Thursday, June 7, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law -- part 11 and last

(Letter to Charlene Law concluded.....)  

So we come to the end of another excessively long letter, a complicated answer to a simple question, “Where did Islam come from?” You’ll have to be the judge of that. The resemblances between Islam and Christianity appear to be many at first, but after any real inquiry, it is the remarkable differences that emerge. The two most glaring differences that I notice are first that Christians believe that the phrase “God is Father” as expressed in the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father is the summit of Christian faith. For Muslims it is the greatest heresy. And second, Christians regard violence as always undesirable, though it may be necessary for self defense. 

It is interesting to note that medieval knights in shining armor were always a little bit outside of Christian law as the medieval mind understood it, even when they fought in self defense. Though their sin was mitigated by circumstance, they still confessed military activity as sin and were expected to do penance for it. To go on Crusade, or “to take the Cross” as they put it, was not to go to war. It was to make a solemn vow to pray at the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, and when that was done, a knight was expected to go home. He might have to fight along the way, but he did not go, at least theoretically, to gain territory or wealth. 

In fact many noblemen of Europe were bankrupted by the expense of going on pilgrimage, a journey from which only one in two returned. Amazingly, if a man made a vow to go to Jerusalem, he had to have his wife’s permission. If she refused her permission, his vow was invalid and he was released from his obligation. 

If anything has indicated the difference between Islam and Christianity, it is this. For a Muslim, it would be inconceivable for a woman to forbid a man to fulfill his sacred duty to wage jihad. Islam is jihad. Jihad means struggle. There is the greater and the lesser jihad. The first is internal moral struggle and the second is war. Clearly, and unmistakably from the times of Muhammad until now, the concept of jihad includes war.

By his own lights, a Christian who fights is doing something undesirable, even when the fight is necessary for the defense of the innocent and weak, or for self defense. It is less than the best, though it is sometimes the best who must fight. There is no Christian soldier who, taking his faith seriously, would rather make war than enjoy the blessings of peace. In Islam war is a sacred duty, a privilege and even a joy. Ayatollah Khomeini once said “The purest joy in Islam is to kill and be killed for Allah.” You might think this is a minority opinion, but history seems to indicate otherwise. By pointing this out I am not trying to say, “How awful!” I am just trying to say “How different.”

When a madman claiming to be Christian kills, saying it is God’s will, somewhere inside, every Christian and probably the madman himself knows that such a thing is absolutely contrary to the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. When a Muslim martyr straps on a bomb, he does so knowing that this is the day decreed by Allah for his death. There are different interpretations of such actions in the different Islamic schools, but the bomber himself believes that he is engaging in a supremely moral act. He has been encouraged by relatives, friends and teachers and, if successful is lionized in the Islamic world for his heroism. This is not a small thing. 

When two planes flew into the twin towers on September 11, 2001, much of the Islamic world broke out in celebration. Western journalists filming the celebrations were threatened with death for reporting what the local authorities didn’t want the West to understand: that the two worlds are different.  Those who celebrated were applauding an act of moral courage, according to their belief system. They believed they were acting morally, as were the hijackers.

We are different in our approach to women, to war, human destiny, to the nature of divinity and to the deity’s relation to humanity. We are different in our approach to  sacred scripture. The Koran contains the unchangeable words of Allah given to Muhammad, a revelation which took place over a few decades. Nothing important took place before that revelation, and very little of importance, except its application in the world, has happened since. 

The Bible is a conversation between the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God Christians hold to be the Father of Jesus of Nazareth and, for that matter, of all humanity. The conversation covers about two thousand years. Parts of our sacred text point out the difficult and sinful human beings whom God invites to his embrace. It is as much about humanity as it is about divinity and it shows human beings at their best and their worst, God loving them in all circumstances even when it seems like pretty tough love. 

Both religions are about submission to the maker of all things, but submission in the two religions is  very different. The very word Islam means “submission or surrender.” It is submission to the will of the absolutely sovereign Other. The submission, the surrender, of Christianity is found in the Our Father, “Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come.” It is surrender to a Father who loves us and whom we trust absolutely. The Christian attitude to the will of God is not a shoulder-shrugging, regretful “It’s God’s will.” Christian surrender is a joyful embrace of a plan better than our own, the perfect plan of a doting Father, a Father who is wiser than we are. It takes a Christian a long time to get there, but that joyful, trusting surrender is the goal of the Christian life.

So, we are different. The difference is summed up in two words: Jesus and Muhammad.  I think every Christian should read the Koran and every Muslim should read the New Testament. Ultimately one is true and the other is false. The Muhammad to whom the Koran was revealed and the Jesus of the New Testament are diametrically opposed to each other. You cannot obey them both. You can obey one, the other or neither, but you cannot be the follower of both. There is a song that says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” I invite you to turn your eyes upon Jesus and Muhammad both. I know whom I have chosen and why I have chosen Him.

The Rev. Know it all


  1. Father, thanks for the installments re Islam. I think its important to understand this religion for a number of reasons. Thanks for your priesthood... God Bless

  2. Father,
    Thank you for taking the time to present such a detailed and dispassionate work. It was especially enlightening to read your remarks regarding the view of elected government.
    I fear that, in much the same way that American Republicans seem incapable of defending their beliefs at the same level as American Democrats are capable of promoting their own, we Christians might not be willing, able, or motivated to defend our own way of life in the face of the advance of Islam. But we're taught to be gentle, aren't we?
    My heart feels heavy, thinking about this, but perhaps it's time for another crusade. I wonder how many of us will answer the call.

  3. " Though their sin was mitigated by circumstance, they still confessed military activity as sin and were expected to do penance for it."

    As irregularity, not as sin, I think.

    St Thomas, when explaining the OT concept of ritual impurity said sth of "quadam irregularitate". Killing in war = 1 week without the Eucharist, to be reapproached after confession (3 years some Orientals would say, instead).