The Ottoman army besieging Vienna (1529). Book Illustration, Nakkas Osman 1588.

The recent controversies over pastoral remarks that pit Christianity vs Islam, whether generated by Pope Benedict or McCain’s jeremiad-in-the-making over Rev. Parsley or Rev. Hagee’s hazardous raising of Hitler and the Holocaust to acts of divine retribution, are not unique. Interfaith harmony and ecumenical amenities have been the exception in a historical trajectory of damning the faith of the other in both monotheisms, not to mention how Judaism has been denigrated as well. An earlier reform-minded Protestant had reason to fear Muslim Ottoman Turks, who had invaded Christian dominions in Europe and who had attracted more than a fair share of converts. A little more than a decade after Ottoman army besieged Vienna, Martin Luther wrote a preface to a German translation of the Quran. In this he targets “idolatrous Jews, Muhammadans and Papists” as instruments of the Devil, the kind of religious intolerance that easily spills over into the secular arena as ethnic hate bating.

Here is Luther’s “Preface to Bibliander’s Edition of the Qur’an” (1543):

Many persons have authored small tracts describing the rites, beliefs, and customs of Jews of this day for the very purpose of more easily refuting their manifest lies and exposed errors and ravings. There is no doubt that, when pious minds bring the testimony of the prophets to bear on the delusions and blasphemies of those people, they are greatly confirmed in faith and in love for the truth of the gospel and are fired with a righteous hatred of the perversity of the Jewish teachings. Indeed let any sane or moderate person consider how much of the most tasteless slander, how much madness and wickedness there is in Jewish beliefs and rites, a truth to be grasped from the fact that their learned and good men (e.g., as in the case of Nicholaus of Lyra, Salomo Levi from Burgos, or Antonius Margaritha) promote the Eleusinian mysteries.

For just as in the beginning in paradise the devil maddened the unfortunate Eve with his lies and drove her from God, so it is certain that since that time it is by the devil that the ragings of all the nations have been aroused against the true teaching of God.The fact that all peoples sacrificed human victims, as is evident from the examples not only among the ancient Greeks and Romans, but also from later times, like the Emperor Severus; the fact that the Egyptians worshipped cats, the people of Arabia dogs, the Lampsacenians Priapus, and other peoples one monster or another; the fact that things which were defiling in Cyprus or at Thebes, became in Egypt or somewhere else sacred rites: it is certain that all these things have been wrought by the devil who has continued to drive blinded human minds, in the first place, so that he might show himself to be an enemy of God, and, in the second place, so that he might haughtily deceive the feeble nature of humankind.

It was the devil who also aroused such ravings of the Jews when after the resurrection of Christ they fomented revolution, when after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem they incited war a second time under the leadership of Bar Cochba, and when under the reign of the Emperor Julian the Apostate they began again to rebuild the temple. No less insane is the fact that since they are not able to take up arms, they sit in the midst of their sacrifices and hurl curses at the Son of God and devise deceitful and poisonous corruptions of the prophetic witness; they fashion crude rites, they lacerate their own bodies and those of their infants, and continue to have some sort of hopeful dreams of dominion over the world, contrary to the manifest testimonies of the prophets.

To be sure, the devil would wish that such deceits of his would not be uncovered, would not be brought to light, would not be censured. But just as the apostles condemned the errors of the nations, so now the church of God ought to refute the errors of all the enemies of the gospel, so that the glory of God and his Son Jesus Christ might be celebrated against the devil and his instruments. While the son of God was hanging on the cross, the whole world of nature testified with novel and awesome signs that this death mattered to God, and threatened not only the Jews, but the whole world of all times insofar as it rejected the Son of God. Even if a few were moved, God still wanted to set forth a clear testimony. Thus, even if this world at the extreme end of the ages is oppressed by a huge multitude of idolatrous Jews, Muhammadans, and papists, nevertheless, let us sound forth the voice of the gospel and bear witness that the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, whom the apostles show us, is truly the Son of God and Savior, and let us denounce the errors of all those who wage war against the gospel.

Therefore, as I have written against the idols of the Jews and the papists, and will continue to do so to the extent that it is granted me, so also I have begun to refute the pernicious beliefs of Muhammad, and I will continue to do so at more length. But in order to do this, it is also useful to study closely the writings of Muhammad themselves. Accordingly, I have wanted to get a look at a complete text of the Qur’an. I do not doubt that the more other pious and learned persons read these writings, the more the errors and the name of Muhammad will be refuted. For just as the folly, or rather madness, of the Jews is more easily observed once their hidden secrets have been brought out into the open, so once the book of Muhammad has been made public and thoroughly examined in all its parts, all pious persons will more easily comprehend the insanity and wiles of the devil and will be more easily able to refute them. This is the reason that has moved me to wish to publish this book.

