Someone recently brought to my attention that a religious organization called the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (ostensibly a Christian organization) has published and is heavily promoting a small group study titled, "My Neighbor is Muslim." The study guide purports to help Lutherans understand their Muslim neighbors so as to build bridges with them, clear any misunderstanding of Islam, and promote harmony. It is worth noting that the Minneapolis – St Paul metropolitan area is home to one of the largest Somali refugee populations.
A few years ago a friend put me in touch with a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and suggested I share with him my training on Islam. I never received a response, even after multiple inquiries. Now it appears I may have the answer to the silence I encountered. The information contained within this document is no different than what one would expect to receive from experienced Islamic da’i – a Muslim experienced in Islamic da’wah, or inviting one to Islam. The guide is a form of Islamic propaganda, packaged as a help for Christians to reach Muslims, but it does not represent Islam accurately, by and large.
This article is to correct errors and misrepresentations contained within the study guide. There are several. Perhaps this is due to the lack of knowledge of Islam by the authors. From what I can discern, none of them have any expertise in the subject, yet they are ostensibly educating the Lutheran Church on Islam. Some take aways from the authors:
Todd Green: Ph.D. from Vanderbuilt, but does not say in which discipline he obtained his doctorate. Lectures on Islamophobia and teaches broadly on European and US religious history. His lectures on Islamophobia draw primarily on interviews with such notable figures as Tariq Ramadan (descendant of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna), Ingrid Mattson (former head of the Islamic Society of North America, a Muslim Brotherhood front group identified by the FBI), Dalia Mogahed (Obama’s head of Muslim Relations and associate with both the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society, both Muslim Brotherhood front groups), and Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim senator and advocate of sharia when the time is right. His bibliography also includes works by Karen Armstrong, fawning worshipper of Muhammad who paints the man in charming terms and sees him through rose colored glasses, and John Esposito, bought and paid for chair of the Islamic studies program at Georgetown University. His Islamic studies department was founded by a $20 million grant from Saudi Arabia. Thus, in addition to Green not having done formal research on Islam through independent studies, his information can hardly be considered to be unbiased due to these sources who inform his view.
Dirk Lange: A professor of worship. Writing and educating Lutherans about Islam. Need I say more.
Matthew Skinner: Professor of New Testament. Focuses on the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Writing and educating Lutherans on Islam.
Karoline Lewis: Marbury E Anderson chair in Biblical Preaching. Writing on Islam.
Rolf Jacobson: Professor of Old Testament and The Alvin N. Rogness Chair in Scripture, Theology and Ministry. Writing and educating Lutherans on Islam.
Eric Barreto: Associate Professor of New Testament, writing and educating Lutherans on Islam.
Yusuf Abdi: Director of Refugee Services. A B.S. degree in Management with a minor in computer science. Donates his time to civic organizations to help them understand the basic tenets of Islam and Somali culture.
Adam Copeland: Director, Center for Stewardship Leaders. Former Presbyterian Pastor. Pursuing Ph.D. in rhetoric. Interests include stewardship, crowdfunding, new media and religion, church leadership, and digital culture. Writing and educating Lutherans on Islam.
Among all the contributors I cannot discern one who has devoted the time to read the original source material on Islam and studied the topic independently. It appears their knowledge of Islam is limited to what they have been told by Muslim scholars or apologists themselves, and this is of serious concern, the influence of which can be seen in the information contained within the document.
The first thing I noticed is throughout the document Muhammad is addressed as “Prophet Muhammad.” One may get the impression the Lutheran organization promoting this document actually believes Muhammad was a legitimate prophet. Nothing could be further from the truth. Muhammad not only fails the test as a prophet of God, he even fails the basic criteria for a prophet that Muslims believe qualifies one for prophet-hood. Moreover, when he presented himself to the Jewish tribal leaders and scholars in Medina, they quickly put Muhammad to the test. These Jewish scholars know their Tanakh, they new the traits of a legitimate prophet, they quickly put to Muhammad to the test, and when he could not measure up they quickly rejected his as a fraud. Muhammad is not a prophet and should not be addressed as one.
The document has a small section where certain terms are defined for those unfamiliar with Islam. I found two troubling definitions with errors.
