American Evangelical Islamophobia: A History of Continuity with a Hope for Change

From Fuller Seminary’s reflections on Christian-Muslim relations

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Colonial Americans had no idea that many of the slaves on their shores were actually Muslims. The famous Boston pastor Cotton Mather once quipped, “we are afar off, in a Land, which never had (that ever heard of) one Mahometan breathing in it.”2 Yet they felt themselves to be knowledgeable about Islam through the proliferation of sermons and books on that topic. The other source was the reality of Americans, along with Europeans, who were enslaved by the “Barbary Pirates” of North Africa.3 Already in the 1670s, several stories of North American captives caught the attention of the colonists, but especially that of the appointed royal governor of Carolina, who was abducted in 1679 and later freed by ransom. His narrative has only survived in fragments, but what stands out is “the cruelties of the Muslims” and the power of his prayers, which also influenced his captors.4

Captivity stories from North Africa were so common that many beggars on the streets of colonial America claimed to have been captured by the Barbary pirates, hoping to elicit more sympathy. Yet these stories also fueled a longstanding industry within Christendom including polemical writings about Muslims and Islam. One particularly influential book, Humphrey Prideaux’s, The True Nature of Imposture Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet, was published in London in 1697, with seven subsequent editions. Years later, American editions appeared in Philadelphia (1796) and Fairhaven, Vermont (1798), no doubt connected to the nascent U.S. government’s troubles with the Barbary powers at that time.5

We know that Prideaux’s book was widely read in the American colonies, because from the early 18th century on, and for the first time, Muhammad’s name in print rarely appeared without the epithet “impostor.” Prideaux’s message was hardly new, but this Anglican theologian’s main target was the Deists, whose central critique of Christianity was that it was fraudulent. By holding up Islam as a plain case of religious forgery, he hoped to defend Christianity’s integrity. From the start he anticipates accusations of demonizing Islam, but he promises to “approach Islam judiciously.”6 That said, he had little first-hand knowledge, and what he did think he knew was often wrong—but wrote he did, and people on both sides of the Atlantic absorbed it as truth.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FULLER STUDIO

 

 

 

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Jewish and evangelical Americans are divided over plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

nikkiThe United Nations General Assembly isn’t alone in its lack of support for the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

On Thursday, the body overwhelmingly rejected the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The move is a rebuke of the administration’s decision that many have warned could undermine the peace negotiations Trump promised during his presidential campaign.

But some of the most vocal critics are closer to the issue.

Only 16 percent of Jewish Americans support moving the embassy to Jerusalem immediately, according to AJC’s 2017 Survey of American Jewish Opinion. Slightly more than a third — 36 percent — favor moving it “at a later date in conjunction with progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.” But a plurality — 44 percent — disagree with moving the embassy all together.

Nearly 170 Jewish studies scholars from American colleges and universities signed a statement expressing “dismay” at Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:

“Jerusalem is of immense religious and thus emotional significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. It is the focus of national aspirations for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope one day to see a world in which all inhabitants of the land enjoy equal access to the city’s cultural and material resources. Today, unfortunately, that is not the case.

A declaration from the United States government that appears to endorse sole Jewish proprietorship over Jerusalem adds insult to ongoing injury and is practically guaranteed to fan the flames of violence. We therefore call on the U.S. government to take immediate steps to de-escalate the tensions resulting from the President’s declaration and to clarify Palestinians’ legitimate stake in the future of Jerusalem.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

 

A God by Any Other Name: Evangelicals and Allah (Part III)

In part two of this series we examined early Christian responses to Islam.  We move the story now to America starting with America’s first theological superstar, Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards and His Missionary Disciples

 

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Profiles with Christian and Islamic symbols

            Luther’s paradoxical view of Islam as monotheistic and idolatrous; heretical and borderline Christian was echoed in the writings of other Protestant thinkers who followed in Luther’s wake, including America’s celebrated eighteenth century theologian, Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards’ primary focus and passion was revivalism with the belief that what was happening in America during what came to be known as the First Great Awakening would soon break forth in other parts of the world as a herald of the arrival of millennial glory.  This led Edwards to develop a deep interest in other religions in hopes of finding a way to extend revival fervor outside the boundaries of Christendom.

       Edwards read voraciously about other religions; he knew of, tried to get and perhaps         read, many of the travelogues, dictionaries, and encyclopedias of religion available at the        time.  The books included in his ‘catalogue’ include George Sale’s translation of the    Qur’an.[1]

Sale, whose eighteenth century English translation of the Qur’an was the best English rendition of the Arabic original, made no hesitation in promoting the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.   He stated it clearly in his introduction.  “How much soever Muhammadans are to blame in other points,” he said, “they are far from being idolatrous, as some ignorant writers have pretended.”[2]  This sentiment is echoed in Sale’s extensive and relatively accurate (for the time) coverage of the origins and teachings of Islam in the preface to his translation. The assumption throughout is of a common Christian/Muslim deity.

