MUSTAFA AKYOL > Allah protects churches, Islamists attack them

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Yesterday’s New York Times had two separate but equally worrying opinion pieces on the religious bigotry in Indonesia, (“Indonesia’s Rising Religious Intolerance,” by Benedict Rogers, and “No Model for Muslim Democracy,” by Andreas Harsono). This overwhelmingly Muslim Sunni nation, both articles explained, was the stage of a number of hate crimes against minorities such as “Bahais, Christians, Shiites, Sufis and members of the Ahmadiyya faith.”

Churches in particular, both pieces noted, have been the targets of hard-line Islamists. The latter have pressured local officials “not to authorize the construction of Christian churches or to harass and intimidate those worshiping in ‘illegal’ churches.” Hence, a local mayor has declared a “zero church” policy. Worse, three Christian churches on Sumatra were burnt last year by “Muslim militants.”

As a Muslim, I find all such news simply shameful. All that violence against non-Muslims (or “heretical” Muslims) not only hurts innocent souls, but also defames Islam. Moreover, the militant Islamists who attack other faith communities violate not only the modern notions of human rights. They also, believe it or not, violate the very principles of the Quran.

This is most obvious in the case of churches, or, for that matter, synagogues. These Christian or Jewish places of worship are mentioned in the Quran only once, and in a very interesting way:

“If Allah had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where Allah’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed,” (Sura 22, verse 40).

As you can see, the verse implies that Allah protects “monasteries, churches, synagogues” along with mosques. Those who attack any of these sanctuaries, in other words, would be going against the will of God. (In tradition, Islamic scholars have discussed the exact meaning of this verse, and the common view has been that it honors “monasteries, churches, synagogues,” by listing them along with mosques. Some scholars, such as Ad-Dahhak, also argued that the definition “where Allah’s name is mentioned much,” refers not only to mosques but also all the temples that are listed.)

Based on this foundation, along with similar Quranic verses and Christian-friendly acts of the Prophet Muhammad, Islamic civilization has tolerated Christian worship right from its beginning. The Muslim conquests of the Middle East neither destroyed churches nor prevented their use. As I note in my book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” early Muslim rule even permitted the building of new Christian churches, as the archaeological record indicates. (Only later began a tradition of converting the largest church in a conquered city to a mosque, as happened to the Saint Sophia of Constantinople.)

Why, then, do some of today’s Islamists hate and attack Christian churches, violating the very scripture they claim to uphold? 

The answer is complex, but can be rendered to a simple explanation: What is at stake for the militant Islamists is “Islam as identity,” rather than “Islam as faith.” They, in other words, are driven by a fanatic communalism, which sees the world in a “Muslims versus others” dichotomy, and which overlooks all the common values Muslims actually have with others. Hence, they can attack the churches that the Quran praises, or ban the word “Allah” to Christians, as happened in Malaysia, although the Quran insists that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, (Sura 29, verse 46).
This tendency, which I have condemned in these pages before as “Islamo-tribalism,” is an affront to Islam. And that is why the Muslim leaders in Indonesia, and elsewhere, should stand against it rigorously.


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6/21/2012 10:13:57 AM

"Why, then, do some of today’s Islamists hate and attack Christian churches, violating the very scripture they claim to uphold?". In one word: Interpretation. Inter-faith, and cross-faith conflicts are caused entirely by varying interpretations of religious texts, particularly when a particular interest needs to be served. Mr. Akyol gives one example, but I'm sure a more militant mindset would find others to suit their opposite cause.

Albantani Albantani

6/14/2012 3:44:15 AM

The 2nd prghrp is shameful indeed, the church insident is about christian ministry trying to build a church in the middle of predominantly muslim area, hence the tension between muslim community and western backed christian ministry. The western media consumed this and produced story about "muslim militants" harrasing the churchs in indonesia. Very shamefull, from the so called enlighted peoiple... Shameful lie...

Albantani Albantani

6/12/2012 6:04:05 AM

I'm from Indonesia and I beliave there is inaccuracy in 1st prgrph. 1st I've never heard about Bahais sect in Indonesia, let alone crime against them, 2nd, islamic teaching in indonesia is predominantly in a form of sufi movement. Nahdatul ulama (NU) the biggest muslim organisation in Indonesia consists of various sufi school/tariqa (naqsabandiya,qadariya etc), the late president gusdur is regarded as wali by NU, so there's no way the sufis is being persecuted in Indonesia. Pls check ur data 1st

jd pomerantz

6/4/2012 3:57:34 AM

Unfortunately, Cemre, the science-worshiping crowd has a considerably larger body count, considering its late start; eg USSR & Red Chiba. Perhaps one could com;pare "junk religion" with "junk science?"


6/2/2012 8:42:52 PM

@JD; in that case I think religion provides a much better breeding ground and than science and middle ages, inquisition, witch hunts and countless other atrocities proves that christianity is no less in that ground than islam

jd pomerantz

6/1/2012 8:11:49 PM

(American)2, Judaism doesn't preselytize because it was forbidden: Jewish missionary work was very active in the Roman Empire, resulting in many converts and proselytes ("righteous Gentiles"); shariah & allegedly Christian kings put the cabosh on it all. (monopolists & control freaks all). Cem, we agree that fanatics will find any cause to be fanatical about, but some causes prove better breeding grounds for that sort of thing than others.

american american

6/1/2012 2:16:53 PM

judaism was heavily influenced by greek philosophy. that said, early judaism (and some modern aspects of it) have rabbinic law. 613 commandments that must be obeyed. very simliar to sharia. the difference is that judaism, unlike christianity or islam does not proselytize. even so, while there are both good and bad aspects of religious law (the jubilee, not charging interest vs. circumcision, missionary work) a state should not represent a belief officially. pray and play as you like.


6/1/2012 12:42:38 PM

perhaps you are right about science JD; Fanatics would be here as long as there is something they can obsess about, not necessarily a religion. This approach however supports my original premise; doesnt matter what quran or bible says, fanatics= woe: christianity does not have a cleaner history, nor is islam fundamentally more evil; it is the conditions of the society that creates fanatics, not islam, not bible nor positivism

jd pomerantz

6/1/2012 3:45:47 AM

Cemre, history has shown us that science has benefited from the hard-wired violence of which you wrote; eg artificial blood from Japanese experimentation on Chinese during WWII, to give but 1 example. Such scientists are quite religious in their belief in science & human progress, seeing their hapless victims as mere offerings to the Goddess Reason. Church, MOsque, or lab - it's religion any way you look at it.


5/31/2012 11:46:32 AM

@JD: I would think banning anything is actually encouragement in another form. And I dont agree with religion being hardwired into humanity. curiosity, desire for explanation and violence is. the first two maybe channeled into scientific query instead of religion, the last one alas seems to be here with us forever. As for liberalism, the early judeo-christian liberals tried to strike a balance between natural law and divine law, the way we understand liberalism now is quite different.
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