Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals
by Abu Daoud

A reader of Islam and Christianity recently asked the question of how he, an Orthodox Christian, could talk to his Baptist neighbor to convince him that he was in fact a genuine Christian. The Baptist was off to Russia, if I recall correctly, to evangelize the unsaved Orthodox. How can our Orthodox (or Catholic perhaps) friend convince his neighbor that he is in fact a fellow brother in God's family and not just an unsaved soul who needs to be born again? Here are a couple of pointers:

1) Read the Bible and let him know about it: evangelicals have a special devotion to the Bible, just like many Palestinians have a special devotion to Saint George or Mexicans have for the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Bible plays a very central role, as it should, in their lives in areas like Bible memorization and daily devotionals. Once he understands that you read the Bible and believe in it he will take your faith more seriously.

2) Use words he knows: when talking about the hierarchy, unless it is very important to specify, please feel free to use the word "pastor" instead of the various and sometimes convoluted titles that have developed through the ages. Pastor is a helpful word because it is what he calls the leader of his church. Other examples: sermon, not homily. Worship and Communion, not Holy Liturgy and Eucharist.

3) Acknowledge your faults: people generally have a fairly good reason for thinking that Catholics and Orthodox are nominal and that they are not fully converted. Acknowledge that and admit that your church really does need to do a better job teaching youth about the Christian faith and the Bible and the virtuous life. There are so many people who are technically Christians (they have been baptized) but who are unevangelized. Your evangelical friend understands that nominal Christians are unsaved, and one can make a strong case that in a sense of the word they are correct.

4) Pray with him: ask him to pray for you, ask him how you can pray for him. Evangelical Christianity rightly understands that prayer is a mark of God's grace in the life of the believer. That you would pray for him and ask him to pray for you shows that God's grace is active in your life.

Well, those are a few pointers. Sooner or later, if you are good friends and communicate often, then you will be able to get into deeper questions about differences in practices. theology, and so on.

But given the specific instance mentioned above, what would I have done? (And I'm not Orthodox btw.) I would have told him that he has an important job to do, to disciple the Russians and teach them the Bible and call them to a living and strong faith in their Lord. I would say that the Russian Orthodox Church has a great history of missions but after Communism it became weakened and many of our Orthodox brothers there have no knowledge of the Bible or the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to free them from addiction, alcoholism, and sickness. Then I would say a prayer with him and ask God's blessing in his mission to Russia.

[originally posted HERE.]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sacramentality in Islam and mission to Muslims

[This is part of the text of an article I wrote for St. Francis Magazine which can be found HERE. Part I can be found HERE.--AD]

[...]Take a look at the pillars of Islam. While Muslims do not use the language of sacrament, they certainly have the concept, though in an incomplete manner. (For ultimately the fullness of the sacramentality of Creation cannot be grasped without the incarnation). Because the sacramental principle is distorted but present in Islam, one ends up with the rather crude and instrumentalist language regarding forgiveness of sins: that if one does this or that then certain sins will be forgiven. Forgiveness in Islam is not the reconciliation of mercy and justice as it is in Christianity: it tends more towards a sort of randomness and, some might say, capriciousness on the part of Allah. The two are related of course. Because there is no reconciliation of justice and mercy in a body—a human body which is “sacrificed for us” and “takes away the sins of the world”—there can be nothing higher than capriciousness which oscillates between mercy and justice without really dealing with either of them in a concrete way.

Nevertheless Islam is filled with rituals and there can be no doubt that through these concrete rituals—and much attention is given to form—mercy and forgives can be earned, though one is seldom assured that they have been imparted. To bring a person from Islam into Christianity is to bring them from one set of signs and symbols into another. This is true even if we are using the phraseology of the Kingdom of God and Islamic vocabulary. Islam already has a ritual washing which is performed by devout Muslims quite frequently. Baptism is an alternate ritual washing, performed once.

The community of the Kingdom of God has a ritual meal which is celebrated on a regular basis by those who have made the required confession of faith (in baptism). It is not a sacrifice of a living animal, as is the Islamic ritual sacrifice-meal (Eid al Adha); also, it is performed more often (in Acts daily, and until the 16th C. weekly). The Islamic sacrificial meal is a memorial of a grand sacrifice provided by Allah whereby Abraham’s son was spared: it and the meal celebrate and recall filial obedience. The ritual sacrifice-meal among the subjects of the Kingdom is similar, but not identical. For one, it is always a participation, a going-back-to and a reliving of one sacrifice that was made at a specific point in time (under Pontius Pilate) in a specific way (he was crucified, dead, and buried) on a given hill near Zion. There too is a theme of filial obedience. In the Quran the son of Abraham knows ahead of time that his father will kill him, unlike in the Genesis narrative. Yet he goes with him to meet this fate. In a more dramatic and lengthier narrative we have a similar story in the Gospels. But the ultimate end of the sacrifice is not only obedience for the sake of obedience, but obedience for the sake of reconciling all Creation to God. Another way to put it is this: to preserve the justice and mercy of God through the sacrament of Jesus’ body. [...]

Abu Daoud. 'Mission and Sacrament, Part II' in Saint Francis Magazine 4:3, Dec. 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Part XIX: Islam is a Civilization

Part XIX: Islam is a Civilization, not a religion
by Abu Daoud

The word religion is spectacularly Western. It comes from the Latin meaning “to re-connect” or to form a link that has been severed. It is popular in the USA, and perhaps in the UK, to say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Neither is entirely correct though: Christianity is indeed a religion, but it is relational as well. Christianity does indeed seek to re-connect (or reconcile, to use a more biblical word) two warring parties: God and man. And it does this through the cross of the God-man, Jesus Christ, God incarnate.

But what of Islam? Is it a religion? Does it seek to reconnect two estranged parties?

The word normally used in Arabic to translate the English-Latin word religion is “diin.” But if we look at that word we find a very different understanding of the relation between humanity and God/Allah than we would via the other word, religion.

The Arabic word diin is a gerund, and it is based on the verb daan, which means, in its root form, (he) judged. In fact we find this confirmed in no less a prayer than the opening chapter of the Quran (al fatiha—the opening), wherein we read that “your is the day of diin” or “yours is the day of judgment.” So in Arabic Islam (which, make no mistake, is the true Islam) diin is nothing less than judgment.

This moves us towards the true understand that the English word ‘religion’ quite simply has no translation in Arabic. If wish to translate the word ‘reconciliation’ we may use the fairly accurate word tasalluh, which does indeed mean to reconcile two inimical parties. But for the word ‘religion’ we would have to resort to fairly exotic contrivances like ‘ta3alluq’ or something along those lines.

I mention this all simply because I have noticed the very pernicious effect of mistranslations. Words have a great deal of power. I bring up the topic because one hears often among Western politicians the idea of “secularism” among Arab or Persian Muslim peoples, wherein one separates religion from civil rule. When we understand that the truly Islamic-Arabic understanding does not, and can not, separate religious rule from civil rule, we have moved a step towards being able to intelligently grapple in a realistic way with the sundry challenges faced by people in the diverse countries of Southwest Asia and North Africa. Religion involves judgment (diin). Civil rule involves judgment (diin) as well. There is no separation, and within an Islamic civilization separation of the two is neither desirable nor possible.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bibliography for Islam and Christianity

Broadly speaking, of course, here is a bibliography I have been working on (and am working on) for some time. It is not narrowly tailored, so it has some works on completely Christian issues (sacramental and trinitarian theology) which, in my view, are important for understanding how Christianity relates to Islam and can answer Islam. And vice versa, so there are works on the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) which do not at any length discuss Christian themes or ideas, but are nonetheless essential in grasping the otherness of Christianity when approached from the Islamic framework.

Bibliography for Islam and Christianity

by Abu Daoud

Abd al-Masiih. ‘ALLAH? The God of Islam and the God of Christianity?’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 2:4, March 2007.

Arab World Ministeries (AWM) ‘Contextualization of Ministry among Muslims: A Statement on the Appropriate Limits’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:1, June 2007.

Armstrong, Karen. 2002. Islam: A Short History. Modern Library Chronicles.

Arthur, J. Bryson. 2001. The Real Church: The GodMan Legacy. Nairobi: Uzima Press.

Bailey, Betty Jane; J. Martin Bailey. 2003. Who are the Christians in the Middle East? Grand Rapids; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans.

Bettenson, Henry, ed. 1967. Documents of the Christian Church, Second Edition. London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Caner, Emir Fethi and H. Edward Pruitt. 2006. The Costly Call, Book 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel.

Chauvet, Louis-Marie. 1995. Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence. Translated by Patrick Madigan, Madelaine Beaumont. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Chesterton, G. K. 1920. The New Jerusalem. Pub UNK.

Coote, Robert T. ‘Finger on the Pulse: Fifty Years of Missionary Research’ in IBMR, Vol. 24:3.

Cragg, Kenneth. 1991. The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

_____. 2000. The Call of the Minaret, Third Edition. Oxford: One World Press.

Crombie, Kelvin. 2006. A Jewish Bishop in Jerusalem: The life story of Michael Solomon Alexander. Jerusalem: Nicolayson’s Ltd.

Dalrymple, William. 1998. From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East. London: Flamingo.

Donaldson, Stuart A. 1909. Church Life and Thought in North Africa A.D. 200. Cambridge: University Press.

Dutch, Bernard. ‘Should Muslims become “Christians”?’ in IJFM, Vol. 17:1, Spring 2000.

Evans, Edward. ‘Discipling and Training for Muslim background Believers, Part 1: A Growing Need’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:2 , Sep 2007.

Farah, Rafiq A. 2002. In Troubled Waters: A History of the Anglican Church in Jerusalem 1841-1998. Leicester, UK: Christians Aware.

Farah, Warrick. 2005. Mapping People Groups in Yemen for Informed Church Planting: A Research Project. Unpublished Manuscript.

