No matter where you stand on this issue, there are vast cultural implications for the wave of new religious freedom laws. Ask yourself, “Is religious freedom ever bad?”
Congressional staffer Brent Budowsky argued in an article in The Hill that it is “highly probable” ISIS will obtain nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass death to use in attacks against the United States. Four-star general John Allen put it even more bluntly, “World War III is at hand.”
One of the unpleasant ironies of being archaeologists and historians of religion is that we can’t see a faith outside of its historical context, which often creates a kind of painful spiritual whiplash. That’s especially true these days for Islam, a religion dedicated in part to understanding God’s revelation to Jesus: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
Muslims say that God’s revelation has proceeded through four great stages. First, God revealed the truth of monotheism to Abraham: There is no God but God. Second, Moses revealed the Ten Commandments to guide moral behavior. Third, God taught Jesus the Golden Rule that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. For Islam, all these men were true prophets. But there was a question that remained to be answered, and that question was how we should love our neighbor? A final prophet was needed to reveal that truth. Mohammed.
With all the horror being created in the world by people calling themselves Muslims, it might be worthwhile to ask what Mohammed taught about loving our neighbor? Did it include mass executions, beheadings of foreigners, and starving and driving innocent civilians from their nations? Keep in mind the Koran is not merely a spiritual document it is a moral and legal ordinance. What would Mohammed think of ISIS destroying churches and mosques, and murdering those who refuse to accept its version of Islam? Is that loving thy neighbor as thyself? The crucial sacred verses (ii:257) instruct:
“Let there be no compulsion in religions.
…If God had pleased, he would have made you all one people. But He hath done otherwise that He might try you in that which He hath severally given unto you: wherefore press forward in good works. Unto God shall ye return, and He will tell you that concerning which ye disagree (v:48). Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (cix:6).”
In fact, perhaps the first document acknowledging religious freedom and tolerance in the world was Mohammed’s charter to the people of Medina, which said, “The Jews who attach themselves to our commonwealth (similar rights were later granted to Christians) shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices: The Jews…and all others domiciled in Yathrib, shall….practice their religion as freely as the Muslims.” He also said, “Wilt thou then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?”
As a demonstration of this tolerance, when Christian emissaries once came to Mohammed he invited them to conduct their services in his mosque, saying, “It is a place consecrated to God.” Meaning their God, too.
In his classic work, The Religions of Man, religious scholar Huston Smith wrote, “Muslims see the record of Christianity as much darker than their own. Who was it they ask, who preached the Crusades in the name of the Prince of Peace. Who instituted the Inquisition, invented the rack and the stake as instruments of religion, and plunged Europe into its devastating wars of religion?” Not Islam. But Christianity.
So, maybe we should ask al-Baghdadi… Who was it who launched jihad in the name of Mohammed? Who instituted the slaughter of the innocent, cast aside the Brotherhood of Islam, used instruments of torture as tools of religion, and plunged the Middle East into devastating religious war? Who was it who drove a stake into heart of Islam and cast its people asunder?
Al-Baghdadi isn’t the first and won’t be the last “Muslim” leader to ignore Mohammed’s words in his farewell pilgrimage to Mecca, where he said, “O ye men! Harken unto my words and take ye them to heart! Know ye that every Muslim is a brother to every other Muslim, and that ye are now one brotherhood.” There have been so many—of every faith–over the centuries who have believed themselves the anointed of God on a holy mission to cleanse the world, but Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and monsters like him seem to want to hurl Islam back to a pre-Koranic inter-tribal morass of violence–to the Days of Ignorance–before the birth of the Prophet.
Slaughtering and persecuting the innocent is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Prophet’s most simple belief: “Turn away from evil with that which is better” (xlii:37).
Amen. Allahu akbar.