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Is Islam Evil?

I am hearing the question, or rather the affirmative answer, coming up from a lot of places right now. Rabbi Avi Lipkin, for instance, thinks Judaism = good; Christianity = good; Islam = evil, evil, evil. At school my friend Silas is convinced that Muslims are unknowingly worshipping Satan. Read his letter to the editor of his undergrad paper to get a feel for who he is. Even when I disagree I really enjoy letters like this. Most recently, Derek told me he’s convinced that Islam is demonic. (I was supposed to play lead guitar with Derek at Bobfest this weekend, but my wife’s grandfather died a couple days ago, so we will be traveling to the funeral this weekend instead.)

So concerning Islam, I am just a little uncomfortable with what seems to be the party line among my friends. I want to at least express some reasons for being uncomfortable.

Ten years ago, my wife and I spent two weeks in Israel. Two sites in Jerusalem struck me in particular, and in a way they seem to serve as metaphors for religion. The first site was the church of the Holy Sepulchre.

This is a picture of the inside the church. The church is built over the site traditionally associated with Jesus’ crucifixion, preparation for burial, and burial site itself. It is one of the most spiritually oppressive places I have ever visited. There is only one entrance/exit to the church, so one can easily feel “trapped” after entering. The entire building is dark. The air is thick and stale, as if layers and layers of incense have never fully dissipated but continue to linger for months. At the spot that is thought to be the site of crucifixion, people were on their knees to touch and even kiss a rock in the ground. I’m not sure if it is the inappropriate veneration of the saints and relics (which I can’t help but view as idolatry) or the morbid fascination with the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, but the place just gave me the creeps. I felt like I was walking into a den of religious demons.

The second site was the Dome of the Rock, pictured here. In contrast to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome was bright, it was peaceful. In the middle was a rock – an ugly rock, to be sure, but just a rock. Nobody was kissing it or touching it to gain indulgences or transferred holiness or any such drivel. I thought to myself, if I had to pick one of the two places to pray for an hour, the Dome wins hands down. I was quite surprised since I had always bought the party line that Islam was pure evil.

What does it prove? Nothing directly, I suppose. But I have to consider this fact: Observant Muslims pray and worship several times daily to the creator of the Universe as the creator of the Universe. Even if their conception of who that creator is is vastly mistaken, would not the creator of the Universe receive their worship? And even if they have a radically different understanding of the character and attributes of the creator God than I do, would not the same creator God receive their worship just as he receives mine? Just because it is quite clear that Muslims and Christians have extremely different conceptions of God, it does not seem to follow that we worship a different God who stands behind those conceptions – it only follows that one or both of us are wrong in who we perceive God to be.

Keith Ward, in his excellent defense of religious beliefs, Is Religion Dangerous?, says,

…education in religion should be a primary goal. By education I mean providing a reasonably balanced view of the tradition, its history and its variety, giving a fair assessment of its place in global history, and making clear the necessity of reflective and self-critical thought in religion. There are plenty of Muslims who do this. Al-Azhar University in Cairo, perhaps the most famous Muslim university, provides such and education, and its scholars are, unsurprisingly, regarded by [militant Islamic] followers of Qutb with loathing and contempt. It is important to deprive those who fear scholarship in religion of social prestige and religious status. This is another reason why, incidentally, attacks on religion by those who think it is all blind and thoughtless provide support for the fundamentalists. For such attacks undermine the possibility of reflective theological thought as effectively as the diatribes of fundamentalists.

There are all kinds of questions going on here. In my camp the most common objection is that you cannot be saved through Islam, only through Christ. Without seeking to minimize that issue, it is important to recognize that the issue of whether Islam is evil is different question entirely.

  1. Diana
    May 22, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    I found the description of the two locations in Jerusalem interesting. It made me think that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a demonic shroud of idolatry, whereas the Muslim mosque has more a shroud of deception. Deception, by definition is deceptive and more subtle than say idolatry. Hence the difference in ambience when in the two different locations. Just a thought.

