(Seventh in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
Both Christianity and Islam believe in angels and prophets and in a God who communicates through holy scriptures, but their prophets and scriptures are very different.
Based on the thesis that people become like what they worship, and relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God, in this series, I have compared and contrasted social implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God, man, nature, salvation, and the future. This last post in this series addresses the social implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs about divine revelation.
In Muslim theology, the Qur’an is a verbatim incarnation of God’s word. It is an extension of divine essence and a part of eternity. In Christian theology, Jesus fulfills that role. While to most Christians the Bible is divinely inspired and miraculously without error, it is not an extension of God’s essence. The Bible quotes God, but it is not word for word in every word a direct quote from the mouth of God.
Christians believe that Jesus is divine (John 10:30-33), so that every word of Jesus is a word straight from the mouth of God. That is how Muslims view the Qur’an. Christians believe that the Bible is divinely provided and protected in order to show us Jesus (John 5:39). Muslims believe that about Muhammad. They believe Muhammad was divinely provided and protected in order to give us the Qur’an.
As a result, in Muslim theology, burning a Qur’an would be like crucifying Christ or desecrating the Eucharist. Burning a Qur’an is exponentially more explosive than burning a Bible. In Indonesia, I saw a man die in a hospital from a beating after he’d been arrested for allegedly burning some verses of the Qur’an that were supposedly mixed in with some magic charms that he was burning. In Christian theology, burning the Bible is like burning a valuable and special book, but it is nothing to Christians like burning a Qur’an is to Muslims. Functionally, for their respective groups, the Bible and the Qur’an are different, so the responses of the respective groups are different as well.
Functionally, the Muslim equivalent to the Christian Bible is Muhammad as he is known through their hadith and sunnah.
The hadith are written records of the sayings and actions of Muhammad. The sunnah is the “way” of Muhammad that the hadith reveals. Without knowing the “way” of Muhammad, there can be no authoritative application of the Qur’an. Similarly, without the Bible, there can be no authoritative knowledge of Christ.
Muslims do not study the Qur’an devotionally the way that Christians study the Bible. Rather, what Muslims study devotionally is the life of Muhammad. Muslims find life lessons in the way that Muhammad conversed, ate, drank, slept, washed, and even had sex. Muhammad is devotionally equivalent to the Bible, not the Qur’an.
Muslim clerics are legal scholars as well as theological ones. Muslim people leave interpreting the Qur’an to trained clerics the way that Americans leave interpreting the Constitution to trained lawyers. Muslims often memorize large portions of the Qur’an. But memorizing the Qur’an does not give one authority to interpret and apply it any more than memorizing the U.S. Constitution gives one credentials for practicing constitutional law.
For Christians, their ruler is Jesus. Though he rules a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom, he still rules. Christians call Jesus their Lord as well as their Savior. The Muslim equivalent to Jesus is the Qur’an. Muslims are devoted to the Qur’an the way that Christians are devoted to Jesus, and they treat it legally the way that Americans treat the U.S. Constitution. The Qur’an is a Muslim’s highest sovereign in the same way that Jesus is a Christian’s highest sovereign.
This post has been about the form that God uses to communicate with people. Both Christianity and Islam have prophets and scriptures; however, those prophets and scriptures don’t correlate with one another. Christians revere the man Jesus as the essence of God, whom they receive and understand through the Bible. Muslims revere the Qur’an as an essence of god, which they receive and understand through their prophet Muhammad. Functionally Muhammad correlates to the Bible and the Qur’an correlates to Jesus. Correlating Jesus with Muhammad and the Bible with the Qur’an is a mistake for Muslims trying to understand Christianity and for Christians trying to understand Islam.
That concludes this blog series comparing the implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs on God, man, nature, salvation, the future, and revelation. Many more comparisons could be made. The two religions are very different from each other.
It’s important for Christians not to fall into the popular trap of allowing people who have no religious affiliation to treat Christianity and Islam as if they were the same. If Christianity and Islam are essentially the same, then their fundamentalists are the same as well. One of the biggest challenges to religious freedom for Evangelicals in America comes not from Muslims, but from people with no religious affiliation, who will inevitably treat Evangelicals as if they were the same threat to civic order as extremist Muslims.
(Sixth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
Islam teaches that Muhammad established an ideal society under Muslim law when he ran the government in Medina and eventually in Mecca. Most Muslims desire to return to that ideal by implementing Muslim law as closely as possible to the way that Muhammad would apply it under conditions that exist today.
Christianity teaches, on the other hand that, since the rebellion of mankind against God by Adam and Eve in the long-gone Garden of Eden, ideal civilization is impossible unless God establishes it himself. Christians believe Jesus is God, and they believe that Jesus will return to earth from heaven some day. Therefore, Christianity teaches that God will establish the ideal society on earth through Jesus. Christian waiting for Jesus is patient but not idle. Christians believe, that while Jesus is gone they should do the best at what they think Jesus would do, but they do not believe it is possible to have an ideal society without Jesus.
