A Messianic Rabbi Calls for Christian Humility and Perspective in Talking About Muslims

March 1, 2014

Here I am calling for some measure of humility from Christians who are quick and eager to generalize about Muslims and the Koran.  The person to whom I am responding was making global statements about the Koran, Muslims, and violence.  We have all heard such rhetoric.

In this response, I am calling for some sort of civil ethics that I find lacking in much discussion on this matter. This is something of an open letter. Perhaps you don't agree with me. That's fine. Perhaps I am wrong, that is also fine.  But I get rankled by certain things and sometimes I just have to speak up. This is one of those times.

Do you think it right for you and I as non-Muslims to presume to state opinions about what the Koran teaches and how Muslims in general interpret it? There are so many authors and pundits out there spouting hysteria about Muslims, selling big. There are plenty of Jews who discount the New Testament for similar reasons. Recently Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, one of the largest synagogues in the USA, wrote about why he could not believe in Jesus because for example, Jesus calls us to hate our mothers and fathers. Now you and I both know an answer for that, but doesn't he have the same right to quote from the New Testament and say what Jesus really meant as others do in writing about what Muslims believe about the Koran? And as for killings, hundreds of thousands, even millions of Jews have been killed by people brandishing crosses, often led by clergy. The Waffen S.S. had "God with Us" on their belt buckles.

Daniel Pipes who speaks articulately and with some authority on the dangers of Islamic Fundamentalism also says this:

Christians developed the abiding tropes of anti-Semitism, (such as greediness and ambitions to world domination), and historically Christians killed most Jews. Therefore, Jews regularly fled Christendom for Islamdom. In 1945, this pattern abruptly changed. Christians came to terms with Jews, while Muslims adopted both the old Christian themes and murderousness. Today institutional anti-Semitism is overwhelmingly a Muslim affair. One result has been a steady reverse exodus, with Jews now fleeing Islamdom for Christendom.

Notice please that Pipes is reminding us that for 1900 years Christians were the world's most efficient Jew-killers, doing so in the name of Christ. You will say that the New Testament didn't teach them to do that. This makes no difference, because the New Testament did not stop them from doing so either.

Now, you will say, "Well, these were not real Christians." Jews will not say the same. These people went to church, they had priests and baptisms and sacraments, and we cannot expect the Jewish people to draw delicate theological differentiations. The Crusaders killed Jews while singing Christ we Adore Thee. So by the same standards by which you are judging the Koran and Muslims, Jews judge the New Testament and Christians. My whole point is this: it is simply wrong for someone outside of a community to stand in judgment over that community's holy texts and its people on the basis of the carnage wrought by a minority of that community's members. You will say that there are Muslims who say what you are saying about the Koran's commands to kill the infidels, and its interpretation. And I will say there are Christians, like Martin Luther, and Saint John Chrysostom  and too many others to name, both ancient and modern, who called for the annihilation of Jews on the basis of the Bible.

I just want to call off the flaming torches and the pitchforks and call for a little humility from Christians who take an absolutist and alarmist and condemnatory approach to the Koran and Muslims in general while claiming the same approach to be illegitimate when Jews use it when judging Christians, and their sacred texts, while referring to the rivers of Jewish blood that have been spilled in Jesus Holy Name.

4 comments on “A Messianic Rabbi Calls for Christian Humility and Perspective in Talking About Muslims”

  1. Finally! I hear so much blatant hate talk regarding Muslims. How are we expeted to see Muslims embrace Jesus while hating them in His name? I was at Wal-Mart with The wife and her friend. I saw a woman and her three children. She was in hijab. The friend walked up to them and in a very loud and obnoxious style said "Jesus loves you". I could tell the mom was uncomfortable and the kids were scared. I felt so embarrassed I walked over said A salaam aleyckem, and apologized for this hurtful intrusion into their space. She said shokran, it meant something to her. Anyway..I feel you frustration. Christianity needs to come down off its high horse. We all need an injection of tznius.

