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Published Articles Christianity Today Reconciliation

Muslims Join Evangelical Theology Conference

It is not often that a Muslim appears at an evangelical theological gathering.

Al Mohler invited three.

The trimmed-down 72nd annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), held virtually this week, usually welcomes up to 2,000 top scholars to present on the most salient issues facing evangelical scholarship.

This year’s theme: Islam and Christianity.

“We are called to truth, and to understanding the world around us more accurately and thoughtfully,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), who also served as ETS program chair.

“That certainly includes our understanding of Islam, which has from the beginning represented an enormous challenge to Christian evangelism, apologetics, theology, and cultural engagement.”

Roughly 15 percent of the 130-plus events addressed these challenges, including the three official plenary sessions—in typical academic parlance:

  • “The Authority and Function of the Quran in Islam,” by Ayman Ibrahim of SBTS
  • “Through the Prism: The Trinity and the Islamic Metanarrative,” by Timothy Tennet of Asbury Theological Seminary
  • “American Christians and Islam: From the Colonial Era to the Post-9/11 World,” by Thomas Kidd of Baylor University

But it was the challenge of “cultural engagement” that led ETS to reach out to the Muslim panelists. Each was invited to share their view of evangelicals, and address the issues that concern them. It could “scarcely be more relevant and urgent,” said Mohler.

Three Christians joined them on the panel, focused on “Understanding Our Neighbor.” “We don’t resist the idea we must love Muslims,” said John Hartley, a research fellow at Yale, “but we…”

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 20, 2020. Please click here to read the full article.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Expression

God,

You created this world through the power of your voice.

You revealed your will through the light of your word.

You made us, God, to do no less.

Teach us to articulate well.

With our tongue we bless and curse.

From our heart, our mouth speaks.

We will give account for every word.

Some used these words against the French. Muslims rebuke the insult given their prophet.

Some used these words against the Turks. Armenians condemn the war waged on their people.

Some used these words against the Israelis. Lebanese question the lines drawn into the sea.

And perhaps they are right to do so.

Perhaps they please you in their stance.

Their voice is strong. Their will revealed.

But is there power? Is there light?

A word alone is only vapor.

And so some kill. And so some weep. And so some shrug.

What can be done against the mighty?

God, make us mightier still?

Maybe.

Your power is perfected in weakness.

But it is power still.

Power to hold the tongue. Let freedom rule, but honor reign.

Power to bless the enemy. Establish justice. Prevail with peace.

Power to negotiate well. An equitable share, of your free bounty.

God, let our words create.

An apple of gold in a setting of silver.

And let them speak of you. The very words of God.

Let Lebanon be known through them, an expression of your love.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Biden Said ‘Inshallah.’ Many Arab Christians Do Too.

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: Win McNamee / Scott Olson / Getty Images

Unnoticed by many during the contentious first presidential debate, Joe Biden introduced a new Arabic word into the American lexicon.

Inshallah.

Technically, it is three words, in both Arabic and English: “in sha’ Allah,” or “if God wills.”

“If you take it literally, you won’t get the intent,” said Ramez Atallah, general director of the Bible Society of Egypt.

“It can also mean, ‘It will never happen,’ and this is probably what Biden meant.”

Asked by the moderator about his tax returns, President Donald Trump answered, “You’ll get to see it.”

To which the former vice president interjected, “When? Inshallah?”

Trump continued, and the moment was lost to almost all but Arabic-speaking viewers. Muslim Twitter users lit up in astonishment, wondering if they heard correctly.

Enchilada” was about as close as other ears heard.

But while one Muslim writer has humorously called inshallah the Arabic equivalent of “fuggedaboudit,” what should Christians make of the phrase?

“Everything is uncertain,” Atallah said. “We live in an unpredictable world, and no one is ever sure that what they plan will be accomplished.” He highlighted the biblical equivalent in…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 7, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Interview: To Elect Trump, Evangelicals Could Find Common Cause with Muslims

By Alisdare Hickson (link)

In a tightly contested presidential race, might Muslims swing the US election?

Referencing the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns in Tuesday’s debate, former vice president’s Joe Biden’s “inshallah” [Arabic for “if God wills”] may have been a nod to the strong support he receives from this community.

But according to data from the fifth annual American Muslim Poll, Muslims make up only 1 percent of the American population, only 74 percent are eligible to vote, and only 57 percent are registered.

Why then do they occupy such an outsized space in the mind of many American evangelicals? And what should evangelicals better understand about the American Muslim community and their political preferences? CT spoke with Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which commissioned the poll.

