A few days ago there were press reports about Anglican and Catholic churches hosting Muslims during the Easter celebrations. Sponsored by the Australian Intercultural Society, the reports said that the aim was to help promote better understanding between Christians and Muslims, to break down barriers, and to overcome prejudice and stereotypes.
What is a Christian to make of all this? Three things come to mind. First, generally speaking, the stated aims are good things and not to be sneezed at. Real understanding of others is usually a good thing, and diminishing prejudices and stereotypes is generally helpful.
But a second concern must temper the first. Both Islam and Christianity are missionary faiths. That is, both believe that they have the truth, and both seek to win the other to their way of thinking. There is nothing wrong with that. If you have a strong religious belief, you would want to share that with others. Thus evangelism is to be expected from both sides.
Thus a good Muslim inviting a Christian to a Mosque would want to see the Christian learn of, and hopefully convert to, Islam. Hopefully the Christian churches involved in this have the same aim: to ultimately reach Muslims for Christ.
If that is not their ultimate aim, then one has to ask just how valuable such interfaith activities really are. If the idea is really just to make the case for religious equivalence, then this move must be resolutely rejected by biblical Christians.
By religious equivalence I mean the idea that ultimately all religions are alike (or in this case, Islam and Christianity are ultimately alike), that we all worship the same God, and that all roads in fact lead to God. If that is the reasoning behind all this, then Christians should pull out right away.
And a quick look at the AIS website certainly confirms this. It was founded in 2000 by Muslims, and it seeks to promote “interfaith dialogue”. The site says this: “Interfaith dialogue seeks to realize religion’s basic oneness and unity, and the universality of belief. Religion embraces all beliefs and races in brotherhood, and exalts love, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, human rights, peace, brotherhood, and freedom via its Prophets. For interfaith dialogue to succeed, we must forget the past, ignore polemics, and focus on common points.”
This leads to my third consideration, namely that there are tremendous theological and other differences between Islam and Christianity, and any initiative that seeks to water down and/or whitewash these differences is mistaken at best, and mischievous at worst.
I have written elsewhere about the profound theological differences. Simply put, if Islam is true, then Christianity cannot be true, and vice versa. But other major differences can be canvassed here. A recent article by Janet Levy entitled, “The Fallacy of Shared Values” seeks to do just that. She begins by pointing out a few home truths:
“At a time when 40% of young Muslims in the United Kingdom want to impose sharia law on the country and 36% favor executing apostates of Islam, the head of the Church of England called for the selective application of sharia law in Britain in the interest of social cohesion.”
She then points out the silliness of Dr. Rowan Williams’ comments, noting that instead of any supposed shared values, “glaring conflicts between the two are evident in the role and practice of religion in society, the concepts of moral behavior, the value of human life, personal responsibility and civil and legal rights.”
Consider the issue of church and state. The differences between the two religions could not be greater: “In the West, democratic governments preside over affairs of state and the church’s domain is subordinate to the rule of the land. Christ’s instruction to ‘render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ embodies the separation of these realms from a theological standpoint. Separation of church and state is the underlying civil principle.”
“However, within Islam’s all-encompassing religiopolitical ideology, no dichotomy exists between the civil world of government and the theological world of religion. Unelected religious clerics, who enjoy lifelong reign, issue binding rulings on every aspect of people’s lives. Such rulings are indisputable and represent the will of Allah as interpreted from the Islamic teachings.”
The difference between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic world on the issue of equality is also pronounced. “The Western concept of rule by the general populace led to the logical extension and development of human rights. Equality under the law regardless of race, religion, sex, or ethnicity is a cornerstone of democratic societies. Government agencies monitor human rights violations and prosecute violators of existing statutes. Affirmative action programs often mitigate perceived disadvantages of identified minority groups. Violence against women is prohibited by law and spousal abuse is prosecuted and viewed as morally abhorrent by society.”
“By contrast, within Islamic societies, in which the individual is subordinate to God’s rule, no concept of human rights exists and no acceptance of differences, particularly religious differences, exists. Instead, Muslims are viewed as superior to and more privileged than non-Muslims. In many Islamic countries, non-Muslims are slighted for not embracing Islam, treated like second class citizens and are frequently prohibited from practicing their religions. Inequality also exists between men and women, with men having greater standing and worth than women. Women are under the control of male relatives. The movements, careers and marital choices of women are often restricted. Women who are not obedient may be dutifully beaten by their husbands as a God-sanctioned corrective measure and responsibility under Islamic teachings.”
Think also about law and justice. “Islamic and Western societies differ in their application of laws and punishment. Western societies operate under the rule of law and a set of equally applied legal standards. Murder, for even an unpremeditated crime of passion, is condemned, punishment is demanded for the perpetrator and the victim is mourned and often memorialized. In instances of attempted assault or murder, the intended victim is protected by authorities and generally receives support and sympathy from the public at large.”
“But in traditional Islamic societies, murder is viewed as honorable if it is committed to enforce social control and adherence to Islamic or sharia law. Women who violate required behavioral, social norms can end up the victims of honor killings. They can be killed for failing to wear proper clothing, being in the company of an unrelated male without a chaperone, dating, marrying a person deemed unacceptable or leaving an abusive, forced marriage. Women who commit such offenses are shunned, prompting murder as a response to defend family honor. As such, it is a purposeful, planned event often committed with the collusion of family members. Upon the completion, the murderer is celebrated and the victim promptly erased from memory.”
Several other glaring contrasts are described by Levy, followed by this conclusion:
“Given these dramatic and irreconcilable differences between Western and Islamic beliefs, the quest by the Archbishop of Canterbury to identify a common ground of shared values is obviously a hollow and futile enterprise. While Western societies endeavor to accommodate to the demands of Muslim immigrants and cultivate interfaith understanding, Muslims are continually looking for ways to overcome the West. Acceptance of sharia law is thus not a step in the direction of recognizing shared values. It is a step toward capitulation to Islam, the subjugation of women and the state of dhimmitude, or creation of minority and unequal status for non-Muslims.”
Groups like the AIS can also talk all they want about shared values and common ground, but until this Muslim organisation clearly and unequivocally denounces the many anti-Christian and anti-democratic values and beliefs espoused by Islam, then one must treat the group with extreme caution and suspicion.