Replying to a Critic of Islam (Part Two)

Replying to a Critic of Islam (Part Two) January 16, 2019


Palestinian church
A Christian church in the Palestinian town of Beit Jallah  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


I continue with my quick response to a reader of my blog who was not at all pleased with my assertion that, although we have different views about him, Muslims and Christians (including Latter-day Saints) — and, for that matter, Jews — worship the same God.


He points to what he sees as a fundamental moral difference between us as proof that we worship distinct divine beings.


“The Israeli Jews,” he says, “are constantly battling for their very existence against the MUSLIM Palestinians and the MUSLIM Iranians, among others.”


The words among others are important and should not be passed over lightly.  Why?  Because the Arab/Israeli conflict has never been principally about religion and, even now, despite the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Republic of Iran, is arguably not primarily about religion.  It’s certainly not solely about Islam.


Some examples to illustrate my point:  George Habash (1926-2008), the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, wasn’t a Muslim.  He was a Palestinian Christian.  So is Ghazi Hanania, who is a member of Fatah and of the Palestinian Legislative Council.  So is Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, activist, scholar, and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Palestinian National Council, whom some at least will recall as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.


A sizeable percentage of the Palestinian Arab Community, both in Palestine itself and scattered in its diaspora, is Christian, not Muslim, and it’s not at all obvious to me that their attitudes toward Israel are significantly different than those of their Muslim compatriots.


Speaking of the Israelis, my blog commenter declares that “The violence that they commit against their foes is in self defense, not a result of religious bias against Muslims because they medically treat their wounded enemies as well as their own wounded.”


Now, I am by no means an enemy of Israel — although I’m also not an uncritical supporter — and I recognize many good things in Israel, Israeli culture, and Israeli society.  But I object very much to the notion that the Arab/Israeli conflict is a battle between (good) Judaism and (evil) Islam.  Instead, it has its roots in a classic clash of rival nationalisms contending over the same geographical territory.  As I’ve observed, a not insignificant element in the Palestinian population is Christian.  Moreover, a very substantial proportion of Israeli society is quite secular.


“The big difference between Jews and Muslims as I see it,” says my correspondent, “is their fruit. Jews don’t threaten the existence of Muslims, but many if not most Muslims clearly want Israeli Jews driven into the Mediterranean.”


Again, though, it’s not at all obvious that the principal factor in this conflict is religious.  On either side.


But now my interlocutor moves on to what he calls “ISIS and Al Qaeda types.”  “They think they are doing Allah a favor,” he says, “when they kill ‘infidels’ just for being ‘infidels.'”


Sadly, this is true.  But are ISIS and al-Qa‘ida representative of Muslims worldwide?


No.  They’re not:


“Why are there so few Muslim terrorists?”


Still, speaking of Muslims, my correspondent asks, “If they don’t [worship Satan], why is there so much murder, violence, mayhem, poverty, and dissatisfaction in Muslim nations?”


Well, as the link above suggests, there isn’t all that much murder and violence in Muslim states.  Is there poverty?  Yes.  But there’s also poverty in non-Muslim states like Paraguay, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Brazil.  Do we really want to say that these peoples are all poor because they’re Satan worshipers?  Really?


Moreover, is it actually true that Islamist violence is primarily driven by religion or religious zeal?


Not obviously so, no:


“Is Islam a primary cause of international violence?”


“Is suicide bombing in the Middle East really motivated by religion?”


Here’s an interesting point that my correspondent makes:  “I don’t have to remind you that the only perfect person borne [sic] to this earth was a Jew.”


However, I’m not exactly sure what conclusion I’m intended to draw from this statement.  I think it may have been intended to demonstrate that, as a general class, Jews are morally superior to Arabs and Muslims.  But does it show anything remotely like that?  Does it prove that, say, the Dutch and the Chinese and the Bolivians fare better, when compared to Jesus?  Not that I can see.  Does it show that Jews, as a general class, are closer to Jesus on the perfection scale than others?    Honestly, I can’t see that, either.  Are Judas, Caiphas, and Annas particularly exemplary or admirable, morally speaking?  All of humanity, as I understand Christian doctrine, are imperfect.  All of us.


“Jews,” observes my correspondent, “have won Nobel prizes in many academic areas in numbers far out of proportion to their representation in the world population.”


This is absolutely true, and quite remarkable.  But how it proves Islam evil or demonstrates that Christians and Muslims worship different Gods eludes me.


He also attempts to use Latter-day Saint history to judge modern-day policy questions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, declaring that “Orson Hyde’s prayer on the Mount of Olives in 1841 could hardly be said to comport with what is known as a ‘two-state solution’.”


For the life of me, though, I can’t see that his prayer has much to say on the question one way or the other.


For the background of the prayer, see this Ensign article by David B. Galbraith (Ph.D., Hebrew University of Jerusalem) who was, for many years, the leader of BYU’s study programs in Jerusalem and the leader of the Church there:


“Orson Hyde’s 1841 Mission to the Holy Land”


This passage in Professor Galbraith’s article — he eventually joined the Department of Political Science at Brigham Young University — is of special note here:


“Some of our Arab/Palestinian friends express concern about Elder Hyde’s prayer because they feel anything that favors the Jews must oppose them. On the other hand, some of our Jewish friends have a tendency to interpret the prayer as conferring political support for their cause. Even members of the Church are sometimes confused as to how the prayer is to be understood.

“The scriptures and the modern prophets clearly teach that all father Abraham’s children have a place in the Lord’s plan, and our Arab/Palestinian friends are a part of this group. Latter-day Saints need to be more sensitive to the hurt, disappointment, and even anger created among our Arab/Palestinian friends when we blindly attribute divine approbation to all that takes place in that part of the world we call the Holy Land.”


Finally, my reader announces, “Islam destroys agency. Mormonism reveres it.”


I certainly agree that the Gospel as taught in the Restoration puts a high premium on human agency.  But it’s a vast oversimplification to summarize all of Islamic history for the past millennium and a half, from Andalusia to Indonesia, from Nigeria and Ghana to Malaysia, and from Kenya to Turkmenistan, as characterized by the destruction of agency.  And is the contrast of the Islamic world on this matter really so stark with Christendom under, say, the Hapsburgs, the Medicis, the Borgias, the Spanish Inquisition, the Albigensian Crusade, the Spanish conquest of the New World, and the like?  Of course, maybe all those folks were Satan worshipers, too.



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