Islam: Moderate and Peace Loving or Radical and Violent?

© 2001 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

Given the events of September 11, 2001 and other acts committed by Islamic terrorists both before and after, many non-Muslims fear that terrorism and violence in the name of religion are intrinsic to Muslim belief and practice. They view with suspicion anyone who appears of Middle Eastern extraction (even though approximately 90% of Muslims worldwide are not Arabic). They accept with reservation the claims of Muslims in Western countries and those Muslim countries who have sided against terrorism that Islam is peace loving and jihad, or "holy war," refers to the struggle within between righteousness and unrighteousness rather than a fight to the death against any non-Muslim. What is the truth? Do we fear all Muslims or people who don't look like "us"? Do we re-evaluate the events of September 11 the way a Unity pastor described them, as "an unfortunate mistake"?

First, from a biblical wordview we understand that good flows from God's nature and we participate in that goodness as we are conformed to God's holy and moral will. Good is not merely the capricious edict of God ("Today being kind is good, tomorrow being cruel is good"). Since good flows from God's very nature we can count on it being universal, abstract, invariant, objective, and eternal.

Second, evil is not an equal and opposite power to good. Evil is a privation, a falling away from God's standard, a lack in what ought to be. The time will come when God will eradicate all evil and the universe will be restored in the full glory of God's creative nature. God permits evil and his wise plan cannot be thwarted by evil.

Third, the existence of evil in a temporal sense is not contradictory to God's omnipotence (all-power) and omni-benevolence (all-love). For further discussion, see our related article, If God Is Good, Why Is there So Much Suffering in the World? (http://www.answers.org/apologetics/suffering.html).

Fourth, God specifically commands us to consider all humans alike as far as the gospel is concerned. We are all in need of it, none of us can be reconciled to God without it, and Christ's atonement is adequate for any human of any ethnicity and any sinfulness (see especially Galatians 3:28).

Specifically addressing the question of "moderate, peace-loving" Islam, the following factors need to be considered:

  1. First, recent history testifies to the truthfulness of the moderate Muslims who declare that they pursue peace, they do not intend to promulgate their faith by force, and they can respect the existence of non-Mulsim entities, including countries and religions. Many contemporary Muslims really do reject the Koranic commands of violence toward non-believers, the value of actual holy war, the promise of immediate elevation to paradise for those who die in holy war, and the preference of killing a non-believer rather than converting him (a convert is considered untrustworthy). These Muslims follow their religious leaders' reinterpretation of the Koran. Unless and until we have evidence otherwise, we have an obligation as Christians to assume the validity of this moderate stance and unite with our Muslim neighbors (whether they are next door or in a country with whom we have a relationship) in the mutual pursuit of peace, justice, and equality for all.
  2. Second, there are numerous passages in the Koran that contextually, historically, linguistically, and by literary criticism advocate physical violence against unbelievers, the spread of Islam by force, the blessings that accrue to those who participate in holy war, and the obligation Allah has to reward someone who loses his life in holy war by immediate elevation to paradise. In addition, the early history of Islam, both under its founder, Muhammed, and successive to that, affirms that interpretation of the Koran. In countries today where Islam is the dominant religion and the country does not rely on continued positive relations with non-Muslim countries, this historic view can still be seen. It is also the stance of the isolated Islamic terrorist organizations.
  3. Third, how can "moderate" Muslims justify this seeming contradiction between their holy scripture and early history on the one hand, and a genuine commitment to peaceful co-existence and a figurative understanding of jihad? The answer lies in three broad areas: (1) Islam teaches both that the Koran is authentic only in its original Arabic and that it cannot be interpreted properly except by Islamic holy teachers; (2) Most Muslims, especially those who form a minority in any country or whose countries are dependent on interaction with non-Muslim countries, focus more on a cultural, personal, and familial practice of Islam rather than a philosophical/theological and social adherence to Islam; (3) many Muslims, like many Christians, have a limited direct knowledge of their religion and depend almost entirely on what their leaders tell them Islam stands for. For these reasons, it should not surprise us that many Muslims are genuine in their disavowal of violence in the propagation of Islam and we can join with Muslims of this persuasion in advocating peace.
  4. Fourth, it is counterproductive and violates a wonderful opportunity for "common ground" pre-evangelism to insist that all Muslims must hold to the Islamic terrorists' interpretation of Islam, no matter how "scriptural" or "historical" it may be. Many moderate Muslims are more open to listening to the claims of the gospel because of their moderate views. We should take advantage of this. In a similar vein, American liberal Protestant and Catholic congregations have abandoned the original meaning of scripture and the historical heritage of Christianity. Successful evangelism of liberal Christians can be expedited if we focus not on their abandonment of their heritage, but on the truthfulness or falsity of their current worldview, regardless of its historic veracity. Many liberals today have no idea why they think Jesus is "only a good teacher" - we don't need to educate them and give them a foundation for their liberalism, thereby setting ourselves a more difficult job of evangelism. Instead, like the apostle Paul with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:17ff), we start with our common ground, state the truth of God's reality, and preach the gospel. Individual objections and arguments should be dealt with after we share the gospel initially, not instead of the gospel. Paul began with the resurrection, and then was willing to investigate further questions and problems.

For further information on Islam, see the Answers In Action article Islam: An Introductory Outline, and the following books: Geoffrey Parrinder, World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present (New York: Facts on File, 1971); Dr. T. B. Irving, trans., The Qur'an: Selections from the Noble Reading (Cedar Rapids, IA: Laruance Press Co., 1980); Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Teachings of Islam (London: Hazell Watson and Viney Ltd., 1966); Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985 (second edition); and Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993).

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The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26