Apologetic Paper (Jay Smith) – May 1995
- An attraction to Islam: its social laws
- A Christian response
Let me ask you a rather astonishing question. If you had the option to become a Muslim, what would be the reason you would point to for your decision? Or to put it another way, is there anything within Islam which you would find attractive? For most Christians, this question is rather disturbing, but for the sake of argument, try to think of any areas that you might consider which could possibly induce you to become a Muslim? Meanwhile let me continue with my introduction.
In this paper I would like to discuss the attraction of Islam within a social context. You may ask why this area is particularly important? Its importance lies not so much in its applicability as an area of apologetics, for there doesn’t seem to be any specific area of contention here. Yet it is important, because it is this area which most of those who have converted to Islam point to as their primary reason for converting.
Now we can return to the question with which I opened this paper. Had I asked you to make a list of those areas which might induce you to become a Muslim, you too would have probably put this criteria near the top of the list.
Let’s be more specific.
You may doubt why Islam’s Social Laws are the primary reason for converting to Islam. Yet, during my research in the U.S., amongst converts to Islam, most of those whom I talked to had good, solid arguments for why they felt it should be the highest motivation for converting.
A number of the individuals felt that Islamic Social laws are comprehensive, that they are a complete guide to life, and consequently, that they brought about orderly living. They pointed to the fact that people need boundaries by which to live by, especially in Western societies which emphasize catering to special interest groups, while leaving out the needs of the majority. Islam, they felt was the only religion which was giving them these boundaries to live by.
In contrast, quite a few respondents pointed out that Christianity was just not powerful enough to change the evils of modern-day life. In my research in the U.S., the majority of those who expressed this idea were African-American, all of whom lived in inner-city areas of some of the largest urban centers in America. They saw first-hand the anarchy going on all around them, and they justifiably felt that Islam was the only religion which could stand up to the deprivation and violence, as well as the rampant racism found in America today.
A number of those with whom I talked had come into contact with Islam in prison, where they had been reformed by “Muslim brothers” who came weekly for the Jumma prayers and Qur’anic classes. Now that they were “on the outside,” they believed that the disciplined lifestyle, espoused by Islamic law, was the sole reason which kept them from going “back in.” They were appreciative of the local masjids role in driving out drug dealers from their inner-city neighborhoods, and the ongoing campaigns to keep children off the streets and out of gangs.
Another attraction was Islam’s lack of a priesthood. Islam has no medial agents. One will not find a “pope” or even a set of cardinals within Islam. As a result, the believer, they felt, is not dependent on someone else for his relationship to God, and therefore, can go directly to Allah.
A further attraction for new converts was that of Islamic education for young children, “while they were still impressionable.” It was the Muslim schools, they felt, which would reform society and instil just and orderly sets of values upon the next generation.
While doing my research I personally visited four Muslim schools; two Sister Clara Muhammad Schools in Philadelphia and in Washington D.C., and two Qur’anic schools in Baltimore, at the Al Rahman Masjid and the Masjid Ul-Haqq. While the schools seemed to be small and ill-equipped, the children appeared to be well-disciplined and happy. And, not surprisingly, the schools had become the center for other Islamic activities in their local areas.
According to imam Yusuf Saleem, from Washington D.C., though the students did not excel academically, nor perform any better than they had at the public schools, the problems of discipline, crime, and sexual abuse were almost non-existent in these Muslim schools; and that was their greatest attraction.
I made a particular note, that among the respondents to my questionnaire, there were three women who felt that Islam gave them, as women, added fulfilment, for instance, permitting them to own property, while at the same time offering them the best protection from an outside hostile world. While this may surprise some of us, the perception by most Muslims with whom I talked was that, “We take care of our women better than do the Christians.”
David Lamb, the Los Angeles reporter, who wrote the bestselling book The Africans, while living and travelling for four years in Africa echoes this point. He states that one of the best comparisons between a Christian and Muslim country in Africa was the safety of the streets within the larger cities. He felt that he would never let his wife walk alone at night, and sometimes even during the day in most of the larger African Christian cities. Yet, he had no fear of permitting his wife to wander freely within any of the larger African Muslim cities.