‘Prophet Muhammad’ – The document says he received his first revelation at 40 years old and preached Islam for 23 years under persecution until his death. This is only partially accurate. He did receive his first revelation at age 40. He did preach Islam for 23 years until his death at age 63. But these were not all under persecution. He was persecuted for the first 13 years in Mecca, where he preached an unfavorable message to a polytheistic society. When he fled Mecca to Medina after increased persecution, his circumstances changed dramatically. He was not persecuted, but rather became the persecutor. His ten years in Medina are known as al-Maghazi, or the years of warfare, for a reason. Muhammad personally participated in 29 campaigns of violence to spread Islam and he oversaw 57 others, for an average of nine episodes of warfare and persecution per year. To intentionally fail to mention this period of Muhammad’s career is misleading and factually incorrect. One has to wonder why the authors chose to overlook this and leave it out of the material.
‘Jihad’ – The word is defined as “The challenge to achieve piety, submission, and obedience to Allah.” This is factually incorrect, but is completely in line with the definition Muslim apologists and scholars like to suggest and are pushing diligently to get Westerners to accept. In reality, the word simply means ‘struggle’ but the way it has been understood and applied throughout Islamic history is the struggle to expand Islam, primarily through warfare and conflict. First, the Encyclopedia of Islam defines jihad: “In law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, its defense.” Second, a manual of sharia from the Shafi’i legal school says of jihad as the “means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.” Third, in the hadith collection of al-Bukhari, the primary collection of traditions of Muhammad for Sunni Islam, the book of jihad has Muhammad mentioning the term dozens of times and every instance is done in the context of warfare and not in the context of achieving piety. Finally, the connection of jihad with achieving piety comes from a single hadith which is rejected by Muslims as unreliable and unsound. Indeed, David Cook of Rice University in his book “Understanding Jihad” says, “Few Muslim scholars or even apologists writing in non-European languages have ever made the exaggerated claims [re: spiritual struggle]…those who write in Arabic or other Muslim languages realize that it is pointless to present Jihad as anything other than militant warfare.”
THE QURAN AND JESUS
Todd Green does a fair job in this section in describing the Islamic view of Jesus, including the fact that the Quran denies Jesus was crucified. But he makes a troubling statement near the end.
“The reverence and respect Muslims have for Jesus is considerable. If Christians can develop an appreciation for the prominent role that Jesus has in Islam, they may discover Jesus is more of an opportunity than an obstacle for developing interfaith relationships…”
The problem is that the death of Jesus on the cross and His subsequent resurrection is the fundamental basis of Christianity, and one Islam and the Quran denies explicitly. It is inconceivable how this insurmountable obstacle can be, in any sense, an opportunity for relationships.
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 says:
1Cor. 15:12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preachingis empty and your faithis also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For ifthe dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faithis futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
It seems Todd Green wants Christians to set aside the one event in history that defines Christianity and instead focus on other “common” notions concerning Jesus, for the sake of interfaith harmony. I cannot endorse this, and neither should any Christian. To do so is to deny the most essential element of Christianity.
QURAN: JEWS AND CHRISTIANS
This section is the most troubling of the document and requires much correction.
Once again, Todd Green goes awry. He writes, “Many Jews and Christians would be surprised to discover that the Qur’an has plenty of positive things to say about them.” While true, the Quran also has many negative things to say about both Jews and Christians. Sura 5:51 comes to mind: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliyâ' (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliyâ' to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliyâ', then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allâh guides not those people who are the Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrongdoers and unjust). In other words, if a Muslim takes a Jew or a Christian as a friend or protector, that Muslim is, in Allah’s eyes, an unjust or wrong-doer, worthy of Allah’s punishment.
Green then makes a very troubling statement. “The Qur’an readily acknowledges that the God worshipped by Muslims is the same God that disclosed God’s self to Jews and Christians and provided them with scriptures.” It is unclear if Green actually believes Muslims and Christians worship the same God or if he is just telling us what the Quran seems to say. But in using the phrase “readily acknowledges,” one would get the impression he agrees with the statement. And Green cannot be any more wrong. I tackle this topic in this article.
Further on Green makes the following claim:
“An examination of the beliefs found in the Qur’an points to considerable common ground between the three traditions. All three express belief in the oneness of God. All three believe God established a special covenant with a particular community. All three uphold the importance of prayer, living according to God’s will, and providing for the poor and those in need.”