These different visions for the future lead to different ways that Christians and Muslims engage in politics. Christians try to influence government and politics, but they no longer try to establish a theocratic government as the Byzantine emperors attempted from the fourth to the eleventh centuries. Jesus taught that his dominion was spiritual and non-material. He told the Roman governor who ordered his crucifixion, that if his kingdom had been of this world his followers would have been fighting for him (John 18:36). He told the Jewish leaders who wanted to rebel against Rome to pay their Roman taxes. He said “give to Caesar what is Caesars’ and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:17-21). This teaching from Jesus establishes the concept in Christian theology for of a separation of powers between church and state.
Muslim theology has no such church-state separation paradigm. The Muslim ideal strives for uniting political and religious power rather than separating those powers.
Christianity grew and thrived for over three centuries as a persecuted religion in both Roman and Persian empires. But, as Bernard Lewis writes in his book What Went Wrong (published by Oxford University Press in 2002),
“Muhammad achieved victory and triumph in his own lifetime. He conquered his promised land, and created his own state, of which he himself was supreme sovereign. As such, he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, levied taxes, raised armies, made war, and made peace. In a word, he ruled, and the story of his decisions and actions as ruler is sanctified in Muslim scripture and amplified in Muslim tradition” (p. 101).
Lewis also notes,
“The idea that any group or persons, any kind of activities, any part of human life is in any sense outside the scope of religious law and jurisdiction is alien to Muslim thought. There is, for example, no distinction between cannon law and civil law, between the law of the church and the law of the state, crucial in Christian history. There is only a single law, shari’a, accepted by Muslims as of divine origin and regulating all aspects of human life: civil, commercial, criminal, constitutional, as well as matters more specifically concerned with religion in the limited, Christian sense of that word” (p. 100).
This post has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about future world civilization. Both Christianity and Islam are idealistic and triumphal, however, Christians believe that only Jesus can establish an ideal society while Muslims strive for an ideal civilization on the earth through Muslim government and law. The results of these theological differences play out everywhere on the world stage. Politicians and diplomats ignore or minimize these differences to their peril. The next post in this series will explore Muslim and Christian differences in beliefs about divine revelation.
(Fifth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
My last post covered implications of the differences between Islam and Christianity over how mankind relates to nature. This post will cover implications of the differences over how mankind relates to God.
In both Christianity and Islam salvation depends upon an exclusive faith-based identity. Muslims believe that forgiveness comes exclusively through Islam, and Christians believe that forgiveness comes exclusively through Jesus (John 14:6). The similarity stops there. Muslims believe in two angels (the two kiraman katibin) who record good and bad deeds, words, feelings, and thoughts. Going to heaven instead of hell depends upon being a Muslim and upon God’s mercy in evaluating the record of one’s good and bad deeds and intentions.
In Christianity, people cannot mitigate their own sin with good words and deeds. Only God can mitigate sin. Theologians call the process “atonement.” It happens through the historical sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. God forgives sins, people repent, and a broken relationship with God gets restored. Repentance for Christians involves confessing and taking responsibility for sins, and then turning away from sin through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Christians call this “salvation by grace through faith not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It means salvation is not affected by good deeds but is a free gift to all who reconcile with God through a faith allegiance to the identity and work of Jesus Christ. Because forgiveness starts with God and is guaranteed by God, Christians have assurance that God won’t punish them when they confess their sins (1 John 1:9). From a relational point of view, forgiveness is not yet a relationship. Forgiveness merely forgoes the right to demand justice, punishment, or restitution. It’s half of reconciliation. The other half is repentance.
The concept that people relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God is part of Christian tradition. Jesus taught his followers that they were to forgive one another just as graciously as their heavenly Father had forgiven them (Matthew 6:12-15). People in societies following the pattern for reconciliation set by God in Jesus Christ, expect to be forgiven when they repent – when they take responsibility and promise to change. They expect mitigated consequences when they sincerely apologize.
People in Muslim societies rarely apologize as an initial step towards reconciliation. Rather, the offender will usually work on restitution and try to reestablish relationship first. Think about it. If forgiveness from god is affected by merit, then forgiveness from one’s neighbor, will be too. The more responsibility one accepts for an offense, then the higher the price of restitution. Muslims will often ask for forgiveness without admitting responsibility. Muslims who want to be in relationship will often mutually blame uncontrollable circumstances, someone else, or even god as a way to reduce the price for restoring the balance of good and bad deeds between them.
Based upon these patterns, apologizing for accidentally burning Qur’ans or for the existence of videos and cartoons that insult Muhammad is a mistake. So is apologizing for past offenses like the Crusades or Colonialism. It’s like a doctor apologizing for accidentally sewing his scissors into a patient after removing an appendix. It just increases liability and the cost of settlement. Islam is a legal system as well as a religion. Forgiveness is earned. It may or may not follow restitution. Apologizing admits responsibility, so the more abject the apology, the greater the admission of responsibility, and the greater the responsibility, then the costlier the settlement.
