Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and is also the regular mid-week contributor to Christianity 201. Recently I asked him to consider writing something for readers here at Thinking Out Loud…
Why I Fear Islam
by Clarke Dixon
I fear Islam because I am a Baptist.
Now before we go any further, I should point out that I don’t fear Muslims. I have yet to meet a Muslim in person that I felt the need to fear. I remember one Muslim gentleman lamenting to me how his children were not attending Mosque as he would like and were instead becoming too secularized. It sounded all too familiar, being the kind of thing I hear from Christian parents. As people, we share much in our humanity.
What I fear is the religion of Islam. I fear what it can do to a society. I fear what it can do to Muslims.
I fear Islam because I am a Baptist. I figure that if Christianity is true then the most original version is the best example. So as a Baptist, I stand in the Protestant tradition of protesting against the excesses of the Roman Catholic tradition and against conformity to the Church of England.
There is a lot of history leading up to the birth of the Baptist movement in 17th century England, but it can be basically summed up with: “Let us get back to the Bible and strip away all the traditions that have accumulated over the years. Let us do our best to model our faith and practice after Jesus and the earliest of Christians we learn of in the New Testament.” Obviously we don’t always do this very well, but at least we try.
As we do this, we discover an inherent separation of Church and State. Jesus never tried to take political control over a state. Instead he called individuals to follow him, even calling them to pick up a cross and follow. Pick up a cross and not a sword, as most revolutionaries would have called for instead. Die by Roman power, rather than fight against it. Jesus also warned his followers not to get caught up in the Jewish rebellion against Rome that was to happen soon (Mark 13:14). They were not to get caught up in a political rebellion. The earliest followers of Jesus were not about setting up political machinery. They were concerned with reaching every individual with the Good News that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Yes, that meant sometimes not listening to the authorities and preaching up instead of quieting down. Yes, that included reaching and preaching to the political leaders themselves. Even Caesar should realize that Jesus is Lord, not he himself. But there was not a sense of political revolution in the air. This was a revolution of the heart and there was no compulsion. The Gospel was an offer to be preached, not a movement to be enforced. Christianity was not spread by military means but by preaching and teaching, even though military members were welcome, too.
So as a Baptist I want to get back to the original. To do that, I study the Bible, doing my best to understand the context in which each part was written, getting back to what the original readers would have understood.
My fear of Islam arises when I look to the original Islam. This past year, I spent some time reading an abridged chronologically arranged version of the Qur’an along with a biography about Muhammad.1 Islam started out as a religious and a political movement. It was not just about individuals coming to believe in the teachings of Islam but also about entire tribes coming into the political machinery of Islam. Muhammad himself was a political leader as well as a military leader and strategist. It seems he was personally responsible for many deaths. Proponents of the “Islam is peace” motif will point out how Muhammad rode peacefully into Mecca. That may tell us more about Meccans seeking peaceful political resolution than about happy conversions to religion. While there is debate on precisely what the original versions of Christianity and Islam looked like, there is little doubt that, historically speaking, Jesus bore a cross while Muhammad bore a sword.
I get the allure of wanting to relive the original, of seeing it as the best and normative version, so I get it when Muslims are “radicalized” and turn to violence. If it is true, then the original is the most true. I understand that sentiment as I seek to live it myself within the Christian path.
Some have called for a Reformation within Islam, patterned after the Reformation that altered the trajectory of Christian history. There is a call for the kinder and gentler versions of Islam to be known as true Islam, with the violent versions to be labeled as wrong, corrupt, and “Islam hijacked.” The trouble is that there has already been a kind of Reformation within Islam that is patterned after the Reformation within Christianity. There has been a movement, called Wahhabism, that seeks to get back to the original just as Protestants did in the Christian Reformation. Consider this quote from an interview with Karen Armstrong, who had this to say as part of an answer given to a question about “Wahhabism – the Saudi-based sect of Islam that informs ISIS fighters”:
Wahhabists encouraged people to read the Koran [sic] directly, and ignore the centuries of interpretation by learned scholars. Now that sounds great and liberating, but people were then licensed to come up with many wild interpretations. In the past, no one read the Koran [sic] on its own; it was enmeshed in a wide swath of complexity that actually held radical interpretations in check. Now that check’s been lifted, and all kinds of freelancers like Bin Laden, who is no more qualified to issue a Fatwa than I am, have free reign to come up with these extraordinary interpretations.2
As a Baptist pastor, I rejoice when people read the Bible directly. So it struck me as odd that encouraging Muslims to read the Qur’an directly should be a worrisome thing. With this “back to the basics” approach of the Wahhabists, you could make the case that Osama Bin Laden had been to Islam what Martin Luther was to Christianity. The Reformation did not get started with Luther, but Protestantism went big with Luther. My fear is that just as any Roman Catholic today can “get back to basics” and become a Baptist, a good peaceful Muslim can also “get back to the original.” For the sake of world harmony, I hope the kinder and gentler versions of Islam are ascendant. For the sake of every Muslim, I pray that each would come to know Jesus for who he really is.
There are reasons that Islam is torn between peacefulness and violence around the world. We need to be quick to hear and respond to those reasons. When suicide bombers turn to violence, it is because they believe the original version of their religion is best. I get that. That is why I fear Islam.
1 The Islamic Trilogy, Vol 4 — An Abridged Koran: The Reconstructed Historical Koran, Bill Warner, ed.; CSPI Publishing, 2006; see also The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad, Leslie Hazelton; Riverhead Books, 2003