Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
If you had to pick the most hated person of all time, who would you choose?
If we were talking about the most disliked person today, the award would probably go to Adolf Hitler, or perhaps Joseph Stalin. But these guys became world class villains only recently; not too many people had even heard of them before the 1930’s. They’re villains of the last 80–90 years, but not longer.
Individuals who were hated prior to 1900 tend to be remembered only by certain groups of people. Benedict Arnold is hated by Americans, but people from other countries don’t care much. Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun caused great suffering during their conquests, but Europeans and Americans hardly talk about them negatively today. And while Christians condemn Judas Iscariot, non-Christians have never had much of a reason to care about him.
My candidate for Most Hated Person in History: The Prophet Muhammad.
Here’s my evidence. From Islam’s beginnings, Christians have regularly repeated nasty things about him. The famous Muhammad biographer W. Montgomery Watt wrote in Muhammad in Mecca (1953) that “none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad. Western writers have mostly been prone to believe the worst of Muhammad, and, wherever an objectionable interpretation of an act seemed plausible, have tended to accept it as fact.”
It’s easy to find lots of examples of Christian attacks on Muhammad. Less than a century after Muhammad’s death in 632, the Christian monk John of Damascus described Muhammad as a “false prophet,” saying that Muhammad had written some “ridiculous compositions” which he claimed had been sent from heaven. A century later the Byzantine Monk Theophanes described Muhammad as mentally imbalanced. These two ideas, that Muhammad was a hypocritical heretic and that he suffered from mental illness, have been popular in the West ever since.
The great medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas claimed that Muhammad deliberately twisted the Old and New Testaments to create his “fabrications.” Martin Luther went even further, calling Muhammad a “child of Satan,” and John Calvin identified Muhammad and the Catholic Pope as “two horns of the antichrist.”
Today it is very easy to find attacks on Muhammad by Christian leaders. For example, look at collected comments by Franklin Graham, Jerry, Falwell, and Pat Robertson, among others.
It is not only Christians who attack Muhammad’s motives and character. Jews and Hindus also have a history of not just disagreeing with the religion of Islam, but of spreading nasty stories about Islam’s most important prophet, Muhammad.
Since I’m writing about Muhammad, some readers might ask whether Bible figures like Abraham, Moses, and, especially, Jesus might be hated by others (especially Muslims) just as much as Christians have expressed hatred of Muhammad.
The answer is: no, they have not. Muslims have never repeated nasty stories about Jesus and the others, and for a very good reason: the Qur’an teaches that Jesus, Moses, Abraham and many other Bible figures were true prophets of God. Muslims disagree only about the divinity of Jesus: while Christianity teaches that Jesus was both the son of God and God, Islam insists that Jesus was a man only. Muslims of course believe that Islam is better than Christianity, and that Muhammad was a better prophet than Jesus. But just as Christians do not attack Moses, teaching only that Jesus was superior to Moses, Muslims do not attack Jesus.
Through history, Muslims have often become defensive about Muhammad. Yes, sometimes Muslims have been angrier about attacks on Muhammad than is appropriate. But we need to keep in mind that while Muslims historically have said only kind things about Jesus, Christians have regularly attacked the character and motives of Muhammad.
I hope that my Christian brothers and sisters see the irony here. Muhammad, as the author of the Qur’an, said only positive things about Jesus; yet Christians in turn have not merely disagreed with Muhammad, but have regularly gone to the length of making ad hominem attacks, denigrating Muhammad’s character instead of merely trying to show why Christianity in right, and Islam is wrong. Should it be a surprise, then, if Muslims believe that they are the ones who are obeying the biblical principle of “turning the other cheek”?