(Photo Credit Spero News)
By Andrew E. Harrod
Any student of the world’s largest monotheistic religions must read the Bible, the Koran, and Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam by Robert Spencer. Spencer’s comprehensive understanding of his Christian faith and Islam along with lucidly insightful writing give lie to his international notoriety as a bigoted “Islamophobe,” most recently manifested in his denial of entry into the United Kingdom. Not Peace but a Sword masterfully validates the title-giving verse in Matthew 10:34 with Jesus’ indication that His message will bring not a politically correct, multicultural theological universalism, but division.
“It is a peculiar, albeit common, misconception of our age,” Spencer initially observes, “to think that dispensing with the truth can be an act of charity.” Indeed, “one of the oddities of contemporary ‘interfaith dialogue’ is that all too often, out of overzealous irenicism, it glosses over, or ignores altogether, the disagreements between religious traditions.” This “may make for a pleasant afternoon coffee, but as a basis for lasting cooperation or partnership it is fraught with hazards.”
Modern political struggles sometimes encourage such outlooks among Spencer’s fellow Catholics (and other Christians, it should be added to his focus on Catholicism). These American and European Catholics call for “common cause on life issues, and other areas of apparently shared moral concern, with Muslims” in what the leading Catholic thinker and Spencer debate partner Peter Kreeft calls an “ecumenical jihad.” “After all,” Spencer writes, “both Catholics and Muslims face the same radical secularist foe; it’s time, or so the contention goes, for a common front of believers to defend the theistic worldview against ever more intrusive, arrogant, and assertive unbelievers.” Yet Spencer dashes such hopes, writing that the “impulse to wage a new war of all religions united against secularism is coming largely from Christians, without significant interest from” Muslims. Rather, an “escalating global Islamic jihad against Christians” gives “much more evidence of Muslim hatred and contempt for Christians” than “Muslim interest in a common front.”
Study of Muslim teachings about Christians shows why. Spencer quotes the Qur’an’s first chapter or sura (1:6-7), the Fatihah: “Guide us in the straight path, the path of those whom Thou has blest, not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray.” Islam’s “most mainstream and widely understood understanding” of this “most frequently repeated prayer in Islamic tradition and day-to-day piety” views Islam as the “straight path,” the Jews as “those against whom Thou art wrathful,” and Christians as “those who are astray.”
While the Qur’an has an “attitude towards Jews that would bring a blush to the cheeks of the most hardened anti-Semite,” Islam treats Christianity as a “deliberately twisted version of the original message of their prophet Jesus.” Thus Muslims view Christians “as at best ignorant, at worst deliberately rebellious” in accord with the Qur’an’s (98:6) condemnation of nonbelievers as the “vilest of creatures.” Muslims should not even be friendly with non-Muslim family members (Qur’an 9:23–24) or even pray for them (9:113). While “individual Muslims may accord Christians…respect…it is respect that springs from their common humanity, not from the teachings of Islam.”
In fact, the “extreme religious chauvinism of Muslims makes genuine dialogue as equals essentially impossible.” Rather, “virtually all attempts at Muslim outreach to Christian are actually thinly veiled invitations to accept Islam.” The international 2007 Common Word dialogue proposed by Muslim leaders to Christians, for example, entails in its invocation of Qur’an 3:64 that Christians deny their understanding of a triune God and “essentially become Muslims.”
Islam’s scripture, the Qur’an, differs significantly from the Bible, even though both “appear, superficially, to breathe the same religious atmosphere” and the “similarities between the Bible and the Qur’an are a staple of the presentations of Muslim apologists.” The Qur’an, for example, mentions Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God, but never actually cites them. Nor “does the Qur’an tell the story of our first parents” Adam and Eve “whole and entire, from beginning to end; instead it is interspersed throughout the Muslim holy book.”
Beyond 3:64, the “Qur’an, several times, explicitly denies the Trinity, although it never actually states the Christian doctrine accurately.” Rather, Muslim conceptions of the Trinity “seem to stem from assumptions that Christians believe that God had taken Mary as his wife and begotten a son, Jesus, after the manner of the old pagan gods.” This is part of the Qur’an’s “Jesus Smorgasbord” of beliefs conforming to and deviating from Christian doctrine. While the Qur’an recounts a virgin birth for Jesus, this “miracle is given no greater significance in Islamic tradition than any of the other signs of the divine power.” Curiously, the Qur’an recounts miracles in Jesus’ life but not Muhammad’s, something “left unexplained in Islamic tradition” and betraying “undigested bits of Christianity.”
Critically and profoundly distinct are the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God, even as Arab Christians and Muslims both use Allah for God, with the exception of Egypt’s Copts who use Raab (Lord), “[p]ossibly due to centuries of Muslim harassment and persecution.” Islam’s man, for instance, does not bear the image of God and is “in essence merely Allah’s slave.” Accordingly, Islam’s “God is not a father to human beings. To a pious Muslim, a prayer like the Our Father is utterly alien.”
