can people do such evil things in the name of religion?
Since September 11, people
around the world have been asking this question. The atrocities of that
day shocked and astounded. As horrific as they were, Christians must
still be guided by the wisdom of our Lord Jesus who said, "Why do you
look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice
the log that is in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the
log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck
out of your brother’s eye."
Sadly, church history is replete with examples of evil perpetrated
in the name of Christianity. There have been far too many times when
Christians have blatantly violated the example and teachings of Christ.
Perhaps the ugliest, most relevant and well-known example is the Crusades
of the Middle Ages, when true Christians and "professing" Christians
engaged in "holy" war. They brutally tortured and slaughtered thousands
of Muslims to regain a piece of territory both groups deemed holy.
Without diminishing the horror and inhumanity of the suicide bombings,
Christians must admit that in the misguided name of "religion," we have
also committed atrocities. We can’t point the finger!
As Christians, we not only need to get the logs out of our eyes, but
we also need to speak truth and not bear false witness. This means that
we must be accurate and fair when we describe another religion. So,
why did the Muslim terrorists feel they were right in committing these
atrocities in the name of Islam?
It is common to read articles and hear speeches in the present crisis
that describe Islam as a peace-loving religion. But is this really accurate?
It is one thing to say that there are many peace-loving Muslims (which
I believe) and quite another thing to say that Islam is a peace-loving
Let me explain. I see at least two things inherent in the religion
of Islam that have been used by terrorists to promote violence.
First, Muhammad rode into Mecca on a stallion with a sword in hand
to conquer by force. By contrast, Jesus saddled up a donkey to ride
into Jerusalem to humbly suffer and die for the sins of the world. Herein
lies the difference. Jesus founded a religion based on moral persuasion.
From the beginning, Islam has condoned the use of the sword. Historically,
not all Muslims have used it. Thankfully, many modern Muslims refrain
from it. But Islam is a religion which sanctions force, if necessary,
to advance its purposes.
One other aspect of Islamic faith also has the potential to fuel the
fire of evil. The Islamic faith (at least at a popular level) puts a
strong emphasis on salvation by works. Muslims have no assurance of
heaven. However, if a Muslim dies while engaging in holy war (jihad),
he is assured of entering heaven. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam,
jihad "‘is an act of pure devotion’; it is ‘one
of the gates to Paradise;’ rich heavenly rewards are guaranteed
for those who devote themselves to it; those who fall in the jihad are
the martyrs of the faith."
The deluded terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon thought they were in a holy war against America. In fact,
they saw themselves in a battle against infidels everywhere, including
moderate Muslim governments. They were willing to lose their lives in
this attack in order to secure paradise.
Thus, these tragic acts represent an earth-shattering clash of worldviews.
The terrorists’ perspective of the world, filtered by a radical
interpretation of Islam, sees only two sides: "true Islam" and "infidels."
This narrow viewpoint resulted in these unforgettable atrocities.
most Muslims think they are in a holy war against America?
Absolutely not! Islam comes
in a variety of forms: liberals, moderates, conservatives, non-violent
fundamentalists and violent fundamentalists (who embrace terrorism),
to name a few. So we must distinguish between the majority of Muslims
and the minority of violent revolutionaries. We must differentiate between
the radical fringe of Islam and the mainstream. To be sure, fundamentalist
terrorism is a cancer in Islam. But to lump all Muslims together as
terrorists would be comparable to saying that all white Christian men
in the United States are part of the Ku Klux Klan or the Neo-Nazi movement.
This is unjust, unloving, and unchristian. And it’s plain wrong.
The majority of Muslims in the world do not see themselves in a holy
war against America. They are peace-loving moderates, law-abiding citizens,
and good neighbors. They want no part of terrorism. In fact, Muslim
nations are joining the international coalition to respond together
against terrorism. In a crisis such as this, Christians need to respond
as peacemakers. As Christine Mallouhi says, now is the time to "wage
peace" on our Muslim neighbors!
Why do they hate
the United States so much?
