Skip to site content

Why Can’t Everyone Just Get Along? The Answer Begins with Theology

Outsiders often wonder why Muslims and Jews in the Middle East can’t put their differences behind them and agree to get along on the land they both claim as holy.

The problem is part logistical and part theological, according to scholars well versed in the matter.

The logistical conflict centers on the fact Judaism and Islam claim many of the same holy sites. The prime example is the Temple Mount, site of the destroyed Jewish temple and now site of the Muslims’ Dome of the Rock shrine.

But deeper even than such archaeological conflict, however, is the theological conflict inherent in Judaism and Islam.

Muslims claim a common heritage with Jews to a point. Jews trace their lineage and faith through Abraham’s son Isaac. Muslims trace their lineage through Abraham’s son Ishmael. These differences affect the very genetic code of each religion’s Scriptures and traditions.

“Islam was born as a militant missionary religion,” said Paula Fredriksen, professor of Scripture at Boston University and an authority on religious origins.

Further, Islam divides the world into two regions–the Dar al-Salam, or region of peace, and the Dar al-Harb, or region of the sword. The region of peace means regions under Muslim control. The region of the sword means regions not under Muslim control.

Since the seventh century A.D., with a few brief exceptions, the lands in dispute between Muslims and Jews have been under Islamic control, Fredriksen explained. In the Muslim worldview, “you have a non-Islamic entity in the Islamic-designated area of the world. It’s like matter and anti-matter.”

“Early Islam never gave thought to a Muslim living under a non-Muslim government,” explained Paul Copan, a team member with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries who is an authority on Christian-Jewish theology. “In Islamic theory, there is a theocratic creed in which the church and state are one, the public and private are blended together.

“Islam is a totalizing religion,” he added. “All must come under submission and surrender to Allah.”
The notion of peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims and particularly a non-Muslim government runs counter to the teachings of Islam, both Fredriksen and Copan said.

That, in turn, creates an insurmountable problem for Jewish people who might be willing to accommodate Palestinian demands, Fredriksen believes.

In the Middle East today, “there is only one nation where Arabs are guaranteed free participation and voting in open democratic elections. That is the state of Israel,” she said.

“The Israeli Arabs are really going to be in a pickle if there is a Palestinian state. They’re not going to be able to go back to being in a totalitarian state. And there are no Arab democracies.”

Copan cites the annual report of Freedom House on the liberties enjoyed by citizens of all nations. In this report, countries are classified as “free,” “partly free” and “not free.”

“There is just a single Islamic country in the ‘free’ category,” he reported. “Of the 11 countries rated worst, seven were Islamic. … The ‘not free’ category reads like a Who’s Who of Muslim countries.”
Copan also cites the teachings of Mohammed and his writings in the Koran as evidence that Muslims never can be conciliatory toward Christians or Jews.

One sample among many: “Fight those among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) who … do not embrace the true faith until they pay tribute out of their own hand and are utterly subdued.”

And one other: “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere for them.”

The goal of Islam, these scholars and others contend, is not co-existence with Israel but annihilation of Israel.

This is illustrated graphically by a map posted on the Palestinian National Authority’s website. The map shows the entire region with all the territory between Jordan, Syria and Egypt marked “Palestine.”
Israel is nowhere on the map.

Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard, from which this piece is reprinted with permission.