The religious motives of Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 terrorists have created a popular image of Islam as a religion that condones violence against innocent people. A recent expression of this view came from evangelist Pat Robertson, who said Islam is “not a peaceful religion” and bin Laden is “probably truer to Muhammad” than more peaceful Muslims.
Others see bin Laden’s views as a distortion of the Muslim faith. They cite similarities between Islam and Christianity and describe Islam as a religion of peace.
Tension between commands of violence and commands of peace exists in both the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and the Bible. Parts of the Quran were written during a time of warfare and the oppression of Muhammad and his followers in the Arabian Peninsula, so there are rules relating to warfare in the Quran. In 4:89 one can read, “Slay [the enemy] wherever you find them.” However, in 4:90 it then says, “If they leave you alone and offer to make peace with you, God does not allow you to harm them.”
War is condoned in the Quran for self-defense but is seen as “an awesome evil” (2:217) that Muslims are never to initiate. In 2:256 the Quran says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.” When Muhammad finally overcame his enemies at Mecca, he dealt leniently with the people there. Christians and Jews remain in lands conquered by Muslims to this day.
In the Bible, as in the Quran, people can find verses to support war and violence. In Ex. 22:20, God tells Moses, “Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed.” In I Sam. 15:3, Saul is given the word of the Lord from Samuel: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
But the Old Testament is not God’s final word, either for Christians or Muslims. Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God and thus the final revelation of God’s truth. Muslims see Jesus as a prophet but believe Muhammad received the final revelation from God, and so his words supercede Jesus’ words. A Muslim Web site (www.answering-christianity.com), which compares Islam, Judaism and Christianity on warfare, says all three religions have verses about “an eye for an eye.” But it adds that while Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:38-39 moved people toward a more peaceful response to violence, this is “less practical” than Muhammad’s teachings.
Despite Jesus’ words, Muslims and many Christians sound similar in their position on war: One may defend oneself, but should not be the aggressor, and must use restraint.
Both faiths have violent histories. Islam spread after Muhammad’s death by conquering other areas in warfare. Muslim persecution of Christians continues in some places today. Christianity, after Emperor Constantine’s conversion in A.D. 312, sometimes was spread by the power of the state. This took a particularly violent form in the Crusaders’ military campaigns against Muslims.
As Anabaptist Christians, we reject warfare as contrary to Christ’s teachings. We take Jesus’ words as direct commands for our behavior. Muslims, who reject Jesus as the final revelation from God, will not use Jesus’ words as their final authority on warfare. Christians, who should follow Jesus’ words, often make their own judgments the final authority.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.