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While religions like Judaism and Christianity may differ as to how strongly they condemn radical Islamism, one thing is clear - unlike radical Islam, most religions do not advocate violence.
Just recently one of my favorite correspondents happened to send me a copy of a column by Rabbi Daniel Lapin in which he addressed Old Testament passage Deut. 27:26 and the duties of leaders to uphold the Truth. He then applied this duty to Evangelical Christian Pastor Franklin Graham.
Reverend Graham, it seems, has a problem because he refuses to keep quiet about the prevalence of Islamic violence. Islam, he states is a religion which teaches violence, not peace. For this he has been chastised roundly in many quarters despite his use of classical Muslim teaching to support his position.
As we look at the world today it seems that Reverend Graham has a good point. There have been many incidents of violence by Islamic fundamentalists, and more are being encouraged daily by Muslim clerics, while in other cases, potential terrorists are arrested before they are able to carry through their plans. And, Reverend Graham is also correct in pointing out how so few members of the religion have condemned the attacks and attempted attacks by their co-religionists.
Rabbi Lapin asserts that Reverend Graham is simply a man of no patience with moral or spiritual relativism. That Graham does not believe that any one religion is as good as, or perhaps as legitimate as another. This is significant because while Reverend Graham and Rabbi Lapin disagree on the matter of the correct faith and way of demonstrating that faith, they do not countenance killing people over that difference. Nor do they suggest that war and terrorism are proper ways of demonstrating one’s faith or loyalty to God. This contrasts sharply with the current prevailing Islamic doctrine of violent confrontation, rather than scholarly debate.
I believe that one key concept in discussion of modern religion is that of legitimacy. For centuries people have disputed whether there is a God and how to properly worship. Because early societies were often isolated many different faiths developed. As Monotheism became dominant its adherents became less tolerant of differences in faith. Witness the differences between Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the early Church, followed by those between Catholic and Protestant, and between different Protestant denominations.
Over time, Christians gradually changed their approach. While they might still dispute in the lecture halls and from the pulpit, no one was being killed for their beliefs. Likewise, other changes were accepted. When a mass printing of Bibles arrived in Holland during the 16th century they were seen the work of the devil. No one there had seen a printing press before. Yet, today Christians routinely make use of radio, television and other even more sophisticated means of communicating. Likewise, they no longer hold witchcraft trials, burn heretics at the stake, and the Catholic Office of the Inquisition is now inactive. These faiths have changed to fit the times and have admitted to new knowledge. Likewise, they have agreed to disagree on certain articles of faith, and work together to achieve a better world, putting aside their differences in doing so. Some even admit to the possibility that there may be different roads to the same end. They have allowed that the Bible may be subject to reinterpretation as the current circumstances require. In short, their religion is capable of evolution.
Unfortunately, this is not true of much of modern Islam. The Muslim view of the world has changed little since the time of Mohammed. If anything, it may have become more stultified. When Jews fled the Inquisition in Europe they found a haven in Muslim countries. During the crusades Saladin sent one of his best horses to Richard III so he could return to battle. Treaties were generally honored and observed. Today, however, a repeat of this behavior appears extremely remote.
Is this modern radical Islam what God intended? To many Muslims it is. They see no excuse for the tiniest breach of the faith. Those who do not agree with this are either silent or silenced. While God may be merciful, Islamic law is not. The reason for this can be seen in Muslim religious philosophy. Violence has become the primary outlet for people who cannot forget the past and who refuse to accept the present or the future. It is possible that what they believe no longer can be reasonably described as a religion. Ideology appears to be more accurate. Middle East scholar and columnist Jamie Glazov appears to support this view in the following passages from Front Page Magazine of June 6, 2002: “Islam is seen as perfect by Muslims. It is a total way of life. It doesn’t need any new ideas or any legal revisions to complement any new learning or new needs of society. In fact, Islam regards even the suggestion of new ideas or legal revisions at being unIslamic” and “The use of the human faculty of reason itself … is considered to be a form of heresy in Islam. That is why literacy, science, and mathematics have often been regarded … as a threat to Islam.”
We see the result of this ideology very easily. With creative thought considered a threat, as in the case of Salman Rushdie, Muslim society has little choice but to become an armed camp bent on defending itself against threat from both within and without. The religion begins to take on the trappings of a cult of personality, revering either the prophet Mohammed, or the currently prevailing religious zealot. Rushdie’s writing becomes a crime not because it harms Mohammed but because it can harm Islamic leaders alive today by causing people to question their leadership and the legitimacy of their religious teachings. Eventually, it threatens the absolute control which they appear to cherish so much.
Clearly, a religion which places so much focus on human leadership, and which demands war as a tool of conversion, rather than testimony and witnessing of the Gospel leaves something to be desired. No other religious system existing today mandates such hatred in its adherents, or considers killing a sacrament. No other faith has clerics who support violence as a way of spreading God’s word. This fact alone leads us to ask the question of whether or not Islam can be considered a true religion. Meanwhile, Reverend Graham’s assessment should be taken seriously, as should Rabbi Lapin’s.