Two sources should inform our judgment of religion: teaching and practice.
The lines distinguishing religions from one another have largely faded due to relativism, and it is hard for some to criticize one particular religion over another for that reason.
Think back to the National Prayer Breakfast last year. President Obama said, as a response to those criticizing Islam, “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
This kind of tactic is one we all know (and ourselves use, most likely). Somehow we think it negates the original criticism. Another example: “Trump is a liar” someone on the Left might say, and the Right responds, “Well, Hillary lies too.” Sure, Hillary lies, but the response doesn’t address the fact that he does.
Despite the fact that the President’s statement was an extreme case of false equivalency reflecting the modern ignorance of the Crusades, it didn’t address the original criticism, which is that Islam has a lot of bad ideas and is somewhat responsible for many of the problems we are having today. Perhaps Christianity deserves the same criticism and holds some of the blame. We can determine that by looking at teaching and practice in both religions.
Teaching consists of holy texts, traditions, and what the religion teaches regarding how its adherents ought to live.
Islam, as the Quran explains it, began as a violent, political religion. It tells of violent initiatives by early Muslims to conquer territory and kill opposition, especially in the Quran’s early surahs. I’m not going to quote specific surahs, to avoid accusation of using them out of context – go read them for yourself. Although the Quran is filled with stories of violence, it would be unfair to present Islamic doctrine as being based solely off of Quranic revelation. As Peter Riddell and Peter Cotterell write in their book Islam in Context, “[T]he traditions of the Prophet have an almost equal authority (as the Quran) in determining law.” We must examine the hadith, the traditions of Islam, along with its holy text in order to determine the content of its teaching, but even many of the extra-Quranic traditions themselves teach subjugation and violence, such as Sharia law.
As for Christianity, there are no teachings of violence or political initiative in the New Testament. The few references to political life present in the New Testament are exhortations for Christians to respect and submit to governmental authority (see Romans 13 and Matthew 22). Likewise, no majority of tradition compels believers to act for politicization, whether by coercion in violence or otherwise.
Practice consists of the way the religion’s majority of adherents live, believe, and practice their religious principles.
Islam as it has been practiced and as it is now practiced is largely violent and political as well. In most Muslim countries, politics and religion are melded together under Sharia law, which calls for extremely harsh punishments to adulterers and those who are gay. It’s true to say that all people who call themselves Muslims do not necessarily wish to enforce Sharia law on non-Muslims. Many Muslims in Europe do not wish to see Sharia law made to be civil law, but an overwhelming majority of those in Middle Eastern countries and African countries with a high population of Muslims wish to see Sharia law made the law of the land. If such a majority favors Sharia, it is fair to generally define Islam as a religion seeking to impose its religious law on states.
That is a bad idea, and it is worthy of criticism. Remember, our Founders rejected that idea by passing the First Amendment. Don’t fear being called Islamaphobic for criticizing an idea we have already criticized writ large.
Christianity did not become politicized until three centuries after it was founded, when the Roman Empire was baptized under Constantine. That politicization of the church was not endorsed by the New Testament, so Christianity cannot be understood to teach itself as a political religion even though it was practiced as such.
My point is that even within Christianity, there were certain abuses of power and malpractice, but with no basis in its teaching. Any attempt at equating the Christian Crusades to modern radical Muslim efforts is historically and logically dishonest.
President Obama and many others have denounced those who criticize Islam as a response to repeated terror attacks, declaring that ISIS and other terror groups are not Islam. Perhaps ISIS is not an accurate representation of what Islam is, but it can’t be denied that it, along with many other oppressive, Islamic nations use teachings and traditions of Islam as a motivation for their dangerous policies.
If it appears anti-religious or bigoted for me to criticize Islam, I encourage you to look at it as you look at any other system of ideas. Look at all religions, Christianity included, the way you look at a system of political ideas and criticize those ideas that are bad.