Many of us viewed with shock
the scene of Muslims celebrating in the streets after the terrorist
attacks. How could anyone revel over such horrific events? It is true
that the vast majority of Muslim governments were appalled by the attacks.
But a large number of Muslims applauded the attack. Why?
Let me briefly outline six reasons—many of which are political.
I am not arguing for the rightness or wrongness of any political position
in this litany of charges, but only explaining Muslim perceptions
around the world. (Nonetheless, I think it would be wise for the entire
Western world to carefully reconsider political policies pertaining
to the Muslim world during this crisis. At the very least, we Christians
in the West need to get the logs out of our own eyes).
- Muslims (like Christians) reject secular modernity, with its materialism,
pornography and high divorce rate. Muslim leaders have caricatured
the West (and especially America) as the "Great Satan" precisely because
the worldly pleasures of Western culture are luring the faithful away
from the straight path of Islam, just as it lures many Christians
away from a close walk with the Lord Jesus. Thus, for Muslims who
feel most powerfully alienated, an attack against America can be seen
as a triumph for Islamic values.
- Radical Islamic movements perceive the United States to be culpable
in the deaths of Muslims around the world. As many Americans realize,
U.S. support of Israeli action against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians
has caused burning hostility among Muslims. But many Muslims see U.S.
policy at fault in other situations, too. In their minds, the United
States was criminally slow to react when nominally Christian Serbs
began to slaughter Bosnian Muslims. In yet another recent historical
example, many Muslim nations stood with America in the war against
Iraq. But the post-war economic sanctions imposed on Iraq have not
enjoyed the same consensus. UNICEF’s 1999 report estimates that
500,000 additional children have died during the 1990s as a result
of these economic sanctions. So Muslims around the world ask, "Do
Saddam Hussein’s crimes justify the mass starvation of innocent
- Muslim perceptions of the West have been molded by their media—a
media often strongly biased against the United States. (I might add
that Western media tends to be biased against Muslims.) In addition,
"many Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere are exposed not to
the positive aspects of U.S. society—such as individual liberty,
the rule of law, and economic prosperity—but to the worst traits
of American culture, including materialism, militarism, and racism."
- Muslims believe they are destined to be the dominant force
in the world today. Nations with majority Muslim populations feel
they ought to be the most prosperous and victorious countries
in the world. The unacceptable reality is that in most cases they
are not. The levers of political, economic, technological, media and
even moral power are in the hands of the West.
- Muslim outrage is also caused by the presence of "infidel" troops
based in the "holy" land of Saudi Arabia during and since the Gulf
war. This has focused their anger on the West, as well as what they
view as corrupt and impotent Muslim governments.
- I have many non-American Christian friends. Like moderate Muslims
they, too, can be critical and negative of America. Some of the anger
brewing in the Muslim world is related to the fact that America is
a superpower. America is a lightning rod for criticism. Sadly, it
is human nature to want to take people down a notch.
are Muslim heads of state saying?
Nearly all Islamic countries
of the world have condemned the terrorist attacks. This might be expected
of moderate Muslim nations like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Oman, and Qatar, to name a few. But amazingly, even countries known
for terrorism like Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are saying
the same thing.
Many of these same Muslim countries have also vowed to fight against
terrorism. No one yet knows how committed these nations will be in their
resolve to fight against terrorism. But the consensus is remarkable
The most stunning report comes from Saudi Arabia. Commenting on the
new spirit of international cooperation against terrorism, Saudi Foreign
Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said, "This calls for a new perception
of cooperation within the international community, a perception that
allows us to work together, Muslims and Christians … in the fight
against this scourge."
Perhaps Jordan’s King Abdullah is representative of moderate
Muslim nations in his counsel regarding the fight against terrorism:
"We can win if you Americans don’t forget who you are, if you
don’t forget who your friends are and if we work together. …
The terrorists are trying to break down the fabric of the U.S. …
If we see America fragment, then you destroy that special thing that
America stands for. That’s what the terrorists want. … That
is why you have to be very careful when you respond—make sure
you respond in a way that punishes the real perpetrators, that brings
justice, not revenge, because otherwise you will be going against your
own ideals, and that is what the terrorists want most. … The bad
guys work together, but we don’t. The terrorist groups are a global
organization. They know how to cooperate and stay focused on their military
objectives. We have not. … We can defeat them, but only if we
learn to cooperate globally as effectively as they do."
do you think God could be doing, and how should we be working with him?
