Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure.'” (Psalms 122:6)
Last week, a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem (part of the West Bank) drove a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing four and injuring fifteen. This man was shot and killed at the scene.
The attach was immediately condemned by the UN and by a number of countries, including the United States. Surprisingly, as of this post President-elect Donald Trump has not condemned the attack. (If any Trump fans can explain why Trump has not done so, please let me know).
The emotions that we feel after a tragedy such as this can stay with us for quite a while, influencing our ideas about the bigger picture. Christians, however, must call for restraint. We need to be clear on the surrounding facts before we call for action. In this case, once we are clear about the facts, the call for Christians becomes clear.
First, we need to be careful about how we describe the attacker. News reports identified him as an Arab Israeli, connected to either ISIS or Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). These two terrorist groups wish are committed to using violence against civilians as a means of eliminating Jewish people from what we call Israel. As per my recent posts, traditional Islam teaches that Israel should not exist in the first place, since God gave Jerusalem and its surroundings to Muslims. Yet these facts make the perpetrator “Muslim” in only the most general sense. As Christ’s followers, we must acknowledge and respect the fact that for most Muslims, this man was not a Muslim. Islam teaches that God hates terrorist behavior; therefore, by definition, a person who commits terrorist acts cannot be Muslim.
Many Christians have trouble with the above reasoning. However, Matthew 7:1-5 requires that we Christians may call this man “Muslim” only to the extent we are willing to identify, for example, Dylann Roof (recently convicted of murdering nine African Americans in Charleston) as”Christian.” Roof was on the rolls of a local church when he committed his crime, and actually was debating Bible passages before he started shooting. Roof is as connected to Christianity as the Truck Attack perpetrator is connected to Islam – a general affiliation, yet willing to violate core teachings.
I agree with the majority of Christians who say that Roof’s extremely “unchristian” behavior tells us that he clearly is not one of us. But if we as Christians claim the right to decide who is and is not a Christian, then we must allow Muslims to decide who is and is not Muslim.
Related to the above is the fact that a number of Palestinians and Palestinian organizations have expressed approval for the truck driver’s actions, some even celebrating.
Again, these facts do not say much about Islam. While Hamas and the PFLP claim to be Muslim, most Muslims worldwide have declared that they are not. Again, Muslims insist that Islam strictly forbids terrorist acts. These groups may use certain Islamic language and symbols, but simply saying “Allahu akbar” does not make someone Muslim, any more than calling Jesus “Lord” makes someone Christian (see Matt 7:21).
Since Hamas and PFLP claim some historic Muslim heritage, can we at least call them “radical Muslims?” Once again, Christians have to contend with Matthew 7:1-5. Most Christians I know insist that KKK groups cannot be Christian, even if they proclaim Christ (“Jesus Saves!”). We may call Hamas “radical Muslim” only if we are willing to identify racist “Christians” as “radical Christians.”
When we obey Christ’s Matthew 7 teachings, it becomes much easier to understand how Muslims tend to see things. Most Muslims agree that terrorists are evil people. But they do not like reading and hearing that these guys are Muslim. Furthermore, Muslims see that American Christians are concerned for the welfare of Jews in Israel. But it seems to many Muslims that we are not interested in justice for Palestinians.
As Christians, it does not hurt us to say “by definition, terrorists cannot be Muslim,” and “we want security and justice for both Jews and Palestinians.” Stressing these two messages means a lot to the Muslims among us, and makes them our allies in our fight against ISIS, Hamas, and the rest.
The terrorists gain strength by trying to convince the world that Christianity is at war with Islam. Christians who believe and teach this are doing exactly what the terrorists want. But if we can take a deep breath and recognize that Christians and Muslims both want peace and justice in the Middle East, including secure democratic states of Israel and Palestine, we can all easily identify the terrorists for what they are: violent criminals intent only on expanding their own power. Let’s not help the bad guys.