Christian Missionary Treatement of Islam

The English dictionary defines 'lie' as: intentional false statement, imposture, be deceptive, convey a false impression. If one were to say it is the methodology of the Christian missionary to lie about Islam, this claim would have a ring of truth to it. Their endeavours have not only left Islam as a misunderstood religion in the West, but also one that is mistreated. This methodology has as its origin a seldom-publicised statement of Paul in which he is happy to proclaim: 'If through my falsehood God's truthfulness abounds to His glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner.' (Romans 3:7) Paul felt little reluctance in spreading 'falsehood' so long as the end result achieved the greater glory of God. One will never know, therefore, whether his claimed vision of Jesus on the Damascus road, his appointment as preacher to the Gentiles, and the other teachings he propagated in the name of Christianity were all part of this use of 'falsehood' or not. He would have done well to take into consideration another Biblical text: 'A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.' (Proverbs 14:5) Paul, by his own admission, proves himself not to have been a faithful witness. How much better later Christian missionaries fared as 'faithful witnesses' will be discussed below. Nevertheless, this does not make for a promising start: Paul, the champion of Christianity, admitting to the use of falsehood.

Missionary efforts in preaching the Gospel are hardly worthy of emulation. In 1795 the London Missionary Society was formed, its immediate attention focused upon the Pacific; two years later a convict ship bound for Australia put the first missionaries ashore on Tahiti. It was four years before any of them learned enough of the local language to be able to preach a sermon to a puzzled though sympathetic audience. The Tahitians built houses for them, fed them, and provided them with servants galore, but after seven years not a single convert to Christianity had been gained. The missionaries opted for a more brutal tactic and gained the upper hand by helping to reduce the local chief to an alcoholic and then offered him backing in a war against other islands chiefs by supplying firearms (the enemy having only wooden clubs to defend themselves). Assistance was provided, however, on the condition that all the islanders would have to accept Christianity once victory had been gained. The whole nation was converted in a day! With their power base firmly established in Tahiti, the missionaries moved swiftly to the outer islands. The methods they employed were as before. A local chieftain would be baptised, crowned king, introduced to large quantities of alcohol and left to the work of converting his own people. Chieftains who put up any form of opposition were quickly shown the might of the missionary forces. Where no resistance was found, a native teacher supported by a half dozen missionary police would take over an island within a week. (Norman Lewis, The Missionaries, Arena 1989, pp.10-15)

The missionaries had little need to take recourse to the use of falsehood in Tahiti. The natives were easy prey for the military strength the missionaries were able to muster. Where, however, the target audience was not so easily convinced or where little or no inroads were being made, it was time once again to make use of Paul's motto - 'falsehood' - in whatever form was most appropriate. The missionary attack on Islam, for the most part, was to follow this strategy.

The earliest Christian reactions to Islam were much the same as they have been in modern times. The approach often takes a severe attitude in condemning whatever a Muslim believes, including the whole of what he believes about God and, in particular, what he believes about Jesus Christ. Regarding some of the early authors who wrote against Islam, Normal Daniel asks: "It is natural to ask how authors whom we can neither patronise as foolish nor condemn as unscrupulous could consistently have misrepresented facts, regularly crediting ridiculous fantasies. This applies particularly to their treatment of the events of Muhammad's life, but to some extent also to the whole of their attitude to Islam. We cannot just excuse them as ignorant." (Norman Daniel, Islam and the West, Oneworld Publications 1993, p.255)

It was the works of authors of this calibre that Christianity was to use in its attacks on Islam, authors who 'misrepresented facts' and worked within the sphere of 'ridiculous fantasies' - Paul's motto comes to mind yet again! There is very little that the neutral observer can do under such circumstances. Who does he believe?

