Once again, we hear in the news about churches being bombed and Christians killed by Muslims, this time over the Easter morning celebrations in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise, as Islamic terrorists have targeted Christians around Easter several times before. In 2017, ISIS carried out two church bombings in Egypt on Palm Sunday killing 45 Christians. In 2016, an explosion in Lahore, Pakistan killed 75 Christians celebrating Easter.
And it’s not just reserved for Easter. In the past six years the number of Christians killed for their faith has increased almost four-fold according to the Open Doors World Watch List, and almost all by Muslims.
But are these violent acts truly Islamic? Most Western pundits, both Islamic and non-religious, bend over backwards to insist that these acts of violence against Christians have nothing to do with “true” Islam, but are mere aberrations carried out by a very small minority of Muslims, disgruntled with the West. So, why then is so much of the violence targeting Christians, and often when they are worshipping in their churches?
To understand that we will need to go to the primary authority for Islam itself, the Qur’an, where there are numerous verses which invoke violence against non-believers, and especially against those who reject Allah and his prophet Muhammad, which Christians do.
Due to space, let’s just refer to four such verses:
– Surah 8:59-60 invokes Muslims to use any “steeds of war” against the unbelievers, to “threaten them” (in my Qur’an it suggests that today ‘steeds of war’ would include “tanks, planes, missiles, and artillery”).
– Surah 47:4 is the injunction to “cut off the heads of the unbelievers.”
– Surah 4:89 says Muslims are to kill those who “turn back from Islam,” a support for killing apostates.
– Surah 8:38-39 tells Muslims to “fight the disbelievers until the religion is all for Allah.”
Muslim apologists have tried to suggest that these verses in the Qur’an, as well as the many others which invoke violence, are only in the context of warfare and must only be employed for defense. Yet, when one looks at the context of all of these verses, there is no reference to warfare. The background for almost all of them concerns specifically unbelievers, which also includes Christians, Jews, and idolaters.
So, why are we referring to the Qur’an to help us understand the Islamic violence today? Aren’t those verses specifically for the time of Muhammad, in the 7th century, a good 1400 years ago? Not if you are a Muslim. All Muslims, be they radical, moderate, or even liberal, consider the Qur’an as their highest authority; and thus, a book which cannot be questioned, but must be followed. In fact, they would consider it a revelation for all times, and all places, and for everyone, even, eventually, for those who do not yet believe.
And therein lies much of the problem for those of us in the West today. Many of you reading this article probably no longer follow any religious belief, so you will not understand the power and control such verses can have over the current 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide.
Yet, for those of us who are Christians, who consider the Bible our primary authority, we understand full well why Muslims do what they do. We are copiously aware of the power of scripture on a believer and can recognize why a Muslim will readily follow the edicts of their god Allah, over those of secular political pundits.
But we are also aware that our revelation stands in direct contrast to that of the Qur’an in the context of peace and violence. While some may point to the Old Testament violence, suggesting it is even more violent than the Qur’an, there are virtually no Christians who follow those verses, because they would recognize that they were written specifically for the Jews of that time, and dealt with very specific problems, coupled with very specific solutions.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Christians follow, is a universal Gospel, considered as applicable today as the day it was revealed and written down. It is that Gospel which clearly tells us to “lay down the sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), coupled with an even clearer and unique injunction to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
Fortunately, our Western tradition is steeped in beliefs which are derived from these verses, and while many may not consider them divinely inspired as Christians do, they still live by them, and assume the rest of the world should do so as well; including those Muslims living amongst us.
I do not have a ready solution for Muslims who truly want peace, yet simultaneously choose to retain authority for a Qur’an riddled with violent verses. I hear many attempting desperately to wring some kind of peaceful application from them; yet, they will always fail, and meanwhile even more innocent worshippers in churches will continue to die.
Will Islam eventually be able to shed its violence? Not as long as those violent verses remain, and Muslims consider them the eternal words of Allah.
There is, however, another book and another Man they can come home to, both of which are foundational to the peace we all so desperately want and seek; namely, the Bible, and in particular, the person of Jesus Christ.