How Christianity and Islam can follow similar patterns of reform but with antithetical results rests in the fact that their scriptures are often antithetical to one another. This is the key point, and one admittedly unintelligible to postmodern, secular sensibilities, which tend to lump all religious scripture together in a melting pot of relativism without bothering to evaluate the significance of their respective words and teachings.
Obviously a point by point comparison of the scriptures of Islam and Christianity is inappropriate for an article of this length (see my “Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam” for a more comprehensive treatment).
Suffice it to note some contradictions (all of which will be rejected as a matter of course by the relativistic mindset):
- The New Testament preaches peace, brotherly love, tolerance, and forgiveness — for all humans, believers and non-believers alike. Instead of combatting and converting “infidels,” Christians are called to pray for those who persecute them and turn the other cheek (which is not the same thing as passivity, for Christians are also called to be bold and unapologetic). Conversely, the Koran and Hadith call for war, or jihad, against all non-believers, until they either convert, accept subjugation and discrimination, or die.
- The New Testament has no punishment for the apostate from Christianity. Conversely, Islam’s prophet himself decreed that “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.”
- The New Testament teaches monogamy, one husband and one wife, thereby dignifying the woman. The Koran allows polygamy — up to four wives — and the possession of concubines, or sex-slaves. More literalist readings treat women as possessions.
- The New Testament discourages lying (e.g., Col. 3:9). The Koran permits it; the prophet himself often deceived others, and permitted lying to one’s wife, to reconcile quarreling parties, and to the “infidel” during war.
It is precisely because Christian scriptural literalism lends itself to religious freedom, tolerance, and the dignity of women, that Western civilization developed the way it did — despite the nonstop propaganda campaign emanating from academia, Hollywood, and other major media that says otherwise.
And it is precisely because Islamic scriptural literalism is at odds with religious freedom, tolerance, and the dignity of women, that Islamic civilization is the way it is — despite the nonstop propaganda campaign emanating from academia, Hollywood, and other major media that says otherwise.
Actual Islamic Reform Would Be Nothing Like Protestant Reformation
Those in the West waiting for an Islamic “reformation” along the same lines of the Protestant Reformation, on the assumption that it will lead to similar results, must embrace two facts: 1) Islam’s reformation is well on its way, and yes, along the same lines of the Protestant Reformation — with a focus on scripture and a disregard for tradition — and for similar historic reasons (literacy, scriptural dissemination, etc.); 2) But because the core teachings of the scriptures of Christianity and Islam markedly differ from one another, Islam’s reformation has naturally produced a civilization markedly different from the West.
Put differently, those in the West uncritically calling for an “Islamic reformation” need to acknowledge what it is they are really calling for: the secularization of Islam in the name of modernity; the trivialization and sidelining of Islamic law from Muslim society.
That would not be a “reformation” — certainly nothing analogous to the Protestant Reformation.
Overlooked is that Western secularism was, and is, possible only because Christian scripture lends itself to the division between church and state, the spiritual and the temporal.
Upholding the literal teachings of Christianity is possible within a secular — or any — state. Christ called on believers to “render unto Caesar the things of Caesar (temporal) and unto God the things of God (spiritual)” (Matt. 22:21). For the “kingdom of God” is “not of this world” (John 18:36). Indeed, a good chunk of the New Testament deals with how “man is not justified by the works of the law… for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
On the other hand, mainstream Islam is devoted to upholding the law; and Islamic scripture calls for a fusion between Islamic law — Sharia — and the state. Allah decrees in the Koran that “It is not fitting for true believers — men or women — to take their choice in affairs if Allah and His Messenger have decreed otherwise. He that disobeys Allah and His Messenger strays far indeed!” (33:36). Allah tells the prophet of Islam, “We put you on an ordained way [literarily in Arabic, sharia] of command; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who are ignorant” (45:18).
Mainstream Islamic exegesis has always interpreted such verses to mean that Muslims must follow the commandments of Allah as laid out in the Koran and Hadith — in a word, Sharia.
And Sharia is so concerned with the details of this world, with the everyday doings of Muslims, that every conceivable human action falls under five rulings, or ahkam: the forbidden (haram), the discouraged (makruh), the neutral (mubah), the recommended (mustahib), and the obligatory (wajib).
Conversely, Islam offers little concerning the spiritual (sidelined Sufism the exception).
Unlike Christianity, then, Islam without the law — without Sharia — becomes meaningless. After all, the Arabic word Islam literally means “submit.” Submit to what? Allah’s laws as codified in Sharia and derived from the Koran and Hadith.
The “Islamic reformation” some in the West are hoping for is really nothing less than an Islam without Islam — secularization not reformation; Muslims prioritizing secular, civic, and humanitarian laws over Allah’s law; a “reformation” that would slowly see the religion of Muhammad go into the dustbin of history.
Such an event is certainly more plausible than believing that Islam can be true to its scriptures in any meaningful way and still peacefully coexist with, much less complement, modernity the way Christianity does.
Read part one of this series here.