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
2 responses to “Broad Generalizations about Islam”
“Misrepresenting those you are trying to respond to, or teach about, is not something we are called to do.”
Perhaps you should heed your own advice. You didn’t so much as Tweet me to ask what I meant. Instead, you pulled an entire blog post off of one tweet. The tweet didn’t make a declaration. It was interrogative in nature; notice the question mark.
Twitter is not a place for in-depth discourse. 140 characters won’t allow it. I would caution anyone against taking tweets, which are inherently not thorough, and then (without at least first contacting the tweeter) issuing a lengthy critique.
If you knew me personally (or if you’d taken the time ask), you’d know that all my tweets go to my Facebook feed. The president of my local masjid is friends me with and sees what I post. I thought he’d see that and that it would spark a conversation, which it did. Thankfully, Facebook allows for more thorough conversation.
Relevant subjects were broached and the gospel was shared.
“Perhaps you should heed your own advice. You didn’t so much as Tweet me to ask what I meant. Instead, you pulled an entire blog post off of one tweet. The tweet didn’t make a declaration. It was interrogative in nature; notice the question mark.”
I know, Seth. I did this on purpose. As I’ve told you, there was a reason I wrote this post. You made an isolated comment on Twitter. I responded to it as an isolated comment. You know anyone else who has done so recently? Multiple times? I do. I know several someones, in fact.
Incidentally, I spent a little while looking for you speaking about Islam on P&P, as well as on your own blog. I didn’t find much of anything about this subject, or about Islam in general. So, I genuinely didn’t know whether you thought, as the words you actually used seem to indicate, that 1) You didn’t think that there was such a thing as a “moderate Muslim” and 2) That those who do, do so because they are themselves “moderate Christians” – I answered what you actually said.
So, here’s the thing, Seth. What, in your comment, actually answers those two points, which I specifically raised in the post, and which the post is centered around? That is what I was trying to tell you on Twitter. “Letting this stand” is well and good – but it doesn’t answer the gist of the post. What we do here is apologetics. As such, I directly addressed a potential apologetic pitfall – while illustrating another one I had already noted and addressed, as a corollary. As I was half-expecting, you seem to be offended at the thought that you believe something as silly as what it appeared you did. I knew that going in. One point I was trying to make is how easy it is to mistakenly convey something you don’t intend – or to read something unintentional into a badly worded set of text – as well as how easy it is to run, quite literally, as far as you want to with it, once you decide someone is saying something you don’t like.
What I am trying to do, in general, is twofold. First, if there was an error, to correct that error. If you don’t actually think this, and can tell me that, then I will gladly correct this post – as I also told you. This comment did not do so. I would appreciate you telling me what you DID mean by that tweet, so that I can correctly credit your intent. Secondly, to point out the error in JD’s recent mishandled exegesis of the Pope’s address, by means of a pointed parallel. If you truly did not mean to express that you believe that moderate Muslims do not exist, you should seek to correct that understanding of your words, no? If you did, you would almost certainly appeal to something other than the bare context of the terms you employed. As they stand, you most certainly are saying that – if nothing else is taken into account. That was why I chose that tweet. It was quite ambiguous, and spoke to something I can speak with a modicum of authority to.
What the Pope meant by his words, however, is also something I can speak with a modicum of authority to. Firstly, because all I had to do was look up prior usages of that phrase, and those similar. Secondly, because while yes, the RCC, when *examined*, teaches that the Cross is not sufficient, it *also* teaches that it doesn’t *need to be* – so, by their teaching, that cannot be what the Pope intended to convey. In fact, it is quite remote, contextually, from that interpretation. Your tweet, on the other hand, gave me a far more plausible sentence to deal with. As such, if you really did not intend to say that, it would be even more clear that JD’s handling of a “hostile” text is inconsistent with his handling of a “friendly” text is.
“Twitter is not a place for in-depth discourse. 140 characters won’t allow it. I would caution anyone against taking tweets, which are inherently not thorough, and then (without at least first contacting the tweeter) issuing a lengthy critique.”
I am aware of this, of course 😉 Again, however, I picked an ambiguous tweet purposefully, to illustrate what I mentioned above.
“If you knew me personally (or if you’d taken the time ask), you’d know that all my tweets go to my Facebook feed. The president of my local masjid is friends me with and sees what I post. I thought he’d see that and that it would spark a conversation, which it did. Thankfully, Facebook allows for more thorough conversation.”
With all respect, none of this is relevant to what I concentrated on, is it? It doesn’t answer my questions. Further, recall that I did so purposely, with this end in mind. Being friends with the president of a local masjid doesn’t mean that you are cognizant with Islam. It also doesn’t follow that you didn’t mean what you said about moderate Christians, either. I’m glad that you had a more thorough conversation, but that says nothing as to the quality of that conversation, in terms of knowledgeable discussion.
“Relevant subjects were broached and the gospel was shared.”
As we aren’t told what those “relevant subjects” were, this doesn’t help anything. It is a content-neutral statement. I’m glad that the Gospel was shared. It still doesn’t tell me whether my post was accurate, or not.
Essentially, you came here, told me
1) that I misrepresented you (but not how)
2) noted that i didn’t consult you first (Are you in the habit of doing so before you post or tweet about others? I know of multiple times where this has not been the case with you personally, and with JD, as well. I do so sometimes, but not frequently, if their statements are in public. )
3) pulled a blog post off of one tweet (Yes, I did. Now, show me how that isn’t a wee bit inconsistent with the MO at P&P, if you would?)
4) noted that an interrogative was used (I think I did manage to recognize that, yes. That’s not particularly relevant to my point, is it?)
5) gave an introduction to Twitter (Don’t really need one – which, if you knew me personally, or had asked, you would have known 🙂
6) told a nice story unrelated to my post
7) said it all ended well for you
Not exactly anything related to the two issues I pointed out in that tweet, were those? In fact, “explaining” actually gave me more to wonder about. I still don’t know whether you think moderate Muslims exist, or whether you think being a moderate Christian makes people think they do. That’s the sorts of things I look for when people tell me what they *mean* by something. Not telling me everything BUT what they mean by something, but by communicating the intent and explicit content that the words in use were meant to convey, and the context in which they were used. Essentially, you told me that you used that comment as a hook to draw a Muslim facebook friend into a conversation. I just did almost the exact same thing with you. Looks like I was doing what we teach people to do here – retortion, to illustrate the point we’re trying to make about a particular form of argumentation. Right?