On war, are we following Jesus or Muhammad?

Jan 2, 2018 by

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I recently read through the Quran to understand my Muslim friends a bit better and, perhaps, to find a few interesting historical notes about Islam. Instead, an unwelcome realization about fellow Christians started to dawn on me.

One doesn’t go long till we realize (unsurprisingly) that Muhammad’s view of war, fighting and killing enemies is the polar opposite of what we see Jesus teaching His followers & practicing.

But what was jarring to observe as I progressed is that many Christians who justify war seem be using the Quran’s justifications for war and violence, almost verbatim. This leads to a disturbing conclusion: If Christians justify killing using arguments so closely aligned with the Quran, and in contradiction to the teaching of Jesus, are they following Jesus or Muhammad when it comes to attitudes about war?

The Quran’s view of war

Using the Jewish behavior in the Old Testament as justification to require fighting

2:246 Have you not considered the notables of the Children of Israel after Moses? When they said to a prophet of theirs, “Appoint a king for us, and we will fight in the cause of God.” He said, “Is it possible that, if fighting was ordained for you, you would not fight?” They said, ‘ ‘Why would we not fight in the cause of God, when we were driven out of our homes, along with our children?” But when fighting was ordained for them, they turned away, except for a few of them. But God is aware of the wrongdoers. (Location 587)

Eye for eye and life for life is God’s rule

5:45 And We wrote for them in it: a life for a life, and eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, and ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and an equal wound for a wound; but whoever forgoes it in charity, it will serve as atonement for him. Those who do not rule according to what God revealed are the evildoers. (Location 1542)

 

5:33 The punishment for those who fight God and His Messenger, and strive to spread corruption on earth, is that they be killed, or crucified, or have their hand and feet cut off on opposite sides, or be banished from the land. That is to disgrace them in this life;… (Location 1515)

 

16:126 If you were to retaliate, retaliate to the same degree as the injury done to you. But if you resort to patience — it is better for the patient. 127 So be patient. Your patience is solely from God. (Location 3909)

War is ordained for God’s people and war is sometimes good for you

2:216 Fighting is ordained for you, even though you dislike it. But it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you like something while it is bad for you. God knows, and you do not know. (Location 517)

 

2:190 And fight in the cause of God those who fight you… 191 And kill them wherever you overtake them…If they fight you, then kill them. Such is the retribution of the disbelievers. 194 …Whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same measure…” (Location 471)

Fighting and killing to free the oppressed is justified

4:74 Let those who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter fight in the cause of God. Moreover fight in the cause of God, and then is killed, or achieves victory, We will grant him a great compensation. 75. And why would you not fight in the cause of God, and the helpless men, and women, and children, cry out, “Our Lord, deliver us from this town whose people are oppressive, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Protector, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Victor.” (Location 1224)

It is imperative to build up a powerful military

8:60 And prepare against them all the power you can muster, and all the cavalry you can mobilize, to terrify thereby God’s enemies and your enemies, and other besides them whom you do not know, but God knows them. Whatever you spend in God’s way will be repaid you in full, and you will not be wronged. (Location 2502)

It is a responsibility to fight and kill to avoid persecution

2:217 They ask you about fighting during the Holy Month. Say, “Fighting during it is deplorable; but to bar others from God’s path, and to disbelieve in Him, and to prevent access to the Holy Mosque, and to expel its people from it, are more deplorable with God. And persecution is more serious than killing. They will not cease to fight you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can. Whoever among you turns back from his religion, and dies a disbeliever — those are they whose works will come to nothing, in this life, and in the Hereafter. Those are the inmates of the Fire, abiding in it forever. (Location 517)

 

8:39 Fight them until there is no more persecution, and religion becomes exclusively for God. (2464)

Killing in the name of justice is justified

17:22 And do not kill the soul which God has made sacred, except in the course of justice. If someone is killed unjustly, We have given his next of kin certain authority. But he should not be excessive in killing, for he will be supported. (Location 3967)

Jesus and New Covenant view of war

What about using Jewish behavior in the Old Testament as justification to require fighting?

