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When photos were published this week depicting ISIS fighters in Iraq tearing down the cross from a church roof and replacing it with the flag of their movement, some in the West were moved to express surprise. This is because, for all their hatred and self-absorption, Islamists are said to be respectful of Christian beliefs, seeing the religion as a kindred, yet imperfect, predecessor to their own.

Jesus (or ‘Isa) is venerated in Islam as a ‘Prophet’ and many other Biblical figures from Moses (Musa) to Joseph (Yusaf) to Abraham (Ibrahim) are awarded a similarly lofty place in the same tradition.

Of course, Muslims do not believe that Christ rose from the dead, that he will return to gather his flock into a new paradise, or that he was the literal son of God. But they do revere him, in the same way they revere Muhammad – as a non-divine speaker of spiritual truth.

And it’s also true that the Qur’an’s brotherly talk of the ‘People of the Book’, said to announce and promote a communion with Christians and Jews, is pleasantly unique in a monotheistic text.

Nevertheless, whether Islam as a whole can be commended for this depends completely on whether such a sentiment is put into practice.

It isn’t.

Despite the theological overlaps claimed by their clerical class, Muslims have proven themselves anything but friendly to the Biblical faiths it arose originally to supplant.

Consider the following summary of the situation in Iraq by the Christian charity ‘Open Doors’ –

“In the 1990s, Iraq was home to 1.2 million Christians. Now, just 300,000 Christians remain. Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, anti-Western (and by association anti-Christian) sentiments have grown, and Islamic extremism has been strengthened…There are few Christians lefts in IS-controlled parts of Iraq, if any. IS has forbidden public gatherings that are not organised by them, and churches have been demolished or turned into jails, stables and Islamic centres. The punishment for breaking the strict laws enforced by IS range from cutting off hands to public executions.”

Thousands of Christians have been executed in the Middle East and North Africa since 9/11. In Pakistan, the penalty for converting to Christianity remains lethal. The ancient Christian community of Egypt, despite their large numbers, are effectively 2nd class citizens and are exposed to attack or bullying by the nation’s Islamic majority. During the Islamic conquests of the Middle East, the number of Christians executed can only be estimated. It is not fanciful to propose the toll numbers somewhere in the hundreds of thousands.

It is always important to ensure that myths, especially political myths, do not go unchallenged. By that principle, the myth of a brotherhood between Islam and Christianity is too dangerous to ignore.

D, LDN.

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