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Joe Boot: Islam and Islamophobia

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Canada's House of Commons recently passed an 'anti-Islamophobia' motion which condemns "all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination". Wilberforce Academy Director Dr Joe Boot explains the Islamic worldview and its outcome, which is radically different from the outworking of the Christian gospel.

"If we care about Muslims and our society, we will care about facing Islam honestly and clearly in its varied implications," Joe writes.
 

Canada's House of Commons recently passed M-103, the "anti-Islamophobia" motion.[1] The motion condemns – but does not effectively define – "all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination."[2] While the motion passed, it was subject to a considerable amount of debate, particularly over the question of its implications for freedom of speech. In light of this motion it is wise to consider the nature of Islam and its sociocultural implications.

The Islamic worldview always produces a radically different culture and political system than that of Christianity because of its view of the divine and the foundations of moral order. If we care about Muslims and our society, we will care about facing Islam honestly and clearly in its varied implications.

For those who would want to minimize the differences between Christianity and Islam and naïvely or wilfully deny any fundamental antithesis in our understanding of God, revelation and salvation, we should bear in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. For the Christian, truth is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ as the second person of the Godhead and there is no access to God except through him (John 1:1; 14:6). By contrast the Qur'an declares that there is nothing like Allah and to suggest someone is made in the image of Allah is blasphemy (Sura 42:11). In the Bible, Christ is the exact representation or expression of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3), whereas for Islam there is no image, no Son, nor any incarnation of the divine, and Allah is beyond being known. 

  

For there to be any meaningful beginning in understanding and addressing Islam as Christians it must be recognised first as a totalizing worldview affecting every aspect of life and culture for its followers, and second as an ideology founded by a man who was concerned to set his teachings in opposition to the Triune God of Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To understand the Islamic view of reality, of both nature (the world) and revelation, we must first consider the divinity concept of Islam because they are inescapably involved in each other. It is important to note that around the time of the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, the dominant religious ideas of the Arabs were pagan. Typically paganism implies polytheistic nature religions that posit a mystical divinity concept (often indistinguishable from the totality of nature), combined with other gods or spirits (as consorts and lesser deities) and ritualistically involving both fetish and taboo (both of which are present in modern Islam). As Geisler notes, "the Arabs of pre-Islamic days, despite all their idolatry, knew of and acknowledged Allah's existence as the supreme God."[3] Muhammad's own father bore the name Abd-Allah (slave of God), indicating that his contemporaries identified a supreme deity called Allah.

It is not easy to discern the exact nature of this supreme deity of pre-Islamic Arabia because of the variety of influences geographically. There is clearly a connection to astral religious beliefs which persists in the symbol of Islam – the crescent.[4]

The Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of the pre-Islamic Iranian empire, was also present in the region, based on the teachings of Zoroaster, who taught dualistic ideas not dissimilar to the Greeks, in which an ultimate being (or unity) was also posited. Zoroastrianism thus had both dualistic and monotheistic elements and its call to honour a supreme deity is remarkably similar to Islam, as well as its emphasis on good works, heaven and hell.[5] Christianity in Nestorian form had made some inroads in the region[6] and gnostic-type sects were also present.
 

The Cultural Motive of Islam

In Islam, then, a blank and non-relational divinity concept stands behind two poles of a nature/fatereligious aspect on the one hand and the cultural religious aspect of order on the other – based in a revelation of law and social custom through Muhammad. Since a nature religion grounded in fate or pure will cannot produce a transcendent standard for social order or moral truth, this opposite pole in Islam's ground motive is revelation, in which the paradise idea is foremost and culture, in the form of a human archetype, is absolutized. The ummah (world community of Islam) becomes the material goal of Islam to introduce some kind of coherence into its fatalistic world governed by an unknown god.

In other words, since the being called 'god' (Allah) is unknown and unknowable and effectively co-relative to the world, since this god's will and purpose are indistinguishable from what occurs in nature, then an objective and identifiable standard becomes necessary to concretize the faith – the cultural motive.

The cultural aspect of revelation is in clear and irresolvable dialectical tension with the other pole – the nature aspect. This is because first, a doctrine of revelation requires a real transcendence (distinction) of God from creation – only a being distinct from and transcending time and history can speak into a history that is truly other, and not merely an aspect of divine emanation. Second, as we have seen, Islam teaches that Allah is non-relational, unknown and unknowable, so the concept of revelation (a personal and relational act) is incoherent. Third, how can revelation even be identified if everything that occurs is in fact a revelation of Allah's direct will?

In an effort to overcome these problems, it is claimed that the Qur'an is itself an eternal book in Arabic (co-relative to Allah), that is revelatory of Allah's will.[7] However, this introduces a whole new set of apparently irresolvable problems in connecting Islam's nature divinity with a cultural religion of revelation. For example: since Oneist concepts of god logically lead to mystical self-realization, not the biblical idea of revelation from a personal God who speaks and reveals himself, how is the idea of revelation coherent? How can Allah be the One and Only incomparable absolute unity if there is a co-eternal text in Arabic next to him in paradise that lays out his will? Surely, on Islam's own terms, the notion of an eternal book is shirk (idolatry), and setting up something next to God?

