Leftist. Liberal. Progressive. Communist. People hurl these terms at me on an hourly basis via social media. They are overused and misused so much that they no longer have any meaning to me. I do not self-identify myself with any of these labels. Placing me into these categories is nonsense. I am none of these things, yet there is another term thrown at me that I actually relate to as a scholar, Christian and human being. The term is “Islamic apologist”.
Before I explain why I am an Islamic apologist, let us first take a deeper look into the word “apology”. The term comes from a Greek word apologia which basically means “to give a defense”. A classic case of apologetics is The Apology of Socrates by Plato, who presents the self-defense speech that Socrates made at his trial for allegedly corrupting the youth of Athens. Islamic apologetics is something like this example – basically, it is the science of giving a defense of Islam.
Our world is full with Islamophobes who bash the Quran and defame the legacy of Prophet Muhammad. They treat Islam as a monolith, call it evil, and defend the persecution and even killing of Muslims worldwide. The mission of an Islamic apologist is to combat Islamophobia and instead promote better understanding of – and love for – the Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad. We might, then, define Islamic apologetics as follows:
The task of developing and sharing arguments for the truth and rationality of Islam to counteract falsehood and irrationality of Islamophobes with the aim of strengthening humanity.
Basically, being an “Islamic apologist” is simply presenting the truth about Islam to those who have preconceived judgments about Islam. There are two primary methods of Islamic apologetics. The first involves sharing passages of the Quran which give clear evidence that Islam stands for mercy, compassion and peace. The second involves shining light on the example of Muhammad to counteract Islamophobic rhetoric, particularly that he was a false prophet and, worse, an evil human being.
Probably the most powerful verse for Islamic apologetics is Quran 49:13, “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he or she who is the most righteous of you”. This Quranic verse sends a crystal clear message of compassion and learning about others across cultural and religious lines. A second Quranic verse that is often ignored by Islamophobes is 2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion”. Islam promotes freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, which are two values fundamental to my own Christian faith.
If an Islamic apologist is someone who appreciates religious pluralism and diversity, as found in Islam, please, consider me an apologist. Reflect on the visit of the Christians of Najran to Medina in 631 AD, as I described in a Middle East Eye article:
Picture this. A Muslim leader reaches out to a group of Christians and invites them to his country. The Christians happily accept the invitation, while the Muslim leader prepares his people for their arrival. This is the first time the two communities have met in an official delegation. Matters of state, politics and religion are the topics of discussion. The two groups see eye-to-eye on most issues, but also agree to disagree on theological issues. If one phrase can best describe their meeting, it is “mutual respect”.
At the end of their talks, the Christians tell the Muslims, “It is time for us to pray”. The problem for the Christians is that there is no church nearby to worship. Instead of letting the Christians pray on the dirty street, the Muslim leader tells the Christians, “You are followers of the one true God, so please come pray inside my mosque. We are all brothers in humanity.” The Christians agree to use the “Islamic space” as their own. A bridge between these religious communities is made in the name of peace and goodwill.
This story is not some fairytale. It is a historical fact (I did, however, make-up quotes based on how the interaction might have played out). The Muslim leader of the story is Prophet Muhammad and the Christians are from Najran, or modern-day Yemen. The event happened in Medina in 631 AD. This moment in time represents one of the first examples of Muslim-Christian dialogue, but more importantly, one of the first acts of religious pluralism in Islamic history.
Unfortunately, Islamophobes completely neglect these stories and take Quranic passages out of context to claim that Muhammad persecuted the Christians in his midst. And, ironically, ISIS and their sympathizers carry out the same method as Islamophobes – they literally interpret Quranic verses without any sense of historical or contemporary context.
Claiming that Islam supports the demolition of churches, as Islamophobes claim, has no credibility in light of Prophet Muhammad’s covenants with Christians. In these treaties, Muhammad stated that Christians living within the realm of the Islamic state are granted freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Going beyond religious tolerance, the Prophet advocated for religious pluralism. He commanded Muslims to engage in dialogue with Christians, and demanded they interact with them in a respectful and egalitarian way. I do not simply respect that. I love it.
An honest analysis of the Quran and Hadiths – as well as the Prophet’s covenants – will show that Christians are indeed “People of the Book”. Islamic scripture proclaims that Christians have received revelation from God’s prophets and that they share commonalities with Muslims. The Quran states:
“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62, 5:69)
“… and near among them in love to the [Muslims] will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians’, because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).
An Islamic apologist is not someone who says “I’m sorry”. Actually, it is the opposite. The word, as noted earlier, is taken from the Greek word apologia, meaning “a defense”. An apologist is someone who does not treat Islam as a monolith. An Islamic apologist is a person who argues in defense of human rights such as freedom of worship and freedom of speech. Millions and millions and millions of Muslims around the world stand for these two values. They defend these principles because their faith commands them too. How can you not defend that?
Finally, Islamic apologetics is a necessary aspect of the experience of being a human being. No matter what religion you come from, we are all commanded by the prophets before us to spread goodwill to our neighbors and strangers. That is the essence of being Muslim, that is the essence of being Christian, and that is most definitely the essence of being human. To that I say: Peace.