Peter Kreeft is not exactly a household name, but Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, is well-known—and highly respected—in orthodox Catholic and Evangelical circles for his many books of Christian apologetics. Kreeft typically employs a Socratic dialogue format featuring college-age and young adult characters who challenge each other on the issues of the day, as well as on issues of eternal importance. As a consequence, his books are widely read on Christian college campuses.
Unfortunately, considering his wide appeal, Kreeft’s latest book is basically an apology for Islam. Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims is devoted to the proposition that the things that we (Muslims and Christians) have in common are more important than the things that separate us. In fact, writes Kreeft in his Introduction, we have a lot to learn from Islam: “…I also say that Islam has great and deep resources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation.” Instead of fearing Islam, Kreeft says that Christians should join together with Muslims in an “ecumenical jihad” against our common enemies, sin and secularism.
Kreeft’s thesis is similar to the one put forward a few years ago by Dinesh D’Souza in The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. D’Souza argued that Muslims hate us for our decadence—and not just because of Britney and Eminem and rap music, but also because of illegitimacy, divorce, abortion and gay marriage. Thus, more than anything else, it was American decadence that provoked the 9/11 attack. D’Souza, like Kreeft, wants us to believe that traditional Americans and traditional Muslims are natural allies because both are religiously and socially conservative, and share many of the same values. Both authors seem to think that the surest way to patch up relations with Islam is for Westerners to return to more wholesome habits. Not surprisingly, Kreeft’s new book features a blurb by D’Souza on the front cover.
In Between Allah and Jesus, the strongest arguments for traditional morality are made by the Muslim student, Isa (the Arabic name for Jesus.) In fact, throughout the entire dialogue Isa has all the best lines. Isa is not only a defender of the sanctity of all human life, he is also a strong defender of the Jews (the six million who lost their lives to Hitler were “martyrs”), and a great respecter of women (“…all I’m doing is defending womanhood and motherhood and families”). In his appreciation of feminine virtues Isa sometimes sounds more like a Victorian seminary student than a twenty first-century Muslim male. Isa even makes the case that women in Muslim societies are happier and more contented than women in Western societies because “we let women be women,” whereas Western women are the victims of a sexual revolution which mainly benefits men. One of Isa’s dialogue sparring partners, Libby (a liberated feminist), objects to all this with vehemence, but she is plainly no match for Isa. She spouts feminist slogans; Isa is a master of logical argumentation.
Kreeft advises his readers that he “does not necessarily agree with everything said by Isa as a Muslim,” but his sympathies clearly lie with Isa. For example, Fr. Heerema, who represents the orthodox Catholic position in the dialogues, usually finds himself in agreement with Isa. Moreover the sentiments expressed by Isa are quite similar to those expressed by Kreeft in his Introduction: for example, says Kreeft, one of the most important things Christians “should learn from Muslims or be reminded of by Muslims” is “the sacredness of the family and children.”
“Sacredness of the family?” In this and in other parts of his book, Kreeft seems to be inadvertently transposing Christian notions into Islam. While there may be some highly spiritualized Sufi sect somewhere that looks at marriage and family in this light, this is not the picture of family life that emerges in the accounts of ex-Muslims such as Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Wafa Sultan. Here’s Nonie Darwish on first seeing a church wedding in an old Hollywood movie:
“I was very touched by the holiness of the marriage vows, especially when the husband promised to love, honor, and cherish his one and only wife ‘till death do us part’…I now realize that my innocent mind was touched not only by the romance of the marriage vows but also by the way a Christian woman was honored and elevated by her husband and society…In sharp contrast, Muslim weddings are more about sex and money. They do not convey the holy covenant of marriage.”
To illustrate the point, Darwish reproduces a standard Egyptian marriage contract complete with questions about the bride’s virginity status, the amount of the dowry, and three spaces for the husband to record the names and addresses of wife number one, wife number two, and wife number three. To a Westerner overdosed on multiculturalism that last item might seem to be just another bright thread in the rich tapestry of diversity. But how do such arrangements work out in an actual marriage? Wafa Sultan recounts how her grandfather in Syria forced her grandmother to solicit a young woman to be his new bride. And, to compound the humiliation, when the wedding took place she was forced to “welcome the bridal procession by dancing before it with a bowl of incense on her head.” “After the wedding,” writes Sultan, “my grandmother was reduced to the status of a servant in her own home. She served my grandfather, his wife, and the ten boys that wife would bear for him.”
Though individual Muslims may rise above the system, official mainstream Islam looks upon wives and children essentially as commodities—possessions for the father or husband to dispose of as he sees fit. The result, according to ex-Muslims who are now free to talk about their experiences, is a tangle of family pathologies. Significantly, many of the pathologies can be traced back to Muhammad himself who had eleven wives, and several slave girl concubines. As is well known, Muhammad married a nine-year old; what is less well known is that one of his conquests was his own daughter-in-law. Seeing Muhammad’s evident interest, the young step-son graciously or, perhaps, prudently, divorced his wife to clear the way for the marriage. On another occasion, Muhammad “married” (took to bed) an attractive captive on the same day that his troops killed her husband, father, and brother in battle.
Yet Isa and Fr. Heerema keep referring to Muhammad as a man of “honor” and “compassion” and “a great moral reformer” who gave the Arab world “morality and peace and universal justice and mercy.” It wasn’t the sword that sold Islam, says Isa; Islam “sold” because “it completed human nature by adding the tender part.”