Judy and I, during our 5 years in Senegal, a country of 7 million, of which 92% of the population claimed to be Muslim, don’t recall of ever having to fear for the safety of our women. Not once were they ever “cat-called,” and in the entire time there, we remember hearing of only one rape in our town of 350,000 individuals. On this point alone, Islam has proved to far excel Christianity with its care and discipline towards women.
So how do we respond to these views and findings as Christians?
From this discussion it seems that Islam has been, is, and probably will be making a dynamic impact on the world. Many people are coming into contact with Islam for the first time, and are finding that there is something appealing for them. But does Islam really answer all it claims? Is it as attractive as converts seem to testify?
It is imperative that we take this area of attraction, and discuss it from the perspective of a Christian. I realize that Islam is making an impact in the West today. It is claimed that there are 20,000 English converts to Islam at the moment, and that this number is increasing daily by 3-5 converts (note: most of these are western women who marry Muslim men and are required to register their marriage in the local mosque, at which time they are then considered, by Muslims, to have converted to Islam).
I am sure that this impact will continue. But I think converts to Islam are appraising Islam incorrectly, or even, at times, dishonestly. There are, I feel, errors of perception, as well as errors in interpretation. These errors I would like to address in this paper. There are also misconceptions of Christianity’s position which must be redressed. And finally, many of these categories are those which, I feel, Christianity has a stronger claim to, than does Islam.
As Christians living in a Western country, we have to accept and admit that the perception by many here is that Islam meets the social needs of people better than does Christianity. The fact that this category was chosen by converts as, “the primary reason to convert today,” speaks to the success evidenced by Western Islam, particularly within the African-American community in the U.S., as well as the Afro-Caribbean community in England, who have benefited by some of Islam’s social programs.
The picture in the greater Muslim world is quite different, however. Consider some of the most current statistics compiled by Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal in The New State Of the World Atlas, printed in 1991:
According to their research; worldwide, there are 19 countries which will never be able to provide adequate food for their populations. 15 out of the 19 are Muslim countries, and include Afghanistan, UAE, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Western Sahara, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, and Bangla Desh (Kidron 1991:28-29). Of the 12 countries with the lowest record of life-expectancy (under 45 years), 7 are Muslim countries (Kidron 1991:40-41).
Probably more revealing is the “Quality of Life Index” compiled by Frank Kaleb Jansen, of Target Earth in 1989. This index measures mortality rate, male life expectancy and female illiteracy. When one tabulates the countries of the world within this index, one finds that 12 of the lowest 20 countries rated in the world are Muslim, while 32 of the top 40 rated countries world- wide are those which are traditionally considered as Christian countries (Jansen 1989:90-91).
Yet that is only half the picture. When one adds further criteria to this index, such as: education standards, health status, women’s status, defense allotments, economic and demographic factors, as well as political stability and participation, it is interesting to find that out of the top 40 countries listed, 39 are Christian in background, while all of the 23 Muslim countries included fall well below this level, with 5 of the worst 10 countries on the list Muslim countries (Jansen 1989:92-93).
Kidron concurs with these findings in his analysis on the quality of life, finding that whereas all of the Northern countries (made up of all European countries except Portugal and Romania, and including North American, Israel, Japan and Australia) fall into the highest category for the Quality of Life Index (9 and above), not one of the 32 Muslim countries made it into this category. In fact, the majority of them placed within the medium to very low categories. The lowest rated in the world were mostly Muslim countries (i.e. Niger, Mali) (Kidron 1991:50-51).
Other areas were equally dismal. Take for instance Literacy: while all of the Northern countries had 90% and above literacy rates (except Romania, Portugal, and Bulgaria), not one of the 32 Muslim countries even made it into this category. The best had approximately 70% literacy rate, and the rest fell to 10% and under (Kidron 1991:52-53).
