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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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Religion

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 Religion

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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Religion

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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Religion

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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Religion

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 Religion

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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Religion

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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Religion

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.

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Current Events Religion

Can Polygamy be Curbed in Islam?

Islam Polygamy

Islam grants a man the right to take up to four wives, as long as he can provide for and treat them equitably.

As it has been explained to me, the original allowance came early in Muslim history when the male population was greatly reduced by warfare.

Some Muslims argue the original reason for revelation indicates the provision was temporary. Others argue the high standard of practice is nearly impossible, rendering the provision irrelevant.

But many others see it as God’s eternal permission. Only Turkey and Tunisia have outlawed polygamy, though restrictions exist in many nations.

Egypt, apparently, may enter this minefield.

According to al-Monitor, a draft law has been proposed to require the permission of a first wife before her husband can legally marry a second. The marriage would become null and void unless he can submit to the court her written agreement.

The article does not delve into the details of Islamic jurisprudence, and I am in no position to judge. But it does provide several reactions that illustrate how modern Muslims in Egypt regard the practice.

Here are a few excerpts:

Asserting that the draft law is compatible with Islamic Sharia, he [the draft law author] indicated that the Islamic Research Academy would approve it because Islamic Sharia allowed both spouses to add conditions to protect their rights, to preserve their interests and to have guarantees.

One traditional Salafi parliament member deferred to the Azhar to decide if the law is compatible with Islamic sharia. But he had an objection of relevance, akin to the original Muslim situation:

Khalil added, “What second marriage are we talking about at a time when the number of spinsters in Egypt stands at more than 11 million? Egyptian young men are barely capable of getting married once, let alone a second marriage.”

The head of Azhar University’s fatwa committee did not object:

“This is a permissible condition that has a sound purpose, which is to prevent the harm that may be caused to the first wife in case her husband decided to marry a second woman without her consent.

If a man has the right to marry more than one and consents to waive this right, then the condition [of the first wife’s prior approval] would therefore be valid.

A man can still be capable of having another wife without harming his first wife, since in Islam doing justice between wives is a prerequisite for polygamy.”

The female head of the Arab League’s Women Department disagreed:

“At the beginning of their marriage, both spouses would have strong emotional feelings and would rule out the idea of a second marriage. But as life goes on, a man could consider a second marriage.

I think that the husband should submit to the court the reasons for which he wants a second marriage, and it would be up to the judge to decide whether to allow him or not to do so. The first wife is not a neutral party, and certainly she would not want her husband to take on a second wife.”

A member of Egypt’s National Council for Women said the stipulation is already in personal status law, though not in the marriage contract. But she supports the amendment because there is a one year statute of limitations for divorce, from the time the wife becomes aware of the second marriage. Lawyers (and husbands) have exploited this loophole and kept women in the dark.

But she also finds a supporting rationale:

She further pointed that Muhammad did not allow Ali bin Abi Talib to take on another wife besides Muhammad’s daughter Fatima Zahra because this would hurt her, which confirms that the marriage contract condition of the first wife’s approval on the second marriage is in accordance with Islamic Sharia.

But a Salafi leader dismissed this reasoning:

“Prophet Muhammad and his companions were married to several women, and no one reported that they ever waited for their first wife’s permission.”

He explained that Muhammad’s rejection of Ali bin Abi Talib is a special case related exclusively to Fatima because the second wife was the daughter of Abu Jahl, an infidel.

Hawari added, “Moreover, the prophet did not forbid Ali from getting another wife, but he asked him to divorce Fatima if he insisted on marrying the daughter of Abu Jahl.

After Fatima’s death, Ali married eight women. Therefore, this example cannot be cited when talking about polygamy.”

We had one friend who kept giving birth to girls. She was constantly afraid her husband would take a second wife.

We have another friend whose father’s second marriage proved a source of tension with his children.

A third friend invited us to the marriage of his first wife’s son. We had previously only met his second, but at the door he told us not to mention her name. The first wife didn’t know about it. We had the impression the children did, though, and didn’t object.

