The great thing about a democracy is that various groups can make their competing truth claims in public, and no one need lose their head in the process. Differing worldviews, religions and ideologies can slog it out in the public square, and people are free to decide which voices they will listen to.
Indeed, groups can even take out advertising in various forms to make their case. Thus the free market and democracy combine to allow genuine freedom of expression. However, there is such a thing as truth in advertising, or the lack thereof. If an ad is found to be blatantly false or misleading, it can be pulled from airing.
A good case can be made that the newest round of pro-Islam ads – now to be screened on television – fall into this category. The ads seek to show that Islam is a religion of love, peace and compassion, just like Christianity. Here is how one news story covers this development:
“The Muslim organisation behind the provocative ‘Jesus is a Prophet of Islam’ billboards will begin screening a TV commercial espousing Islamic values during some of our most watched programs. The commercial, believed to be the first to promote Islam on national television, features several excerpts from the Koran to show that Muslims share similar values to Christians.
“The commercial will begin screening in Sydney from Friday on Channel 7 and Channel 9 during Sunrise and Today and mid-afternoon news bulletins, and for at least the next six weeks. The commercial is the brainchild of MyPeace, the same organisation that erected the ‘Jesus is a Prophet of Islam’ billboards across Sydney. Founder Diaa Mohamed said the commercial was aimed at addressing some of the misconceptions about Islam.”
So what are we to make of all this? A few hard questions need to be asked. Are there some values shared by both Islam and Christianity? Yes, broadly speaking there would be a few. Both reject the militant secularism and atheism of modern culture.
Both decry the decline in moral values in contemporary life, and both see family life as being quite important. And both would prefer to see godly values rule in society instead of rampant godlessness and selfishness. But the differences far outweigh any similarities.
That is because at bottom the core theological differences are light-years apart. Simply contrasting the God of Islam with the God of Christianity will result in radically different values. I have done such a comparison elsewhere, for example: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/08/19/no-we-do-not-worship-the-same-god/
Consider the doctrine of God more closely: In Islam, Allah is totally transcendent and inaccessible to man. We have no personal self revelation of His character and all we know of Him is through what He has commanded. The foundation of Islam is the oneness and omnipotence of Allah. The love of God is rarely even mentioned. He is a despotic sovereign, not a loving Father. He is the God of fate who has unalterably predestined all things, evil as well as good. He is bound to no moral absolutes and His actions are determined simply by His own arbitrary will.
In Christianity God is also transcendent, but He is also personally concerned with, and intimately involved in, the affairs of men. His omnipotence is tempered by His moral character. His mercy never conflicts with His justice, righteousness and holiness, as there is a unity in His moral character. God is a heavenly Father who loves all men equally and desires to have fellowship and communion with them. However, His holiness demands that we approach Him cleansed of our sin, which the work of Christ makes possible. The love of God is an essential part of His nature indeed, God is love.
Thus a belief in a stern, fatalistic and remote judge will result in a far different set of values and ethics than a belief in a loving, personal heavenly father. Indeed, we see these pre-eminently spelled out in the lives of Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus never resorted to violence or coercion in the spread of the faith, while Islam is built on the foundation of violent conquest, as exemplified and commanded by Muhammad.
Indeed, Muhammad was a prophet of war, while Christ is the Prince of Peace. Muhammad and his disciples killed for the faith, while Christ and his disciples were killed for their faith. Muhammad preached “Death to the infidels!”, but Christ prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Muhammad constrained people by conquest, however Christ constrained people by love.
When Jesus spoke about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, he pronounced a worldview completely at odds with Islam. Muslims view such admonitions as signs of weakness, not strength. They do not know of such sentiments, and find them out of place with the teachings of the Koran, the life and teachings of the Prophet, and the words of the hadith.
So to offer a few suras about sweetness and light ripped out of this context is misleading in the extreme. The many suras advocating – indeed, commanding – violence and even death to the non-Muslim are the real heart of Islamic teaching,
Indeed, the Muslim doctrine of abrogation (naskh) clearly teaches that the earlier peaceful Meccan suras are superseded, or abrogated, by the latter Medinan ones. Thus the suras calling for violence and jihad are to take priority and precedence over the earlier suras which spoke more of peace and getting along with non-Muslims.
And more honest Muslim leaders will admit to the violent nature of Islam. As UK Muslim leader Anjem Choudary has boldly stated: “You can’t say that Islam is a religion of peace because Islam does not mean peace. Islam means submission. So the Muslim is one who submits. There is a place for violence in Islam. There is a place for jihad in Islam.”
But since this advertising campaign is seeking to tell us that Islamic values can easily and nicely cohere with Australian and Christian values, let me look at a few more glaring contrasts. Democracy and freedom are the heart and soul of Australia in particular and the West in general. Are these vitally important values also treasured in Islam? Absolutely not.
Christianity not only is quite compatible with freedom and democracy, it is also in many ways largely responsible for it. The same cannot be said about Islam. Democratic Muslim states are quite rare, and are almost a contradiction in terms. Where Islam seems to be the strongest, and where the Koran is followed the closest, there the likelihood is that freedom and democracy will be hard to find. Indeed, if democracy is defined as the situation wherein peaceful changes in government via free elections take place, only Turkey really qualifies as a democracy. That is one out of some 53 Muslim states.
In contrast, it has been one of the strengths of Western democracies to allow the maximum amount of democratic freedoms, while working with a rule of law. Liberty is often going to excess (libertarianism) in many Western countries today, but freedom is as commonplace in the West as it is absent in the Muslim world. Modern Western democracies are in large measure the result of the Judeo-Christian worldview. They may be imperfect, but the human rights and freedoms found there are the greatest in the world.
Similar contrasts can be made concerning the issue of church and state. In Islam there is no separation whatsoever; the two are one. State power and religious power were fused from the beginning. Thus almost all Muslim states today are theocratic. Sharia, or holy law, dominates every aspect of life. The only states that show some smatterings of democracy and freedom are those which are quite secular, such as Turkey. In strict Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Islamic law is dealt out with full force. For example, pickpockets have their hands chopped off (as Sura 5:38 commands).
In Christianity, church and state may have at times been wed on occasion, (e.g. Calvin’s Geneva), but the modern norm is a separation of the two. They may be two swords in God’s hands (as Luther put it) but they have their distinct and separate roles to play. The church has limited influence over the state, while the state (in theory) is to be neutral in regards to the church. This is basically true in most Western democracies. And this all derives from the teachings of Jesus when he taught that we should render onto Caesar the things that belong to him, and to God the things that belong to him.
Let me speak to one more value here. These ads may speak about freedom and peace, but real Islam is much different. One overwhelmingly great value in Australia and the West is religious freedom. This is simply not found in Islam. As already noted, for the most part, the growth of Islam has been accomplished by the sword. That is, conquest and compulsion were the main means by which Islam spread throughout the world. And freedom to leave Islam does not exist. It is seen as apostasy and is punishable by death.
No such compulsion and force exists in Christianity. The spread of the Christian church occurs by the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit. For the most part, people became Christians willingly and voluntarily. And they are free to leave the faith at any time as well. Yes, sometimes Christians used the sword to force Christian conversion, but this is clearly against New Testament teaching.
Many other key values could be discussed here. These new ads seek to convince a gullible public that Islamic values are basically the same as Christian values, and that they are really Australian values. As I have sought to demonstrate here, nothing could be further from the truth.