During the time of the Reformation, followers of Islam (who were called Turks or Mohammadans) became a major threat to Christianity in Europe. The Turks had captured Constantinople in 1453, 30 years before Luther was born. In the next 10 years they took over Bosnia, Serbia, and Herzegovina. When Suleiman I, who was called the Magnificent, became leader of the Turks in 1520, it became obvious that the goal of the Turks was to rule Europe. By 1529 the Turks threatened Vienna, Austria, the major concern of Emperor Charles V was to defend the empire from this treat. He needed both Catholic and Protestant princes to be united in their efforts to defeat the Turks. For this reason, he attempted to have them settle their religious differences.
After studying the Qur’an, Luther was convinced that Muhammad’s teachings were false. The Qur’an, he said, is stuffed “together in confusion from the Law and the Gospel.” Muhammad “denies that Christ is the Son of God, denies that he died for our sins, denies that he rose again to bring us to life, denies that through faith in him sins are forgiven, denies that he will come as the judge of the living and the dead- though he does believe in a resurrection of the dead and a day of judgment- denies the Holy Spirit, and denies his gifts.” Holy Scripture makes it clear that Jesus “is the true God (1 John 5:20).” Yet Islam places Muhammad above Christ. Luther’s primary objection to Islam was that it denied that people are justified by faith in Jesus Christ as their
Nevertheless, Luther supported publishing the Qur’an and making it widely available for Christians to study. He encouraged the city council of Basel to do just that in a letter he wrote to them on October 24, 1542. By reading the Qur’an Luther wanted Christians to see that the Qur’an did not contain the message of salvation through Jesus. He was interested in refuting Islam, not promoting it.
Luther admired the “courageous, strict, and respectable conduct” of many Islamic people. “They do not indulge in wine, do not over-indulge in drinking and eating as we do, do not dress so frivolously and lavishly. They do not build with our splendor, nor do they put on the airs we do; and they do not curse and swear so much. Toward their emperor and lord they show great…obedience, decorum, and honor. Moreover, they have organized their government and administer it as we should like to have it administered in German lands.” For Luther, Islamic people should be treated with respect for the virtuous lives that they lived. He fervently hoped that they, too, would come to believe the Gospel.
Luther also supported the emperor’s efforts to defend the empire against any Turkish invasion. While at times he felt that the Turkish threat was God’s punishment on the Christian princes for neglecting word and Sacrament and living evil lives, he urged the Protestant princes to help Charles in his battles with the Turks. He urged people to pay the tax to support the resistance effort and said that if he were not too old and weak, he would prefer personally to be a part of that army. His concern, however, was for the spiritual life of the people. He told pastors to urge people to confess their sins ad live in response to the Gospel. He told soldiers to pray faithfully, hear the Word, ad receive the Sacrament. He encouraged children to learn the catechism. For Luther, growing in the faith as the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament was the best way to resist Islam.