with rightly evaluating this strange and far-fetched letter. I already mentioned the tone of fawning deference. But there is more that deserves our critical scrutiny. Let me briefly concentrate on the misrepresentation here of the Islamic scriptures as well as the history of Islam. 

What did Muhammad Really Believe?

Here I will assume that Muhammad’s beliefs are always in accordance with the instructions of the Koran. One problem is that the Koran contains verses that contradict each other. Yet it is quite clear that Muhammad’s message was, as we saw in Part I, that those who hold to the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible are guilty of  monstrous blasphemy,” who are cursed and destined for hell. 

Further, while the Muslim letter writers profess to believe in freedom of religion, the Koran and hadith have a very different message. It’s a message of hatred for all infidels who must become Muslim, be subjugated or killed if they refuse. If Muslims are a minority, as in Western countries, they are duty bound to strive for the gradual spread of Islam. 

Trying to convince the readers that Muhammad and Jesus preach the same love is belied by everything we know about Muhammad’s life and practice. It is remarkable that we know this not from the critics, but directly from the Koran and other Islamic sources. 

There is no confusion about the fact that Muhammad established his rule, especially from the time of his Medina period in 622, by attacking and robbing caravans, having his enemies beheaded, including the Jewish poet Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who showed disrespect for Muhammad. Another poet, Abu Afak, who had mocked Muhammad, was also assassinated.  

A similar fate awaited Asma Bint Marwan, a poetess who expressed her dislike for Muhammad in verse. He asked his followers: “Will no one rid me of this daughter of Marwan?”  One man took on the grisly assignment, and killed her when she was sleeping with her baby.  When the killer met Muhammad next morning at the mosque, he seemed to have some doubts about what he had done to a defenceless woman. But Muhammad put him at ease and told him: “You have helped God and His Apostle. A couple of goats will hardly knock their heads together for it.” 

Some Jewish tribes who refused to acknowledge Muhammad as their religious leader were exiled and lost all their belongings. The worst treatment was meted out to the Jewish Qurazayh tribe of whom all the men were beheaded - the number reportedly killed ranges from 600 to 900 men. Their women and children were sold into slavery. Muhammad committed the ultimate in cruelty when he forced the wife of one of the murdered Jews to become his wife. 

Deeds Speak Louder Than Words

Why mention these horrendous deeds? I do so because Muhammad by his words and deeds inspired the Muslim warriors who in the next one hundred years managed to extend Islam from the Middle East, into North Africa, Spain, India and Eastern Europe. The same inspiration today moves those Muslims who preach and practise hatred toward Christians and Jews, and especially Israel.

Some of them have come to the West, where in many mosques, funded by Arab money and manned by radical imams, they are told that their first obligation is to further the rule of Allah, and not to assimilate in the nation where they reside. Polls among Muslim immigrants in the West consistently show a high proportion that supports the jihadists, while a larger number favour the introduction of sharia law.** (A Pew Research Center poll in May, 2007 found that one in four younger U.S. Muslims supported  suicide bombings in some circumstances.) 

Furthermore, the Muslims who murdered 3000 people on 9/11 were convinced that they were following in Muhammad’s footsteps and obeying the Koran which calls on them to slay the infidel. Thousands have died since and continue to die or suffer horrible wounds nearly every day. We also know that every day in thousands of schools in Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Islamic countries tens of thousands of young, unformed minds are poisoned by the warlike instructions of the Koran.  

The Muslim leaders wrote that they are also committed to freedom of religion because it follows from our duty to love our neighbour.  The Yale scholars simply reiterate that, but it is especially here that we should ask those who speak on behalf of worldwide Islam some hard questions. 

Words by themselves are meaningless; no worse, they are deceiving if they are not matched by deeds. The truth is that in many Islamic countries, Christians are persecuted, killed and their buildings burned down. These things are not hidden. We can hear about them every day.

It is these bitter realities that compel us to believe that at least a significant part of Islam believers takes the warlike verses of the Koran and the hadith seriously. To ignore these realities, and to proclaim that Islam and Christianity have in common their belief in God and their commitment to freedom of religion, is to ask us to believe the unbelievable. 

If the Muslim authors are sincere, they should be prepared to start immediately with raising a public, persistent, and unmistakably clear demand to all Islamic authorities in the world to free all imprisoned Christians and halt all measures that discriminate against every non-Muslim. Such a change would obviously have to include the complete freedom for Muslims to change their religion. 

Conclusion

In summary, the respondents to the Muslim letter, by not enunciating the truth about the Christian faith but conceding the Muslim definition of Christianity, contributed to a serious misunderstanding about the very heart of the Gospel: the deity of Christ and his atoning death and resurrection. 

By glossing over the reality of Islamic oppression of Christians (and all non-Muslims), and its imperialistic political ambition that allows no separate spheres for the religious and the political, the respondents failed to come to the aid of millions of helpless victims in Muslim countries. 

By not reminding Muslim leaders of their responsibility to counteract the deadly jihadist ideology, the respondents failed in their duty to be truth tellers over against the lies that feed the hatred toward the free West. 

The Yale University logo, Lux et Veritas (Light and Truth), is derived from biblical religion. In this encounter with Islam, the Yale scholars betrayed their sacred duty to let the light of truth shine in a world threatened by darkness and lies. 

But let the last word not be one of criticism and failure. Dialogue between Christians and Muslims of goodwill is needed and possible. Now is the time for Bible-believing Christians to take the initiative in publicly articulating the significance of the Christian faith for the modern world.

What is needed is a thoughtful public document, infused with biblical truth and light, about living with our differences in a peaceful world. We need to move from a position of reaction and criticism to one of initiative and participation.  

*http://www.answering-islam.org/Letters/yale_prophet_Muhammad.htm

** For a detailed description of Muslim infiltration into Europe and America, see BatYe’or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis; and Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America.