Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Their Blood Cries Out

Roland Clarke

People around the world are struggling to make sense of the horrifying death of ten Christian aid workers in Afghanistan at the hands of Muslims. How is it possible that God-fearing people (the Taliban) could murder charitable workers ministering to needy fellow-Afghans who are too poor to pay for medical services?

Do they not feel any shame? Don't they know that world leaders are seeking to foster mutual respect and tolerance among the various nations, cultures and religions of the world? The fact that these values are honored throughout the world, makes this murder all the more despicable. In other words, it defames Islam.

Year after year we keep on seeing news headlines involving (so-called?) Muslims murdering innocent civilians and humanitarian workers (even fellow Muslims). It is noteworthy that the UN designated 19 August 2010 as World Humanitarian Day. In recognition of this, CNN's lead story reported how aid workers around the world have been attacked and killed in unprecedented numbers (60% increase from 2005 to 2009).

One might presume the Taliban are so hard-hearted that they do not care about dishonor that might seem to come upon Islam – after all whatever opinion outisders may have means nothing to them. However, a few years ago when the Muhammad cartoons caused a bloody furore, senior cleric Mohammed Usman of the Ulama Council in Kabul, Afghanistan, denounced these bloody excesses saying, “these rioters are defaming the name of Islam.” Therefore, I would be surprised if this rebuke did not reverberate throughout Afghanistan. Indeed, this kind of concern has become a sore point with Muslims everywhere.

Those who perpetrate such heinous crimes are increasingly being denounced by peace-loving Muslims as grossly misrepresenting Islam. A notable example is a declaration decrying violence which was signed on 13 August 2010 by 50 Canadian Imams. Because this declaration was so widely endorsed across Canada that CNN described it as virtually a landmark manifesto. Not surprisingly, the spokesman for the Canadian Council of Imams said one of the two main purposes of this declaration was the need to improve Islam's public image.

Naturally there is a concern to improve Islam's image, but one wonders, “Would it not have been wiser for the Imams to address the root problem?” One can understand the ‘root problem’ in either of two ways: 1) Is this declaration consistent with Islam's core values as taught in the Qur'an and the Hadith? 2) Who (or what) inspires such horrifically evil acts? Can one identify these evil doers as accomplices of the evil one? (i.e. Satan the avowed enemy of mankind)

The first question has been dealt with extensively by many other writers. The aim of this article is to comment briefly on the second question. Jesus Christ, whom Muslims revere as a spiritual leader, provided a clue to answering this question when he rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for being like their father the Devil who is “the murderer from the beginning.” (John 8:44) Anyone who schemes how to kill innocent people bears the distinguishing trait of the evil one. If today's leaders had the courage to apply this principle should they not rebuke fanatical religious murderers in a similar way?

A couple years ago I wrote an article exploring this theme. I quoted some Muslim leaders that have denounced – in the harshest terms – so-called Muslims who kill innocent people, whether fellow Muslims or non-Muslims. More importantly, however, this looks at what the scriptures say about Satan co-opting humans to join him in his war against God. It concludes by showing how Satan will ultimately be defeated. If you want to read this article it is available here.

Why do the Taliban kill Christian humanitarian aid workers?

The Taliban and other radical Muslims do not consider Christians working among Muslims as innocent but as guilty. While they may be providing humanitarian help to fellow countrymen, in the final analysis, these Christians are (perceived by the Taliban) as seeking to spread the Christian message. As such they are guilty of subtly leading Muslims away from the faith. Thus the Taliban see themselves as protectors of the Ummah. In effect, they feel that they are doing God a service by killing Christians. But was this not foretold by Christ?

Jesus warned that some of his followers would be martyred by god-fearing fanatics

Jesus forewarned his disciples, “I have told you these things so you won't abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” (John 16:2; Luke 13:12,13) Notice: the latter prophecy is specifically mentioned in the context of end times events. While it may be shocking to see how radical Muslims feel they are doing God a service by killing Christian aid workers, this should not take us by surprise: Christ forewarned us of this.

Martyrdom is an important theme of Revelation – a book which has to do mainly with end-times events. We read in chapter 6 verses 9 & 10; “And when the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their witness. They shouted to the Lord and said, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood?'” (compare Revelation 18:20-24)

Crying out for freedom

If the blood of Abel cried out so also with end-time martyrs. As we conclude this article in memory of the ten who were recently martyred in Afghanistan let us ponder what freedom meant for them. Their lives were a testimony to freedom. As it is written, God called them to “live in freedom ... but don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13) They were willing to work in a very dangerous area, knowing it might require them to lay down their lives sacrificially. This too, they knew would be following the footsteps of their Master, who not only said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends” but then, he did lay down his life sacrificially. (John 15:13)

Freedom of conscience is one of the fundamental human rights that has persistently been violated by fundamentalist Muslims globally. It seems this issue is pricking the consciences of Muslims especially those living in the west. This is evident in the recent declaration by the Canadian Council of Imams who now want to uphold “freedom for all human beings.” This strongly worded statement is in response to atrocities such as the martyrdom of the 10 aid workers.

The problem – in a nutshell – is that these noble sentiments are not consistent with Islamic judicial schools of thought all four of which unanimously penalize apostates from Islam with the death penalty. Presently more than half a dozen Muslim countries have laws criminalizing apostasy as a capital offense. Not only so, in most Muslim-majority countries, those who choose to leave Islam either face threats, are persecuted or they may be killed – whether officially by Shariah law or unofficially by vigilantes.

Therefore, it is dubious, at best, to conclude that Islam, at a constitutional or fundamental level, endorses freedom of conscience. Presumably the Canadian Muslim leaders who signed the recent declaration are sincere in wanting to allow such freedom but there is a serious gap between this theoretical proclamation and what Muslims are experiencing at the grassroots level. Indeed the contrast is so stark that many non-Muslims suspect the declaration is primarily window dressing.

It is interesting to see how the dilemma regarding freedom and apostasy has unfolded in Afghanistan over the last decade. The international community has sought to instill (impose?) a democratic system of governance in Afghanistan. As more time passes there are more doubts as to how much real progress has been made. True enough, there was an initial surge where the allied forces seemingly ‘liberated’ the Afghani people from a conservative (radical?) form of Islamic rule under the Taliban. However, the present government seems to have reached a point where they feel they must negotiate with the Taliban.

Futhermore, in spite of massive collective efforts and humanitarian resources from the UN, one sees little reason to be optimistic. In the judicial arena, for example, there has not been any fundamental change in terms of how Shariah law is being interpreted. Today the unanimous legal verdict is that apostasy is still punishable by death. Incidentally, there was a notable exception in 2006 involving Abdul Rahman who converted to Christianity and escaped being executed because of a legal loop hole. Needless to say, this exception has not changed their fundamental interpretation of Shariah law.

I would encourage you to read the article Apostasy and Freedom which begins to explore some basic aspects Christ's teaching about freedom.

The International Journal of Religious Freedom is highly recommended for those interested in a more in depth analysis of issues pertaining to religious freedom.

If I can be of any assistance please contact me here.

Note: All Biblical quotations are taken from the New Living Translation.