Islam shares the biblical view that God created the physical world distinct from himself. However, its view of the relation between the physical world and the spiritual world of paradise is very different from the biblical worldview. So too is its view of the relation between religion and state.
1. The Physical and Eternal World of Paradise and Hell
In Islam there is no continuity between the life of this world and the life of heaven. This leads to the view that this life is of little value because it is infinitely shorter than the everlasting life that follows. This aspect suggests that Islam is a dualistic religion. It means that Islam can defend those who kill and die to spread the power of Islam, because this life is of so little importance compared with the length of eternity (other than being the place where it is decided whether we live in submission to God or not). Thus, it is not too difficult for fanatical Muslims to justify suicide bombing and slaughter in the jihad against non-Muslims.
Yet paradoxically the paradise of the next life is described very much in worldly terms! The service of beautiful virgin young women together with drinks to be desired is promised to the faithful. The benefits of paradise promised in the Quran would seem to be more for men than women. A woman's reward is not mentioned. In the Quran there is very little about fellowship with God, who does not seem to be present in the heavenly paradise. Despite the teaching of the Quran, there have been developments, for example within the Sufi tradition, which do make room for intimacy. Sufism comes from the Arabic safa, meaning love. The muhsin (one who makes good) loves God without fear of favour.
However, sufism is regarded by the great majority of Muslims as a heresy, since to claim this kind of intimacy with God is a grave error. In Islam generally, God is only known through his will and his laws, not his heart. In fact fear of hell is very real among Muslims. In Christianity we are warned of the reality of hell; however, this is balanced by the belief that God dearly loves the sinner and does not will that any go to hell. On the contrary God, in his grace, bears our sins in Christ and gives us forgiveness and a new life. If we finally go to hell it will be because we resisted and refused God's love for us. In Islam there is no corresponding confidence in the love of God for the sinner. On the contrary, much Islamic preaching makes the imperfect Muslim believe that God hates him/her. Thus the really dedicated Muslim spends his life worrying whether or not God will accept him/her and this can easily lead to a religious fanaticism as he/she desperately attempts to justify him/herself before God. However, not even a fanatical adherence to religion will guarantee escape from hell. The only way to be sure is to carry this fanaticism to its extreme by dying in jihad (for example, by killing oneself in a suicide bomb attack).
2. Religion and State
Now here is a great paradox. Although this world is ultimately unimportant to Islam, God's rule on earth is something Islam must struggle for. In Islam there is no separation between religion and state, sacred and secular. Several nations where Islam is dominant have not followed this aspect of Islamic theology; especially Turkey and also some of the Arab nations whose ideology has been nationalist rather than Islamic. Islamic fundamentalism regards such nations as not truly Islamic.
Religious leaders are also meant to be the political leaders who spread the rule of God, not only by persuasion and prayer, but also by political/economic and military power; all of which, they believe, are God's way of imposing his rule on nations and peoples. Islam does not make a separation between the rule of God on earth and political/military power. This means that Islam is a territorial religion. Not all states which have Islam as their main religion are prepared to accept this, of course. However, it remains the Islamic ideal. Since it is the duty of Muslims to spread the Islamic faith, they will do so, if they think necessary, by political and military means.
Islam divides the world into two areas:
- "House of Islam"; where God rules.
- "House of War"; where it is the Islamic duty to spread the rule of God by force if needed.
Although Islam teaches that it does not believe in compulsion in religion (forcible conversions), it does believe that everyone should be forced to live under the authority of Islamic rulers. Islam is a religion of submission to the will of God and by extension the submission of non-Muslims to the legal/political/economic/military rule of Islam. However, even here we can note two things:
- many times Islam has engaged in forcible conversion.
- toleration (as long as they submit) only applies to Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians. It does not apply to idol worshipers such as Hindus who are to be converted or killed.
Of course it can be countered that many times in history the Church has confused its spiritual mission with political and military conquest and rule and used force to impose its will. However, in doing so it was being untrue to Jesus who willingly, deliberately and passively, submitted to suffering and death and called on his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. When Muslims use force they are being true to Muhammad.
If we chronicle Muhammad's life, we find many events that are normal human occurrences such as birth, marriage, journeys, and death. However, what is noteworthy is that not one act of kindness is mentioned, but eight battles are recorded. Several of these battles are against Jews who are defeated. For example, in 627 a.d., the Jewish tribe of Qurayza was raided by Muhammed, and that resulted in ~800 men being beheaded (only one Jew abjuring his religion to save his life), and all the women and children sold as slaves.
Muslims take the simple view that because God is all-powerful, he always gets his own way. This is the meaning of the words "God is great" which are used in calls to prayer. They are called out with great vehemence by militant Muslims when engaged in their struggles with non-Muslims. In contrast, when Christians speak of the greatness of God, they do so by highlighting the everlasting self-giving love of God. This means that once God (through Islam) has gained control of territory, he can never relinquish it. When Islam loses territory to non-Muslims, it gives Islam a tremendous religious and theological problem. Such things cannot happen; but they do!