The level of support for President Trump has doubled among Muslims, from 13 percent in 2018 and 16 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2020. How to you interpret this finding? We are still trying to understand it ourselves. One thing is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 1, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Sudan Agrees with Rebels to Remove Islam as State Religion

In signing successive peace deals with entrenched rebel movements last week, Sudan drew upon the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

“The constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’” read the text of an agreement between the North African nation’s joint military-civilian transitional council and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM–N).

“The state shall not establish an official religion.”

The declaration of principles further cements Sudan’s efforts to undo the 30-year system of strict sharia law under President Omar al-Bashir, during which Islam was the religion of the state.

The agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, four days after a more inclusive peace deal was signed with a coalition of rebel groups in the Sudan Revolutionary Front in Juba, South Sudan.

The Juba agreement established a national commission for religious freedom, which guarantees the rights of Christian communities in Sudan’s southern regions.

Sudan’s population of 45 million is roughly 91 percent Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Open Doors’s World Watch List ranks Sudan No. 7 among nations where it is hardest to be a Christian. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) interpreted the agreement even more widely: to protect…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 5, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million

Missiologists have long spoken of the explosive growth of the church in Iran.

Now they have data to back up their claims—from secular research.

According to a new survey of 50,000 Iranians—90 percent residing in Iran—by GAMAAN, a Netherlands-based research group, 1.5 percent identified as Christian.

Extrapolating over Iran’s population of approximately 50 million literate adults (the sample surveyed) yields at least 750,000 believers. According to GAMAAN, the number of Christians in Iran is “without doubt in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of thousands and growing beyond a million.”

The traditional Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Iran number 117,700, according to the latest government statistics.

Christian experts surveyed by CT expressed little surprise. But it may make a significant difference for the Iranian church.

“With the lack of proper data, most international advocacy groups expressed a degree of doubt on how widespread the conversion phenomenon is in Iran,” said Mansour Borji, research and advocacy director for Article 18, a UK-based organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran.

“It is pleasing to see—for the first time—a secular organization adding its weight to these claims.” The research, which asked 22 questions about…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 3, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christian Century Published Articles Reconciliation

The Redemption of Interfaith Dialogue

Image: Ozgurdonmaz / Getty / Ben White / Lightstock

The Egyptian delegation of Muslim sheikhs settled in for the opening session of the interfaith conference. Their mainline Protestant hosts welcomed them to the hallowed halls of a historic New York seminary with pleasantries and platitudes about shared humanity and common values.

Then the moderator startled the senior scholars from Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, with what sounded like an ultimatum: “Anyone who believes their religion is the only way is not welcome here.”

Quietly, the Muslim men rose to leave. Their impromptu translator, Joseph Cumming, a delegate from Fuller Theological Seminary, quickly intervened. “No, no, don’t be offended,” he told them. “He is not referring to you—he is speaking about us.”

Cumming is an American evangelical who has been ministering in the Islamic world since 1982. Many evangelicals, he explained to the Muslim guests, have been very critical of interfaith dialogue. They argue it cedes too much ground, reducing religion to the lowest common denominator and undermining any commitment to absolute truth. Peace is made too high a priority with so much focus on agreement, avoiding the crucial differences over salvation.

Yet Cumming was there anyway. Despite what the moderator said, he believed it was possible—even important—for evangelicals to participate in interfaith dialogue without losing any of their passionate commitment to the truth of the Bible.

The Muslim scholars, reassured, sat back down. And the conversation continued. It continues still. That conference was nearly two decades ago, and Cumming has remained engaged in interfaith dialogue. He has dedicated the second half of his Christian ministry to maintaining respectful dialogue with Muslims and overcoming stereotypes between Christians and Muslims while remaining as passionate as ever about bearing witness to his faith in Christ. Cumming didn’t always think this way. He had to be converted to the possibility of interfaith dialogue. At first he thought it was just…

This article was first published in the July/August print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full article.

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Current Events

Despite a Murder and Visa Denials, Christians Persevere in Turkey

Turkey Korean Murder
Image: Source Images: Congin Kim / Annie Spratt / Unsplash

This article was first published in the March print edition of Christianity Today.

Five days after her husband’s murder, Jung Kyung-In named her newborn daughter “God’s Goodness”—in Turkish, not Korean.

Jung moved to Turkey with her husband, Kim Jin-Wook, in 2015. The Korean Christian couple found a place to live in an impoverished district of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Kim worked selling spices, but his real calling, as he understood it, was witnessing to the gospel. He took the Turkish name “Peace,” and his Christian friends in Turkey say he was a great evangelist.