As an “absolute monarch,” Islam’s God is “not fettered by consistency or by anything else” such as “being always good and true.” Indeed, “in Islam, God is the source of evil” and places both good and evil in human beings, some of whom are divinely predestined for damnation. Therefore “not only is Allah not a father, he is a slave master, and one so cruel he creates beings for hell.” As a result, Christianity’s God “is almost diametrically opposed to the lone, capricious Allah of Islam. The God of Islam is not love, the God of Islam is will: absolute, untrammeled, unlimited will.”
Islamic belief in a chaotic Creation reflecting an arbitrary Allah’s “absolute and unfettered sovereignty” has, additionally, “doomed the Islamic world to over a millennium of intellectual stagnation and anti-intellectualism.” Islam’s “recurring idea” is that everything outside of the faith “is either superfluous or heretical.” Paradigmatic hereby is the Incoherence of the Philosophers by the Muslim theologian Al-Ghazali (1058-1111). Among other things, this outlook “made sure that scientific exploration in the Islamic world would be stillborn.” Islam, meanwhile, “lacks a rational theology: The divine fiat is all.”
Allah’s arbitrariness also has deeply disturbing implications for morality. Unlike Adam and Eve in the Bible who obtain knowledge of good and evil in their fall from grace in Eden, the Qur’an’s Adam and Eve obtain no such knowledge when they sin there. Accordingly, man “must obey Allah’s commands purely as a matter of fiat.” “Islam’s only functional moral absolute” is that “any moral law can be set aside for the good of Muslims.”
Among other things, “Islamic law expressly forbids” the giving of zakat alms to non-Muslims as charity. Some Catholics and other Christians, meanwhile, might look to Muslims as allies in upholding sexual morality with respect to issues like marriage and abortion, although “Islamic law…contrary to widespread belief, does not forbid abortion in every case.” Yet Spencer notes that immoral practices in Islam such as child marriage, polygamy, temporary marriage, and sexual enslavement of nonbelievers make Catholic-Muslim moral sexual “similarities…void of meaning.” In light of Islam’s moral system it is little wonder then that there “has arisen no Muslim Mother Teresa, no Muslim St. Francis Assisi, no Muslim who has ever won renown for his charity or humility.”
Even as Islam recognizes no objective morality, Qur’an 3:110 ironically proclaims Muslims the “best of people,” although “they fall short now and again,” as Spencer describes. Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden according to the Qur’an, moreover, is a singular event establishing no corrupt human nature. Thus “alien to Islam is the idea that it is impossible to establish the Kingdom of God on earth” in what Spencer describes as a coercive “empire of fear” containing, for example, a death penalty for apostasy justified by Qur’an 4:88–89. Qur’an 2:256, oft-quoted for its “no compulsion in religion” phrasing, Spencer dismisses as having “so many caveats” in Islam as to be “effectively meaningless.” “Muslims who believe in a peaceful, pluralistic society cannot,” Spencer concludes, cannot draw upon the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad.
Complementing an authoritarian domestic order is Islamic religious aggression. Spencer discusses several Qur’an verses advocating the use of military force in the name of faith, including the noted Verse of the Sword (9:5). Even isolated references in the Qur’an opposing aggression such as 2:190, often cited for the claim that Islam supports only defensive warfare, can be deceptive, for “[s]ome schools of Islamic jurisprudence…teach that non-belief in Islam is itself an act of aggression.” Qur’an 2:193, moreover, calls for fighting until all religion is “for Allah,” that is to say, Islam. Thus Spencer concluded in a November 4, 2010, debate with Kreeft reprinted in the book that “to encourage Islamic piety is only to encourage, ultimately, the cutting of our own throat.”
In the end, soothing, often popular conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam sharing roots in a common patriarch Abraham leave Spencer cold. “Although it is clear that Islam emerges from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition,” Spencer determines, “it so radically recasts that tradition as to render the value of any common-ground appeals dubious at best.” Although Spencer does not reject dialogue and cooperation with Muslims, he tells his fellow Catholics in particular that “we must do so with our eyes open.”
In such interaction Spencer indicates that devout seekers of God among Muslims can develop a closer relationship with Christianity despite Islam’s canonical condemnations and contrasts. The Qur’an’s “undigested bits of Christianity” previously cited, for example, “remain as hints of a greater truth that over the centuries have led many a Muslim to discover a far greater truth than Islam encompasses.” Even without actual Christian conversion, invocation of a previously noted “common humanity” with its common moral graces should prompt Muslims to consider God’s true nature and man’s resulting duty to universal human dignity. Why, for instance, particularly if Muslims claim an interest in interfaith harmony, should the charity of zakat alms only encompass Muslims?
Christians cannot hope for a false theological peace with Islam, but rather must follow Apostle Paul’s invocation in Ephesians 6 to “[p]ut on the full armor of God” for a “struggle…not against flesh and blood.” As Spencer has so skillfully done, they must wield Jesus’ “sword of the Spirit,” cited by Spencer, “which is the word of God,” along with other words. As was the case with Jesus, such conversation expressed in love is the only true guide to human cooperation in general and Christian conversion in particular.