Over the last few weeks as I have been studying for my class on Islam I have thought a lot about the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, and between Christ and Muhammad. Today I want to talk about one of the most vital differences, what each man taught with regard to violence. But to put this fundamental difference in sharper contrast, I want to begin by noticing some similarities between them.
I. Similarities Between Jesus and Muhammad
A. Both claimed to be special messengers of God.
1. Jesus taught that God sent Him, and that “whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Luke 9:48), and that “the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
2. Muhammad also claimed to be sent from God, and Muslims consider him the final messenger from God. The basic confession of faith in Islam is “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
B. Both preached a message of repentance.
1. Matthew summarized the message of Jesus like this in 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
2. Muhammad also preached a message of repentance, urging the Arab tribespeople to turn away from their ancestral paganism and return to the religion of Abraham and the worship of one true God.
C. Both were violently rejected.
1. In the case of Jesus, the Jewish establishment did not like His vision of what the Messiah was to be, and were jealous of His growing popularity. Even his hometown turned against Him for pointing out that Israel had a history of rejection of God’s will (Luke 4).
2. Muhammad’s hometown of Mecca also rejected his message of one God, since the central shrine of Arab paganism stood in Mecca itself. Eventually the most powerful tribe in Mecca, called the Quraysh, forced Muhammad to leave, and in 622 he migrated to a city later called Medina, a move called the Hijra in Arabic.
II. Differences in Responding to Violence
A. In the case of Muhammad
1. One of the few Islamic terms all Americans know is jihad, which we normally think of as “holy war.” In Arabic it means “struggle,” and it primarily refers to the inner spiritual struggle to submit to the will of God. That is the “greater jihad.” But Muhammad also endorsed the “lesser jihad,” military combat.
2. War broke out between Muhammad’s new faith and the Meccans, and after a series of battles Muhammad captured Mecca virtually unopposed.
3. Many of the verses in the Quran which talk about warfare, sometimes called the “Sword verses,” come from this period.
a) Generally speaking Muhammad ordered his people to follow rules of warfare similar to those found in Deuteronomy 20.
b) But when those who claimed alliance with the community of believers broke their word and threatened his people, Muhammad ordered his followers to fight.
c) A good example is the ninth chapter of Quran (chapters are called surahs): 5When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post; but if they turn [to God], maintain the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms, let them go on their way, for God is most forgiving and merciful. 6If any one of the idolaters should seek your protection, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God, then take him to a place safe for him, for they are people with no knowledge. 7How could there be a treaty with God and His Messenger for such idolaters? But as for those with whom you made a treaty at the Sacred Mosque, so long as they remain true to you, be true to them; God loves those who are mindful of Him. 12But if they break their oath after having made an agreement with you, if they revile your religion, then fight the leaders of disbelief - oaths mean nothing to them -so that they may stop. 13How could you not fight a people who have broken their oaths, who tried to drive the Messenger out, who attacked you first? Do you fear them? It is God you should fear if you are true believers. 29 Fight those of the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, who do not obey the rule of justice, until they pay the tax and agree to submit.”
4. In short, Muhammad taught his followers to respond to violence with violence.
B. In the case of Jesus
1. Rejoice - Matthew 5:11-12
2. Non-resistance - Matthew 5:38-41
3. Love and pray - Matthew 5:43-48
4. Flee but don’t fear - Matthew 10:16-26
5. Practiced what He preached! Luke 22:47-51; John 18:36
III. Do WE Practice What Jesus Preached - or What Muhammad Preached?
A. The choice between the cross and the sword.
1. Through the centuries many misguided professed Christians practiced what Muhammad preached, or worse, such as the Crusaders.
2. It is easy to criticize such hypocrisy in history. But the challenge is how do I respond when others mistreat me?
a) Just this weekend I was driving and someone cut me off. My initial impulse was to get around them and cut them off!
b) Have you ever been slandered by someone? Did you try to get even?
c) Has someone ever spoken harshly to you, berated you, assume something about you? Did you look for the chance to return the favor?
3. Bernhard Goetz vs Julio Diaz
4. Is it unrealistic to follow the way of Jesus? The reality is that as Jesus warned Peter in the Garden, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Seals – Bin Laden – Taliban killed Seals.
5. In a sinful world violence begets violence, but Jesus presented a much different way for His people to respond to violence – not with the sword. He could have called 12 legions of angels, but instead He went to the cross and prayed for His enemies.
B. A Disclaimer and an Admonition
1. Disclaimer - God has instituted civil government to “bear the sword” - Romans 13:3-4.
a) In Acts Paul used the civil government for protection.
b) But this didn’t mean that if opponents tried to stone him he picked up rocks and threw them back! He preached, he suffered, he used civil government when prudent, but he never retaliated evil for evil or violence with violence.
2. Admonition - Overcome evil with good! - Romans 12:14-21.
a) This is not “pacifism.” It is active, aggressive love. Not weakness, but the strength to refrain from natural inclination.
b) And the objective is not surrender or defeat, but victory – victory defined as God defines it, overcoming evil!
This has been a tough lesson for me to think through and preach. Tough because every instinct I have for fairness and justice is outraged by the notion that someone might do something evil to me and rather than giving them the same or worse right back I am supposed to love them. And besides the unfairness of it, what if they don’t have consciences so tender that their head will burn once I dump all the coals of kindness on them. Isn’t possible they might just keep on being hateful?
Two quick points. First, love is not about fairness. And it certainly doesn’t coming with any guarantees that it will be reciprocated. Love is not about justice, but mercy. Mercy is what I need from God. I don’t want fairness. And thank God He did not simply offer to be fair! The cross is the diametrical opposite of fairness. Instead of sinners receiving the penalty they owed, the sinless Son of God received a punishment He never deserved to atone for sinners, for us, for me. And He did so knowing that not everyone would respond with love, that some would keep on hating. That is the very nature of love itself. To give what is underserved to the underserving.
Here is the second point. The Bible does not teach that God will just tolerate hate and evil forever. He has told us to overcome it with good, but He also knows that some people will not change. And that is when He commands us to leave room for His wrath, that vengeance is His and He will repay. He is not going to let anyone get away with anything! They will come to know how terrifying it is to fall into the hands of the living God.
At the end of 1 Peter 2 the apostle gave instructions to slaves, many of whom were ill-treated by brutal masters. And to encourage them to remain faithful in the face of such injustice, he reminded them of the example of the suffering servant.
1 Peter 2 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Until the great day of reckoning, we must love, and trust, just like our example.