Imagine how the world would react if, during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis were to tell a group of Roman Catholic activists that “the destruction of mosques is absolutely necessary and is required by Canon Law.”
Now consider the following report:
Speaking to a delegation in Kuwait, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who serves as the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, said the destruction of churches was absolutely necessary and is required by Islamic law … Abdullah, who is considered to be the highest authority on Islamic law in the Sunni Muslim Kingdom, also serves as the head of the Supreme Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars) and of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas.
Tragically, this is not an academic issue. In countries throughout the Islamic world, church burning is commonplace. One report estimates that a thousand churches have been destroyed during the course of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria, which has claimed thousands of lives.
A typical church attack in Nigeria that occurred in October was reported as follows:
“Armed Muslim extremists stormed two churches in Taraba state on Sunday (Oct. 19) and killed 31 people as they worshipped” [Italics mine].
An article posted by Agenzia Fides reports that “about 100,000 Christians die every year because of their religious beliefs … They are driven from their homes, put in prison for blasphemy, and brutally killed during liturgical celebrations, churches are burned.”
Perhaps Saudi Arabia’s “highest authority on Islamic law” would be willing to clarify matters by making it clear that churches are to be burned only after any clergy, worshippers, and other people have been cleared from the buildings. But even so, how is the affirmation that the destruction of churches is required by Islamic Law consistent with the view that “Islam is a religion of peace”? The last time I looked, the definition of the word violence includes the destruction of property.
The proponents of so-called “hate-laws” support them because they claim that hateful speech leads to violence. If they are correct, what are we to make of the statement that Islamic law requires that churches be destroyed? Doesn’t the grand mufti’s statement qualify as “hate speech” because it makes violence against churches a religious requirement?
How can we avoid the conclusion that the Islamic Law he cites qualifies as “hate speech” for the same reason? But if he accurately assesses the requirements of that law, how can we then avoid the conclusion that the law not only incites followers of Islam to practice violence, it requires that they do so?
How does a religion that by law requires its followers to practice violence, qualify as “a religion of peace”?
Potentially fatal confusion presently characterizes the Christian response to Islamic violence. This is starkly illustrated by the following contrast: Pope Francis has stated emphatically that “Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence.”
But the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia (the Islamic Kingdom elevated above others by its responsibility for the Muslim holy sites) makes it clear that violence against churches is “absolutely necessary and required by Islamic Law.” (The best proof that this is not a legal abstraction or allegorical remark lies in the fact that non-Muslim places of worship are not allowed in Saudi Arabia.) Who is the more credible authority when it comes to the nature of Islam — the pope or the grand mufti?
Of course, what reasonable person would conclude that Islam is a religion of violence just because one of the highest visible authorities on Islam cites a religious obligation that suggests that it is; or because the churchless condition of the most prominent Islamic Kingdom in the world suggests that it is; or because the activities of Islamic groups and organizations throughout the word continually produce destruction and death that suggests that it is?
Nowhere in his ministry does Jesus Christ require violence against those who do not follow him. In fact, Jesus commands his followers to “turn the other cheek” in response to violence initiated against us. He commands us to “love your enemies. Do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
Neither I nor other followers of Christ follow these commands perfectly. That’s doubtless why Jesus recommends to us the example of the publican in the parable, who prays abjectly “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) Lamentably, people professing to be followers of Jesus have too often pretended to proselytize by “fire and the sword.” Yet and still the words and example of Christ have always borne witness against them.
Can the same be said of those who follow the way of Islam? The words of Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti suggest that it cannot. In light of his exalted position in the Islamic world, I cede to the grand mufti’s knowledge of Islam. He says that violence is absolutely necessary to Islam, and he says it in a way that implies that there can be no end to violence while even one church is left standing in the precincts of Islam.
As Christ commands, I will pray for him, and for all those who believe that this is so. Their way will not prevail. For the Church of the Living God is the body of Christ, resurrected and active in the world, in the lives of those whose hearts truly receive him. Burn all the churches you please, including “the body of this death.” (Romans 7:24). Notwithstanding all your violence, “I know that my redeemer lives, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27)