Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Abu Daoud on Zakaria Botros

I have recently published in St Francis Magazine a short article/book review on Abouna Zakaria Botros. Here is an excerpt:
I believe that Botros is an example of contextualized ministry par excellence. This might sound like a strange thing to say today when contextualization and a non-polemical approach are seen as inseparable. Au contraire. Contextual witness does not mean be- ing nice, and it certainly does not mean refraining from criticism of the Prophet of Islam or its book. What contextualization means is that you are asking the questions to which people want to know answers. A basic example of this is the now commonplace insight that Arabs are more moved by honor-shame questions than innocence-guilt ones. That is context. And Abouna does this very well: Muslims want to know about Muhammad, the shari’a, the ahadiith, and so on. They want to know how Islam can (or cannot) be al haal, the solution, as other great Egyptians have argued (Al Banna? Qutb?). And Botros is uniquely prepared to address these questions: for one, his Arabic is excellent, which might not mean a lot to people who have not studied the language, but understand that classical Arabic and common Egyptian Arabic are about as close to each other as Latin and modern Italian. (OK, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, but not much.) His skills in Arabic permit him to delve into the copious volumes of traditions about the life of the Prophet and Islamic shari’a. Egypt asks Zakaria: in what way can Islam be the solution? Zakaria responds: this is the life of the Prophet and the law of Islam; you make your own decision.

Read it all at SFM: Abu Daoud, 'Observations on Abuna Zakaria Botros (and a Book Review)' in St Francis Magazine, Vol 5:5, Oct 2009, pp 93-8.

A list of all my SFM publications can be found on the right-hand side of the screen at Islamdom, FYI.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Seyyid Qutb on Jihad and Takfiir

Well, I am now in chapter 4 entitled "Jihad in the Cause of God." It is easy to see why this guy is said to be a great inspiration for Al Qaeda and other groups which use violence. One of the things that surprised me is just how unapologetic he is about jihad NOT being about defense:

...these defeatist-type people try to mix the two aspects and want to confine jihaad to what is today called 'defensive war'. The Islamic Jihaad has no relation to modern warfare, either in its causes or in the way it conducted.

He chalks it up to a bunch of pseudo-Muslim scholars and orientalistis--this terrible plot to redefine Islamic jihad to deprive it of such an important element and tool.

He also begins to touch on takfiir, which is an important aspect of the spirituality of al qaeda type gorups today. The doctrine is that anyone who is no following true Islam, even if they say they are a Muslim, are not. Such a person practicing an incomplete or incorrect Islam is a hypocrite and an apostate, and apostates should be killed. Thus the taking of the lives of all those fake Muslims (ie, the government of KSA, American and British soldiers who are Muslims, Iraqi police officers, etc.) is not a violation at all of the command to not kill Muslims. They are all unbelievers, they are mukaffariin, excommunicated ones, by their own incomplete allegiance to God and his law.

Anyway, Qutb is quite clear on the question of violence, and it boils down to this: it is lawful and obligatory to use violence to overturn all form of government that are not truly Islamic (by his standards), which means probably every government in the world today.

Good reading: Sayyid Qutb and Milestones

Milestones by Qutb is one of the key texts in understanding the recent rise of puritanical (and sometimes violent) movements within Islam.

I read the first chapter today and a few things caught my attention:

His view of the first generation of Islam is totally unrealistic. After the death of Muhammad tons of Muslims left (or tried to leave) Islam, and it was only after being 'convinced' (beaten in battle) that they came back to the fold.

I found his extensive concern with the scientific and military power of the West interesting. He says basically that the Muslim world won't catch up, so it has to offer something of a totally different category. For him that is the life-giving values of Islam. (And genuine freedom, but that's for another post.)

He also reminds me a little of Jospeh Smith with his ridiculous "the church disappeared from 100 AD through 1840 or so" thing. Qutb actually does not say that Islam has been polluted. He says that it has disappeared. It's not that the Ummah needs to be reformed. It's just gone. Pretty strong medicine.

So what is the project? To purify a community which will drink only from the clear streams of the Qur'an (and nothing else) and form a vanguard (how European of him!) that will demonstrate in some Muslim country the glory of Islam. And when people see this community with its blessings and live-giving properties, they will adopt the same kind of life style.