Another example is that of Schooling: whereas all of the northern countries had 90% of their children in Secondary school, the best Muslim state had only 50%, with the majority of the Muslim countries falling between 30% and 10%.
Child-mortality showed another dismal failure: All the Northern states (except Yugoslavia, Romania and the USSR) were in the top category for Child Mortality (25 children or under, out of 1,000 children, who died before 5 yrs. of age). In contrast, all of the 32 Muslim states fell into the lower categories (50 children to 200 children out of 1,000 who died before their 5th birthday) (Kidron 1991:54).
Statistics like these point out that Islam in practice has little to show when it comes to its social agenda.
Many Muslims believe that these statistics are not a result of Islamic principles, but are the result of policies instituted by the colonizing powers before they left. Furthermore, they feel that the western banks exacerbate the problem by demanding debt repayment for the loans given out since independence.
While one would agree that some of the blame can be apportioned on the West, one must bear in mind that many Asian countries also came out of similar colonizing environments. Yet they have managed to control their economies and social environment adequately, and in some cases have even surpassed those countries who had colonized them.
Some of the new converts I questioned, appreciated that in Islam there were no priests, and that they, as believers, did not need to depend on a middle-man for their relationship with God. It might have been helpful to know whether or not these converts came from a Roman Catholic background. The hierarchy of priests is not representative of the Protestant community, where the belief in the “Priesthood of all believers;” that everyone is a priest, goes even further than does Islam in incorporating the idea that everyone is responsible for their own faith, and that each individual can have a personal relationship with God, immediately and eternally.
Indeed, it is this belief which is a primary impetus behind the massive push today to translate the Bible into every language on earth, so that every person can go to the scriptures (the Bible) for themselves to read and understand what God is saying to them, rather then depend on a priest for that guidance.
Some converts pointed to women’s issues as their primary attraction to Islam, maintaining that in Islam women can own property, and that they are better protected. It would, perhaps, be helpful for women who believe Islam holds a better record to visit or live for a while in a Muslim country.
Though statistics are hard to find, we do know that, currently, of the 23 countries with the worst records of jobs for women (women making up only 10-20% of all workers), 17 are Muslim countries (Kidron 1991:96-97). Similarly, of the 11 worst offenders of opportunity between men and women, 10 are Muslim states. The widest gaps were found in Bangla Desh, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt (Kidron 1991:57).
Another revealing statistic shows that of the 12 states with the worst records for unequal treatment of girls, 7 are Muslim states. The bottom 3 listed are UAE, Bahrain, and Brunei (Kidron 1991:56).
While one may argue that this is not representative of true Islamic teaching, it does show us how those in Muslim countries treat their women, and what we might expect if we were living in that type of environment.
Those individuals who felt Islam had much to offer the world in women’s emancipation would also do well to read personal testimonies by Muslim women, or those women under Islam’s influence, such as, Betty Mahmood’s ‘Not Without My Daughter’.
They would find that in apportioning inheritance, the Shariah law discriminates against women (Sura 4:7,11), allowing her only half the inheritance of a man. They would also find that women are relegated, almost exclusively, to the home, where they are indeed better protected, but where they also would find little hope in continuing a career that would entail any contact with the opposite sex. As for their maternal rights, many women in the West are not aware that Islam gives the husband legal and ultimate control over any children, upon divorce.
In defense Muslims argue that those men have an obligation under Islamic law to use their money to support women in the family, whereas women have no such obligations, and can use their money however they wish. While this would have been legitimate in a 7th century extended-family setting, it does not reflect 20th century reality. Today, the vast majority of families are managed by women, especially in the West, where the nuclear family as well as the high rate of divorce has forced women to become the glue for the family, many times as a result of absentee fathers. This reality is not reflected within Islamic law, nor is it being raised by many of Islam’s fanatical imams who yearn to take the world back to the supposed “Golden Period” of Islam, a golden period which we now know never existed.