Also, among Muslims, potential for reconciliation is higher for insiders than for outsiders. In Christian theology of salvation, people reconcile with God first, and then they become “true” Christians. In Muslim salvation, people become “true” Muslims first, and then they can be reconciled with god. The Christian God treats everyone the same. He offers forgiveness to everyone, whether Christian or non-Christian. The Muslim god treats Muslims and non-Muslims differently. Like their god, Muslims treat insiders and outsiders differently.
Actually, Muslims often ask each other for forgiveness. In fact, requesting forgiveness from friends and relatives is an important component of Muslim holiday celebrations. In Muslim cultures, however, maturity and good character don’t require admitting faults or taking personal responsibility for mistakes. Offenses are often forgiven without anyone ever admitting guilt. It’s like a legal settlement in court or no-fault insurance where money changes hands but no one admits that they were wrong.
From a Muslim perspective, it is the Christian pattern for reconciliation that miscarries justice. It requires that the offended party be ready and willing to forgive once a sincere apology is offered. It means you don’t actually need to do anything in order to be forgiven. It means that even the wickedest person can reconcile with God and have absolute certainty of eternal salvation. And it puts the offender rather than the offended in control. Ultimately, it appears to turn justice and divine sovereignty upside down.
This post has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about salvation. Christians believe that salvation to eternal life flows from a restored relationship with God through forgiveness and repentance that makes one a Christian. Muslims believe salvation into paradise happens only for Muslims as God mercifully considers their good and bad deeds. These differences profoundly influence human relationships resulting in different behaviors and social structures. In interpersonal relationships, Christians are expected to grant forgiveness for sincere apologies while Muslims grant forgiveness when it is earned.
The next post in this series will explore Muslim and Christian differences in beliefs about the future.
(Fourth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
My last post compared and contrasted Muslim and Christian beliefs about man. This post will show how different beliefs about man result in different beliefs about man’s relationship to nature.
In the Christian Scriptures it is written that on the sixth day of creation God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). In Christian thought, this Scripture teaches that God wants man be his steward of creation.
Furthermore, in the Christian gospels it is written that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the storm (Acts 2:22). Now, for Christians, Jesus is the behavior (way), character (truth), and will (life) of God incarnated into human flesh (John 14:6). Jesus demonstrates the will of God for mankind (John 20:21). Therefore, Christians believe that fighting against sickness, death, and natural disasters is fighting against evil and is according to the will of God. As a result, Western civilization has a rich heritage of struggling to improve and prolong human life with medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief.
Most of the world, and particularly most of the Muslim world, does not share this passion for excellence and constant improvement in medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief. A natural disaster anywhere in the Muslim world almost always kills far more people than an equivalent disaster somewhere in the Western world.
When I was living among Muslims in Indonesia, I saved a man from drowning by performing mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration on him. The lifeguards at the pool had been performing the long discredited back-pressure-arm-lift method of resuscitation. I got him breathing again but not back to full consciousness, so he had to be taken to the hospital where the doctors and nurses thought that I had sucked the water out of his lungs in order to revive him. An article in the paper the next day said that fortunately for the young man a foreigner happened to be there to give him assisted breathing while removing the water that he had swallowed.
While serving among embedded military advisors in Iraq, I observed that it was very difficult for American advisors to persuade Iraqi soldiers and military leaders to wear protective equipment, like eye protection, body armor, and helmets during combat operations. The Iraqi response was always, “Insyallah,” which means “if God wills.” They seemed to be saying that whether they lived or died was God’s will so that they did not need to bother with wearing protective equipment.
The word “Islam” comes from the Arabic root word “Salema” which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. At its essence, Islam is submission to the will of God and obedience to His law.
From the Muslim perspective, every phenomenon in the world, other than man, is administered totally by God-made laws. All of nature obeys God and submits to his will. It is said to be in the “State of Islam.”
That is different than the Christian view. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that all of creation is in bondage to decay and waits patiently for restoration through the ones who are becoming children of God (Romans 8:20-22).
If nature is in a state of submission to the will of God, then that means that sickness, death, and natural disasters are according to his will. According to Muslim thinking, only human beings have the capacity to rebel against the will of God. Mankind is invited to submit to the will of god and to obey god’s law through the religion of Islam. Muslims believe that submission to the good will of god, together with obedience to his beneficial law is the best safeguard for man’s peace and harmony.
The logical extrapolation of this thinking is that resisting forces of nature that manifest themselves in sickness, death, and natural disaster is equivalent to resisting the will of God. Wearing protective equipment or being skilled in the latest techniques for resuscitating drowning victims reveals a lack of spirituality and a lack of submission to God’s will.
In the Christian view, nature itself has been disturbed by evil, and one of God’s purposes for humanity is not only to struggle against evil in oneself, but also to struggle against evil in nature. In the Muslim view, however, God completely controls all of nature.
Islam does call upon humanity to struggle. The word for struggle is “jihad.” Muslims are called to jihad against everything that sets itself up against the will and law of god. Jihad can be an internal personal struggle against sin, and it can be an external communal defense of Islam. But Muslims are not called to jihad against death, sickness, and natural disasters the way that Christians are. Nature, for the Muslim, is still under the control and will of God.