"...the beauty of this new system cannot be appreciated unless it takes a concrete form. [...] In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Islamic country." (p 11)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Humility and the arms of the Church

I will say that one should not embrace my line of work if one likes to have all his ducks in a row and the ability to plan more than, say, six months in advance. People always ask us, how long will you stay in the Middle East. The question itself is absurd. How long would we LIKE to stay here? Now that's something I can reasonably talk about.

Anyway, what brings this to mind is that I have a short visit to Scotland to plan for in a month or so, and the normal place where I stay is not available. So what do you do? Funds for ten nights at a hotel are there, but in good conscience I just can't spend so much on something like that. So a hostel? I could do that, I have stayed at hostels numerous times. But they are hardly the kind of place you want to stay at if you are (like me) trying to work on research, reading, editing, and writing.

So what do you do? E-mail local Christians whom you know, perhaps not that well, and just ask for help. It is humiliating a little, but as Mother Theresa said, the only way to learn humility is by being humiliated. From a Western point of view it is, I think, more humiliating than asking for money--why is that? So you humiliate yourself and ask for help. Just sent out the e-mail to a few people and we'll see what the responses are.

I like this day, it's the Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

--Abu Daoud

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Part XX: The Islamization of Europe

Part XX: The Islamization of Europe
by Abu Daoud

I have suggested on numerous occasions that Western Europe is being Islamized at a rapid and consistent pace. However, a recent article in Newsweek contends that this is not the case. In this section XX of my series on Islam and Christianity I want to analyze the Newsweek article by William Underhill and reveal its lack of coherency. (The article can be found here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/206230/output/print)

It is well known by now that Muslims have many more children than ethnic Europeans, and that Islamic immigration has been robust for decades and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. These factors indicate the Islamization of Europe, or the creation of ‘Eurabia.’ Underhill says these fears are overblown. What are his reasons?

One thing that the author mentions without actually spelling out the implications is that the Europeans are getting older: you have fewer Europeans and they are older, while the new Muslims are young, very young. Youth matters. Folks in their 50's and 60's will not take up arms to defend their European heritage. Now youth in the 20's and 30's might, but guess what? They were mostly aborted and were never born because of European hedonism. On the other hand, as we see with the 'immigrant youth' (not Muslim youth, mind you!) every revolution starts with youth--that was true in France and the USA and it will be true Europe.

It is easy to risk everything when you don't have much to begin with, and the possible prize is great power and wealth. The older Europeans will not resist it, other than with the occasional ineffective 'immigration reform' passed by their governments. But guess what--these reforms will not be effective. Immigration has been ‘tightened’ in the past, but the number of immigrants did not decline after these restrictions. As long as there is a policy of ‘family reunification’ like we see in the UK and the US, there will be a wide open door because most people in the lands of Islamdom already have family somewhere in the West. Because of this there are already entire areas in France in the UK where the civil authorities do not venture. This is what we call a failing state: a state that does not have a monopoly on violence.

Like they say in London, "Islam, our religion today, your religion tomorrow."

And Newsweek is most certainly wrong about this on multiple levels. One thing is that Newsweek keeps talking about a Muslim majority in Europe. I am not talking about that at all. I am talking about Muslim majorities in major cities such that those large cities are Islamized. Think Marseilles, for example, or Malmo, Sweden. And also, let's not talk about a majority--let's talk about a majority of the population under 35--the ones who might actually be able to take up arms if it came to that (and it will, in certain places, almost without a doubt). You don't need a majority of the population to take political control of a region. The history of Islam shows us this very clearly.

But surely Underhill has some other arguments, let me examine a few of them:

"Moreover, the myth of Eurabia implies the existence of a united Islam, a bloc capable of collective and potentially dangerous action." True, but I'm talking about the establishment of de facto Islamic city-states, and there are indeed individual cities/regions where powerful Islamic groups (including ethnic-criminal ones) could realistically monopolize power. Newsweek shows its historical ineptitude in its monoculturalism--thinking that it's all about nation states. A very narrow-minded Western reading of the situation. In other words, I am not saying there will be one monolithic state of Eurabia—no one is saying that. Underhill is constructing a straw man and then knocking it down. I am talking about a variety of de facto Islamic city-states around Europe.