Given the fact, however, that some persons fear that by reading such a book weak minds might be corrupted as it were by an infection and turned from Christ, to such persons I respond in this way. May there be none so infirm in the church of God that they do not have this conviction fixed in their mind, that, as certain as they know that they are alive as long as their senses and bodily motor functions are still vital, as certain as they know that it is day, as long as they see the sun passing above the earth in the middle of the sky, so certain should they be that it is patently impossible that any religion or doctrine about the worship or invocation of God be true that utterly rejects the prophetic and apostolic writings.

There is one eternal church beginning from Adam, to whom God revealed himself with sure and wondrous testimonies in the very word which God en- trusted to the prophets and apostles. Time and time again God commands that by its teaching God is to be known and acknowledged and that all other beliefs about God be rejected. To this one teaching God joins us, just as the prophet Isaiah clearly says in chapter 59: “This is my covenant, says the Lord: my Spirit is in you, and my words that I have placed in your mouth will not depart from your mouth or the mouth of your descendants for ever.” And Christ says: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you; whatever you ask will be done for you.” And Paul says that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Therefore, all beliefs of all nations about God that either ignore or reject the prophets and the apostles are to be insistently condemned.

Muhammad acknowledges, however, that he is devising a new belief that dissents from the prophets and apostles. Therefore, as you firmly repudiate the beliefs of the Egyptians who worshipped cats and of the Arabians who worshipped dogs, so you shall denounce the new creation of Muhammad, because he himself openly admits that he does not embrace the teaching of the prophets and apostles. If there are any who are so without understanding that they do not have this conviction fixed in their mind that the only true religion is that which was from the beginning handed on by God, with clear testimonies, through the prophets and apostles, even if these persons do not now read the writings of Muhammad, but either only hear about the Turks or see them, how will they fortify themselves against their beliefs? Rather, it is a shameful and impious ignorance if they do not daily admonish themselves in intercession concerning this belief, if they do not separate themselves from the Jews, the Turks, and other nations in prayer; if they do not meditate on the fact that this one alone is the eternal and true God, the creator and sustainer of all things, who hears us and will grant life eternal, who re-vealed himself in the writings of the prophets and apostles, who willingly sent God’s Son to be a sacrifice for our sake. Those who meditate on these things in prayer will acknowledge that this stupidity is no light sin.

Because only a few call upon God rightly in prayer, the church, therefore, is being punished for its ignorance and neglect. But since this punishment is already in sight, may it warn us, as I have already said, to separate ourselves in prayer from the Turks, from the Jews, and from the other nations, and to invoke the eternal and true God, the creator of all things, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sake and raised from the dead. But I shall speak about these things more fully at another time.

Daniel and the other captives won over the King of Babylon and many others to true knowledge of God. The Goths, the Huns, and the Franks, although victorious, nevertheless, were converted by their captives to the worship of God. So now, too, God perhaps will call some of the Turks from their darkness through their Christian captives who have been instructed. Or perhaps God wishes that those uninstructed Christians who are sorely oppressed in Illyria, Greece, and Asia, may be strengthened by those Christians who by reading this book will be able to fight more courageously on behalf of the gospel.

The following corollary assertions provide a source of great encouragement: Just as the church of God is eternal, so it is fitting that the church’s teachings be eternal; yet this book witnesses that this creation of Muhammad is a new thing. The church of God by necessity embraces the prophets and apostles; Muhammad rejects their teaching. In the church of God from the very beginning this voice of the gospel has always been handed on: that the eternal Father willed that the Son of God become a sacrifice for sins; Muhammad scorns this sacrifice and propitiation. In the church the doctrine has always existed concerning the causes of human weakness, calamity, and death, and especially concerning sin passed on after the fall of the first parents; these Muhammad, as if an Epicurean, considers to be inane fabrications. Finally, the book itself gives rise to many other assertions whose enumeration would hardly edify the pious.

This must not be thought a matter of light importance, especially by those of us who teach in the church. We must fight on all fronts against the ranks of the devil. In this age of ours how many varied enemies have we already seen? Papist defenders of idolatry, the Jews, the multifarious monstrosities of the Anabaptists, Servetus, and others. Let us now prepare ourselves against Muhammad. But what can we say about matters that are still outside our knowledge? Therefore, it is of value for the learned to read the writings of the enemy in order to refute them more keenly, to cut them to pieces and to overturn them, in order that they might be able to bring some to safety, or certainly to fortify our people with more sturdy arguments.