Polygamy is complicating, certainly.

Instead of parliamentarians, it would be better to probe instead the Muslim sources and what their commentators have ruled throughout history. It would be better to explore the process by which Turkey and Tunisia outlawed the practice, and see if it had socially acceptable legal justification.

Sometimes bypassed in interpretation of law – divine or otherwise – are the personal stories of those involved.

But in lieu of further study, please make do with the examples above. What do you think?

Here, I only advise to speak with graciousness and humility, holding whatever convictions you deem appropriate.

 

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Current Events

Religious Freedom for the Muslim World: The Unlikely Activism of Kamal Fahmi

Kamal Fahmi

A few excerpts from my article for The Media Project.

Kamal Fahmi sat with Mazen, a Yemeni teenager at a community center in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city and cultural capital. Mazen’s father was there, who arranged the meeting.

Impressed with the boy’s intelligence and demeanor, Fahmi learned of their troubling problem.

Mazen didn’t want to study Islam in school.

Fahmi had heard this story before. Visiting Yemen as he had in nations across the region, converts were considered Muslim by birth and in all official paperwork. And for those underage, Islamic education came as part of the package, even if they didn’t believe in it.

Fahmi was sympathetic, but tried to downplay the problem. After all, born into a Christian family in Sudan, he had studied Islam in school also. Hold to your faith, he counseled, but pass the tests.

Yet something in the boy stirred him, as well as the nature of his family. Mazen was not a convert, and neither was his father. His grandfather was, decades earlier. Three generations of Christians, yet still considered Muslims. The injustice gnawed at him.

“They love their country, they are not criminals, they are not spies,” Fahmi said. “If anything, they have become better citizens.

“They should be free to follow what they believe.”

It is not only an issue in the Muslim world, of course:

Worldwide, 26 percent of nations criminalize blasphemy, including Russia, Italy, Myanmar, and the Bahamas. But apostasy law is more characteristically Islamic, with only India and Nigeria as non-Muslim-majority countries.

Please click here to read the full article at The Media Project.

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Religion

Wisdom and Foolishness in Abrahamic Faith

Wisdom Abraham

“Knowledge is power,” is an oft-repeated saying. In an information economy this makes perfect sense, and our educational system is geared to develop know-how.

Wisdom, on the other hand, sometimes seems a neglected virtue. It is the realm of philosophers, maybe, who have little to do with practical life. Or religion, often considered a private domain.

The Abrahamic religions, however, esteem the cultivation of wisdom over and above simple knowledge. Baghdad built the famed “House of Wisdom” when Islam represented the pinnacle of human civilization, translating classical texts that eventually reached the West.

Jewish writings nearly deified “Sophia” as a personification of wisdom. Along with Christianity, these traditions have produced philosophical minds among the greatest the world has ever known.

Which may make it surprising to hear St. Paul esteem being a fool for Christ. In view of the Greek tradition of his day, he said, Christianity is foolishness.

Paul is not subverting this tradition by any means, only highlighting how the wisdom of God in Christ is nonsense in the estimation of the world. Not non-rational, it simply reflects how God’s thoughts are higher than man’s.

Nonetheless, one of the tasks of faith is demonstrating its plausibility to the world. The effort is nobly undertaken by Richard Shumack, in one of the most contested of fields. His book, The Wisdom of Islam and the Foolishness of Christianity, was shortlisted as the Australian Christian book of the year in 2014.

A philosopher by training, Shumack is a professor at Melbourne School of Theology and part of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry team. It can be said at the outset: he finds Christianity superior to Islam. Not surprising – he is a Christian.

Two things are noteworthy about his book, however. First, the absolute respect his gives the Islamic tradition, interacting in friendship with men he considers to be among the Muslim world’s top philosophical minds. There is great wisdom in their faith, he agrees.

And second, the difference in paradigm that makes all the difference. Islam conceives a legislative model between God and man; Christianity, a relational. Wisdom follows from both, he says, but the latter is preferable and better accords with the world.

