Objection: “Christianity allows freedom of religion while Islam crushes it”

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By MuslimAnswers.net Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

A number of times we have heard or read religious Christians ask the following question to Muslims: “I respect your right to profess and propagate your religion in our Christian countries. However, don’t you, as a Muslim, feel any shame within yourself that the same types of rights are denied to Christians and to others in your Muslim lands?”

To begin with, I have to say that the Christian, regardless of his personal religious devotion, does not truly belong to a “Christian nation” as far as the laws of his country are concerned. Rather, all of the Christian-majority countries have, for the past century or longer, been following a secular model of governance. This is extremely important to consider, since it throws the argument of the Christian of the tracks at the outset. Thus, whatever may be granted to Muslims of “freedom” to practice and preach Islam is done due to the secular setup of governance. We are not saying that there would have been no “freedom” for Muslims had Christianity been so intrinsically interwoven within the public governance of the Christian objector’s lands, but we can surmise that the entire political, social, and cultural setup would have been very different from what it is today in such lands.

This brings us to the next point, which is that even the use of terms such as “right to worship” or “right to proselytize” are in fact secular constructs, and cannot be seriously taken to be of sole Christian origination. Yes, one might mention the role of the Protestant Reformation in “opening up” the worldview of Christian Europe, eventually leading to major changes in the way people are governed in the West and around the world, but this cannot be taken to be so directly related to Christianity. This is particularly due to the fact that Christianity existed for over a millennium before the Reformation, and during this period it was either the “persecuted cult” (in its earlier centuries), or when power was achieved by the Christian clergy and rulers, it did not feel the need to open up religious activity to non-Christian religion, especially not to the point forwarded in modern secular political theory.

Also, we need to consider that the Islamic religion and the Christian one stand very far apart when it comes to the development of their political and societal ideologies. With Islam, the rules for politics and dealing with society at large were revealed ad inspired during the very lifetime of the Prophet . There were obviously subsequent clarifications and expositions of what such public rules were, but one cannot fail to notice that the main rules of Islam are in one way or the other all referring back to the person of Muhammad .

Not so in Christianity. This is owing to the fact that Jesus (Alayhi Salaam) did not come with an all-around final revelation and practical blueprint for humanity at large. According to the Christian account, within one week of entering the main city of Jerusalem, he was crucified, and human history itself was superseded. With this type of mindset, one cannot expect for a concrete political and social system to be laid bare and to go back fully to the person of Jesus, since the alleged divinity of Jesus and his extraordinary and Universe-shattering Crucifixion would serve as a roadblock towards entering a life of daily rules and regulations. In fact, as we know from a number of Christian-based sources, the bulk of very early Christianity awaited the “Second Coming” of Jesus within their own lifetimes, and it is difficult to envisage how people living with the expectation of an imminent return can even begin to consider a complete political and societal system for everyday living. So we hope this very important point is not missed on our readers.

One final issue might be that, whether the present Christian attitude towards religious expression is from the Bible or from secular liberalism does not matter, for we know it to be much better and humane than the Islamic conception, which does not allow for any religious propagation and punishes apostates with death. To this, we would say that Islam does not generally espouse a doctrine of total moral objectivism where all the rules of Islam can be deduced by reason alone even without the use of revelation. Rather, we say that Allah decides which rules and ordinances are connected to the entry of people into Paradise, even if the humans themselves may not understand the wisdom behind such rules.

Therefore, the proper approach as far as the Christian is concerned is to take note that the Islamic concept of Allah is the only correct one and that the Christian conception of  “Triune God” is simply incorrect from a rational perspective; thereafter, a study of the Qur’an and its miraculous nature is to be undertaken, along with a study of other ways in which unquestionable knowledge is ascertained in Islam, along with what the concomitant results are (here we have to keep in mind that there may be differences of opinion, some of which are even related to the extent of “freedom” allowed to non-Muslims to worship according to their religion, and to the extent and application of the apostasy punishments). We believe that such a method of discussion will orient matters towards more substantive points of consideration rather than the low-level squabbling about particular laws one notices in many discussions. [Of course, there may be those who accept Islam just by reflecting on the Qur’an, or perhaps by contemplating some of the rules of Islam, and we are always ready to accept those into Islam regardless of the route they take, but we are talking about the formal methodology for presenting Islam].