“He shared the gospel in every corner of Diyarbakir without hesitation,” said Ahmet Güvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, which has about 70 members. “He was not aggressive, but clear, and I think local people were uncomfortable with this.”

One day in November, Kim told Jung he was going out to evangelize. He was attacked on the street, stabbed twice in the chest and once in the back. Kim, 41, died of his wounds in a city hospital.

Authorities arrested a 16-year-old boy for the crime. He has allegedly confessed to the murder, saying he was trying to steal Kim’s phone.

Despite her grief, Jung saw this as an opportunity to testify. She wrote a letter to the boy accused of killing her husband.

“I do not understand why you did this, but I cannot be angry at you,” she wrote on her phone.

“Many people want the court to give you a heavy punishment. But I and my husband don’t want this. We pray that you become worthy of heaven, because we believe in the worth of people. God sent his Son Jesus, who forgave those who persecuted him. We also believe in that and we pray that you would also repent of your sin.”

Jung read the letter aloud to the local media. Her testimony was viewed online more than…

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

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Current Events

Evangelicals Who Distrust Muslims Likely Don’t Know Muslims

Ramadan IHOP
How IHOP Became a Ramadan Favorite — image: Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

This article was first published at Christianity Today on September 12.

Earlier this week, a Baptist church in Michigan canceled an event titled, “9/11 Forgotten? Is Michigan Surrendering to Islam?” due to pushback from fellow Christians and politicians.

The pastor of Bloomfield Hills Baptist Church identifies as an Islamophobe and organized the gathering because he sees Islam as a growing threat in the US, The Washington Post reported.

While some fellow white evangelicals share his suspicions, research has shown that those who know Muslims in their communities tend to hold more positive views and are more likely to see commonalities between their two faiths.

“The personal relationships with Muslims, that’s a game changer,” Todd Green, Luther College professor and former Islamophobia adviser to the US State Department, told ThePost. “It tends to make you less Islamophobic.”

Yet surveys from various sources have noted the friendship gap between evangelicals and their Muslim neighbors. More than a third (35%) of white evangelicals knew a Muslim personally in a 2017 Pew Research Center release, fewer than any other religious group, and evangelicals surveyed rated Muslims more negatively than other faiths.

The Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research found in 2017 that 17 percent of those with evangelical beliefs reported having a Muslim friend, while the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) reported this year that only 22 percent of evangelicals say they interact frequently with Muslims.

FFEU, led by a rabbi seeking to improve Muslim-Jewish relations, also noted that 1 in 3 evangelicals with frequent interaction with Muslims viewed Islam as similar to their own faith compared to 1 in 4 evangelicals overall.

The latest research from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a prominent American Muslim organization, offers another look at the relationship between the two faiths.

The 2019 ISPU poll, released last spring, surveyed a representative sample of the US population along with a sample of Muslims and of Jews. The results may not offer as precise a picture of other religious subgroups due the higher margin of error, but still gives a valuable snapshot at broad trends between the faiths.

Here are five takeaways for evangelicals from one of the leading indicators of Muslim community sentiment in America.

1. White evangelicals lag behind in knowing and befriending Muslims; Jews excel.

When asked, “Do you know a Muslim personally?” 35 percent of evangelicals and 44 percent of Protestants said yes…

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

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Current Events

When Islam is Not a Religion in America

Asma Uddin

This article was first published at Christianity Today on September 9.

Is Islam a religion?

This question is regularly posed by populists seeking to restrict Muslims in America. If Islam is not a religion—if it is a militant ideological system, for example—then some argue it is not subject to First Amendment protection.

At stake is the protection of religious liberty, writes lawyer Asma T. Uddin in When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom. Her new book details recent legal cases involving Muslims, arguing that restrictions on one faith community affect the freedom of all.

Formerly a legal counsel with Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm, Uddin has worked with the US State Department to advocate against the former United Nations resolution on the defamation of religion, which was seen by many as an attempt at international cover for blasphemy laws. And through the Legal Training Institute, she has worked to extend the American understanding of religious liberty to several Middle Eastern, North African, and Southeast Asian countries.

Uddin, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, has worked on religious liberty cases at the federal and Supreme Court levels—including the Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor victories praised by conservative Christians—defending evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Native Americans, and Muslims. Christianity Today, which recently editorialized on why religious freedom isn’t just for Christians, spoke with her on the sidelines of the recent US State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

CT: American evangelicals are often concerned that Christians have their religious liberty threatened around the world, often in Muslim-majority nations. The focus of your book is Muslim religious liberty, threatened in the United States. What sorts of challenges do Muslims face in America?

