A friend asked me a bit ago whether my day job (trying to understand the Middle East, including Islam and Muslims) wasn’t counterproductive for me as a Bible-believing Christian, or whether it was an attempt to “know the enemy.” In truth, it is neither. Of course, I believe that Christians should explore all fields of knowledge to understand the world in the light of God’s revelation. But I also do not think of Muslims as “the enemy.” Since this latter point is apparently highly contentious at the present among conservative Christians, I thought it might be useful for me to explain my reasoning.
First, to provide context, I don’t see any tension between trying to understand Islam and believing what the Bible teaches. Wherever Islam disagrees with Christianity, I believe Islam is simply wrong, and I frankly do not find anything personally appealing about Islam as a religion. Yet the apostle Paul knew something about pagan Greek literature, since he quoted it repeatedly (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). It was useful to him in sharing the good news with pagans. As a professional, I try to understand how Christians and Muslims have interacted, but I also find it useful today to know something about how Islam has developed and what different Muslims have believed, so I can more easily discuss with Muslims (and understand the Middle Eastern news).
But I would also suggest not considering Muslims as “the enemy,” however. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). “Be alert and sober-minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Islam is wrong, but atheism and materialism are even more wrong, since Muslims at least believe that God exists. Muslims are in the same boat as everyone else, needing Christ as their Savior, and we can share the good news of Christ’s salvation with them. Indeed, there are reports circulating in the Muslim world of Jesus appearing in dreams and telling Muslims to join Christian churches!
These days, many might ask about the Muslim extremists & terrorists who want to attack America. My answer is not to say that “Islam is peace” (it doesn’t: as a factual point it means “submission”). When terrorists tell me that they are Muslim, I am content to take them at their word. But here are two more factual points: estimates of the number of Islamic terrorists peak below 100,000 (particular groups can be explored here), while estimates of the number of Muslims in the world are at least 1.6 billion. This means that at most 1 in 16,000 Muslims (0.0000625%) is a terrorist. And a large majority of Muslims worldwide (and 86% in the US) say that violence against civilians in the name of Islam is rarely or never justified. While we wish that number were higher, there was surprising Western Christian support for Ted Cruz’s campaign trail suggestion of “carpet bombing ISIS” (which would result in extensive civilian casualties) and Donald Trump’s declared intent to “take out their families,” who would be civilians. Some people are fine with violence against civilians, regardless of their stated religion. Of course we must defend ourselves from the very small number of Muslims (and right-wing extremists) who engage in terrorism, but most Muslims (like most humans of any kind) reject terrorism as abominable.
But calling Muslims (in general) “the enemy” is also rhetorically harmful. Most Muslims reject ISIS and abhor the violence they perpetrate. But ISIS claims that all true Muslims should support them and their cause. If Western non-Muslims also claim that all real Muslims are terrorists, they are in effect spreading ISIS propaganda, and forcing peaceable Muslims to choose between their religion and their peace. Some will choose their religion, and will become what they were told they ought to be. In other words, Western non-Muslims claiming that Islam is a religion of terrorists is one factor which increases the number of Islamic terrorists. The point is not that ISIS may hate us more. The point is that more people may join ISIS, if they are told by Western non-Muslims that they are already as bad as ISIS.
So even if some terrorists are Muslim, it is theologically, statistically, and rhetorically unjustifiable to call Muslims “the enemy,” even while acknowledging that Islam is false. The devil is the real enemy.
Of course, even if Muslims are regarded as enemies, Jesus commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)!