Foster, John. 1956. Beginning From Jerusalem: Christian Expansion through Seventeen Centuries. London: United Society for Christian Literature.

Francisco, Adam S. ‘Luther, Lutheranism, and the Challenge of Islam’ in Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 71:3/4, July/Oct 2007.

Fromkin, David. 1989. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Garrison, David. ND. Church Planting Movements. Richmond, Virginia: International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

_____. 1990. The Nonresidential Missionary: A new strategy and the people it serves. Birmingham, Alabama: MARC & New Hope.

Goldsmith, Martin. ‘Immanuel—Imanu-Allah: The Name of the Creator Deity and the Name of God’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:3, Dec 2007.

Gray, John. 2003. Al Qaeda and what it means to be modern. Chatham, UK: Faber and Faber.

Gunton, Colin E. 1997. The Promise of Trinitarian Theology. London, New York: T&T Clark.

Gustafson, K. and Common Ground Consultants, Inc. 2007. An Insider View. Unk: Common Ground Consultants, Inc.

Hallaq, Wael B. 1997. A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An introduction to Sunni usul al-fiqh. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Harper, Susan Billington. ‘Ironies of Indigenization’ in IBMR Vol. 19:1,

Hart, David Bentley. 2004. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans.

Hogg, W. Richey. ‘Vatican II’s Ad Gentes: A Twenty-Year Retrospective’ in IBMR Vol. 9:4, Oct 1985.

Horner, Norman A. ‘Christianity in North Africa Today’ in Occassional Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol 4:2, Apr 1980.

Huband, Mark. 1999. Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam. Oxford: Westview Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1998. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster.

Jameson, Richard and Nick Scalevish. ‘First-Century Jews and Twentieth-Century Muslims’ in IJFM, Vol. 17:1, Spring 2000.

Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenner, Henry. ‘Mozarabic Rite’ in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. 1911. Censor Lafort, Remy. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

John Paul II. 1990. Redemptoris Missio: On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate. Hunter Publishing.

Karsh, Efraim. 2006. Islamic Imperialism: A History. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

Kerr, David A. ‘Christian Mission and Islamic Studies: Beyond Antithesis’ in IBMR, Vol. 26:1, Jan 2002.

Khalil, Mohammad Hassan and Mucahit Bilici. ‘Conversion out of Islam: A Study of Conversion Narratives of Former Muslims’ in The Muslim World, Vol. 97, Jan. 2007.

Klauser, Theodor. 1979. A Short History of the Western Liturgy: An account and some reflections, 2nd Edition. Trans. by John Halliburton. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Lahham, Maroun. ‘Eastern Christianity: Development across the two millennia’ Translator unknown, in St Francis Magazine Vol 2:4, March 2007.

Lewis, Bernard. 2003. The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. New York: Modern Library.

Lewis, Christopher. ‘It’s Primetime in Iran’ in Christianity Today, Sep. 2008.

_____. ‘Looking for Home’ in Christianity Today, Sep. 2008.

Livingstone, Greg. 1993. Planting Churches in Muslim Cities: A Team Approach. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Mansour, Atallah. 2004. Narrow Gate Churches: The Christian Presence in the Holy Land under Muslim and Jewish Rule. Pasadena: Hope Publishing.

Masri, Fouad. 2006. Is the Injeel Corrrupted? My Search for the Truth about the New Testament. Indianapolis: Crescent Project.

Massey, Joshua. ‘God’s Amazing Diversity in Drawing Muslims to Christ’ in IJFM, Vol. 17:1, Spring 2000.

Metz, Johann B. 1993. ‘The “One World”: A Challenge to Western Christianity’ in Christ and Context: The Confrontation between Gospel and Culture ed. by Regan, Hilary D. and Alan J. Torance. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Miller, William McElwee. 1969. Ten Muslims Meet Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans.

Newbigin, Lesslie. 2003. Signs amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History. Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans.

_____. 1995. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans.

Nikides, Bill. ‘Evaluating “Insider Movements”: C5 (Messianic Muslims)’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 1:4, March 2006.

_____. ‘The Church at the Crossroads: A Global Perspective’ in St Francis Magazine Vol II:4, March 2007.

Pardo Pastor, Jordi. ‘Ramon Lull y el Ars Conuertendi: Antropología, Apologética, Diálogo y Hermenéutica’ in Estudios Eclesiásticos, Vol. 80, No. 312, 2005.

Paul VI. 1976. Evangelii Nuntiandi: On Evangelization in the Modern World. Pauline Books & Media.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 1978. The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300). Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.

Peters, Barry. ‘Christological Monotheism—a Practical Methodology’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:3, Dec 2007.

Pitman, Emma Raymond. 1882? Mission Life in Greece and Palestine. London, Paris, New York: Cassell, Petter, Gilpin & Co.

Ramachandra, Vinoth. 2002. The Recovery of Mission: Beyond the Pluralist Paradigm. Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Register, Ray. 2000. Back to Jerusalem: Church Planting Movements in the Holy Land. Enumclaw, Washington: Winepress Publishing.

_____. 1979. Dialogue and Interfaith Witness with Muslims: A Guide and Sample Ministry in the USA, Revised Ed. Ephrata, Pennsylvania: Multi-Language Media.

Robeck Jr., Cecil M. ‘Mission and the Issue of Proselytism’ in IBMR 20:1, Jan 1996.

Royer, Chris. 2006. ‘An Apology for Greater Anglican Involvement in Turkey.’ Ambridge, Pennsylvania: Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, unpublished.

Sahas, Daniel J. ‘Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church’ in Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 36:1, 1991.

Samuel, Paul Bender. ‘Initial Reflections on Holistic Ministry in an Islamic Context’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:2, Sep 2007.

Sanneh, Lamin. ‘Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, and Jesus Christ, Image of God: A Personal Testimony’ in IBMR Vol. 8:4.

_____. Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel beyond the West. Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans.

Schineller, Peter, S.J. ‘Inculturation: A Difficult and Delicate Task’ in IBMR Vol. 20:3.

Schmemann, Alexander. 1963, 1973. For the life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

_____. 1961. ‘The Missionary Imperative in the Orthodox Tradition’ in The Theology of the Christian Mission, ed. Anderson, Gerald. New York, London, Toronto: McGraw-Hill.

Simson, Wolfgang. 1999. Houses that Change the World: The Return of the House Churches. Waynesboro, Georgia: Authentic Media.

Stacey, Vivienne. ‘Anglicans in the Household of Islam’ in SFM, Vol. 3:4, March 2008.

Stowe, David M. ‘Modernization and Resistance: Theological Implications for Mission’ in IBMR, Vol 12:4, October 1988.

Teague, David P. ‘Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and Mission Work Today’ in St Francis Magazine Vol. III:3, Dec 2007.

_____. ‘Speaking of Christ’s Divinity within Muslim Cultures’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:1, June 2007.

Tee, Iskandar. ‘Sidenotes on Insiders’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 3:3, Dec 2007.

Teeter, David. ‘Dynamic Equivalent Conversions for Tentative Muslim Believers’ in Missiology: An International Review, Vol. 18:3, July 1990.

Travis, John. ‘Messsianic Muslim Followers of Isa: A Closer Look at C5 Believers and Congregations’ in IJFM, Vol. 17:1, Spring 2000.

Vorgrimler, Herbert. 1992. Sacramental Theology, 3rd Edition. Trans. by Linda Maloney. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Walls, Andrew F. 1996. The Christian Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis.

_____. ‘Old Athens and New Jerusalem: Some Signposts for Christian Scholarship in the Early History of Mission Studies’ in IBMR, Vol. 21:4, Oct 1997.

Weil, Louis. 1983. Sacraments & Liturgy: The Outward Signs. Oxford, New York: Basil Blackwell.

Weiss, Bernard G. 1998, Paperback 2006. The Spirit of Islamic Law. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press.

Weston, Paul. ‘Lesslie Newbigin: A Postmodern Missiologist?’ in Mission Studies, Vol. 21:2, 2004.

Whiteman, Darrell L. ‘Contextualization: The Theory, the Gap, the Challenge’ in IBMR Vol. 21:1, Jan 1997.

Winter, Ralph. 1999. ‘The Kingdom Strikes Back’ in Perspective on the World Christian Movement, 3rd Edition, ed. Winter, Ralph and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena: William Carey Library.

_____. 1999. ‘The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Misssion’ in Perspective on the World Christian Movement, 3rd Edition, ed. Winter, Ralph and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena: William Carey Library.

Woodberry, J. Dudley. ‘Terrorism, Islam, and Mission: Reflections of a Guest in Muslim Lands’ in IBMR Vol. 26:1, January 2002.

Wright, Lawrence. 2006. The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Knopf.

Ye’or, Bat. 1996. The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude: Seventh-Twentieth Century. Farleigh Dickinson University Press.

Yergin, Daniel. 1993. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. Free Press.

Yohannan, K.P. 2003. Revolution in World Missions. Carrrollton, Texas: GFA Books.

Zwemer, Samuel M. 1902. Raymund Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems. New York, London: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Part XVII: Intro to the Shari'a (Sharia, Shari'ah, Shariah)

Part XVII: Intro to the Shari’a
by Abu Daoud

During a recent five-month sojourn in the West I had the opportunity to do a good amount of teaching on Islam, and there was one question that people kept asking: what exactly is the shari’a? Where does it come from? These are the questions I want to tackle in this paper:

Generally one hears the word shari’a translated as “law” but that’s not quite right. It would be more like the Jewish understanding of Torah in fact. It does contain positive laws (thou must) and negative law (thou shalt not), but it also has a whole series of other classifications, including things that are recommended but not mandatory (certain prayers, for example) and things that are frowned upon but not forbidden (smoking, entering churches). There are also categories for things that are neutral, and a category for things upon which there is no judgment.

