WHAT DOES GOD WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAM—and Christianity Too? ...by Dexter Van Zile

Bible with light shining on it | Photo: public domainChristians need to learn more about Islam—a lot more. The religion has more than 1.6 billion adherents. Some of them—but not all—have engaged in terrible acts of violence against Christians in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. The main perpetrators in the murder of more than 2 million Christians in the Anatolian Peninsula between 1915 and 1922 were Islamic. Muslim-majority countries have also been significant sources of anti-Jewish invective in the modern world. In fact, leaders of these countries have tried to destroy the Jewish state on a number of occasions since its creation in 1948.


Enmity toward non-Muslims, Jews and Christians especially, is explicit in the canonical sources of Islam. As noted by Joseph Spoerl, the Koran, the Hadiths and the biography of Muhammad, primary sources of scripture and doctrine for Muslims, calls for the conquest and conversion of non-Muslims into the faith. And if non-Muslims do not convert, they are required to submit to Islamic rule. "If need be, Muslims must use force to extend governance under God's law around the world," Spoerl writes. Notably, many Muslims are working to 're-contextualize' these passages and doctrines in order to allow Muslims to live in peace with each other and the rest of the world.

Recent history demonstrates they have a lot of work to do.

On this score, however, Islam is not alone. Christians also have a lot of work to do.

Jew-hatred promoted by prominent Christians throughout the faith’s history is a virus that must be ruthlessly identified and removed. And, just like Islam, Christianity has a problem with supersessionism: the notion that they replace the faiths that came before them. The continued existence of Judaism is a challenge for Christianity, just as the continued existence of Judaism and Christianity is a challenge for Islam. Christian supersessionism laid the groundwork for the Holocaust in Europe just as Muslim supersessionism has contributed to anti-Christian and anti-Jewish violence throughout the world.

As Christians confront their own history and theology, they need to learn a lot more about Islam’s founder, Muhammad.

Muhammad was a desert prophet who, early on in his career, had a tough time gaining followers to his new religion. Only after becoming a ruthless warrior, was he able to convince large numbers of people to submit to his revelations. People intent on following the example Muhammad set before his death in 632 have engaged in terrible acts of violence against Muslims and non-Muslims, Jews and Christians especially.

Osama Bin Laden, the man who ordered the world-changing attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, defended himself from criticism from Muslim scholars who condemned the 9/11 attack by arguing, with good reason, that his behavior was rooted in the example set by Muhammad and his early companions who established how Islam was to be practiced more than 1,400 years ago.

Given these facts, which clearly contradict the apologetic and evasive depictions of Islam offered by Karen Armstrong, Lesley Hazelton, John Esposito and Hans Kung, (scholars who have been downplaying the unpleasant aspects of Islam to Western audiences for many years) devout and nominal Christians have good reason to read about Islam and its founder. Whether Christians want to recognize it or not, some Muslims regard the Christian faith with the same contempt some Christians have for Judaism. As a result, they regard Christians as legitimate targets of violence and oppression. Not every Muslim feels this way of course, but sufficient numbers of them do to make life difficult and precarious in many parts of the world, where Christians are treated as dhimmis, subservient to the Muslim-majority.

The writings of Anglican Scholar Mark Durie are a good place for Christians to start reading about Islam and dhimmitude. Two books in particular, The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom and Liberty to the Captives: Freedom from Islam and Dhimmitude through the Cross are indispensable texts.

The first book is important from a human rights perspective, detailing the impact of Islamic supremacism on interfaith relations and the lives of both Muslims and non-Muslims. The second text gives Christians, pastors especially, the background they need to confront the psychological and spiritual impact dhimmitude has on Christians living in Muslim-majority environments. The last chapter of the text, “Prayers of Freedom from Dhimmitude” is very powerful and moving.

Another indispensable text is 111 Questions on Islam: Samir Khalil Samir on Islam and the West co-authored by Giorgio Paolucci and Camille Eid. This essay highlights the impact of Muslim doctrine on human rights, documenting how sharia, or Islamic law enshrines Muslim dominance over non-Muslims and male dominance over women in Muslim-majority environments.

Another place for Christians to look for information about Islam and its founder Muhammad is a text written by Howard Bloom, who, ironically enough, opposed the efforts of Evangelical Protestants to censor rock music lyrics in the 1980s. Bloom, who promoted rock bands as diverse as The Talking Heads and AC/DC has written The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Brought You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram or How Muhammad Invented Jihad.

