Answering the challenges of Islam
Since the time of Mohammed (c. 570-632) Islam has been one of the major challenges to Christianity and society – politically, militarily and spiritually. By the time of the Battle of Tours-Poitiers in France in 732, the armies of the Islamic caliphate had already secured the ‘imposition by force’ of Islamic culture over a territory almost the size of the ancient Medo-Persian Empire, including Spain (William E. Watson, ‘The battle of Tours-Poitiers revisited’; Studies in Western Civilisation, Vol. 2, 1933).
That defeat for Islam in 732 did not halt but merely slowed its progress. Further Muslim victories, including the fall of Constantinople, brought them to the gates of Vienna in the early 17th century. They were still pursuing Islamic domination, and doing so with some success. Indeed, Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton, a leading expert on Islam, argues that in the medieval world Islam was attractive to some, when compared with the oppressive Roman Catholic dominated West (Lewis, What went wrong?).
Islam’s march halted
But something happened. By the twentieth century ‘the primacy and therefore the dominance of the West was clear for all to see, invading every aspect of the Muslim’s public and, more painfully, his private life’ (Lewis, The Atlantic monthly, January 2002). What happened during those intervening centuries, roughly between 1600-1900?
Some see the military and economic superiority of the West as the reason. But what was the root cause? In his book John Calvin: his life & influence, Robert Reymond contends, ‘Islam’s global march was halted by the sudden appearance of the freedom fostered by biblical Christianity in the sixteenth century in Western Europe’ (p.143).
The ultimate answer to the challenges of Islam will not be Western armies, though God may use them. It will not even be the spread of democracy, although that would be desirable. The answer to the challenges of Islam (politically, militarily and spiritually) will be the gospel – which is ‘mighty in God for pulling down strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4) and establishing Christ’s kingdom in the hearts of people, and therefore affecting the course of history.
The ultimate answer
Today we are being threatened by Islamic terror. How tragic that at this very moment an anti-Christian tide in Western society is threatening to sweep away centuries of religious liberty and silence the gospel here in the West. In his self-destructive blindness, fallen man is trying to destroy his only hope. Muzzling Christians, if that were possible, would be a sure road to the victory of Islam over the West.
How encouraging it is to look back on God’s dealings with his people in the past. At the very time when Islam was threatening the world, and so much of the Church had lost its way, God was raising up men like Calvin to sound forth the gospel in all its life-transforming power once again.
We can look back further. There was another time when an enemy was on the verge of destroying God’s people. But God raised up a Mordecai and an Esther at just the right time.
We often do not know what is the best thing to do in the confusing geo-political quagmire of today’s world, but we know what the ultimate answer is. It is to preach and to live the gospel; to pray for and befriend Muslims; and to give to missions that are seeking to reach Muslims with the gospel.
Many believe that there is a spiritual openness among Muslims around the world today, greater perhaps than ever. It is no time for discouragement. The modern Hamans will fail. Surely God can raise up men and women ‘for such a time as this’ – to be his instruments of deliverance and mercy in our own day.