Criticism & prejudice: trying to understand Islam


‘Islamophobic!’ is directed at anyone it would seem, who has any criticism of Islam.

In light of the rise of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Northern Iraq and its intolerant ideologies, ‘moderate’ and ‘mainstream’ Muslims, as well as many non-Muslims have stressed the peaceful nature of ‘true’ Islam.

Deflecting criticism away from Islam’s holy texts, moralistic commentators—many non-Muslim—often compare the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad to massacres in the Old Testament committed by the Israelites. It is argued that just as ‘mainstream’ Christians and Jews do not act according to many old teachings now, likewise the Islamic world for the most part does not either, and thus certain aspects of their religious texts and traditions can be ignored just as Christians pick and choose those bits of Scripture which suit this time and place.

At face value, this comparison seems fair. Christians—I can’t speak for Jews—adapt their Bible to make it more palatable, so why shouldn’t Muslims?

Let’s talk about what Christians do to the Bible. While in many areas they might often seem to pick and choose, such as women covering their heads in church, other areas of the Bible are not open to such reinterpretation.

The Old Testament is seen by Christians as primarily the history of God’s chosen people (the Jews). It includes details of events which we today could understandably condemn as genocide, mass murder, pillaging, and unmistakable ethnic cleansing in the ‘Promised Land’ on God’s direct orders. Personally I struggle to reconcile my Christian faith with these actions and I am glad I wasn’t around when the orders were given. I do however, believe that somehow God was sovereign over this violence, and being God, there must have been a good reason to allow it to happen even if my limited brain can’t understand it.

What should be noted about much in the Old Testament is that the orders to carry out these acts were strictly limited to the time and place in which they were given. It was not ‘forevermore go and kill the non-chosen people’, for example. It was more like ‘go now and kill those people’, which is quite horrible enough (from our perspective) to be sure, but also limited.

As a Christian I follow the words and actions of Jesus. For those who haven’t read his own words (including ‘love your enemies’—not just your fellow Christians—‘do good to those who persecute you’, and ‘turn the other cheek’) he can’t possibly be seen as inciting violence, either in his words, or his actions. If he was the all-powerful son of God, letting himself be humiliated, abused, and ultimately killed is in stark contrast to the violence seen in the Old Testament. That’s who Christians follow.

Is this the same God as in the Old Testament? I believe so. The same commands? Clearly not, as seen by Jesus’ example. Not because Christians have ignored some of God’s orders and reinterpreted the Bible, but because God has shown through Jesus the way to act here and now until his return.

Now back to ‘Islamophobic’. Islamaphobe is a term I’ve seen a lot recently online; it seems that anyone who says anything against Islam is demonised as being narrow minded and bigoted. (I can’t remember seeing Christianophobe anywhere, ever. I guess open-mindedness only stretches so far.)

Castigating critics of Islam is the epitome of narrow-mindedness by implying that one particular ideology/religion is above criticism.

Christians do not have the monopoly on good behaviour (check out the Crusades or the Inquisition or the current Royal Commission), but Jesus, we believe, definitely did, and that’s who we’re trying—amidst constant failure—to imitate.

I claim a very limited understanding of Islam so I won’t indulge in shallow criticism. But the way I understand it is that followers of Allah ought to follow in the footsteps of his last prophet, Muhammad. I’ll let others argue about those particular steps, but it’s not light reading.

I’m definitely not a Muslim-ophobe, I’m not anti-anyone. But I am against violence and any ideology which can easily be interpreted as directly condoning it.

The words and actions of Jesus need no twisting or reinterpreting to make them palatable to the majority of humanity, ever. What about the words and actions of Muhammad? They are up for interpretation, as IS is showing us. But perhaps the IS interpretation of Islam is not as far fetched as Joseph Kony claiming to follow Jesus.

Claiming that Christianity itself is a religion that encourages violence is very difficult if the example of Jesus is the norm. What about Islam and its prophet?

I hope the IS interpretation of Islam is found theologically wanting, but let’s not assume it is simply because we don’t like what they’re preaching.

Let’s engage critically, not just react emotionally.

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2 thoughts on “Criticism & prejudice: trying to understand Islam

  1. “I’m definitely not a Muslim-ophobe, I’m not anti-anyone. But I am against violence and any ideology which can easily be interpreted as directly condoning it.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself.

  2. Gracias Pedro por tu articulo.

    We certainly live in times were to make question & criticize it´s not easy because life self is complex and also because the threat quickly to become not a “critic” but only “detractor&spurner”.
    Thank you for your courage.

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