A friend sent me this link today and asked what I thought of it. Here is my response.
Nothing surprising here. I’ve read enough literature on Islam – from Muslims and others – to have seen it before.
One thing Christians need to do is figure out how to differentiate their approach to Islam from that of secular Western modernity. Secular Western modernity is appalled that Muslims would want to influence the world and remold the world in its own image, out of obedience to God. Of course, those same folks are also appalled that Christians want to influence the world and capture all the nations and their peoples for the Kingdom of God in obedience to Jesus. Before 9-11, there was a rapprochement between Muslims and Christians as they discovered common ground in the face of the advances of atheistic secularity on nearly every front. That rapprochement has, for the most part, been tossed aside since, and often replaced by a similar rapprochement between Christians and Western secularists (like Christopher Hitchens) against Islam. I don’t think this shift has been an improvement in the direction Christians ultimately want to go.
The advantage of bringing Taqiyya into the discussion is similar to the introduction of conspiracy theories. The great strength of the latter is that nothing can count as counter-evidence, since anything that appears to go against the conspiracy thesis is merely a sign of of how crafty and deep the conspiracy is. In the same way, Taqiyya leads us to believe we can never believe a Muslim when they say what we’d like them to say, only believing them when they say what our theories tell us they ought to be saying. (Here’s one instance of Muslim leaders saying something “nice:” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/us/01imams.html?_r=1)
Modern secularists and modern religious liberals tend to err in asserting that (deep down) all religions are the same. The secularists would say they’re all the same – evil, destructive, obscurantist, and wrong. Religious liberals would tend to say they all preach love, tolerance, openness and diversity. I think both groups are completely wrong and misguided, and that Christians are led astray insofar as we listen to either set. I’m one of those who even goes so far as to suggest that the category “religion” into which we put these diverse phenomena is itself mostly a creation of modernity and more likely to lead us astray than to help us. If “religion” is an artificial construct, then separating it from another artificial construct – like “politics” or “culture” is likely to lead us further in the wrong direction.
I find Alasdair MacIntyre’s definition of a tradition as an argument about the purpose, nature and goods of a group, extended through time, with forces and groups within and without to be very helpful. Contrary to the essentialist approach, Islam is not just one monolithic phenomenon. It is a complex movement of ideas, peoples and cultures through time. It has been shaped by arguments interior to the tradition and with traditions on the exterior. If a MacIntyrean approach like this is correct, we cannot lump Muslims into two groups, those who tell the truth about Islam (whether our expected truth is “religion of peace” or “die, infidel scum!”) and those who are deceptive. There is a contest within Islam as to the true nature of Islam – just as there is a similar contest within any other living tradition, whether Christianity or Western modernity. I’d even go so far as to argue that those who deny such a contest within their tradition are the real fundamentalists.
If we are right to use MacIntyre’s model to understand Islam, we non-Muslims are not in a place to define Islam. We can, however, engage them in conversation, recognizing that through engagement we, over time, can shape their understanding of what counts as Islam and what they as Muslims ought to be doing in the world. There is no guarantee that things will turn out the way we would like. But it’s worth a try.
So what do we do? My solution is to say that Muslims, like modern secular Westerners, need Jesus. My calling as a follower of Jesus is neither to kill them, restrain them or fear them. Instead, as I build relationships with them, I share Jesus with them through my words and actions. Jesus died for all sinners, whatever category we (or they) put them(selves) in.
Will it cost us to represent Jesus to these folks? Possibly. Some Muslims would like to do us harm. They say it quite openly. But we follow a Jesus who didn’t consider the potential for harm or suffering to be a primary determinant of his life. (“What – the authorities in Jerusalem want to arrest me and kill me? I guess I need to play it safe and avoid going to Jerusalem.”) If we really believe God wants us to make disciples of all nations (“ethne” – “people groups”), we can trust the guidance and empowerment of the Spirit to make it happen.