So basically, the above is the position we should, as Muslims, adopt whenever someone says that Christianity is superior to Islam for allowing others to worship in their lands while Islam allows no such thing. We will, by the Will of Allah, expand upon this answer as time permits and as the situation demands. And our success is only through Allah the Exalted.

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8 thoughts on “Objection: “Christianity allows freedom of religion while Islam crushes it”

  1. If I may correct your history a bit here…

    The basis for the practice of religious freedom in the US did not come from secular worldview, it derived from a Christian one. The motivation behind it hailed from those who settled in the Americas in order to escape religious persecution and have the freedom to worship as they so choose. Connected with this was the idea that, in a Christian perspective, the ability to worship and to choose whether to worship the true triune God or not is found within the will of the individual, and is not something to be imposed against their will. We take this approach modeled after God Himself, who does not compel us to love and worship Him, but encounters us and invites us into a divine-human relationship.

    Your references to the era of Christian power (I can only assume you refer to the middle ages, following the collapse of western Rome and the rise of the church) are a bit misguided when it suggests the suppression of worshipping freedom. The fact that the Church maintained education in the west, and invited the best of the pagan philosophers to teach alongside Christian theologians when they were better suited to their particular field, goes to demonstrate this. We do, eventually, see a ban on pagan fertility cults in so much as limiting places of worship. What we do not see, however, is a church-wide persecution of unbelievers. The only potential arguments brought to bear on this could be the crusades and the inquisition, but neither argument would stand under historical analysis.

    The crusades, for example, were not about religion at all. They were a response to rowing Islamic hostilities as the Muslim armies aggressively began to invade the east and put “unbelievers” to the sword. Reports began to filter back to the Pope at the time of Western pilgrims being attacked and killed by the Seljyk Turks. Then, when the emperor of the eastern empire issued a plea to the Pope for aid against the invading Muslim armies, a crusade was called forth. This was not intolerance of religion; this was intolerance of violence and barbarism.

    The inquisition similarly does not stand. It was originally little more than an investigative arm of the church until Emperor Frederick wrested control of it from the Pope. At that point, the inquisition fell under secular control, and Frederick used it to control his empire through fear and violence. The church opposed this usage, with a succession of no less than three Popes issuing papal bulls decrying his use of violence and calling for him to cease. At one point, a tiny country within the empire stood against Frederick, refusing to allow entry to his Inquisitors. The Pope, then, chose to back that tiny country with his own papal armies – which were subsequently crushed when Frederick brought his legions to bear. It was not the church, but secularism, that pushed for religious intolerance. In similar fashion, we are beginning to see secularism working to restrict religion from the public sphere today as well.

    The primary difference between Islam and Christianity, functionally at least (there are profound theological differences), is that the Quran glorifies violence and bloodshed as a means to advance the faith, while the Bible advocates personal sacrifice, mercy, and even enemy-love. The result is fairly clear: Islam flies planes into buildings and bombs marathons; Christianity rallies relief groups and charities which then care for Islam’s victims.

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    • I will only give a partial response to the above, since some of the matters require a more in-depth analysis of what can be given in a simple comment:

      To begin with, my position is not that Islam allows freedom of religion as understood in modern Western political theory. This would be a misrepresentation of the matter. I only wished to highlight that Christian utterances in the vein of “freedom of religion” come from a tradition outside of strictly Christian constructs.

      Thus, for the Puritans settling in the US, we can say that they went to US to practice their own religion freely, but to say that they wished to extend this “freedom” to others is quite a stretch, since such was simply not the prevailing concept in Europe at the time at all, and the Puritans are quite well-known in history to have persecuted other Christian sects. I believe this tendency comes from the many people (if not most) who like to project current ideals of “freedom of thought” and “freedom of religion” to the past, while such is clearly not the case when we consider the history of peoples in its totality.

