Islam and Peace

eiffel tower peace symbolThe recent murderous attacks in Paris have again shocked the world by their barbarity. The supposed line between combatants and civilians is crossed again. Innocents were killed or maimed in a stadium, a theater, and on the streets of Paris.

To label this as “senseless” (as some have done) is not helpful. These murders made perfect sense to those who committed them, including some who gave their lives as suicide killers. Appalling, yes. Revolting, yes. Disgusting, yes. Senseless, no.

Some years ago in Los Angeles I baptized a young Iranian Muslim into Christ. He had rejected Islam and turned to Christianity. His reasons were complex, but a primary one was his observation that all the terrorist activity in the world was done by Muslims. He rejected any notion that Islam was a religion of peace and turned to what he saw as the best alternative, Christianity.

"Double Centenionalis Magnentius-XR-s4017" by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Double_Centenionalis_Magnentius-XR-s4017.jpg#/media/File:Double_Centenionalis_Magnentius-XR-s4017.jpg

“Double Centenionalis Magnentius-XR-s4017” by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Yet Christianity has a long history of war and barbarity. When Constantine claimed to be Christian and elevated the church to the state religion of the Eastern Roman Empire, a line was crossed. Constantine, the great warrior, did not lay down his sword and shield by a riverside. Instead, as church historians have long noted, he made it justifiable for Christians to engage in war, even against other Christians. The idea of a Christian army fighting another Christian army was no longer incredible. It happened. Soon after Constantine, the usurper Magnentius raised an army and revolted against Emperor Constans, the son of Constantine. Magnentius issued coins with the great Christian symbol of the chi-rho on the reverse, the recognized sign of Christ. Baptized Christians were fighting baptized Christians in no-holds-barred warfare.

It has taken many centuries of war and many millions of casualties for a consensus to emerge that Christianity, at its core, is a religion of peace. War, while sometimes necessary, is always a tragedy. Lives are of value, every one of them. Still, we currently see signs in Putin’s Russian of a politically ambitious and ruthless leader who is apparently flaming nationalism among his people with the flavor of Christianity and leading them in wars of aggression. So maybe we haven’t learned the lesson yet, either.

I am no expert on Islam, although I have studied it quite a bit. As with Christianity, it is mistaken to try and judge Islam on the basis of its Scriptures. Outsiders cannot reconstruct Christian history or fully understand the church by reading the Bible. They must understand how influential leaders in the church have used the Bible and their own ideas to achieve their goals. This sometimes involved going to war, even wars of aggression. Peace does not trump everything in the Christian world. It never has and never will until the Prince of Peace comes again.

So, too, we cannot judge Islam by a supposedly objective reading of the Koran. We must judge it by the actions of Muslims in power and realize that not all Muslims think alike. So, we can hear Muslim voices of peace (e.g., Fareed Zakaria) and commend them without assuming Islam is a religion of peace.

I think there is a primary difference, however, between Christianity and Islam when it comes to war. The founder of Islam, Muhammad, was eventually a military leader, leading his army to conquer Mecca in AD 630. (For that matter, many of the great heroes of Jewish history were military leaders: Moses, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus.) Jesus, however, rejected the attempts of the people to make him a king (John 6:15) because he knew this was a move of revolt against the Romans. Jesus was not a military leader. He did not lead his followers to war. The church was not founded by killing others. May we never think that murder is OK.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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