Would Calvin Understand Muslim Anger Over Muhammad Drawings?
Undoubtedly, there are many motivations besides religious zeal that inspire gunmen in Texas, Charlie Hebdo terrorists in France, and ISIS in Iraq who deface historical images, but their justification is the same. It is rooted in Islam’s rejecting any depictions of their prophet–or of God. They cling to that stance for the same reason I wanted to shield Prem from a picture of Jesus. They see it as a stumbling block that pulls people towards sinful idolatry. Islam was born in a region rife with polytheism and idolatry, so like Judaism, Islam reacts against them. Though the Qur’an doesn’t specifically address prophetic images, it does reject pictures of God: “Behold! He said to his father [Abraham] and his people, ‘what are these images to which you are so assiduously devoted?’ They said, ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’ He said, ‘Indeed, you have been in manifest error – you and your fathers” (21:52-54). Also, the Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), upon which much Islamic law is based, warns against images for the same reason.
Muslims, however, are not alone in forbidding or destroying religious imagery. In fact, during the aftermath of the horrific killings of the Charlie Hebdo staff, some French may have recalled 16th century iconoclastic riots in France in which Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots) rioted and killed clergy in their zeal to rid the land of religious images. They were inspired in part by John Calvin, who wrote extensively on images in the Institutes (1.11), and warned that depictions of divine figures have a tendency to tempt followers toward idolatry: “Since this brute stupidity gripped the whole world–to pant after visible figures of God, and thus to form gods of wood, stone, gold, silver or other dead and corruptible matter–we must cling to this principle: God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to Him.”
Many Muslim theologians consider Jesus Christ the most important aspect of Islamic eschatology. In fact, the Qur’an declares Mary and Jesus as a “sign for all people” (19:21; 21:91; 23:50).² When he returns, he will slay the false Messiah (Anti-Christ, or dajjal) and establish peace and righteousness on earth. Some commentators feel that the Qur’an is referring to this occasion when it says, “And on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them” (4:159).
Not too long ago, North Carolina approved a bill that prohibits judges in that state from considering “foreign laws” in making their legal decisions. Six other states have acted similarly about “foreign laws.” Why didn’t these states mention “Shari’ah law” as did Oklahoma? The reason is that two federal courts ruled as unconstitutional the singling out of Shari’ah. Thus, those states that want to pass anti-Shari’ah laws have had to resort to using the wider phrase, “foreign laws.”
What is the context of the desire to pass anti-Shari’ah laws? It is clear. Many Americans are afraid, angry, and disgusted about what they think Shari’ah law is and what it justifies. They tend to associate it with misogyny—cruel and unjust oppression of women; intolerance—slitting the throats of apostates, unbelievers, and at times even Muslims; and harsh punishments—beheadings, lashings, chopping off hands and feet, burning people alive, stoning, etc.
Americans often believe that these horrifying actions are justified by Muslims who appeal to Shari’ah. Therefore, it is little wonder that these same Americans want to eliminate the possibility for these horrors to take place in America by going to what is perceived as the root of the problem, namely, Shari’ah.
This paper will focus on several issues:
What is Shari’ah?
Is Shari’ah creeping into American law?
If Shari’ah hasn’t yet crept into American law, how likely is it that it could?