Crusaders and Jihadis: The False Equivalence

President Obama touched off a firestorm of condemnation from the political right and Christian conservatives for remarks he made during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015. The offending comment? “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”[1]

One is free to take umbrage at the President’s admonition for humility in light of the excesses of the past. But to argue against the historicity of his statement simply betrays ignorance of the facts. Crusaders did push east and pillaged under the banner of the cross. Slavery and institutionalized racism were justified through the warped usage of Scripture. Historical facts aren’t the problem with the President’s rhetorical device. The problem is its perpetuation of the false equivalence of radical Islam with Crusading Christianity; be the crusaders Knights Templar or knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

This false equivalence is commonplace in secular appeals to tolerance, perhaps because true secular humanists believe that people of any faith are radicalized to some extent and are thus equally unreasonable. But as much as some might wish it so, all faiths do not fit into the same level playing field. In the maintenance of diplomatic relations (after all, Saudi Arabia is the current guarantor of the value of America’s monetary system) and a politically correct society, it makes sense that the President would trot out the societal sins of supposedly Christian nations as an appeal for understanding in the face of the brutality that is the Islamic State[2] and by extension Dar-al-Islam.[3]

Humanity is brutal. History – modern history in particular – teaches us this.[4] That people of faith commit brutalities should not be surprising to anyone. But for a true comparison of the faiths in question, Christianity and Islam, one should first examine the lives of their founders and only then take stock of their followers to determine which expressions of belief are aberrant and which are faithful. It is with this intent that I humbly present the following comparison of Jesus of Nazareth and Abu al-Qasim Muhammad.

Jesus of Nazareth was a monotheist his entire life. He was born into a Jewish family[5] and publically taught the Shema, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord.”[6] Muhammad was born into the family of the Banu Hashim, a branch of the powerful Quraysh, which was the ruling tribe of Mecca that was responsible for guarding Mecca’s most sacred shrine, the Ka’bah.[7] At this time, the shrine was a center of Arabian pagan worship and pilgrimage[8] and contained 360 idols, of which Allah was one.[9] This part of Muhammad’s background is critical to understanding his development of Islam later in life.

According to the Gospel records, Jesus had an encounter with the devil in the early days of his ministry. The recorded response he had to the devil’s various temptations was “It is written.” Thus, by continual appeals to the Jewish holy writ, Jesus triumphed over the devil’s temptations.[10] Muhammad’s interaction with the devil had a different outcome. In order to conciliate the Quraysh who were hesitant to embrace his newly proclaimed monotheism, Muhammad spoke what have become known as the “Satanic verses” in which he allowed for the Arabian gods al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat to be intercessory spirits with Allah. He later recanted this declaration with verses that implied that Satan had cast the words into his previous recitation.[11]

In one of the many encounters that Jesus had with the religious establishment of his day, a woman who had been captured in the act of adultery was brought before him for judgment. The Law of Moses commanded stoning as the punishment for adultery and they wanted to know what Jesus would do. In a response worthy of Solomon, Jesus declared “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, all the accusers left. “Did no one condemn you?” Jesus asked the woman. “No one, Lord,” she said. “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[12] Muhammad’s encounters with adulterous women went a bit differently. In one of them, a woman from Ghamid came to him, confessed to adultery, and asked for purification. When Muhammad learned that she was pregnant, he mercifully allowed her to give birth and raise the child until it was weaned. Thereupon, he ordered the woman buried alive up to her chest and then stoned to death.[13]

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”[14] Jesus backed up these words with dramatic actions as we shall see later. Muhammad ordered the assassination of Ka’b ibn Al-Ashraf because Al-Ashraf had “hurt Allah and His Apostle.”[15] The nature of the hurt? Ka’b had written poetic verses which were critical of Muhammad and decried the outcomes of the Battle of Badr.[16]

Jesus counseled against divorce, declaring that its cause was unforgiveness in the human heart.[17] Muhammad arranged the marriage of Zaynab bint Jahsh to his adopted son. After they divorced, Muhammad took her as his wife.[18] His action was sanctified through revelations in the Qur’an.[19]

All conical records portray Jesus as celibate throughout his life and a bachelor at the time of his execution.[20] Additionally, his concern for and estimation of children are well documented.[21] Muhammad became betrothed to his third wife, Aisha, when she was six years old. The marriage was consummated, in Aisha’s words, when she was nine.[22]

On the night of his arrest, Jesus made it clear that he went willingly. When he asked the mob that invaded the garden who they were looking for, they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I am he,” he said and they all lurched backward and fell to the ground.[23] Jesus then offered himself up for arrest and requested that his disciples be let go. But Peter would have none of it. He drew his sword and cut the right ear off Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away and then healed Malchus’s ear.[24] Muhammad had no reservations with regard to the use of the sword. He commanded the beheading of unbelievers met in battle.[25] He also killed prisoners of war. One such instance occurred after the Battle of the Trench in Medina. Muhammad ordered the slaughter of all the males of the Jewish tribe known as the Banu Qurayza who had confronted his forces in battle.[26] All the males, estimates range from 600 to 900, were led to the city square and beheaded. Their women and children were sold into slavery. [27] One he kept for himself as a concubine.[28]

