‘Allah Has No Son’ leaflet: Christian, unkind or hate crime?

Preston Flag Market. Courtesy of Francis C. Franklin / Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Preston_Flag_Market.jpg
Preston Flag Market. Courtesy of Francis C. Franklin / Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Preston_Flag_Market.jpg

Recently several Muslim families in Lancashire received hand-delivered copies of the Jack Chick gospel tract ‘Allah Has No Son’ from a man called Michael who describes himself as ‘an independent Christian.’ Michael stated that he sent them as his ‘right to reply’ to several community outreach events organised by Muslims in Preston over the previous year. At least one of the Muslim families to receive the tract was upset about it and reported it as a hate crime to police. Guest writer Chris Flux considers whether it’s legitimate to regard such literature as ‘hate crime.’

The incident was reported by the Lancashire Evening Post on 18 October. You can find the story online here:

https://www.lep.co.uk/news/crime/hate-mail-sent-to-preston-muslim-families-1-9403907

So as Christians should we see Michael’s actions as a hate crime, inappropriate evangelism or just a bold expression of truth?

To determine this we need to examine what is contained in the tract. You can read a copy of this tract online at https://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0042/0042_01.asp. (Note: When this link was checked on 7 November, it was repeatedly suffering “connection timeout” issues at source, possibly suggesting a denial-of-service attack or some other form of active ‘shut-down.’)

The Story

The leaflet, which was in comic book form, told the (presumably fictional) story of a Muslim man who gets angry after hearing a Christian refer to Allah as a ‘moon god’. After an aggressive confrontation, the Christian character explains the gospel and the Muslim character converts to Christianity.

The Problem

“I have no issue with a story about Muslims becoming Christians and Gospel message itself as explained in the second half of this leaflet is indeed biblically sound. Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; therefore other religions, however lovely and sincere their adherents are, must be false. Some people find this message of exclusivity difficult and even offensive, but this is the Gospel and the truth about Jesus is something that will offend.”

I have no issue with a story about Muslims becoming Christians and Gospel message itself as explained in the second half of this leaflet is indeed biblically sound. Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (John 14:6), therefore other religions, however lovely and sincere their adherents are, must be false. Some people find this message of exclusivity difficult and even offensive, but this is the Gospel and the truth about Jesus is something that will offend (1 Peter 2:6-8).

So my issue isn’t with the leaflet’s central truth claim or the fact that it criticises Islam. I disagree with Islam on many points. In particular I disagree with how Muslims believe in salvation by good deeds, reject the deity of Christ and the reason for His death.

My problem with the tract is (for the most part) with the first few pages of the leaflet, especially when you consider that it’s intended for a Muslim audience. The leaflet starts off with negative stereotypes about Muslims and misconceptions about what Muslims actually believe. This is unkind, unfair and counterproductive. Muslims are not going to come to Christ in response to insults and fear-mongering from Christians. ‘Hate and fear your neighbour’ is neither an effective nor a biblical evangelism strategy. It’s not meeting people where they are at (like St Paul did when he referenced the pagan poets), it’s throwing in stumbling blocks right from the start. The danger is that because people are likely to be put off by the first half of the leaflet, they are unlikely to read the Gospel message in the second half. Even worse, they could associate all evangelism with hate-mongering; when evangelism is supposed to be about bringing the Good News of God’s love.

‘Moon god’

“Christians telling Muslims that they worship the moon is a bit like Muslims telling Christians they worship three different gods. It’s annoying and comes across as ignorant. It’s not the start of a fruitful conversation.”

The first difficulty is when the leaflet implies that Muslims secretly worship the Moon. I don’t know enough to know if there’s any truth in the claim that Islam has its roots within pagan lunar worship. That may well be a legitimate subject to examine. However in the context of a Gospel tract it’s irrelevant as hardly any Muslims believe that they worship the moon. Christians telling Muslims that they worship the moon is a bit like Muslims telling Christians they worship three different gods. It’s annoying and comes across as ignorant. It’s not the start of a fruitful conversation. There’s a place for discussing Islam’s origins in a book, magazine article or even a YouTube video, but I don’t think it’s wise to do this at the start of a leaflet aimed at a Muslim audience. It’s also not that relevant from a salvation point of view. Whether someone worships the moon or worships the monotheistic deity described in the Quran; they are still worshipping a false god and need Jesus Christ as their saviour.

Instead the leaflet should start as a friendly explanation of common misconceptions or questions that Muslims have about Christianity. For example, explaining that belief in the Trinity isn’t polytheism and (most importantly of all) explain that we are saved by faith not by works. This is far more important and relevant than examining than the supposed origins of Islam.

‘Extremists’

“Stereotyping Muslims as extremist in a leaflet aimed at Muslims is rude and will only harden their heart towards the Gospel.”

The leaflet goes on to portray its Muslim character as an intolerant violent extremist who threatens to kill Christians.

Of course it’s definitely true that some Muslims are violent towards Christians. Extremists like ISIS have murdered and enslaved Christians in the Middle East. Christians have been persecuted by Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Iran. More recently a Christian in Pakistan was acquitted of blasphemy, having been on death row for the supposed offence.

