Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Jesus of Jihad

The world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to population projections by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Islam is the fasted growing religion in the world, mainly due to high birthrates in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe—not in large part due to conversions. Despite the enormous global impact of Islam, many Christians in the West are apathetic toward, or uninformed about, the religion and what it actually teaches. Yet having an understanding of Islam is important in helping us pray more specifically about, and respond knowledgeably to, the rapid growth of the religion.

Christians in the West are often surprised to learn that Muslims revere Jesus, who is referred to in Arabic as Isa, and is declared in the Qur'an to be a prophet of Islam. Consequently, Muslims lay claim to Jesus, not as the Son of God, but as the prophet who foretold the coming of Muhammad, and performed [some pretty outlandish] miracles. In an era of Western pluralism, it is becoming common to hear the argument that Christianity and Islam should share Jesus, and that He rightfully belongs to both religions. In this vein, the concept of the “Abrahamic civilization” of the West is gaining ideological clout in place of the former emphasis on a “Judeo-Christian civilization.” This shift of thinking reflects the growing influence of Islam in the world today.[1]

If we are to share Jesus with Islam, let's consider the implications of this. Firstly, it's useful to be aware of the common ground Islam and Christianity share when it comes to Jesus, as much is made of this in the interfaith movement and in the pluralistic schools of thought that prevail in most American colleges and universities.

Jesus in Islam & Christianity: The Similarities
The Qur’an holds that Jesus was the only sinless man to have ever lived, telling us that Mary was given a pure son who was faultless in the eyes of God (Surah 19:19). Muslims believe that all people are born sinful, so in his sinlessness, the Muslim Jesus is unique, which is consistent with the biblical perspective.

The Qur’an also teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that he had no earthly or physical father. As it is written, “…she who was chaste, therefore We[3] breathed into her (something) of Our Spirit and made her and her son a token for [all] peoples.” (Surah 21:91) The language of the Qur’an is unambiguous about the virgin-birth of Jesus. In Surah 4.156, Mary is cleared from the charge of the Jews that she had conceived Jesus out of wedlock. 

Another point of agreement between the Qur’an and bible is found in their accounts of the ascension of Christ. The ascension is mentioned in the Qur’an in these words: “Allah took him up to Himself” (Surah 4:158). While the Qur’an and the Bible differ on the timing and nature of the ascension of Jesus, they both agree on the fact that it did indeed occur. 

Certain titles given to Jesus in the Bible are also used in the Qur’an. For example, He is called the Word of God and the Messiah in the Qur’an. The Qur’an and the Bible both give Him titles which are applied to no one else, thus setting him apart as unique.

Jesus in Islam & Christianity: The Differences
There are important, deal-breaking differences between the Jesus of the Qur’an and the One of the Bible, however. In the Qur’an, Jesus performed miracles that are not recorded in the Bible, including breathing life into clay birds (Surah 5:110) and speaking as a baby in his cradle (Surah 3:46; 19:28-34).  

Islam teaches that while Christians believe “[Jesus] died on a cross, and Jews claim they killed him, in reality he was not killed or crucified, and those who said he was crucified lied” (Surah 4:157). And further, “[Jesus] did not die, but ascended to Allah” (Surah 4:158) and at his second coming, “[Jesus] himself will be a witness against Jews and Christians for believing in his death” (Surah 4:159). This is not only a denial of Jesus' atoning death on the cross, but also of His resurrection.

The Qur’an and Hadith[2] do prophesy the second coming of Jesus. But Islamic teaching disagrees with the Bible on the nature and purpose of the second coming. Islam teaches that Jesus will have a pivotal role in the end times, destroying all other religions and establishing the authority of Islam. As one tradition of Muhammad teaches, Jesus "will break the cross, kill pigs,[3] and abolish the poll-tax. Allah will destroy all religions except Islam. [Jesus] will destroy the Evil One (anti-Christ figure) and will live on the earth for forty years and then he will die.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, 37:4310)This image of the Muslim Jesus violently attacking the cross personifies him as the final destroyer of Christianity.

In Islam, Jesus is not part of the Trinity. The central belief that God is an unassailable, singular entity exists at the core of Islamic theology. To perceive Him in terms of having multiple “natures” or to ascribe “partners” to Him, as Muslims believe Christianity does, is considered deeply blasphemous. The Qur’an calls Muslims to what is portrayed as unequivocal monotheism: “Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.” (Surah 4:48). The Christian view of the Trinity is frequently misrepresented in Islamic teaching as a belief in three Gods. In fact, many Muslims are under the impression that the Trinity is made up of God, Jesus, and Mary! Muslims believe that Christianity is heretical, therefore, viewing it as a polytheistic religion. 

