I have often found James White’s ambiguous attitude regarding violence frustrating. In his latest podcast on the topic, he says “people always say I am soft on Islam. Why am I soft on Islam? Because I dare to recognise that just as there are differences of viewpoints among Mormons..there are liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics…and because I dare extend that (same) truthful observation that is founded in reality and truth to Muslims that (people say) I am soft on Muslims.” (7:21).
He presents two videos from Muslims, one about Muhammad’s peaceful and saintly qualities (Nothing to do with my Prophet) the other about the faithfulness of ISIL to Muhammad’s legacy (audio on the podcast 50:02).
He castigates Christians (1:06:5 on the podcast) for not appreciating that “the sources from which Islam derives its self-understanding are too inconsistent and incoherent to provide a meaningful resolution to the problems we are facing in the world today due to groups like ISIS…Here in these two videos you see illustrated exactly what I have been talking about from the beginning, because both of them claim to be drawing from the Qur’an, from the Sunna of the prophet (Muhammad), from the Hadiths, and coming to diametrically opposed conclusions.”
White says he is not soft on Islam, and refers to his many debates and books in which he demonstrates – and I say, admirably – the “flaws” (White’s description) in Islamic theology. For example, its misunderstanding of the trinity and the incarnation. When, though, it comes to violence, there exists for White “radical” Islam, represented by ISIS, and true Islam represented by the non-violent Muslims. He sings a different, non-ambiguous, tune in his article “Breaking the Cross, Killing the Swine: Truly Thinking About ISIS and the Murder of 21 Copts”:
“Oh sure, I know some of them are doing it just because they love murder and bloodshed and evil. But some of them do it because they really believe Muhammad was a prophet and that Muhammad showed them the way the day he and his cohorts did exactly what they did on that beach…not to 21 Christians but to between 400 and 900 Jews of the Banu Qurayza tribe. Now, I am well aware of the fact that Islamic apologists say this was a just act because the Jews had, allegedly, betrayed Muhammad in the Battle (or, non-battle, in a more realistic sense) of the Trench (AD 627). But the reality is that Muhammad was a man of war, not a man of peace. You are changed when you personally behead someone. The blood may wash off the hands, but it is not washed out of the mind. Muhammad died in 632, so this was done toward the end of his life. The progression of his life was from peaceful monotheistic prophet to warring leader and general, not the other way around. Add in the doctrine of abrogation and you can see why the scholars of Al Qaeda and ISIS and Boko Haram have plenty of material to draw from in forming their theology. They teach that the later revelations abrogate earlier ones (such as the later command not to consume alcohol abrogates the earlier commands which allowed it even though in moderation). Sadly, that means the later sections of the Qur’an, which contain the warfare passages, are considered by most (not all) Muslims in the world to be more authoritative than the peaceful passages that came earlier.”
Here’s the rub: the later revelations are unambiguous. This does not mean that different Muslim camps won’t arrive at “diametrically opposed conclusions” (White above). I explain: The scientific method consists of the following steps:
Ask a Question * Do Background Research * Construct a Hypothesis * Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment * Obtain results * Analyze Your Data * Draw a Conclusion * Communicate Your Results.
With regard to the science of textual analysis (historiography), the stages are similar: ask questions, do research, which requires skills in fields such as linguistics and history, (no, we don’t do experiments), obtain results, analyse the results (data), arrive at a conclusion, and finally communicate our results and conclusions. We communicate in various ways: reports, debates, teaching; and in religion, often, witnessing/defending in the attempt to make converts.
James White is in my book, very good at biblical exegesis and doctrine. And I love him for that. He says that the job of the exegete is to discover the single meaning of the words on the page. So, if someone disagrees with him about, say, the Reformed (Protestant Reformation) assertion that the Bible teaches that one will not desire to trust in Christ unless He first raises one from spiritual death, releasing one from the bondage of the radically corrupt will (Ephesians 2:10 ff`), White will say that such a person has arrived at the wrong conclusion of what is, in truth and reality, the unequivocal meaning of the text.
With regard to the Qur’an, Allah is obsessed with the unequivocal clarity of his revelation, which he can’t emphasise enough:
Qur’an 6:114—Shall I seek for a judge other than Allah, when He it is Who has sent down to you the Book fully explained?
Qur’an 11:1—This is a Book, whose verses have been made firm and free from imperfection and then they have been expounded in detail.
Qur’an 12:1—These are verses of the clear Book.
Qur’an 16:89—And We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things.
Qur’an 24:46—Certainly We have revealed clear communications, and Allah guides whom He pleases to the right way.
Qur’an 27:1—These are verses of the Qur’an—a book that makes (things) clear.
To return to the question of violence and Islam:
Many people know bits and bobs about violence in Islam, but they don’t want to talk about it. They, including many historians? know little about the history of Islam. How did the Middle East go from being Christian to being Muslim? The Sira (Muhammad’s biography) relates that the last years of his life consisted of a plethora of killing and subjugating Christians. This mayhem was continued after he died by his “companions” and relatives, It has never stopped. We were told that Rome fell when German invaders occupied Rome. Not true. The German invaders set up their own version of the Roman Empire, but preserving classical culture. They spoke Latin, hired Roman philosophers, lawyers and teachers to run their schools. The Byzantine (Greek-speaking) Empire took over, and kept the Classical Empire running.
After Muhammad’s death, his Muslim “apostles” – caliphs,companions, relatives went on the rampage in all directions. Preaching the Qur’an? Not on your nelly. They went on a continual Jihad spree, killing thousands upon thousands of Christians – and fellow Muslims. Syria – the epi-centre of Christian culture was destroyed, just as ISIS is doing today to the remaining Christians in Syria, ISIS has excellent mentors. The brutal asssaults went on for centuries in many countries – 540 battles in all. Most historians, and Muslims, can only scratch up 5 battles. In Spain, the heads of Spanish knights were piled so high that you couldn’t see over them.
Classical Christian civilisation was destoyed by Islam. And now the followers of Muhammad want to lop off its remaining vestiges in Europe, which they very well might achieve in the near future – thanks to the effete Europeans themselves, who have practically ditched their Christian heritage.
White is Hard on systematic theology but soft on missiology (making converts). None of White’s dozens of moderated public debates with Muslims has been on how Islam makes converts. Such a debate, if of any worth, will have to deal with Islam’s use of force and violence to bring new members into its fold. And keep them there. The penalty of leaving Islam, or attempting to do so, has been, and continues to be, in many times and climes, slicing off such members from the Umma (Islamic nation) – slicing off heads. In this department, ISIS is following the greats of the “golden” age of Islamic history. If James White wants to continue his friendly debates with Muslims in large public forums – I don’t need to tell him, give missiology a miss.
In conclusion, Islam is bad for Kafirs (unbelievers). But also bad for Muslims; those Muslims, of which there are many, who either/both do not know much, do not want to know much, and do not want to obey much, Islam.