One comment received to the profile picture was that it looked “like an Islamic symbol”. I gave a brief explanation in response to a FB comment, that it is actually the Arabic letter “N”. In explaining here with greater detail this act of solidarity it is also timely to comment on the terrible news coming out of the Middle East.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has been steadily ramping up their persecution of Christians and minority groups in the region of Iraq/Syria. As part of identifying the Christians, they marked their former property with the Arabic initial “N” as a short-form of Nazarene or the Arabic word for Christian – Nasrani.
A series of military occupations of Northern Iraqi townships since May have slowly but steadily embolden the Islamic State, enabling them to self proclaim themselves as the Islamic Caliphate and enforce their ultra-strict interpretation of Sharia law. It should be noted that whilst the majority of the more moderate Islamic world does NOT recognize this declaration of Caliphate, the general sentiment and reaction from the Islamic world has been somewhat subdued.
This in itself poses an interesting question and issue: why does the wider Islamic world hold back from taking a more forceful stance. Part of the reason for this muted response is that some nations like Saudi Arabia are caught between the bind of a government in nominal control and a growing grass-roots general population who do support the Islamic State movement. It has been documented and reported that 1000s of social media supporters are in fact located in nations like Saudi Arabia. The threat for nations like Saudi Arabia is this both external as well as internal.
Over the years we have seen the wars and battles fought between Iran and Iraq, Sunni versus Shia and indeed this is very much a part of the struggle the Islamic State now perpetrates on the Shia Muslims. Part of the challenge for the world at large is that this extremist form of Islam is a growing threat. The root of this kind of war mongering and persecution of other variants within the umbrella of Islam stems from the example demonstrated by none other than their Prophet and founder of Islam – Muhammad. The Islamic State would no doubt make the case that theirs is the true interpretation of the Koran and application of Sharia.
In contrast, all denominations within Christianity are able to coexist peacefully without one trying to aggressively enforce their interpretation on other believers. This attitude and behaviour is likewise consistent with the teachings of Christ “to love one another including your enemies”. Yes, in previous centuries there were historical events like the Inquisition and fighting has been prominent in Catholicism versus Protestantism – think England and Ireland – but these wars were political in nature rather than religious. The politics distorted and used religion to justify their aims. Today, modern Christians would acknowledge these incidents of history as unfortunate but ultimately inconsistent with the Bible and the nature of God/Jesus.
In Islam, history shows that in the immediate aftermath of the death of Muhammad, a struggle for control over the vast Islamic Empire ensued, ultimately resulting in the present day Shia versus Sunni factions within the Islamic world. Applying the concept of “What would Muhammad do?” (similar to the whole What Would Jesus Do? cause) is it possible that he would have advocated a peaceful solution? Ignoring the fact that if Muhammad was there, the fighting would stop since all Muslims would follow him instead; it is his very absence and lack of a clearly appointed successor that creates the cause for infighting in the first place… Sunni versus Shite differences not only cover the issue of successors, but also their view on the hadith – teachings, deeds or sayings of Muhammad – plus some additional specifics in the rites and traditions performed.
The conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam has only become worse in the last decade, and the revenge killings undertaken only serve to remind us Christians of the words of Jesus – that violence only leads to more violence. It is also unfortunate that this teaching is not shared by Muslims given their understanding of Isa (Jesus) within the context of Muhammad’s abrogating teachings which are more aligned to an Old Testament “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” type of justice.
The Islamic State self-declared in June that their establishment would be Caliphate – which means supreme religious authority over all Muslims. This proclamation demonstrates both the ambition of the group, but also the contradiction whereby there can only be one Caliphate with singular recognised religious authority over the Muslim world. Prior to this attempt to claim the status, the position of Caliphate had remained weak and is not universally recognised across the various nation-states that have held majority Muslim populations. Indeed, with the Ottoman Empire disbanded during the 1920s as a result of World War I, the Caliphate has been weakened by the formation of secular based nation-states. In order for a true Caliphate to exist today, a pan-Islamic state would need to be formed, whereby the various nation states in the Middle East would need to be submit to the religious authority of the Caliphate. It is for this reason that groups like the Islamic State (and other groups deemed extremist) seek to establish a Caliphate which dramatically redefines sovereign national borders.