This blog has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about the nature of creation and man’s relationship to it. The next in this series will explore differences in beliefs about man’s relationship to God.
(Third in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
In my last post, I compared Muslim and Christian beliefs about tawhid and trinity. I mentioned that tawhid had implications for the nature of man as well as the nature of god. Tahwid means not only that there is one God, but also that nothing in creation can be associated with god and that god cannot associate himself with anything in creation. It means that the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is metaphysically impossible for the Muslim god. It also means that there can be no image of god in human beings.
Since the Christian God is a trinity with eternal relational moral attributes like integrity and love, when God bestows those attributes upon part of his creation, then that part of creation becomes “made in the image of God.” But the Muslim god, as a singularity without eternal relational attributes, cannot bestow moral attributes upon any creatures as any portion of his own nature.
In Christian anthropology, the moral attributes of human beings participate in the infinite and eternal qualities of God. It makes all human life equally sacred and valuable. God is infinite, so likeness of God in mankind is also infinite. Compared to the infinity of God’s likeness in mankind, other differences between people (like gender, race, status, intelligence, disability, or religious affiliation) disappear into relative insignificance when compared to infinity. Compared to infinity, anything else that is not also infinite resolves to zero. Therefore, before God all people are not only equal, but are also infinitely significant because they participate in infinity. If human beings are “made in the image of God,” then laws against discrimination based on race, religion, disability, or gender, are rationally and objectively rooted in the eternal nature of God as opposed to arbitrarily rooted in how things were created.
But in Muslim theology of mankind, nothing in man can be anything like god. Therefore, the moral attributes of human beings cannot be anything like the attributes of god. Therefore mankind’s worth and moral attributes are arbitrarily part of creation and not intrinsically part of god and eternity. No part of human essence is either divinely sacred or joined to infinity in a way that by comparison eclipses physical and social differences. Islam does teach that God has created human beings with equal dignity that is higher than the rest of creation (Quran 17:70). However, differences in gender and religious affiliation are legally significant in Islam. A man’s testimony has more weight than a woman’s, and non-Muslims have different status than Muslims in Muslim law. Furthermore, only non-Muslims have freedom of religion under Muslim law. Non-Muslims are free to convert to any faith they choose, but Muslims are not free to leave Islam.
Because of tahwid, in Islam, human dignity flows arbitrarily from the way that people are created rather than from the innate infinite likeness of God in mankind. As a practical result, human rights vary depending upon physical characteristics, behaviors, and social affiliations.
Because of the trinity, in Christianity, human dignity flows from an innate infinite likeness to God in each person rather than from arbitrarily created characteristics or chosen behaviors and affiliations. As a practical result, human rights are the same for all people whatever their differences or affiliations. Men, women, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians are all the same before God and the law.
The image of God in man makes people different from everything else that God created, and it results in a divine expectation for people to be stewards of the rest of creation. I will address the implications on caring for creation in my next post.
People become like what they worship, and they relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God. Gender, race, and interfaith relations are a challenge in all societies, but gender, race, and religious discrimination are bigger problems in Muslim majority societies than in Christian majority ones because of different beliefs about the image of God in man.
(Second in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
Based on the thesis that people become like what they worship, and people relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God, in this blog series I intend to compare and contrast the social impact of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God, man, nature, salvation, end times, and revelation. This entry compares and contrasts the social impact of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God.
The Christian God is three persons in one essence, while the Muslim god is a single autonomous unity. The English technical term for the three-in-one Christian God is “trinity.” The Arabic technical term for solitary singularity of divine essence is tawhid.
Muslim scholars claim that tawhid is the most important article of Muslim faith and that all other Muslim doctrine springs from it. Tahwid means not only that there is only one God, but also that nothing in creation can be associated with God and that God cannot associate himself with anything in creation. We’ll explore the implications of divine non-association in my next post on the theology of man, but for now let’s consider the implications for society and civic structures if God is a singularity rather than a trinity.
In chapter one of He Is There and He Is Not Silent Francis Schaefer writes,
The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other and loved each other before the creation of the world…. This is not only an answer to the acute philosophic need of unity in diversity, but of personal unity and diversity. The unity and diversity cannot exist before God or be behind God, because whatever is farthest back is God. But with the doctrine of the Trinity, the unity and diversity is God Himself — three Persons, yet one God. That is what the Trinity is, and nothing less than this
Honor, glory, love, integrity, morality, and truth demand relationships. These moral qualities cannot exist within a singularity. However, these moral qualities can exist in eternity past within a trinity. If God is a trinity, then glory, honor, and love are eternal. That eternity for glory, honor, and love is possible because the persons of the trinity have been glorifying, honoring, and loving each other for eternity. Also, if God is a trinity, then integrity, morality and truth are also eternal. That eternity for moral qualities is possible because the persons of the trinity have been holding each other accountable to standards of integrity, morality, and truth for eternity.