In his testimony before Pontius Pilate, Jesus made it clear that he had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. In answer to Pilate’s question if Jesus was King of the Jews, he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”[29] A quote from a former professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University, Mark A. Gabriel, offers a good contrast:

“With Allah by their side, Muhammad and his army set their sights on conquering the world. This is the Muhammad that the Islamic radical is emulating. Muhammad personally led his army into twenty-six battles, and they were very successful. The motley group that began in a desolate city in the desert subdued the cities of Arabia one by one until, right before his death, Muhammad had total control of the entire Arabian Peninsula.”[30]

Most Muslims are not Jihadis and most Christians are not Crusaders or cross burners. But in light of the teachings and histories of Muhammad and Jesus, which adherents of these faiths exhibit faithfulness to the example of their founders?

[1] President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast”,  hereafter cited as RPNPB, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast, (accessed February 6, 2015).
[2] It has been the policy of the White House to refer to the group as ISIL and the President maintained this preference in his comments. Using ISIL instead of ISIS or some other designation is more diplomatic nuance which the author believes is ill advised whatever its motivation.
[3] Dar-al-Islam, “the house of Islam”; i.e., the Islamic world.
[4] Even as I write this, it is reported that ISIS has beheaded 20 Coptic Christians as a warning to “crusaders.” Updated to 21 the next day. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/02/15/video-purports-to-show-isis-militants-beheading-christian-hostages/, (accessed February 15, 2015). I cannot but help to wonder if they are somehow trying to resonate with the President’s recent remarks.
[5] Matt 1:18-25; Luke 2:4-7. All Biblical references are to the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[6] Mark 12:28-30; Deut 6:4-5
[7] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Muhammad”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/396226/Muhammad, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[8] “Ka’bah”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/309173/Kabah, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[9] Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History, © 2000, 2002 by Karen Armstrong, p.11, https://archive.org/stream/IslamAShortHistoryKarenArmstrong/Islam-A-Short-History-Karen-Armstrong#page/n49/mode/2up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[10] Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
[11] Silas, “Muhammad and the Satanic Verses”, http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/sverses.htm, (accessed February 8, 2015). I have endeavored to restrict citations regarding Muhammad to accepted authoritative sources and Islamic sources. Answering Islam is not an Islamic site. But the author of the article did such a fantastic job documenting the evidence for the Satanic verses that I felt no need to replicate them.
[12] John 8:2-11 New American Standard Bible
[13] From the Hadith Shaih Muslim, Book 17, Number 4206, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/muslim/017-smt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015).
[14] Matt 5:44
[15] From the Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 59, Number 369, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/059-sbt.php, (accessed February 15, 2015). In sending the assassins, Muhammad authorized lying and deception to get the job done.
[16] W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, p. 18, https://archive.org/stream/muhammadatmedina029655mbp#page/n39/mode/1up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[17] Matt 5:31-32; 19:1-9
[18] Muslims cast this incestuous story in their version of a liberating light, i.e. that blood and legal relations shouldn’t be equated. See “Zaynab bint Jahsh”, http://www.islamswomen.com/articles/zaynab_bint_jahsh.php, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[19] Qur’an 33:36-37
[20] The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Old Testament prophetic literature also depicts the Messiah as such.
[21] Matt 19:13-15
[22] From Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 58, Number 234-235, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/058-sbt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015). It is estimated that Muhammad was in his fifties at the time of their marriage. Imagine this scene in most modern Western countries: a middle-aged man dreams of a little girl and falls in love with her picture, marries and has intercourse with her while she is prepubescent. This is the scene that is romanticized in the cited Hadith.
[23] John 18:1-6
[24] John 18:7-11; Luke 22:50-51
[25] Qur’an 47:4
[26] “Muhammad and the Jews of Medina”, http://www.pbs.org/muhammad/ma_jews.shtml, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[27] Richard A. Gabriel, “Muhammad: The Warrior Prophet”, http://www.historynet.com/muhammad-the-warrior-prophet.htm, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[28] “List of Muhammad’s Wives and Concubines”, No. 8, http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Muhammads_Wives_and_Concubines, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[29] John 18:36 New International Version. Scripturally, Christianity is only a political movement in its eschatology. The King is shown as returning to set up His Kingdom on earth, not his servants taking up the sword to make it so.
[30] Mark A. Gabriel, PhD, Journey Into the Mind of an Islamic Terrorist, (Lake Mary: Frontline 2006), 131.

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2 thoughts on “Crusaders and Jihadis: The False Equivalence

  1. Love the research and comparison but am I the only one that feels it even just a little bit dirty to compare Jesus to anyone else? (How many other “religious leaders” described themselves to be equal with God.)
    Of course, the point is not to compare them but the actions of their followers (i.e. ‘what would Jesus do?” WWJD). Thanks for the insights and careful documentation.
    Truly the one who lives is us is greater than he who is in the world.

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