Moreover, how can a temporally-revealed book addressing the immediate circumstances arising in the historical life of Muhammad, be an eternal entity, next to an unknowable and non-relational Allah – a being that would be logically unconcerned with creation and history? Perhaps even more problematic for this dialectic is how an incomparable, non-relational, unknowable being, emanating through a non-rational world, where god has no image-bearer, could give 'revelation' that is recognizable and comprehensible to man.

To these questions Islam can give no coherent answer. It is blasphemous for the Muslim to even ask them. The Islamic response is simply to reassert the Shahada, "there is no god but God [tawhid] and Muhammad is the messenger of God." Absolutely fundamental to Islam, then, is the remarkable status accorded to the man Muhammad, for without Muhammad there can be no Islam. At the root of the cultural motive in Islam is this allegedly peerless personage.

Between the divinity concept (Allah) and the man Muhammad is postulated an eternal form (a debt to Greek philosophy), co-extensive with God, called the Qur'an. However, the temporal embodiment of that eternal form is actually in Muhammad himself who, being the receptacle and vehicle of that revelation, constitutes the archetype for the cultural religion of Islam, which is the only distinctive idea that Islam introduces. It is equally important to note that Muhammad himself cannot do anything to save the individual – he cannot deliver anyone from the unfathomable swerve and deadly jaws of fate (Allah's will). However, for Islam, he sets forth the eternal will in a series of revelations thought to be a copy of an eternal form, which in a certain sense, since Allah is pure will, is identical with Allah.

As a result, the will of Allah and the teaching and life-model of Muhammad are so closely identified as to practically (whilst not doctrinally) absolutize Muhammad. To illustrate consider some of the names given to Muhammad: The Highest; Most Beautiful; The Truth itself; The Mighty One; The Sign of Allah; The Light; Allah's Grace; Language itself; The Sanctifier; The Grantor of Pardon; The Diadem – to name but a few![8] If these are not the descriptions of a man turned god or absolutized man, it is difficult to know what would be sufficient to essentially divinize an individual. This is why the term 'Muhammadan' is the most technically appropriate term for the Muslim, because it is really only Muhammad who is known in Islam and whose example must be followed. As Sam Solomon points out:

After labouring over the need NOT to humanize Allah or to divinize a man, the Qur'an singles out Mohammed, a mere man, to be the embodiment of the mercies of Allah... Hence there is nothing and no part of Islam that can be understood or handled without Muhammed, be it Islamic beliefs, Islamic practices, Islamic doctrines, Islamic Shari'ah, Islamic conduct, Islamic dress codes, Islamic diet – and much more... based on what every ancient and modern Muslim scholar without exception has said and written, Allah and his "messenger" Muhammed, are inseparable, and no distinction can be made between them.[9]

In this way the cultural aspect of life is absolutized and the model and teaching of a mortal man is made an eternal and irrevocable standard. Muhammad becomes the only real link between the divine being and the man so that obedience to Muhammad is equated with obedience to God himself (See: Sura 4:80; 3:31,32; 3:132; 4:13; 4:14; 4:69; 4:59; 9:71; 5:92). 

The only possible justification of Islam's truthfulness is therefore its self-vindication; it cannot be by reasoned argument, for Allah is neither reason nor reasonable. Nor is the validation of Islam by the grace of God and working of God's Spirit, for Allah is neither grace nor truth. Allah is pure force, pure will, so the only vindication of pure force, is force. As Reilly points out, "The rule of power is the natural, logical outcome of a voluntaristic theology that invests God's shadow on earth – the caliph or ruler – with an analogous force based on God's will."[10]

It is for this reason that the striving world of Islam is perpetually at war, if not militarily, then culturally, with the kafir – an insulting term for the non-believer who allegedly conceals the truth of Islam. Pure will or force manifest for all time in the life and teaching of Muhammad does not reason or debate, but imposes (see: Sura 2:216; 4:89; 9:29; 47:4; 61:10). This is why Islam, from the time and historic example of Muhammad, spread through the sword:

In Mecca Mohammed was a religious preacher who converted about 10 people a year to Islam. In Medina Mohammed was a warrior and politician who converted about 10,000 people to Islam every year. Politics and Jihad were a thousand times more effective than religion to convert the Arabs to Islam.[11]

In the process of this conquest, Islam stamps out plurality, freedom and liberty for a strictly unitary and totalitarian understanding of social, cultural and political life as an inevitable reflection of its conception of the divine.

Once Islamic culture ceased to be able to conquer and thereby parasitically live off the cultural energy of largely Christian peoples,[12] the Islamic world was left to its own resources and steadily stagnated – which is where almost all the Islamic nations are today. Those that have prospered to a degree have only done so either because of former colonial influence on their institutions or the development of their natural resources through a Western investment of technology and the purchase of oil.

