Why Muslims Defend God’s Honor

Bruce Sidebotham (D.Min., New Geneva Theological Seminary) spent 7 years doing cross-cultural ministry in Indonesia. He directs the ministry called Operation Reveille that helps service personnel with cross-cultural relations.
Why do Muslims attempt to defend the honor of Islam against insults? Amidst the divergent analysis, some promote free and often offensive speech; others advocate self-restraint and self-censorship to avoid offending.
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Yet, I have not seen any theological explanation for why Muslims feel they need to defend Muhammad’s honor. Closest to the topic is Dr. Mark Durie who laments that “theological illiteracy” has catastrophic consequences. If Durie observes correctly, then understanding theological differences can help us avoid some bad situations. Why do Muslim’s so passionately defend the honor of Islam, Allah, and the Koran?

Christian Trinity and Islamic Tawhid

Honor, glory, love, integrity, morality, and truth demand relationships. However, such relational attributes cannot exist within the solitary singularity of divine essence known in Islam as tahwid (Arabic for “oneness”). However, those qualities can exist within a triune God. In Christian theology, the persons of the trinity can infinitely glorify, honor, and love each other with or without anything else in creation ever existing.

But if God is a singularity, then no interpersonal relationships exist within God, and gone is a basis for any eternal and infinite substance to honor, glory, love, integrity, morality, and truth. Those relationship-dependent attributes become dependent upon a relationship to creation.

If God is a trinity, nothing and no one can embarrass or dishonor him. His honor and glory are an innate part of his infinite essence and depend on nothing other than his Triune self. Only God himself can potentially shame himself, since the trinity has accountability within itself. Nothing in creation can ever change or diminish God’s honor and glory. Creation is finite. When God becomes a man and dies a humiliating death on a cross, he merely underscores how his infinite glory cannot be tainted by anything finite (see John 13:31-32).

But, if God is a singularity without internal relationships, then God can do nothing within himself to bring honor (or shame) upon himself. This means God’s honor must come from outside of himself. His honor must come from creation, and that means dishonor can also come from creation.

Christians do not violently protest insults of God, his prophet, or his holy books. Because of intra-Trinitarian glorification, Christian theology does not need God’s honor defended. But, Islamic theology compels Muslims to protect God’s glory. Muslims around the world and throughout history are adamant about the glory of the one they worship. “Allah Akhbar,” the Arabic words for “God is Great,” is constantly on their lips; insulting the prophet receives a death penalty in the most orthodox of Muslim countries; defiling a Qur’an instigates outrage in otherwise placid Muslim communities.

The Consequence of Theology

Theology has profound social consequences from which theological ignorance offers no protection. Social, historical, and cultural factors also have consequences. However, it’s the doctrine of tahwid that undergirds a sociology, history, and culture of defending God, his prophet, and his book.

People who think Muslims should not be hypersensitive to insults of Muhammad are minimizing Muslim theology. You can’t change the reaction without changing the character of their God. Comparing these social consequences of tahwid and trinity could help Muslims to be less allergic to embracing God as a trinity, and may help address Muslims’ offense at the humiliation of Jesus’ death.

What are the practical results of tahwid for ministry, intercultural relationships, and public policies?

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5 Comments on “Why Muslims Defend God’s Honor

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Just a couple of questions. You wrote:

    ‘This means God’s honor must come from outside of himself. His honor must come from creation, and that means dishonor can also come from creation.’

    According to Islamic orthodox theology Allah is totally self sufficient. How does this compare with your statement above?

    The Quran says that to worship God is to obey him. Are Muslims not defending Islam just because Allah says what to do and not to do for Muslim’s sake not for his sake?

    • Adrian, this was similar to the first question I had when Bruce first submitted the post—does theology actually play that big of a role in such matters as terrorism. Theology, especially of the higher and formal nature, often has a secondary impact upon people’s motives. (E.g., I heard a commentator on the radio say, “The one thing this year political campaign has proven is that evangelicals are not very theology.”) For me, the most insightful reflection on tahwid was Bruce’s final sentence about the trinity and incarnation.

    • Hi Adrian. Excellent questions. But you should also ask, “Why does the god of Islam ask Muslims to obey him by defending Islam?” The answer to that question answers your other two. To the first, yes, the god of Islam is totally self sufficient. And attributes of honor, glory, integrity, and morality are not necessary for self sufficiency. Typically, the more “self-sufficient” a powerful entity becomes, the less concern that entity has for troublesome attributes like integrity and morality. Because the god of Islam is a singularity, the personal and relational attributes of honor, glory, integrity, and morality cannot be part of his eternal essence. And that is the reason why the god of Islam commands “good Muslims” obey him by fighting to defend Islam. The triune God does not command his followers to fight to defend him. Integrity and morality are part of his eternal essence.

  2. “Because the god of Islam is a singularity, the personal and relational attributes of honor, glory, integrity, and morality cannot be part of his eternal essence.”

    I’m sorry but this argument is circular reasoning and fallacious. You simply cannot conclude that because Allah is a “singularity,” whatever that means, that Allah lacks attributes of honor, glory, integrity, and morality. This answer also lacks any understanding of what Muslims understand about Allah or how the Quran speaks of Allah’s attributes. If this argument were true about a monotheistic understanding of God, it would equally apply to the God of Abraham as understood by the Jews. The idea that Allah is a “singularity” also falls apart on the basis that the Quran declares Allah as a both transcendent and immanent. To the idea that Allah lacks these attributes, the Quran acknowledges Allah as “most merciful,” references honor, goodness and other common attributes of God and acknowledges his omniscience which implies he knows all things knowable such as “honor, glory, integrity, and morality.”

    Please, if we’re going to have any chance at seeing Muslims come to faith in Jesus, let’s not offer false arguments and untrue caricatures of Allah. This directly opposes an honor based worldview and Muslims don’t come to faith through false arguments about what they believe. Thanks.

    • Thank you Brian for your perspective. The God of Abraham as understood by the Jews is not a “singularity,” and he does not conform to the Muslim concept of “Tahwid.” Moses wrote about God’s creation of mankind, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The god of Islam would never be able to say that. Circular fallacious reasoning attributes eternal interpersonal attributes to an entity that lacks eternal interpersonality. Moses did not make that mistake.

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