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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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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Dogs, Slaves, and FGM

Flag Cross Quran

God,

As is fitting, we love our own. All too often, we fail to love others. Not infrequently, we degrade and discriminate where instead we should honor.

And in Egypt this week, examples confirm what is found in all men. Help the nation root it out.

During UN sponsored environmental meetings, a Kenyan official circulated a memo accusing her Egyptian counterpart of referring to sub-Saharan Africans as ‘dogs and slaves’. After an investigation, Egypt’s foreign ministry called the accusation a lie.

Racism is in the room, wherever the truth. But wherever the human, racism is in the heart.

God, may these nations cooperate to determine what happened. May they hold accountable the one at fault.

But may they also address the sentiment that deems the Arab over the African, or vice versa. May many examine themselves, and repent.

Hold true, God, the proper love of nation, tribe, clan, and self. May the people of the region find harmony in their many identities, ever widening their circles of concern.

Widen also the circles of trust. A cultural lack resulted in death for a victim of sexism, a close cousin of race.

Though Egypt and her religious institutions denounce FGM, a young girl died during her female circumcision. Inherited over the centuries, one justification says it is necessary to curb sexual desire.

God, may the tragedy cause her family to reflect. Forgive them the blind repetition of their fathers. Transform them to defend the wholeness of your creation.

May the neighbors learn, may the nation enforce. But may an entire mindset be changed.

Gender and race, God, and other divisions may be added to the list. Help Egypt, help us all, to esteem each other rightly.

Amen.

 

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Current Events

Does Saying an Islamic Creed Deny Our Christian Faith?

Woman escaping after terrorists targeted Christians at a university in Garissa, Kenya
Woman rescued after terrorists targeted Christians at a university in Garissa, Kenya

This article was published at Christianity Today on August 26.

During the 2013 terror attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, al Shabaab gunmen paused for a moment and made an announcement in Swahili: All Muslims could come forward and leave.

Among those trying to escape was Joshua Hakim, who covered up the Christian name on his ID as he showed it to the gunmen.

“They told me to go,” Hakim later told The Guardian. “Then an Indian man came forward, and they said, ‘What is the name of Muhammad’s mother?’ When he couldn’t answer, they just shot him.”

Other terror attacks by al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, have followed a similar pattern. Those who could prove they were Muslim—by reciting a prayer in Arabic or answering questions about Islam—were allowed to go free. Those who couldn’t were killed.

As a result, some Kenyans have begun to share tips online about how to pretend to be Muslim, just in case. This includes learning to recite the shahada—Islam’s main creed—in Arabic.

This pragmatic response to terror attacks is understandable. But is it biblically sound? Kenyan Christian leaders are divided on the issue.

No, says David Oginde, head of Christ is the Answer Ministries, one of Kenya’s largest parachurch organizations with 45,000 members. “A true Christian must be ready to live and to die for the faith,” he said.

But two professors at St. Paul’s University, a conservative Anglican institution in Nairobi, say the answer isn’t that clear-cut. Reciting the shahada doesn’t amount to denying Christ, says Samuel Githinji, a theology lecturer.

The article also included Arab theologians, who mostly responded that pretending to be a Muslim is not acceptable, but forgiveness should be offered to those who succumb. It also touched on similar themes in Christian history, during the Roman era.

Here is the conclusion:

The persecutions of old backfired, bringing many into the Christian fold. It is too early to write of the impact today. But Ajaj is hopeful, and counsels faithfulness when called upon.

“I hope they give a good testimony, and glory to God’s name.”

Of course nothing is certain. Martyrdom may not change a hardhearted terrorist. Pretending may not save your life either.

But for the record, the mother of Muhammad is Aminah bint Wahb.

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

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Remaking, Resistance, Reflection

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Forgive the horrors of this region. Protect Egypt within them.

Some of the troubles are her own. Another attack in the Sinai killed soldiers. Villagers protested violently against the church to be built in honor of the martyrs from Libya. And a pro-Morsi demonstrator was shot in the head in our own local neighborhood, according to reports.

These troubles are familiar and sadly, press less on the psyche. But horrors abound as Yemen explodes and Kenyans are massacred. Sometimes it seems all risks falling apart, utterly.

And even good news does not fully encourage. Iran is welcomed back into the fold, potentially. The US restores Egyptian military support, mostly. Sometimes it seems all is being remade, differently.

God, be with and comfort the people of the region. Many suffer. Many others wonder. What is happening here? What has gone wrong? It is not easy on the soul.

Answers are not forthcoming. It is easy to blame the powers-that-be. It is more difficult to identify one’s own sins. But neither are fully satisfactory, God, though both are surely true.

Is good coming? Is evil resisting? Is change afoot? In whose interest? Do the people matter? Why do so many sacrifice themselves? Why do so many do nothing?

What can be done anyway?

Shall the killers be killed to stop their killing? Who can give license, when so many are guilty?

Is more war coming? Can good resist? What is worse, the change or the status quo ante? This middle, if it is, is surely hellish.

And yet in Egypt, so many still live in peace. Other places also. Let not the horrors overshadow the calm.

And let it not be before the storm. Roll back the chaos and instability. Hold back the hands of meddlers. Restore back humanity and innate hospitality.

But with introspection, God. May the people know you love them, but that you also judge. May leaders fear especially.

Fight for the humble, the simple, the poor. Honor the pure in heart. May their solutions prevail. Give them the courage to speak, and the ability to implement.

And as all others tear themselves apart, spare as many as possible. Spare Egypt, despite her sins. Spare all. Forgive. Have mercy.

Amen.