However the majority of Muslims are not violent towards Christians and it seems unlikely that Muslims who will read this tract are going to be extremists. So stereotyping Muslims as extremist in a leaflet aimed at Muslims is rude and will only harden their heart towards the Gospel.

‘Muslims taking over?’

The tract then goes on to make ill-founded claims about Muslims taking over Western countries. Whilst Islam is indeed the second largest religion in the world and growing in the West, a lot of the claims are over the top and are just as factually wrong now as they were when the tract was published in 1995.

There are about 3.45 million Muslims in the United States in a nation of more than 325 million.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/03/new-estimates-show-u-s-muslim-population-continues-to-grow/

“There are about 3.45 million Muslims in the United States in a nation of more than 325 million. That’s about 1% of the US population and (for comparison) less than 50% of the US Mormon population. This is particularly small when you consider how many Muslims there are globally and that the US is a country built on immigration.”

That’s about 1% of the US population and (for comparison) less than 50% of the US Mormon population (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html). This is particularly small when you consider how many Muslims there are globally and that the US is a country built on immigration.

Given this statistic and the fact that the current Trump administration is not exactly friendly towards Muslims, then it’s absurd to say that Muslims are going to take over the US Government and replace Christianity anytime soon. That doesn’t mean Islamic extremists don’t want to take over America, but it’s not likely to happen for a variety of reasons.

The leaflet also talks about Britain and how Islam is bringing the UK to its knees. Yes there have been problems such as the terror attacks in 2017, grooming gangs comprised of men from Asian backgrounds and other issues, but I wouldn’t say Islam has brought the UK to its knees. The UK is still a liberal democracy where women can vote and LGBT rights are protected. This doesn’t mean we can be complacent about religious extremism, but we shouldn’t be alarmist either. Whilst discussion of such extremism is legitimate, such a complex and nuanced issue seems to be out of place on a Gospel tract and very possibly a case of mission drift. Whether the reader is extremist or moderate; they still need the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so getting into other issues distracts from that.

‘Prophet Picture’

I noticed there was a cartoon drawing in the tract of Mohammed bowing down before Jesus Christ. I have no issue with this image myself and considering that ‘every knee will bow’ (Romans 14:11), I think that this depicts truthfully something that is to come. I don’t think Christians should refrain from expressing themselves simply because it could offend others. However I also don’t think it makes sense to include an image that many Muslims will find offensive in a leaflet designed for a Muslim audience. It would be like slaughtering a pig in front of a vegan in an attempt to convince them to eat meat. We shouldn’t water down Christian truth when we share the Gospel, but we shouldn’t actively seek to offend either.

‘Win souls, not arguments’

For those reasons it seems that this tract does a poor job of spreading the Gospel. It also appears that winning Muslims for Jesus wasn’t even the intention of the man who sent them to the Muslim families. Michael told the media that this was his ‘right to reply’ following attempts by a Muslim group to share their beliefs in public recently. His choice of words indicates that he wasn’t motivated by a desire to share the Good News, but instead it was all about winning an argument. Now there is a place for debate and apologetics within evangelism, but the ultimate goal of evangelism is to win souls, not win the debate.

“Personally I got saved on a student Alpha Course. The first half of each session was a video of Nicky Gumbel talking about Christianity. The second half was a social, with Christians, over food. It wasn’t the wise words of Nicky Gumbel that led me to Christ, but the love shown by that group of student Christians. I am a Christian not because I was won over by clever arguments, but because I was amazed by the love shown from a group of Christ’s followers.”

Many people (not just Christians) become so focused on being proved ‘right’ and winning the argument that they lose sight of what’s important. This is a pride issue. For example we might have a fantastic argument as to why atheism is wrong, but if we are arrogant and rude to atheists in the process then we risk pushing people away from the Gospel rather than drawing them towards it. The Pharisees had the right teaching on many subjects, yet they didn’t know Jesus (Matthew 23:2-33). I honestly think it would be better to be ‘fools for the gospel’ (1 Corinthians 4:10) than win a debate which is primarily about our own ego (Proverbs 16:18).

Personally I got saved on a student Alpha Course. The first half of each session was a video of Nicky Gumbel talking about Christianity. The second half was a social, with Christians, over food. It wasn’t the wise words of Nicky Gumbel that led me to Christ, but the love shown by that group of student Christians. I am a Christian not because I was won over by clever arguments, but because I was amazed by the love shown from a group of Christ’s followers (John 13:35).

Now I am not going to make the error of embracing the ‘social gospel’ as the only legitimate way to reach people. Preaching, apologetics and even (with discernment) supernatural ministry are all valid and biblical ways to spread the Gospel. But it was through friendship and acts of kindness that Jesus got many of His followers. I can’t recall anyone following Jesus because He beat them in a debate.

A downside for all Gospel tracts is that they are impersonal unless they are handed to someone the Christian has already built a relationship with. In the case of Michael, it seems that the tracts were posted to complete strangers and it doesn’t seem (although I could be wrong) that he has been talking to Muslims about faith at events, at work or in a social setting. If evangelism was his concern, then shouldn’t he be trying to build relationships with Muslims rather than just sending leaflets to random strangers?