"Moreover, the myth of Eurabia implies the existence of a united Islam, a bloc capable of collective and potentially dangerous action." On the contrary, I recognize that Islamdom is every bit as fragmented as is Christianity. But we could say the same thing about the Islamic states today: Morocco, Egypt, Saudi, Pakistan, and Malaysia are all very different in their Islam. But guess what? Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in every single one of those states.

Also, every one of those states has a Muslim population that is willing to use acts of violence to further their politico-religious aims (in Islam there is no distinction, of course). So yes, a Muslim city-state in France with Algerian leadership will look different than the Turkish Islamic city-state in Germany or the Pakistani one in England. They will not be alike, but they will all be Islamic which tells us a few clear things: no religious freedom, an inferior status for women, persecution of homosexuality, an increase in nepotism and decline in rule of law, and the use of state-sponsored violence to proscribe dissent. These are trends that one can find in every single Muslim state in the world.

And that is the future of Europe. That is Eurabia. Who cares about the hamlet of 700 old Scots in the Highlands. Not to sound heartless, but they just don't matter. Also, Underhill fails to take into account emigration from Europe. Does he not know that many ethnic Europeans are not so keen on living in a neighborhood where they are discriminated against and churches are regularly vandalized? Is it a surprise if these folks move out of the Islamic area or as is increasingly the case simply leave the country?

Underhill has written an incomplete and illogical piece of tripe. He has selected information when it was convenient for him and ignored other information. Furthermore, he does not seem to realize that his ‘myth of Eurabia’ is not a theory that anyone to my knowledge is actually advancing. It is rather like fishing in the stocked pond where everyone is promised to catch at least fish. It is not genuine scholarship or journalism.

Also, see my links here:

European Islamdom I
European Islamdom II
European Islamdom III

Saturday, May 23, 2009

History and the Beginning of Protestant Missions

The Protestants were famously willing to sit around on their duffs for centuries while the Jesuits and Franciscans (among others) were busy making converts to the ends of the earth. "That you God that I am elect and not like those filthy Catholics!" Well, that is perhaps a little strong, but perhaps not. That all started to change in the late 18th C. with on William Carey:

Around 1780, an indigent Baptist cobbler named William Carey began reading about James Cook's Polynesian journeys. His interest grew to a furious sort of "backwards homesickness", inspiring him to obtain Baptist orders, and eventually write his famous 1792 pamphlet, "An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of Heathen." Far from a dry book of theology, Carey's work used the best available geographic and ethnographic data to map and count the number of people who had never heard the Gospel. It formed a movement that has grown with increasing speed from his day to ours. (From Wikipedia, where else?)

And now, in a curious reversal, the Catholics and the old churches of the European reformations are pretty much sitting on their hands now while those creative if sometimes-reckless cousins of Protestantism--evangelicalism and Pentecostalism--have placed themselves at the forefront of the church's missio ad gentes.

Yep, that's how church history is. Crazy stuff.

--Abu Daoud

Friday, April 17, 2009

Watch out what you ask for...

Watch what you ask for...
by Abu Daoud

You might actually get it. You know this saying, it's pretty well-circulated really.

I think of this today--let me tell you why. I entered the place of business of a friend of mine. Today is Friday, like Sunday for Christians, a day of observance and worship, but here in my city some of the businesses are open. He was reading (or chanting actually) the Qur'an when I entered his place of business. I sat down and waited for him to finish, which he promptly did.

And then he reached for the little Bible I had given him some months ago, and said, "The Messiah said, 'I have not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword!' What does this mean?" I had given him the Bible hoping he would read, and perhaps some of your prayed for him because I had asked you to, and he was reading it!

But this is hardly an easy saying of Jesus; it speaks of the division of families. My brain was working at full speed, not only scanning my ability to interpret this Scripture, but also how to explain this all in Arabic. The explanation I gave him is not the important thing (that Jesus as a prophet knew that the truth brings division, even persecution, because sometimes people hate the truth, and he had brought a message of truth from God), but that he was reading, and indeed, truly grappling with the meaning of the words of Messiah.

Then his friend entered and said hello. He asked, "Have you asked him about the sword thing?" I explained myself again.

I had given them a Bible and they indeed had read it. Not so much like they read the Qur'an, which is more of a spiritual recitation that does not focus on the meaning of the words, but really trying to understand this message of Jesus.

