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Bearing False Witness

Eid and Taqiyya
An Afghan refugee vendor waits for customers to sell his sheep at cattle market set up for the upcoming Muslim festival Eid al-Adha in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. / AP

This excerpt was first published at Christianity Today on August 24.

So what if a Muslim invites you to a celebration? The lamb might be tasty, but should Christians be wary?

Statistics show they already are.

The 2018 American Muslim Poll from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) found only 36 percent of white evangelicals believe Muslims are committed to the well-being of America.

And according to the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of self-identified white evangelicals believe there is a “great deal” or “fair amount” of support for extremism among Muslims living in America. This is often connected to a fear of Shari’ah law.

Yet according to the 2017l ISPU poll, only 10 percent said Shari’ah should play a legal role in their community.

Are the rest lying? Or are evangelicals predisposed to assume they are?

Taqiyya is an Arabic word that has come to mean “dissimulation,” said Martin Accad, chief academic officer of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon and associate professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. It is a contested allowance in Islam to conceal your true faith if under personal duress.

But in much anti-Muslim discourse, taqiyya has been redefined into a religious obligation for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims not simply for survival, Accad said, but to serve the expansionist agenda of their religious community.

Without knowing the term, the concept is creeping into Christian consciousness.

And Accad wants to nip it in the bud…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Eid Precaution

Flag Cross Quran


As Muslims celebrate, keep their joy. As Egyptians observe, keep them safe.

In Egypt and around the region, security is stepped up in prevention of extremist attacks. The pilgrimage, a time of piety for many, is a time of advertising for others.

May the eid pass peacefully, God. May peace come in their supplication.




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Eid Threats

Flag Cross Quran


The streets are quiet as Egyptian Muslims remember the sacrifice of Abraham. They slaughter a sheep, celebrate with family, and have three or four days to relax and enjoy.

Throughout the country there is calm, though some are trying to disrupt it.

Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, the foremost terrorist group operating out of the Sinai, has threatened to kill the interior minister during the eid holiday as part of its ongoing campaign against security forces.

The prayer is obvious, God. Foil their plans and avert their schemes. Bring to justice all who threaten the security of the nation.

But there are other threats as well, God. Eid congratulation banners have been hung outside mosques in Alexandria, giving good wishes from the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is just a banner, but it signals more. The Brotherhood has been outlawed and the state has sought to keep places of worship politics-free. The sign bears the phrase – ‘Come, let us truly love each other’ – but it is placed in the face of the regime.

God, let these words ring true. Acrimony has characterized many Egyptians this past year, as the political mixes with the religious. The Brotherhood calls for love, but they have demonized many. They in turn are now an object of scorn for millions beside.

Judge the politics, God, and hold accountable all who have poisoned it. Judge the religion, and honor those who honor you correctly.

But let the people love each other. Eid is a good reminder and practical example. Abraham and his son were nearly separated in pursuit of your will, but you intervened. A sacrifice preserved their family.

As the people slaughter their sheep, help them contemplate their own sacrifice, offered to you to preserve their nation. Much has been given, much more may still be required.

Give them a few days of quiet, God. But give them peace to celebrate, relax, and enjoy for much longer.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Eid Sacrifices


Millions of Egyptians celebrated the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice; many also witnessed the sacrifice of others over religion.

In some places Egyptians battled either institutions or each other over control of the main public squares – and with it, the right to lead the holiday sermon.

In other places the sermon itself displayed opposition to certain elements of the Egyptian population.

Likely, for most, it was a simple day of remembrance and revelry.

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in your name, God, but you stopped him. Likewise, many Egyptians appear willing to sacrifice each other in your name.

For Abraham, you provided a substitute. Will there be a similar scapegoat in Egypt? If so, who?

God, save Egypt and her people from this fate. May no son of the Nile be placed upon the altar; may no son of the Nile place another human being there.

What then will redeem Egyptian politics, God? How do sacrifices end?

Perhaps the answer lies in keeping the concept but changing the recipient. Is it possible for Egyptians to place themselves on the altar?

Can you raise up leaders, God, who will self-sacrifice – not for their cause – but for the other? Can you provide those who will risk and ruin their own reputations by defending all semblance of righteousness in the cause of the other?

Find these men, God, and promote them. Honor them and make them examples. May their courage expose the self-service of all who care only for their limited understanding.

Keep Egypt in faith, God, the faith that you will preserve the good however much discipline and repentance you must engender along the way.

And in the end, may even self-sacrifice fade away as Egypt self-embraces, and then embraces all others.

May only the remembrance and revelry of distant sacrifices remain.



Slaughter and Laughter

Double slaughter
Image by zz77 via Flickr


I never realized how close in spelling those two words were until just now when I wrote them.  Interesting, huh?