Shumack does not presume to prove the truth of Christianity’s claims. Similar to Islam, the challenge of monotheism is dealt with elsewhere. But finding his Muslim scholar friends assert the philosophical superiority of Islam over an incoherent Christianity, Shumack was compelled to pick up the gauntlet. He fully admits, of course, that key Christian concepts appear to place Muslims at an advantage.

But in each chapter he builds his case sequentially. Certainty. God’s Hiddenness. Sin. Trinity. Incarnation. Cross. Revelation. Divine Ethics. Politics. Each is a problem to tackle in the Muslim-Christian conversation. On some points monotheists share similar challenges. On others, the Christian is on the defensive.

With deference and respect, at times Shumack tries to turn the tables. But for the most part he simply returns to his central thesis:

Islam makes sense if one sees God as creator, legislator, and master. But Christianity makes sense if God is in addition, father.

To many Muslims this is foolishness. God has no son; he is utterly different from his creation. But it is the central point of Christianity: God’s word made flesh, crucified, and resurrected.

Perhaps both are fools to the atheist or modern secularist, so let Muslims and Christians be friends. Shumack’s book is polemical but warm, inviting response from his Muslim philosopher-friend.

There is no reason religious debate cannot be so. The world is much in need of wisdom, and the Abrahamic faiths possess it in abundance.

Unfortunately, their mutual conversation often demonstrates the opposite, showing that living out wisdom is another question entirely.

If we be fools, let it be for the right reason, in the right spirit. Abraham left the security of his land and family, and nearly sacrificed his son. Today he is honored by over half of humanity, a blessing to the whole world.

May this be true of his descendants, Muslims, Christians, and Jews altogether.

Wisdom of Islam Foolishness of Christianity

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Current Events

Copts in Egypt’s Textbooks

 

Copts Egypt Textbooks
Translation: Some pictures of the Roman persecution of Christians. Via Mada Masr.

There is a general understanding that Egypt’s Christians are marginalized in the educational curriculum.

An additional idea is that this came during an Islamization period in the 1970s, or perhaps during Nasser’s presidency.

A researcher examined this question and described them on Mada Masr. Here is his evaluation:

Based on an analysis of Egyptian history textbooks from 1890 until the academic year 2016/2017, it is clear that Egyptian history is narrated from a perspective that values an Arab Muslim identity over other perspectives and voices.

While the tone generally revers and paints Christianity in a positive light, the narrative as a whole is exclusionary in both explicit and subtle ways.

The article as a whole is insightful, and here is an example — of how textbooks changed:

Current history textbooks do not include explicit derogatory references to Christianity or Christians — as some of the earlier textbooks did. In fact, they include extremely positive mentions, albeit concise.

For instance, in explaining why ancient Egyptians embraced Christianity, a 2016 textbook explains that they were attracted by its values of justice, equality, mercy, empathy, tolerance, renouncement of worldly pleasures, and valuing of the afterlife.[11]

However, we need to also be cognizant of more subtle ways that might give value to one identity while diminishing or silencing others. In addition to continuing to use explicit and extensive Muslim referents as highlighted above, more subtle exclusions can also be found in current textbooks.

For instance, they use the word “Arab” to characterize countries such as Egypt and Lebanon even before they had been taken over by Arab Muslim armies. Such references give the historically inaccurate and false impression that these countries have always embraced an Arab identity, eclipsing the richness of their pre-existing civilizations and cultures.[12]

Additionally, several of these history textbooks have continued to address students as if they are all Muslim. For instance, an 1893 history textbook explains that the religious story of David and his son Solomon “must be learned by all Muslims.”[13]

Similarly, a 1988 history textbook encourages students to learn about the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca by asking their relatives who might have performed it.[14]

In discussing civic engagement, current textbooks encourage students to be proud of our Islamic principles and values that encourage us to volunteer in the community and peacefully co-exist with others different from ourselves.[15]

In Egypt it is sometimes necessary to ask the religion of the researcher, often indicated by name. Ehaab Abdou — I believe these names are shared by Muslims and Christians alike.

