Islam And Christianity History

INTRODUCTION

We are faced with a challenge to our representative form of government. Can we learn to live in freedom. Is the freedom of religion a myth? There are good signs. Cf. “How a Great Nation Responds” Both Christians and Muslims have the objective of converting one another. This objective can be achieved in the realm of debate and free choice without violence. Pluralism in America means only that we are free to discuss our differences. This course draws its name from a mission called the Church without Walls & The Biblical Institute for Islamic Studies. I helped found this mission that is dedicated to meetings for better understanding. It is a model of what we need in America. For many years the Church without Walls has been meeting with Muslims. One time we meet in a mosque and the next time in a church. There is an agreed theme about which both speak. Obviously both are trying to convert the audience to their viewpoint. But we do it in the realm of ideas and work toward better understanding.

In view of the attack on the World Trade Center and the nascent and active violence towards people of the Middle East, it is important that we understand, as reported by Time Magazine that the vast majority of Arab Americans are not Muslim, they are Christians. The ratio is 25% Muslim, and 75% Christian. This makes the prejudice and violence even more appalling. Even if Islam represents a different philosophy and world-view the way to oppose it is in the realm of the mind and not through physical violence. It is equally true of Islam that the way to propagate their faith is through a peaceful discussion of ideas.

CHRISTIANITY

I do not intend to give as comprehensive a history of Christianity as Islam because I understand that our historical background gives us more accurate information on this religion.

However, there are a few salient factors that I wish to emphasize. Christianity is often viewed historically as an offshoot of Judaism. Actually orthodox Christianity traces its roots back to creation. It sees itself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Revelation. By fulfillment I mean to say that orthodox Christianity sees itself as the final end. This places it in contradiction to modern Orthodox Judaism, which still awaits the fulfillment of the OT Scripture and to Reform and Conservative Judaism that primarily emphasizes the moral imperatives of the OT. It also places it in contradiction to Islam that claims a later revelation of truth.

Historically, then, orthodox Christianity, while tracing its roots back to the OT, began officially with Jesus, the Christ, his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and triumph. The periods of Christianity’s story may be divided into the Apostolic age, covered in the NT, The early church, the medieval church, the Reformation, the continuing Roman and Orthodox Churches, Protestantism and the modern church.

We should understand that the various developments in the history of the Christian Church have led to many different views on the relationship of church and state as well as to different views on the use of physical power. In the medieval church there was a strong attachment to the physical and material, including historic sites of Christianity. As a result, violent crusades were launched after the time of Mohammed’s expansionist policies, in order to reclaim the sacred sites for Christians. My judgment is that these crusades failed miserably, as they should have.  Christian faith is not based on geography. Nevertheless, seeds of dissension were sowed that do not readily go away. This reaction was certainly a product of the times. If the Mohammedans could conquer and subdue people, why shouldn’t the Christians? What folly!!!! Neither the Mohammedan’s nor the Christians fairly represented their faith.

So let us understand that Islam and Christianity have divergent beliefs which cannot be reconciled intellectually and spiritually, but that does not mean that they cannot live together in peace.

ISLAM

My sources for the history of Islam are the Encyclopedia Britannica, and “ Man’s Religions” by John B. Noss of Franklin and Marshall College. I mention this because it is important that the historical sources be neutral. Noss’s book views all religions as human creations. Neither orthodox Christians nor Muslims believe this. In point of fact, much of the tension that has existed between these two religions can be traced to their prophetic conviction that they alone have the truth and both believe that they have a message from God. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Taoism tend to be more open to the idea that they are the creation of man’s perceptions of the universe in which he lives. Christianity and Islam are prophetic religions that do not agree on what God’s message is. That does not mean that there are no common elements but we must deal with this dilemma so that we can learn to live together in peace.

