Earlier in the week, I castigated dozens of Christian leaders for their response to 138 Islamic scholars who wrote an open letter to Christian leaders worldwide. You can read the post to catch all the ins and outs, but for me the basic problem with the Christian leaders’ response is in the area of discernment. It looks to me like the Christian leaders, many of whom are very influential in mainline and evangelical churches and denominations, just didn’t do their homework on the Islamic scholars’ letter and therefore assumed nothing but good intentions were built into it. The fact is, as I showed in that post, the Islamic scholars quoted Koranic verse that condemned Christians as deserving Allah’s wrath, so the Common Word letter amounted to a call to embrace Islam. Furthermore, by apologizing to Muslims for events long in the past such as the Crusades and by asking for mercy from God using Islamic phrasing, the Christian leaders were, perhaps unwittingly, doing much more harm than good.

Well, just as the Christian church isn’t a monolithic entity (a fact entirely lost on the likes of Iran’s president, who thinks the Catholic pope is his ace in the hole against Methodist President Bush), there are Christian leaders and groups who get it when it comes to Islamic practice, the use of language and in particular that Common Word letter from the 138 Islamic scholars. One of those is the Barnabas Fund. On November 28th, they published their own reaction to the Common Word letter, and it bears no resemblance at all to the letter signed by the group that I criticized.

The Barnabas Fund’s letter is here. The Fund does what Rick Warren and the other Christian leaders should have done, first examining the backgrounds of the 138 Islamic scholars (many of whom have radical links and opinions) and then goes almost line by line in examining the Common Word letter’s contents. Here’s a sample.

On the surface the letter looks like a well intentioned and urgent plea for a better understanding between Muslims and Christians, so as to avert an apocalyptic war between the two largest religious blocs in the world.

If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace . . . the very survival of the world itself is at stake . . . So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us.

However, the letter goes on to lay the blame for all wars in which Muslims and Christians are involved on the actions of Christians.

As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them – so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes. [emphasis added]

This implies that the war against Islamist terrorism is a global war of Christianity against Islam, and that Christianity is the aggressor against Islam (which is the radical Islamist view). There is no sense of sorrow or remorse for the wrongs inflicted by Muslims on Christians historically, or indeed currently in many Muslim lands. There is no recognition that in many places things may be the opposite, with Muslims oppressing Christians and driving them from their homes (e.g. in Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan). There is no mention of the Christian communities in Muslim lands suffering other kinds of persecution and discrimination. There is no admission that Muslim actions could have played any part in the alienation between Muslims and Christians.

The liberal Muslim leaders who signed the letter seem to have agreed with the Islamist argument which accuses all Christians of a tendency to animosity, hatred and aggressiveness towards Muslims. So an apparently moderate appeal for reconciliation actually contains a subtext of warning and threat: “Do as we say, and you can have peace on our terms.” This in fact is the normal meaning of peace in Islam – peace for those who submit to Islamic rule (and war for those who do not).

Classical Islam teaches that the world is divided into two parts: Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) where political power is in the hands of Muslims, and Dar al-Harb (the House of War) which is the rest of the world. With this in mind, the “Open Letter and Call” is seen to be reminiscent of the traditional Islamic approach to non-Muslims outside the House of Islam. This approach consisted of a “call to Islam” (i.e. a call to convert to Islam) including the threat that if the non-Muslims do not convert they will be subject to a destructive military attack (jihad) aimed at subjugating Jews and Christians, and annihilating other non-Muslims. Hence the name “House of War” for non-Islamic territory. Only if the non-Muslims embrace Islam or submit to Islamic political power can they avert the attack. In the light of this tradition, the 2007 Muslim warning to non-Muslims about how to avoid war can be read in a very different way. Do some of the Muslim signatories see it as the traditional call and warning before an imminent attack on non-Muslims, an attack intended to win Islamic supremacy? The very word “call” in the title of the document drops a large hint in this direction, at least to Muslim readers.

For the Christian leaders who signed the apology letter, the above is how discernment is practiced.

When you have a few minutes and if the topic interests you, read the Barnabas Fund’s critique of the Common Word letter. It’s well done and very revealing.