Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Islam - A religion of intolerance - No compulsion?

This article is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
The Koran was very much a living document as long as Muhammad was alive. The changes in its words and tenor tracked the changes that were happening in the prophet's life. As the prophet changed and encountered new life situations, so did his message change and develop. At the beginning of his writings he stated:
"[Let there be] No compulsion is there in religion" (Koran 2:257)
It was in this time that Muhammad still expected that the Christians and the Jews would see the truth of his new religion and flock to him in reverence and obedience. However, this was not to be the case. Neither the Jews nor the Christians welcomed his teachings and both rejected his book, the Koran. This left Muhammad rejected and slighted and, in his rejection, his writing changed to be ever more intolerant of all other religions outside of Islam. Philip Schaff notes the change from tolerance to intolerance in the life of Muhammad.
"At first he proclaimed toleration: 'Let there be no compulsion in religion;' but afterwards he revealed the opposite principle that all unbelievers must be summoned to Islâm, tribute, or the sword. With an increasing army of his enthusiastic followers, he took the field against his enemies, gained in 624 his first victory over the Koreish with an army of 305 (mostly citizens of Medina) against a force twice as large, conquered several Jewish and Christian tribes, ordered and watched in person the massacre of six hundred Jews in one day,156 while their wives and children were sold into slavery (627), triumphantly entered Mecca (630), demolished the three hundred and sixty idols of the Kaaba, and became master of Arabia. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 42)
Increasingly, Muhammad forwent persuasion as an attempt to convert followers for the more productive measures of the sword. Muhammad himself is quoted as saying,
"The sword is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer: whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven, and at the day of judgment his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim."
By his death, intolerance was well ingrained in the scripture, religion, and culture of Islam.

Intolerance exists in many forms and to many degrees, not all of them wrong. Noting the vast number and diversity of religions we can conclude that not all of them can be correct. Their contradicting positions and teachings must mean that some are wrong as all cannot be simultaneously right. To believe in the rightness of one's religion may be viewed as intolerant, however that does not mean one's view is wrong. We would expect that one who truly believes what they believe would believe that it is true even if other religions contend it to be wrong. Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) And Paul taught is that, "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) This is intolerant but it is an intolerance of faith, not of person.

Most religions also perform some form of intolerance when they exclude those whose heretical views would weaken, corrupt, or obfuscate the truth they seek hard to maintain and promote. In speaking of those who were repeatedly trying to reintroduce the Law into Christian worship, Paul says, "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you." (Galatians 2:5) Similarly, in speaking of factious men and women, Paul said, "An heretical man after a first and second admonition have done with, knowing that such a one is perverted, and sins, being self-condemned." (Titus 3:10-11 Darby) This is intolerance, but it is an intolerance of mixture rather than an intolerance of person.

Both these forms of intolerance is expected when one believes in a truth that stands against competing and contrary truths around them. They are natural, normal, and to be expected. However, the intolerance we see in Islam is an intolerance of a different sort; it is an intolerance of person; an intolerance that cannot abide with one who disagrees; an intolerance that demands others to convert rather than persuades them of the truth. It is an intolerance that leads to the debasing, destruction, and even death of those who disagree. It is an intolerance that cannot be tolerated by others,

This kind of intolerance rejects all who differ and those who refuse to conform to your way of thinking, believing, or behaving. Consider what the Koran has to say regarding associating with Christians, Jews, and unbelievers.
"O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Whoso of you makes them his friends is one of them. God guides not the people of the evildoers." (Koran 5:56)
"Your friend is only God, and His Messenger, and the believers who perform the prayer and pay the alms, and bow them down. Whoso makes God his friend, and His Messenger, and the believers -- the party of God, they are the victors." (Koran 5:60-61)
This attitude stands in stark contrast to Jesus who was "a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Matthew 11:19) The Koran goes further to even command violence in the name of conversion and purging unbelievers from your midst.
"Fight [make war upon] those [to whom the scriptures have been given and] who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger [Apostle] have forbidden -- such men as practise not [profess not a profession of] the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book -- until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled." (Koran 9:29)
This too contrasts with Jesus attitudes when He would not let His disciples call fire down upon a Samaritan village for rejecting His, saying, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." (Luke 9:55-56)

This is not to say that other religions, from time to time, have not acted intolerant towards others. Even Augustine of Hippo once indicated that maybe conversion by force was preferable to letting people die in their sins and be sentenced to eternity in hell. 
"Augustine himself, who had previously consented only to spiritual measures against heretics, now advocated force, to bring them into the fellowship of the church, out of which there was no salvation. He appealed to the command in the parable of the supper, Luke, xiv. 23, to 'compel them to come in;' where, however, the 'compel' is evidently but a vivid hyperbole for the holy zeal in the conversion of the heathen, which we find, forexample, in the apostle Paul." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 70)
However, what is different with Islam is that its calls for intolerance are being made directly by their prophet whom the Koran calls the "Messenger [Apostle] of God, and the Seal of the Prophets" (Koran 33:40) and they are commanded in their sacred book of which the Koran says "it is in the Essence of the Book [a transcript of the archetypical Book], with [kept by] Us; sublime [lofty] indeed, wise [filled with wisdom]." (Koran 43:3) It is one thing for people of a religion to be intolerant, it is another for its prophets and scriptures to teach and command it. In this way, Islam is, in and of itself, is an intolerant religion irrespective of the beliefs and behaviors of its followers.

More to come...
David Robison

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