Ah yes!—the tender trap. But, as any objective scholar of Islam can attest, this is sheer nonsense. Islam didn’t sell itself through tenderness but through terror. Once, when a Jewish tribe surrendered to Muhammad’s forces, he ordered the beheading of over 700 of the captives. On another occasion he ordered that some captured thieves have their eyes gouged out, and their arms and legs cut off on opposite sides. Inquiring students at places such as Boston College, Calvin College and Wheaton might want to supplement their Kreeft with some samplings from the Hadith and The Life of Muhammad.
Kreeft’s tendency to confuse Islamic concepts with Christian beliefs continues in his treatment of jihad. The secular media, says Kreeft, has created the false impression that jihad is a duty to wage war against unbelievers. But, according to Isa, jihad, is, in reality, “the inner struggle against evil.” The trouble is, the evidence for this interpretation is minimal. In one Hadith—the one which Isa quotes—Muhammad is reported to have said, “the most excellent jihad is for the conquest of self.” But this is from a Hadith of doubtful provenance and, in any event, the Koran makes it quite clear in several places which is the more excellent jihad. For example: “Do you pretend that he who gives a drink to the pilgrims and pays a visit to the Sacred Mosque is as worthy as the man who believes in God and the Last Day, and fights for God’s cause? These are not held equal by God.” (9. 19-20)
Once again, Kreeft seems to be projecting Christian concerns onto Islam—in this case, the notion of an interior spiritual struggle against sin. In fact, there is very little sense of “soul struggling” in Islam. As Nonie Darwish puts it:
“This ‘inner struggle’ business is hogwash. In the Arab world there is only one meaning for jihad, and that is: a religious holy war against infidels…I have never heard of any discussion of inner struggle in my thirty years living in the Middle East. Such nonsense is a PR ploy for Western consumption only…”
Western style soul searching is a rare commodity in Muslim lands. As Raphael Patai points out in his classic study, The Arab Mind, “One of the important differences between the Arab and the Western personality is that in Arab culture, shame is more pronounced than guilt.” In other words, there is less sense of personal sin and personal responsibility in the Arab world. One behaves oneself to avoid censure. Thus, Isa’s preoccupation with the “war against evil within” is entirely unrepresentative of Muslim thinking. Kreeft is right in his contention that many Christians have lost the sense of sin and spiritual struggle, but it’s quite a stretch to think that they are going to find it again by looking to Islam.
Isa’s attitudes may be unrepresentative of Muslims but, unluckily, Kreeft’s favorable disposition toward Islam is representative of many influential Christians. He is not alone in his attempt to “reach across the aisle” and find common ground with Islam. Despite the increasingly bloody persecution of Christians in the Muslim world, many Christian leaders still cling to the pious hope that there is some slight misunderstanding between Islam and Christianity that can be cleared up by more dialogue. Dialogue with Islam has, in fact, become something of a growth industry. It’s no longer confined to high-level theologians: it’s become the in-thing for parishes and congregations. In the last few years, numerous Christian churches across America have invited Islamic speakers to come in and explain Islam to them. The rationale is that “people fear what they don’t understand,” and once we understand Islam we will see that there is nothing to fear.
Kreeft shares that hope. As he puts it, “I think this high and honorable dialogue between two high and honorable faiths will continue…and that something great will come of it.” But what if he’s wrong? If, in reality, there is little common ground between Islam and Christianity, Christians will find not only that they have been misinformed, but also that they have been put at a serious disadvantage. The time that Christians waste pursuing false hopes is time that Islamic activists will use to press their agenda. Instead of finding common ground with Islam, Christians will find that they have lost ground—in both the cultural and geographical sense.
We are in a high stakes struggle with Islam. It’s one that doesn’t allow for much margin of error. You can misinterpret or completely ignore the beliefs of Jains or Buddhists, and still rest secure that your life will go on as before. But misinterpreting Islam could turn out to be fatal mistake. If it turns out that jihad is not, after all, an interior spiritual struggle, but rather a serious obligation to subdue non-Muslims, a lot of Western Christians are going to be woefully unprepared for the kind of things that are already happening to Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Peter Kreeft has written some of the finest works of Christian apologetics of the last four decades. But he’s off base with this one. Seeing that Kreeft has been highly influenced by C.S. Lewis, and is considered by many to be a worthy successor to Lewis, he might want to take a second look at Lewis’ views on finding common ground with an alien faith. In The Last Battle, Lewis’ fictional account of the conflict between the Christian-like Narnians and the Muslim-like Calormenes, the Narnian have been deceived into believing that their God, Aslan, and Tash, the demonic God of the Calormenes actually have much in common. “Tash” and “Aslan” they are told are only two different names for the same God. In reality, “Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.” After a while, the hybrid God is simply referred to as “Tashlan.” As time passes, however, the worship of Tashlan becomes simply the worship of Tash, and the Narnians find themselves enslaved by the followers of Tash.
It may be that the same God listens to the prayers of both Christians and Muslims, but Muslims take their marching orders from the God of the Koran. And in many respects the Allah of the Koran is as different from the God of the New Testament as Tash is from Aslan. Today’s common-ground-at-any-cost Christians would do well to ponder Lewis’ instructive tale about the dangers of cultivating a “Tashlan” mentality.
William Kilpatrick’s articles have appeared in FrontPage Magazine, First Things,Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Jihad Watch, World, and Investor’s Business Daily.