Westerners know very little of the background of Islam. It began in Arabia. We might assume that there was no religion in Arabia before Mohammed. This would be false. There were several religious strains operating in the Arabian Peninsula prior to Mohammed. In commercial centers there were colonies made up of those of the Jewish or Christian faith. In southern Arabia the Semitic desert faith had evolved into an astrological cult. The majority of Arabs worshipped local or tribal deities and in some cases lesser spirits including angels, fairies, and jinn’s.  In Mecca three different goddesses were worshipped, the Mother goddess, the goddess of fate and a goddess like Venus, all of whom were perceived to be the daughters of Allah. Allah is the generic name for God in Arabic. The name is given specific definition in the Koran. Given this background it is understandable that Muslims regard Mohammed as a hero because he brought unity and monotheism to their people.

Mohammed grew up as an orphan in the most religious city in Arabia, Mecca. There was a holy shrine called the Kabah (cube) built around a meteor regarded as the black stone that came from heaven in the days of Adam.  Nearby was a holy well often regarded as a provision for Ishmael when his mother Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, fled from Abraham’s family. Pilgrimages to Mecca were common in the days before Mohammed. The very year Mohammed was born there was a crisis known in Arabia as The Year of the Elephant when the Christian governor of South Arabia marched on Mecca with the intent of destroying the heathen shrine. At the age of 25 Mohammed traveled to Syria     and began to develop a broader perspective. Contacts with Jews and Christians also influenced him. He was married to an older woman, a widow, and thereafter entered a periods of religious stress and although he had a number of religious helpers, he wandered off alone to the hills around Mecca to brood. He received his prophetic call according to tradition at Mt. Hira, a few miles north of Mecca. (Sura 96,KORAN)_Defense in Sura 53. Uncertain at first, Mohammed eventually accepted what he perceived to be his role as a true prophet
(rasul) of the Lord.

Mohammed faced several years of opposition from his own people and from various tribal rivalries. After being rejected at Mecca he went 300 miles to the north to Yathrib, later called Medina (the city of the prophet) in his honor. The escape to Medina is called the Hijra and ultimately established a theocracy at Medina. The tribes far and near were subdued and he unified them under the will of Allah including the citizens of Mecca. Westerners need to understand that Mohammed lived in a tumultuous period. His efforts to consolidate his own people were not peaceful because the region was not peaceful. There was no distinction made between church and state. The state became the church, or as we would say, Islam. Consequently, the jihad or holy war was both political and religious. Later expansion of Islam employed different methods and resulted in the conversion of multitudes without armed conflict. This was accomplished through Sunni orthodoxy and the Sufi ascetic movement that emphasized accommodation and synthesis. Shi’ite Islam arose in a more political context, emphasized the authority of the Imam or leader as the revealer, and has been seen lately in the current situation in Iran. There is little question that the concept of jihad, or holy war, has played a role in the history of Islam, but it is not the only way Islam has spread.

In a recent interview on “60 Minutes” three American Muslim clerics were questioned about their views. They all agreed that peaceful Muslims needed to initiate a jihad against terrorists. This suggests that the idea of a “holy war” is not confined to physical aggression.

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
DIVERSITY


INTRODUCTION

Prejudice and bias are a sad part of the human experience. As a Christian my understanding is that men are sinners. You may have a different explanation. The phenomenon is universal. Your culture is inferior, the color of your skin is inferior, your political viewpoint is inferior, and your religion is inferior.  Blacks and whites are afraid of one another in S. Africa. Protestants and Catholics are afraid of one another in Ireland.  And right now many Americans are afraid of Muslims. The atrocities committed in every circumstance give rise to legitimate fear.

The problem is that we stereotype. We are certain because some people are bad; the whole class to which they belong is bad. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skin color, or economics, or politics we are easily convinced that other people are bad because they belong to a class with which we disagree. The problem is not that we disagree, but that we are unwilling to consider that there are exceptions. I have a Spanish-American neighbor who worked in New York for thirty years, but his English is still bad. We have had them to dinner. My wife cuts his wife’s hair, and we have studied the Bible together with them. We still don’t have their full trust. They have been stereotyped for so long it is difficult for them to open up.

