A: This is such a very big and important subject, and involves how the world's two largest religious traditions relate to each other. There isn't just one monolithic kind of Islam, just like there isn't one monolithic Christianity. There are many versions of each, and all of those versions are shaped by culture and historical context.
I remember taking a course in Islam at Luther Seminary, and our professor, Charles Amjad-Ali, a convert from Islam to Christianity, spent the first two months re-teaching us Christianity rather than anything specific about Islam. That was wise. Perhaps the first step in understanding another religious tradition is to allow ourselves to inquire into our own religion before assuming too much about theirs.
In fact, a great first step, always, is to ask the same question of your own tradition you are applying to the religion of others.
So, is Christianity a religion of peace? Looked at in historical perspective, Christianity encompasses quite a bit that is violent. Christians aspire to be peaceful, and they worship the Prince of Peace, but they don't always live that peace out. Here are examples of violent movements that claimed to be Christian: the Crusades, apartheid, race based chattel slavery in the United States, World War I (on both sides), the Troubles of Northern Ireland. I could go on, ad nauseum.
Does Christianity aim for worldwide forced conversion? At many stages of history, the answer would be a resounding yes. End of the Roman Empire. Quite a stretch in the Medieval period. The Spanish Inquisition. Forced conversion of indigenous people the world over. Some Muslims (an obvious minority of them in today's world, even if they grab the news through politically motivated terrorist activity) seem to be aiming for this also. But Quranic law is actually against such practices (2:256). Of course, a scholar of the Koran will likely correct me, and rightly so, and tell me their Scriptures are more complex than this. I need to listen to those who know their own Scriptures better than I do.
If I listen to them, this is what they are saying:
ING and its Affiliates nationwide join the global chorus of voices praying for and offering our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of today’s horrific, ongoing terror attacks in Paris, France.
No belief, cause, or grievance justifies the kind of gratuitous and senseless violence employed by the attackers in Paris. Such inhuman behavior accomplishes nothing and flies in the face of both natural ethics and the commandments of God. We pray that the perpetrators are found and quickly brought to justice. In the face of such tragedy, it is heartening to see people in Paris and around the world responding with acts of love and service, such as Parisians opening their doors to anyone in the city seeking shelter and safety for the night coordinated through social media, and taxi drivers across the city offering rides at no cost.
- As Muslims, people of all faiths, and leaders across the world swiftly and fully condemn these attacks, we reaffirm the following values and principles that we have previously emphasized:
- We affirm and uphold the sanctity of all human life, the taking of which is among the gravest of all sins.
- We affirm the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and speech.
- We affirm the right to security in one’s livelihood, profession, and residence.
- We believe that God created us with all the diversity of race, religion, language, and belief to get to know one another, not to despise or hate one another.
- We believe that Islam is above all a religion of peace and mercy, and that Muslims are obligated to model those traits in their lives and characters and to work for the good of our homeland and society, wherever that might be.
So why do I think some Muslims are engaged in the violent kind of terrorism we have seen in Syria, Kenya, and most recently in Paris? Because they subscribe to a corruption of their own religious tradition frequently called Islamofascism. In other words, it's an ideology that has connections to some violent politico-philosophical categories of the West re-inscribed on certain forms of Islam (in particular, Wahhabism).
Notice how dangerous I've gotten. If you're reading this, you have the impression I know a ton about fascism and Wahhabism. I've suddenly become an expert on the combination of a political and religious movement at considerable historical or cultural remove from my own social location. Isn't it easy to pontificate on things distant from us!
And in the meantime, I've deflected all attention from my own complicity in the political and religious structures that have contributed to the development of tensions between nations, and worldwide geopolitical instability. I'm not scrutinizing my own Christianity at all, or my implicit nationalism.
We are called to do a better job of turning our suspicion of others around on ourselves. It's better to turn more of our inquiry on our own practices, in the way Todd Green does in his recent post with Sojourners, 3 Reasons Christians Shouldn't Ask Muslims to Condemn Terrorism.
The truth: religions don't exist in the abstract, they have no life apart from the people who constitute them. “Every religion in the world depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam — your Judaism —your Christianity — your Hinduism — your Buddhism is going to be violent.” (Reza Aslan, via a muslim perspective on terrorism and a response to the paris attacks)
Is Islam a missionary religion, with the goal of bringing more and more people into the faith, and becoming a global faith? It seems it is. But then, Christianity is making a bid for the same position, and currently claims many more adherents. Remember that it is Christianity that includes the Great Commission, "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Imagine how many non-Christians hear that command of Christ.
If they are at all sympathetic to religions with a missionary impulse, they understand that mission need not be Borg-like, with a culture of forced assimilation. So much depends upon the how of mission. I believe both Christianity and Islam understand this, and simultaneously have more work to do on it, in order to be properly and respectfully missiological.
There is so much more to be said, much of it related to the historical contexts and cultures in which our respective Scriptures were written. No faith can be disembodied from that. There are no ahistorical religions. This is why, when anyone blames religions for being inherently violent, they are on such sketchy ground, because religions of every type are so strangely correlated to violence and war that it is difficult in the extreme to make the shift from correlation to causation. Religions are often used to justify violence, which is of course different from religion causing the violence. In many instances, the religion is a veneer for what violent people and groups wished to do anyway.
|Of Gods and Men|
I will leave it to experts more knowledgeable in biblical and Quranic studies than I to help us understand the violence described, condoned, or even encouraged in both our respective faiths. It takes quite a bit of intellectual work to engage it. It takes courage, and faith.
In the meantime, I find a few portrayals of how to think about each of our faiths, and their relationship to each other, helpful. My favorite is the film Of Gods and Men. I wish everyone would see it. It illustrates the peace so faithfully expressed by loving and neighborly Christians and Muslims.
Second, here's a letter from the American Church in Paris. It's a good read, and offers a faithful word for all of us who are grieving and worrying. After that, read this, so much this, (http://pjgoldsmith.com/2015/11/14/why-paris-shows-that-isis-are-losing-and-we-who-maintain-the-greyzone-are-winning/) encouragement for all of us trying to maintain the grey zone so that ISIS and all the other violators of every type will not win. Then finally, for a challenging and even more global perspective, read this: https://globalvoices.org/2015/11/14/the-streets-of-paris-are-as-familiar-to-me-as-the-streets-of-beirut/