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Is Islam inherently violent?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Bangladeshi Muslims chant slogans in front a policeman in a protest rally during a nationwide strike in Dhaka on Sunday, September 23. The day-long strike called by 12 Islamist groups are protesting against a US-made anti-Islam film and a cartoon published in a French weekly on Saturday that they say insults the Prophet Mohammad, local media reported (Credit: Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

Protests against an anti-Muslim movie have spread to Greece, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.  A government official in Pakistan has offered $100,000 to anyone who would murder the maker of the film.

By contrast, a Muslim leader known as the “imam of the Internet” has called for the violence to end: “Loyalty to Islam and our prophet, may peace be upon him, is better done through explaining to humanity how tolerant Islam is, and not through surrounding embassies.”  Another prominent Muslim intellectual agreed: “The violence must be condemned unconditionally.  To attack innocents, diplomats and to kill indiscriminately is anti-Islamic by its very nature.  Muslims cannot respond to insults to their religion in this way.”

If Islam’s leading theologians say this mayhem is anti-Islamic, why is it continuing?  Contrast such violence with Christian response to The Last Temptation of Christ.  Unlike the obscure anti-Muslim YouTube video produced by an unknown filmmaker, the 1988 Martin Scorsese movie was a major motion picture released around the world.  It depicts Jesus in a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene and later with Mary and Martha.  It also shows him kissing other men on the lips and arguing with Paul when the Apostle proclaims him to be the Son of God.  Some ministers urged their members to boycott the film, but there were no violent demonstrations of any kind.

Is this because Islam is inherently violent and Christianity is inherently pacifistic?  Muslims reading this essay would likely remind us of the Crusades.  So, why such different responses to blaspheming videos?

I’m writing today’s cultural commentary from Florence, where I’m leading a study tour of Italy.  This remarkable city is known as the “birthplace of the Enlightenment,” a cultural movement that led eventually to the Reformation in Europe and the separation of church and state in America.  Many in the Muslim world have yet to experience such a movement.  To the violent protesters, a movie produced in America makes all Americans complicit in blasphemy against Islam—hence the attacks on our embassies.  To Christians in America, where freedom of religion and freedom of speech are cherished rights, a filmmaker who blasphemes Jesus is better ignored than attacked.

Our Lord taught us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Biblical peace requires a right relationship with God, others, and ourselves.  When we promote such peace, we position ourselves to be “blessed” by our Lord.  In fact, we so imitate our Savior that others call us “sons of God.”

What relationship in your life requires a peacemaker today?