Our declaration of independence says all men are created equal. This does not mean all men are equal. The meaning is defined by the following words. They have been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. These rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When we stereotype people we rob them of these rights. We need to learn to treat people as individuals. You say that may be dangerous. I agree, but that danger is the price of liberty. Many years ago a grandmother in my church in Lansdale, PA, had a grandson in prison. I visited him. When he was released his family rejected him. He lived in our home for a couple of years. I could have said that he would probably not reform. The rate of recidivism is huge. I could have said not in my house, with my wife, and my children. He never returned to his former ways. He got married, had children, and held a good job.

The issue of stereotyping is relevant because of the diversity that exists within religions. It is so common for people to hate Protestants, or Catholics, or Muslims that they forget that they are not all the same.

CHRISTIANITY

Christendom is extremely diverse. We have the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and a multitude of different Protestant denominations. There are significant doctrinal differences between these groups and within Protestantism. Many Protestant denominations exist in separation from others because of their convictions.

The simplest and most common definition of what Christians believe is the Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried. The Third Day he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, The Father, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of the saints, and the forgiveness of sins.

Some denominations reject parts of it. More importantly within all the churches of Christendom there is diversity. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant alike have within their ranks those who believe the historic doctrine and those who do not. It would be a mistake for me to assume that because somebody belongs to a different denomination they are a threat. I should discuss and discover their viewpoints.

There are two things we need to do. First we need to determine what the other person believes. Secondly we need to determine what they are prepared to do to enforce their belief on me. This second matter is of great importance given the history of Christianity. It is related to the doctrine of Church and State. At various times in the history of Christendom diverse views have been held. Many times, improperly, the Church and State have been seen as united in a common purpose.  Western history reveals that at various times both the Roman Church and Protestants have been involved in using state power to enforce their religious views. The constitution of the USA properly guarantees that congress will not interfere in the free exercise of religion. This does not mean the state must be secular. It only says that the state may not prefer one religion above another in its actions. In fact, given the writings of our forefathers, and the wording of the constitution, they unanimously agreed that the state should support the free exercise of religion as a basis for our great Republic.

We also need to acknowledge that there are extremes within Christendom. There are heretics who have distorted certain doctrines into cults. Sometimes these heretics have assumed that their position requires the use of physical violence to fulfill their purpose.

ISLAM

Before discussing the historical diversity within Islam I want to reiterate that the relationship between church and state is generally viewed differently in Islamic countries. Protestants and Roman Catholics have been divided in part by different views of the relationship of church and state. Jewish people also have different views depending on whether they are Orthodox, Conservative, or Reformed, and on whether they live in the USA or Israel. This is much less true of Islam. Of course, Muslims in countries where there is more freedom of religion tend to adapt. But from its inception Islam has been much more monolithic in its belief that the state and the church act together. In the October 8th Time Magazine there was an article about the anti-war movement. It quoted Christopher Hitchens, described as a left-wing journalist writing for the Nation periodical. He said, “The bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face. What they abominate about the west… is its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, ITS SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.”

The creed of Islam is much simpler and does not provide the opportunity for as much theological diversity. Nevertheless that does not mean that Islam is unified. It too is diverse. The creed is “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”  Technically, since the generic word for “God” in Arabic is “Allah,” the creed should probably be translated, “There is no Allah but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” Even though this simple creed unites all Muslims that does not mean that there are no differences in their theology or practice.

The early stages of Islam were characterized by tribal warfare and struggles for supremacy. Still, the first successors (Caliphs) remained true to Muhammad’s vision, Abu Bekr, Omar, Othman and Ali.  Gradually the spread of the faith began to introduce other elements. The formation of the hadith (recollections and sayings of Muhammad) into a summary or sunna produced some divergence of thought. This was followed by a dispute over who should choose the Caliph. The kharijites were devoted to the purification of Islam from all forced converts and a general election of the caliph. The murjites wanted to delay judgment and supported the status quo. Liberalism is not confined to Christianity or Judaism.   Still in the eighth century, rationalism reared its head and challenged both the sovereignty of Allah, and the eternality of the Qur’an. This Mutazalite school of thought was ended in the tenth century AD. Their downfall was due to the rise of the Sunni or traditionalists who defended the sunna, i.e. the historic sayings. Out of this came four respected schools of thought that in our American terminology ranged from fundamentalist to liberal with various allegiances to the Qu’ranic scriptures, and the tradition of the hadith.

