by George W. Braswell, Jr
RELATIONS BETWEEN MUSLIMS AND NON-MUSLIMS PRESENTLY
Among the 1.6 billion Muslims around the globe there are various relationships with non-Muslims. Mass media daily reports the violent actions of some Islamic groups against not only non-Muslims but also against other Muslims in the name of Allah and Jihad. Not reported are the peaceful relations of Muslims with their non-Muslim neighbors. A brief review of the origins of Islam under the Muslim prophet Muhammad and its missionary expansion together with select examples of contemporary movements of Islamic groups’ views of non-Muslims and the non-Muslim world will be offered.
MUHAMMAD, THE QUR’AN, AND THE CALIPHS’ RELATIONS TO NON-MUSLIMS
In the early days of Muhammad’s efforts to persuade tribesmen to follow his teachings of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, he invited all to become Muslims. At times he appeared to recognize Jews and Christians who would not convert to Islam as “People of the Book.” That recognition allowed them to build their synagogues and churches with certain limitations to size and prohibitions against seeking Muslims to become Jews or Christians. They also had to pay a certain poll tax.
As Muhammad established the Muslim community (the ummah) in Medina following the teachings, rules, and regulations of the Qur’an, he not only served as prophet but also as ruler of an emerging “nation,” judge of the laws of the religion, and “general” of the Islamic militias. Battles were fought against non-Muslims and the teaching that non-Muslims were infidels and corrupt peoples led to the idea and practice to convert them, and if not, to constrict them, and if not, to condemn them to death.
After the death of Muhammad in 632C.E. the first four caliphs and their successors extended Islam by warfare and conversion beyond Saudi Arabia to set up caliphates and rulers in various lands. Islam became a religious/political/social/cultural system in marked contrast to the minorities who lived under its authority and who experienced life as “second class citizens.” Non-Muslims were viewed as infidels and corrupt people and dhimmis. Some non-Muslims who were scholars or merchants or legal specialists from time to time found favor with the elite Muslim rulers and were given special status and assignments.
ISLAM’S STRONG VIEW OF PURITY, PEACE, PERFECTNESS AND POWER VERSUS THE OTHER (NON-MUSLIMS)
Classical teachings of Islam divide the world into two spheres. There is dar al Islam which is the sphere of Islam under the authority of Allah and the perfect revelation of the Qur’an and the teachings and traditions of Muhammad and submission to them. And there is dar al harb which is the sphere of the world of ignorance or heedlessness or warfare or non-submission. It is the sphere of non-Muslims.
The enemies of Allah are those who disobey Allah and his perfect revelation in the Qur’an and who refuse to follow the example of Muhammad and who threaten the Islamic community (ummah) and its peace. Islam, which is the religion of purity and peace, must conquer and rule over the world of the ignorant, the disobedient, and the non-Muslims. The peace of the world cannot be secured until non-Muslims become Muslims or fit a category to be protected by the Islamic authorities. This view is a classical one of “We against they,” of the superior religion against all other religions and non-Muslims.
Jihad, one meaning of which is “holy” warfare, may be waged against an individual or a group or a nation that demeans or castigates the Qur’an or Muhammad. Examples of recent declarations of Jihad are against Salmon Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and against the United States by Osama Bin Laden.
A major example of Islam’s battle against the non-Muslim world is that of its view of Christianity and Christians. The orthodoxy of Islam sees Christianity as a corrupt religion. The Bible is corrupted from wrong translations. The Christian view of Jesus is corrupt in believing him to be the Son of God and in that God can share his nature with anyone. And Islam denies that Jesus died on a cross. Therefore Christianity is a religion based on falsehoods and corrupted teachings.
ISLAM’S PROBLEMS WITH “WESTERNIZATION”
Orthodox Islam’s strains with the non-Muslim world include the western role of women in dress and positions of authority in family and work. The veiling of women and the deference of women to men in societal roles are emphasized in Islam. Homosexuality is a grave sin and those who are caught are severely punished. Islam restricts the freedoms of speech and religion as practiced in the West. Another strain is that Muslim peoples believe the Christian crusades of the medieval era continue at present in the invasion by Western armies into Muslim lands and in the penetration of Western values and institutions. Thus orthodox Islam is in great tension with the non-Muslim world.
The nation of Israel founded in 1948 in the heart of surrounding Muslim nations and the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 brought even more strain between Muslims and the non-Muslim world.
For the first post in this series, see What Are the Core Beliefs of Islam?
George W. Braswell, Jr. (D.D., D.Min., Ph.D.) and his wife, Joan, served in Iran as the first appointed missionaries of the SBC from 1967-74. He had an appointment to teach world religions on the Faculty of Islamic Theology of the University of Teheran, a graduate school of 600 students studying for master and doctoral degrees. Braswell was the only Christian on a faculty of 35 mullahs and aspiring ayatollahs. He retired from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as Distinguished Professor of Missions and World Religions in 2004 after serving from 1974-2004. Presently he is Senior Professor of World Religions and Founding Director of the World Religions and Global Cultures Center of Campbell University Divinity School. He has taken several thousand students and church members into world religion communities for conversations with their leadership. He holds degrees from Wake Forest University, Yale University Divinity School, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Braswells have four children and three grandchildren
For additional helpful resources on Islam, see Dr. Braswell’s books with B&H Publishing:
Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics, and Power