Some may think I’m being nitpicky here, but clarification is needed. Yes, all three express belief in the oneness of God, but Muslims do not share this as common ground. They consider Christians as polytheists and do not accept the tri-unity of the Christian God. Further, Christians do not believe God established a covenant with Muslims, though Muslims believe that for themselves. And the importance of prayer, living according to God’s will, and providing for the poor are all practiced in significantly different ways, not common at all to one another. Living within God’s will means something altogether different between Muslims and Christians, as does the significance of prayer. And in Islam, providing for the poor means taking care of other Muslims; charity does not extend beyond the Muslim ummah as it does for Christianity. These are hardly areas of common ground.
The rest of this section does not get any better. Green makes the claim that the general policy in Islamic empires in premodern history was not to force Jews and Christians to convert. He cites Sura 2:256 in the Quran as a proof text of this idea. But this is patently false.
First, during the 10 years in Medina, Muhammad personally engaged in multiple conflicts, most of which were to persuade other tribes to accept his new religion of Islam or fight to the death. The biographer Ibn Ishaq (d. AD765) records many of these skirmishes in the Sirat Rasul Allah, translated into English under the title “The Life of Muhammad.” As one example, Muhammad sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius inviting him to embrace Islam, with the condition that if Heraclius became Muslim, his life and property would be spared. What does that imply had Heraclius declined the invitation? When Muhammad returned to Mecca in 630 to conquer it, he told the leaders of Mecca the same: accept Islam and your life will be spared. Muhammad made the same threat numerous times and carried through with his promise when the invitation was declined. This is documented history.
Second, the proof text Green uses, Sura 2:256, was “revealed” to Muhammad earlier in his ‘ministry’ and was later abrogated (see Sura 2:106 and 16:101) by other verses such as Sura 9:29 which instructs Muslims to fight everyone who does not believe in Allah until they submit. It was then, and is still today, the maxim that one either accepts Islam when invited or face the sword (and its modern equivalents) and fight to the death.
Jews and Christians had a third option: to pay a protection tax known as ‘jizya’ whereby their lives would be spared. Such people were known as ‘dhimmis.’ Green writes, “Dhimmis were given the freedom to practice their religion and to receive protection from Muslim rulers as long as they paid a special tax known as the jizya.” What he writes is true for the most part, but more importantly is what is not said. Green makes it sound as if Jews and Christians had absolute freedom to live as they wanted so long as they paid the tax. This is patently false.
Three scholars have written extensively on the subject of dhimmitude, the life of living as a dhimmi, a second class citizen offered only to a Jew or Christian, under an Islamic rule. If Professor Green had only availed himself of these, he would not have made such a blunder. Bat Ye’or has several books out on the subject, including Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide and, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam. Dr. Mark Durie wrote a seminal work on dhimmitude titled, The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude, and Freedom. I highly recommend Durie’s work. Bat Ye’or wrote the foreword for it. And Dr. Dario Fernandez-Morera just released his book, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. He has sections on the dhimmitude of both Jews and Christians in Andalusia, or Islamic Spain.
To help the reader understand the myopia with which Professor Green operates, here are a few select quotes from the works cited.
Non-Muslims had rights to their property and lives only if they had supported and honored Islam and Muslims. Anything else was fitna, and a pretext for fighting. Durie, p. 111.
