One of the most pressing issues in our day is the growth of Islam. Some statistics claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion and that if current growth rates continue that Muslims will surpass the world’s Christian population by the end of the century. This is good reason for Christians to be concerned and thus investigate the nature of Islam and how it compares and contrasts with their own Christian beliefs. While there are some excellent contemporary resources out there, we should remember that the church has been wrestling with Islam for more than a thousand years. In one of the more curious events of the Westminster Assembly (1643-53) a Muslim wrote to the body of theologians with several questions, but the assembly decided not to respond. This little anecdote reminds us that we should keep an eye on the church’s past interactions with Islam so we can learn from some of the church’s greatest minds on this important topic.
One such recent entry is, On Islam (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), written by Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). Many know of Kuyper’s roles as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, founder of a Reformed political party, founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, in addition to being an erudite theologian. Among the catalog of his vast corpus is his book examining Islam. Kuyper’s large work is surely marked by its age, as he wrote it in the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, the work grew out of his visit to twenty different countries in the Mediterranean world where he explored theology, politics, family life, education, art, and architecture (xii). It may surprise some that Kuyper admired many aspects of Islam, particularly, how its faith permeated everything, politics, art, culture, domestic life, public affairs, and the like. He also envied the fact that many modernist assumptions had not infected the Muslim world. Kuyper also respected the fact that Islam revered the sovereignty of God in all things. Kuyper, of course, also had significant criticism for Islam given his Reformed theological convictions. Islam was mired in legalism, its mysticism produced moral failings, and there was much fanaticism in politics. Islam also mistreated women and permitted polygamy. Moreover, Kuyper astutely observed that Islam had not surrendered its cult of jihad (xiii-xvi).
Some of Kuyper’s most interesting comments come from his conclusion where he observes that Christian missions among Muslims were few and far between: “It cannot be urged strongly enough that Christian missions must labor to gain a foothold especially with these groups, before Islam beats them to it. For his part, the Muslim never loses sight of this goal. This is why missions among the Muslims should certainly never be abandoned” (308). In our own context more than one hundred years later, these words still ring true.
Readers who want to gain a historical view of Christianity and Islam would do well to pick up Kuyper’s book and study how one of the Reformed church’s greatest minds engaged this important topic.