I can recall having a moment of pride when I was a youth pastor and hearing one of my youth pray for terrorists in the Middle East. “Be with the terrorists, because they are victims, too.” When I say pride, I don’t mean sinful pride. What I mean is that I felt a thankfulness that God had used me in this youth’s growth, but even more so a thankfulness for that growth, giving God the glory for it. He was growing, he was catching some of things we were discussing as a group and the biblical truth that was being taught. I had excitement for his increasing maturity.
This prayer occurred many years ago, when 9/11 was still fresh, and when the war in Afghanistan was still a hot topic. There was an increasing cultural concern that American immigrants and Muslims would be targeted unfairly. There were also concerns for civilians overseas and how they might be perceived by the average American. The media was bringing up the topic of Islam often, and the youth were also hearing things from their peers, teachers, and online influences. There was also a nearby local mosque, so some of them had had encounters with Muslims face to face.
The American culture seemed to reflexively recoil from any suggestion that an entire religion was bad, or that an entire people group was bad. They would often improperly label it “racism.” Islam isn’t a race; it is both a political and religious system, and for much of the world, the two sides are not separated. Certainly we can agree, from a biblical perspective, that these people were made in the image of God, and also that God desires them to hear the Gospel and turn from their wrongdoings (2 Peter 3:9). The American culture, however, is deeply in love with relativism, which I will address deeper at a later time, and many have an underlying assumption that all religions are equal, which played into the resistance of painting Islam itself as the enemy.
We would, and continue to, hear messages that Islam was a religion of peace. That is partially true; many Muslims, especially in the West, are peaceful people, but their prophet was not. You can read a long list of his victims here: https://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Killings_Ordered_or_Supported_by_Muhammad.
The hadiths inform us of Muhammad’s actions, and his life is still seen as example today. Yes, the end goal of the religion is peace, but with a big caveat: peace under total control of Islam.
We heard, and still hear, that a “Jihad” doesn’t have to be violent. It is correct that “jihad” means “struggle.” Mein Kampf also means “My Struggle,” and that author’s struggle was very violent. Hitler’s “struggle” left unfathomable piles of bodies behind and is recognized as one of the most evil ideologies to have ever existed.
Given our own past in America, we are rightly sensitive about broad brushes applied to large people groups. Sadly, there have been acts of prejudice and inappropriate mistreatment of individual Muslims, but we should be sharing the gospel with them, recognizing that all human beings have a special value and are worthy of respect, regardless of their beliefs. The challenge comes when we fail to attack the bad ideas for fear of hurting the person.
Separating out the person from their beliefs is an important part of critically thinking about who or what our enemies really are. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (NASB) Muhammad received his “revelation” from an angel that he initially thought was a demon, but his wife convinced him to change his mind. I’m certain he was right the first time. Based on this spiritual force, he developed ideas contrary to the truth. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul records that as part of his ministry, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (NASB) We must continue to do the same. We must examine ideas by the light which Christ has given us.
Last month, I mentioned that I passionately believe in the phrase, “Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.” The biblically balanced approach to the threat of a violent and literal Islam includes loving the individuals and yet addressing the ideas that they hold. Long before the perpetrators of 9/11 hijacked those planes, their minds were hijacked. Imagine what would have happened had they been won for Jesus before they got on those planes. It doesn’t excuse their actions, but it helps to recognize that they were lied to. There were no virgins waiting on them in paradise. It still goes on today. Many suicide bombers are used by handlers, who aren’t doing the suicide bombing themselves. Had they been convinced of what was true, they wouldn’t have been so willing to die.
The youth who said that prayer understood that, just like himself, those people needed a Savior and that Jesus had died for them. He was also aware that they were victims of bad ideas. I will continue to address bad ideas that have impacted our society and the American church in upcoming newsletters, but I want to give this additional forward. Sometimes when we talk about important ideas and the people who disagree with us, we produce more heat than light. The people who perpetuate the ideas that I will be discussing are themselves also victims of them. It may seem bizarre to claim a terrorist is a victim, but in a way they are. It will likely seem equally bizarre to claim proponents of bad ideas inside the church are victims, but again, they are victims of the bad ideas they hold. If we approach things with wisdom, we may be able to stop bad ideas from leading to more bad actions. We should desire they be set free, and there is no place in Christianity to wish malice upon people just because they think differently than we do. The hope should be for their freedom from these bad ideas, for God’s glory, and their benefit.