Summon the people to God; those who respond unto your call, accept it [i.e. their conversion] from them, but those who refuse must pay the poll tax [jizya] out of humiliation and lowliness [i.e. they must surrender]. If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Al-Tabari, quoted by Durie, p. 120
The jizya is money paid by a defeated foe, which compensates or rewards an attacker for forgoing the right to take the defeated person’s life and to resume rightful possession (according to Ibn Taymiyya) of his God-given property. Durie, p. 127
For the dhimmi, the annual jizya payment was a powerful and public symbolic expression of the jihad-dhimmitude nexus, which fixed the horizon of the dhimmi’s world. Although the ritual varied in its specific features, its essential character was an enactment of a beheading, in which one of the recurrent features was a blow to the neck of the dhimmi, at the very point when he makes his payment. … The jizya payment was thus a ritualized decapitation, symbolizing the very penalty which the payment was designed to avoid. Durie, p. 131
Muslims celebrated their religion publicly, but Christians could not hold processions on the streets and must discreetly celebrate their religion within their churches and neighborhoods. In Umayyad Córdoba, Christians must not walk through Muslim cemeteries because their presence would pollute the Muslim tombs. Water, food, garments, and utensils touched by a Christian became polluted. As late as the fifteenth century in Christian-held territory, Muslim law told the mudéjares (Muslims under Christian domination): “water touched by an infidel, a wine-drinker, a cat, or a dog cannot be used for ablution; do not adopt ways of speaking, manners or customs of the Christians, nor their clothing, nor those of sinners.” New mosques could be freely built and old ones repaired, but Christians could rarely build new churches or even repair old ones, and never without the Muslims’ authorization. Mosques could stand proudly in Islamic cities, but Christian churches must not challenge the mosques by opening to main thoroughfares. Mosques and other Muslim buildings could be as high as architecturally feasible, but no Catholic church or other Christian buildings could tower above Muslim buildings. Mosques could not be converted into churches, but churches could be, and often were, converted into mosques. Muslims could have the muezzin loudly proclaim the call to prayer, but Christians could not ring their church bells. Muslims could proselytize, but Christians could not. Christians could be placed under Muslim law if they wished, but Muslims were forbidden to do the opposite. Christians could not display crosses on themselves. Christians could not display crosses on the outside or on top of their churches. Christians could not display figurative art on the outside walls of their churches. Christians could not wear Muslim-like clothes. Christians must wear distinctive signs. Christians must stand up in the presence of Muslims. Fernández-Morera, p. 212 .
In short, contrary to what is commonly believed, the institution of the dhimma in Islamic Spain did not generously grant religious autonomy to Christians. It actually limited their religious practices in numerous ways, and it left the subject Christians without any possibility of attaining political power. Eventually reduced to minority status, Christian dhimmis saw their numbers slowly decline as a result of conversions that promised an escape from Islamic law’s humbling limitations and special taxation and also as a result of Islamic laws that, for example, forced the children of a Muslim man and a Christian woman to be raised as Muslims, and allowed a Muslim man to have children with up to four wives and as many sexual slaves as he could keep. Fernández-Morera, p. 213.
The much-praised “tolerance” of al-Andalus was thus part of Islam’s imperialist system of separation from and subordination of Christians. Christians could practice their religion, but only on Islam’s terms. Islamic clerics and rulers remained effectively in control in matters of religion, and because religion informed everything, they remained effectively in control of everything. The system of “protection,” then, was in reality a system of exploitation and subjugation. All the onerous details of everyday practical differentiation and subordination followed from— and reinforced— general assumptions of Islam’s religious and therefore political hegemony. Fernández-Morera, p. 213.
Todd Green is misleading the church on the reality of Islam, is buying into the common lie advanced by pro-Islamic spokespersons uncritically, and has failed to do his own research into the matter as any good scholar is required to do. Green is dangerous, but sadly is peddling this garbage to the uninformed, who in turn eat it up uncritically because, after all, Todd Green has a Ph.D. after his name. He must be an expert, right?
And as a final coup de grâce Green ventures into an attempt at cultural relativism by suggesting Christianity has cause bloodshed just as Islamic jihad has done. He states, “The Crusades generated considerable bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.” Again, what is important is what is left unsaid. As all scholars worth their salt recognize, the Crusades, as gruesome as they were, were a defensive response to over four hundred years of prior Muslim aggression where Islamic armies captured for Islam territories which were formerly Christian. I won’t go further into the topic here. For those interested, here is a TV show for which I was an in-studio guest discussing the crusades.
ISLAM AND CHARITY
In this section Green describes zakat accurately as one of the five pillars of Islam which is incumbent on every practicing Muslim. But his comments are misleading in suggesting zakat donations are used to help the poor and needy. They are, but only MUSLIM poor and needy. Zakat does not extend to non-Muslims, and even Muslim nations themselves do not fulfill their obligation. Think about it. Whenever a natural disaster occurs, be it a tsunami in Indonesia or an a devastating earthquake in Iran or Afghanistan, who is the first, and sometimes only, agencies to respond? Christian organizations from predominately Christian nations, such as Samaritan’s Purse, the Salvation Army, or church related relief agencies. Rarely if ever do you see an Islamic charity responding, even to help Islamic nations during times of disaster.
In the follow up section to Zakat, Rolf Jacobson, professor of Old Testament (expert in Islam how???) notes, “Professor Green notes that there has been some controversy in the last fifteen years concerning the reality that some charitable zakat giving has ended up in the hands of extremists. The principle at stake here is important for Christians to think over, too. Throughout history, some Christian organizations have been poor stewards of charitable contributions. Money “given to God” has been at times misspent, or wasted, or simply used ineffectively.”