I chose this title after walking down a busy street here in a poorer section of Maadi.  This is the season of the Holiday of the Sacrifice, when Muslims who can afford it slaughter a sheep or goat or cow to commemorate the sacrifice that God provided for Abraham when he was about to kill his son.  It’s a good thing to remember, I think.  God can provide the sacrifice when we need it.  Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son … crazy as that command must have felt to him.  Abraham trusted God enough to obey him.  The Bible even says that Abraham believed God could raise his son from the dead if need be, so even though he didn’t know why God would ask him to do such a crazy thing, he believed God would still spare his son somehow.  As a Christian, it makes me remember the ultimate sacrifice that God provided through Jesus – the sacrifice that can save all of us from eternal slaughter.  But as Christians, we don’t have vivid ceremonies such as slaughtering a sheep to remind us of God’s provision.  This makes the holiday here a bit hard to stomach at times.  Seeing carcasses hanging from balconies, watching a group of men stripping the skin from a cow, noticing the blood running in the streets, hearing the bleating of the sheep before it’s their turn — all these things are a bit repulsive to my western senses.  After all, I usually buy my meat wrapped in plastic wrap sitting on a Styrofoam plate from the grocer’s shelves.  It doesn’t resemble an animal at all.  And so, as I walked down the street, on this, the second day of the holiday, I kind of chuckled as I noticed two things, almost side by side.

First, I saw the children on the swings.  I remembered that this is common during holiday times.  Someone will come to a busy area of town and set up some amusement rides.  They aren’t so much like the ones we see in America sometimes, that have roller coasters and Ferris wheels set up for a week at a  time for some festival.  These are more basic — a trampoline or large swings … nothing motorized.  I don’t know the cost of a ride as I warned my girls long before they saw them that we aren’t going to go on any rides, we’re just walking by.  I would guess they cost 1-3 Egyptian pounds (.20 – .50 cents) per ride.  And the kids were enjoying themselves on these rides.  Laughter.

And then, as I got closer to the swings, which were easily seen from a distance, I noticed, less than a block from the swings, a small area where people were butchering their sheep.  I made sure not to look too closely, but did see a sheep’s head, complete with round horns, hanging on the front of the little stand.  Slaughter.

I don’t think either station was bothered by the other.  It’s a major religious holiday.  It’s not a holiday without the slaughter.  And since it’s a holiday, it should contain laughter.  In time, proximity, and spelling – it’s interesting that the two words go so well together.



Emma has spent most of her life living outside the US.  However, since she is only three, she also doesn’t yet remember “most of her life.”  So when we moved to Cairo, after living in the states for six months, I was concerned about her adjustment. She had learned some Arabic words in Tunisia, but at that point even her English vocabulary was very limited.  I was concerned that now that she could communicate any idea she wanted to, she may get very frustrated not being able to do that with Egyptians.  I also thought she would really miss her family members that she left in the states after getting to know them so well over the six months.  Now, she does miss them, I don’t want any Caspers or Van Dames to wonder otherwise, but for the most part, she seemed to go with the flow right away.  Perhaps it’s because at age 3, as long as your mom, dad and sister (in her case) are with you and they are comfortable where they are, then you can be too.

Raising kids has been a lot of fun.  Yes, a lot of work.  But a lot of fun too.  What a privilege as parents to see a character take shape, and a personality form; skills develop and ideas sink in.  We’ve enjoyed watching both girls grow and change.  But as we consider our girls, we think they are a little different than others.  Of course, everyone thinks that, right?  But as we watch Emma play and listen to her conversations, we wonder how much of her being a TCK has affected who she is.  TCK stands for Third Culture Kids.  This is basically defined as any child who has spent a significant part of their formative years living in a country other than their parents’ home or “passport” country.  So since they don’t live in the passport country and therefore don’t quite “fit in” there, and they spend most of their lives in another culture where they are obviously different, they kind of develop a “third culture” within themselves…one that is neither of the two cultures they know best, but a mix of the two.  Now, Emma is only three, and she still has a lot of formative years to go, but being a TCK has definitely affected her. 

One example Jayson and I were commenting on the other day has to do with sheep.

 Ask a 3-year old about sheep and they might say, “They say baa.”  Ask Emma about sheep and she’ll tell you how they get “cut up.”  It all started last year in Tunisia when we visited friends for their annual holiday of the sacrifice.  We took pictures with the live sheep before the sacrifice,

 and then I watched the slaughter while Jayson kept Emma and Hannah entertained.  We didn’t think Emma should watch being just a little over 2 years old.  So she missed the actual killing part, but wanted to watch what was happening as it was cut up and put on the grill.

Fast forward to this year when we came to Egypt.  About two months ago we were in a shop where I was visiting a friend.  Right next door was a butcher.  It turns out they were slaughtering a sheep at that time, and as I talked to the girl in the shop, Emma watched the butcher take care of the sheep.  I encouraged her a few times to come closer to us, but she was very interested in what was happening at the butcher.  After it was finished and we were walking home, she started thinking about it and said she was sad for the sheep because it got “cut up.”  And after waking up a few times with bad dreams about the sheep, she decided she didn’t want to watch a sheep get cut up again.  I told her that’s just fine. 