This was followed by several other developments. The first of these was
Ashari (Iraq-873-936) who supported orthodox theology. The interpretation of the Qur’an should be literal and Allah should be viewed as absolute sovereign. This is similar to the Christian view of predestination but not the same. Kismet means essentially that whatever happens is fated. There also developed a mystical group, as in Christianity, called the Sufi’s, which means wool bearers. The Sufi’s were and are eclectic absorbing many traditions into their mysticism.  Finally, there was Ghazzali who was born in 1058. He is called the great restorer and was the purest of the pure in Muslim thought. He rejected all foreign influences and said that the core of true religion was to repent, purge the heart of all but Allah, and by the exercises (The five pillars) attain a virtuous character.

In addition we also recognize the Shi’ites who were ostracized but who adhered to their own form of rigid orthodoxy reputedly based on the hadith. The hadith has different traditions. The main tradition of the Shi’ites is the belief that their imams are inspired and they clung to them fanatically. Their repression resulted in underground sects and terrorist groups. I take this from an author writing in 1949. Shi’ites do not all agree among themselves as to their legitimate imam. The same author writing in 1949 says prophetically, “it remains now to be seen whether or not the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine will have the effect for a period, at least, of drawing Muslims together into a tighter unity and a heightening of resistance to change. However that may be, one fact stands out in all Moslem history. Islam is no more immune to inner movements of change, growth, and diversification than the other religions of the world.

The existence of the Taliban is just another diversity in Islam and should not be viewed as characterizing the whole religion. That does not mean there is no danger. It only means that all Christians should be open to the possibility of dialogue and pursue peace with their Muslim neighbor. Given the extreme diversity within Islam and Christianity as world religions it is does not promote religious freedom for us to pretend that our viewpoint is the unique and only one. Pretending that our peaceful view of our religion is the only one causes more confusion. We can deny that people within our own religion are a part of it, but that’s not how outsiders see it. Every time some self-styled Christian goes on a rampage- orthodox Christians say he wasn’t really a Christian. But the press is relentless and impervious to our appeals. They vilify all Christians. Last Tuesday the Tampa Tribune carried a picture of a Pakistani woman with a sign that said “No To America and Religious freedom.” Shall we say she is not a Muslim? We need to wake up to the fact that extremists in all religions exist and they are prepared to use any means to enforce their views. My honest opinion is that there are people in all religions that are an embarrassment. Pretending that our religion doesn’t have such people is untrue. What we need to do is understand that there is a large group in every religion, which rejects this kind of extremism and sympathizes. We can do this even though our beliefs are different.

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
BELIEFS


INTRODUCTION

As a Christian Pastor I obviously have some prejudice. I am trying hard to fairly represent both Islam and Christianity. I believe that the truth will prevail. Of course my Muslim friends believe the same thing. I have mentioned previously that both Islam and Christianity are prophetic religions. This means that, unlike the eastern religions, they both assert that they have a message from God, They do not agree.


It is easy to see why Muslims would be discouraged by the materialism of the USA. We certainly do not appear to be a Righteous nation in their eyes. In fact, they tend to view us negatively because their viewpoint is dependent upon their identification of church and state as one. Their disapproval of us is a disapproval of our culture which they see as Christian, but which it is not. The philosophy of the Taliban was to make a truly Muslim state as they view it, and this is not a bad thing in itself. What makes it a threat to us is their dedication to achieving their end at all costs.


Muslims are very pious people. That does not make their theology right or wrong in itself, but it does suggest that our general American lifestyle could cause them to look upon us with disapproval.

