October 27, 2023

Religion, Worldview and the Crisis of Islam: Part 1

Twenty-five years ago, most people in our culture were unconcerned with Islam. It seemed remote, irrelevant and inconsequential to the majority living in Europe and North America. Few ordinary people had any substantive experience or acquaintance with its doctrines or cultural forms, and most would have considered much of the Islamic world to be backward, largely poor, and critically, benign as far as the West was concerned. That situation has been radically altered. The ideas, practices and ambitions of the Islamic world have found their way to the heart of Western Europe with large-scale immigration over the past thirty years, and high birth rates establishing populous Islamic communities in major cities. These communities are typically poorly integrated with their host society, so that some significant metropolises in Western states have become essentially socially Islamic. As such, a once-familiar cultural landscape has been quickly and profoundly changed. Today, over one hundred Shari’ah courts operate in the UK – courts which have little regard, if not contempt, for British law. One of the most powerful and visible politicians in the UK, London’s mayor, is an outspoken Muslim as is the first minister of Scotland. Muhammad is the number one name for new baby boys in the UK and Britain has become one of the world’s most important centres of Islamic finance. One in ten people in the UK under the age of twenty-five profess a Muslim faith.

With this massive social shift has come the inevitable reality of Islamic culture. There are now thousands of mosques, Islamic centres and schools across Britain and Europe; in some places, halal food is the only type of meat sold and served; Islamic banking is being offered by major financial institutions; and Britain is dealing with the highest FGM (female genital mutilation) levels in Europe.[1] Whilst most Muslims in the West want to live in peace and security to quietly raise their families, prisons and universities are becoming hotbeds for Islamist extremism and one in five Muslims in the UK have reported some level of sympathy for ISIS or Hamas. In recent weeks following the barbarous terror attacks on Israel there has been a huge increase in incidents cold-blooded.[2] Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Marseilles, Bradford and Luton have Muslim populations of between 25-30% and many more European cities have Muslim populations between 10-20%.[3] In recent years the violent terror that has been unleashed across Europe, shocking naïve politicians and startling complacent and ignorant communities – including the 2005 London bombings[4] and cold-blooded murder of Sir David Amess, a British politician in his own constituency office in 2021[5] – has often been distanced by Western elites from the claims of Islam. The result is that many ordinary people in the West are finally beginning to ask about the real nature of Islam. What does it teach about God, truth and reality? who was Muhammad? how did he live? and what were his claims? Further, can the Islamic ideology filling headlines accommodate itself to Western society and pursue long-term peaceful co-existence in the West – a context that has historically enjoyed expansive freedoms and the rule of law, bequeathed by a Christian worldview? And for contemporary political life, will Islam adapt itself to the secular pluralism of our cultural elites?

Despite these vital questions, too few civil leaders are willing to speak openly and critically about the nature of Islamic thought, its regional or global goals, or its vision of social order. Its fundamental doctrines, cultural motives and objectives, and its historic incompatibility and therefore conflict with a Christian understanding of life and law are avoided, ignored or dismissed as right-wing propaganda. As a result, most people (including many Christians), are largely unaware that Islam is a total world and life view rooted in a particular concept of God and man, where the man Muhammad is viewed as the last and greatest prophet and exclusive vehicle of a final revelation so that, not just his ideas and teaching, but his precise manner of life, are to be followed in detail by the devout Muslim. These are things that can be learned from a brief conversation with a Muslim friend, neighbour or colleague.

Given that the life and character of a seventh-century nomadic trader and military figure from the Arabian desert is depicted as the perfect example of life to be followed, Islamic culture looks backward historically and socio-culturally to paradigms and norms that resist both critique and change. This obviously has significant implications for all aspects of future cultural development within Islam, as well as its relationship to western societies. As Gustave von Grunebaum has observed:

It is essential to realize that Muslim civilization is a cultural entity that does not share our primary aspirations. It is not vitally interested in analytical self-understanding, and it is even less interested in the structural study of other cultures, either as an end in itself or as a means toward a clearer understanding of its own character and history.… The study of error and imperfection for their own sake does not deserve a supreme collective effort. The non-Muslim world is interesting enough, but, in a sense, obsolete, its foundations outmoded ever since the final revelation manifested through the Prophet the changeless norms of individual behaviour and social structure … this attitude leads to an extreme concern with power and success in history, or more precisely, with success in history as the validation of revelation – an outlook that represents the sharpest possible contrast with the outlook that governs Christianity’s encounter with history.[6]