Once again, the authors failed to do their homework and have accepted verbatim criticisms leveled against Christians from Islamic apologists and their spokespersons. In doing so they have shown themselves to be mere puppets of the Islamic propaganda machine. It is academically dishonest to compare the few “Christian” charitable organizations which have misused donations with Islamic charities who have been found guilty of using zakat donations to fund Islamic terrorism. So far as I am aware, no Christian charity funds have been used to slaughter, maim, subjugate, and torture non-Christians around the world. But that is exactly what the FBI discovered in its investigation of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, an Islamic charity which was collecting zakat donations and funneling them for terrorist operations.
WHAT DOES ISLAM TEACH ABOUT VIOLENCE?
I have written a good deal on this topic so I will not respond to everything Green states in this section. I will refer the reader to my booklet on Jihad, in which I quote Islamic sources and scholars well studied on the subject. Suffice it to say in this section like the prior ones, Green displays an ignorance on the subject matter; either that or he is using only pro-Islamic sources for his information and has not studied the matter for himself.
He says the word ‘jihad’ is far more nuanced than what non-Muslim Westerners assume. Green also states one possible understanding of jihad involves a spiritual struggle, as Muhammad said he had returned from the lesser jihad (warfare) to the greater jihad (internal spiritual struggle against inner desires). Yet if one looks at authoritative sources, one sees the definition of jihad is well defined and has nothing to do with struggling to be a good person or overcoming evil desires.
The Encyclopedia of Islam says of jihad that “In law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, its defense.”
Jihad as a spiritual struggle lacks any support in the Islamic canonical literature. For example, in Bukhari, of the 72 times the word “Jihad” is used, it always speaks of fighting a war in the cause of Allah.
“Few Muslim scholars or even apologists writing in non-European languages have ever made the exaggerated claims (re: spiritual struggle)…those who write in Arabic or other Muslim languages realize that it is pointless to present Jihad as anything other than militant warfare” (David Cook, Rice University, Understanding Jihad, p. 43).
Jihad “means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.” Reliance of the Traveller, manual of Sharia endorsed by Al Azhar University.
A footnote in the English translation of Bukhari’s Hadith collection notes “Al-Jihad (Holy Fighting) in Allah’s cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry), is given the utmost importance in Islam, and is one of the pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, and His religion (Islam) is propagated.”
"In the East, though, Muslims often have a less docile view of Islam. They are taught that Islam is superior to all other religions and ways of life and that Allah wishes to see it established throughout the world. They often define jihad as a primarily physical endeavor, a struggle against the enemies of Islam. When asked about their religion, these Muslims will honestly report what they believe: Islam will dominate the world." Qureshi, Nabeel, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (p. 116).
In the response section by Eric Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament, he makes the following claim:
Violence perpetuated by people claiming the mantle of Christ helped fund the selling of slaves across the Atlantic, the expulsion of Native Americans from their lands, and the dehumanizing rejection of immigrants from various corners of the world. Jesus’ radical words remain unheeded by too many of us.
And so when we turn to our Muslim neighbors and think about what their faith and their histories have taught about violence, we can turn to them with the recognition that our own faith traditions are marked both by great hopes and tragic failures, by individuals and communities who risked all for peace and others that chose the path of dehumanizing violence.
Barreto here makes the same lame attempt at moral and ethical relevance attempted by Green earlier. He suggests that although it is true Islam has had it’s share of violence committed by those claiming the name of Allah, Christians likewise have their share of similar violence done in the name of Christ. I respond by quoting Paul Fregosi, author of Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries, “Muslims who kill are following the commands of Muhammad, but Christians who kill—and there are many—are ignoring the words of Christ. Therein perhaps lies one of the basic philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity.”
Bat Ye’or, mentioned earlier, also states in The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, Islamic “conquests took place within the framework of the common ideology of jihad and the administrative and juridical apparatus of the shari’a.” In other words, jihad is woven into and made a component part of Islamic law; in contrast, the Crusades of Christianity were outside the norms of Christian teaching.”
Both of these scholars who have studied the matter academically disagree with the author, who has no credentials suggesting he knows anything about that which he writes.