There’s no way around it. Bloom’s book is a frightening text that highlights the impact Muhammad’s example has on the lives of modern-day Muslims and non-Muslims. In his recounting of Muhammad’s life, which is reliant on Islamic sources, Bloom depicts the founder of Islam as promoting violence, conquest and intolerance. “He chose the face of fierceness,” Bloom writes. “He picked the path of military dictatorship. He picked the path of totalitarianism. ... [H]e chose to kill the opposition.”

Bloom’s argument is that by setting the example he did, Muhammad laid the ideological and practical groundwork for jihadist organizations that have terrorized millions of people for the past 1,400 years and which has deprived huge numbers of people—Muslim and non-Muslim—of their freedom and welfare. “Where did ISIS and Boko Haram get the idea that the path to world domination has been mapped out by God?” Bloom asks. “And where did they get the notion that to conquer the globe, God demands ‘terrorizing, massacring, and humiliating’? The answer is in the life of Muhammad.” Bloom calls this...

...the founder effect.

The founder effect, Bloom writes, has had a positive net impact on Western civilization despite all the terrible things that have happened over the course of its history. With his emphasis on compassion, mercy and forgiveness, Bloom writes, "Jesus’ teachings set the stage for abolitionism in the 18th century, the anti-Imperialist movement of the 19th century and the "human rights movement that began with these shocking words in 1776: 'all men are created equal.'"

Bloom states that this is not an easy thing for him to admit, declaring,

"I'm a Jew and an atheist. Jesus was, to me, just another nice Jewish kid—not a man in whose name my ancestors or yours should have been killed. But the fact is that in his name you and I have gained many of our freedoms. That's the founder effect."

By way of comparison, the founder effect Muhammad had on the civilization rooted in the faith he established has not been nearly so benign as that of Jesus, Bloom concludes. His career as a leader was marked by violence, conquest and totalitarian control over his followers, all of which make themselves felt today, Bloom writes, adding that moderate and reformed-minded Muslims suffer terribly as a result of the example set by Muhammad.

"The fact is that there are many Muslims who long for pluralism, tolerance and democracy. But too many are kept silent by the threat of punishment from those who control the public spaces of Islam. Islam's "liberals" are silenced by Holy War enthusiasts, by militant nationalists, and by clerics. They are silenced by those who follow in the footsteps of Muhammad. By those who, like Muhammad, believe that the punishment for dissent against Islam is death."

Bloom is no multiculturalist. He does not think that one culture is as good as another, but instead thinks that some religions and the cultures that descend from them do a better job constraining human violence and promoting human welfare than others. None of them do the job perfectly. 

Bloom makes this argument explicitly in another of his books, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into The Forces of History. It's another text that Christians should read in spite of his assumption of evolutionary psychology.

While Bloom argues from a scientific foundation that excludes God, he sounds a lot like a Reform theologian enunciating the doctrine of total depravity, demanding that his listeners to come to grips with the evil that is in their hearts.

“We must build a picture of the human soul that works. Not a romantic vision that Nature will take us in her arms and save us from ourselves, but a recognition that the enemy is within us and that Nature has placed it there,” he writes.

The challenge of any religion or "meme" is to constrain or direct the biological impulses that have been inscribed in the human psyche by the process of evolution into activities that allow for humans to flourish and refrain from mass murder. At times, Bloom's cynicism is overwhelming, particularly when he declares, "There are no righteous societies; there are simply different degrees of depravity." 

Still, some socieities are more violent than others, Bloom declares, writing that “there are barbarians—people whose cultures glorify the act of murder and elevate violence to a holy deed. These cultures portray the extinction of other human beings as a validation of manliness, a heroic gesture in the name of truth, or simply a good way to get ahead in the world. Certain Islamic societies tend to be high on this list.” Elsewhere he writes that "There is a little bit of the barbarian in all of us, but some are far more barbarous than others.

"There are cultures that idealize carnage."

The explicit challenge Bloom makes of his readers in The Lucifer Principle is to confront how ideas—or “memes”—manifest themselves in the societies we inhabit and form. These ideas, rooted in religion or grand ideologies such as Marxism, have a profound impact on the quality of the lives humans are able to enjoy. His hope is that at some point, humanity will be able to establish a world in which we are able to "free ourselves of savagery."

Each of these books are bracing texts, but worthy of the effort.


Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.


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