Despite the fact that Muhammad founded Islam in 622 CE, the religion is regarded not as a subsequent faith to Judaism and Christianity, but as the primordial religion, the original faith, from which Judaism and Christianity broke off in corrupted forms. Islam teaches that the The Gospels (the Injeel) that were originally given to the Muslim Jesus, were corrupted later by Christians (some believe this began with the Apostle Paul). The Qu'ran, therefore, that was given to Muhammad in a series of revelations (that were later recorded) 500 years later is the only trustworthy version of God's word. 

The Same Jesus?
Despite a few minor similarities, the fact that the Muslim Jesus is not the Son of God, but merely a prophet, means they are two very different persons. One is central to the Christian faith; the other is expected to demolish the Christian faith! Efforts to achieve theological syncretism between Islam and Christianity (as is attempted by the "Chrislam" movement, for example) are futile; the two faiths are completely incompatible. 

Furthermore, seeking common ground between two disparate Jesus figures, which has become a popular practice among Christians in Muslim ministry, is more confusing than it is helpful in dialoguing with Muslims; it blurs the truth about His identity from the beginning and gives the false impression that the Qur'an is a credible source of truth about the Him. In actuality, the common ground approach, while a good "conversation-starter" and as well-intended as it may be, is a disingenuous and misleading way to talk about Jesus.

So what? 
Islam is presenting a growing challenge to the Christian church, which should not be ignored. This is in part because the religion acts as a political institution (in fact it is intrinsically political in nature), which often has dire implications for Christians living in Muslim-majority countries and can impede missionaries from reaching unreached people groups in these contexts. Many Westerners, including Christians, however, seem largely unconcerned about the worldwide impact resulting from the rapid growth and radicalization of Islam in spite of the warning signs of unrest in the Middle East and Africa or the growing problems in Western countries like Great Britain, for example, where due to pressure from the British Muslim community the country is becoming incrementally Islamized. 

Samuel Huntington in his well-known, much debated thesis that was first laid out in his article, “The Clash of Civilizations,” holds that the fundamental source of conflict in the post-Cold War era will not primarily be ideological or economic, but cultural, in shape of an ultimate clash between Islamic and non-Islamic civilizations, which will dominate global politics. Huntington's position on Islam has been passed off by many academics as an "over-simplification" or an "unhelpful" point of view. But, if he is right—and certain factors seem to indicate he may be—then we as Christians need to be all the more aware of what is happening in the Muslim world and help to educate others. 

This is because the truth about Jesus is under siege. Within the context of world politics, great significance has been placed on the figure of Jesus, with prominent Islamic leaders laying claim to Him. To give just a couple of examples, Yasser Arafat, addressing a press conference at the United Nations in 1983 called Jesus “the first Palestinian fedayeen who carried his sword,” implying in other words that He was a freedom fighter for Islam. Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, employee of the Palestinian Authority, broadcast live in April 2002 on Palestian television: “The Jews await the false Jewish messiah, while we await, with Allah’s help…Jesus, peace be upon him. Jesus’ pure hands will murder the false Jewish messiah. Where? In the city of Lod, in Palestine.” 

Essentially, then, the Muslim Jesus is the Jesus of Jihad. In fact, Muslim apologists frequently misquote Matthew 10:34, which mentions a sword, to show that the Bible also claims Jesus endorsed jihad. 

The figure of Jesus is, and has historically been, used as a weapon in the realm of international politics. As Christians, however distasteful we find the nature of politics to be, we must be confident in stating who we believe the true Jesus is in the face of such tragic misuse of His Name. We are called to speak up in defense of the Gospel and to answer the very question Jesus asked of His disciples, "Who do say I am?" (Matt 16:15) without fear.

Now what?
We are called to show Christ-like love to Muslims. This shouldn't mean turning a blind eye to the injustices that take place in the name of Islam, however. When we talk about, and form opinions on Islam, we need do so accurately and understand what we are really dealing with. It is important to know that the violent verses in the Qur’an from Muhammad’s later warlord years abrogate (nullify) the more peaceable verses from earlier in his life as dictated by Islamic tradition. These verses command Muslims to “fight and kill [non-Muslims] unless they convert” (Surah 9:5), for example, which is a principle that Muhammad himself practiced, personally beheading infidels. And Muslims are taught to model their lives on the Sunnah, Muhammad's perfect life example. This is deeply unsettling when we consider that Muhammad was also a polygamist who took many concubines and married a six-year-old girl, consummating the marriage when she was 9 years old and he was 53. To understand this, is to understand the true evil and violence that is at the core of the religion of Islam. True Islam, Muhammad’s Islam—not the peaceful Islam of liberal Muslims or that which is presented to the West by Imams who are permitted to lie for the furtherance of Islam as under the law of taqiyya—is a religion of the sword.  Many injustices against Christians, women, and minorities living in Muslim-majority countries occur as a result. Violent jihad is at the heart of Islam—it is not just the misinterpretation of a peaceful religion by extremist fringe groups. There are hundreds of Qur’anic verses on the subject of jihad, as well as the "Book of Jihad," which found in all Hadith collections. 