Todd Green and associates want to foster communication between Christian and Muslims. This is good and I agree; Christians must begin approaching Muslims without fear. But such communication must be grounded in truth and honesty. But truth and honesty are severely lacking in the document published by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota authored by Green and his friends. Ex-Muslim and Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi says we need to communicate with Muslims with love, but we also need to be truthful about Islam.
It seems the authors want to facilitate interfaith harmony and friendly relationships between Muslims and Christians. To this end, I will quote Mark Durie from his book mentioned earlier, “The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude, and Freedom.”
Today there can be considerable pressure upon non-Muslims not to study the primary sources of Islam for themselves, but to refer all their questions about Islam to a Muslim expert. Interfaith dialogue is an increasingly important forum for exploring Islam in Western countries, and these forums tend to follow principles of mutual respect, emphasizing listening attentively to the other party and accepting their interpretations of their own faith. While this is a common-sense approach to sustaining productive and mutually satisfying relationships between people, it does however tend to have the same impact as traditional sharia restrictions, inhibiting non-Muslims from studying about Islam for themselves.
If a Christian involved in interfaith dialogue wants to know what Islam teaches, they will often ask their Islamic counterpart without devoting the effort needed to check what they are told. This can lead to serious problems of misunderstanding. At the same time, if a Christian does make investigations, and comes to conclusions which do not reflect positively on Islam, it can be a simple matter for a Muslim to cast doubt on the Christians’ findings because of the inherent complexity of the Quran, and its relationship to the Sunna and the Islamic traditions of reflection on these texts. Strategies which I have heard used are to say that the non-Muslim has quoted material out of context, that a particular hadith which was relied on is ‘unsound’, or that most authorities reject the interpretation offered.
One very good reason why Christians should study Islam for themselves is that Islam defines its spiritual identity, not merely in terms of Muslims’ standing before Allah, but in opposition and contrast to Jews and Christians. This self-definition includes a deep rejection of Christianity and Judaism. It is a sad fact that incitement against non-Muslims, and specifically against followers of Biblical faiths, is an integral part of Islam, being hard-wired into the Quran and the Sunna.
Misinformation about Islam is a constant issue for non-Muslims. A report in the Herald Sun, a major Melbourne daily newspaper, was published on August 8, 2005 stating that the senior Muslim Imam of Victoria, Sheikh Fehmi (subsequently appointed as Australia’s mufti) reassured non-Muslims in Victoria that Muslims wish only to live in peace with their non-Muslim neighbours:
‘Muslims live cheerfully and happily with all denominations,’ Sheik Fehmi said. ‘This is what Islam is. The Prophet has lived among Jews and Christians. In many parts of the world Muslims, Jews and Christians are living happily.’
Who would not applaud Sheikh Fehmi’s desire for people of different faiths to live together in harmony? The problem arises when he appeals to Muhammad’s example as the basis for non-Muslims to have confidence, that Muslim neighbours represent no threat to peaceful co-existence. Although there was a time when Muhammad lived peacefully alongside non Muslims, large sections of Muhammad’s biographies deal with periods when he was embattled with his non-Muslim Jewish neighbours. Muhammad ordered assassinations of women and old men, oversaw a mass decapitation and enslavement of hundreds of his Jewish neighbours. This darker material Sheikh Fehmi could not fail to be familiar with, as these victories of Islam over the Jews of Arabia are as well-known to Muslim children as Joshua’s conquest of Jericho has been to Sunday School children.
How then are Fehmi’s non-Muslim, fellow Victorians to understand what he means by his reassurances that they can have nothing to worry about, because Islam takes Muhammad as its example? Should non-Muslims just regard this as propaganda, or is it to be understood as a threat?
If a non-Muslim were to have written in response to Sheikh Fehmi’s comment in the Herald Sun, pointing out Muhammad’s less than happy relationships with his non-Muslim neighbours, how could this be done without sounding like incitement of interfaith conflict and a rejection of Fehmi’s apparently moderate and peaceful stance? By relying on acceptance of the excellence of Muhammad’s example as a condition of interfaith harmony, Sheikh Fehmi’s words serve to lock up the truth about Muhammad even more tightly in the dark box of ignorance.
These are not easy subjects to deal with, but deal with them we must, and one of the keys to a free and frank conversation with Muslims about such matters of importance is that non-Muslims must study Islam for themselves. They cannot rely on Muslim spokespeople as their only source of information on Islam. The same can be said for Muslims: they also should not rely on secondary sources, not even on Islamic clerics, to understand their faith.