Uddin: I think it’s important to point out that the book doesn’t just look at attacks on Muslims. The book looks broadly at the attack on religious freedom, seen through the prism of attacks on Muslims. I discuss violence against churches, synagogues, and Sikh temples.

But in terms of threats to Muslim religious freedom specifically, I look at the nationwide anti-mosque controversy, which started in earnest after the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” fiasco. From there, it spread to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which was the first community to be affected while attempting to build a mosque. That’s where the claim was made that Islam is not a religion.

To this day, there are ongoing struggles to build mosques. It’s not just litigation, but also arson and fire bombing. There is even a question about Muslim cemeteries, to the point where American Muslims are unable to bury their dead. That’s the challenge we’re facing to our human dignity…

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

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Current Events

Why Muslims Love Mary

Muslim Mary
Annunciation, from Chronology of Ancient Nations by Al-Biruni, 1307.

This article was published in the July/August print edition of Christianity Today.

Mohammed, a pious PhD student from Egypt, sat guardedly in the “Community of Reconciliation.” Invited by David Vidmar, director of coaching for Peace Catalysts International, the middle-aged Muslim seemed soured on the idea of interfaith exchange at his northern California university.

Vidmar suspected Mohammed came to the jointly led Muslim-Christian dinners because he felt obligated to do da’wah, the Arabic word for spreading Islam. But over a shared meal and discussion about Mary, the Egyptian’s attitude shifted. “The deeper we got into the life of Mary and how Christians understand the virgin birth of Jesus, he became very enthused,” Vidmar said. “There are so many misunderstandings . . . it was wonderful to observe him see the similarities and be able to relax.”

Peace Catalysts is a Jesus-centered peacemaking effort, focused primarily on Christians and Muslims. Vidmar and his family worked for eight years with Uighurs in Kazakhstan and still wish Muslims would experience the love and forgiveness God reveals through Jesus. But now he works to help both sides experience heart transformation through deep and genuine friendship—and Mary proved a fruitful bridge.

“Since so many Muslims use the term ‘Jesus, Son of Mary,’ it would be helpful for evangelicals to think more deeply about this,” Vidmar said. “Muslims often excitedly tell me their favorite chapter in the Qur’an is Maryam, and women especially express appreciation for it.”

Mary is mentioned 34 times in the Qur’an—more than in the New Testament—and its only named woman. Islam upholds the virgin birth, the annunciation by Gabriel, and—mirroring the Ave Maria in Luke’s gospel—declares Mary to be “exalted above all women.”

Yet even Catholics have been slow to recognize the similarities…

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

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Current Events

How Should Christians Respond to Christchurch Mosque Massacre?

Christchurch Mosque
Jorge Silva, REUTERS | A police officer is pictured outside Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 17, 2019

This article was first published at Christianity Today on March 18, 2019.

Last Friday, Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, suffered a terrorist attack at the hands of an avowed white supremacist. 50 people were killed, with another 50 injured.

Prior to the attack, the citizen of Australia posted a lengthy manifesto to social media, filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim themes. He then proceeded to livestream the shooting. Some victims originally hailed from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Given recent attacks on Christians in their places of worship, including many in Muslim nations, CT invited evangelical leaders to weigh in: How should Christians respond to Christchurch?

Richard Shumack, director of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology, Australia:

The thing that came to mind immediately is Jesus’ beatitudes. How should Christians react to Christchurch? With mourning, a hunger for justice, and peacemaking. Christians must mourn with their Muslim brothers and sisters, thirst for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be brought to justice, and put every possible effort into brokering peace in an age of furious tribalism.

I also embrace wholeheartedly the poignant wisdom of Dostoevsky quoted by the Anglican bishop of Wellington, New Zealand: At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, “I will combat it with humble love.” If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it.

Mark Durie, Anglican pastor from Melbourne, Australia, and author of books on Islam:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed…

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

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Current Events

Forty Years Later, House Churches Threaten Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Iran Report Christians House Churches
Azadi Tower in Tehran (image courtesy of Article18)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on February 14.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded streets nationwide on Monday, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Not present were dozens of Christians with no freedom of movement.

“For 40 years, the Iranian government has harbored an intolerant view towards Christianity,” said Mansour Borji, advocacy director at Article18, a Christian human rights organization focused on Iran.

“Administrations have changed and the methods have varied, but the objective remains the same: to restrict Christians’ influence on all spheres of Iranian life.”

An in-depth report on violations against Iranian Christians in 2018 was jointly released last month by Open Doors, Middle East Concern, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Article18. It was a first-time collaboration for the groups—in order to amplify their voice, Borji said.

