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."