What is important, however, is quality. The article is too brief to fully evaluate, but he claims a comprehensive scope of research. I don’t have the background in the subject to know if he left out damning specifics; other Egyptians, please weigh in.

The one thing I noticed is that he did not specifically state he evaluated textbooks in the Azhar educational curriculum. Copts sometimes claim this is a source of bias against them.

But on the whole, the article appears to be an evenhanded treatment of a controversial subject.

Few things are as important as the education of our children — and ourselves.

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Current Events

Muslims Work for Religious Freedom, in Italy

MWL1
(via the Muslim World League)

Some of the articles I’ve written concern interfaith efforts to secure religious freedom, particularly in Muslim nations.

Two days ago, the Saudi-based Muslim World League met with the Italian Minister of the Interior to best secure Muslim rights in the traditionally Catholic nation.

In a helpful explanation from the 2016 US Report on International Religious Freedom, Italy has a series of “accords” with recognized religious groups in the nation.

The Catholic Church is separate from the government but does have a unique accord privileging it somewhat above the 12 other Christian denominations and religious groups. Accords are signed through the Ministry of the Interior, and grant tax-deductible status, state financial support, property rights, clergy recognition, and religious holiday waivers for students and employees. Non-accord groups can apply for these benefits on a case-by-case basis.

Muslims do not have an accord with the government.

Part of the issue may be that Muslims have no administrative entity governing their affairs. Among the topics discussed with the minister is the role of the Muslim World League to help unify the local Muslim community, and secure Islam as a recognized religion.

Italy lauded the MWL for its role in spreading the values of tolerance and coexistence.

A few days earlier the secretary-general of the MWL met Pope Francis, and agreed to set up a joint committee to pursue the values issued in their statement:

  • Religion and violence are incompatible
  • Religions have moral resources capable of contributing to fraternity and peace
  • The phenomenon of fundamentalism, in particular when violent, is troubling and joint efforts are required to counter it
  • Situations exist where freedom of conscience and of religion are not entirely respected and protected
  • There is an urgent need to remedy this, renewing religious discourse and reviewing school books

This is a worthy statement, though the urgent need would seem to require more than the suggested remedies. Yes, these would help change a culture over the long term. But laws guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion are currently lacking in several countries within the Muslim World League.

Perhaps the statement is a polite and friendly way to begin to address this, without the shame associated with naming names – as does the US Report on International Religious Freedom.

The statement of religion and violence being incompatible is also curious. Islam has a well-defined tradition of religiously sanctioned jihad. It need not be equated with terrorism, but neither is it exactly equivalent to Christian just war theory. I find it strange the Muslim World League could sign on to such a clause, without further delineation.

But they are discussing the right things. The common criticism of interfaith statements of toleration is that Muslims do not practice what they preach in their own countries.

It remains to be seen if the Muslim World League will act on these principles, but it is encouraging that the Vatican has a joint committee to hold them responsible.

And, to be held responsible. In coordination with the MWL, Italy has taken steps to better ensure the religious freedom of minority faiths.

Do note when Muslim nations do the same.

 

Categories
Religion

Did the Muslims Conquer Jerusalem?

Syriac Conquest History
A Syriac hymn, manuscript dated to the 14th century.

Did the Muslims conquer the Middle East? History says they did, from both the Western and Islamic perspectives. Much of the self-understanding of modern civilization has been built upon this premise, the resulting Crusades, and eventual colonization by European powers.

Some fear there are signs of a renewed animosity between the Western and Muslim worlds, a quasi-religious competition, even as Christianity has lost much of its ethos and Islam has lost much of its power.

But new research into a third resource questions the history. Scholars and historians know Latin and Greek. Arabic is also readily translated and studied.

But not Syriac, the neglected lingua franca of 7th century life in the Levant, and the language of its native, non-imperial peoples.

