Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Islam: more than a religion

It's hard to find discussions of Islam free from the extremes of either naiveté or paranoia. That's why I appreciated this special issue of Modern Reformation devoted to tackling the topic from a distinctly Reformed viewpoint. Especially good is the article by Michael Horton: "Loving Muslim Neighbors".

Horton recounts his family's positive experience living next door to a Muslim family in their middle-class California neighborhood. This is an experience that will become more and more common in the United States, and should be looked upon as an opportunity not a threat. How should Christians view our Muslim neighbors? Horton's answer is just that -- as neighbors -- as defined by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which means looking for ways to serve them and share the gospel of Christ Jesus in word and deed.

However, loving and serving our Muslim neighbors shouldn't mean we naively accept Islam as "just another religion" seeking a place at the table of religious and political pluralism. In truth at the heart of Islam is a totalizing agenda which aims to bring religion and state, cult and cultus, together. It's an agenda of conquest. Some times this agenda is pursued by peaceful means, other times not. While admitting that there are plenty of Muslims who embrace "democratic values" Horton argues this is inconsistent with the coercive intent of their religion.

[. . .] Islam does not proclaim to the world good news that is freely embraced by faith apart from political coercion. Islam makes no distinction between mosque and state. In fact, the nation that matters ultimately is Islam—the ummah or community of Muslims around the world. This is not only an international kingdom of those who are joined spiritually to each other in a common faith, but also a political state. Islam is a totally encompassing geopolitical, social, legal, and cultural system. Whatever divergences may be allowed by specific rulers, Islam itself does not recognize, much less tolerate, any idea of a state that permits the free exercise of religion. Believing that all people are by nature Muslim, Islam divides the world sharply not into believers and unbelievers, Muslims and non-Muslims, but rather into believers and apostates ("infidels"). The latter are called Dhimmis—literally, "one whose responsibility has been taken." If they are allowed to live within the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam), it is only as apostates who may not practice their faith (at least openly), much less seek to convert others to it. The non-Muslim world is Dar al-Harb ("House of War").

This may sound a lot like periods of history in which the sword of the state was wrongheadedly wielded in service of the gospel. Horton admits that "our hands are stained with the blood of Christendom." Indeed, some will point to events such as the Crusades as evidence that Christianity is no different from Islam in this regard, but when Christians have tried to coerce people into the Kingdom of God they've done so in gross misunderstanding of our Lord's example and teaching, as well as the teaching of the Apostles. When Muslims try to "impose sharia, declare holy war, and extend the universal caliphate of Allah to the ends of the earth as a political empire" they are merely following what their sacred texts require them to do. That distinction bears keeping in mind as we endeavor to love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves.

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