The report stated that according to public records, 29 Christians were held in detention in 2018 for terms of 6 months to 10 years (if formally sentenced at all). Eight were released.

The report emphasized that many more detentions of Christians remained undocumented.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the freedom of religion, including the right to adopt a faith of one’s choice and to publicly practice and teach it.

Iran ratified the ICCPR in 1975, prior to the 1979 revolution which ended 2,500 years of monarchy.

But Christians are not the only victims…

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

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Current Events

Should Christians Quote Muhammad?

This article was first published in the January print edition of Christianity Today.

Christians Quote Muhammad

Christians breathed a sigh of relief last October when Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five on death row, of blasphemy charges against Islam. What many might not have noticed was the Islamic rationale.

Whether or not she spoke against Muhammad, Bibi was insulted first as a Christian, wrote the judge. And on this, the Qur‘an is clear: Do not insult those that invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge.

The verdict also quoted Islam’s prophet himself: “Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights … I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

And finally, it referenced an ancient treaty that Muhammad signed with the monks of Mount Sinai: “Christians are my citizens, and by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them.… No one of the Muslims is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day.”

Today it can seem like Muslims violate this covenant the world over. But does the Bibi decision validate those who insist that Islam rightly practiced is a religion of peace? And should Christians join Muslims to share verses that comprise the Islamic case for religious freedom?

CT surveyed more than a dozen evangelical experts engaged with Muslims or scholarship on Islam who reflected on three key questions when considering interpretations of Islam that favor religious freedom.

[These questions are: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it enough?]

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

Also: click here to read my related Christianity Today article about The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, the book which describes the Sinai treaty mentioned above, and others.

Finally, here is a sidebar from the Should Christians Quote Muhammad article, identifying sources in the Islamic tradition on which the evangelical scholars reflected.

Quranic verses regarding Christians:

• Q5:82 – You will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.

• Q2:62 – Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans those who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness—will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.

• Q22:40 – And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned.

• Q29:46 – And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best.

• Q2:256 – There shall be no compulsion in religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.

Texts used in Supreme Court of Pakistan acquittal of Asia Bibi:

• Christians are my citizens, and by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them … The Muslims are to fight for them … Their churches are to be respected. No one of the Muslims is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day (Covenant with the Monks of Mount Sinai)

• “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I [Prophet Muhammad] will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

• Q6:108 – “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.”

 

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Current Events

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.

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Current Events

Sectarian Cinema: Oscars Highlight Muslim Defense of Persecuted Christians

Watu Wote
(Image: Hamburg Media School)

This article was first published in the May print edition of Christianity Today.

Two years ago, the heroic actions of some Kenyan Muslims brought their majority-Christian nation together. The Oscar-nominated film depiction of that heroism may do so again—if many people watch.

Watu Wote is a fictional retelling of real-life horror. In December 2015, al-Shabaab terrorists stormed a bus headed toward the border with Somalia and demanded Christian passengers separate for targeted execution.

Muslim passengers responded, “If you want to kill us, then kill us. There are no Christians here.” The Christian women were given hijabs to wear, while the Christian men were hidden behind bags.

They knew the danger. One year earlier in a similar bus attack, Muslim militants killed 28 Christians who failed to correctly say the Islamic creed.

Filmed on location in Swahili and Somali, the 22-minute film was nominated for the Live Action Short Film category at the 90th Academy Awards.

“The film captures an issue close to Kenyan hearts, that apart from religious differences, we are all Kenyan,” said Timothy Ranji, bishop of the Anglican diocese of Mt. Kenya South. “The downside is that it will be watched by very few Kenyans…”

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

 

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Current Events

Is ISIS Really Muslim?

This article was first published in the March print edition of Christianity Today.

Is ISIS Really Muslim

For Egyptian Christians, 2017 was the deadliest modern year on record. At least 87 were killed by terrorists.

But despite being labeled by ISIS as its “favorite prey,” Copts were only 12 percent of such fatalities last year. Far more Muslims died in extremist violence at the hand of fellow believers.

Unless they aren’t believers at all.

If American Christians often don’t know how to understand Islam, they can take some comfort knowing that Egyptian Muslims struggle too.

A tragic case study occurred in December, when more than 300 people were killed at a Sinai mosque belonging to a Sufi order. Sufi Muslims are known for their mystical practices in search of spiritual communion with God. Many also seek intercession at the graves of Muslim saints.

In casual but solemn conversation at an upper-class organization in Cairo, one well-educated Egyptian woman reflected on the tragedy with colleagues. “Yes, but they are Sufis,” she said. “They’re not really Muslims.”