I believe God may use these
tragic events to change the global landscape in many ways. Here are
the kinds of things I pray for and could envision. Would you join with
me in prayer for these things? The future hangs in the balance.
First, the devil would love to see the world divide into two camps:
Islam vs. the West. So would the terrorists! A wisely orchestrated international
alliance against terrorism could result in a different way of dividing
the world. I could foresee Islam being divided into two camps: non-violent
moderates and fundamentalists vs. violent fundamentalists
and terrorists. Potentially, this could lead to a greater respect for
human life and dignity and a recognition of common values between us.
Secondly, I am praying for the advance of God’s kingdom in Muslim
countries. Because of the alliance between Muslim countries and Western
countries, more Christians are being confronted with the needs of the
Muslim world. I am praying this results in more workers being mobilized
to serve among Muslims.
Ultimately, this tragedy could result in greater receptivity among
Muslims and greater freedom to preach the gospel. In the past, Islamic
militancy or the imposition of Islamic law has sometimes caused a backlash
among ordinary Muslims. Following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran,
Muslims became disillusioned with Islam and looked for meaning and hope
elsewhere. Disillusioned Muslims around the world may be more receptive
to the gospel—that is, if they have an opportunity to hear it!
can I do to demonstrate Christ’s love to Muslims?
First, we must stand against
all forms of hate crimes and racism aimed at Arabs and Muslims around
the world (and especially in America). Now is an unprecedented moment
for Christians to express our love to innocent Arab and Muslim neighbors
by protecting them and helping reassure their personal security at this
Second, Christians, especially those in the West, should seek out Muslims
and begin building bridges of love. If we show real love now—if
we make innocent Arabs and Muslims feel that we are together in this
international tragedy—then we will touch their hearts in ways
that will not soon be forgotten. They will tell other Muslims around
the world of how they were touched by our love. And that will make much
easier the job of every Christian who is involved in evangelism among
Muslims, both in our country and around the world, for a long time to
Third, now is the time for church leaders to meet with leaders of the
mosque to enhance mutual understanding and perhaps discuss ways to work
together against terrorism. As I said before, let’s wage peace
should Christians battle against terrorism?
We should begin here: Behind
this terrorist attack lurks the one described in the Bible as "the Evil
One"—the one who seeks to deceive and destroy. The devil and the
hosts of hell are ultimately behind this grievous act. We must also
recognize the demonic nature of all evil. Our hatred and anger should
be channeled against the enemy of our souls. As Paul says, "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."
Thus, through prayer the church needs to resist the devil—our
adversary who prowls around like a roaring lion. We also need to pray
that the kingdom would come on the nations of the world, that the power,
righteousness, peace and joy of the kingdom would rest on political
and religious leaders throughout the world.
We need to pray that true justice will prevail. As God’s Word
makes plain, "Justice and only justice you shall pursue." Government
pursuit of justice against the terrorists should not become an excuse
for indiscriminate bombing of thousands of innocent people. This is
revenge, not justice. And it is not Christian.
As citizens of heaven, it isn’t up to us to determine what political
forms a just response might take. But one thing is sure. The response
to this attack will in all likelihood trigger a host of other responses
that could either help or hinder the spread of the gospel. Thus, we
should pray for a strong coalition of nations—including moderate
Muslim nations—that will vow together to see that terrorism cannot
continue. Strength of relationships between Western and moderate Muslim
nations, rather than military might, will most likely be the key to
victory in the response against terrorism.
the Taliban in Afghanistan have hosted Bin Laden and the terrorists
for so many years, shouldn't America and her allies attack the country
CNN, NBC and the BBC encourage
us to think of Afghanistan as a potential battlefield. But we should
think of Afghanistan as a needy mission field. This war-torn country’s
23 million people are in dire need of God’s mercy, deliverance
Afghanistan is one of the least reached countries of the world, with
70 unreached people groups. "Two decades of unremitting war have brought
most of the population to ruin and destitution. An estimated 1 million
lost their lives, 2 million were maimed and 4 million children orphaned.