  2. Anonymous
    May 28, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I tried to comment, but it wouldn’t let me. Sorry, Ryan.

  3. Anonymous
    May 28, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Hey, it’s working now. Anyhow, I think it’s a big jump from saying, “Two differing styles of worship doesn’t mean two different Gods” to “There is only one God worshiped.”

    I had more to say earlier that sounded cooler and smarter, but it wouldn’t let me post, so you just get this short post instead.

  4. R.T. Jones
    May 30, 2007 at 4:44 am

    Yes, I take your point here. My argument against the negative (“…doesn’t mean two different Gods”) does not provide direct support for the positive (“there is only one God…”). If I were making a straight deductive argument then it would not be valid. But I am making an abductive argument, that is, an argument to the best explanation. What I’m saying is:
    (1) There are good reasons for believing that the object of Christian worship and the object of Muslim worship are not two different gods, but rather one God, whom both acknowledge as the creator.
    (2) There are no good reasons for believing that the object of Christian worship and the object of Muslim worship are two different gods.
    (3) Therefore the best explanation is that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (even if through radically different and mutually exclusive conceptual frameworks).
    I can see no non-arbitrary reason not to accept this.

  5. Anonymous
    May 30, 2007 at 11:58 am

    I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on the three points above. I’d need proof before accepting three points that not only depart from traditional Christian views over the last few centuries, but also go against what I believe the Bible teaches. Hmmm… Maybe I’ll end up re-activating my blogger account just so I can respond. Hmmm…

  6. J. K. Jones
    June 5, 2007 at 11:11 am

    How can a holy God accept the worship of unholy people? I include myself with the unholy.

  7. R.T. Jones
    June 7, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I’m not sure exactly what I’m saying here that is so radical. At this point I haven’t even addressed any soteriological concerns. I am simply saying that when Christians say, “God” and Muslims say, “God,” we have the same referent in mind. I am certainly not saying that we are in agreement about the attributes of God.

    Say I send my car insurance money every month to a nice man at American Family Insurance, and I’ve talked to him on the phone a few times, but have never met him in person. Suppose you also send your money to the same man, have also talked to him on the phone, and have also never met him in person. I think he has brown hair, and you think he has red hair. We have the same person in mind, but have different conceptions of who that person is. (Incidentally, I am not trying to say that our relationship with God is about receiving some kind of spiritual insurance. It was just a convenient metaphor.)

    J.K., your question makes sense from within a reformed paradigm, but outside of that paradigm there is no reason to think that a holy God cannot accept worship from unholy people any more than there is reason to think that a licensed insurance provider cannot receive a car insurance payment from a non-licensed insuree.

  8. J. K. Jones
    June 8, 2007 at 8:44 am

    I think that Islam has a much different view of God than Christianity, and the differences in soteriology bring these differences to light. Just how different does one’s conception of God have to be before we are praying to another God?

    Recent lengthy blog posted discussions with a Muslim named El Haj at http://nur-syifa.blogspot.com/ have forced me to realize just how different Islam is. (Please keep in mind that he often tends to quote the part of my responses that he wants to after viewing them in comment moderation. He has an agenda.)

    I should not have been so short with my comment. I’ll be more careful in the future.

    God bless you!

  9. J. K. Jones
    June 8, 2007 at 8:51 am

    I just went over to Al Haj’s site and found almost all of our discussion deleted. Please pray for him. It may be that I have given him something to think about.

  10. Anonymous
    June 12, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    To you American Family analogy:
    How do you know you really are speaking to and thinking of the same individual on the other side of the phone line. If you have never met the man you can’t say it’s the same one when you dial up the phone.

    I have a friend named Andy. When I speak to him or about him, that’s the name I use. When you speak about Andy might or might not be speaking about the same individual. How would you tell? You would see if they two people have the same demographics past the name.

    In the same way saying that because two groups use the name or title “God” makes the object of their devotion the same is far to simplistic. You must compare the traits of the two to see if they are the same. Do you seriously believe the traits of the “God” worship by Muslims and the traits of the “God” worshiped by Christians to be the same?

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