But if God is a singularity, then there are no interpersonal relationships within God. If there are no interpersonal relationships within God, then there is no eternal basis within God for honor, glory, love, integrity, morality, and truth. If there is no basis in eternal reality for God’s glory and honor, then God’s glory and honor are not eternally innate to him but depend on his relationship with creation. Also, if God is a singularity, then God can do nothing to shame himself. If God has no innate honor, then he can never potentially have innate shame. He can only be shamed by his creation. If God can do nothing to potentially shame himself, then his behavior has no moral boundaries. He can lie, cheat, and steal with impunity because God is only accountable to himself. If there are no relationships within God, then God has no accountability.
In Christian society, because God is a trinity, nothing and no one can embarrass or dishonor God. God’s honor and glory are part of his eternal essence and depend on nothing other than God himself. Nothing in creation can ever change or diminish God’s honor and glory — even if God becomes a man and dies a humiliating death on a cross. Only God himself can potentially shame himself, because a trinity has accountability within itself.
But in Muslim society, because god is a singularity, the society must guard and protect his glory. Nowhere on earth and at no time in history do we find Christians violently protesting in the streets when people insult God, his prophet, or his holy books. People in Christian societies know that God does not need his honor protected. But Muslims around the world throughout history are paranoid about glory of their god. “Allah Akhbar,” the Arabic words for “God is Great,” are constantly on their lips. Insulting the prophet receives a death penalty in many Muslim countries. Defiling a Qur’an instigates violent protests and even murders around the world.
People become like what they worship and relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God. In Christian societies, God’s honor is certain and his integrity is an innate attribute. Christian doctrine holds that God’s integrity constrains his behavior so that he cannot lie. If God were to lie, then he would shame himself. Therefore, in Christian societies, integrity is more important than honor, and society expects people to tell the truth even if it means embarrassing themselves, their families, their business, or their leaders.
But the relative esteem for integrity and honor are reversed in Muslim societies. According to Muslim doctrine and according to the Qur’an itself, “Allah is the best deceiver.” In Islam, god’s honor depends upon how creation treats him, and integrity is not an innate part of his eternal essence. Power, as an attribute, can be independent of relationships, and it is the most vaunted attribute of the Muslim god. As a result, in Muslim societies, honor is more desirable than integrity, and people are expected to deceive in order to protect themselves, their families, their businesses, or their leaders from shame. Among Muslims, the notion that God would stoop to become a man and suffer at the hands of men is one of the most offensive blasphemies to comprehend.
Because of tahwid the Muslim god can only be dishonored by his creation, and he cannot dishonor himself. However, because of the trinity the Christian God can only be dishonored by himself and cannot be dishonored by creation. As a result, Christian societies do not worry about protecting God’s honor and care more about truth than honor, but Muslim societies are paranoid about god’s honor and care more about honor than truth.
This is the first in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam.
I believe that people become like what they worship, and people relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God. If religions matter and if religions are different, then different civic structures will emerge from different religions. But popular culture resists information that challenges its prevailing conviction that all religions are basically the same. It sees what it expects, and it overlooks what it doesn’t.
Recent research shows that the religion of “no-religious-affiliation” is the fastest growing religious position in America. This group’s influence on popular thought throughout all of America is stunningly profound. If religion is irrelevant, then all religions are basically the same. And if all religions are basically the same, then different religions do not result in different civic structures, and civic structures become interchangeable between societies that are practicing different religions.
This emerging belief system impacts both secular and Christian institutions. On the secular side, it is the foundation for the failure of peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East and Central Asia. On the Christian side, it undergirds efforts to create a Jesus movement within Islam.
In this series, I will challenge conventional popular wisdom about religion. I will demonstrate that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally different. I will compare and contrast Muslim and Christian beliefs about God (theology), man (anthropology), nature (cosmology), salvation (soteriology), end-times (eschatology), and revelation. I will show how different beliefs result in different values that result in different social behaviors.
On the secular side, Western civic structures are founded in a Judeo-Christian religious heritage. Conversely, Middle Eastern and Central Asian civic structures are founded in a Muslim heritage. Civic structures cannot survive without underlying values that are based upon popular beliefs. Structure for government, justice, education, public works, civil defense, marriage, family, and more must have points of contact with underlying values. Structures functioning in one religious heritage cannot survive inside another without adapting so that they have points of contact in the values based on the beliefs of the other system. Such adaptation is not possible when the people attempting to transplant the structures believe that all religions are basically the same.
On the religious side, not everyone who professes to be a Christian is truly following Jesus and is “saved” according to an Evangelical perspective. Furthermore, some people who call themselves Muslims are actually or secretly following Jesus. As a result, many Evangelicals are embracing the popular notion that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. That leads to religious structures being interchangeable. It means that Muslims can follow Jesus and remain in Islam while Christians can worship in Mosques and celebrate Muslim holidays without committing idolatry. But if the Muslim and Christian gods are different, then worshipping in a Mosque would be idolatry for someone following Jesus, and worshipping in a church would be idolatry for someone following Muhammad.
