What About Islam?

We’re conversing again about Islam, as the recent Orlando massacre has raised awareness to a new level. Before September 11, 2001, few people in America ever talked about Islam. Indeed few were knowledgeable enough to carry on a decent conversation. But we now live in a post 9/11 world, and it is difficult to ignore the potential threat of Muslims in our midst. Yes, we need to have a national conversation and we need it to be an honest one.

Peaceful Muslims

Undoubtedly, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful individuals, not intent on murder, who are good citizens and neighbors. They live in America because they appreciate the religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution as well as the economic opportunities available here, just like most of us who are not Muslims. But the problem is that radical Muslims keep blowing people up in the name of Islam, and it’s getting harder to ignore the connection between Islam and the constant threat to law abiding Americans.

Radical Muslims

Radical Muslims, those favoring jihad for the sake of Islam, comprise a small minority of the total Muslim population. Some have estimated that jihadists comprise only ten percent of all Muslims world-wide and a much smaller percentage here in America. However, with total world population around 1.5 billion, ten percent is one hundred fifty million. That’s a whole lot of fanatical people willing to become martyrs in a crusade against infidels, their term for non-Muslims.

Muslim Doctrine

Some insist that Islam is a religion of peace, and that radical Muslims are distorting a noble world religion for political purposes. It’s impossible to tell if such people have never studied Muslim doctrine or else are deliberately misrepresenting it. Although most individual Muslims are peaceful people, the official doctrines of Islam are not. The Quran teaches Muslims to strike terror into the hearts of Islam’s enemies. It teaches that all Muslims are to wage jihad until Sharia law is established throughout the world. It directs Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as their friends. “Fight those who believe not in Allah, and fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war.” (Sura 9:5) Similar quotations could be multiplied.

It’s not that radical Muslims are hijacking a peaceful religion, but that peaceful Muslims are ignoring some basic teachings of their religion. It’s radical Muslims who are faithfully following the teachings of the Quran and the words of Mohammed, the founder of Islam. That is why it is so easy to radicalize Muslims. All that’s needed is to convince them to act upon the true teachings of their religion, and they are ready to annihilate anyone who refuses to submit to Allah.

Christianity and Islam

We are told that the Bible contains examples of God ordering people to wage war on their enemies, which is true. We are encouraged to conclude therefore, that Christianity and Islam are basically the same. Both, we are told, venerate scriptures that advocate violence, but both are essentially religions of peace, in spite of these war-like references. But that ignores important differences. The reason Christianity bears its name is because its adherents follow the teachings of Christ, who taught his followers to love their enemies. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” and “if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also,” and other similar statements. You will be hard pressed to find anything comparable in the teachings of Mohammed.

Because of the words of Christ, we recognize that Old Testament instructions to fight were temporarily limited to a specific historical situation, whereas the words of Mohammed are not limited in any way. Many Muslims choose to interpret his teachings as limited to a particular historical context, but that’s creative contextualization, not literal exposition. We are thankful that most Muslims embrace a peaceful perspective, and we encourage all to follow suit. However, there is little in the Quran to support such a view, unlike the Bible, where the teachings of Christ specifically require love for one’s enemies and strongly condemn violence against them. A Christian who advocates violence has to contradict the teachings of the founder of his religion. Actually, such a person should not be considered a Christian at all, for how can one be a Christian who flagrantly violates the teachings of Christ? However, a Muslim who advocates peaceful co-existence with non-Muslims is contradicting the teachings of the founder of his religion. Radical Muslims are right. It is peace-loving Muslims who are misrepresenting their religion, not the other way around. There is no legitimate equation between Christianity and Islam. When was the last time you heard someone worry about Christians becoming radicalized by other Christians?

Naïve Perspective

Why do so many American political leaders insist that Islam is a religion of peace? Apparently, because that fits their worldview. The evidence does not support such idealism, but they insist on it none-the-less. They want to believe that Islam is basically the same as Christianity, with both fostering similar views about God and society. But the sacred writings of Islam are fundamentally opposed to human rights. Islam rejects freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. It rejects equal rights between men and women and between Muslim and non-Muslim. If you want to know what it teaches, visit a few countries where Islam has been in control for a while and evaluate the conditions of that society. It seems strange to me, that the same people who criticize Christianity for opposing gay marriage, defend Islam which requires the death penalty for homosexuals, and carries out public executions of offenders. Why do you think Omar Mateen killed forty-nine people in a gay nightclub In Orlando? He was following the teachings of his Muslim religion, and was praised for this slaughter by Muslim fundamentalists all over the world. Where Muslim Imams control society, there is no free speech, free press, freedom of dress, or any of the many freedoms we take for granted in America.

