Christianity beats Islam
One of the things that bothers me about some Christian engagement with Islam is how it expresses its difficulty with ‘the other’, the issues that people focus on, the lengths to which they go and the ‘axe-grinding’ — I have an issue with such and such, you have a problem, I’m going to show you what it is and convince you that you’re wrong, your faith, your scripture, etc. and, by the way, Christianity/the Bible makes a lot more sense. Speaking personally, rather than on behalf of my organisation, there is something demeaning about this, let’s put you on the defensive, let’s twist your scriptures, put you on the back foot, your ‘evangelists’ have done it to us so let’s do it back to you. This applies in both directions of course and is almost equally frustrating, though I’m not going to claim that I can fully share the pain of Muslim friends!
Some time ago I attended an academic lecture on Surah 9.29. The speaker presented the views of Anjem Chaudary, and one of my close Muslim colleagues, side by side. It was good to have a Christian engaging with my colleague’s thoughts, less encouraging to have it done alongside someone at the other end of the spectrum. The speaker didn’t choose one or the other, the ‘sources’ were at opposite ends of the spectrum on the interpretation/application etc of 9.29, of course. He seemed to present Islam as unable to make up its mind and that, as others suggest, it is therefore hopelessly conflicted, ‘nice’ Islam and ‘nasty’ Islam at odds with each other, both with backing in the tradition, interpretation and the source text — the Qur’an. I don’t think the speaker said this, but others do — Islam is inherently ‘nasty’ or violent and therefore those who present ‘nice’ Islam are wrong, deluded, lying etc. I think, from my perspective, this is wrong but also dishonest and weaves a web of negative smears around Islam, problematising it and making it a threat. But perhaps, more importantly, doing the work of the extremists for them, preaching/sharing their message of hate for them, reinforcing inaccurate perceptions of Islam, perhaps using ‘scholarship’ and uninformed selective/partial approaches to a part of the tradition. Yes, there are non-Muslims out there, maybe not far away, who share the ‘fatwa’ of the late Osama bin Laden as if it was ‘Gospel’, as if he really could and really was speaking for real Islam.
So here, is my appeal, a call for truce, for peace, for honest engagement and real dialogue — hang up your axe, take the trouble to read the Qur’an, not just ‘texts of terror’ (made more terrible by ignoring any context or saying ‘the Qur’an has no context’). Don’t pick out isolated texts, encourage others not to do the same with your scriptures, read a whole chapter, read the whole book! How many people who quote 9.29 have read the whole surah? Maybe it needs reading more than once, it’s fine that it’s unfamiliar, talk to some real live Muslims, spend some time with an imam or an alim (scholar) and make the same offer to non-Christians if they’re interested, read, study and learn openly with no agenda, with no axe to grind. Perhaps we can make friends instead of enemies, instead of winding people up, showing our lack of respect and impatience. Of course we’re not all going to believe the same and of course we should disagree with other scriptures if they’re not what we believe. But we’re all in the same boat, we have little to gain from some of our encounters and much more to look forward to if we take an interest rather than showing our lack of care (in all its senses). Let’s unite around really loving our neighbour/sister/brother/’enemy’, listening to and appreciating one another, loving Christians and Muslims, Christianity and Islam (and any other religions you may care to think of), because what else is there? And what else would we want?