The shari’a then is like law with a whole body of advice thrown in for good measure. Moreover it is not mutable. While there are several schools of shari’a its origin is divine and thus the shari’a is immutable like God. For example, its provisions about slavery, stoning adulterers, slaying the one who offends the Prophet, the inferiority of Christians and Jews under Muslims, or the permanent injunction to wage jihad—none of these things can be repealed or changed.

Furthermore the shari’a touches on every single aspect of life. It is not then a “law” in the Western understanding of law, which is established to protect social order and freedom (or what have you). Some of the aspects of it make sense to the human mind, but ultimately its nature is not like ours and our obligation is not to understand it but simply to obey it. It is not meant for Muslims alone, but for all of humanity, and indeed it is the vision of Islam and the purpose of jihad to make the world submit to the shari’a of God. So there really is a cosmic dimension to this concept. Much of the shari’a simply stands beyond understanding.

The source of the shari’a is revelation. In Islam revelation takes two forms: the Qur’an and the sunna. The Qur’an does contain rules about things like divorce, inheritance, the value of certain witnesses, the division of the spoils of jihad, gambling, alcohol, and so on. But much is left unanswered, which is where the second source becomes so important: it is found in the collection of sayings and deeds of the Prophet and his companions. These deeds and sayings are individually called “hadith” and the plural in Arabic is “ahadith.” After Muhammad had died and Islam was growing quickly several Muslim scholars went about collecting these ahadith, and it become important to form a chain of witnesses from the present to Muhammad, so they will often start, “Ahmad heard from Yusef, who heard from Yaqub, who heard from Omar, that the Prophet used to eat dates on the morning” or something like that. Some of most important collections of ahadith are those done by Al Bukhari, Abu Dawood, and Muslim, but there are many others.

Since the Prophet was the perfect man or ideal man, it followed that even his words and way of being (sunna) were in themselves a form of revelation regarding Allah’s will for humanity. So this is the second form of revelation that forms the bedrock of the shari’a.

Through centuries of Islamic jurisprudence, Quranic interpretation (ijtihad), and the use of analogy, the shari’a finally reached a form around the 13th Century (some say earlier) where it basically was considered to be complete in that it had all the resources needed to make judgments on any topic. Thus further revision via new interpretations of Revelation (Qur’an and the sunna) were no longer permitted or needed.

In conclusion the shari’a is Allah’s will for all of humanity revealed in the Qur’an and the way of life (sunna) of Muhammad. It is complete and immutable and has been so for many centuries. The society that abides by the shari’a will be prosperous, just, and powerful. It is the will of Allah that the whole of humanity be made to submit to the shari’a.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Part XVI: Islam and Mormonism

Islam and Mormonism
by C. Fletcher, ed. Abu Daoud

In studying world religions, I have noticed several similarities between Mormonism and Islam. Sure, there are significant differences as well (Monotheistic Islam vs. Polytheistic Mormonism for example), and I would not suggest that they are theologically compatible, but the foundings of both religions are surprisingly similar and worth noting.

Here are 12 of the parallels that have been noted (this list is by no means exhaustive):

1. Both claimed that the original meaning of the teachings of Jesus and those who preceded him had either been forgotten or corrupted.
2. Both prophets are reported to have come from humble beginnings with no formal education and were barely literate.
3. Holy Books: Both prophets wrote a new holy book that was apparently inspired by God, and both claimed that their holy book was the most correct and perfect book on earth. Also, they both claimed that their holy books were based upon a record stored in heaven. Both religions claim that their Holy Books have been preserved and are accurate to what was originally recorded by their prophets.
4. Both prophets claimed to have had visions and to have been visited by angels. For Muhammad it was the angel Gabriel, and for Smith it was the angel Moroni. Both visions revealed many new teachings that contradict the Bible.
5. Both believed that no true religion existed on Earth and they were there to restore God’s truth. Islam claims that Adam and Abraham were truly Muslim and that it is restoring 'the true faith of Abraham'. Mormons claim to have restored 'the true faith/church' that was on the earth during and after the time of Jesus, before the supposed "Great Apostasy".
6. Both prophets were practicing polygamists and advocated polygamy (and condemn polyandry) by supposed revelation from God. Additionally, both men married very young girls.
7. Both profited greatly (financially) from their followers by commanding their money.
8. Both men received “convenient” revelations just in time to satisfy their own desires. For example, Muhammad got a revelation that he himself was allowed to marry 8 wives instead of the usual 4 in Islam, and Joseph Smith got a similar revelation (revealed in Doctrine and Covenants section 132) that he was not only permitted to marry multiple wives, but that it was required for salvation and was an everlasting covenant. This revelation came just as he was going to be “caught” with other women he was having affairs with. Additionally, D&C 132 specifically mentions his wife Emma by name and warns her to death should she be unfaithful to Joseph. (Most scholars [even Mormon scholars like Todd Compton] estimate that Joseph Smith had 33 wives before he was killed. Surely he would have had many more had he lived longer.
9. Both left no clear successor for their faith - leading both religions to splinter after the death of their prophets. In each religion there are splinter groups with each group claiming to be the true successor or true continuation of the faith.
10. Both Islam and Mormonism have those who follow the "original doctrine" of the founding leaders and like these founding leaders, are violent polygamists, and have revelations justifying their evil actions.
11. Both prophets and religions deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the eternality of Jesus, as well as Jesus being God in the flesh
12. Both men were murderers. For Muhammad, there is no question about this. Most Mormons teach and believe that Joseph Smith was martyred, but this is not true. It is historically verifiable that he shot and killed two men during the shootout that ultimately took his life. The Mormon view is that he was “led like a lamb to slaughter” and was killed as a martyr. Not so. It was a gunfight, that he and his brother lost, but not before taking some lives of their own.

Here are some scriptures to reflect on in light of the points above. While these scriptures may come across as abrasive... remember, it's not my view or anyone else's, this is the Bible.

Galatians 1:6-9 "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed."

2 Cor 11: 12-15 "And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Witness to Muslims and 1 John

Witness to Muslims and 1 John
by Abu Daoud

I went out today with, let us say, an openness to talk with folks about the religious topics. But instead of taking a copy of the Gospel in Islamic Arabic which I have used on several occasions (I didn't have one handy), I picked up a small pocket Bible. It is the Jesuit translation, which I particularly like because it uses real (classical) Arabic but not the rarefied, esoteric stuff found in the main translation--the Van Dyke.

Also, it is not designed to be an Islamic translation, but I suspect it is modeled to offer something aesthetically pleasing and useful for liturgy. (What else would you expect from Jesuits? And now that I think of it what could be more Quranic?)

I also though about the people I was visiting, how we had discussed several parables of the Kingdom before and I was thinking, maybe we should mix it up a little and try something else. I recalled the advice from an Anglican priest from when I was new in the Middle East. He had recommended 1 John, so I thought, ok, let's do it.

So we did, three of us sat down and read 1 John 1 and here are some of my impressions:

-the language of light is something Muslims know
-darkness as an image of sin/evil makes sense to Muslims
-the phrase "word of God" is also in the Quran, of course
-the author starts out by insisting that he is talking about what he has seen and touched, lending the text authenticity
-the repetition and flow is very nice, reminiscent of the earlier surahs in the Quran which are quite poetic, of course 1 Jn is pretty concise and clear, which makes it different than the Quran.

-it is not one the THE GOSPELS, that is, not from Jesus, which means it's not by Islamic standards "injiil." But I explained John was one of the followers of Jesus, like the rightly guided caliphs. He said, ok so this is like hadiith. Well, sort of, I said.
-there is a clear statement about "Son of God" in there, so if you haven't talked about that already, or if you don't want to tackle that issue, then stick to the parables of the Kingdom. But sooner or later you gotta take yer medicine.

Anyway, some reflections. Please keep me in your prayers, lots of stuff is happening, some of it not so good, some of it good but difficult.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Part XV: Islam and the Sword of the Religion

One of the most heated discussions I have had with a Muslim was about the topic of the sword. "The problem is that you believe in the sword of the religion, but we (Christians) know that there is no sword of the religion! Jesus said that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword."

The sword of the religion is a prominent theme in Islamic thinking. In fact one might name his son saif-iddiin--Arabic for Sword of the Religion. Indeed the name of the son of Libya's ruler: Saif al-Islam Kadafi: Sword of Islam Kadafi. It is there on the flag of Saudi Arabia beneath the Islamic confession that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet. There are also some hadiiths, or sayings from the life of Muhammad, on the sword:

"Paradise is in the shade of swords," embodies well the philosophy that paradise is a reward to be won by the use of the sword. (Sahih Al Bukhari, Jihad, 22:73)

Or this one, also from Al Bukhari, "Allah marvels at those who enter paradise in chains." While not explicitly using the word sword, one finds here the conviction that those who are enslaved by Islamic conquests and so receive Islam are have somehow been graced by Allah.

Being very fond of his swords Muhammad named them: Dhu al Faqar, Al Battar (which originally belonged to King David, according to one tradition), Al Ma'thur, Al Rasub, and so on (he owned and named nine swords).

Muhammad as a political leader was at times very diplomatic and humble. But at times we see a robust and some might say ruthless exercise of violence for the sake of maintaining and furthering his own domain and authority. While the non-Muslim may see this sanctification of violence and slaughter as an abuse of religion, we must remember that for the orthodox Muslim the domain and will of Muhammad are synonymous with the domain and will of God. Marking out a boundary between the will and action of Muhammad and the will and action of God is something that Islamic scholarship has been neither desirous nor able to do. For this reason several ex-Muslims call their former religion "the worship of Muhammad."

