We are continuously being told by Muslims and their sympathisers that if Islam has its violent aspects, well so too does Christianity. They are very eager to convince us of a moral equivalence that exists between the two religions. Sure, Islam has some violent extremists, but Christianity does too. Even gullible and not very learned Christians make this charge quite often. But they should really know better of course.
I have written elsewhere about such things, but let me repeat here a fundamental difference: if a Christian kills in the name of Christ, he does so in total opposition to the life and teachings of Christ, and the entire New Testament. However, if a Muslim kills in the name of Allah, he has full justification to do so from the life and teachings of Muhammad, and from the Koran.
Here I want to look more closely at the two founders of these religions: Jesus and Muhammad. It goes without saying that they are both central figures in their respective religions, and the life, teaching and example of each become crucial for their followers.
Jesus of course never killed anyone, never ordered the killing of anyone, and never shed anyone’s blood. Neither did any of his New Testament disciples. One will look in vain throughout all 27 books of the NT to find even a hint of killing, bloodshed or religiously-motivated violence conducted by Jesus and his followers.
The story about Muhammad of course is quite different. However, before I proceed any further, let me mention a few words about Muhammad’s place in Islam. Jesus is regarded by Christians as God, as divine, and as the object of their worship. Muhammad does not occupy such a place in Islam.
Muhammad is not considered to be God or the son of God. He is not declared to be sinless, nor is he to be worshipped. He is simply the final and fullest revelation and prophet of Allah. But he is nonetheless held up as “the ideal man”, and as the example and role model for every Muslim to follow.
Also, a word about authoritative sources in Islam. The Koran and the Sunnah (the “way” or “model” of the Prophet Muhammad) are two of the main foundations upon which Islam stands, and upon which Muslims base their faith and practice on. All of the events, actions, sayings, teachings and examples of the Prophet make up the Sunnah.
The hadith (reports) about Muhammad’s life mainly make up the Sunnah. Authoritative biographies of the Prophet would be based on these sources. A number of such biographies exist, but the most authoritative biography is the Sira (“life”), by the great Islamic scholar Muhammad bin Ishaq, composed in the eighth century. Together these sources give us copious detail about the life, actions and teachings of the Prophet.
Now when one reads the Koran, the hadith, and the biographies of Muhammad (which I have done), it becomes clear that Muhammad was not at all a man of peace as Jesus was. Instead, we find a political ruler, a military commander, and a harsh master.
Here is a brief outline of his involvement in warfare, killing and violence. When we talk about this, we must be aware of the chronology of Muhammad. He was born in Mecca in 570. He started receiving revelations and visions in 610. For the next dozen years he sought to more or less peacefully spread his new faith. He was rejected, so he fled Mecca in 622 (the hijra, which begins the Muslim calendar). His last ten years in Medina were his violent, bloody years of military conquest. He died in 632.
Also, a word about the Muslim doctrine of abrogation (naskh – see suras 2:106 and 13:39). This has to do with later revelations given to Muhammad superseding or abrogating earlier ones. About three-quarters of the Koran’s 114 suras (chapters) are the peaceful Meccan ones, while about one-quarter are the more violent Medinan ones. So while the Koran does speak about peace and nonviolence in religion, these are the earlier Meccan suras (such as 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” which we so often hear about), which are abrogated by the later violent Medinan suras, if a conflict arises.
The Koran has much to say about the enemies of Islam, such as the kufar (unbelievers) and the mushrikun (idolaters, or pagans). The Koran prescribes jihad against these enemies. While this can take the form of nonviolent opposition, it also entails the use of armed struggle. Altogether there are around 100 passages in the Koran which speak of the use of force and the sword (compared to some 120 earlier, more peaceful and tolerant verses).
Sura 9:5 for example (the ‘Verse of the Sword’), says “Kill the pagans wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush”. Sura 9:29 reads, “Fight against those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day”.
Sura 2:190-193 says this: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you … And slay them wherever you catch them …And fight them until there is no more tumult.” Or consider sura 61:4: “Truly God loves those who fight in His cause in battle array as firm as a mighty edifice”.
Sura 8 is entitled “The Spoils of War”; it lays out practical instructions on battle. We are told that Muhammad is to get 20 per cent of the spoils of war, while his men are to divide up the remaining 80 per cent (8:41). It also says to keep fighting until there are no more unbelievers (8:39). Plenty of other such suras could be mentioned.
The barbaric practice of beheading infidels is not just something we see happening today by Islamic terrorists. It was enjoined in the Koran and practiced by Muhammad and his followers: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads” (sura 47:4). The very next verse assures those who have died while fighting for Allah that they will be taken into paradise (the only guarantee of salvation in Islam).
And of course the hadith contain many similar injunctions. Let me offer just one “I heard the apostle of Allah say, I command by Allah to fight all the people till they say there is no god but Allah and I am his apostle. And whoever says that will save himself and his money” (Al-Nisai, 3:6:5, no. 3,087).
Also, Muhammad himself participated in warfare and killing. According to the earliest biography of Muhammad, the Sira, the Prophet was involved in some 84 battles and raids in the last decade of his life. He was present for 27 of these, and he personally fought in nine of them. So quite unlike Jesus, Muhammad was certainly a man of war.
And revenge, not forgiveness, was the order of the day for the Apostle. As but one example, in the Sira we read of Muhammad declaring his murderous intent: “If God gives me victory in Quraysh [Muhammad’s own tribe in Mecca] in the future, I will mutilate 30 of their men.” Many other such examples can be cited. This clearly has nothing to do with turning the other cheek as Jesus emphasised.
Reading the biographies of Muhammad certainly drives home the truth of this vivid contrast to Jesus Christ. (Of course, do not read the white-washed, sanitised versions of the prophet’s life. For example, former Catholic nun and big-time interfaith advocate and Muslim apologist Karen Armstrong’s works should be avoided like the plague.) If you read Guillaume’s English translation of the Sira by Ibn Ishaq, you will get all the gory details of Muhammad’s personal involvement in, and endorsement of, bloodshed, killing and warfare.
All these battles, raids, massacres and revenge attacks cannot here be further discussed, but it is overwhelmingly clear from the three main Islamic sources that Muhammad was a man of bloodshed, one who sanctioned massacres, approved of assassinations, and engaged in numerous armed conflicts and bloody episodes of retaliation.
In sum, we find in the life, teachings and example of Muhammad nothing at all comparable to that of Jesus Christ. The two men could not be further apart in these areas. Claims that the two are both great religious leaders who share much in common are obviously quite wide of the mark.
On the one hand we have Jesus Christ who was the Prince of Peace who told us to love and forgive our enemies. On the other hand we have Muhammad who was a military leader who told us to kill and take revenge on our enemies. Muhammad preached “Death to the infidels!” while Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. The disciples of Muhammad killed for the faith while the disciples of Jesus were killed for their faith. The two could not be any more different.
As Mateen Elass, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, puts it, “While there is certainly room for debate over how well throughout history Christians and Muslims have followed the teaching of their respective leaders, there is no doubt over the contrasting visions of Jesus and Muhammad as to how the kingdom of God should be advanced on earth.”