Thus, for example, the loss of Spain (even though it was hundreds of years ago) is still a source of anguish to devout Muslims. Indeed, because God is on his side, the Muslim expects that Islamic nations should be the most powerful and prosperous. The existence of non-Islamic nations that are much more powerful presents the devout follower of Islam with a cause for real distress. Hence the modern fundamentalist Muslim attitude to America, the West, and Christianity. These things taken together with the continued existence of Israel lead to another fear the Muslim has (a problem hardly mentioned but certainly present), the fear that their religion, which makes such huge claims to universal truth and obedience, might be in fact untrue!
Like Spain, Palestine was once entirely under the rule of Muslims. It was part of the House of Islam. Now it isn't. However the problem of the existence of Israel is much worse than the problem of a once Muslim Spain which is now non-Muslim. The reasons are as follows:
- the Spanish are not mentioned in the Quran or the hadith. The Jews are, and where they are mentioned, it is usually for criticism or cursing. In fact, many hadith mention that to herald the Day of Judgement, Muslims will be called upon to kill all Jews.
- the Jewish faith is believed by Islam to be a twisted version of the true word that God gave their original prophets. Thus, according to Islam, Muhammad came to untwist the scriptures. It is believed that the Quran is this untwisted version of the scriptures. Thus, the Jewish faith should be dying! Any sign of new life for Judaism presents Islam with a major religious problem.
- tiny Israel's frequent victories over its huge oil rich Arab enemies who attacked it, gives the Islamic believer a burden hard to bear. Such things cannot happen; but they do!
- the Quran itself prophesises the permanent wretchedness of the Jews who will live in poverty and misery forever. The Quran teaches that the Jews are the enemies of God, and of the prophet and of the angels (Sura 2:97–98); they have always been disobedient (Sura 5:78); they exercise unrighteousness (Sura 5:61–79); they attempt to introduce corruption (Sura 5:64); they are enemies of the believers (Sura 5:82); they have twisted the word of God (Sura 2:59, 75–79, 211); they lie against God (Sura 4:50); they are damned by God because of their disobedience (Sura 2:88, 4:46, 52, 5:13, 60, 64, 78); they have killed the prophets of God (Sura 5:70); they will receive the punishment of hell fire (Sura 59:3). Some Muslims are aware that the bible prophesies the eventual return of the Jews to their original land where they will prosper. This is a deep problem for Islam.
- the existence of Israel is unintentionally (because most Israelis are unaware that Islam's faith prophesies the permanent poverty and dispersion of Jews) like a sign saying: "Islam is untrue." The devout Muslim cannot bear it. It is intolerable for him or her.
It seems that the violent anti-Semitism of the Nazi era has been transferred to the Islamic world. Since World War II, the Protocols of Zion and Hitler's Mein Kamph have been widely publicized and continue to be best sellers. Fundamentalist Islamic leaders, like the Ayatollah Khomeini, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the 6th president of Iran from 2005 to 2013, together with many of the terrorist movements, like Hezbollah and Hamas, financed and backed chiefly by Iran and Syria, have openly called for the destruction of all Jews. The message of hatred towards Jews is being preached today throughout the Middle East, in mosques, in newspapers and broadcast on radio and TV. In fact, Israel does not appear on any Arab map or in any textbook in Arab schools. Children are taught in the classroom to hate and kill Jews and to welcome martyrdom in the killing of Jews. Yasser Arafat personally encouraged child martyrs. Suicide bombers are praised and their families rewarded, with promises of heaven.
Anti-Semitism is an attack on God and on God’s choice of the Jews to be his instrument for the redemption of the world. There are good and bad people in any nation, and good and bad people in the nation of Israel, but to attack the Jew as Jew and to attack Israel simply because it is a Jewish state, is to attack God. The anti-Semitism which lies in and behind the Palestinian and Arab opposition to Israel, is proof of the religious dimension of this struggle.
Christians ought to remind each other that:
- most Muslims are like the rest of us. Like us, their families are very important to them. They want the best for their children and hope to live in peace.
- they are not necessarily glad to be Muslims. In interfaith meetings we must be careful not to strengthen the hand of the Imams and other Islamic religious leaders. Many ordinary Muslims fear their own religious leadership.
- we must pray each day that the world of Islam discovers the love of God. Although we must be aware of what Islam is, we must never hate Muslims. The best way to make sure we don't fall into that trap is to regularly pray for them; those we may know personally and the world wide Muslim populations in their hundreds of millions.
- Islam is a militant ideology. However, it is also a brittle ideology. When it finally does collapse, it will not be because of military defeat, but because (like communism) it contains its own self-destructive tendencies and internal contradictions.
Its collapse will come quickly. Its followers are greatly loved by God in Christ. We must love them too and be ready to help when they will need us most.