By Rev. David Ramirez
Islam is one of the largest religions in the world and is often spoken about in the news media. What do Muslims teach about their faith and its relationship to the government? How does Christ teach differently about the roles of the church and the state? Let’s start with some history to answer these questions:
Mohammed and Mecca
According to Muslims, Mohammed was born about 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca, an important trading center and caravan stop in the Arabian Peninsula. After being orphaned as a young child, he was raised by his uncle. At the age of 25, his fortune changed when he married a wealthy widow 15 years his senior With wealth came comfort and leisure. Mohammed would take time to meditate, often away from Mecca in the hills. On one of these trips in 610 A.D., he claimed that he had a vision of the angel Gabriel, who spoke to him the words of “Allah.”1 Mohammed devoted the rest of his life to spreading the message and teachings of Allah, whom he believed was guiding and speaking to him.2
His early attempts to win followers in Mecca failed miserably. Most Arabs at this time were polytheists. Mecca was a center for idolatry and was made rich by the festivals and trade surrounding idols. Since Mohammed condemned polytheism, he came to be viewed as a nuisance by the Meccans—even his own tribe. Mohammed also tried to reach out to “the people of the book,” as he called Christians and Jews. But they were unimpressed by his teachings.
Consequently, Mohammed relied on persuasion to gain followers and influence while his political strength was weak. He modeled, however, a very different approach when given the opportunity.
Medina and Conquest: Power and Conversion by the Sword
After struggling to gain converts in Mecca and increasingly looked down upon by the leaders of the town, Mohammed accepted an invitation to relocate to the nearby city of Medina. As a neutral outsider, he was asked to be an arbitrator between the competing tribes of Medina. With his newfound power and authority, Mohammed began to draw more followers to his religion. Once he had the ability and strength, he began conducting raids and attacks on caravans (with supposedly divine approval). After taking his own share, Mohammed distributed the loot and booty to his followers, which in turn drew more followers eager for riches.
Mohammed tightened his grip on Medina. He ruthlessly crushed opposition, supporting the assassination of his rivals and the murder of groups who challenged his authority. Eventually, Mohammed defeated even the Meccans in battle. The promise of riches and conquest enticed even former enemies to follow him. Before he died, Mohammed and the Muslims controlled not only Medina and Mecca, but all of the Arabian Peninsula.
After the death of Mohammed, the Muslims continued their wars of conquest. Those who were conquered faced a choice: 1. death; 2. conversion; or 3. submission to their new Muslim rulers that included a special tax for being non-Muslims.
Where Muslims ruled, they sought to establish sharia law. Sharia law is a code of rules and regulations designed to inform every part of life. Sharia law has two sources: 1. the Quran, which contains the messages that Mohammed supposedly received from Allah; and 2. the “traditions” describing the life of Mohammed that his followers later collected. Muslims believe that sharia law is not just to be enforced among Muslims, but also around the entire world.
Muslims who take their faith seriously believe that it is their duty to support the spread of Islam. This includes more than just “Muslim evangelism.” An essential part of spreading Islam is that sharia law is spread by political dominance. The example of Mohammed clearly teaches Muslims to say and do what is necessary to gain power, including an unrestrained use of the sword.
A key difference between Islam and Christianity is that Islam does not recognize the distinction between church and state, or as Lutherans would put it, the two kingdoms.3
We believe that our Lord rules over all things, and that the government as well as the church is a way our Lord rules and blesses us. But we make a distinction between what God has called the government to do and what He has called the Church to do. He has given earthly government the duty to “bear the sword” and to “carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4 ESV) The government should uphold the “natural law” that all men know. (Romans 1-2) The civil government flows from the fundamental unit of society, the family, and the calling of fathers to rule over and protect their families.
On the other hand, our Lord teaches us that His kingdom of grace, that is His Church, is not of this world. He tells Pilate that, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36 ESV) The Church is to be concerned with preaching Christ crucified. It is not to be leading armies, conquering nations, or getting wrapped up in politics.
The reason why Islam cannot recognize this distinction is because it rejects Jesus. There is no Gospel in Islam; it is a religion of law. Mohammed rejected the way to the Father because he rejected the beloved Son of the Father, offered up for us and for our salvation. Islam rejects the one and only true God, who actually descended, lived, died, and rose again—for us and for our salvation. Praise God for sending us the Truth, our Savior Jesus Christ, who still pours out forgiveness through His Church. May He help us be model citizens, resisting evil in the world while we wait for His return.
1 “Allah” is the Arabic word for God.
2 The essence of Islam is: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
3 This is not to say that we believe in an absolute separation between church and state like secularists do. For instance, sometimes the church must preach against what the state is doing.
Pastor David Ramirez is assistant pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, IL. A significant part of his time is devoted to ministry to the youth of the two LCMS churches in Lincoln, Zion and Faith, which have a joint youth group. He is married to Lisa (nee Albury) and has four children. The Zion-Faith youth group enjoys going to HT conferences and reading HT Magazine.