As this current conflict continues to develop and we continue to hear of the atrocities committed supposedly in the name of Allah, it would do us all good to try to understand the root cause(s) that have led us to our present situation. The legitimacy of the Islamic State is questioned because of their extreme interpretation of the Koran and Hadith. Similar to other past groups like the Nazis, they all think they are right and we are wrong. Unfortunately, in their version of “being right”, this includes the slaughter of innocent people groups because of their integral identity. Is it really a distortion of Islam that other faiths, cultures and beliefs should not exist?
The sad truth is that Islam has always looked at the world in terms of black and white, us and them. Whilst Christians are taught that the bible and Jesus teachings are universal, which also acknowledges the human spirit of free will and choice (rejection of the Gospel) which leads to the western civilization’s concept of tolerance, Islam does not entertain such tolerance. Muhammad died leaving in place a general mindset and religious instruction that Muslims are to enforce their homogeneous belief system and subjugate the world.
Now whilst Islam is wired this way, the Muslims are a diverse people group – only the devout end up becoming extremist in the way they campaign for the preeminence of Sharia law. The only solution to the problem of this “pure” version of Islam being enforced upon the entire world is ultimately Jesus & God’s love for us.
There is a good debate that was held and recorded – the footage now available on YouTube – where Dr Bernie Power contrasted the life of Jesus (according to the Bible) against Muhammad (according to the Koran). My summation of the difference and why Jesus/Christianity is the better model for the world is simplified into the end result.
Jesus was heaven focused and operating in a context of an eternal life beyond the present one. Given the eternal focus he taught us to love one another, including our enemies. He also challenged our mindset to live here on earth such that God’s will would be guide us. As per the Lord’s Prayer – let His Kingdom come, let His Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Muhammad was earth focused; everything else resulted from this aim and ambition. Muhammad himself admitted to being a sinner and also could not provide his followers with clarity on the eternal – he did not know for sure if he would end up in the Muslim heaven or hell.
Based on these simple terms, I would rather follow Jesus who offers certainty, and live a life of love, hope and truth. Based on the fact that both Christianity and Islam believe in the hereafter, Christians are better equipped with The Word and ultimately have God dwelling within us as the Holy Spirit, guiding us to an eternal life both for the now and future. What good is Islamic government and legal systems for a temporal world if it does not help prepare you or give you any guidance on your personal salvation and destiny in relation to God/Allah?
Further, in the last week I have read from cover to cover a book titled I Dared to Call Him Father, which was a biography of Bilquis Sheikh. Her story carried not just a story of conversion from Islam to Christianity, but some of the major takeaway points included:
- Islam has half the message of the Good News stored within its teachings
- The spiritual awakening and sensitivity of Muslims to the Spirit world is indeed a complement to their faith, unlike the secular West
- Bilquis’ ability to sense God’s presence as her Heavenly father was truly remarkable, given she managed to retain it year after year, even after the initial encounters.
- God’s love is truly the most important force that can overcome and demonstrate that in God all things are truly possible.
The challenge for Christians is to continue loving Muslims as a people group who need Jesus. Even whilst Muslims are called to pray five times a day that they seek God (Allah) but deny Jesus as the Messiah/Son of God, God can still break through and reveal Himself, should any Muslim serious give consideration to what they believe and to whom they worship. Muslims who seek to understand their own theology with an open mind should quick discover that what they are taught by the Islamic scholars and teachers about Christianity (and Judaism) differs from what Christianity theology actually is.
As we stand in solidarity to support our brothers and sisters being persecuted in the Middle East, we also stand up for the other minority groups who are helpless in the face of being targeted by the merciless enforcement of the extremist form of Islam. We pray that during these times of growing persecution and adversity that God will be sovereign in administering His love and peace to a world that desperately needs Him.