Christian perceptions of Islam

British Islam conference

Presenter: Richard McCallum

The talk focused specifically on the perceptions of British Christians from the Evangelical tradition. Taking in the views of grassroots Christians rather than elites.

The Evangelical tradition emphasises the uniqueness of Christ and is not pluralistic in its theology. Interfaith dialogue is often viewed as something that leads to the diluting of gospel to the lowest common denominator.

There are a diversity of Christian views and the background of the person strongly influences those views. In his experience Black African Christians are the most tolerant with many having either relatives or close family friends that are Muslim. This interaction with Muslims has given them a more nuanced perception of Islam. This is in contrast to White Christians that have spent their lives in rural communities with little or no contact with Muslims. Their perceptions are deeply seated in ignorance with a fear of a community they’ve never known.

The perceptions of academics that have studied Islam can be differentiated based on how they have researched Islam. Those that have studied Islam from a text based theological point have a different perception to Social Science researchers who listen to Muslim voices in todays world. The latter group have an understanding and acceptance that there is a diversity of scriptural interpretations within Muslim communities.

Specific perceptions

We have to love Muslims
This is a difficult position for some Christians. They are called to love Muslims but find it difficult to distinguish Islam the ideology from Muslims the people.

Possibility of partnership
The real enemy is not the Muslims but the politically secular in this country. The presence of Muslims is not viewed as a mere accident but the sovereignty of God. Their presence should be seen as spiritual reinforcement for upholding Biblical morality in the battle with the threat from secularism.

Presence will lead to Islamisation
This perception is based on a fear of Muslims as a foreign enemy that is trying to take over.

Religious freedom
There is an acute awareness of the treatment of Christians in Muslim majority countries and this influences the perception of Islam. The lack of religious freedom in these countries is a huge issue for many Christians. The revival of Shariah in Muslim countries is viewed as the driving force behind persecution of Christians.

Concluding thoughts

Christians should respond to Muslims out of love not fear. British Christians struggle between the two. There are often two opposing responses to Muslim immigration; we build walls to separate ourselves or have an open door policy welcoming them. Richard suggests a middle ground where rather than simply an open door we have a shared table where Christians and Muslims can eat together.

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