A few weeks ago we were walking somewhere and saw some sheep in the bottom floor of an abandoned or half-constructed building.  We took this walk regularly and looked for the sheep each time after this.  Once or twice they weren’t there and while I suggested they may have gone somewhere to get some food, Emma thought they were out visiting their cousins.  (See, she does miss her family in America!)  On our most recent walk past this building, the sheep were again absent.  This time I figured they got “cut up” since the holiday of the sacrifice had recently passed.  But Emma again suggested they were visiting cousins.  However, on the return trip, she concluded that yes, they probably got cut up.

Speaking of the holiday, we stayed home this year.  However, our landlord slaughtered one cow and a few sheep in the courtyard just below our balcony.  We didn’t mention it to Emma who had already decided she didn’t want to watch this anymore, but we did go out to Sunday school, and on the way back, we rushed inside when we saw them cutting up a sheep.  Emma said, “That gives me bad dreams.  I don’t like that.”  The slaughtering went on for several hours and at some points there were one or two animals hanging from our balcony, but Emma didn’t see anything else or have any bad dreams that night.

And just today, while I was hanging laundry on our balcony, I noticed some of our doorman’s livestock “grazing” in their yard.  Turns out it was four sheep.  First I picked Hannah up to see and she said “Sheep!”  Then I picked Emma up.  “It’s sheep!  Why didn’t they get cut up?”  Guess it’s a theme with her!


Turkey Yesterday, Sheep Today, Monastery to Come

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends, and Happy Eid to our Muslim ones. On Wednesday we celebrated Thanksgiving with some American friends here, which was a little weird, since we really don’t interact with foreigners much, outside of my office, which is multicultural anyway. It may also have been that though I felt ok enough to go, I wasn’t in the best of spirits as I was coming down with a touch of the flu. It hit hard that evening, and most of actual Thanksgiving I was in bed or resting.

I haven’t been keeping up with swine flu news in America, but it is a bit of a scare over here. I have no fear that I am infected with that strain, but the paranoia is so strong in the middle of my worst fits I thought I should go and get tested, only if to assure fearful friends that they can be free to have a conversation with me.

Is this rumor circulating in America? I have heard here from multiple sources that the swine flu vaccine is being distributed by the US government around the world in order to bring about population control. Since the rest of the world won’t stop having babies, the US first created the swine flu virus to wipe out great swaths of world population, and then is marketing the vaccine which in actuality will be a contraceptive. The company producing the vaccine is the same one which manufactures the government’s chemical weapons stash, or, has been brought up on charges for fraud and malpractice. The rumors all stem from certain emails which are making the rounds in Egypt, and presumably elsewhere. Has anyone seen these in the States?

In any case, since I am still taking it easy today we are unlikely to have any valuable updates on the Eid, whereas otherwise we would be sure to visit our friends and experience their holiday with them. Maybe it is for the best; if I was well then surely I would have here a video allowing you to witness the sheep slaughter, skinning, and skewering with us.

For those who don’t know, Eid al-Adha means holiday of the sacrifice, and celebrates the obedience of Abraham in sacrificing his son, universally believed to be Ishmael, though the text is ambiguous, before God spared him in the end and substituted an animal in his stead. It is the chief ritual of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and of the two mandated Muslim holidays, it is alternately called ‘The Major Holiday’, in comparison to the end of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was revealed, known as Eid al-Fitr, which means the holiday of fastbreaking, or alternately, ‘The Minor Holiday’.

Several posts going backwards mention that I spent some time in a local monastery last week. I can state briefly that it went very well and was an enjoyable experience. I have not yet written about it, however, since my reflections will also be published in our newsletter, Arab West Report, which has not yet been finalized due to the holidays. There will be two reports in time. The first will be a summary of my conversation with one of the elderly monks of the monastery when he came to Cairo on business. I met him in order to introduce myself and seek permission to stay, and a very interesting discussion followed. The second will be the formal report of my time there, which I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.

One reason my boss encouraged me to keep a blog in the first place was to help promote knowledge of our newsletter, so while both of these reports will be published there, I will be sure to provide the link needed to read them. Whereas reading the full text of our reports and translated articles usually requires a paid subscription of something like $50 to $100 per year for individuals, I will make certain, with his permission, that anything I link you to, whether or not I am the author, is free of charge.

Of course, you are invited to look around. Simply by looking at our weekly issue you can browse the news we are covering for the past seven days, though you may not be able to gain too much just from the titles and short summaries. The ‘hot news’, however, can be accessed for free, and is located in the lower central section of the home page. These are updated regularly, though not quite daily. Free subscriptions of the weekly summary collection are also available; you can search for it online or contact me and I can sign you up. 

This is sounding more and more like an advertisement, which is not my intention. Yet while you can generally follow along with most of our life here via the blog, the newsletter can give greater insight into religious Egypt in general, and our broader work of which I have only a part. As with all things, you are warmly invited to learn along with us. That you keep up with us at any level, however, is received as a gift.