The methodology used by these authors is further described by Norman Daniel: "All writers tended - more or less - to cling to fantastic tales about Islam and its Prophet... The use of false evidence to attack Islam was all but universal." (ibid, p.267) He goes on to explain: "At the worst there was the assertion of the fantastic, and its repetition without discrimination; at the best there was the selection of only those facts that served the purpose of controversy." (ibid, p.268)

All of this comes as no surprise. "Islamic institutions," Daniel continues, "were treated as selectively as the life of Muhammad... Yet the more sober accounts of Islam resemble the more sober biographies of the Prophet in that actual facts were manipulated by selection and omission, by exaggeration and invention and misapplication." (ibid, p.269)

A further passage from Islam and the West will help to shed more light on the treatment which was being meted out to Islam: "The Christian canon of Muslim behaviour, that is, the received Christian opinion as to what Muslims actually did, was partly formed by the tendency of misconceptions to snowball, and to confirm as well as to add to one another. Mere repetition is enough to bring unshakeable conviction; and once it had been asserted that Islamic teaching was sexually lax, every example of laxity would be noticed from that moment, and, once notified, attributed to the doctrine. If we suppose that there were an equal number of similar offences committed by Christians and by Muslims in any given time, in the former case they would be seen as having occurred in spite of the doctrine, so that each individual case would be an exception, and in the latter it would be assumed that doctrine was the cause of whatever happened." (ibid, p.270)

This is a very acute observation that is still valid today. Whatever a Muslim is seen to be doing, reflects upon Islam itself: terrorism, murder, violence, wherever these occur with possible Muslim involvement, the automatic response is that it is because Islam permits it, rather even encourages it. All of this without onlookers making the slightest referral to the religious teachings of Islam itself. People seem to take it for granted that an alien society (which for many is what Islam is) is dangerous, if not hostile. Apparently (and history has shown this to be the case) under the pressure of their sense of danger, whether real or imagined, a deformed image of their enemy's beliefs and intentions takes shape in men's minds. This invariably contrasts with what the other party actually believe and what they say they believe, but by this stage this has little effect in changing people's preconceived ideas; the enemy must not be allowed to speak for itself. (ibid, p.12, slightly adapted)

Under such circumstances, only those matters favourable to one's own argument are broadcast and those favourable to the other party either ignored or distorted. Norman Daniel further explains how this occurred in regards to Islam: "Not only in treating the life of Muhammad and the sexual institutions of Islam, but in all aspects of that religion, facts were exaggerated, sometimes out of little or nothing, and were often distorted almost beyond recognition; sound information was regularly discarded for unsound. Only in matters apparently favourable to Christianity was a very high degree of accuracy achieved, as, for example, in treating the Qur'anic beliefs about Christ and his mother." (ibid, p.270)

To misrepresent another religion for fear of people converting is one thing, but to do so to one's own in the hope of gaining converts is another. Christian missionaries, unable to convince the Panare Indians of the Colorado valley to accept faith in Jesus Christ took to compiling books for the natives to read in their mother tongue, this was accomplished during 1975 and 1976. It was soon realised, however, that before the Indians could be made to accept repentance and salvation one had to give them something to feel guilty about. The missionaries came up with an ingenious, yet underhand, solution - translate the New Testament in such a way so as to implicate the Panare Indians in Jesus' death! Gone from the Bible were Judas's betrayal, the Romans, the trial, and Pontius Pilate. The text now read at the appropriate places: "The Panare killed Jesus Christ, because they were wicked. Let's kill Jesus Christ, said the Panare... They laid a cross on the ground..." etc. The New Testament continued: "God will burn you all... God will exterminate the Panare by throwing them on the fire... 'Do you want to be roasted in the fire?' asks God. 'Do you have something to pay me with so that I won't roast you in the fire? What is it you're going to pay me?'" One does not have to think hard in order to realise what payment was being demanded; namely, unquestioning submission to the missionaries' demands, the abandonment of their traditional lives and their customs, and the acceptance of Christianity. The Indians were terrified. The first Indian woman came forward and said: "I don't want to burn in the big fire. I love Jesus." (Adapted from Norman Lewis, The Missionaries, Arena 1989, pp.188-192)

The end had justified the means and, as far as the missionaries were concerned, the Indians had attained salvation in Jesus. The fact that they had to distort their own Bible to achieve their goal was of no consequence. Interestingly, we are not told whether they continued to use the very same distorted Bible when further teaching the Indians - if so, the Panare Indians would certainly have had a very unique and warped understanding of the life of Jesus. Paul's motto springs to mind!


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