While Christians have long recognized human rights and basic equality based on the natural law, Islam does not.
Out of the mouths of babes come words of wisdom – or, at least, words to ponder. Whether, at age 55, Madonna can still be considered a babe is debatable, but she still has provocative things to say. For example, in a recent Harper’s Bazaar article, Madonna writes:
"As my friend Yaman always tells me, a good Muslim is a good Jew, and a good Jew is a good Christian, and so forth. I couldn’t agree more. To some people this is a very daring thought."
Well, maybe not so daring, seeing as it’s essentially the same view held by a number of high-ranking Catholic dialoguers. Take some remarks made by Fr. Tom Michel, S.J. in his keynote address last October to the USCCB-sponsored plenary session of a Muslim-Catholic dialogue called “Living Our Faiths Together.” Fr. Michel, who served in the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1981 to 1994, said he would have preferred that the gathering be titled “Living Our Faith Together,” since Muslims and Christians can be seen as different branches of one “common faith.” Despite the commonality, however, each faith has its own “special message” to proclaim to the world. Thus:
"Muslims must glory in the prophethood of Muhammad and the Qur’anic message that he brought, just as Christians must glory in the cross of Jesus Christ."
Part of the message that Muhammad brought was that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and that, in fact, the crucifixion story was “a monstrous falsehood” (Koran 4:157). But never mind that – why get bogged down in petty details when we have so much in common?
Fr. Michel’s belief that, by following out their own faith traditions, Muslims and Christians “will find themselves in the same camp” corresponds with Madonna’s conviction that “a good Muslim is a good Jew, and a good Jew is a good Christian, and so forth.” The assumption both make is that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity teach similar ethical values. If so, then good Christians, good Jews, and good Muslims will resemble each other in their behavior. That’s a good assumption to make in the case of Christians and Jews, but Islamic ethics are a different story. In some respects they coincide with Judeo-Christian ethics, but in other respects they decidedly do not. In Islam, right and wrong are largely determined by sharia law, and sharia law is largely determined by what Muhammad allowed and prohibited. Natural law, which is one of the pillars of Western ethics, is not an important element in Islamic morality.
One example of a natural law-based document on which most Jews and Christians can agree is the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1990, however, the 56-state Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – the second largest international body after the United Nations – rejected the Universal Declaration and created its own Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. The gist of the Cairo Declaration is that all human rights are subject to the tenets of sharia, which is to say that most of the rights specified in the UN Declaration are null and void.
There are no universal human rights in Islam. Islamic ethics are dualistic; there is one set of rights for Muslims and another for non-Muslims, one set for Muslim men and another for Muslim women. Sharia law rejects the taken-for-granted Western belief that all human lives are of equal value. Reliance of the Traveller, a 1200-page manual of sharia law that is regularly consulted by Muslims, is instructive on this point. For example, killing a non-Muslim is not a capital crime (o 1. 2), although an indemnity may have to be paid: “The indemnity paid for a Jew or Christian is one-third of the indemnity paid for a Muslim” (o 4. 9). Muslim women rank a little higher on the scale of things. Thus, “The indemnity for the death or injury of a woman is one-half the indemnity of a man” (o. 4. 9). Apostates, however, count for nothing: “There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die)” (o 8. 4). As for children, the value of their lives seems to be up to their parents and grandparents to determine, since there is no “retaliation” (punishment) for “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring” (o. 1. 2). The last rule helps to explain why “honor killings” are so prevalent in the Muslim world.
Likewise, the idea that all human lives are of equal value is foreign both to the Koran and to the voluminous collections of the sayings and doings of Muhammad known as the Hadith. Thus, according to the two most trusted Hadith collections – those of Bukhari and Muslim – the rape of captured women is acceptable (Muslim 008, 3432; Bukhari 3, 34, 432) and fighting and slaying infidels is a sacred duty (Muslim 020, 4696; Bukhari 4, 42, 46).
Madonna’s (and Fr. Michel’s) facile assumption that a good Muslim is a good Christian is a good Jew is belied not only by authoritative Islamic texts, but also by simple observation. As several commentators have pointed out, it is precisely the “good” Muslim that is most likely to pose a threat to Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims. This is not to say that the average devout mosque-goer is a danger to society, but there is abundant evidence that the average Islamic terrorist tends to be of the devout and observant kind. The more thoroughly acquainted a Muslim becomes with his religious obligations, the more likely he will be drawn toward jihad.
It’s often said that jihadists misunderstand their religion, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Most terrorists and would-be terrorists from Osama bin Laden on down to yesterday’s failed suicide bomber know the Koran, and are able to quote from it at length – an ability which many moderate Muslims seem to lack. In fact, the Kenya mall killers spared those who were able to say Muslim prayers or to quote from the Koran, and they themselves took time off from their torture and butchery to pray. Likewise, one of the men who beheaded Drummer Lee Rigby in May in a London street justified his deed to onlookers by quoting the applicable verse in the Koran. And the list goes on. Umar Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” was known in school as “the scholar” for his extensive knowledge of Islam. Faisal Shazhad, “the Times Square bomber,” quoted from the Koran in court and portrayed himself as a “Muslim warrior.” Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, once delivered a lecture on Islam to his medical colleagues. His presentation was peppered with quotes from the Koran and from Islamic authorities. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon massacre, was reported to be a thoroughly devout Muslim who abstained from alcohol, prayed five times a day, and upbraided his friends for not doing their Islamic duties.
It is still possible, of course, to contend that this sort of “lone-wolf” activity has nothing to do with “official” Islam, but official Islam is not so easily let off the hook. Numerous Muslim clerics have been caught on camera praying to Allah to destroy Christians and Jews, while frequent attacks against Christians have been launched from mosques after incendiary Friday sermons. Moreover, even a Muslim seminary can be a dangerous place for a Christian to stumble upon. In 2004, when a teenage Christian boy in Pakistan made the mistake of drinking water from the outside tap of an Islamic seminary, he was surrounded by seminary students and one of their teachers, and was told to renounce Christianity. When he refused, they tortured him for five days with electric shocks, broke his arm, and pulled out his fingernails. He later died of his injuries.
In short, a Muslim’s idea of what it means to be a good Muslim may be quite different from what pop singers and hopeful dialoguers understand by that term. The belief that the path to being a peaceful Muslim is to pray five times a day and study the Koran is widely held among Catholics who write about Catholic-Muslim relations. But judging from the example of numerous jihadists, it might be wise to think twice before urging Muslims to go deeper into their faith. While Muslims and Christians share a common humanity, they do not share a common theology. Islamic notions of right and wrong are shaped by sharia law and thus can differ quite markedly from Christian standards. Contrary to Fr. Michel and the many other professional dialoguers who share his views, a “good” Muslim can turn out to be bad news for Christians and Jews.
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, the Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. He is on the Board of Experts at Aleteia.org.