In approaching Islam, we as Christians need to remember three principles, which Barnabas Fund has always sought to follow.
Firstly, Muslims are people, fellow humans created in the divine image and therefore they must be loved with the love of Christ. Our desire should be that they come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should never hate or despise any human being, whatever their background, because to do so would be to hate and despise the God who created them.
In a liberal democratic society, such as we have in Western countries, all religions are rightly allowed to function freely. It is important that we recognise that Muslim people living in such countries need to have the same fundamental freedoms as the people who follow other religions. For many years Barnabas Fund has called for Christians in Muslim-majority countries to be granted the same freedoms that Muslims have enjoyed in the West.
Secondly, Muslims are followers of a religion, Islam. It must be possible for non-Muslims to critique this religion – this set of beliefs – just as Christianity, other religions, ideologies and worldviews are critiqued and criticised.
At Barnabas Fund, we would argue that in critiquing Islam or other religions, we must be careful to do so with scholarly accuracy; we must not impute to a religion ideas that are not within it. We must do so in love, remembering that the followers of this religion are people made in the image of God. It may be that we cause offence or hurt their feelings by disagreeing with their beliefs; sometimes this cannot be avoided, but we must do what we can to keep it to a minimum. We must take great care not to create situations in which people are physically attacked. Finally we must be sure that we remain faithful to Christ and true to His revelation. We must not compromise our faith in order to adapt to the demands of any other religion or to relate more effectively to its followers.
Thirdly, we must reject any religion that is political and totalitarian. In this respect, we believe that political Islam, often known as Islamism, is totally unacceptable in the UK and in countries with a liberal democratic tradition. There can only be one system of law and sharia cannot exist alongside it.
Great confusion is caused by the word “Islamophobia.” It should be used only to mean fear of the religious ideology Islam. It should not be used to mean fear and hatred of Muslim people as well. The correct word for fear and hatred of Muslim people must be “Muslimophobia” which is as unacceptable.
It is also important to recognise that the followers of any religion are individuals and can have very different viewpoints about the religion that they all follow. That is why there are so many different denominations within the Christian faith. Likewise, Muslims vary greatly in how they interpret Islam. There are Islamists who take an extreme, rigid and intolerant stance, some of them also believing in violence as a method to achieve their aims. There are also Muslims who reject the extremism and violence of their fellow Muslims; some of these put themselves at great personal risk by condemning such beliefs and actions.
There is good and bad in every individual and in every culture. If we consider the way religions have been followed in practice, then we must add that there is good and bad in every religion.