We must not be deterred by these historical circumstances from examining the actual beliefs of both Christianity and Islam. These beliefs must stand on their own regardless of the behavior of nations or individuals. There is a strong tendency to rewrite history and make it conform to our theological and philosophical viewpoint. Cal Thomas the noted columnist wrote an article in The Tribune quoting several passages from the Qu’ran that spoke of armed conflict in the service of Allah. Admittedly Mr. Thomas was speaking from a Christian perspective and the method of interpretation he applied to the Qu’ran is the same method Christians apply to the Bible. Imam Zia (Islamic Society of Tampa Bay) answered him this past Saturday. He insisted that the word Islam means peace. It is derived from salaam, Hebrew Shalom, which means peace. However every reputable scholar says it means submission as defined in the Qu’ran. Surely the best interpretation we can put on that is that it means peace with Allah. All of the warlike passages Thomas quoted have additional words that speak of a peaceful opportunity for conquered people to believe. However, they all assume that the teaching of Islam is irresistible and the people will naturally submit because it is the ultimate truth. This is not going to happen, nor did it happen historically. I am not in any way condemning Islam as a religion in saying this. I am only pointing out that historical revisionism does not engender understanding. I am glad the Imam believes as he does and I believe as I do and we can live together in peace, but we must be very clear on the range of belief within our respective religions.

CHRISTIANITY


We must realize that within Christendom there is considerable disagreement over what it means to be a Christian. Evangelicals insist that being a Christian means having a supernatural experience in which sinful man is converted. The means of this conversion is the activity of the Holy Spirit and the basis of it is repentance and faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. This is the orthodox view in spite of a variety of small differences in how this comes about. Still, there are many adherents of Christianity as a religion who believe that anyone who joins a Christian church or adopts any kind of Christian philosophy is a Christian. In fact, there are many who think that anyone who says he believes in God is a Christian and this is the majority of the American people. Others think that anyone who accepts and strives to obey the Ten Commandments is a Christian. Part of the problem with Islamic nations is that they do not perceive these fine distinctions. They look at America as a “Christian” nation. What they see in America disappoints them and offends them and they do not draw the distinction between being an American and a Christian. That is not true of Muslims who live here, because they have learned the difference, hopefully.

The most liberal definition of a Christian is represented by the World and National council of churches which says that you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Even this definition excludes some denominations that many people would consider to be Protestant Churches. It certainly is not acceptable to Muslims. My definition of what Christians believe is a simple statement of orthodox Christianity. Christianity believes that Jesus is the Son of God and the final fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Not only is he the final prophet but also he is our great high priest. Because Christians believe men are lost sinners, Christianity affirms that a prophet is insufficient. We need a Savior. Jesus is the Christ/Messiah who died on the cross for our sins. Jesus is our great High Priest who gave himself to save us and we are saved through trusting in his finished work. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. These differences in doctrine should not be the cause of armed conflict. We should be able to argue, discuss, and set forth our views in peace.

ISLAM


The theology of Islam is much simpler and does not involve the subtleties of Christian theology. There is no trinity. There is just God/Allah and the prophets who tell the way. The greatest and last of these prophets is Muhammad. The creed is very simple. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. Muhammad was a great force for moral uprightness in his culture. Reading excerpts from the Koran I would suspect, for example, that both Muslims and Christians could unite in their desire to see the Ten Commandments appropriately displayed in public places. The land of Muhammad was desperately in need of a unifying religious and political force. He provided it. Whether you agree with Imam Zia or not, there is no question that the heart and soul of Islam is submission to a sovereign God who controls all things.


Muslim teachers subsume the articles of their faith under three heads: A. Iman/doctrine, B. ibadat/ religious duty and C. ihsan/right conduct.