Follow this series and then decide for yourself. Can Western civic structures bring peace and prosperity to the world of Islam? Can Muslims follow Jesus and remain inside Islam?
In Arabic and in Indonesian both Christians and Muslims use the same name, Allah, for God. Both Christians and Muslims desire to worship the one and only true God. However, unless God’s character is irrelevant, then the Gods that they worship must be different.
The prevailing myth that all Gods and religions are essentially the same prevents people from recognizing behavioral differences arising from different belief systems. That thinking error helps explain why popular culture overlooks mistreatment of women and religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. It also explains why popular media won’t report differences in how fundamentalist communities respond to insults. As a result, Evangelical Christians in America become more stigmatized and less free as fundamentalist Muslim violence spreads, because Christianity and Islam must be the same in the minds of most Americans.
Here are two examples of differences between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim Gods:
Example 1: God as trinity or singularity
The Judeo-Christian God is three persons in one essence, while the Muslim God is a single autonomous entity. The Judeo-Christian God follows standards for interpersonal love and accountability as part of his essence in eternity, because he is a trinity. However, morality in relationships is not an essential trait of the Muslim God because relationships do not exist within a singularity.
In chapter one of He Is There and He Is Not Silent Francis Schaefer writes,
Without the high order of personal unity and diversity as given in the Trinity, there are no answers…. The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other and loved each other before the creation of the world…. This is not only an answer to the acute philosophic need of unity in diversity, but of personal unity and diversity. The unity and diversity cannot exist before God or be behind God, because whatever is farthest back is God. But with the doctrine of the Trinity, the unity and diversity is God Himself — three Persons, yet one God. That is what the Trinity is, and nothing less than this.
Therefore, the Judeo-Christian God is law-abiding in eternal essence, but the Muslim God has no basis for law and order before creation. Consequently, according to the Qur’an, Allah is the best deceiver. But according to the Bible, God may not lie.
Example 2: God’s image in man or nowhere
The Judeo-Christian God created men and women in his own image and incarnates himself in flesh and blood to restore relationship between God and man. The Muslim God has no likeness and may not be likened to anything in creation. He most certainly did not become flesh and blood. If both men and women are in God’s image, then both men and women are equally sacred, and all people are equal before God (including non-Jews and non-Christians). In Judaism and Christianity, sanctity and equality flow from partaking in God’s image. However, in Islam, human worth flows from the way that God created and fated men and women. Men and women do not participate in God’s likeness, and God does not put his likeness into men and women. Consequently, men and women are not equal before the law in Islam. Neither are Muslims and non-Muslims.
Influence of God’s perceived character in society
People become like what they worship, so character differences between Gods influence social relationships. Furthermore, ignoring the differences insults the people for whom God’s character is important. Differences between God in the Bible and God in the Qur’an result in behavioral differences in faith communities. For example, in most Muslim societies women are less respected than men, and Jews are the least respected minority.
Opposite perceptions of God’s opposite
The Bible does describe a spirit that is deceptive, hungry for exclusive worship, and unaccountable, but it is not God. The Qur’an describes a spirit that fabricates stories about Jesus in order to divert people from the “path of God.” For insight on the identity of the spirit in the Bible that oppresses women and hates Jews, see Genesis 3:14-15 and Revelation 12:13. For insight on the identity of the spirit in the Qur’an that leads people astray and into false beliefs about prophets like Jesus, see Surah 6 verse 112 and Surah 19 verse 83.
Follow-up Q & A:
If Jews don’t worship a trinity, then how can a triune God be Judeo-Christian?
Special revelation is progressive, so the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures can be revealed to be triune. Thus the trinity can be “Judeo-Christian” without being specified as such in either ancient or modern Judaism.
Does this logic mean that Jews and Christians do not worship the same God?
If intentions determine the object of worship then Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God. But intentions are only part of worshiping in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24). Without perfect truth, there is a bit of idolatry in all of us. Jesus is the only one who perfectly knows, worships, and reveals God. We know and follow God by knowing and following Jesus. He alone completely manifests God’s behavior, knowledge, and character (John 14:6).
History doesn’t just repeat itself. Once a cycle starts, it practically never ends. Today’s challenges for stability across the Muslim world are not new. They are small aspen saplings sprouting in a grove from a giant root ball that winds through half the globe and over 1,400 years. Modern community leaders should not sever situation assessments on the surface from this massive ball of proverbial roots, no matter how painful, embarrassing, and politically incorrect those connections might be.
Around 610 C.E., Muhammad began introducing more than a new religion. He revolutionized the Middle Eastern “way of war” and initiated an empire that would rival all the others. That rivalry continues today, along with differences in the Western and Middle Eastern “ways of war.”