The woman was not making light of the massacre, nor justifying it. But she had internalized a message preached by another type of Muslim—Salafis—who judge Sufi practices to be outside the bounds of orthodox Islam. And when Salafis become jihadists, they may well kill Sufis as apostates.

In angry conversation with a middle-class taxi driver in Cairo, one typical Egyptian denounced ISIS for its crimes against both mosques and churches. “No, we can’t say that they aren’t Muslims,” he said. “Of course they are.”

What causes such confusion? Innocent victims, praying in a mosque, are placed outside of Islam while murderers, salivating at the entrance, remain in the faith?

At issue is a pernicious concept in the Muslim world called takfir in Arabic. It means the process of calling someone a kafir—an infidel…

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

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Current Events

To Defend Mideast Christians, Can Advocates Critique Islam?

Advocates Critique Islam
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

This article was first published in the January print edition of Christianity Today.

What’s the best way for Middle Eastern Christians in America to help fellow believers back home? A single misspelled email address inadvertently revealed the breadth of this dilemma for activists in the diaspora.

The mishap sparked a spat this summer between two prominent US Arab groups: the Arab American Institute (AAI), a polling and policy organization led by James Zogby, and Coptic Solidarity (CS), which champions the religious freedom of Egyptian Christians and other minorities.

Zogby, who has a Lebanese Maronite background, was a scheduled participant in CS’s annual Washington conference, which leaders often use to advise DC’s foreign policy establishment on Middle East issues.

But two days before the June 15 conference, Zogby unexpectedly withdrew.

Zogby explained in an article weeks later that he withdrew after receiving word that some controversial anti-Muslim “hate groups” would be at the conference and that the title of a panel in which he was participating had been revised to suggest that violence and impunity are endemic in Muslim and Egyptian culture.

“The best way to reinforce the message of the haters of Christians in Egypt is by giving them the ammunition that Copts in the US are working with Islamophobes in Washington,” Zogby told CT. “I felt it important to call out CS for what I strongly believe is a wrong-headed and potentially dangerous path.”

Stunned by Zogby’s withdrawal and his public criticism, CS wrote an angry response, accusing Zogby of a “dhimmi mentality,” a reference to the secondary status of non-Muslims in the historic caliphate.

“He intentionally tried to hijack our event and tarnish our reputation,” Lindsay Griffin, CS’s director of advocacy and development, told CT.

According to organizers, participants had received the revised speaker list and panel names a full month before the conference. But Zogby didn’t. His email address was misspelled, so he never received a May 9 message outlining the changes that later led him to withdraw.

But while the spark that ignited the conflict between the groups was an honest mistake, the issues at the center of the dilemma are real…

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

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Current Events

Must the Muslima Wear a Headscarf?

Hijab Identity Politics

Identity politics are dangerous. Unfortunately Muslims have long been swept up into the fray. Sometimes willingly.

In many traditional and conservative societies, women have covered their heads. This is not exclusive to Islam, whatever the Quran says about it.

But a time came also when Muslims were mobilizing on the basis of faith, using it as a rallying cry. It roughly corresponded with an ascendant European colonialism that weakened the political power Muslims once possessed. It revived in the 1970s, with the surge in popularity of political Islamism.

And one symbol of resistance was the woman. The headscarf became a statement.

It is far more than that, of course. It is a symbol of piety, of faith. It is an act of modesty in an immodest world. Perhaps it is an act of acquiescence to culture, or obedience to husband.

In the end it is a piece of cloth, and from an American perspective we believe a woman should be (mostly) free to wear what she wants.

But to be a good Muslima, must the woman wear a scarf?

I will not delve into the perspectives that say yes, or the traditional interpretations that seem to govern much of the Muslim world. They may well be right.

But in a recent article, the Huffington Post highlighted five scholars who say no. I know some of the names. One is famous and generally well celebrated. Another was marginal and called an apostate.

Here are their arguments.

Khaled Abou el-Fadl

El-Fadl mentions that the illa (operative cause) for the injunction to cover was to protect women from harm and to avoid undue attention from mischief mongers.

He also states that the ma’ruf (generally accepted as good) and the munkar (socially recognized as unacceptable) are based on pragmatic and practical experience.

Therefore, he argues that if the headscarf itself causes women to stand out and put them in the way of harm, and if uncovering the head is not considered socially immodest or licentious, then it would be permissible for Muslim women to not wear the headscarf.

One would hope a well functioning society would not harass women who cover their heads. Does his reasoning then suggest that the headscarf is otherwise an obligation? Should the power of decision be yielded to the mischief mongers?

