Eboo Patel is the author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America and founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. He recently penned an opinion piece for CNN entitled “How Evangelicals Can Learn to Love Muslims.” Caught my eye. Patel marvels at the evangelical political embrace of conservative Roman Catholics, a group that just 60 years ago would have faced the same kind of suspicion and scrutiny that Mormon presidential candidates deal with. In the piece, Patel describes Islam as “the new Catholicism.” To make his point, Patel quotes no less an “evangelical” authority than Norman Vincent Peale:
“Our freedom, our religious freedom, is at stake if we elect a member of the Roman Catholic order as president of the United States,” Norman Vincent Peale told a conference of evangelical leaders in September 1960.
Materials handed out at the Peale conference claimed ‘Universal Roman Catholicism’ was both a religion and a political force whose doctrines were ultimately incompatible with the American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy.
Then Patel makes his analogy:
Replace “Roman Catholic” with “Muslim” and “Church hierarchy” with “caliphate” in those pronouncements and today we are witnessing a similar energy directed against a different faith community using largely the same categories.
In today’s parlance, Kennedy was part of a stealth jihad meant to replace the U.S. Constitution with sharia law and practicing taqqiyya to mask this dawa offensive.
As they believed about Catholicism then, many evangelicals now view the very nature of Islam as incompatible with American values. Evangelicals rate Muslims lower on a “‘favoribility” scale than any other religious group, according to “American Grace,” a book by scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell.
Fear Not, Talk Much
Of course, Patel is correct to note American Evangelical skepticism about Islam. There exists a great deal of fear about Muslims in general and Muslims in government in particular. And to be sure, much of the fear rests squarely on the shoulders of muscular ignorance. Our fear fuels a reactionism that not only destroys relationships and hurts people but also robs us of genuine opportunities to make Jesus known. I wrote The Gospel for Muslims with this concern in mind.
And, it seems to me that the optimism fueling Mr. Patel’s article ought really to be considered and embraced instead of the fear that exists. Patel highlights the effort of some evangelical pastors to broker inter-faith dialogues with Muslims. I believe in such dialogues. When we talk to one another we discover that people are people and sometimes there much in common. Dialogue makes a lot of sense and tends to make a lot of friends when done well. I’m grateful for the many Muslim friends the Lord has given me both in the U.S. and in the Middle East. Christians, of all people, should excel at loving their neighbors. Sounds like something Jesus once said.
Is Islam Liberal or Pluralistic?
But, there was, in my opinion, a serious flaw in Mr. Patel’s article. Mr. Patel tends to think of Islam in philosophically liberal terms. He conceives of an Islam that grows comfortably in pluralistic soil. It’s a hopeful point of view, but I don’t know that history and contemporary politics bear it out. Islam is a stubbornly pre-Enlightenment religion. It boasts of its essentially unchanging nature–which is both a strength (for traditionalists and conservatives) and a weakness (for progressives and true liberals). Islam continues to be a missionary religion (like Christianity) with the goal of bring Dar Al-Islam–the house of Islam–to every area of life everywhere Muslims live. That, of course, brings us to Sharia, the codification of Islamic law, which one Muslim writer describes as ”the epitome of the true Islamic spirit, the most decisive expression of Islamic thought, the essential kernel of Islam.” Another Muslim writer says simply: “The Sharia is Islam’s constitution.” The main sources of sharia were the Qur’an, the sunna and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Islamic case law with its aversion to “innovation,” and some elements of culture and tradition. On the face of it, we’d have to conclude that to the extent Muslims look to bring a society under sharia then to that extent it remains incompatible with the non-establishment and separation clauses.
If the issue is simply whether or not we’ll love our Muslim neighbor, then Patel rightly encourages us to actually talk with them and get to know them. But if the issue is whether or not Muslims are accepted in American circles of political power, then question becomes: Is sharia compatible with American-styled Democracy? Patel’s piece blurs these two very different discussions. We may very well develop friendships and loving encounters with our Muslim neighbors–and we should. But whether Islam as a political theory exists cozily with genuine Liberalism remains another matter. American Christians need to think in not only loving terms about their Muslim neighbor but also in careful ways about Islam as a religion and political philosophy.
In my opinion (which won’t get you your favorite latte at Starbucks), Islam and sharia pose significant threats to American-styled political discourse and practice. I say that not because I’m a zealot for preserving “western” values and civilization, or because I think any individual person from a Muslim background needs to be suspected or opposed. I write this because I think most westerners continue to be uninformed and unsuspecting regarding the internal dynamics of Islam. Pluralists and political liberals tend to respond not with knowledge of the faith and its import for political philosophies, but with obfuscating platitudes about “accepting everyone.” The issue is not should we accept our Muslim neighbors and friends, but whether we should unknowingly slide toward a very different political and cultural vision of society and freedom. Patel confuses these two things. We need a more careful meeting of the minds.
- Sharia, at best, is theocratic, and theonomistic at the very least. If the sharia is the “constitution of Islam” then sharia offers a very different legal footing than American constitutional law. American constitutional law grounds itself in natural law and individual liberty when the Declaration of Independence declares, “We hold these truth to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But Islam declares that Allah rules all things and all societies must be brought under the rule of Islam.
- Because sharia leaves no room for modernization or flexibility in interpretation it leaves no room for healthy pluralism. With the Islamic bias against “innovation” and “interpretation,” the Sharia remains largely locked into the body of rulings and ideas set within the first 300 years of the Muslim era (9th century).
- Because Sharia incorporates cultural consensus into law, the certain cultural practices enter into the legal framework of countries unaware. In our context, when we refer to “cultural practices,” we do not necessarily associate such things with a particular religious practice. So a person may participate in a cultural milieu without our necessarily making any religious assumptions about that practice at all. But in Islam, culture is religion and religion is culture. So to admit elements of sharia into the legal framework of any country like the United States under the guise of “cultural practice” or “multiculturalism” is to give ground to sharia and to establish a constitutional footing quite at odds with the assumptions the country was founded upon. We cannot admit cultural practices into western law without opening the gate to all of Sharia. Think, for example, about Muslim women in France wearing veils for driver’s license. Most people think of the veil largely as a cultural preference or practice issue. But the adorning of veils is as much about sharia and its legal requirements as it is about culture. Protecting the wearing of veils begins the process of extending other sharia-inspired practices in Western societies.
- Advocacy for sharia sometimes reaches a point where it can no longer tolerate difference or accept minority status. If Muslim communities come to define sharia as the only acceptable framework for living freely and worshipping freely as Muslims, then we can understand why substantial Muslim minorities in places like the Phillipines and Indonesia look to secede from the wider country to form separate Muslim states. And if living under sharia becomes the only acceptable way to live, we understand why militarism and force become acceptable strategies for some people. Such Muslims view aggressive advocacy and militarism as self-defense or acceptable jihad because their view of sharia does not include western-styled pluralism.
If I’m correct (and I’d be interested in your feedback), then there’s much to critically evaluate while we show ourselves loving. Love doesn’t eliminate the need for discernment, and discernment should not stunt our love.
 Cesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances (New York: Barron’s, 2003), p. 201
 Ibid, p. 160.