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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Fish Tales for the Faithless: Religious Demands and Righteous Responses

They had been followers of a fiery preacher from the wilderness with a proclivity for water. It was a time of revival. The man in the camel hair coat called them forward to receive the ritual bath of repentance in the river. And they came: brothers, partners, fishermen. Theirs was a simple and devout life filled with family, work, and the rhythms of Jewish worship. And then he came.

Andrew heard it first. He had seen the Nazarene baptized along with many others the day before. His teacher had hesitated when the man had asked for baptism, but finally complied. The following day, as the man walked by, Andrew heard John say, “Look, the Lamb of God!” The Lamb of God? The Baptizer had been preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, but did he mean now? Andrew and another of John’s disciples followed the man. Sensing he was being pursued, the Nazarene turned and asked what they wanted. “Rabbi, we want to see where you live.” “Come and see,” he said and they spent the day with him.

One day with Jesus was all it took for Andrew to be convinced that he was the Messiah. He found his brother Simon and brought him to the rabbi. Jesus looked up and said “Simon, son of John?” Simon glanced at Andrew. Andrew smiled his I-told-you-so smile. “We’re going to call you Peter,” Jesus said. It should have been clear to Simon from this point on who had the initiative in their relationship, but he would have to be reminded over time.

Jesus was all the buzz among John’s disciples. He had been saying for a while that he was simply laying the ground for someone else. To many of his disciples, who that someone else was had become clear. And following Jesus had its perks. John didn’t take them to weddings. Jesus did. John didn’t drink wine. Jesus didn’t let it run out. The day he turned water to wine was the day his disciples became believers.[1]

Jesus walks in the wilderness for forty days. He preaches in his home town and slips through their hands as they try to throw him off a cliff. He moves to Capernaum and shakes up the synagogue with authoritative teaching and effective exorcism. He heads to Simon Peter’s house and heals his mother-in-law of a fever. He heals all the sick in town that come to Simon’s house. Then he leaves for a while.[2]

After a teaching tour of the Galilee, he came back to the Capernaum shoreline where people pressed upon him to share the word of God. Deciding it was better to float in a boat than be pushed into the water; Jesus got into Simon’s craft and asked him to thrust out from shore. Simon wasn’t overly excited about the idea. He, Andrew, and the Zebedee boys had been out all night fishing and had nothing to show for their labor but dirty nets. They were busy cleaning them when all the commotion started and he was past ready to be home. But it was Jesus asking, so he got in the boat and rowed out a bit.[3]

When the Master finished teaching, he looked over at Simon and said, “Take us out to the deep part of the lake and put your nets out for a haul of fish.” Simon eyed him. He looked to the shore at his brother rolling up their nets, James and John stowing theirs. “We’ve fished all night, Rabbi, and caught nothing,” he sighed, “But for you, I’ll put out a net.” Andrew wasn’t much happier than Simon when he got into the boat.

Far enough from shore to appear compliant, the brothers let the net out and began their drag. It was well past late morning. The sun was bright. The quicker they got this done, the sooner they would be home. They pulled in concert, hand over hand, expecting a speedy draw through the water as they had done a hundred times the night before. Only this time, the net fought back – hard. Simon’s expert hands felt the tremor of the net cords starting to give way. He bellowed toward shore and Zebedee’s rushed to the rescue. As the net came up out of the water, the fish poured into the hulls. It wasn’t until Simon realized that they were sinking under the weight of their catch that he came to himself. He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord. I’m a sinful man!”

His reaction is understandable, particularly in light of all that had transpired before. The man who had turned water to wine asked Simon to put his nets out for a catch of fish. Simon went out with one boat and one net and nearly lost it all. His actions showed his distrust and unbelief. Confronted with a miracle that more than made up for his morning’s labor and night’s loss in spite of his incredulity, Simon is appalled and ashamed and tells Jesus that he is not worthy of Him.

Have you ever been there? Has the Lord’s goodness ever appeared in your life just at the moment when you were tired and toiling and just going through the motions, not really expecting his grace and sure you were doing him a favor? I know it has happened to me. And my reaction was much like Peter’s: I am not worthy, best you leave now. After all, that’s what religion demands. Righteousness responds much differently.

“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said. “From now on, you will be a fisher of men.”[4] In the face of faithlessness, Jesus responds with a promise of greater responsibilities. To a man who says, “Get away from me, I’m not worthy” Jesus says, “Come along and work with me.” It is not what most of us expect. But it is how Jesus acts.

Peter walks with Jesus for three and a half years. He sees multitudes baptized, taught, and feed. He watches his Master heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils. Then he and his companions do the same.[5] He goes to a mountain top and sees Jesus transformed to the brilliance of lightning and hears God speak from the glory cloud. He walks on the water to meet Jesus in the storm and is saved by the same. He stares dumbfounded as Jesus heals the ear of the high priest’s servant that he cut off. He witnesses Jesus being beaten while he denies ever knowing him. He watches him die under a dark sky, his blood pouring out until none is left. He runs to find an empty tomb and is confronted by Jesus while locked in a room. He sees him repeatedly while in the company of others, truly alive and all he ever said he was. And then Simon said, “I’m going fishing.”[6]

Simon’s declaration as recorded in John 21:3 is more than a recreational invitation to his friends. It is a declaration of going back to his old profession. What else was he supposed to do? He had denied the Lord in the face of accusation. He doubted Mary Magdalene when she told them that she had seen Jesus alive. And Jesus appeared to be in no rush to reestablish the kingdom of Israel. It was time to fish. At least he was good at that.

They fished all night and caught nothing. As the sun rose, a man called out to them from the shore, “Hey kids, do you have any fish?”[7] “No,” they said, perturbed they couldn’t sell to their first customer. “Throw the net out on the right side of the ship; that’s where the fish are,” the man called out. As they hauled in the catch, John realized who they were dealing with. “It’s the Lord!” he said to Peter, who promptly threw on his coat and dove for shore.

For men who had decided to abandon the ministry of catching men for the simpler enterprise of netting schools, Jesus had made breakfast. “Come and eat,” he says and serves them. It’s not what we expect when we abandon him. Somehow, we think he is going to berate us, cut us off from supply, sit back and wait for our devotion. But that is not how Jesus is. He filled their boat, he filled their stomachs, he filled their hearts.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” How could we not?

 

[1] John 2:11. This narrative is a composite of the Gospel accounts. When the record of John is laid alongside the details given in Matthew, Mark, and Luke it becomes apparent that the wedding feast of Cana occurred prior to Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. I believe Matthew 4:11 happens after John 2:11. Mark’s “immediately” (Greek, euthus) in Mark 1:12 is a rhetorical signature of his writing. Of 56 uses of the Greek euthus in the New Testament, Mark uses it 42 times.

[2] See Luke 4

[3] The narrative is now squarely in Luke 5.

[4] This is the sense of the Greek and the phrasing of the Spanish. There is an exquisite near pun in the Reina Valera version (which I tend to think of as the Spanish equivalent to the King James) of Luke 5. Simon says he is a sinful man, hombre pecador in Spanish. Jesus says he’ll be a fisher of men, pescador de hombres.

[5] Matthew  10:1-8

[6] The narrative is now squarely in John 21.

[7] John 21:3 from the NIV – Nik’s Improvised Version.