Perhaps, if those who felt women’s issues were an attraction for Islam were aware of these areas of inequality they may come to a different conclusion. One could argue that a locked-up individual (whether in a home, or in a Purdah) is well-protected, but is that a worthy price to pay?
In my discussions with Western women, it is these prohibitive laws as well as the practice by Muslim societies today against women, which, far more than any other, comes under the greatest criticism. In contrast to the emancipation of women in the west, much of which stems from the Biblical call to treat women as Christ treated the church, with love and sacrifice, even unto death; the Islamic example falls far short. While the West cannot be labelled as truly Christian today, it still carries a Christian memory, and it is this memory which elevates women to a role, if not equal with that of men, then at least one of honour and respect in the eyes of the world.
Perhaps the area of Islamic attraction which is the most puzzling is the perception by some of the non-violence within Islam today, that it is a religion of peace. It is difficult to know where the truth lies. While the West documents and publishes its criminal activities openly, the Muslim countries say very little. Lists which delineate where each country stands in relation to murders, sex offenses and criminality include most of the Western countries, yet only 4 Muslim countries out of 32 have offered statistics for the number of internal murders, while only 6 have offered a list of sex offenses, and only 4 have divulged their level of criminality. Therefore, until more Muslim countries are willing to come forward with statistics, it is impossible to evaluate their claims: that Western “Christian” states have more degradation and criminality than that of Muslim states.
We do know, however, that in the 1980’s, of the 14 countries who were involved in ongoing “general wars,” 9 of them were Muslim countries, while only one was a non-Western Christian country.
Though statistics can be numbing after a while, from what we have seen so far, these statistics help point out, rather harshly in many cases, that Muslim countries today are not meeting the basic needs for the majority of their populations in areas such as literacy, food, education, the freedom of expression, health, and in the general quality of life.
The defense can and is made that these are not true Muslim countries, that the individuals who run them are corrupt and therefore are not representative of a true Islamic ideal. Therefore, they should not be used as examples. Yet, these countries make the claim that they hold to Muslim principles, and as such, are the only examples we have today by which we can judge whether or not Islam can provide an adequate social environment in the 20th century.
Moreover, to contend that it is merely corrupt individuals who are somehow responsible for the state these countries are in, is not only debatable, but dishonest. Muslims waste little time in denouncing the sins of western society, maintaining that it is due to Christianity’s feebleness that our countries are in the state they are in. We could just as easily say that Western countries are also run by corrupt and inept administrators, yet somehow these same “corrupt” western societies still maintain a much better record in terms of providing an adequate social environment for their populations than do those who claim to be run along Islamic principles. The fact that many of the very critics of western society are those who choose to remain here and not return to their own countries points to the hollowness of their argument.
The many who considered this category their primary reason for their conversion need to consider these findings more seriously.
Admittedly, the majority of those who chose this category were African-American converts to Islam, who live in some of the most deplorable social environments in America, a country which prides itself in being the richest country in the world, yet finds itself in that rather embarrassing position as the most violent country on earth (according to the latest statistics there are 20,000 deaths by hand-guns per year in the U.S. compared to 263 in Israel, the country which takes 2nd spot).
The Muslim converts cite, “the hypocrisy of the inner-city Church,” as well as their impression that Christians “live their religion only one day a week, when they are at Church.” And they contrast these inconsistencies with another kind of piety, that of the Muslims, who have not only created and sponsor alternative Islamic schools for their children, but who are actively involved with prison ministries, which specifically contacts African-Americans.
Possibly their greatest witness comes from being the most obvious group to stand against and attempt to eradicate the highly-publicized drug and prostitution rings that have run rampant on their streets. These are the “forgotten” inner-city people, and understandably Islam is “scratching them where they itch.”
Islam is also a religion, which, like many cults today, is especially attractive to insecure people, those who need others to make their decisions for them. Its myriad laws and regulations give a prescription for every facet of social life, and can and do affect the “dregs of society.”
While Christianity prides itself in ministering to the poor and oppressed, and has many active examples to which it can point, the perception within the West, and particularly in the U.S. is that it is the religion of the oppressors, a religion for the “whites.”
