Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Christianity, Islam, and Violence - What is the Connection?

   I'll just say this at the very start: The vast majority of the world's Muslim population have never killed anyone in the name of Allah and probably never will.  What most Muslims want is to be left alone, to raise their children and practice their faith in peace.  Many of them are appalled, embarrassed, and ashamed of the things that have been done in the name of Islam in recent years, and are not afraid to say so.  Their culture contains many traditions that cherish kindness, loyalty, and hospitality.
    And I will even go so far as to agree with the basic accuracy of President Obama's comments at the National Prayer Breakfast last week: that many terrible things have been done throughout history in the name of Christianity.  The Crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the New World, and slavery have all been carried out at one time or another under the banner of the cross.  But most of the examples he cited are hundreds of years in the past.
    On the other hand . . . since World War II, only Communism has racked up a death toll in excess of the numbers killed by Muslims in the name of Allah.  Every day, all around the world, the cry of "Allahu Akbar!" is uttered as a radical follower of Muhammad ends the life of someone who does not share his faith.  Unfortunately, the majority of the victims of Islamic violence are not Westerners or Christians, but other Muslims.  It is a problem that is felt throughout the Muslim world to some degree, and to an epidemic level in the Middle East, where followers of ISIS, in the last few weeks, have burned a Jordanian pilot alive, beheaded 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt, and crucified or beheaded many others for religious reasons - either because they were Christians who refused to embrace Islam, or because they were Muslims who refused to accept the new Caliphate that ISIS seeks to establish.  While jihadists can be found in every branch of the Muslim faith (I would define a "jihadist" as any Muslim who is willing to kill for the purpose of his religion), it seems as if the radicalized Sunnis are perhaps the most bloodthirsty - but that may be because they are simply the most numerous branch of their faith.
    Christians, too, occasionally commit acts of religious violence, and in some parts of the world, most notably Africa,  there are Christian militias who are waging good old fashioned religious warfare against their Muslim or animist neighbors (most of these militias, I will say, were formed in self-defense after the Christian communities became targets of violence).  But there is no such thing as a global "jihad for Jesus" to compare to the epidemic of bloodshed that seems to perpetually flourish in the Muslim world.  Why not?
   Stripping aside all bias, I think that in order to understand the problem, you must return to the roots of each faith.  With no disrespect intended to the founder of either religion, and relying on their own holy Scriptures for information, it is immediately apparent that Muhammad and Jesus of Nazareth were two very different people.
   Jesus of Nazareth worked for some thirty years as a carpenter before becoming an itinerant preacher.  He taught a Gospel of love - love for God and for one's fellow man.  He never once advocated violence of any kind against any person or sect.  He told his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them.  As far as the canonical Gospels testify, he never once held a sword or deliberately harmed another person.  When he was betrayed, arrested, tortured, and crucified, he not only refused to defend himself but rebuked his disciples for attempting to do so.  In a violent world, he was remarkably non-violent figure, and taught his followers to be the same.
   Muhammad as a young man escorted camel caravans through bandit-haunted deserts, defending his clients' property with the sword. After receiving his visions from Allah, he became a militant religious leader, never putting aside his blade.  He led raids against caravans from Mecca after the city turned him out; he ordered the executions of his political and religious enemies, and commanded his followers to make war on unbelievers, and expelled Christians and Jews from the territories he controlled.  He was a man of war, a violent product of a violent culture.  While he also spoke on topics of love and forgiveness, and many other commendable virtues, he still commanded his followers to wage war on all other faiths, until all men embraced Allah or at least submitted to Muslim rule.  Muhammad was a Prophet to his followers, but he was also a man of war throughout his entire life.
   When Christians kill in the name of Jesus, they do so in direct violation of the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth.  The more closely a Christian follows the teachings of Christ, the less likely he is to be a violent person.  When a Muslim kills in the name of Allah, he is actually obeying the teachings of Muhammad and following the Prophet's personal example.  There are many progressive Muslims worldwide who have rejected violence altogether and are seeking to reform their faith into a more modern and tolerant mold, and they deserve the support and praise of every civilized person. But it is wrong to think of groups like ISIS as having "hijacked" Islam when a study of the faith's history shows that they are actually trying to return to the roots of Islam, and make it - once more - a religion of conquest under the banner of the Prophet.

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