Hesham A. Hassaballa’s Column
Earlier this month, Rev. Jerry Falwell wrote a commentary piece, “The Loving Rebuke,” published on http://www.falwell.com, about the recent “rebuke” meted out to him and other Evangelical Christian leaders over their remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Leaving aside his arguments about whether or not the rebuke was appropriate, I was intrigued by this statement: “While we reach out with the Gospel, we must also retain our right to disapprove of the scores of violent occurrences that take place–frequently at the cost of Christian lives–at the hands of militant Muslims worldwide. The politically-correct notion is to pretend these actions do not exist so that the lives of American missionaries and fellow believers in Muslim nations will not be placed at risk. As Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of the Washington Times, said, the translation is, ‘We’ve got to say how peaceful they are, or they’ll kill us.'”
This statement reveals a great deal of Falwell’s thinking and logic when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Rev. Falwell, it seems, reflects upon all of Islam the violent acts of a minority of Muslims. I got this sense even further when I read this in his article: “[Robert Spencer of the Free Congress Foundation] said if evangelical leaders are going to be challenged in their interpretations of Islam, then those who are intent on promoting it as a peaceful religion need to confront the ‘unpleasant facts’ about Islam too.”
What are those “unpleasant facts”? The scores of “violent occurrences that take place…at the hands of militant Muslims worldwide.” Or, again quoting Robert Spencer, “the truth that ‘Christians continue to be persecuted all over the Muslim world.'”
Let me be clear: I defend Rev. Falwell’s right to disapprove of the violent acts committed by militant Muslims around the world. In fact, I support this stance wholeheartedly. That is not the issue I take with Rev. Falwell. Had he stopped at the condemning the violent acts of militant Muslims, there would be no problem. No, he declared on CBS’ program “60 Minutes” that Muhammad is a “terrorist” who set an example opposite to that of Jesus and Moses. It is this conclusion that I have a problem with.
I have written about this before, namely, that the sins of Muslims should not be confused with the tenets or doctrines of Islam. Yet, this line of thinking continues to rear its ugly head. Whenever Rev. Falwell is asked to clarify his statements about Islam, he usually cites the actions of Muslims around the world. The two are not related.
Islam’s other Evangelical Christian critics follow a similar logic. In an interview with Beliefnet.com, Rev. Franklin Graham said, “There was this hoo-rah around Islam being a peaceful religion–but then you start having suicide bombers, and people start saying, ‘Wait a minute, something doesn’t add up here.'” He connects suicide bombers–murderous Muslims, no doubt–with Islam as a religion.
Gary Bauer, another conservative critic of Islam, wrote: “When Muslim Palestinian suicide bombers kill innocent Israeli civilians, the knee-jerk reaction in the media and among some apologists for radical Islam is to blame the policies of Ariel Sharon or Israeli settlements or you just fill in the blank.” Again, he cites the actions of Muslims to explain why it was wrong to bash Falwell et al for criticising Islam.
I absolutely agree that militant Muslims use Qur’anic verses to justify their murder of innocent people. But the Bible has also been used to justify the enslavement of Africans (a large minority of whom were Muslims), or racial discrimination here in the United States. Scores of Orthodox Christian Serb soldiers systematically raped tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim women in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The members of the Klu Klux Klan are devout Christians. Can I conclude that Christianity is a racist and “evil” religion? Of course! not. Islam is not accorded this same treatment, and it is wrong. I would have thought that this fallacious thinking would have been eradicated by now. From my mouth to God’s ears.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN). He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for Best Religion Book by the Religion Communicators Council.