(Another in a Lenten series, Crescent vs. Cross)
What do well-meaning Christians say, when faced with the task of convincing the estimated 600,000 hard-core radical jihadists in this world that they are basing at least some of their ideology on big, fat misunderstandings?
You say, “Hmm. I’m gonna have to pack a LUNCH.” (Ba bum CRASH! Just kidding!)
It’s a daunting task, to untangle all the misunderstandings between faith systems that are inflaming our world today. They are by no means all or even mostly the fault of the Muslims. We’re all in this together; the misunderstandings are on all sides. A lot of the problem stems from a basic mistrust and unfamiliarity among the major religions. Half-hearted communication usually ends in both parties not adequately understanding each other, and then tension, and then conflict. The blame for a lot of the charges and counter-charges among Muslims, Christians and Jews is probably equally shared. We all need to confess ignorance and mistaken conclusions, in large part. But what gives us hope is that much of the problem is fixable, because much of the problem can be attributed to . . . in the words of the ancient scholars . . . boo-boo’s.
But before you can effectively set about solving those mistakes and misunderstandings, those who truly want to prevent terrorism and foster true understanding, friendship and trust among people of different faith backgrounds are going to have to do three things:
- Educate their own faith group and those of others about what’s true, and what has been misunderstood and garbled.
- Display confidence in and love for your own faith group without denigrating or condemning the others.
- Make sure that radicals and terrorists who persist in hateful ideology and actions understand that democratic society will not surrender, and their actions are futile and pointless because they are in the wrong.
One of the best passages in the entire Bible, which inspires Christians to devote themselves to communicating the Gospel clearly, concisely and convincingly, should be in the forefront now. That is the concept of how it is only through Jesus Christ and His work through the Holy Spirit that people on Earth can understand how they may have been misled or mistaken in the past. Now, more than ever, as we deal with the growing spread of Islamists who want to kill Christians and Jews just because they ARE Christians and Jews, we need to recognize this truth:
“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ “(2 Corinthians 3:14).
You are going to get absolutely nowhere if you “lead” with the Gospel in talking with Muslims. You need common ground. Perhaps you can find it in mutual misunderstandings. So here are some points to ponder for Christians intent on straightening out these misunderstandings and help Muslims grasp them, too:
— Just as the Old Testament prophets did not realize that a lot of the revelations given to them actually prophesied Jesus Christ, Muhammad may not have been aware of the Christian nature of many of the revelations given to him, especially in the early years in Mecca. He never was exposed to orthodox Christianity, only distorted, isolated spinoffs in the “hinterlands” of Arabia in that century. Remember, he was illiterate and couldn’t read the Bible; he was dependent on the oral teachings of others and the often-garbled miscommunications that come from long distances and short memories. As the Jews “missed” the Christian messages in the Torah, the Muslims appear to have “missed” the Christianity of the Qur’an. What could explain this? Why couldn’t an all-powerful God have illuminated Muhammad’s mind to prevent this? You have to remember the key about the Biblical perception of Who God is: first and foremost, He does not force us into anything whatsoever. He is all about free will, even in the building of His kingdom here on Earth. So no way would a loving God manipulate humans into seeing things exactly His way, by force. Instead, He gives us our freedom, and guides us to the fullness of the truth, even if it takes (as it obviously has with Jews and Muslims) many centuries.
— Muslims may not realize how the idea of an extra-Biblical revelation seven centuries after the Cross would be repulsive and anathema to Christians. But Muhammad’s revelations were nothing if not extra-Biblical, and they did happen centuries after the canon of the Bible was closed off. Muslims might gain from knowing this Bible verse, near the very end of the Bible: “For I testify unto every man that heareth these words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18,19) Once Muslims grasp that we think THEY are in apostasy just as deeply as THEY think WE are, we might be able to get somewhere with an “I’m OK, You’re OK” dialogue.
— It is important for Christians, Muslims and Jews alike to keep in sharp focus just exactly what “people groups” were around Muhammad, in order to read his revelations in the Qur’an in the context of that particular time and place. The worldviews and belief systems there were vastly different than today’s fairly homogenous communities. We mostly have garden-variety Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and other Christian denominations plus a smattering of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists in most American communities. But pretty much, on key doctrine, a Christian is a Christian. It was not like that in Mecca. Their belief systems were miles apart from orthodox belief systems. Once you learn about those different groups and their different beliefs, you can see how the Qur’an might be misinterpreted today because we do not live in the same context whatsoever.