But whatever the reason may be, there is no recognition of a difference between Muhammad's will and Allah's will in Islam. Because of this the vigorous use of violence--the sword of the religion--in Islam emerges as an element of worship, gaining a sort of sacramental aura. In Christianity a sacrament is "an outward sign of an inward grace." And in Islam the presence and use of the sword of the religion, especially when it leads to the successful imposition of the will of its wielder, must be construed a sure sign of the presence and favor of Allah.

To allow Muslims to enter and reproduce in a country, as we especially see in Europe, while expecting them to lay down the sword of the religion, is to fundamentally misunderstand Islam. The sword of the religion is an essential part of Islam because it was essential to the success of Muhammad, himself the ideal man, the perfect man. There is no presupposition that violence is bad in Islam. VIolence when used for the cause of Allah is in fact a great good as it leads to the triumph of Islam and the shari'a. To expect a sudden wave of un-Islamic pacifism to envelope Muslims in non-Muslim countries is the worse sort of hypocrisy.

The strategic use of violence is and always will be near the heart of Islam, and conservative Islamic scholars today recognize few limitations in the use of said violence against non-Muslims. In fact Muslims who do not hold to their devout, strict (and accurate I would say) construal of Islamic practice make themselves kuffaar--unbelievers--thus surrendering their right to live. In other words, many people we would call Muslim are valid targets for the sword of the religion. This is how, for example, Al Qaeda can declare a Jihad on the leader of Pakistan, General Musharraf. Moreover his supporters, by supporting a leader who is not validly Muslim, forfeit their right to live as well. The name of this practice of Islamic excommunication is called takfiir, and is becoming more and more common.

All of this means that silly mantra that "Muslims condemn the murder of innocent civilians," is almost a meaningless statement. It must be followed by questions like, "Who precisely are innocent?" and "Who precisely are civilians?" There are scholars who would say that NO American tax payer is innocent, for he supports the military in its oppression of Muslims by the simple act of paying taxes. Other scholars have explained that since all Israeli Jews will eventually be part of the Israeli military, Israeli Jewish children can not be classified as civilians, rather they are legitimate military targets for the sword of the religion.

Words are slippery things. One man's jihad is another man's terrorism. One man's holy warrior (mujaahid) is another man's criminal. One man's moderate Muslim is another man's apostate who must be killed. As a gesture of trust and dialogue it is important to always ask for clarification of meanings when discussing these things.

Why? Among most Christians to say "the sword of Christianity" would be met with distaste and conjure recollections of a few isolated historical events. But for Muslims the sword of the religion is the sovereignty of Allah working out the slow but sure submission of the world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Part XIV: Islam and Tahriif

The Arabic word referring to this corruption is "tahriif", and the teaching is that the Christian (and thus Jewish) Scriptures are profoundly flawed and are thus not reliable indications of God's will, commandments, prophets, or of the history of his people. (Note: I am particularly occupied with questions regarding Jesus' teaching--the injiil--in this article.)

Tahriif is a very wide-spread belief among Muslims today, though it is not universal. It places Muslims in a very powerful position regarding the Bible because for anything they agree with already they can say, "This is from Allah, do you see that we believe in the Prophets? Why do you not accept Allah's final prophet (Muhammad) as well?" But if they are confronted with anything that challenges Islam or the Qur'an, they can say, "Clearly the text has been corrupted, for Jesus would never have said such a thing and this goes against the Qur'an."

So how can a Christian react to this? There are several paths that come to mind, all of which have been used with some degree of success in the past, I will outline three of them for you and indicate which one I generally prefer:

a) Historical Weakness of Tahriif: The traditional doctrine of tahriif tells the following story: Prophets like Jesus and Moses received genuine verbatim revelations from God like Muhammad. But perfidious Jews and Christians later corrupted these texts to suit their purposes. Now this story is found nowhere in the Qur'an, which most Muslims don't know, but it is based on certain hadiith and most Muslims simply don't know the Qur'an very well. This story is problematic from an historical point of view and prompts raises more questions than it answers:

• The New Testament took form on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), how were Christians able to collect all the valid versions of the injiil (the book Jesus received from God) given that it was recorded and spread over such a broad area?
• Languages: Sections of the NT had been translated from Greek into Latin, Syriac , Hebrew, and probably Amharic and Coptic by the end of the 2nd Century. Did the tahriif of the injiil take place before or after the translations? If before, then it must have been in the 1st Century, but there were still people alive then who had known and listened to Jesus personally, which means that there would be some record of people objecting to this corruption of the injiil. If the tahriif occurred after the translations, then we would have to believe that EVERY COPY of the true injiil which was present in three continents in (at least) half a dozen languages was destroyed.

b) Motive of Corrupters: The Gospels as we have them today give a rather unflattering picture of the Apostles. They are often foolish, proud, and faithless. It is thus unlikely that they would have "corrupted" the injiil without revising the many events which make them look foolish and weak.

It is also unlikely that one would corrupt a text without removing all the promises of persecution and familial strife, and the advocacy of poverty--hardly the kinds of things you put in a religious message if you want it to be popular. Rather, one thinks that a religious message crafted to gain popularity would include the promise of riches, women, and power--promises we do find explicitly in the Qur'an.

Moreover all the Apostles minus John were martyred for their faith. If they had corrupted the injiil and knew it to be a false message, it is inconceivable that they would all die rather than denounce it's validity. Who then corrupted the injiil? People will not die for a message they know to be corrupted. By the end of the Apostolic era the texts of the four Gospels were too wide spread and and existed in too many languages for a unified and viable tahriif to be possible.

But historical reasoning and evidence will generally get you nowhere at all with most Muslims because in Islamic culture the entire discipline of history has largely been subsumed as a sort of devotional exercise to prove the Qur'an is correct. Trying to argue from historical evidence that the Qur'an is not true is like me trying to convince you from the hymnal that the Bible is false.

c) Corruption in your Heart: This is by far my preferred apologetic. I like this approach because in many ways it mirrors Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the interiority of the Kingdom of God. Fasting is not about letting other people know you are fasting, it is about God knowing you are fasting, for example. Similarly, I start by explaining that tahriif is very real and it is a significant problem. We say that God knows the heart of all men, and that he is all powerful--no Muslim will disagree. Then I explain that when the Jew knows the Torah and its commands, and he disobeys it, he has corrupted the Torah in his heart. Likewise the Christian who knows the commands of the injiil and disobeys it has corrupted the injiil. And finally, the Muslim who knows the commands of the Qur'an and disobeys it, is it not true that he has corrupted the Qur'an? The answer, in my experience, is always yes. Muslims are very aware that most Muslims aren't very strict in their obedience.

In conclusion I usually ask, "Is Allah powerful or weak?" Powerful! "Is Allah wise or foolish?" Wise, the answer comes. "Yes my friend, and Allah is more powerful than the Jews and the Christians, and no one is capable of corrupting God's words to his prophets! If anyone says that his words corrupted IN THE TEXT of the Torah and Gospel, he is a man who believes that God is neither wise nor powerful. But you see that corruption is in our hearts."

This is not simply a play on words. It does accommodate the Muslim who already believes in tahriif. All you have done is to reformulate the doctrine of tahriif in a way that is very much based on Jesus' teaching. But this apologetic also gets to a very foundational weakness in the Islamic view of God. God is always connected with power in Islam--Allahu Akbar! God is the greatest. Yet the Islamic narrative proposes that Jesus was not crucified, for God would not let than happen to a prophet of his. Yet we are also told that the word God gave to this prophet was not preserved? To preserve the true injiil would have been easy for God. Why did he not do it? Why did he allow 600 years of humanity to operate under the assumption that this corrupted injiil was in fact valid and accurate? And given that even from the beginning Christianity was riven with heresies and fanatics, how is that not even one copy of the real injiil was preserved by a dissenter.

All good questions. But they are not to be used to as a weapon to assault a Muslim. Whether the tone is light and conversational, or adversarial--which is sometimes necessary--we must always speak the truth in love. It is a sign of God's love to us that his true Word is in fact his Son who came to live with us, hunger with us, eat with us, cry with us, and suffer for us. His Word is not some book that one can close and place a shelf, but one who is alive and whom death could not hold down. Because of his life we have hope for eternal life: "And this is everlasting life, to know you the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Part XIII: The Gospel According to Muhammad

In this thirteenth section of my presentation on Islam I want to address the question of what Muslims believe about the Gospel, for they do indeed believe in the Gospel--but the meaning attached to that word for Muslims is radically different than what it means for Christians.

First though I think it would be useful to outline what exactly Christians believe about the Gospel. We actually use the word in several different ways. Often we simply use it to refer to the four books in the New Testament that record the events and teachings of Jesus' life: they include things like miracles, healings, sermons, short sayings, genealogy, events surrounding his birth, crucifixion, resurrection and his commissioning of the Apostles to carry forth his preaching.

We also use it very generally to refer to the central proclamation of how all those events relate to us, namely that we can be reconciled to God through Jesus, and that we can receive forgiveness of sins in his name. Of course, the initial proclamation of Jesus was simply borrowed from his cousin John the Baptist: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand! But the focus on the Kingdom of God for various reasons is not used by our churches today. Rather, different Christian churches emphasize different ways of articulating the Gospel (atoning sacrifice, adoption as sons, sharers in his divinity, and so on), but the message always revolves around or centrally features the forgiveness of sins in and through Jesus.

But as to Muslims: the word Gospel in Arabic is injiil, which is actually derived (via Syriac) from the original Greek word found in the New Testament: euangelion. Muslims reject what we call the injiil because it does not match their criteria for a prophetic message. In Islamic though there is no cooperation between the prophet and God as we find in Judaism and Christianity. In the latter two religions the prophet is inspired by God's Spirit but nevertheless puts the message into his own words, using his own expressions, talents, backgrounds, phrases, and so on. This is also true for the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) of the New Testament.

