Sincere or Sinister?
Why are Muslims so hesitant to listen to Christians? Why are Christian views and arguments so often dismissed without any real consideration? Why do Muslims seem appreciative of Christian virtues and piety, yet refuse to consider Christian truth? Before one looks for answers from modern or medieval politics, or from culture or sociology, one should go to the heart and fountain of Islam, the Qur’an. Its references to Christians provide the basis for much of the ensuing history of Christian/Muslim relations. They also provide the basis for much of current Islamic attitudes and actions toward Christians and the West.
Qur’anic references to Christians are both positive and negative. Here are items of praise toward Christians. Some are sincere and pious, engaged in good works and pious in devotions. There is an Islamic emphasis of piety: reciting revelation during the night, falling prostrate in prayer, enjoining right conduct and forbidding indecency. Some show humility and entire devotion to God. Christians are said to be closer to Muslims than Jews and idolaters. (3:110-115,199; 5:82)
Some Christians are also praised for their character. Some are trustworthy with money (3:75), examples of moderation (5:66), merciful and compassionate following the example of Jesus (57:27). Sincere Christians are also said to not be worthy of hell (2:62; 5:69).
These few examples of praise, however, are overbalanced by verses warning of the wickedness of Christians. This wickedness is presented as being in beliefs as well as actions. For example, when Christians reject the Qur’an it is said to be due to unreasonable wickedness and deceit (3:21; 98:6; 5:49; 62:5). Christians are charged with knowingly concealing the fact of the Qur’an’s truth. Questioning the authenticity of the Qur’an proves one’s wickedness (2:146; 3:71; 5:15). Christians are also accused of using deception to proselytise Muslims even to the point of misrepresenting their own scriptures and using seductive tactics that misrepresent Islam (2:120; 3:78; 3:99,100; 4:44; 5:49). It is interesting to note that sincere concern for the truth or the eternal welfare of Muslims is never recognised as being a Christian’s true motive for desiring a Muslim’s conversion.
To these are added miscellaneous charges of wickedness. Some Christians will steal if entrusted with money (3:75). Most Christians are wicked in their lifestyles (3:110; 5:59,66; 57:27). Christians have a great hatred for Muslims in their hearts which they deceitfully hide (3:118,119). Christians rejoice when disaster befalls Muslims. They also act toward Muslims with guile (3:120). Christians compete with one another to make illicit profits (5:62). Christian priests don’t forbid their people’s sins and instead commit them themselves (5:63). Christian monks devour wealth wantonly and barr people’s way to the truth (9:34). Christians display pride, enmity and hatred in their factionalism among themselves (5:14; 30:32). Many of these do occur, to our shame. Most of these sins are ones that Jesus Himself condemned, especially concerning the Pharisees. The most serious aspect of these is that they are presented as the normal way of life for Christians, not as the exceptions.
To these are added accusations that Christians teach perverse doctrines. Christ’s Sonship is the prime example (9:30). Christians made a prophet out to be their Lord, ascribing deity to him, committing the supreme blasphemy (3:79,80; 4:48,171; 5:17; 9:31). Any reference to the Trinity is included in this. Christians disobey their own Book, stress falsehoods in their religion, and exaggerate in their teaching (5:66,77; 4:171). Monasticism and saint worship are condemned (57:27; 9:31). Before Muhammad came, Christians were lost in error. Islam and the Qur’an are the only remedies (98:1).
In view of these accusations, it is only natural for the Qur’an to warn Muslims about friendship with Christians. As a general rule Muslims are not to take Christians for friends, especially over Muslims (3:118; 4:144; 5:51,57). The only exception given is if you need to have them as your friend to guard your own security (3:28). To this basis add the events of history, current global politics, cultural and social dynamics. There is much to foster skepticism and paranoia among Muslims. Thankfully, most Muslims I have met are more open to Christian friendship than all of these factors encourage. Also, Muslim writers and teachers in the West often reduce the strength of the Qur’anic accusations by saying the Qur’an verses refer to specific instances in the life of Muhammad rather than presenting a general rule. Many Muslims have found Christians to be trustworthy and caring and let their experiences shape their attitudes. But even with these, it must be recognised that the Qur’an does not encourage Muslims to understand their Christian neighbours and embrace them in friendship. Instead, Muslims are encouraged to be on their guard. May we by our actions and words earn their trust and confidence.
The Qur’an promotes exceptionally negative views of Christians and Christianity. These views support Islamic convictions of superiority over Christianity. These negative views are a great obstacle to Muslims realistically considering the gospel. For the gospel to gain a hearing, these views must be challenged and overturned.
Two courses of action can overturn them. First, Christians need to live conspicuous lives of genuine love and holiness. Any practice or attitude that can be interpreted as deceitful, hateful, abusive, or demeaning has no place in our lives. We need to show Muslims love and compassion. Also, we cannot meet irrational dogmatism with anger, frustration, or exasperation. We need to be direct, but with courtesy and tact.
Second, we should clearly and patiently refute the Qur’an’s misrepresentations of Christian doctrine. The Qur’an’s challenges are superficial and can be answered historically, theologically, and scripturally with consistency and logic. There is nothing for us to apologise for in the mysteries of the Trinity or Christ’s Sonship. There are ways to talk about them with clarity, reverence, and persuasiveness. The Bible is the Qur’an’s great superior in truth, wisdom, and revelation. We need to seize the initiative on these topics and not let Muslims put us on the defensive.
Two of Paul’s admonitions to us from the Bible are appropriate to draw these thoughts to a close.
- But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2
Presented by Keith E. Small, 6 December 1997