Truth vs. Fiction

We do not help the situation by denying the connection between Islam and the acts of violence carried out in the name of Allah. How much better to acknowledge the facts and encourage Muslims to recognize this connection and renounce the violent teachings of their religion. Perhaps if we are willing to speak the truth in love, some Muslims might realize these errors are rooted in their scriptures, and will be encouraged to abandon Islam to follow Christ. But too many Americans reject Christ and would rather perpetuate lies about Islam than risk encouraging someone to embrace Christ. This may be why we continue to hear fiction instead of factual representation.

Our Response

As Christians, we do not join those who advocate mistreatment of Muslims. As followers of Christ, we believe in loving our neighbors as ourselves, even if our neighbor turns out to be our enemy. We believe in speaking the truth, but speaking the truth in love, not in hatred nor violence. The weapons of our warfare are not guns and bombs, but truth, righteousness, and loving compassion. We understand the potential of God’s Word to change hearts when empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we pray earnestly for our Muslim friends and neighbors, that they may acknowledge their need of Christ, and embrace Him as Lord and Savior. We know that some will, by the grace of God, and that others may not, but we will love them in either case.

There is a difference between the responsibility of government to protect and defend its citizens, and the responsibility of individual Christians to pray for and love our neighbors. We don’t want to confuse these responsibilities as we weigh our choices at the ballot box. Don’t forget, most Muslim countries do not allow their citizens to vote. That’s a privilege found mainly in societies influenced by Christianity. There are more differences between Islam and Christianity than many realize. Christianity is unique among world religions because it alone possesses truth revealed by Almighty God, Creator and Ruler of everything.

Greg Barkman bio

G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored for over 40 years. In addition, Pastor Barkman broadcasts over several radio stations in NC, VA, TN, and the island of Granada and conducts annual pastors’ training seminars in Zimbabwe, Africa. He and his wife, Marti have been blessed with four daughters and six grandchildren.

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Aaron Blumer's picture


The above are a couple of slides from a seminar I conducted on Islam in 2005.

Here’s another interesting bit…

2:62 Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

My point is not to try to say “Islam is a religion of peace,” which is a very sloppy generalization. I’m also not interested in debating whether peaceful Islam is authentic or murderous Islam is authentic. I think that’s a distraction.

Rather, my point is that the Qur’an can be quoted either way and adherants to Islam can make their faith into whatever they would like it be… and still claim the Qur’an, as the folks here have tried to do (http://www.islamforpeace.org/quran.html), for example.
Or, if they choose, they can set the Qur’an aside entirely. They’re not going to do that, but as a book that we know to not be truly divine, it has no authority over them except what authority they choose to ascribe to it. A great many of them have liberalized and there is no long-term reason why they all can’t eventually.

Peace rhetoric

Politicians emphasize peace in their rhetoric because (a) they don’t want to see majority Muslims in the U.S. get beat up by citizens who are irrationally fearful or hateful. Neither do I. (And criminal justice leaders are very worried about this also. Check out this National Institute of Justice seminar from just a couple of weeks ago, for example), Also, (b) they want to see this “religion of peace” become the simple truth. That is, they want to see violent Islam be replaced by peaceful Islam. So do I!

On “Jihad”

It’s important to recognize that “jihad” does not mean “kill everybody you disagree with.” In violent Islam, that’s what it amounts to, but in peaceful Islam, jihad is battle against evil and injustice. The word means, literally, struggle.

What I wish the politicians on the right would figure out (and some of them have, thankfully) is that liberalized Islam really is the best case scenario that can reasonably be hoped for. In the long run, the ideological problem has to be solved internally by Muslims. The crime problem can only be mitigated by external efforts. Policy that is overbearing and/or perceived to be insensitive to majority Muslims is counterproductive from the standpoint of civil liberties and justice—as well as the violence problem.

Jim's picture

I was taking a C programming class at night at a local university. A young man sat next to me and reached out to me. He was from Pakistan. He was not formerly enrolled and was not even auditing ...  he was a class "stowaway". He did not even purchase the textbook. 

Frankly I thought I was going to be a programming dud but  as it turned out I aced the class. 

I became his tutor.

I got to know him and his brother very well. I was invited to several large in-house gatherings of their Muslim friends. Most were from Pakistan and Afghanistan. We had him and his brother in our home for meals. When his father visited we met him. He became married (an arranged marriage) and we met his bride.