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi

Like El-Fadl, Ghamidi opines there were injunctions exclusive for the wives of the Prophet. He argues that there are only four instructions that pertain to Muslim women.

These include lowering the gaze, wearing modest clothing, covering the bosom with a piece of cloth, and not displaying ornamental embellishments before unrelated men.

No other injunction other than these has been imposed on Muslim women.

This seems straightforward enough. A general command for modesty may require a headscarf in some cultures, but not in others. But who is to decide? The individual woman? Islam teaches that God judges the individual, so she alone bears the consequences. But who protects society?

Abdullah bin Bayyah

Bin Bayyah adopts an approach based on necessity.

He argues that hardships allow for uncovering of body parts and mentioned how the shins of two of the Prophet’s wives, Aishah and Umm Salamah, were uncovered when they were giving water to wounded soldiers on the battlefield. He also mentions the minority position of Ibn Ashur that women may uncover their hair in public.

Bin Bayyah’s student Hamza Yusuf even asserts that:

“The laws are there to serve human beings; we are not there to serve the law. We are there to serve Allah, and that is why whenever the law does not serve you, you are permitted to abandon it, and that is actually following the law. …

The law is for our benefit, not for our harm. Therefore, if the law harms us, we no longer have to abide by it.”

If uncovering hair is admitted to be a minority position, bin Bayyah’s does not seem a very strong argument. A pillar of sharia law is the consensus of community.

His student Yusuf pulls a principle of Jesus, but the Huffington Post excerpt does not go far enough to demonstrate the validity of the principle in Islam. For now it must be enough that some scholars argue so.

Ahmad Ghabel

The late Shia cleric, who had the prominent title of Hojjat el-Islam (authority on Islam), offered ten arguments in support of the viewpoint that covering the head was not obligatory but recommended.

He opined that there was no consensus amongst jurists as to whether hair constituted the awrah (intimate parts) that must be covered.

For the reader desiring demonstrations of validity, the link will offer an academic treatise. But even if something is only recommended, should it not be done? Perhaps it cannot be enforced, but does the woman risk her standing with little recourse?

But as above, the second claim is more powerful. If there is no consensus on what must be covered, then again we come back to modesty, not compulsion.

Nasr Abu Zayd

According to the late Abu Zayd, both the awrah (intimate parts) and the hijab (veil) are subject to socio-cultural norms and therefore are changeable and not fixed. He opined that both are not legislated by Islam but are rather specific to the Arab culture.

Fair enough, but again, on what basis? Not enough here to tell.

For what it is worth, this is the scholar labeled an infidel by an Egyptian court, and forcibly divorced from his wife. I don’t know his story well enough to say which of his opinions most offended the judge.

All religions impose obligations; all societies have their norms. The former is of individual faith; however related, the latter is not wise to transgress.

But some always will, and society needs their creativity. Just not too much of it. It is difficult to know where the line must be drawn.

If this was the only matter, we would probably work it out. Not to justify any particular outcome, but traditional societies seemed to do so, with diverse application.

Some highlight the hijab as a symbol of oppression. Others compel it as a means of control. Some thrust it in your face demanding respect. Others find ways to seduce men all the same.

Too much of this issue is wrapped in identity politics. Let’s just leave each other alone.

Mostly. Unfortunately, the headscarf at this time hits at a collective world conscience on how to balance rights with freedoms, the individual with society.

Maybe we can’t just leave each other alone, but we can be charitable. How wonderful if this was our collective identity.

I Love My Hijab

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Current Events

Secondary Separation, in Islam

Secondary Separation Islam

In fundamentalist Christian circles there is an approach to the world known as ‘secondary separation’. While the Bible notes Christians are not of this world, there is tension when Jesus says they are also in this world, and should not expect to be removed.

Fundamentalism is one expression of this tension, that leans in the direction of withdrawal. A key verse is II Corinthians 6:17, “Come out from them and be separate,” quoting an Old Testament passage focusing on holiness.

Separation from the world is therefore a necessary Christian posture, though defining ‘them’ and ‘separate’ can be difficult. Fundamentalists take it a step further, saying that ‘them’ includes also those Christians who do not separate sufficiently.

This is secondary separation, and it has been most famously applied against Billy Graham. The renowned evangelist has been celebrated by most Christians for his gospel fidelity and salvation message.

But it that ‘most’ that offends this fundamentalist spirit. His crusades have cooperated with too many insufficiently fundamentalist churches, which they believe compromises the call to be separate.

In partnering with those who are not theologically pure, he risks endorsing their relative liberalism.

It is interesting to note a similar approach exists in Islam.