In Islam God causes a message to descend from heaven, via an angel, to his prophet, who then utters verbatim the dictation he has received from the angelic mediator. (The exception to this is Moses/Musa whom the Quran says spoke to God face to face, as to a friend.) Thus the Quran teaches that God caused the injiil to descend to Jesus/Issa. This is clearly not the picture that we find recorded by the four Gospel-writers of the New Testament. They are simply giving their recollections of Jesus' ministry, and who can say if they are even trustworthy? Thus the true Gospel was revealed by Jesus who was a good Muslim prophet, as were interestingly his disciples, according to the Quran. Jesus was not crucified, but he was taken back into heaven by God with his revelation--the injiil. Thus the true Gospel/injiil is in heaven with God, preserved by him there. It is certainly nowhere present on earth, and the best that one may hope is that parts or portions of it continue to exist in the four Gospels. They are, though, generally judged by Muslims today to be untrustworthy and not worth reading.

Such is the general explanation given by Muslims today, but the questions that this explanation provokes are numerous: why would God send Jesus, begotten of a virgin, working great miracles, who ascends into heaven, and not protect his message from corruption? This is, I think, a difficult question for Muslims to answer. A few have agreed that the four Gospels of the NT are valid, but by and large that is a minority position. One seems to end up with a weak God who is unable to safeguard his revelation to his prophets from corruption (tahriif) by nefarious Christians. Or with a God who allows centuries of pre-Muslim Christians to believe in a counterfeit injiil for no good reason. For Muslims do teach that pre-Islamic Christians could be true believers for they were living within the light that had been revealed to them--but according to this account that light was in fact darkness.

Some also propose that the true injiil was preserved, but that it was later (after Jesus' ascension) corrupted, but where is the manuscript or historical evidence of this? Extensive parts of the New Testament had spread through three continents in more than four or five different languages by the third century. When and where and how did this corruption of the Gospel happen? Who did it? There is no historical evidence for this position at all.

Such is the account of the Gospel according to Muhammad: it is hidden and unknown, its prophet great and worthy, but his message unknown to us today.

Salaam min al Rab ma3kum. Peace from the Lord be with you.

Abu Daoud

Part XII: Islam and Sloth

Modern Muslima is a a magazine for Modern Muslim women (Muslima is the Arabic word for a female Muslim). I enjoyed reading this article because it shows how Muslims, in particular here, how Muslim women, are taught to respond to Christian missionaries.

The article starts off with some interesting information about the acculturation chart. It is explained fairly well and the folks at Modern Muslima seem particularly alarmed about C5 missionaries, and perhaps C4 missionaries as well.

Last night I hung out with three friends of mine and we played Risk (I won, alhamdulillah, with a last minute sweep through Asia) and we discussed these questions. Not one of us thought that C5 was appropriate or healthy, or, as this article mentions, honest. So there we are in agreement.

I will take issue with one of the topics raised: Muslims are told that when engaged with questions about the Quran or Islam to send the person to a local imam. I am sorry but that just seems like intellectual and spiritual laziness to me. If Muslims really believe that the Quran is word-for-word from God, then they should be able to answer basic questions about the book and the religion. I believe that this approach is in fact one of the most negative aspects of Islam: Muslims are neither encouraged to scrutinize their religion nor to ask difficult questions.

Second note: in different sections of the article, it is stated that most Muslim states prohibit evangelism, and then that missionaries often refer to the "sorry" state of Muslim women throughout Islamdom. Is there any attempt to link the two concepts by Modern Muslima? Nope. In fact the two things are inextricably related: evangelism is prohibited because Islam teaches that religious freedom is blasphemous; Islam teaches that women must be treated as a form of property for men. Denying religious freedom (evangelism and conversion) and denying women freedom (education, civil liberties, work) flow from the same intolerant civilization.

One wonders if the Muslim women at Modern Muslima have ever considered what would happen to their publication if secular government built on a Judeo-Christian heritage were to cede to an Islamic government. A better solution than sending your kids to an Islamic school or not allowing them to go to sleep-overs might be to actually start asking some hard questions about Islam, rather than just assuming that the religious men (and all imams are men) will figure it out. Sloth is a capital sin. The one who overcomes slothfulness will ask hard questions; the one who asks hard questions is one who searches; one who searches will find.

Here is the link: Secret War

Part XI: Muslims' Main Objections to Christianity

In Part X of this series on Islam I wrote on four of the main things that attract Muslims to Christianity (The Bible, Dreams and Wonders, Charity and Kindness, and Christian Community or the Church), but now I want to outline the four main theological stumbling blocks for Muslims who are interested in the Christian faith. Note that I am talking about the ones who are interested, most Muslims actually have no desire whatsoever to learn about other religions, nor do they have any desire to ask hard questions about their book or the life of Muhammad. Islam does claim to be the supremely logical religion, but the ability to engage in critical thought in the Middle East is close to null.

In any case, here are the four theological topics which are most confusing and difficult for Muslims who are searching for truth. The four topics are born from Islamic caricatures or misunderstandings of genuine Christian teaching. I will make no effort in this article to show how Christians respond to these objections, though I am open to doing that if you are interested.

1) The Incarnation: How can God become a man? This has been scandalous since the very beginning of the faith, but it is absolutely essential to maintain this doctrine since without it God becomes further and further removed from our understanding. Also, our anthropology or understanding of what it means to be human, whether as individuals or as parts of a community, becomes degraded.

2) The Trinity: The period of Islam's growth and early spreading was marked by an extraordinary and effective policy of military subjugation which did not allow space for attempting to understand the Christian dogma of the Trinity, which was by then articulated in the language of Greek philosophy. Thus the rejection of the nuanced doctrine of God's triunity was firmly cemented as a form of tri-theism by the time Islamic scholars gained the skills whereby they could effectively dialogue with Christian theologians. Of course, by that time is was an article of faith for the Muslim scholars that trinity was somehow identical to tri-theism, so in spite of their academic abilities, it was simply not open to question: the Christians had to believe in three gods, even if the Christians said they didn't.

3) Corruption of the Bible: Muslims are taught that Christians and Jews corrupted the books which came down from heaven to such prophets as Jesus and Moses and David. This is, actually, not clearly supported by the Quran, but it is a common teaching today.

4) The Crucifixion: The prevalent interpretation of the Quran today indicates that Jesus was not crucified. Also, in Islam God's grace and favor must be identified with political and military supremacy, thus the idea that one of God's prophets could be reduced to such a humiliating death is fairly repulsive to Muslims. There are interpretations of the Quran which support that Jesus was crucified, but Islam refuses to or is unable to differentiate between the meaning of the Quranic text and the act of interpretation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Part X: Why Muslims are Attracted to Christianity

Part X: Why Muslims are Attracted to Christianity
by Abu Daoud

I don't know if this can be verified, but I heard that more Muslims have converted to the Way of Jesus Christ in the last ten years than in all the other years since the advent of Islam in the 7th Century. I'm not sure it's an accurate figure, but I will say that something is certainly happening among Muslims and that there is an openness in their society that was not there before. I also want to point out that large numbers of nominal Christians, especially in Europe, are converting to Islam--a main reason being so they can marry Muslim women. Who has more converts? I have no idea. I will say that Muslims converting to Christianity often pay a heavy price in terms of persecution, and that Westerners converting to Islam are afforded generous protection by their governments.

But here is the question: why are Muslims attracted to the way of Jesus Christ? Here are some of the main reasons:

1) The Bible. We forget how compelling and convincing Jesus' teachings and parables are. He was certainly, among other things, a highly talented teacher, and his parables and sayings have the ability to lodge themselves into a person's mind, even after only one hearing. His insights into human nature, society, kindness, forgiveness, and God's power--not too mention the many miracles he worked--are convincing to a good number of Muslims. Of course Islam teaches that the Christian and Jewish Scriptures are muharraf--corrupted. But after a fair reading of the Gospels, sometimes the integrity and wisdom found therein can break through this Islamic doctrine. Incidentally, Muslim background believers from my experience tend to center their thought on the Gospels much more than Paul's epistles--very different than the evangelical tradition which has, in practice at least, tended to give primacy to the Pauline epistles.

2) Dreams, Miracles: What can I say? They are happening, and folks here don't have the initial inclination that Westerners do to "disprove" or "figure out how it was done." A miracle is from God--it's that simple. Often times in dreams people see Jesus, though at times it is one of the saints. This may not result in conversion, but it opens a path of inquiry that sometimes leads to conversion.

3) Charity: "They will know that we are Christians by our love." One refugee from a neighboring country received some help from some Christians, and he said, "We come here and we receive nothing form the Muslims--the Christians are the only ones who take care of us. I know nothing of your religion, but I will become a Christian." We think of the things like the Inquisition and the Crusades, but we forget the quiet, persistent witness of kind, caring Christians from all traditions, including Catholics and Orthodox. Which brings to mind something that Saint Francis, another apostle to the Muslims, said, "Let us not seek to be loved, so much as to love others." If you need to be reminded of the quiet work of the Church around you, just look at how many schools and hospitals are run by Christians or where founded by the various churches.

4) Christian Community: Islam teaches that a man should not speak to a woman unless they are married or of the same family. It is a witness to the beauty of the Christian community, and thus its faith, when Muslims see genuine respect and friendship between men and women who are neither related or married to each other. The assumption among Muslims is that this sort of thing must lead to fornication or adultery; on the other hand, young men and women sincerely yearn for fellowship with members of the opposite sex. When they see this among Christians it reveals that we are a peculiar people, that there is something different about us: fellowship, conversation, and friendship but without all the adultery and fornication they are told must result.

There are other reasons as well, but my experience is that these are the main ones. The challenge is getting people to think. Islam teaches that it alone is the reasonable and logical religion. Since people in the Middle East have extremely weak critical skills due to various reasons, this assertion is simply accepted. These are four things which I know have been important in challenging that assumption, which have led people to ask new questions and venture down new paths.