This incisive summary statement has far-reaching implications. Of particular significance is the contrast highlighted between the Christian and Islamic encounter with history. For much of biblical history, the progress of God’s truth, His called-out people, and His redemptive covenant of grace appear to be halted – losing ground in the conflagration with sin, injustice and evil. Indeed, in the climactic moment of that conflict in the life of Christ, the cross initially appears a moment of total defeat – which is one of the reasons why most Muslims deny that Jesus was ever crucified. Despite the physical resurrection, ascension and session of Jesus Christ to the right hand of all power and authority, the Christian is called to take up their cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24-26), knowing and expecting that history will involve for the Christian and the church periods of suffering, exclusion, loss, decline and great trial (1 John 3:13). In fact, seasons of hardship are basic to the social expectation of Christians because the biblical worldview teaches that sinful mankind is at enmity with God by nature and is thereby hostile to those that represent Him (Mark 13:13; Rom. 8:7). As such, human nature needs to be renewed by grace (Eph. 2:2). So, whilst the Christian should labour humbly and faithfully in service to Christ in all cultural life, seeking to bring all spheres under the Lordship of King Jesus, the historical results of that work are purely in the providential and sovereign hands of God and His purposes for the nations.

For Christianity, then, biblical revelation is neither validated nor refuted by periods of apparent defeat or success for the Christian religion in any given era or cultural moment. This is not so for the Muslim.[7] As the contemporary Indian Muslim thinker, Rashid Shaz acknowledges, “We Muslims live with a paradox. If we are really the last chosen nation entrusted to lead the world till the end of time, why is it so that we are unable to arrest our own decline?”[8]

Moreover, because the ground motive[9] of Christianity is that of Creation, Fall, and Redemption in Jesus Christ, a redemption of the totality of creation by the power of the Holy Spirit, unlike Islamic faith, it is of vital interest in Christian thought to understand all cultures, their history, philosophy and civilization. This is in order to gain a greater understanding of God’s work in creation and history and to better appreciate the place of those cultures in the plans and purposes of God in the historical-cultural aspects of life. This knowledge adds not only to the Christian’s self-understanding but also to his ability to witness with relevance and clarity concerning the gospel of the kingdom to others – especially with regard to how the redemption of Jesus Christ fulfils the religious longings inherent within all cultures and among all peoples. Furthermore, this attitude leads (and has always led) toward cultural development, growth and maturity, by taking and applying what is good and which conforms to God’s Word-revelation and purpose from man’s historical and cultural experience – wherever it may be found. This fundamental difference between the Christian worldview and that of Islam is foundational to an analysis of the driving motive within Islam and its cultural implications.

[1] “The Muslim Pound: Celebrating the Muslim Contribution to the UK Economy,” Muslim Council of Britain, last modified 2013, http://www.mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/The-Muslim-Pound-FINAL.pdf.

[2] ‘Antisemitic incidents quadruple in UK,’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67085625 accessed, October 2023

[3] Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” Pew Research Center, last modified January 2011, http://www.pewforum.org/2011/01/27/the-future-of-the-global-muslim-population/.

[4] ‘London bombings of 2005’ https://www.britannica.com/event/London-bombings-of-2005 accessed October 2023

[5] ‘Sir David Amess, ‘Man found guilty of murdering MP.’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-61026210 accessed October 2023

[6] Gustave Von Grunebaum, Modern Islam: The Search for Cultural Identity (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1962), 55-58.

[7] Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 160-161. This passage illustrates how certain victories in battle were considered divine confirmation of Muhammad’s status and of God’s favor, whilst interestingly, serious defeats were not interpreted as divine disfavor.

[8] Rashid Shaz, cited in Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2010), 159.

[9] The term ‘ground motive’ is used by the reformed, Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd to refer to the driving force, motive or core actuating idea at the root of any given worldview.

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