Hate Crime?

After establishing that this wasn’t the best form of outreach and possibly didn’t come from an evangelistic heart, we are now in a position to consider, ‘Was this a hate crime?’

According to UK Hate Crime policy:

“Something is a racist or religious hate incident if the victim or anyone else thinks it was carried out because of hostility or prejudice based on race or religion.”

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/hate-crime/racist-and-religious-hate-crime/

“The difficult and sometimes contested part of this definition is that this is self-admittedly subjective. It depends on the subjective opinion of their alleged victim or a bystander. If I am rude to a Mormon and they are offended, then this could meet this definition and be reported as a hate incident. This is one of the reasons why Hate Crime policy is often labelled as ‘politically correct dogma.’ However I don’t think critics always fully understand it and this is something we must do if we wish to fairly critique it. We must in particular understand the difference between a ‘hate incident’ and a ‘hate crime’.”

The difficult and sometimes contested part of this definition is that this is self-admittedly subjective. It depends on the subjective opinion of their alleged victim or a bystander. If I am rude to a Mormon and they are offended, then this could meet this definition and be reported as a hate incident. This is one of the reasons why Hate Crime policy is often labelled as ‘politically correct dogma.’ However I don’t think critics always fully understand it and this is something we must do if we wish to fairly critique it. We must in particular understand the difference between a ‘hate incident’ and a ‘hate crime’. Hate incidents are any actions a person reports as hostile regardless of whether it’s criminal behaviour.

However for something to be a hate crime and therefore prosecutable, then it must be an actual crime that exists on the statute books. This isn’t quite as subjective as simply being rude to Mormons isn’t criminal, whereas smashing someone’s window or inciting violence is.

Hate Crime policy serves two purposes: 1) to allow the public to report concerning incidents to the police (even if the incidents are not in themselves criminal); and 2) to increase the punishment for criminal offences motivated by hate (a provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003). There is a debate to be had about the latter point. Should someone who assaults another because of their ethnicity receive a stronger punishment than someone who assaults another because of anger or greed? Isn’t a stabbing a stabbing regardless of motivation? This is a big discussion for another day, but I can see the arguments both ways.

However I totally agree with the incident reporting provision of the policy, as sometimes you need to build up evidence of connected incidents before the police are able to charge someone with a crime. So with the example of harassment; walking closely behind someone in the street isn’t a crime, but if someone did it every day with the intention of making the person fearful then it could count as harassment. So this provision helps the police collect information and intelligence, but I can’t see how it could lead to people being arrested and charged for simply being rude (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/hate-crime/what-are-hate-incidents-and-hate-crime/).

So coming back to this Muslim family, it seems that because they found it hateful then it qualifies as a hate incident, but in order to be a hate crime it has to break an actual law.

So what laws could the police prosecute with?

Firstly there is the Malicious Communications Act 1988 which states that is it an offence to send “any article which is incident or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient.”

Notice that in regards to this Act, whether Michael has committed a crime all depends on his motivation. This would be very difficult to prove and I honestly don’t know what his true motivations were.

“For me the ‘Allah Has No Son’ tract itself fits within the scope of freedom of speech. However I don’t think Christians should use this tract to reach Muslims, instead we should build relationships with them and find other materials to share, materials that are both thoughtful and biblically based.”

Secondly, there is the more recent Equality Act 2010 which defines ‘harassment’ as “unwanted behaviour which you find offensive or which makes you feel intimidated or humiliated.” The Equality Act also states it’s “harassment where the behaviour is meant to or has the effect of either: violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” Online guidance from Citizens Advice explains that this means “it’s harassment even if the person harassing you didn’t mean to offend or intimidate you, as long as the harassment has one of the above effects.”

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/harassment/

So under this legislation the prosecution wouldn’t have to prove that the defendant had bad intentions. This is where the law becomes more problematic. On one hand, not having to prove bad intentions could allow harassers (with bad intentions) to excuse their behaviour as ‘well meaning’. But on the other hand, it allows people, who were perhaps just a bit unwise, to be convicted for something where they genuinely didn’t want to harm people and even (in the case of evangelism) intended to help people. It’s a very difficult area of law where I’m not qualified to offer a solution that will work for every case.

I do know however, that if Michael was simply being a bit thoughtless or genuinely attempting to evangelise, then I don’t want him to receive a criminal conviction.

However if he sent them because he wants Muslims to feel belittled, unsafe and humiliated then he should face the legal consequences. I hate hearing about the abuse and harassment that Christians suffer in other countries, so I don’t want anyone regardless of their faith to suffer abuse in this country.

Thankfully God knows people’s intentions and He will respond accordingly. For me the ‘Allah Has No Son’ tract itself fits within the scope of freedom of speech. However I don’t think Christians should use this tract to reach Muslims, instead we should build relationships with them and find other materials to share, materials that are both thoughtful and biblically based.

 

 

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