The posture of takfir is the process of declaring someone a kafir, an infidel. Longstanding Islamic jurisprudence says this should almost never be done to a Muslim, unless he or she openly renounces their faith.

But there is a verse in the Quran that provides Muslim fundamentalists, if the term is appropriate, a powerful retort. Sura 5:44 says, “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then it is those who are the disbelievers,” using the plural of the Arabic word kafir at the end.

This verse has been applied by Muslim insurrectionists throughout the ages against their Muslim rulers who they accuse of not properly implementing sharia.

Certainly Muslims also struggle with the tension of their texts, and they are invited to provide proper interpretation.

But leave it to ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, to take it a step further.

Should it be necessary: There is little similarity between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic terrorists. But a devotion to God and a commitment to his way may sometimes prompt an antagonistic stance not only to the world, but also to fellow believers.

And from an article in Jihadica, “The Caliphate in Disarray,” there is also a similarity in secondary takfir.

Turki al-Bin’ali, the self-proclaimed ‘Grand Mufti,’ or chief cleric, of ISIS, was killed several months ago in a US airstrike. His death set off a wave of eulogies, but also counter-eulogies and accusations. Some even speculated his location was tipped off to the enemy that he be eliminated as leader.

Takfir is one of the issues that divides ISIS and al-Qaeda, with the latter being slightly more reticent to call non-affiliated Muslims non-believers. It is a sensible position if you are trying to recruit, not to limit your pool of applicants.

Then again, the number willing to die in their cause is considerably limited by their viciousness. Perhaps then it is best to recruit only the purest of the pure. But as seen with Christian fundamentalists, purity is easily nitpicked.

As a result: theological division among those who believe they have already most dedicated to God’s path through jihad.

Al-Bin’ali’s nemesis on this issue, the Meccan-born Ahmad ibn ‘Umar al-Hazimi, preached a rigorous approach to takfir. The following excerpt may be challenging in its Arabic references, but careful reading will establish a clear similarity with secondary separation:

In his lectures, he [al-Hazimi] espoused a controversial doctrine known as takfir al-‘adhir, or “the excommunication of the excuser.”

The notion of takfir al-‘adhir is derived from two concepts in Wahhabi theology. The first is the requirement of takfir; the second is the inadmissibility of al-‘udhr bi’l-jahl, or “excusing on the basis of ignorance.”

According to the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), it is incumbent upon all true believers to excommunicate—that is, to make takfir of—those deemed unbelievers, as well as to excommunicate those who fail to excommunicate them.

As Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab stated—and this is the line around which the Hazimi-Bin‘ali debate revolves—“Whoso fails to make takfir of the polytheists, or has doubts concerning their unbelief, or deems their doctrine to be sound, has [himself] disbelieved.”

The duty of takfir is generally accepted in Jihadi Salafism, but there is some debate over al-‘udhr bi’l-jahl, that is, over whether ignorance may serve as a legitimate excuse for holding errant beliefs, and so shield one from the charge of takfir.

For al-Hazimi, who follows the traditional Wahhabi view, al-‘udhr bi’l-jahl is categorically invalid, meaning that the ignorant heretic is to be declared an unbeliever.

Moreover, as he says, anyone who regards ignorance as an excuse for the heretic’s unbelief is also to be declared an unbeliever. Hence the idea of “the excommunication of the excuser.”

Perhaps in truth this is a tertiary takfir, with standard Wahhabism being the secondary. But herein is the problem: Once you start judging a fellow believer’s faith, where does the cycle stop?

Fortunately for Christian fundamentalists, it does not continue to the bombing of a Billy Graham crusade. But there is many a former fundamentalist who has become jaded when he or those he respected found themselves on the wrong side of a Christian fatwa. Sometimes it moves them to a more nebulous evangelicalism; sometimes they leave the faith entirely.

But they are not killed. ISIS, while flip-flopping repeatedly on the issue, did not hesitate to execute proponents of the at-the-time-minority outlook. Others died in airstrikes under what is described as ‘murky circumstances’. The article features more of the back-and-forth diatribe, which revealed also a discontent in ISIS over corruption, dishonesty, unfulfilled prophecies, and the loss of territory.

All the above is a reminder that the tension in religious faith is not only maddening for the sincere believer, but necessary. If God said both this and that, both are true no matter the apparent inconsistency or challenge of application.

It is easy to side with that (or this) most congenial to personal temperament, but mature faith must grapple with both and live accordingly.

In the world, but not of it. Judge by God’s sharia, but don’t judge. The challenge applies to more than we might at first imagine.

My article was first published at Patheos.