All across the Muslim world, we see buildings burning, mobs pressing in on security forces, men and boys chanting anti-American slogans, and the American and other Western nations’ flags being burned. And all this is happening, so the media says, because of a YouTube video that portrays the prophet Mohammed in a negative light.
Whether or not this video initially caused these outbreaks of violence is uncertain, but one thing we know for sure: fundamentalist Muslims don’t take kindly to people mocking things they hold sacred. For that matter, I’m sure Muslims of all stripes would be offended by their religion being mocked.
Now it is understood that these reactions are over the top and unacceptable under any circumstances. Additionally, they show us something of the inherent problem with Islam itself: It is violent. It has been from Mohammed’s time until now. That’s not to say that all Muslims or even most Muslims are violent; they aren’t. I believe most Muslims are peace-loving people who just want to get on in life like everyone else: pay their bills, raise their kids, enjoy their family, and be happy. That is certainly what I’ve found to be the case with my Muslim friends. Yet, sadly there is this element within Islam that believes hating and even killing the enemies of Allah is a noble and righteous obligation. The reality is we have at least two different types of Muslims: those who are peaceful and willing to coexist with people of other faiths or no faith and those who are hostile and at war perpetually with the enemies of Allah.
Since we have Muslims with different worldviews—some friendly, some hostile—we need to be careful not to generalize and give the impression that all Muslims are the same, i.e. hateful and hostile toward all things Western or not Muslim. And we need to do our best through friendship and love to show them the beauty, glory, and supremacy of Christ over all other gods.
This brings me to my main point: Although these reactions throughout parts of the Islamic world are inexcusable and intolerable, we as Christians should never intentionally provoke others to wrath. A video portraying Mohammed as a womanizer, a buffoon, and a child molester will only serve to hinder our attempts to bring Muslims to faith in Jesus. Burning the Quran and attacking the traditions of Islam are to me as counterproductive to our goal of winning people for Christ as was someone telling me (when I was a Roman Catholic) that the Pope was the antichrist, the Mass was an abomination, and Mary wasn’t a perpetual virgin. Quite frankly, those were fighting words, and when I heard them it only caused me to dig in my heels and resist any attempt to get me to “accept Jesus” and be saved.
Think about it. Islam is both a religion and a culture with strong family connections. What is one of the easiest ways to offend a person? Say something disrespectful and derogatory about their religion, culture, or family. That will do it. You’ll lose them in an instant. We need wisdom, grace, and winsomeness as we approach those of other faiths if we expect them to make any progress toward the gospel. Of course, at some point, we will have to say things that will be potentially offensive and difficult for Muslims to accept, but their receptivity will have a lot to do with how we approach them in the first place.
On this very point, we can learn a great lesson from the apostle Paul. When sharing with the idolatrous Greeks on Mars Hill, he did not start with accusing them of blatant idolatry, but rather after observing the many idols in the city he said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).
He commends them for their religious fervor and devotion and then proceeds to tell them about the true God. Paul was not disrespectful of their culture or even of their false religion. He was sensitive, seeking to draw them in rather than push them away. God, help us to be more like that in our day!
So here’s the word: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders [Muslims] … Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).