The Institute of Advanced Studies recently published one scholar’s research:

Syriac literature was produced by—and conversely sheds light on—communities living on the borders of the Near Eastern polities, considered as a religious minority in the Zoroastrian Empire of the Sasanians, as heretics in the eyes of the Byzantine Orthodox (since the “universal” councils of Ephesus in 421 and Chalcedon in 531 that they refused), and as one of the religions of the book under Islamic powers.

Syriac thus offers a crucial “internal” source for the history of the Mesopotamian region reaching as far as South Arabia and the Far East from the late antique to the medieval era.

Shortly before the rise of Arab/Islamic empire, the Byzantine and Persian Sassanid empires were at war, taking and then losing Jerusalem and possession of Jesus’ True Cross.

The literature produced by Syriac Christian communities did not celebrate the triumph of the Byzantine empire, the author described, nor mourn the victory of the Zoroastrian Persians who briefly held the Holy City. They were rather nonplussed by regional politics, and awaited God’s ultimate redemption through one of their own anticipated champions.

So when the Arabs came:

It is striking to see that the second capture of Jerusalem in 636 by the Arabs, only a few years after its retaking by Heraclius, is hardly mentioned in the Syriac chronicles where it is a non-event.

Since the siege ended peacefully, after a negotiation between the Byzantine patriarch of Jerusalem and the caliph, and the city was not stormed by the Arab troops, the capture of the city is not mentioned in the most ancient Syriac sources.

Produced by the communities who were at the heart of the events, Syriac sources compel us to reconsider what “conquests” means.

Modern historians talk about the Sasanian and then Arab-Muslim conquests, but Syriac sources never use the word or concept. There were sieges, battles, military operations that could be catastrophic and dramatic for the local populations, but there were also negotiations and cities taken by treaty.

Contrary to Arab-Muslim sources that would subsequently create the genre of “futuh,” or “conquest” literature, in order to celebrate those who took part in the campaigns and the distribution of the booty, Syriac sources present a situation of occupation and change of rulership more than a conquest as such.

They invite us thus to reconsider the categories, and the agendas, that we have inherited from later Arab-Muslim sources.

There is also an interesting sub-discussion on how intra-Christian debate on the nature of Jesus’ crucifixion mirror some of the issues mentioned in the Quran.

I am wading into deep historical waters, and I am not the scholar to do so. New research often threatens to upend the academy, only to be counter-argued and put in its place. Perhaps the same will happen here.

But the language of local people is a useful counter-balance to official histories, written by either the winners or losers. In this case, both had a vested interest in labeling the actions a ‘conquest’.

Certainly the Muslims would go on to conquer further, only to be conquered later in turn. Such is the history of the world.

But lest it repeat itself unwarrantedly, both sides might do well to revisit their language and understanding of history.

For once again, the Syriac heritage stands in the middle. An ancient faith, outside of power. We have much to learn, and consider.

Image via https://hmmlorientalia.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/a-short-hymn-in-syriac-attributed-to-severos/

 

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Current Events

Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Defends Religious Freedom of Individuals

This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on September 13.

Bahrain Declaration 2
Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa (center), with Bahrain Declaration attendees. Credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The cause of religious freedom received a significant boost from the Muslim world today. The island Kingdom of Bahrain—connected by bridge to Saudi Arabia—has declared “freedom of choice” to be a “divine gift.”

“We unequivocally reject compelled observance,” states the Bahrain Declaration for Religious Tolerance, released September 13 in Los Angeles with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders in attendance. “Every individual has the freedom to practice their religion, providing they do no harm to others, respect the laws of the land, and accept responsibility, spiritually and materially, for their choices.”

Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain signed as an official envoy of the Gulf nation’s king. Johnnie Moore, a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center also participated, joining ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel.

“The King is acting decisively, courageously, and seriously,” said Moore, noting also Bahrani sponsorship of a religious tolerance center in the capital city of Manama, as well as the sponsorship of a chair in religious coexistence at La Sapienza University in Rome.

“The declaration goes farther than any similar document that I’m aware of.” …

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

Bahrain Declaration
Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, with a Coptic priest. Credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center.