Islam: The Great Challenge to Christian Evangelism of Our Times
- Friday, July 05, 2013
The issue of Islam is never far from our headlines. Early in his administration, President Barack Obama put the issue of Islam front and center on the international stage. His visits to Islamic-dominated lands and his public statements to the Muslim world have raised a host of questions at home and abroad.
In a speech to the Turkish parliament, President Obama declared: “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.” He went on to say that “our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.”
But the president also spoke of his “deep appreciation for the Islamic faith.” Here is the statement in context:
"I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them."
At a press conference in Turkey, the president made yet another statement:
"One of the great strengths of the United States is … we have a very large Christian population — we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
Asked to respond to President Obama, I told CNN host Roland Martin:
"I think President Obama rightly said that the United States is not at war with Islam. I think that’s a very helpful clarification. But you can’t take Islam out of the whole civilizational struggle we are in, not only in the war on terror, but, frankly, going back for centuries, coming up with a definition of what a good civilization would look like and how a society ought to be arranged."
I do think that President Obama was correct in stating that the United States is not at war with Islam. This is not only important in terms of international diplomacy, but also in terms of constitutional authority. The government of United States has no right or authority to declare war on any religion.
We can understand the political context, especially as the president was in Turkey. Given the confusions rampant in the Muslim world, that is a crucial clarification. Of course, a quick review of the statements of President George W. Bush will reveal that he said much the same thing, over and over again.
The fact that President Obama made these comments in Turkey is very important. Throughout the Muslim world, most Muslims do see the United States as, in effect, at war with Islam. Classical Islam understands no real distinction between religion and the state, but instead establishes a unitary society. Thus, when a foreign power like the United States invades a Muslim nation like Iraq, most Muslims see this as a war against Islam.
While specific forms of government vary in the Islamic world, this general understanding holds true. Unlike New Testament Christianity, Islam is essentially a territorial religion that seeks to bring all lands under submission to the rule of the Qur’an. The president was in Turkey when he made these statements, and Turkey is usually defined in the media as having a secular government. Indeed, the Turkish constitution even requires a secular government. But, as anyone who has visited Turkey knows, this requires a very unusual definition of what it means to be secular.
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