Part IX: Islam and Victimhood

Part IX: Victimhood and Muslim Identity
by Abu Daoud

“No one admits that his own yoghurt is sour.” --Syrian proverb

I want to suggest in this post that victimhood has become an integral and essential element in Muslim identity today. There are a number of reasons for this, some of them are valid, but many of them are not. I want to explain why and how this has come to be the case today.

If I may quote Sam Huntington, “The problem is not Islamists, it is Islam: a civilization convinced of its superiority and obsessed with its inferiority.” Islam is unlike Christianity in that it makes certain guarantees, namely that if a society is faithful in following Islam (and the sharia’) then certain consequences must follow: material wealth, political power, an ever-widening scope of authority over non-Muslims, scientific and economic advancement, justice and good governance, and so forth. It is very clear though to people throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that other than sub-Saharan Africa their region is near the bottom of the list in all these areas. With globalization, migration, increasing ease of travel, and of course the internet, it has become clear to Muslims everywhere that this is not at all the case today.

(It must be stressed that Christianity does not make any such promises. While there are verses from the proverbs that speak of God rewarding hard, honest work, and many of us have seen this in our lives, even stronger is Jesus’ insistence that the Kingdom of God is characterized by opposition which may well be violent, and indeed resulting in martyrdom.)

And the tension is not just between MENA and the West. Rapid development and the growth of a middle class have moved forward in nations like India and China, not to mention the astounding development of places like South Korea and Japan in the 20th Century.

So there is a very tense situation because the empirical evidence and experience of the people run directly against the claims of Islam. There are two common ways of trying to reconcile the evidence and the religious doctrine. The first is simply to say that none of the Muslim countries are actually practicing Islam correctly. I hear this a lot: this country is too strict, that country is too liberal; this country is not democratic enough; that country has a corrupt monarchy; and so on. My answer: There are more than 20 Arab Muslim countries, and you mean to tell me that not one of them can get Islam right? If that is the case then Islam is more of a dream than a realistic system that can actually work. It’s like someone telling you that you can get a million bucks for walking from the ME to North America. You can easily spend all your life trying to do it, but ultimately it is simply impossible, no matter how wonderful the promised reward is.

The second response though is my primary concern here: victimhood. The reason that Muslims nations are not the prominent world powers, that their governments are extremely corrupt, that nepotism and tribalism and rampant, that five million Israelis publish more scientific papers in a year than 400 million Arabs, that no Muslim nation in MENA actually has freedom of the press, assembly, or speech, and that the governments are not accountable to the people—the reason is simple: we are being oppressed.

The culprit changes from place to place and time to time: the French, the British, the Israelis, the Americans, but tomorrow it will be someone else. Sometimes the culprit is other Muslims, but even then (as is the case of fighting between Shiia’ and Sunni in Iraq) the real culprit is outside of Islam.

The rise of the sense of victimhood is integral to the recovery of jihad which we have witnessed in these last years. Historically Jihad need not be related to self-defense at all, but the appeal to self-defense strengthens those who advocate it. And here is the critical tie: If all Muslims are victims of Western anti-Islamism then any act of Jihad against the West becomes an act of self-defense. This was OBL’s explicit rational for the 9-11 attacks: they were a defensive measure. And since all Americans contribute to the American oppression of Islam by virtue of paying taxes, all Americans (children and women included) are in fact military targets and their execution is an act of worship to God. Such is his logic, which, while novel, has great appeal throughout Dar al Islam.

Victimhood is a central element of contemporary Islamic identity. When the West does not help Muslims it is oppressing them. When the West intervenes in the region it is imperialism and occupation. When the west opts for the long, messy, and sometimes ineffective path of diplomacy, they are indecisive. When the West makes dramatic moves they are brash and militant. Victimhood confers on one’s self the ability to abuse power in the name of protection and self-preservation.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only remedy because, as I outlined above, political and social efforts to help will always be interpreted by some as further persecution. Moreover, they lack the ability to bring about the profound moral and spiritual conversion that we call being born again. Only within the Gospel do we find a point of reference for victimhood and power because we understand that in the ultimate sense of the word no one is a victim because no one is absolutely innocent except for Jesus Christ. As the Gospel transforms our minds and our communities, the imperative is to be generous and forgiving rather than to assert the rightness of one’s cause. This is the transformation we should hope for in MENA.

Part VIII: Islam, the Pope, and History: Even the Past must Submit

Part VIII: Islam, the Pope, and History: Even the Past Must Submit
By Abu Daoud

We were in a taxi and I was listening to the news in Arabic, which is still quite difficult for me since it’s all classical Arabic, and I picked up something about the pope, Pakistan, a Byzantine emperor, and the fact that many Muslims were very angry.

The first question that comes to mind is whether in fact Pope Benedict's statement was actually true. Namely, that Islam was spread by military force and (at least up to the time of Emperor Manuel II Paleologus) had made no positive contribution to human society or civilization. Historically, I think it is quite difficult to disagree with this point.

However, there are a number of popular stories (myths I would call them) about the riches of Islamic culture and its contributions to history. I will not say that Islamic civilization (whether of the Arab or Turkish variety) has made no contribution whatsoever to civilization, but I will say that the contribution is extremely minor.

Take for example the myth about Muslims preserving the teachings of Aristotle. Well, it was in a Muslim country, but it was Syriac monks who actually did the copying and the preservation. Or consider the magnificence of the Shrine of the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, which is often pointed to as an instance of the brilliance of Islamic architecture. In fact, when the Muslims entered Jerusalem they were still mostly nomads who would have had little experience in building permanent structures. The design and construction of the Dome of the Rock was indeed carried out under Islamic governance, but by Greek Christians. (When the Crusaders took control of Jerusalem they renamed it the Church of the Holy Land, by the way.)

If one takes a close look at the list of Muslim luminaries in the areas of history and medicine and science, one quickly notices that few of them were born Muslims and educated by Muslims. In general, Muslim rulers would take over a region or area, and a condition for scholars to remain in their positions (often as part of the royal court) was their conversion to Islam. So it is not surprising that most of them had converted from Christianity, Judaism, or (in Persia) Zoroastrianism. (Persian Islam is, of course, different than Arab of Turkish Islam.)

Another popular myth is the regarding the Islamic presence in the Iberian peninsula (Spain) up through the conclusion of the reconquista in 1492. Even by European standards the two Islamic empires that controlled regions in the peninsula were particularly war-ridden and brutal. (And the European standards of the time were not very high!)

If these contributions are so great then how can one account for, say, the decline of Constantinople from being the world center of history, theology, science, and medicine, under Christian rule, to being what it is today: Istanbul. Or how can one account for the fact that, excluding petroleum and natural gas, the entire Middle East and North Africa (minus Israel) contribute to the world's gross product the same percentage as Norway? If Islam is indeed the true religion wherein peace and freedom are united to God's sovereign rule, then why are Muslim countries close to the bottom of the list in terms of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech? If the first caliphs (successors of Muhammad) where living in Islam's golden age, then how is it that three of the four were assassinated?

So where does this all leave us? Anger seems to be a fundamental aspect of Islamic culture today, and this should worry us. Nevertheless, I hope that the pope will not apologize, he has done nothing wrong, even if it has made many people angry. If anything, he should clearly articulate the challenge: let historians come together for an honest assessment of the growth of Islam and its alleged contributions to humanity.

But there is little room for positive developments, I'm afraid. Within the Arab Muslim world the capacity for critical thought and analysis is close to zero. Thus, since Islam teaches that it is the religion of peace, all things must submit to the teaching--even history. And here is a profound insight: historical facts must conform to the teaching of religion; that is, we do not go to study history to learn more about our religion and how it developed. Rather, we study the Qu'ran which then directs us in determining what history must say. The role of the historian is to figure out how to justify such a reading. Thus, history is a form of apologetics within Islam.

I think that every culture has this tendency: to idealize an earlier period of time as being the golden age. Christians have this, whether it is found in the Apostolic period, the High Middle Ages, the Reformation, or what have you. Countries have it as well. But Islam has a totalizing and universal aspect to it, as does Christianity, but Christian revelation is primarily found in a person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God--not in a book, not even in the Bible. If it were found in a book then God's Word would be frozen in time and inextricably and completely linked to a particular instance of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and political history. But Islam is such a religion, thus it is also a religion that Arabicizes in a very special way. One former Muslim said that Islam destroys cultures, while Christianity fulfills them. And before you think of all the stumbling and ineptitude of colonial missionaries, consider that this man was from Africa, a colonial land par excellence.

I suspect that behind that pope’s comments are questions of historiography, anthropology and the philosophy of history. But they are not simple questions or topics, and the capacity to engage in these discussions is simply not present within the Muslim world. Allahu Akbar! God is Great, and everything must submit to him--including historians and history. This is why we have not seen any reaction to the pope's statement based on historical evidence—the historical evidence is simply not important. One would think that it would be more effective to produce historical evidence that his characterization is not accurate, rather than having parliaments demand apologies and burning effigies of him.

Within Islam, the use of violence and threats of violence to compel a person to admit that Islam is not violent is not contradictory. Both are truths given by God and thus the apparent contradiction is subsumed into the unity (tawhiid) that is God. The violence has changed, but the West is for the most part submitting to Islam. We see this when the press is extra-careful to cast Islam in a positive light using all sorts of misleading euphemisms. One also thinks of recent demonstrations in London where people were allowed to carry signs protesting political leaders in the most violent language, while non-Muslim demonstrators carrying anti-Islamic and anti-Muhammad signs were detained are made to go away. Apparently, the freedom of speech of Muslims is more important than the freedom of speech of non-Muslims in London. This current situation is closely related to the historical discussion, because Islam has viewed the use of violence to secure superiority of rights for Muslims as an expression of God's goodness and sovereignty, and this practice has a long and respected history.