In Islamic doctrine nothing is more important than the unity of God. God is the self-subsistent, omniscient, omnipotent, Creator and Judge. Of course the best in Christianity also acknowledges God to be infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being. In Islam precisely as in Christianity, there are those who espouse an evolution in the concept of God in the Qu’ran. I will have to let Muslims respond to this. Obviously Evangelical Christians do not see any evolution in the concept of God in the Bible. He is the same! Islamic doctrine also teaches that God reveals his will through Muhammad, the Qu’ran and the Angels. Muhammad is a prophet, the Qu’ran is inspired and identical to the heavenly original which has existed from eternity in the seventh heaven. The Bible is also good but not complete! The angels are both good and bad. Satan is a fallen angel endeavoring to obstruct Allah’s plans, but he fails because Allah is supreme the good angels assist believers. There is a heaven and a hell. At the judgment men will be consigned to one or the other. The pious are in a place of gardens, fountains, and blessings that satisfy their longings. The impious, or unbelieving suffer horror, scalding water, and fire.


Religious duty consists of the five pillars. The five pillars are: 1) To recite the confession of faith, 2) to observe the five daily publicly announced prayers. (Friday is the Muslim Sabbath and is a special day of public prayer at the Mosque. It includes ablutions, readings, prostration, and a sermon.) 3) Almsgiving (zakat) early on it was a religious tax. It has become more voluntary. 4) Fasting from sun-up to sundown on Ramadan, the sacred month.  5) Pilgrimage if physically and financially possible to Mecca (called a Hajj).


For us Americans it would be best to describe the last article of faith as moral integrity based on the commandments of God. It allows for divorce and also for polygamy, but other than these aberrations it is basically compatible with the Ten Commandments. It is careful in protecting the rights of victims and innocents.


Lines of divergence also exist in Islamic traditions. The “hadiths” or recollections of the sayings of Muhammad have been disputed. The value of these is to establish precedents for Islamic practice. The whole body of material is called the  “sunna.”  This is not the Qu’ran . Depending on the editors it may be more or less contradictory. The various sects and schools of Islam varied in their judgment. Six separate and overlapping collections of the sayings have appeared and won general acceptance. The most highly regarded is the book of al-Bukhari, a Persian Muslim.


Further divergence is found in the philosophy of the “Kharijites” and the “Murjites.” These were separatists versus conventionalists. There were also the rationalists “Mutazalites,” who challenged the idea of Allah’s sovereignty and supported freedom of the will. The Sunnis, or traditionalists overcame them and had at least four different sub-sects. This also gave rise to the mystics who invited syncretism. Then we have Ghazzali’s synthesis of orthodox doctrine. After this came the Sh’ites plus a number of other diverse sects. I quote from “Man’s Religions” by John B. Noss, “ That Islam has always given rise to powerful new movements within itself- movements even of a disruptive kind- is plain in the history of every Muslim century… The results have often deeply disturbed the orthodox.”  The same might be said of Christendom.

CONCLUSION

The basic point here is that we cannot caricature either Islamdom or Christendom by appealing to one particular theological phenomenon. The issue is much too complex for that. We ought to be honest about our beliefs, but we should not jump to conclusions about any one person. Our American heritage of freedom of religion provides the perfect platform in which we can continue to discuss our differences in peace and dialogue. The most important thing is that we do not need to agree religiously in order to live together in peace. The only exception to that is any person be he Muslim or Christian who thinks that he must use physical force to compel others to his system of belief.

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
UNITY


INTRODUCTION

After this time together you should know that I am not suggesting that Islam and Christianity can have any theological meeting ground. The closest we can come to one another is in our view of God’s sovereign government and power. In almost everything else we disagree. And I do not think we even have the same view of God’s sovereignty. BUT we can live together in peace and discuss our theological differences. Most Americans disagree theologically. I now remind you of what I said in the first lecture regarding the “Church without Walls.” The philosophy of this mission is meetings for better understanding. We meet regularly with Muslim congregations and exchange our views on a specific theme. If they believe they have the truth and we believe we have the truth, then let’s see what happens. The Muslim view is that we will be persuaded of the truth of Islam because they believe it is heavenly prophetic truth. The Christian view is that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. This phenomenon would not be possible in many countries where the government controls religious adherence. It is possible in the good old USA because we have freedom of religion.