Muhammad started a military revolution. According to Knox and Murray in The Dynamics of Military Revolution, military revolutions are like major earthquakes. They are unpredictable and uncontrollable. Their upheaval impacts the whole society. They may impact economics, politics, and culture even more than armed forces. The military movement that Muhammad started was unforeseen, and it drastically changed the world. Muhammad introduced religious fervor to the Arab “way of war.” The Old Testament records God telling the ancient Jews through Joshua to conquer Canaan. Similarly, the Qur’an has Allah telling Muhammad’s followers to “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! . . . Fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).”
Whether or not Muhammad was a prophet of God, he was a great statesman and military leader. In What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, Bernard Lewis notes, “Muhammad achieved victory and triumph in his own lifetime. He conquered his promised land, and created his own state, of which he himself was supreme sovereign.” Whether or not Islam is a religion of peace, it inspired military campaigns and united an empire that reached from Morocco to Afghanistan within fifty years of Muhammad’s death.
The new empire was a military success inspired by religion rather than a religious success inspired by the military. In God’s Battalions, Rodney Stark declares, “The conquering Arabs constituted a small elite who ruled over large populations of non-Muslims, most of whom remained unconverted for centuries.” Imperial success flowed from a military revolution in the Arab “way of war” and not from religious missionary activity. In The Lost History of Christianity, Philip Jenkins notes that although “this was a movement of armed conquest and imperial expansion, which on occasion involved ferocious violence. . . . conquest was not quickly followed by Islamization, or the destruction of church institutions.” Referencing calculations by historian Richard Bulliet, Jenkins reveals that Islam had little initial religious impact outside of Arabia, and it did not become the majority religion in its own empire until sometime after 850 C.E. Antioch and Jerusalem actually had Christian majorities as late as the beginning of the Crusades (1096 C.E.).
Arab warfare before Muhammad was hit-and-run raiding between tribes. Islam united the tribes, and fervor to spread the new faith sustained Arab unity. In The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State, Hugh Kennedy underscores how the Arabs now “fought for their religion, the prospect of booty and because their friends and fellow tribesmen were doing it.” Arab conquest received no advantage from the five essentials that Geoffrey Parker associates with the Western paradigm for its “way of war”: 1) technology; 2) discipline; 3) highly aggressive military action; 4) innovation; and 5) a unique system of finance. According to Stark, for technology, the Arab advance neither possessed nor sought any systems or weapons more modern than their enemies. For discipline, it featured fierce desert tribes, not professionally trained battalions. For aggression, it razed some major cities like Carthage, and it massacred some defenseless villages in order to provoke nearby fortified garrisons into an open fight. However, many people in diverse Christian traditions all across Orthodox Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia welcomed the Arabs as liberators. As for innovation and finance, according to Samuel Moffett in A History of Christianity in Asia, “it was the conquered who represented civilization, and the conquerors were still nomad warriors from the desert.” Stark says that the sophisticated culture of Muslim empire “was actually the culture of conquered people.” Ultimately, when the Arabs finally met the Western “way of war,” they stalled.
Against the Persians of Asia, the Byzantines of the Middle East, and the Visigoths of Spain, the Arabs seemed invincible. Beyond the Pyrenees, however, they met the elements of the Western “way of war” that were in the midst of their own “revolution in military affairs.” If MacGregor Knox can call “the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century, which merged mass politics and warfare,” a military revolution, then he should call the rise of Islam a military revolution as well. What Napoleon did for politics and war in France, Muhammad did for religion and war in the Middle East. However, the military revolution that Muhammad started was not a revolution of what Geoffrey Parker calls “the Western way of war.” It was a revolution of the Arab “way of war.” It overcame Persia and Byzantium, and it created one of the world’s largest empires. It has not overcome the West, at least not yet. Weapons of mass destruction, globalization, and information technology are revitalizing the Arab “way of war” with a renewed military revolution. The Western world is answering, as it did at Tours, by revolutionizing the military affairs of its Western “way of war.”
Beyond the Pyrenees, the Arabs met Charles Martel, who was building what would become his own empire—the Carolingian Empire. His military success did not come through revolutionary factors affecting all of society. It did not come through a military revolution. Rather, it came through measured and strategic innovations in organization, doctrine, tactics, and weaponry that were limited mostly to the battlefield. According to Stark, Martel’s were not the gutless garrison mercenaries of Byzantine cities or the hired hands filling Persian cavalry. His were citizen professionals with better armor, better weapons, better horses, better food, better discipline, better leadership, better logistics, and better pay.
The Muslim empire thrived in North Africa and Asia, turned back Mongol invaders, spread into South Asia and Southeast Asia, eventually crushed Constantinople, and drove deep into Eastern Europe. However, whenever it encountered the armies of the West, it failed. Against the Western “way of war,” the “way” inspired by Muhammad’s revolution eventually lost Al-Andalus (1492), abandoned Barbary Piracy (1815), surrendered Egypt to Napoleon (1798), and submitted to British occupation (1800s). The Caliphate maintained by the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed completely (1923), and the non-Muslim state of Israel formed in the Muslim heartland (1948). Even with great numerical and geographic advantage, the Muslim empire could not eliminate Crusader settlements in Palestine for nearly 200 years (1098-1291). Those settlements eventually failed, but not for military reasons. According to Stark, they failed due to resentment in Europe over their cost in taxes and “a medieval version of an antiwar movement.” If modern Israel is functionally equivalent to medieval Crusader colonies, then it might endure a similar lifecycle.
