The horrific attack on the staff of Paris’s Charlie Hedbo has renewed questions about Muslims and the besetting problem of Islamic jihadism and violence. Is Islam inherently violent, and is Islam itself to blame for such crimes?
As delicious as anger and venom can be at times like this (and we certainly hope for justice to be done to all the murderers and their accomplices), we need to be careful – Christians need to be careful – about the way we talk about Muslims and Islam. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it respects the work of missionaries and other Christians who daily interact with Muslims, most of whom are not violent, and some of whom are open to the Christian gospel. Even as certain Muslims from France to Pakistan and Nigeria commit atrocities, there are signs of large numbers of Muslim conversions to Christianity around the world, too. Christians should not do anything to feed into the terrorists’ preferred narrative, which is that there is an intractable war between all Christians and all Muslims.
As I noted in an earlier Patheos post, and as I suggested in my book American Christians and Islam, Christians have to strike a balance with regard to Islam. In the modern world, Islam does have a unique problem with large numbers of its (at least nominal) adherents believing that violence is a legitimate expression of religious devotion. Shocking numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and Central Asia sympathize with the work of terrorists. Of course, Christianity has plenty of past and present exemplars of people committing violence in the name of Christ, too, but most Christians are quick to disavow groups like the Ku Klux Klan and say that they can’t possibly be real Christians, or can’t be acting as Christians. Many Muslims disavow the jihadists, too, but the Muslim world does not seem to be as unequivocal in doing so. In the aftermath of Charlie Hedbo, USA Today gave a platform to jihadist cleric Anjem Choudary, who defended the attacks, and who argued that “Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.”
But when asking ourselves “are Muslims violent?” we must to give some texture to the answer. Which of the world’s 1.4 billion or so Muslims are we talking about? Secular Muslims in Los Angeles, who fled the Islamic Revolution in droves and whose families came to America in the 1970s and ’80s? The Uighurs of western China, who suffer under terrible persecution from the officially atheist Chinese government? I could go on, but with more than a billion Muslims around the world, making blanket conclusions about who they are, and what they do, is difficult.
Yes, far too many Muslims commit violence in the name of their religion, and many more express sympathy for terrorism. But if Islam was inherently violent, wouldn’t we expect the world to be swept up in daily bombings and murders committed by all Muslims everywhere? That really would fulfill the terrorists’ fantasies of a global conflagration of violence. If Islam requires violence, then there’s not nearly enough Muslims among those billions of adherents who are obeying the jihadist mandate. The typical Muslim is not committing violence in Islam’s name. And let’s remember – if most Muslims are not committing acts of terror, that is a good thing. We should not wish it to be otherwise.
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