Four Things Christians Should Understand About Islam
A veteran shares what he learned while building relationships and having spiritual conversations with Muslims in Iraq.
Politically motivated narratives make Islam a challenge to decipher. Further complicating our understanding are the myriad of well-meaning opinions, various Islamic sects, and numerous scholars who all proclaim their own opinions on what is the truth. Here are four fundamental aspects of Islam that everyone should understand — not from a scholar, but from a layman who has spent years of his daily life learning to know Muslims.
1. Isaac and Ishmael
A fundamental backdrop of my book series “The Conquests of Brokk,” is this question: Who is Isaac, who is Ishmael, and which one of them is the son of promise?
As a scout platoon leader in Iraq, I have made many dear friends. The Iraqi people are warm and generous. While on a security patrol, one local leader invited my platoon in to eat with him. We accepted, of course, and our conversation quickly turned to family, customs and traditions. Shia Iraqis were preparing to celebrate the holiday Eid, and this became my first introduction to the nuanced differences between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Eid honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faith to God. You read that right — Ishmael. What flows from the Muslims’ belief that Ismael was the son of promise is a cascade of robbed opportunities for the sons of Ishmael. Like Jacob and Esau, this can easily be interpreted as a tale of deceit. Who deserves the Holy Land? Who was the son of promise? Whose decedents are the chosen ones of God? In Islam, it is not Isaac, but Ishmael.
2. Jesus is revered, but not as Christ.
Prophet, Priest and King. These are the three offices that Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth holds. As Prophet, he reiterates God’s truth and proclaimed His future death on the cross. As Priest, he serves as our great High Priest, always interceding for his people to the Father. As King, Jesus rules over our universe.
Beware of confusion when witnessing to a Muslim about Jesus. They’ll likely tell you that you worship the same God or that they believe in Isa (Jesus) too. It might even get downright confusing because they won’t shy away from agreeing with you about Jesus. In fact, many will follow up His name with the same expression they provide their holy prophet — they will say “Isa, peace be upon him.”
It’s true that they do believe in Jesus, but not as Priest or King. They believe in Jesus as a great prophet, but not as God or creator. And they certainly don’t believe He is the propitiation for our sins. Who Jesus is becomes the most important question in the world. We must clearly distinguish this simple truth before we can go anywhere else in the conversation.
This is the source of much debate. Was Jihad to be an internal spiritual struggle? Is it an external struggle against non-believers? The truth is that, at different times, Jihad represents both struggles (Q 16:125, Q 22:39, Q 9:5, Q 9:29). There is no doubt that the Prophet Mohammed practiced warfare against non-believers and that throughout the history of Islam, Jihad as warfare has been waged at times. The question for Christians is: what should we do about it? I suggest two courses of action.
First, Christians are called to go out and make disciples. In this way, Islam and Christianity have equal and competing goals — regardless of the aims of achieving them. The necessary outcome of this realization is that both religions pose spiritual and, sometimes, physical threats to each other.
Second, we must acknowledge that the Bible tells Christians not to fear anyone who can destroy the body but not destroy the soul, instead, “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Throughout history, Christians have been persecuted for sharing the gospel. Our call, however, remains unchanged. We must share the gospel fearlessly, pray for our enemies, and submit to God’s sovereignty in our lives when trials knock at the door.
4. Muslims suffer much.
I’m not saying that Christians aren’t targeted or don’t suffer too. They are and do. And there are certainly better policies and security measures that could be implemented to reduce terror in the majority of Muslim countries. But Christians are called to love, and not just love, but to have a “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). This is the type of love that God has for His people and the type of love His people should have for both the saved and the unsaved.
We must avoid the hostile political climate and acknowledge that when a bomb goes off in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria, Muslim families are also at risk of being hurt or killed. We should acknowledge that Muslim children are casualties and that Muslim parents are grieving. We must have compassion on and love for our neighbors.
If we allow fear to drive policies that cause Christians to avoid engaging Muslims (or the rest of the world) in honest debate about their souls, then we need only a mirror to reflect on our own relationship with the sovereign God of the universe.
Islam is a complicated religion that can be interpreted in many ways. But Christians must first understand our own responsibilities to our own God before we attempt to interpret another’s. When engaging Muslims, we must acknowledge that they have existed under a different narrative than we have; a narrative that often counters our own understanding of history, religion, and politics. We also must have compassion on these people and never give over to a fear that prevents us from proclaiming the gospel.
Thane Keller has deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and is the author of the science fiction thrillers “Fractal Space,” “Rogue Fleet,” and “Doomsayer.” He writes realistic military fiction that borders the fantastical. Visit him at thanekeller.com and engage with him on Twitter @ThaneKeller.