So was Benedict XVI right in drawing out this old document? I am not sure, I would have preferred a more subtle plan including all the Catholic bishops, priests and laypersons here in the ME for the evangelism of Muslims and the planting of home churches for formerly-Muslim believers. The eventual goal would be establishing an underground hierarchy that does not possess any property so that it cannot be manipulated by the state's power over buildings and schools. Well, that is one idea.

But perhaps his provocative reference was made with the desire for a more robust and honest dialogue. If that was his desire I hope he will find a blessing in realizing just how difficult (or impossible some might say) that dialogue is. Every culture and civilization has its own traditions and ways of communicating. Within Islamic civilization the finding of common ground (with other civilizations) has generally occurred when the threat of violence is an incentive, not one of mutual respect but overwhelming superiority of power accompanied by the willingness to use it ruthlessly. This is clearly a problem for Christians for whom violence is never or seldom a positive good. On the other hand, if we think of Tertullian’s famous quote, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, I would simply point out that for any number of reasons, Dar al-Islam is an exception, the blood the of the martyrs here is simply forgotten.

Ultimately, the only possible remedy for this ailing civilization is the Gospel. In the Kingdom of God we do not find complete healing here and now, but we do find substantial healing for our minds and hearts and bodies on the side of the Resurrection. A growing community of believers who have come out of Islam will lead to a Christian community that is bold and creative and knows how to communicate the Gospel to Muslims, unlike the vast majority of Christians here right now.

Suggested Reading:

The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude
By Bat Ye’or

The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of New World Order
By Samuel Huntington

The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror
By Bernard Lewis

Islamic Imperialism
By Efraim Karsh

All three of these authors are excellent in their fields; also worth a read is Daniel Pipes.

Part VII: Reformed Islam

Part VII: Reformed Islam
by Abu Daoud

I have noticed a good deal of talk regarding the hope that exists in the West of a Reformation for Islam. There are two points I wish to make in response.

The first is regarding what exactly constitutes a "reformation." Historically the term refers to a decentralized group of reformation movements throughout western Europe in the 16th Century. But there is a significant gap between what the Reformers intended and actually accomplished. The complete picture is complex, but Calvin and Luther (among others) would be horrified to see the seemingly endless multiplication of Protestant-tradition churches we see today--that is, the continual splitting of denominations and ecclesial bodies.

The Reformers did, however, claim that they were returning Christianity to its original, if obscured, Apostolic and Biblical roots. There was a concrete and pervading desire to reject what the Reformers understood as traditions that departed from the original Biblical mandates. The relation of the believer to God was also made more direct, jettisoning the role of the priest or the bishop as the representative of Christ. The Reformers also introduced what were either entirely new or recovered principles of interpreting Scripture. Inherent in this entire and largely uncoordinated group of reform movements was a decentralization of power from the bishop of Rome (the Pope) to local pastors, congregations, laity, royalty, and governments.

So the second question is what would "Reformed Islam" look like? Well, it would discard centuries of traditions that people adopted to live with the presence of diversity and plurality--even taking into account how minor those accommodations were. It would also release the individual Muslim from accountability to his community, making him directly accountable to God and his mandate for perpetual and global jihad. It would finally lead to a proliferation of schools of interpretation, many of them accusing the other of faithlessness in right interpretation of the Qur'an.
I would therefore argue that we have in our midst a highly-Reformed Islam in the form of what is alternately called Wahabi or Salafi Islam. There is an interesting history behind each of the words and they are not identical. Suffice to say that followers of Salafiism understand themselves as interpreting and living out the Qur'an and Hadith (sayings of Muhammad) in accordance with the original and plain meaning understood by Muhammad and his companions (the salafi, which is Arabic for "predecessors.")

It was indeed this school of Reformed Islam that highly influenced the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Not for centuries have we seen a government that so faithfully and perfectly obeyed the pattern of the early Muslims (salafi). In other words, the Afghanistan under the Taliban was Reformed Islam. It was Islam stripped of accretions not mandated by the Qur'an or his companions (who play a role like the Apostles in many ways), who understood themselves as interpreting the Qu'ran plainly and simply, without the influence or intermediary of distracting scholars and philosophers and theologians.

Part of Reformed Islam is the return to active, vigorous and perpetual jihad, as was the custom of Muhammad and his companions. Muhammad himself was part of over 70 battles/raids during his own lifetime, very few of which were defensive. The expansion of jihad we see today is not radical or fundamentalist Islam. It is Islam in its most historically accurate and pure form.

Part VI: The Qur'an in Conversation

Part VI: The Qur'an in Conversation
by Abu Daoud

Excerpts from a Conversation I Just Had

Me: I am arguing that the Qu'ran does not actually say that Jesus was not crucified. The passage you reference is, "they did not crucify him, but it only appeared so." But if you look at the whole sura, you will see that it is discussing God's relationship to the descendants of the sons of Israel, whom we call Jews today. And historically, if you read the Injiil (Gospels), you will see that the Jews did not have the authority to crucify Jesus by their own power. They had to get the permission of the Roman authorities, and actually it was Roman soldiers that crucified him. So yes, to an observer it may have seemed like the Jews were actually totally responsible for his death, but that was not the case.

So when I say that Jesus was crucified, I am not saying anything against the Qu'ran itself, which you believe is from God. Rather I am disagreeing with one tasfiir (interpretation). The interpretations are not from God, but from man, so they may be incorrect.

Leith (my Jordanian friend): But we are guaranteed correctness in these interpretations because the Prophet related the correct interpretations to his followers and they have been collected by men likeAl-Muslim, Al-Bukhtori, [and so on].

Me: Ah, you refer to the ahadith [this is the plural of hadith, or the sayings of the Prophet, which after the Qu'ran extremely important for Muslims]. But who compiled the ahadith? They were men like you and me doing historical investigation. My point is that you cannot know for sure if they are correct because these men were not directed by God himself. The point is that I am disagreeing with the interpretation of the Qu'ran, not the text itself.


Leith: We are all sinners, but the prophets receive a special gift, they become immune to error and sin. They can no longer sin.

Me: But what about before they receive the message from God?

Leith: Yes, they can sin.

Me: But Jesus never sinned at all, that is in the Qu'ran. This is why we [Christians] pray in the name of Jesus. When we pray in our own name, why should God listen to our prayers? But when we come to God in the-name of Jesus, this is the only person in all of history who never offended God. So then God will listen to us and forgive us.

Leith: Actually we pray to God in the name of Muhammad and all the prophets.

Me: Ah yes, Muhammad. Who in the Qu'ran has problems with one of his wives because he is spending too much time with his Egyptian concubine. And then one of his wives gets jealous of her and tells him, "Don't come to me saying you have another message from [the Archangel] Gabriel!" I think she was too clever for him!

Leith: Yes! [Smiling] I think you are right. You know the Qu'ran well! Do you know how many wives he had?

Me: At any given time up to eight, but in all his life I think 13.

Leith: Eleven.

Part V: Islam: Religion Plus (cont.)

Part V: Islam: Religion Plus (cont.)
by Abu Daoud

In Part IV of this series I established that Islam is more than just a religion, according to Western standards, which allow for a separation of religion and state. Islam contains within its teaching regarding the relations and duties of man before God a very specific political order. What is it?

It is the caliphate. The Arabic word xalifa (caliph) means “successor [of the Prophet].” When God appointed Mohammad to be the Prophet who would bring the incorrupt and incorruptible revelation from God, he also chose him to be a ruler over the Umma. The caliphate existed in one form or another through the 20th century (1924), lastly within the Ottoman Empire (whose successor is Turkey). Devout Muslims therefore long for and must work for the restoration of the caliphate. This was precisely the desire of Abu Mussab al Zaraqawi (a Jordanian mujahid), recently deceased. He was a devout and good Muslim. This may seem like a troubling statement, but in reality his devotion to his religion extended far beyond my own devotion to my religion, and probably yours as well. He was working to restore the caliphate, to unite all Muslim people into one Umma that would unite all the nation states of Islam. In his willingness to use violence as a means of ushering in God's gracious and righteous reign he was following Muhammad's pattern of life (sunna).

In fact, the existence of nation states is reprehensible to devout Muslims. They run against a central tenet of Islam: that there are only two religious-political entities in the world: Dar al Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al Harb (House of War). The vision of conservative Muslims (it is an error to call them fundametalists) is to bring all Muslim peoples into one entity. The combined power would be capable of completing the effort (jihad) of making the peoples of the world submitters (muslims) to God’s rule.

In other words, God’s grace is manifest not in bread and wine and water and oil (as in our religion), but in political rule. Political-religious rule is how God reveals his grace and goodness to the world. It is how he works to restore justice and peace and order to the world. Until that rule of God is completely restored, the Ummah must continue to exert effort (jihad) to work for that restoration and submission and surrender.

This is the good and glorious vision of Islam for the world. I do not agree with it, of course, which is why my family is devoted to evangelizing Muslims. My family and I want then to understand that true submission (islam) to God means submission to his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the image (iconos, in Greek) of the glory of God, as Paul said. If one rejects the Son, how can one say he accepts the Father? "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

Part IV: Islam: Religion Plus

Part IV: Islam: Religion Plus
by Abu Daoud

There are two central aspects of Islam that folks in the West tend to misunderstand. Because of these two flaws in our understanding we continue to make decisions and take actions that are ineffective or counterproductive in the Dar al Islam.

The second thing is the relation of power to grace. But the first thing, which is related to the second, is that Islam, properly speaking, is not simply a religion, but an entire civilization. Islam is a holistic and organic system of life that includes very specific regulations and laws regarding everything from inheritance to divorce, investing to commerce, and—here is sticking point—regulations regarding government.