My task here is to encourage you to suggest ways in which we may cooperate and support one another without surrendering our individual and specific beliefs. This is a very important point. I am not suggesting that anyone give in to the theological beliefs of anyone else. The question is whether we can find any common ground to work together for peace and accord in our society. You do not have to say that all religions are the same. You do not have to say that all ways to God are the same. All you have to do is say that you respect the other person’s right to believe as he wishes. You may vehemently disagree, and still be completely loving and kind. This liberty is subject to the laws of the United States and the Commonwealth of Florida. If the freedom of religion is to be defended, you may not use any illegitimate or illegal means of coercion, but you can discuss, debate and argue your head off. This is where many people go wrong. They assume because they are persuaded that they are right that they have a right to force other people to agree. They think that because their theology teaches that people will be lost if they do not submit or believe that that gives them the right to use force because it is in the best interest of the people according to their belief. This is an aspect of fundamentalism that ought to be rejected on the part of both Muslims and Christians.


The genius of our Constitution and Bill of Rights is that it recognizes the right of each person to decide for himself, for better or for worse. I know this is in accord with the Christian Scriptures as well as the Old Testament. I suspect that it is the best judgment of the vast majority of Muslims. There is an old aphorism that says, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

CHRISTIANITY

How can Christians promote understanding? I will give you a couple of suggestions of how both Christianity and Islam can promote understanding and I hope that we can have a fruitful discussion of how we can practically make a difference. Christians can stop acting as if Muslims were their enemies. Neither Muslims, or Buddhists, or Jews, or atheists are our enemies as individuals. There may be movements that aggravate our differences. People who are trying to advance their faith usually lead these. I want to make very clear that I do not agree with interpretations of our Constitution that eliminate religion from our national life. I think that our Constitution supports the free exercise of all religion. I do not think that a civil religion that supports the USA regardless of its decisions is a good idea. Our decisions are to be made by people of various political and religious persuasions. However what we are granted under our constitution is the ability to express our differences and to win people to our viewpoint.


This means that we not only cease, in our own land, treating people of other opinions as enemies, but that we all befriend them and minister to them as friends. This applies to Muslims and Christians alike. My question is who can do the best job?


It is no secret that the world perceives the USA differently than we perceive ourselves. We are the benefactors of the world. We have done more than any other nation in history to help people. BUT we are still perceived as enemies. Shall, we be discouraged or hampered in our efforts. A thousand times NO!  The second thing Christians need to do is assess every decision of our government in the light of Scripture. I fully support the defense of our nation and the defense of every nation by its resident government. That is what government is for. However, that does not mean that every decision that led up to the conflict was right or that all the foreign policies of that nation were conducive to righteousness. IT IS OUR JOB TO DETERMINE THAT! And we should never accept the status quo uncritically. 

ISLAM

Islam is in a difficult position these days. It attempts to project a peaceful front, but its history is not peaceful. Given the fact that Christianity has not been peaceful either, at least Christians have censure occurring and openly condemn warlike acts on a worldwide basis. The first thing that Islam can do is censure the people who they believe to be misrepresenting their faith through violence.   It is not enough to say that this is not Islam. What if I were to say that the crusades were not Christianity? Would I be believed? We must live with our past and our history and this includes Muslims as well as Christians. Repentance is the only vehicle of exchange here. It is the only way to approach the other party. We must ask for forgiveness in the past and move to the future.


I am also deeply constrained to suggest that there must be a worldwide movement of Islam to declare peace. We are all scared to death of the Islamic threat to make us all Muslims by force. We must end this.


Finally with regard to Israel, the Muslims are right. Who gave Britain or the USA, or the Allies, the right to resettle Israel in Palestine in 1948? Christians do not even agree on Biblical prophecy and if they did would that justify self-fulfillment? If this were any other situation wouldn’t we be up in arms?  No reparations to African slaves, no return of lands to the American Indians, no restoration for the Armenian Christians who died, no apologies for British, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish colonization, no compensation for the holocaust survivors. You cannot fix all the accidents of history. We tried and we have created a catastrophe. But it is also wrong for the Muslims to try to rewrite history. The resettlement of Israel has occurred and now what we need is a peace accord. We need an adjustment to reality.