24 Feb Opening church doors to Muslim acts of worship takes neighborliness a bridge too far
This article has been published in the Washington Times as “Stop opening churches to Muslims”
This past week Fox News posted a report that Heartsong church in Cordova, Tennessee and Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandra, Virginia have made their church buildings available to Muslims to use as places of worship.
Critics of these outreach initiatives, such as Mike Huckabee, have been accused of ignorance. However the contents of Muslim prayers, and teachings about Isa, the Islamic Jesus, give reasonable grounds for churches to reject such arrangements.
A prominent element in Islamic daily prayers is the recitation of Al-Fatihah ‘The Opening’, the first chapter of the Koran. Often described as a blessing, Al-Fatihah has a sting in its tail. After introductory praises, the final sentence of al-Fatihah is a request for guidance ‘in the straight path’ of Allah’s blessed ones, not the path ‘of those against whom You are wrathful, nor of those who are astray.’
Who are the ones who are said to be under Allah’s wrath or have gone astray from his straight path? According to the revered commentator Ibn Kathir, Muhammad himself gave the answer: ‘Those who have earned the anger are the Jews and those who are led astray are the Christians.’
Al-Fatihah is as central to Islamic devotion as the Lord’s prayer is to Christians: it is recited at least 17 times a day as part of daily Muslim prayers. Yet according to Muhammad himself, this prayer, which is on the lips of every pious Muslim day and night, castigates Christians as misguided and Jews as objects of Allah’s wrath.
Another good reason for churches not to host Muslim worship is, paradoxically, their veneration of Isa, the Islamic Jesus.
Muslims venerate Jesus, but as a Muslim prophet. In the pages of the Koran the disciples of the Muslim Jesus declare ‘We are Muslims’ (Sura 5:111). The Islamic Jesus is not the Christian Son of God, a divine suffering saviour who died on the cross for the sins of the world.
Certainly there are some similarities between Isa of the Koran and Jesus of the Gospels. The Koran calls Jesus al-Masih ‘the Messiah’, and both figures are said to have been born of a virgin, performed miracles of healing, and raised the dead. Yet here the similarities end. Isa of the Koran was not crucified, and did not die, but was raised up by Allah (Sura 4:157-158).
It is in Muhammad’s vision of the end-times that the role of the Muslim Jesus comes into sharp focus. Muhammad taught that when Isa returns, he ‘will fight for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill pigs, and abolish the poll-tax. Allah will destroy all religions except Islam.’ (Sunan Abu Dawud 27:4310)
What does this saying mean? The cross is a symbol of Christianity. Breaking the cross means abolishing Christianity. According to Islamic law the poll-tax or jizya buys protection of the lives and property of Christians (and Jews). Abolishing this tax will mean that jihad will be restarted against Christians, and no more protection shall be afforded to those who do not submit to Islam.
The Egyptian jurist Ahmad bin Naqib stated in his compendium of sharia, The Reliance of the Traveller that the toleration of Christians living under Islamic law only applies ‘before the final descent of Jesus… After his final coming, nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent … for he will rule by the law of Muhammad … as a follower of our Prophet’ (trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, pp.603-4).
In this end-times scenario, the Islamic Jesus becomes the ultimate destroyer of Christianity, when by his sword he compels all followers of the Christ of the Gospels to become Muslims and live in accordance with the sharia of Muhammad.
Churches should not welcome into their buildings the veneration of Isa the Islamic Jesus, who as a true Muslim is intended to bring about the final, violent destruction of Christianity. By all means let Christians show kindliness to their Muslim neighbours, but the sentiments embedded in Islamic daily prayers, which curse Jews and Christians respectively as under Allah’s wrath and gone astray, can have no place in a Christian church, even if recited in the cadences of classical Arabic.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.