Canon Dr. Christopher Lamb
The pioneer of the study of Islamic websites, Dr Gary Bunt, notes that many defy rigid categorisation. This paper will not deal with the ever-expanding field of blogs, Facebook and other social networking sites, podcasts, You-tube and video material, since there is more than enough material available on the standard sites, even in English. Many Muslims in all parts of the Muslim world have seized the opportunity to acquire information, advice and personal contacts from the Web.Much of this is in English as part of da’wah. I have not attempted to assess sites in other languages, or to assess the non-English sections of bi-lingual or multi-lingual sites, so that this Anglophone picture of the web will be inevitably partial.
Attempting to assess attitudes towards Christianity from these sites, we begin with the cultural distance to be travelled by those who convert to Islam. For some it is an easy journey; others encounter problems in being accepted in the mosque. Some of the clearest Muslim statements about Christians and Christianity are those triggered by requests for a judgement from Islamic law on particular circumstances. Should Muslims offer greetings to Christian friends, colleagues or acquaintances at the time of Christian festivals such as Christmas or Easter? Responses tend to express negative or at best cautious views on such matters. Western social and political establishments are often loosely characterised as Christian by Muslims, and this naturally affects the Muslim perception of Christian faith, especially when media coverage in the West appears to denigrate Islam or misrepresent Muslims. American Muslim sites, in particular, are anxious to strike an eirenic note and to challenge the perception that to be Muslim is to be unAmerican.
Muslim responses to all these issues have at their core attitudes and convictions shaped by the Qur’an and Sunna. It is possible to find both positive and negative references to Christians and Christianity in the Qur’an. The negative may seem to be accentuated in the English-language material examined here, because of a felt need to affirm Muslim distinctiveness where Muslims are a small minority in the societies where they live. This is even true in sermons given in Makkah in Arabic and translated for use in Anglophone situations.
What effect will this internet material have on Christian-Muslim relations? The Web seems to encourage strong opinions, but the most significant relations are face to face.