The fact that this was one of Edward’s primary sources for information about Islam suggests that he had access to a far more accurate and thorough treatment of Islamic history and teaching than Luther did.  His interest in other religions also led him to develop his own formulation of the patristic concept of  prisca theologia which says that vestiges of true religion can be discerned in non-Christian religions.[3]  This would indicate that Edwards should have been more open to finding commonalities between Islam and Christianity than Luther had.  But Edwards, like Luther before him as well as many other orthodox Protestants of his era, read Islam primarily through an eschatological lens; the left arm to the Catholic right arm of the anti-Christ. “Edwards’ interest in Islam,” says historian Thomas S. Kidd, “had primarily to do with its place in eschatology, its inferiority to Christianity, and its role in the on-going debates with Deists.  He made Muslims prominent in his millennial theology, arguing that as the millennium approached they would be destroyed.”[4]

FULL ARTICLE FROM ECCLESIO.COM

The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity — Then Lost Her Job

16mag-16hawkins-t_ca1-superjumboThree days after Larycia Hawkins agreed to step down from her job at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill., she joined her former colleagues and students for what was billed as a private service of reconciliation. It was a frigid Tuesday evening last February, and attendance was optional, but Wheaton’s largest chapel was nearly full by the time the event began. A large cross had been placed on the stage, surrounded by tea lights that snaked across the blond floorboards in glowing trails.

“We break, we hurt, we wound, we lament,” the school’s chaplain began. He led a prayer from the Book of Psalms, and the crowd sang a somber hymn to the tune of “Amazing Grace”:

God raised me from a miry pit,
from mud and sinking sand,
and set my feet upon a rock
where I can firmly stand.

Philip Ryken, the college’s president of six years, spoke next. His father had been an English professor at Wheaton for 44 years, and he grew up in town, receiving his undergraduate degree from the college. “I believe in our fundamental unity in Jesus Christ, even in a time of profound difficulty that is dividing us and threatening to destroy us,” he told the crowd. “These recent weeks have been, I think, the saddest days of my life.” It was the night before the first day of Lent, the 40-day season of repentance in the Christian calendar.

Wheaton had spent the previous two months embroiled in what was arguably the most public and contentious trial of its 156-year history. In December, Hawkins wrote a theologically complex Facebook postannouncing her intention to wear a hijab during Advent, in solidarity with Muslims; the college placed her on leave within days and soon moved to fire her. Jesse Jackson had compared Hawkins with Rosa Parks, while Franklin Graham, an evangelist and Billy Graham’s son, declared, “Shame on her!” Students protested, fasted and tweeted. Donors, parents and alumni were in an uproar. On this winter evening, the first black female professor to achieve tenure at the country’s most prominent evangelical college was now unemployed and preparing to address the community to which she had devoted the past nine years of her life. As a Wheaton anthropology professor, Brian Howell, wrote in January, the episode had become “something of a Rorschach test for those wondering about the state of Wheaton College, evangelicalism and even U.S. Christianity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE 

Evangelical Christians Countering Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

NASHVILLEThere’s been a lot of negative campaign language about Islam this election season—calls for banning Muslims from entering the US and for patrolling Muslim neighborhoods. But there are also serious attempts to oppose anti-Muslims rhetoric. Correspondent Kim Lawton reports on efforts in Nashville, Tennessee to counter hateful speech by building personal relationships between Christians and Muslims. She talks with Rev. Josh Graves, pastor of an evangelical megachurch and author of How Not to Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America, along with Muslim community leaders who are participating in the bridge-building efforts.

LINK TO PBS VIDEO HERE 

Why Everyone Should Study Islam – A Christian College Student’s Advice for all Americans

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Editor’s NoteSimran Jeet Singh is an Assisant Professor in the Department of Religion at Trinity University.  This essay was written by his student as a part of a class assignment on why people should study Islam.  

My name is Bethany, and I am a collegiate athlete, sorority girl, and dog lover hailing from a Christian family in Bethesda, Maryland. This summer while driving to a morning swim practice I made the mistake we all make once in our driving career. While searching for a power bar in my bag, I let off the brake without noticing and rolled into the bumper of the jeep Cherokee in front of me.

I pulled over to the shoulder, grabbed my water bottle and went out to give my sincere apologies to the other driver for the unexpected “love tap.” What greeted me on the other side of my door however, was the opposite of love. I walked straight into a torrent of Arabic and Muslim phrases being thrown at me faster than I could even react. I was confused and speechless.

I was not a part of the Islamic faith in any sense, and who was this person antagonizing me for it? I could not look this driver in the face, and my eyes wandered to the water bottle in my hand with my name gracefully stretching across its width in large Arabic letters.

My big sister in my sorority had made it for me after finishing her Arabic class last semester. It was then that I put two and two together.

It was a big misunderstanding. The driver had seen the Arabic and automatically jumped to conclusions. Confusion quickly turned to anger, and I turned my back, got in my car and pulled back into traffic. I cried the rest of the drive to practice, not out of sadness or anger, but out of disappointment.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS BLOG 

Can Wheaton College survive its never-ending controversy over Muslim and Christian worship?

wheatonWhen Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins stands before a group of her peers next month for their judgment, at stake will be not only Hawkins but the future of evangelicalism.

Or that’s how it can feel these days on the campus of the Illinois college sometimes dubbed “the evangelical Harvard.” Evangelical debate has been intense about whether the hijab-wearing political science professor went too far in saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The debate has raised larger questions: How large is the evangelical tent, and who decides who is included?

There is no official hierarchy for one of the country’s largest faith communities, and the debate over whom can be labeled an evangelical is particularly relevant as presidential candidates clamor for the “evangelical vote.”

This week, Wheaton’s faculty council, which represents the college’s 211 faculty, unanimously voted to recommend the administration withdraw its efforts to fire Hawkins and to end her administrative leave, citing “grave concerns” about the process.

The dispute is splitting those affiliated with the college, the alma mater of evangelist Billy Graham and considered one of the standard-bearers of U.S. evangelicalism. Alumni have flooded the college with letters and the evangelical magazine Christianity Today — without picking a side — warned that the issue “threatens to undo” the college.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST