While Americans, given our generally negative attitude toward Muslims in the wake of 9/11 seek to come to grips with Islam, this deviant religious copy is quite poorly understood by many – even by Christians, who should know better. Further, those who only hear about wars and terrorism involving Islam are often uninterested in fairly dealing (or any dealings) with proponents of Islam who are not, themselves, terrorists.
Is the reason you think there is such a thing as moderate Islam because you are a moderate Christian?
— Seth Dunn (@GSethDunn) October 1, 2015
Now, of course, the statement above isn’t particularly noteworthy. Many say this, or similar things. The problem is, the author is a professing Christian, who claims to engage in apologetics ministry, and is studying for a degree in it. As such, I would most definitely hold him to a higher standard. It suffers from a number of inaccuracies.
Firstly, anyone who has dealt with any religious group – any group at all – knows that there is a spectrum of beliefs within any religion – even strictly hierarchical ones! It may make things simpler for you to treat every adherent as if they were assembly lined, but that simply isn’t going to be true of most people you meet. There will be idiosyncrasies, ignorance, and straight out “heresy” from adherents to any religion. Any one dimensional treatment of any religion, or its adherents, will be doomed to failure.
Secondly, any religion that has been around for a while will have sects. The reason for these sectarian divisions vary. In Islam, for instance, there are (for starters) the Sunnis and Shias, who differ, at base, over who was Muhammad’s successor – and about plenty of things since. They multiply, and propagate from that division into a host of other divisions, centered on aspects varying from schools of jurisprudence to practice of mysticism. That is just the more or less official sects!
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for our discussion, however, are two factors: One religious, one cultural. Religiously, of course, there is the doctrine of “taqiya” – their doctrine of dissimulation, or concealment. Esp. to Shi’a, concealment of their true goals or plans is seen to be a virtue. Sunnis, to some extent, also take portions of this to be true. Additionally, however, and probably most relevantly; converts, especially in the West, tend to be far more liberal than their counterparts in the Middle East, or places where Sharia is practiced.
You will notice, if you look into the majority of debates that Christians have with Muslims, that those who debate us tend to be “westernized”, for the most part. Not all of them, but most. These Muslims tend to be what anyone who deals with Muslims frequently would call “moderate”. They would insist (accurately) that a jihad requires a Caliph. If you recall previously, the division between Sunni and Shia is over who should succeed to the Caliphate. Most western muslims would emphasize this, for whichever reasons they have, while also promulgating Islam as the one true religion. In the Middle East, things are not quite like that. There are more “moderate” sects there, as well, and many of those more “moderate” sects run countries. While it might be simpler to lump Islam into one homogenized mass, it certainly isn’t more accurate.
Misrepresenting those you are trying to respond to, or teach about, is not something we are called to do. As such, I would caution Seth against making such incautious, inaccurate – and uninformed – statements in the future.
As a last note: Simply noting that there are Muslims who have a more moderate position – theologically or politically – is not, and should not be considered a de facto “sign” that the person in question is a “moderate Christian.” Dr. White, for example, correctly uses such terminology often; and nobody is going to call his theology “moderate” in the sense meant by the tweet above. What he does do, when he points out this moderation, is to call them to attempt to be consistent in calling for the *excesses* that they believe their coreligionists are involved in to cease. If they are moderates – of a false religion, of course – then by their standards, those who engage in terrorism, and unlawful jihad are, by definition, radical, are they not? Be careful not to speak carelessly about topics that reflect on your Christian witness to Muslims. We’ve already seen someone who did so, and fell catastrophically. Ergun Caner. Don’t repeat his error.
Author’s Note 10/3 16:30: Seth, in the comment below, takes exception to this post. If he can offer a plausible argument, or even simply inform me that he doesn’t believe either of the two problematic things I garnered from his tweet, I will be more than happy to edit this to reflect that. On the other hand, you may have noticed that I didn’t follow my usual pattern in this post. Also see the comments for the reason I did so. Thanks! – RK