10/19/16 Batal 24
So the reason I was late for church on Sunday was because of a lengthy sidewalk conversation with a young Muslim man named Batal. He is from Palestine and a senior in college here in Chicago. Batal described himself as a liberal Muslim and denounced those radical Muslims who use violence to spread Islam. He took pride in his ability to respect people of different religious traditions and beliefs. We talked about much that Christians and Muslims have in common but also about some key differences between us. The most important is the identity of Jesus. Was he God's Son and co-Creator as Christians believe, or was he a great prophet but just a created being as Muslims believe? This is the key difference because it is at the heart of who or what we trust in for salvation - the person and work of Jesus, or ourselves and our own good and religious works.
There is another key difference between us, however. What happens when we get more serious about our faith? Batal was liberal in his interpretation of the Quran, which as a Palestinian he is able to read in Arabic, the language of the Quran. He chooses to focus earlier parts of the Quran when Muhammad and his followers were in the minority and forced to accommodate other beliefs, because these passages promote peaceful coexistence. He ignores passages later in the Quran when, as Muhammad's power and influence grew, it condones violence. Yet the nature of Islam is such that, just as Muhammed's teachings outrank earlier teachings of other prophets such as Jesus, the later parts of the Quran outrank those that come earlier. Were Batal to become radicalized, that is, to take the whole Quran seriously, he would have to condone the actions of groups like ISIS and push for Sharia law wherever Muslims are able to enact it.
So what about the violence condoned in the Bible's Old Testament? Shouldn't Christian radicals also condone and adopt violence as a way to spread Christianity? In their disobedience and/or ignorance, some do. But the Old Testament is called "Old" for a reason. It was about God choosing a people - Israel - and establishing a covenant with them. This covenant doesn't apply to Christians today. In that earlier covenant, God's character, such as His faithfulness and power, were displayed in his relationship with Israel, often on the battlefield, both in support of Israel as they were obedient and against Israel as they often turned to idolatry.
For Christians, taking the Bible seriously and being "radicalized" means serving and being willing to give our lives for the sake of others, as Jesus did. It does not mean fighting against and taking the lives of others as Muhammad did. The atrocities done throughout history by "Christians" were done by false teachers and false converts who never even knew Jesus, just as He predicted. On the other hand, the atrocities done and being done by Muslims are very often done by those serious about following the example and commands of Muhammad and the Quran.
To be fair, Batal explained how Muslims from other language groups, such as Persians or Muslims from India or Indonesia, really don't understand the Quran because Islam requires that it be read in Arabic. But their Imams do. Of course there are masses content to live in ignorance of whatever religion they grow up in. Many who claim Christianity are ignorant of the Bible, and many who claim Islam are ignorant of the Quran. But ignorance is no excuse, whether we use it to ignore the call of the Bible to give up our lives to follow Jesus and serve others, or the call of the Quran to use violence to follow Muhammad.