In order for Islam to be a social force, it is necessary for an opposite pole to be held in tension with nature (Allah). I have called this opposite pole the cultural motive – a principle of order based in the idea of revelation of which Muhammad is the archetype and effective mediator, making Muhammadanism a cultural religion that absolutizes a man and the cultural aspect of human experience. Islam thereby "saves society from the anarchy inherent in its philosophy by imposing ultra-strict totalitarian social regulation."[13] Consequently a veil comes down over freedom, individuality, plurality and beauty – as typified when a woman's face is covered or music is banished. The imposition of Shari'ah to govern all aspects of life thus asserts a radical unity at the expense of diversity.
 

The Distinction of Christian Theology

Biblical revelation, by contrast, reveals the Triune God as the key to all thought, all truth and all reality. This God is a personal, relational and covenant-making God who speaks to his creatures and enters into familial relationship with them as a Father. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus made plain that God had manifested himself so that people might enter the intimacy of fellowship with the Triune God and know him as Father. In radical contrast to Islam, God is to be known intimately: "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).

 And since according to Scripture man is made in the image of God, it tells us of the incarnation of God the Son as man, the exact imprint of God's own nature and thus fully representational of God. Immediately we have in Christ something comparable to the invisible and immortal God – the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, because he is God and man. Moreover, man is his image-bearer, which tells us something of who God is. Perhaps most remarkable of all, God sends his Spirit to dwell in us so that we have immediate fellowship with God. 

Jesus Christ reveals a God who is himself an eternal community of love (John 17:5), both one and many, unity in diversity, so that transcendence (distinction) is essential to His own being. The Scriptures reveal further that of his own free will he called creation into being, and as both sovereign Lord and creator he both transcends creation as an absolute personality, whilst being immanent within it, upholding all things by his powerful word. The distinction within God's own being, which implies God's distinction from the world, means that he transcends creation, whilst being immanent within it, animating it by his Spirit, without contradiction.

Critically, this distinction – an inter-subjectivity that exists between the persons of the Godhead – is the basis upon which knowledge, love, freedom, will and purpose are grounded and find their starting point. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is able to communicate and reveal himself, and access to the divine is not limited to a few mystics, but made available to all through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Likewise, revelation in the Christian gospel is not an eternal book (form) taken from a shelf of abstraction co-relative to God, but is rather ultimately manifest in the Person of Jesus Christ in history. The God of Scripture speaks, and that revelation is ultimately of himself in his Son, communicated by the work of the Holy Spirit. God has chosen to reveal himself to us also in the written word of God, which is the account and testimony of that revelation of the Son and his redemptive work. Since God's covenant word is revealed in time and history to God's servants, it was inscripturated for our instruction. This written word, which points us to Christ, is taken by God the Holy Spirit and quickened to human minds and hearts for our regeneration and transformation. It speaks to and constitutes human reason, but it does so in a manner that frees the God-given potential inherent in created rationality.
 

Footnotes:
[
1] "House of Commons passes anti-Islamophobia motion," CBC News, last modified March 23 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/m-103-islamophobia-motion-vote-1.4038016.
[2] Parliament of Canada, Iqra Khalid, Private Members' Motions, http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Iqra-Khalid(88849)/Motions?sessionId=152&documentId=8661986.
[3] Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 15.
[4] Jacques Ryckmans, "Arabian Religion," Encyclopaedia Britannica, last modified 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Arabian-religion. In Ma'īn the national god Wadd ("Love") originated from North Arabia and probably was a moon god: the magic formula Wd'b, "Wadd is [my?] father," written on amulets and buildings, is often accompanied by a crescent Moon with the small disk of Venus. In Ḥaḍramawt the national god Syn was also a sun god: the current identification with the Mesopotamian moon god Sin (Suen) raises phonetic objections, and the symbolic animal of Syn, shown on coins, was the eagle, a solar animal. In Qatabān the national god ʿAmm, "paternal uncle," may have been a moon god.
[5] See Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).
[6] See Sidney H. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 8.
[7] James R. White, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur'an(Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2013), 19.
[8] The list of honorifics goes on. See Sam Solomon with Atif Debs, Not The Same God: Is the Qur'anic Allah the Lord God of the Bible? (Charlottesville: ANM Publishers, 2015), 123-134.
[9] Solomon, Not the Same God, 138, 146-147.
[10] Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010), 131.
[11] Bill Warner, Sharia Law for Non-Muslims (United States: Centre for Study of Political Islam, 2010), 23.
[12] The philosophical and translation movements of the classical Islamic cultural period are the most noteworthy example of the borrowed learning of the Arab civilization that followed the allegedly illiterate Muhammad out of the desert to conquer the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. The early Caliphate, prior to the crusades, was packed with Christian physicians, logicians, philosophers, mathematicians, copyists and translators who were among the conquered Christian nations and peoples. See Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, 106-128.
[13] Rebecca Bynum, Allah is Dead: Why Islam is not a Religion (Nashville: New English Review Press, 2001), 150. 
 

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