The West, with its characteristic science, technology and “way of war,” remains dominant in the world today, but that might be changing. Globalization, weapons of mass destruction, and information technology are resurrecting a military revolution among Muslims that may favor non-Western “ways of war.” Since the 1979 regime change in Iran, Islam is surging militaristically. This time, it’s not through a new religion uniting Arab tribes, but through fanaticism uniting millions of Muslims dispersed around the world among Muslim and non-Muslim majorities. A Pew opinion survey published in December 2010 found that 82 percent of Muslim Egyptians favor stoning for adultery, 77 percent favor severing limbs for theft, and 84 percent favor death for apostasy (leaving Islam). With those kind of popular opinions characteristic in a relatively moderate Muslim country, more democratic Muslim governments might not prevent a clash of civilizations any better than democracy prevented civil war in America.
Like the original military revolution in the Arab “way of war” that resulted in a Muslim empire, today’s military revolution is also uncontrollable, unpredictable, and broadly transformational. The “End” for this revolution is restoring the Muslim Caliphate. Its “Ways” are fear, intimidation, and fanaticism. Some of its “Means” include: 1) starting non-state terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda; 2) assassinating moderate leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer in Pakistan; 3) employing weapons of mass destruction like flying jet airplanes into sky scrapers; and 4) orchestrating violent demonstrations like those against the Danish cartoons of Muhammad and the burning of a Qur’an.
Against these “Means,” the West is answering with updates to military organization, doctrine, operations, tactics and technology that resemble a revolution in military affairs. Organizationally, America created new departments and commands. For example, it created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate federal agencies, and it started the U.S. Northern Command to lead Homeland Defense in the continental United States. America is also trying to rebalance its defense force structure and modernize its doctrine in order to address more non-traditional threats. For example, Stability and Civil Support Operations now require the same attention and proficiency as major combat operations. Operationally, tactically, and technologically, over one million of over three million service men and women served in nearly 80 foreign countries in 2010. Most of those American military personnel were focused on Counter Insurgency (COIN) and Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions.
The difference between military revolutions and revolutions in military affairs is significant. It is profoundly necessary to understand both history and current events with respect to Western and Muslim civilizations. Military revolutions impact all of society. Revolutions in military affairs affect only the military. The military revolution surging outside of the West among Muslims is having a broader impact even on Western society itself than the revolution in military affairs that’s happening within Western militaries.
As when religious zeal inspired Arab tribes to burst forth from the desert and conquer most of the non-Western world, modern circumstances are kindling widespread fervor to reestablish a Muslim Caliphate. It is another military revolution. New methods involving non-state enemies and weapons of mass destruction are reshaping economics, politics, and sociology in every nation. The West, with its “way of war” and its revolutions in military affairs, withstood and overcame non-Western military revolution once before. Only time will tell if it can do so again.
 Geoffrey Parker, “Introduction: The Western Way of War,” The Cambridge History of Warfare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005), p. 1.
 MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, “Thinking about Revolutions in Warfare,” in The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 6.
 “The Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot.’” Holy Bible: New International Version (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1973), Joshua 1:2-3.
 Muhammad M. Pickthall, The Glorious Qur’an Text and Explanatory Translation (Mecca, Saudi Arabia: The Muslim World League, 1977), Sura 9:41, 123.
 Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 101.
 Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., “Afghanistan—History,” 13:32b, and “North Africa—From the Islamic Conquest to 1830,” 24:959b (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2003).
 Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2009), p. 27.
 Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity (New York: Harper Collins Pub., 2008) p. 101.
 Ibid., p. 113.
 Stark, God’s Battalions, pp. 148, 155.
 Hugh Kennedy, The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 6.
 Parker, The Cambridge History of Warfare, pp. 1-10.
 Stark, God’s Battalions, pp. 12-27.
 Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1500, 2d ed. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1998), p. 338.
 Stark, God’s Battalions, p. 56.
 Knox and Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, p. 6.
 Parker, The Cambridge History of Warfare, p. 1.
Stark, God’s Battalions, pp. 39-44.
 Ibid., p. 238.
 Pew Research Center, Pew Global Attitudes Project, “Most Embrace a Role for Islam in Politics: Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah,” December 2, 2010. <http://pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/> (viewed April 8, 2011).
 Department of Defense Instruction Number 3000.05 September 16, 2009. <www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/300005p.pdf> (viewed April 8, 2011) and Department of the Army, FM 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, February 2008), p. D-3.
 George W. Casey Jr. and John M. McHugh, Headquarters Department of the Army. “2010 Army Posture Statement.” <https://secureweb2.hqda.pentagon.mil/vdas_armyposturestatement/2010/aps_pages/letter.asp> (viewed April 8, 2011).