— For example, back in Muhammad’s locale, there were Arab pagans who were polytheists; this is why the Qur’an has such a heavy emphasis on monotheism. The target isn’t Christianity and the Trinity; the target is the polytheistic pagans. Muhammad was born into a pagan family who worshipped idols. One of those was named “Allahm” and he was a moon god — hence the crescent moon symbol of Islam
— Those pagans had as their key symbol the crescent moon with a star. That symbol dates back thousands of years to the Moon Goddess, Tanit Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven.” She was also known as Ashtoreth by the Assyrians and Babylonians, thought to be the wife of the evil god Baal, who was also known as Molech. Astarte was worshipped as a fertility goddess, and since it was very important for women to bear children in ancient times in order to secure their prosperity, pagan civilizations and even many Israelites worshipped her. She is condemned as a false god in the Bible (Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:17-25) and worshipping her often included detestable fertility rites, temple prostitution and aberrant modes of sexuality. Somehow, the idea got around that Astarte was the consort, or sex partner, of Yahweh — the God of the Bible. The early Muslims in remote and isolated Mecca heard that, and garbled up the whole idea of the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation of Jesus. The Qur’an condemns Christians for believing that God and Mary had sex, and that’s where Jesus comes from — which is, of course, wrong. But in those days in Mecca, there was really no way of refuting that notion, so it stuck.
— Similarly, the Jews around Mecca were Sadducee Jews, who rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the body after a believer’s death. When the Qur’an makes a big deal of the Last Day, when everybody will get resurrected, its target was the Sadducee Jews for that particular belief. But a lot of people infer that it was slamming the Resurrection of Christ, while it does not.
— The Christians who lived in that area back then were full of heresies — odd, false beliefs with partial truths mixed in — probably because the people were so distant from solid Christian teaching, and prone to “free-lancing” their faith because of no accountability from the outside. Some of those Christians were “monophysites” — people who claim that Christ was neither God nor human, but a unique blend of both, with the human part absorbed into the divine part. So when the Qur’an says in Surah 5:72 that people who say that Christ is God are defying Allah, it probably more precisely means that the monophysites, who denied Christ’s human nature, are wrong, since Allah definitely viewed Jesus as a human being, not God.
— Many others were Nestorian Christians — who believed that there was a distinction and a separation between Jesus the human and Jesus the divine, verging on the implication that there were TWO Christs, not one. In the early Christian church, there were all kinds of schisms over points like this. Those who got labeled as “heretics,” like the Nestorians, tended to move away to remote areas so that they could practice their particular doctrine freely. Now, Mecca was a prosperous, busy town, an important trade center. But the mainstream doctrines of orthodox Christianity or Judaism simply didn’t prevail. There were Ebionite Christians, who denied the deity of Christ; the Docetic Gnostics, who emphasized His deity but denied His humanity; and the Arians, who attributed to Him a form of subordinate deity. Note that Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, had a cousin who was the bishop of the Ebionite Christians in Mecca, and married them. So there was undoubtedly off-kilter influence there. Unfortunately, these heresies and others pervaded Mecca in the time that Muhammad lived. He could not have helped but pick up some confusion and contradictions, leading to skepticism about Christianity that in the main was unfounded.
— Christians misunderstand the Qur’an in Surah 4:157. They say the Qur’an denies the Crucifixion, but it appears only to be rebuking the Jews for not responding to Christ. The Qur’an denies that the Jews killed Christ — in the same way that the Church and the Bible do not blame the Jews for Christ’s crucifixion, but teach that it was the work of divine providence. So Christianity and Islam agree on that point. The Qur’an should be read in this passage as referring to Jews when it reads: “. . . (A)nd said, ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God,’ (They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him –” . . . .)
— Christians have inferred that the Qur’an denies the Trinity, but the truth is, the heretical Jews of that region were claiming that Christians were “tri-theists” and believed in three separate gods, because of a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. So the passages in which the Qur’an says, “Do not say ‘three,'” could very well be a refutation of those mistaken Jews rather than an outright attack against Christian doctrine.
— Those Nestorian Christians had another odd belief, that God had “adopted” Jesus as His Son. So when the Qur’an argues that God would never “take” a son, it was a slam against the Nestorian adoption heresy, rather than necessarily an attack against the Christian belief in one God in three Persons.