As Christians, we cannot show authentic Christ-like love to others without upholding justice. By faith we are called to be administrators of justice (Heb 11:33) and to correct oppression (Isa 17:1). In doing so, we should of course be careful to distinguish between individual Muslims and the institution of Islam, standing against bigotry, hatred, and the demonization of Muslims or the negative stereo-typing of Muslim people. In the same vein, we should distance ourselves from absurd protests against Islam such as Qur'an burning. The challenge of Islam to the Church calls for a balanced, informed, reasoned, prayerful response—and our total submission to God. 

Speaking the truth in love is a biblical approach to showing authentic Christ-like love to Muslims. In doing so, we don't have to gloss over our fundamental differences—but we don't have to lead with them in an adversarial way either. In talking with our Muslim neighbors, we can pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal the authentic Son of God to them, through our truthful, loving, respectful witness, remembering that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict the heart, not ours to finesse or tweak the gospel message to make it
 culturally sensitive or more appealing



[2] The Hadith  is a collective body of traditions recording the sayings or actions of Muhammad, together with the tradition of its chain of transmission, which is used as a basis of Islamic law
[3] In Islamic tradition, pigs are associated with Christians.


A. Maeve McDonald said...

In response to claims on social media that Jihad is non-violent, here is some more information:

There are many interpretations of Jihad. Jihad is the struggle in the cause of God. But in keeping with Islamic tradition, it has to be viewed in the context of the Sunnah--Muhammad's life example. You also need to look at the progression of Jihad, as modeled by Muhammad, in light of abrogation (later verses nullifying previous verses). Muhammad's later warlord years, and the charges to violent jihad, supersede the peaceable ones from earlier in his life. My point in the article is that per Islamic tradition and theology, jihad is violent. True Islam is violent. Whether or not there are liberal Muslims out there who don't see Jihad as violent is a different thing altogether. Muhammad preached and modeled violent Jihad.

Here are some corroborating verses from the Quran:

Surah 4:65 A man came to the Prophet and asked, "A man fights for war booty; another fights for fame and a third fights for showing off. Which of them fights in Allah's cause?" The prophet said, "He who fights that Allah's Word (i.e. Islam) should be superior, fights in Allah's cause."

Surah 4:73 Muhammad said, "Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords."

Surah 4:220 Muhammad said, "... I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy) ..."

This is a great resource on what Islam says about Jihad:

Let's stop commenting on what we all think Jihad is and go to the original source; looking at what the Quran teaches (reading it as is customary per Islamic tradition using the law of abrogation).

Glennardo said...

Thanks for your good words. My knowledge is quite limited in this domain. I agree with your comments about the working of the Holy Spirit. A starting place for dialog may be attention paid to the "mystical" dimensions of the different faith traditions. For several years Rumi, a Sufi poet, was a best-seller in America (in translation). It may be that mystical traditions of various faiths are closer together than are other dimensions of organized religion. That may be a good starting place for respectful I-Thou dialog (Buber). I'm not actually a student of history, but there was a time when Muslims, Jews, and Christians all lived peacefully together in Spain. Christians are certainly not free from the sin of violence toward others. Lastly, when Jesus asked his disciple who he really was, there were various perspectives in response.

A. Maeve McDonald said...

Glennardo -- your comment about the compatibility of the "mystical" elements in the various faith traditions is (as you may know) the crux of the interfaith movement, which seeks to unify apparently opposing belief systems through these "shared" elements. I addressed this in an earlier post.
It is an idea that neglects the existence of absolute truth in biblical terms. it is pluralism and relativism, which ends up distorting the essence of these religions for the purpose of syncretism, and quickly creates a form of spiritualism that bares hardly any resemblance to Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc., at all. it is a popular approach today, but one that I find to be innately flawed.

Glennardo said...

How do different people get into the same room to listen to each other respectfully? The purpose is for dialog, not syncretism. One lesson I learned as a social worker is that you start where the person (client) actually is, not with your own agenda. In the city I live in, there are two major Christian seminaries that communicate very little with each other. Why? In one of the seminaries, Calvinists seem elitist and exclusive to those who don't share similar views. Why? Science speaks of paradigms that can be, at certain stages, almost closed systems that undermine open communication. I mentioned Rumi, the Sufi poet, selling well in America. I would want to know why that was the case. What was his poetry speaking to? I should think an apologist would be interested in this phenomenon. It's not that I agree with Eckhart Tolle's repackaged efforts, for example, but why does this seem to speak to so many people? I am not for a facile syncretism; I am for open dialog: deep listening as well as deep sharing.