He visited our church at least once. 


Bert Perry's picture

....beyond going to college with students from Bangladesh and elsewhere, is in going to Malaysia for 10 days on business.  I was warned that there was a radical party--thankfully not very prominent on Penang Island where I was--but all in all I had a wonderful time.  People were incredibly gracious to a guy coming in whose knowledge of Malay was "Terima Kasih" (thank you) and "Bukit Jambul" ("Beard Hill", the name of a mall I went to, cool place).  I also had an RA in college from Iran, and I've had the privilege of interacting with Muslims (and ex-Muslims) on business here in the U.S.

I also took a class about it in college, and one thing I learned is that, far more than in Christianity, doctrine becomes flexible in Islam.  Remember "The Satanic Verses" of Salman Rushdie?  It's based on an actual Islamic doctrine of Satan putting some wrong things in the Qu'ran.  Plus, the only way one reads the Qu'ran is in Arabic--so they don't have a doctrine like "perspicuity of the Scriptures" where we argue we can get an awful lot out of a translation.  

incredibly complex, really.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


The complexity creates opportunity for reform by those who are reform-minded. Given the level of interest governments and law enforcement have been forced into in relation to Islam, and also the unavoidable political dimension in free societies, both government policy and community efforts should be aimed at encouraging reform toward more consistent non-violence, rights for women, etc. Shariah has been the focus of much angst, and not all of it unjustified, but Shariah is also malleable.

It might seem simpler to view Islam as a kind of disease to completely excise through immigration control, etc., but this is really not achievable (or desirable either, given the religious liberty precedents we’d be setting). So encouraging reform is where policy should go. The question of what is effective in encouraging the nonviolent Muslim community to stay that way, and spread its influence, is a huge one. But politicians, community leaders, and policy-makers ought to all get on the same page as far as the objective of encouraging reform goes. That part should be obvious by now.

(Then again, a whole lot of things should be obvious that aren’t these days in public policy! But usually the dreamworld idealism is on the left. It’s sad to see that sort of fantasy based thinking going on on the right.)

Illustration on the complexity of the broader Muslim scene…

I should note that I have a misspelling in my box for the Sevener Shia: it’s Ismaili (or Isma’ili) not Ismiali (The orphaned connector on Bahai is intentional, if memory serves. I wasn’t able to figure out what Bahai branched off of.)

Bert Perry's picture

See the link here.  We might argue that it was Shi'a, since it came from Persia, but a quick look at the beliefs reveals it's actually simple syncretism of a bunch of religions. So there is a very good reason you couldn't figure out where it branched off--it's something .like an orchid, really, capable of using a number of different trees to support itself. 

Agreed that complexity is opportunity, especially if we do not succumb to the temptation to label all with the same broad brush. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Rob Fall's picture

The Shiia off shoot Bashar al-Assad belongs to.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ron Bean's picture

I work with a number of young Muslims. One day I asked a college age co-worker who is Shiia about the differences between Shiia and Sunni. He was in the middle of a rather weak attempt when an older customer who was Sunni proceeded to instruct us both. It was enlightening and memorable. I saw militancy close up and personal.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture


Rob Fall wrote:

The Shiia off shoot Bashar al-Assad belongs to.

I'm sure I've left quite a lot out! At the time, the slide was meant to support the point that Islam is not monolithic. (I have another slide showing "a few Christian sects" ... which was even harder, since I'm aware of so many! Biggrin )

By the way, was it my imagination or did I hear on NPR on the way home today that ISIS set off a bomb at Medina? If it's true, this is a very strange move. If you want to (finally) mobilize all the non-radical (and quite a few radical but non-ISIS) Muslims in the world against you, that would be close to #1 on the top-ten list of ways to do it. It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.


Rob Fall's picture

As for Medina, yeup.

Aaron Blumer wrote:


Rob Fall wrote:


The Shiia off shoot Bashar al-Assad belongs to.



I'm sure I've left quite a lot out! At the time, the slide was meant to support the point that Islam is not monolithic. (I have another slide showing "a few Christian sects" ... which was even harder, since I'm aware of so many! Biggrin )

By the way, was it my imagination or did I hear on NPR on the way home today that ISIS set off a bomb at Medina? If it's true, this is a very strange move. If you want to (finally) mobilize all the non-radical (and quite a few radical but non-ISIS) Muslims in the world against you, that would be close to #1 on the top-ten list of ways to do it. It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.


Hoping to shed more light than heat..

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