Pray for these two friends, and pray for me, that we might have wisdom and be led by God into all truth.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

--Abu Daoud

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Lengthy Discussion with Two Muslims Friends

A Lengthy Discussion with Two Muslims Friends

I went to see some friends and Abd started out by saying, How difficult was the life of Job! He had scars and sores and he lost everything! We talked about Job a while, and then I asked (knowing that the Qur'an says very little about Job) where he heard this. He said, I read it in the Bible you gave me. I didn't know he had been reading it. We discussed redemption a little: the idea of God making good from an evil situation.

I have two Muslim friends with whom I got into a rather lengthy conversation with yesterday. Abd asked me point blank, do you say that Jesus is God? It is practice among evangelical missionaries today to not answer such a question in the affirmative. But I am becoming increasingly disappointed with that approach. I answered in the affirmative. He quoted the verse of the Qur'an about God not begetting nor being begotten. I agreed with the verse, saying that in the biological sense it was absolutely true, and that is what the Qur'an was talking about. So Christians and Muslims both agree with that statement if understood in context. I explained that as a Christian I do not limit the power of God--God is all powerful. Therefore if God wills to become human he may. In other words, as a Christian I really believe that Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), unlike Muslims who circumscribe and limit God's ability to reveal himself.

What ensued then was a discussion on the Trinity. The Trinity is another one of those topics that missionaries today tend to stay away from, most of them, to be honest, don't have the theological training to really understand the doctrine, much less explain it to others, much less defend it. I said that we believe in the Trinity because the Gospel says that God is love. For God to be love from all eternity means that the essence of God is relational: the essence of God is nothing other than the relationality of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I recited the Orthodox phrase several times: Allah Waahid, mutasawwi fil jawhar, wa ghayr munfasil: One God, co-equal in essence, inseparable. God is eternally loving, and indeed God is love, something that we can believe because we believe in the Trinity. It is not a quality of God, but the very being of God.

Whereupon I was asked about the Holy Spirit, and I replied that our souls are sick and broken, and God desiring us to be holy and righteous, but knowing that we are not able to accomplish this by our own power, has offered to give us his Spirit to dwell within us and empower us to be righteous.

This was a fairly lengthy conversation. We talked about lots of other things. But it was a pretty all-encompassing sort of discussion. Both of these guys are really thinking about the claims of the Gospel and Jesus.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Abu Daoud on exporting the American model of church and liturgy

An e-mail I just wrote to a friend, I thought it was interesting enough to share with you all. Happy New Year to everyone! --AD

Hi Brother,

You raise a great question: in many ways the American church is not replicable outside the States, no? I would agree with you in several aspects. American culture is very much focused around entertainment, and that really comes across at church. I mean, how many people have you met who do or don't go to a certain church bc of the music or the preaching? It is a difficult balance, I mean, you should be edified by the sermons, but there is such a thing as substituting an entertaining sermon for a boring one that is edifying. The same can be said for the way our churches handle their physical assets. I am, however, not one of these guys who says that we need to go back to home churches (though here that is needed sometimes, but more as a security matter than some ideological debate, like it is in the US).

All of this is related to my conviction that liturgy, in some sense of the word, is an important part of Christian worship. It serves to focus attention away from the entertainment factor (ie, the preacher or worship leader) and towards the work of the people--which is what the actual Greek word liturgy means, the work of the people, or a public work. So yes, the standing and sitting and kneeling can certainly become meaningless ritual, but I have found that is not the case nearly as often as non-liturgical Christians allege. I have ample experience with both forms of Christianity (liturgical and non-liturgical) in a number of different cultural settings and languages.

Also, it is entirely possible to combine the best aspects of evangelical ethos and liturgical worship, I have seen this at some Anglican and Lutheran churches, for example. The desire to shed every last bit of structure (liturgy) is very American, isn't it? I think that's another aspect of how American Christianity does not work so well in other cultures. The non-structured every-guy-doing-his-own-thing kind of worship we sometimes see in the US is more or less incomprehensible to many folks here in the Arab world, both Christian and Muslim.

Anyway, that is much more than you expected, I'm sure! Peace be with you during these twelve days of Christmas, and happy new year!