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 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.