Matt. 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

What about an eye for eye and life for life?

Matt. 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Are Christians sometimes commanded to war and fight in Jesus’ New Covenant?

James 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

Should Christians encourage government leaders to build up a powerful military? Or do so themselves?

No, there is no biblical suggestion to do this, in either the New Testament or Old Testament. In fact, even the Old Testament warns God’s people against doing this and instead encourages them to trust in God.

Is it a responsibility to fight and kill to avoid persecution?

Mattt 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

 

1 Peter 2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously…

In conclusion

If Christians justify war and killing using arguments so closely aligned with the Quran, and in contradiction to the teaching of Jesus, are they following Jesus or Muhammad? Are our views about how we should treat our enemies closer to ISIS than Jesus?

(Quran quotes from Quran in English: Modern English Translation Clear and Easy to Understand)

Matt Landis lives with his wife, Rosalyn, in Ephrata, Pa., and attends Calvary Mennonite Fellowship, a Mid-Atlantic Mennonite Fellowship congregation. He blogs at Mennonite Minute, where this post first appeared.


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  • Aaron Yoder

    Matt, this is an excellent article! Thank you for concisely and bluntly asking the questions which need to be asked in our day when “rumors” of war and hatred appear to be increasing.

    • Matt Landis

      Thanks

  • Harvey Yoder

    Excellent piece, though one could of course find many Old Testament references that are very militant.

    • Matt Landis

      Thanks for that feedback. And on OT violence: certainly.

      Not necessarily the point of the above article but an interesting possible question to explore: Does American Christian pro war thinking conform closer to OT/Jewish or Quranic thought? Based on a quick comparison chart I started to make, possibly the latter.

  • Ross Bender

    Thirty years ago while serving as a volunteer Mission Associate with EMM I took a seminar in the Koran taught by Dr. Mahmood Ayoub at Temple University. This was on the recommendation of David W. Shenk, then the Home Ministries director.

    The first day of class I introduced myself as a Mennonite and Dr. Ayoub immediately asked “Do you know Bill Klassen?” I had certainly heard of him, since he taught for some years at Associate Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, but I didn’t know him personally. It turned out that Ayoub knew him from some interfaith peace groups they had both participated in.

    My paper for the class was on “Peace Theology” in the Koran. Unfortunately I no longer have the paper, but there are many passages in the book that serve to limit the ferocity of war, including doctrines regarding truces, the treatment of subject populations (including Christians), that there should be “no compulsion in religion,” and “If thy enemy moves toward peace, you shall too, placing your dependence upon God.”

    Whether our holy books are more warlike than those of others is certainly a question worth pondering, and discussing with proponents of other religions.

    • Matt Landis

      I would agree that there are Quranic prohibitions that limit violence and even go beyond what some (many) Christians, even in the 20th century, have seen as necessary. For example: 4:93 “Whoever kills a [fellow] believer deliberately, the penalty for him is Hell, where he will remain forever.” I am not an expert on the Quran, but it would have saved a lot of heartache in the 20th century if Christians would have (at least) obeyed surah 4:93

      I considered adding this concept to the article when originally writing it, but decided to focus on one idea and keep is simpler. Thanks for the nudge.

  • Rainer Moeller

    I see that the obvious answer has already been given: Christian war justification follows the OT.

    This is not a modern discovery and it is not rocket science. These things were well known – that’s why a lot of Lutherans, some Pietists (Brethren!) and even some Anabaptists distanced themselves from the OT and Quakers distanced themselves from Biblical literalism at all.

    On the other hand, the re-judaization of Christian thinking – which historically began with Calvinism/Puritanism and has found its peak in Neo-Conservatism – has allowed to blur this distinction.

    (Anabaptists like Ted Grimsrod try to combine OT literalism and pacifism, but I think that this is a hopeless attempt.)

    As Ross Bender correctly said, Islam saw itself as “the house of peace” partly because it was occupied with peacemaking between the Arab tribes who tended to make war out of trivial incidents. Islam and Judaism combine peacemaking within the community and fighting against outward opponents. But in praxi Islam evolved even more peacemaking efforts than Judaism.