      Also, what happens is that generally people are projecting their well-known separation of church and state, and thinking that such must have been the case for “all eternity past, everywhere” while such was never really the case, not in Islam nor in other religions and ideologies, the truth being that modern secularism is a distinctly modern Western construct.

      This is why talking of the “freedom” granted to non-Christians in pre-“Enlightenment” Christian Europe is simply not correct. The most “liberal” application one can think of is when certain parts of Europe granted some rights of jurisdiction and worship to Jews and Muslims, but this was in certain areas and cannot be traced back to the interpretation of the Christian religion by its leaders. Had there been such “liberal” freedom, one would not have seen the Protestant Reformation descending into open warfare for decades on end, with the peace pacts themselves not allowing total “freedom of worship”, but rather enunciating that the sovereign’s religion was supreme and placing different gradings of restrictions on the practice of different sects and ideologies, with the initial pacts only allowing for those of different persuasions to migrate to the lands were they could practice their religion.

      Concerning the Inquisition and Crusades, I really did not think too much of the Crusades or even of the Inquisition when considering this topic, even though saying that the Crusades and the Inquisition were not “at all” about religion is again quite a stretch, since we have numerous formal pronouncements from the strictly “religious” clergy in their support, whether this was done after these campaigns were taken over by “secular” forces or otherwise. One can say that Christianity (while in power) has taken different positions with respect to the different types of action it can take against other religions and what it considers as heretical sects, but to say that it had absolutely nothing to do with the Crusades or the Inquisition is taking apologetics too far.

      Finally, concerning Islam and violence and the image of Christianity as the protector of humanity in the face of Islamic violence, I say that we would need to identify the traditional scholars of Islam who have in this day and age, specifically given sanction to these acts of violence. I am open if someone brings forth such information after which there can be a separate discussion, but I would also encourage the readers to browse through articles such as: Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians (http://muslimanswersfiles.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/defending-the-transgressed-by-censuring-the-reckless-against-the-killing-of-civilians/), and Islamic Stance on the London Bombings (http://muslimanswersfiles.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/islamic-stance-on-the-london-bombings/).

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      • I do have to ask you a question concerning the safety of Muslims in the world right now, if you don’t mind of course. I live in the U.S. in a relatively tolerant place, (I have had only two negative occurrences) i am very worried about the safety of Muslims in general as it seems in every corner of the globe people are out to the hunt to get Muslims, whether it is in China or Myanmar, Russia, the middle east, CAR, India, the U.S. and Europe in totality. Whether its living under tyrannical regimes propped up by western countries or inbred fanatical groups like daesh, to living in non Muslim countries as a punching bag and a distraction to governments that operate behind the peoples backs. What should Muslims do in this situation, no where is safe, we are constantly under attack everywhere, by everyone, Ex Muslims are glorified and apostasy is encouraged, and anti Muslim websites swarm the web and are propped up by everybody, Hindus, Atheists, Christian, Jews, Ex Muslims, my question is what should one do in these times, should one try to immigrate to a Muslim country, (to live under a tyrant/puppet, with a few exceptions) or continue to live in the west and avoid being looking Muslim at all times, what happens if things escalate and the world decides to go full out genocidal on Muslims, what should one do then, can one fake an apostasy in order to survive?

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  2. Salam Alaykum,

    It seems the suggestion of a ‘fake apostasy’ is too rash, since as you have mentioned the amount of tolerance shown in your locale is relatively good. However, it is good and proper to seek those ‘caves’ of Islamic learning and presence where one can further develop themselves away from the potential problems one may face, which is true of historically ‘Western’ or ‘non-Muslim’ as well as ‘Muslim’ lands, since Fitnah is present everywhere nowadays and it is unavoidable to a certain degree. One institute/locale in the US that comes to mind is Sacred Learning (http://www.sacredlearning.org), but it may be that there are other places closer to your current location.

    Wa Salam

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    • What about Zaytuna college run by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Sahkir, they are a three hour drive away from my location, and they seem to be legitimate orthodox scholars?

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    • jazakallah by the way, for answering my questions by the way, sorry if i keep bombarding you with questions, the internet is a propaganda minefield and its only gotten worse, it hard to find orthodox voices these days.

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