Muhammad was the civil and religious ruler of the Umma (the Islamic nation) at the time of his death. Since a prophet gains immunity against sin once he has been called by God, he can do no wrong. This certainly gets around the messiness of dividing and distributing power, which the founders of the USA attempted to do. But there is a problem: original sin. For all have sinned! There is not one righteous, no not one!

Christianity has flirted with the union of all civil and religious power under one person, specifically in the idea of the Holy Roman Emperor, who was considered by some to be rex et sacerdos—King and Priest. But overall we have tended to separate the two spheres in some way or another.

For traditionally-minded Muslims, the idea of separating the two kinds of authority is unnatural and an affront to the human person, who is at once a political and religious being. Before you dismiss this insight, let me point out that the so-called alternative (secularism) is running into great problems nowadays. The reason for this is that it is very difficult to figure out where to draw the line between the religious person and the political person—as Islam rightly argues. Does the line exclude a prayer before Congress meets? Does the line exclude students from bringing Bibles into public schools? Does the line exclude atheists from holding public office? What about Satan worshippers? My point is simply that Islam has a good point here: the human being is at once political and religious, reflecting the unity (tawheed, wahda) within God. So any attempt to divide the two spheres must be, to some extent, artificial, mutable, and provisional.

But what is a religion? This might seem like a simple question, but in fact it is very difficult to answer. Christians in the USA these days like to say that Christianity is a relationship (with Christ), not a religion. I appreciate the sentiment behind that statement, but it is in reality totally false. A religion, speaking generally, is any system of beliefs and practices that teach people(s) how to relate to Ultimate Reality (what we call God). So the very idea that Christianity is relational is a very religious idea: we should relate to God personally, not impersonally; or personally, and not communally. Some people say they are spiritual and not religious—I used to say that. Now I say I am very religious. Let people draw their own conclusions.

Islam teaches that part of the relationship between the political ruler and the religious ruler is all encompassed within the submission, yielding, sublimination, or surrender (various translations of the Arabic word islam) that must characterize the community and person before God and his Prophet. So to those who say that Christianity is a personal relationship, not a religion, the traditional Muslim replies that Islam is a political relationship, not just a religion.

Part III: Islam and the Other Religions

Part III: Islam and the Other Religions
by Abu Daoud

So here is the question: Is it important for Muslims to learn about other religions?

As I discussed the question with a number of Muslims it became clear that their answer is clearly YES. Then why do Muslims know so little about other religions? Because they believe firmly that everything they need to know about those other religions is contained in the Qu’ran. Who do you believe: the verbatim Word of God that existed with him from all eternity, or texts that have been corrupted and misinterpreted by Christians and Jews?

There is one word that you must learn in Arabic to understand how Muslims look at other religions: muharraf. It means something like corrupted and untrustworthy. This is the word used to describe the texts (called Books) of the other prophets such as the Torah which was revealed to the prophet Moses (Musa); the Zaboor, revealed to the Prophet David (Dahood); and the Gospel, revealed to the Prophet Jesus (Issa).

Indeed, there is a central difference between the Judeo-Christian concept of prophecy and that of Islam. In Islam the prophet does not bring a message inspired by God, but a verbatim message from God that must be recorded in a book. In the Judeo-Christian tradition there are many prophets who did not write a book (Elijah for one) or even have their prophecy recorded by someone else.

This obviously presents a great difficulty for Christians, as we do not have the Book that God supposedly revealed to Jesus, rather we have four recollections of his teachings and life by different men. Again, the Qu’ran is clear that Christians and Jews, though once possessing valid books from God’s prophets, no longer do. Rather, “They have tampered with words out of their context and forgotten much of what they were enjoined” (5:13).

The circular logic of Islam comes into play again here because the Qur'an proves itself:

“Say: ‘Have you any evidence you can put before us? You believe in nothing but conjecture and follow nothing but falsehoods’” (6:148). The Qur'an demands irrefutable evidence for anyone who would challenge what it teaches, but provides no justification for the truth of its own claims other than its own existence.

Enlightened Muslims know all there is to know about the other religions by reading the Qur'an.

Part II: Islam, Cartoons and Riots

Part II: Islam, Cartoons and Riots
by Abu Daoud

I was chatting with a friend of mine who lives in Saudi Arabia yesterday. She has always lived there, her dad has three wives, she has never been outside of the Middle East. She is a smart lady, and witty too. I asked her about the cartoon debacle and she said what many folks here are saying: they don't have the right to offend Islam that way.

I just got back from spending some time with a very moderate Muslim friend who is not an Arab. His sisters don't wear head coverings, he doesn't go to mosque often. He compared the cartoons to people who praise the holocaust. I said that it was illegal to incite violence against a group, which is what you have in his holocaust example. Here violence was not being incited against Muslims. He responded, but it led to violence on the part of Muslims--so what's the difference?

These two twenty-somethings represent the future of the Middle East. They are well-educated, multi-lingual, intelligent people, and they are both dear friends of mine. Neither of them had even seen the cartoons though.

So what is the reason for this gulf between our approach and theirs? Let me suggest two possible factors:

The language of rights. It is foreign to Islam, specifically in the generalized form of "human rights" or "inalienable rights." While rejecting positivism, the rights of a person are derived from the fact that they are living under a valid Islamic authority. Politics is sacramental, so a Muslim ruler is an outward sign of an inward grace, namely the subjugation and subjection of the peoples of the world to God's rule. (Note that violence can become sacred under this model.) So speaking of a right to anything that is insulting to Islam is inherently self-contradictory.

The Final Revelation. Islam is very confident that it is the final and true revelation from God. Therefore to allow space for any belief that might contraddict this is unjustified. Christianity and Judaism are allowed to exist, but under a system of governance that assures their eventual extinction. This system has been spectacularly successful in Northern Africa and Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula.

These are just two points. There are others, but I think it will help us to at least size up how different the two frames of mind or worldviews are from eachother.

So how should Christians react to those who offend them? I think there is no one answer to that, but it is clear that the genesis of that action must begin with loving our enemies and blessing those who curse us.

I think Christians are so used to having our faith ridiculed that it is hard for us to imagine the novelty of what many Muslims are experiencing. But give it a try. Feel the fury, the anger, the desire to kill and to destroy. But then hear the voice of your conscience brought alive by the Spirit reminding you that you are as guilty as your enemy, that if he deserves death then so do you, and that if you are to live up to the name of Christian that you must love him. And love mercy. Pray for that zealous desire to forgive.

I think that is where Christians are obliged to start, though depending on conditions it will lead us to different places and actions. But not to hoping for nuclear destruction in this or that country or the lawless torching of embassies. Not there, I am sure.

Part I: The Qur'an: Introduction

Part I: The Qur'an: Introduction
by Abu Daoud

It is often said that the Qur'an is like the Bible: one is the holy book for Muslims, and the other is for the Christians. This is not a very accurate way of looking at the situation though because the two books are very different. The Bible is really a collection of many kinds of writings (prophecy, poetry, genealogy, history, personal letters, and so on) written by a large number of people across over a thousand years. The Bible was written in three languages across three continents (Europe, Asia, Africa).

The Qur'an is wholly different. According to Islam, it was not written by anyone, it was revealed, word for word, from God, by the angel Gabriel (Jabriil in Arabic) to Muhammad throughout his life. The Qur'an consists of 114 chapters, called surahs in Arabic. These surahs are organized like Paul's letters to the churches: from longest to shortest. The second is "The Cow" which is 31 pages long (in the translation I use), and the last one is "The Men" which follows:

SAY: 'I seek refuge in the Lord of men, the King of men, the God of men, from the mischief of the slinking prompter who whispers in the hearts of men; from jinn and men.'

That is the entire surah.

The word "qur'an" is possibly derived from the Arabic word qara' which means "he read." The word itself means something like recitation.

The content of the book is much more uniform than that of the Bible, as could be expected from a book produced by one person over a much shorter period of time. There are dietary laws, there are rules about how the believers should interact with Jews and Christians and idolators. There are regulations about the use of the spoils of war (there is a surah called "The Spoils"). Every aspect of life is touched upon, much like the Torah for Orthodox Jews.

There is a great deal of equivocation about the Jews and the Christians in the Qur'an. There are some positive remarks, like, "Believers, Jews, Sabeans, and Christians--whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right shall have nothing to fear or to regret." But then two paragraphs later we find this: "Unbelievers are those that say: 'God is one of three.' There is but one God. If they do not desist from so saying, those of them that disbelieve shall be sternly punished." (5:69 ff.) There are many examples of this throughout the entire book, so it is not surprising that among Muslims there are so many points of view. (Also you will notice that the author obviously does not grasp the theology of the Trinity. This is not the kind of thing a Muslim can say though since each and every word is from God.)

The same can be said in terms of the use of violence, though the verses limiting violence seem to be fewer in number than those extolling it as long as it is carried out correctly. One that is frequently quoted in the Western press is this: "whoever killed a human being [...] shall be regarded as having killed all mankind" (5:32ff). These seem like the words of a religion of peace indeed. But the entire verse needs to be examined to understand how it has functioned throughout history:

"That is why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as a punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all humankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as having saved all mankind."

So if there is "other villainy" then capital punishment is called for. Such crimes include insulting the Prophet and renouncing Islam. And lest we be impressed by this graciousness, we find this admonition a few verses later, "As for the man or woman who is guilty of theft, cut off their hands to punish them for their crimes. That is the punishment enjoined by God. God is mighty and wise." Fortunately most Islamic countries do not do actually do what "God enjoins." But you can clearly see that there is no question of this being a rule for a specific people at one time in history. It is more like a command for every believer in the world throughout all of time.

Let me know what questions you have. I have quoted mostly from "The Table" in this e-mail, if you would like to read the entire surah.

Peace be with you all.