The result is ecological disaster, a shattered infrastructure, over
12 million uncleared anti-personnel mines and the capital in ruins."
I am praying fervently for the response America and her allies carry
out. May God keep them from slaughtering innocent people. May God intervene
so that the response (whatever form it takes) actually thwarts terrorism
and facilitates the spread of the gospel.
If or when there is a military response in Afghanistan, will the church
be ready for the 1.5 million refugees already fleeing the country? This
could easily lead to another type of rescue mission—one that will
demand the same type of heroism America’s firemen displayed in
the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers.
do these terrorist attacks impact the church in Muslim countries?
most Christians need to understand is that they have brothers and sisters
throughout the Muslim world. We are fellow citizens with God’s
people and members of God’s household. In a recent prayer meeting,
I joined our staff in praying for the small fellowships of Muslim background
believers in Pakistan—some of whom dress just like Osama bin Laden!
There is immense tension throughout the Muslim world. Our organization
has already evacuated workers. Others may have to leave their countries
soon. But let’s not forget the potential for massive violence
against our national brothers and sisters who are left behind. Military
action against Afghanistan could trigger a blood bath against our precious
fellow believers around the Muslim world. As Christians, we have family
in these Muslim nations! Please don’t forget to pray for them.
the disasters of these days point to Christ’s soon return?
They could. Jesus mentioned
a series of signs that would precede his second coming. One of these
is "wars and rumors of wars." Then he adds, "but that is not yet the
end." Clashing kingdoms, famines and earthquakes are mentioned next.
But these are "merely the beginning of birth pangs." Only when the gospel
of the kingdom has been preached to all the nations does Jesus explicitly
say "and then the end shall come."
"This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as
a testimony to all the nations, and then the end shall come." In other
words, the church is not to be on the defensive only, merely enduring
an onslaught of suffering and persecution, but it is to go on the spiritual
offensive. The church must, and in fact, will preach the gospel
to the whole world.
The great sign of his coming is not wars and rumors of wars, but world
evangelization. In the excitement about the possible imminent coming
of Christ, or fear of apocalyptic events, we must not cease to be salt
and light, ambassadors, apostles and ministers of reconciliation.
we continue to evangelize Muslims under the present circumstances?
I see parallels between
our present crisis and the life of Queen Esther. Esther knew her people
were targets of terror! She was face to face with evil. But God raised
her up "for such a time as this." She boldly stepped out, trusting the
Lord with the famous words: "If I perish, I perish." As God used Esther
to avert the destruction of her people, so too I believe he wants to
use the church to avert the destruction of innocent Muslims. Even more
importantly, this is an opportunity to avert the eternal destruction
of Muslims by redoubling our efforts to reach them with the words of
There are more than one billion Muslims in the world today—one-fifth
of humanity. The vast majority wake up every morning with no Bible,
with no church, with no one to tell them of the way, the truth, and
the life. In the last 25 years, more than 100 times as many American
Christians have gone to the Middle East to serve their country in a
military capacity than have gone to the Middle East to serve the King
of kings by proclaiming the gospel of peace! Where are the Christian
heroes who will step forward in this pivotal time in history to be involved
in the greatest of all rescue missions? Where are the Christian heroes
who will lovingly demonstrate Christ’s mercy and boldly proclaim
Christ’s truth to Muslims for such a time as this?
has served for more than 20 years among Muslims. He holds a D.Min. degree
from Westminster Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological
Seminary. He is the author of Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God
(William Carey Library 2000) and Peacemaking: Resolving Conflict,
Restoring and Building Harmony in Relationships (William Carey Library
2001). He is adjunct professor of Islamics at Fuller Theological Seminary
and Columbia International University. He presently serves as International
Director of Frontiers.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.