I currently live in a predominately Muslim country; in fact, according to the CIA Factbook, it is 98% Muslim but I would venture to say, if you do not include any expats it’s close to 99.5%. I’ve lived here for two years.
From 2007-2009 I lived in Guinea which is 85% Muslim.
Needless to say, I have many Muslim friends. I have prayed with them, sang with them and fasted with them. I have cried with them in their grief and danced with them in their joy. For four years, I have heard the call to
prayer five times a day, every day. I have shared my life and they, in turn, have shared theirs. Here, on Clove Island, I have family: mothers and sisters and brothers. And they are Muslims. I love them. And I know they love me in return.
In Muslim nations, religion is all pervasive. God is mentioned in every conversation in the common taglines, “God willing” or “Praise God”. All of my friends and neighbors know that I am a follower of Jesus, that I read the Bible and pray in a different way from them. Some have tried to convince me that the way of Islam is the truth. But I have never felt threatened or in danger because of my differing beliefs. My Muslim friends do not believe in violence in the name of religion, else we would not be friends…
I have been asked to share my experiences living in a Muslim community, in order to quell some of the rising fear in light of the recent attacks in Paris. I was asked to say that Islam is a religion of peace. While many, or perhaps most, Muslims live peaceful lives, I cannot in good faith say that Islam is a religion of peace.
There is much confusion over what Islam teaches. The mainstream media makes it worse, fueling fears and hate mongering. I do not claim expertise in Islamic studies, by any means. But I would humbly offer what I have learned in two years of studying Islam, while living in an African-Islamic context.
Brief overview of the Qur’an
The Qur’an is believed by Muslims to be the very words of God revealed to the Prophet[i] Mohammad through the angel Gabriel. He first received these revelations while living in Mecca around 610 A.D.
The original language of the Qur’an is Arabic. Muslims believe that only the Arabic is the true word of God. Translations are created by man and therefore cannot be relied upon. With that in mind, any claims at interpretation by a non-Arabic speaker are easily brushed aside. Still I persist.
The Qur’an was compiled over a 23-year period. The chapters, or suras are arranged by shortest to longest, not chronologically. However, there is the teaching of “abrogation”, meaning that for contradictory statements, the one that is written later is the one that is to be followed. Therefore, it is important to know which suras came later. It’s easy enough to find a chronological listing online.
Stages of the Qur’an
In researching, I came across a fascinating article that connects the Prophet’s life events with the Suras that were written during that time. The author breaks the Qur’an into four stages.
- Stage One: (In Mecca)- No Retaliation. Mohammad was living in Mecca, among pagans who worshiped many gods. He and his followers were greatly persecuted. These verses teach peace and patience.
- Stage Two: (First Instruction in Medina)- Defensive Fighting Permitted. Mohammad and his followers fled to Medina. Many more Arabs in Medina followed Mohammad and he was recognized as a prophet. But the Meccan persecutors followed them. Muslims were then instructed that they could fight those who first attacked them.
- Stage Three: (Revised Instruction in Medina)- Defensive Fighting Commanded. Just a few months later, fighting became a religious obligation, not simply permitted.
- Stage Four: (After Conquering Mecca)- Offensive War Commanded to Kill the Pagans and Humble the Christians and Jews. Muslims continued to gain strength until 630AD when Mecca surrendered. These verses advocate aggressive Jihad against all unbelievers.
This is just a brief summary and I highly urge you to read the article[ii] or the Qur’an itself, along with a chronological timeline.
There are many verses in the Qur’an that advocate peace and allowing people to go their own way. However, these were written earlier and according to abrogation (Sura 2:106; 13:38; 16:101), it is the later passages of war and violence that should be adhered to.
I am thankful that my Muslim friends to not follow this version of Islam. I just returned from a local language lesson. Every week I meet with twin 30-year-old single women. Today, I asked them if they’d heard of the attacks in Paris.They answered in the affirmative so I probed to get their thoughts on the matter. The men who did this are not true Muslims, they said. They told me that killing is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an. One of the twins told me that anyone who kills should have their hand cut off. “No, no!” the other answered, “You get your hand cut off if you steal!”
I asked if they had a Qur’an. Yes. Could we read it to see where it says these things? We don’t understand it, they responded.
“So where do you learn what is in the Qur’an if you cannot understand it?”
“We learned in Quranic school as children. The teacher told us what it said.”
“What if he lied?” I asked. They just laughed. They told me they believe they are following the Islam of old- what was taught from the beginning. Many islanders study abroad or work overseas and come back with strange versions of Islam, claiming they have the path of true Islam. But my friends are content to follow what they were taught from childhood. It suits them.
I like their version of Islam. They believe in peace. They believe it is wrong to kill. They believe we should show kindness to our neighbors, Muslim, Christian and Jew. They believe many of the same things I believe. Romans 2:14-15 says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
We know instinctively that it is wrong to kill. Most of us long to be at peace with our neighbor. We do not yearn for war. We do not believe that blowing up innocent people will send us to paradise. We, mankind, left to our own devices have the law of God written on hearts- a moral law that teaches us to respect human life.
Unfortunately, this is not what the Qur’an teaches.