Many Muslim converts I talked to pointed out that the Islamic Shariah law was best adapted for the problems which exist in the West today. Yet, when I asked them to explain the precepts of Shariah Law, they had difficulty describing what particulars they had in mind, or how they might apply Islamic rules within a Western context.
For those countries who use or aspire to use Islamic Law, further statistics prove revealing. According to Kidron, while only five Northern states (or Western industrialized states) are categorized as “Terror States” (meaning those involved in using assassination, disappearances and torture upon their own population), 29 of the 32 Muslim states fall into this category (the exceptions are UAE, Qatar and Mali) (Kidron 1991:62-63).
Would Western Muslims welcome this sort of law, considering how it can and is being abused in other parts of the Muslim world?
Generally, the primary desire for discipline among those individuals I had contact with was an overriding concern, despite the fact that it could not be defined.
Yet, I found a contrast to this assertion as well. The prison ministries, though they are touted as one of the crowning achievements of the Muslim community because they instil discipline; are successful, it appears, providing the inmates remain in prison.
I asked the imam of the Harrisburg Masjid about his prison ministry, and he cautioned that the program was not going as well as the press inferred, stating:
“In the prisons, the men have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and so they come and listen to what the brothers have to say. They commit themselves to Islam, and before two witnesses say the “Shahada,” and for the most part come regularly to Jumma prayers. Many of them “talk big” about what they will do once they get out of prison; how they are going to reform, and make a better life. The problem, however, surfaces once they get out. These men come out having resided for four or five years in an environment where all their decisions were made for them. Instead of looking to the mosques for help, they revert back to their former lifestyles, and many times end right back in prison.”
The Islamic prison ministry was appreciated by the prisoners, and became a rallying point for them while they were in prison. But once they left that confined environment, and were again back in “control” of their own decisions, out on the street, they had no more use for that ministry, and possibly found its rules and regulations more debilitating then helpful.
This then brings us to the crux of the matter concerning the witness of Islam and Christianity in relation to the social agenda.
While Islam gives people the impression that they can change their lives by changing the way they act, or by becoming disciplined, or by simply adopting new names, it fails to pinpoint the essential criteria for a sincere life-change; a new and redeemed heart, which is not natural at all, but something totally supernatural, and something which Christianity not only claims to offer, but delivers as well. Since we are created in the image of God, it is only He who can bring us back into relationship with Him, taking on His image, and thereby becoming the person He had intended us to be, with the help of the Holy Spirit. That indeed has consequences which are not simply immediate but eternal.
For a while, within the heightened atmosphere of a Muslim madrasa, or Muslim community, where they find support and encouragement, new Muslim converts can improve their life, and many do. But out on their own, where they once again find themselves face-to-face with their own inadequacies, new converts will inevitably find failure, and a loss of hope, and even reversion. In the final analysis, we would have to say that Islam is only a man-made and natural religion.
Christianity on the other hand, gives us parameters and guidelines, or patterns to live by which were instigated and passed on to us by the creator Himself, via the Holy Spirit, reflecting the patterns He had intended from the time of creation.
Is it no wonder then, that the witness of Christian nations (even those who continue to retain only a memory) rings superior to anything Islam can offer? While Muslim nations today fail to offer their populations a decent quality of Life, failing in almost every category researched, the witness of the social programs of Christian nations goes from strength to strength. One need only look as far as the number of immigrants from Muslim lands pouring into the West daily to understand that even they have come to the same conclusion which these statistics provide. Though they may refuse to admit to the authority behind the social laws which regulate life in our lands, they, nonetheless admire the justice and equality which those same laws provide.
That then is where we come in. God has given us the responsibility to be His vice-regents here on earth. With those responsibilities comes the knowledge that we have a God who works supernaturally, changing people from the inside, through their hearts, and they in turn, changing institutions and communities into that which God had intended us to be all along: His children, under His Lordship, bringing about His supernatural Kingdom here on earth. This is truly an attractive social agenda.