  2. I was prepared to not like this, but your approach is unassailable: fairness in light of history, and a modicum of humility.

    That isn't to diminish the categorical inferiority of the Qur'an as against the New Testament (I have and read my copy). But from a Jewish perspective, violent acts by Christians over so many centuries appeared to have Jesus' endorsement.

    In fairness, however, the average Christian had little or no access to the Bible prior to Gutenberg, whereas today anyone can obtain a copy of the Qur'an. Not all "holy books" are created equal.

  3. Well written and bold article Rabbi Stuart. You do have a way of ruffling the feathers of Christian piety. Frankly, for personal reasons and for many years I have believed in similar fashion to what you have written here. Many Christian pundits broad-brush Islam and it's Muslim followers in the most hate-filled, condemnatory fashion. If we believe that "G-d is love" then how does it represent one's theology to spread a gospel of hate? How does one love another person into the Kingdom of G-d with xenophobic hate-mongering rhetoric as the tea of choice? Many Muslims view jihad as an internal war of the heart, and would never lift a hand to cause harm to anyone. That said, I do see the Qur'an (I own a copy) as a potpouri of plagerism from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Within the Qur'an I see a phoney G-d, a falsification of Biblical history, and "prophet" whose own history was scandelous. Is that hateful? Or is that honest?

    1. Thank you for your articulate and intelligent comment here Pat. Let me respond to your statement and question, "I do see the Qur’an (I own a copy) as a potpouri of plagerism from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Within the Qur’an I see a phoney G-d, a falsification of Biblical history, and “prophet” whose own history was scandelous. Is that hateful? Or is that honest?" I believe the Bible to be a unique book, one that I have studied and read with varying degrees of intensity for over fifty years, and which I will continue to study with even greater intensity in the remainder of my life. In my view, it has no peer. Nevertheless, we make a mistake when we evaluate the ethical conduct of communities and people on the basis of a comparison of their holy books. This is because people, and religious communities have traditions of interpretation and behavior that are not simply extensions of their holy books, but are rather their traditions of conduct, ethics, and understanding. My point is easy to illustrate.

      Fred Phelps and the people of Westboro Baptist Church have the "right" book. I would guess that besides being people of "the Bible and nothing but the Bible," they are likely also King James Version only people. Yet their conduct and their interpretation is an abomination. I went to school with the great Jazz Musician Yusef Lateef who radiated a gentleness and humility such as I have rarely encountered. Or take Kareem Abdul Jabbar, another Muslim: he too is a marvelous, gentle, ethical man. There can be no doubt that these Muslim men themselves associated with communities of Muslims that reflected and nurtured their values and behavior. So who would you rather have as your neighbor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Fred Phelps?

      Similarly, on the web you can find the most hate-filled rantings about the Talmud, all 62,000 folio pages of it, generally using mistranslations, fabrications, and recycled diatribes from the 13h century. Yet people who wouldn't know a Talmud from a Torah write "authoritative" screeds about what the Talmud says about Jesus, Christians, sex, or whatever. Such people are completely unaware that the Talmud is a vast sea of discussion where the purpose is not to find a proof text or an authoritative opinion, but rather to hone the ethical discernment and behavior of the community through vigorous communal discussion nurtured by life-long study and centuries of disagreement. Still there are those who abominate the Talmud, fools that they are. But the Jews, with their Talmuds, were living lives of peerless ethical purity and service to God when the crown heads of Europe were illiterate and sleeping with their siblings, if not killing them and their own children.

      I would rather be next door neighbor to a Mormon church than Westoboro Baptist, even though I favor Westboro's holy book. Wouldn't you? I would rather a time machine drop me into an Orthodox Jewish community in 15th century Europe than most anywhere else, wouldn't you?

      Finally, regardless of what we might think of someone's holy book, it is at least rude and boorish to speak as publicly. stridently, and accusingly on such matters as has become fashionable with some. I think it discredits the faith such persons claim to be exalting. And knowing what a classy man you are, I am sure you agree.

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