Topsy-Turvy Terms

When it comes to Islam and the news, are you confused by all the terms used to describe various competing factions? Of course there are Sunnis and Shiites, the two major sects of Islam, and Sufis, who can be either Sunni or Shiite or neither. Then there are Alawites, Ismailis, Ahmadiyyas, Wahabbis, Salafists and Islamists (a singularly unhelpful term, in my opinion), and a host of other splinter groups. But a quick Google search and some basic reading can clear up your confusion on this front.

Other terms, however, are more fluid: conservative, fundamentalist, radical, moderate, extremist, and secular, to name a few. The received wisdom is that the “crazies” are the radical extremists, who draw from the fundamentalist ranks. The “true Muslims” are the moderates and perhaps even the pious conservatives who practice their religion peacefully and don’t bother anyone else.

I would like to challenge the received wisdom, redefining those terms according to historically orthodox Islam. This may be a bit mind-bending, so please bear with me.

Our media intelligentsia (pardon the oxymoron) regularly lump the terms radical and extremist together and contrast them with the term moderate. The moderates are those Muslims most like us, with Western values, who eschew violence or hyper-religiosity. The radical extremists, on the other hand, are those willing to die for the advancement of Islam and to kill as many unbelievers as they can in the process. In trying to find a solution for the “radical jihadist” problem, many are calling for a reformation, much as what happened in Western Christianity in the 15-16th centuries under the leadership of Luther, Calvin and others. The Protestant Reformers were truly radicals, in that they protested against the overgrowth of speculative theologies and practices in the medieval Roman Catholic Church and called for a return to the roots (radix, in Latin) of the Christian faith, as found in the Bible. Our English word “radical” in essence means a returning to the root of something. Protestants were radicals in the sense that they promoted a “back to the Bible” movement.

If we apply that understanding to the world of Islam, we would have to say that Muslim radical reformers are those promoting a return to the essential roots of the Muslim religion: the Qur’an and the Sunna (the accounts of the life of Muhammad, believed by orthodox Muslims to be the archetype of human behavior). Who are the radicals urging a return to the practices of the early Muslim community as recorded in their holy literature? They are the fundamentalists, the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their various militant arms: al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the like.

Who are the extremists? Well, the English word “extreme” comes as well from Latin, whose verb extro means “to go out,” and whose adjective extremus means outermost, or furthest from the center/point of origin. Since radical Muslims want to return to the center of historical Islam, the term extremist doesn’t really apply to them, at least from a Muslim point of view – indeed “radical extremists” would be a contradiction in terms. Instead, Muslim extremists would be those whose beliefs and practices (while still calling themselves Muslims) are furthest from the teachings of Muhammad and his companions. What Muslim group best fits this categorization? Those whom we call “moderates” or “secularists.”

How’s that for twisted thinking? Those wishing to reform Islam by returning to 7th Century practices and beliefs are the radicals (or centrists) and those calling for a peaceful, privatized Islam (principally Westernized moderates) are the extremists. In orthodox Islam there are no moderates – either you submit to the commands of Allah and his prophet, or you are labeled a hypocrite (and your fate in that case is equal to or worse than that of an infidel). Either all in, or all out. So-called Muslims who want to remain on the outermost fringes of Islam (e.g., non-observant, cultural, uninterested in Shariah or jihad, etc.) are by the definition of Islamic orthodoxy “extremists” who must return to the center or face eternal judgment.

In light of this, I try to avoid use of the terms radical, extremist, and moderate, and use instead my own descriptive terms (perhaps others use them as well, but I haven’t come across such thinkers yet). I speak of those committed to the root teachings and practices of Islam as “core Muslims” and those less committed or more interested in creating a hybrid Islam (with Judeo-Christian values replacing Islamic ones) as “fringe Muslims.”

This seems to me to clear up a lot of the confusion caused by a multiplicity of terms, and makes it a bit easier (though painful) to answer the question, “Who are the true Muslims?” Since Islam teaches that the Qur’an is the inviolate Word of God, and that Muhammad is the moral exemplar of human life, those who follow its teachings and his example most closely will have to be considered “true Muslims.” Any groups or individuals seeking to reframe or reform the faith, or to jettison doctrines and teachings that don’t comport well with modernity may mean well, but will by Quranic definition fall into the camp of hypocrites, and face the unmitigated wrath of Allah for eternity: “The Hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire [i.e., the hottest condition]: no helper wilt thou find for them” (Sura 4:145; explanatory note is mine).

Does the use of “core vs fringe” Muslims seem a more helpful way of categorizing Muslim groups or individuals than the use of terms presently in vogue? Please feel free to comment! Your input will help me as I speak around the country on questions related to Islam and Christianity. Thank you so much in advance for your thoughts.


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Contre nous de la tyrannie l’étandard sanglant est levé…

It appears that many of our national leaders are clueless as to the history and orthodox teachings of Islam. That would be excusable if they admitted their ignorance. Instead, however, they offer wildly inaccurate statements and attack “straw men” in order to perpetuate a myth about Islam as a religion of peace.

While all Western societies stagger from news of the recent atrocities in Paris, no one doubts that ISIS has proudly taken credit for this slaughter. Some leaders (Hollande, Cameron, Putin) have rightly identified “radical Islamic terrorism” as the source of this most recent evil . But our administration (and all the Democratic candidates running for president) are peculiarly unwilling to link this and most other terror attacks to the religion of Islam.

At the recent Democratic presidential candidate debate, held the evening after the massacre in Paris, each candidate was asked if they would agree (with Marco Rubio) that “we are at war with radical Islam.” All three offered incoherent responses. Martin O’Malley declared, “I believe calling it what it is … radical jihadis,” as if “jihad” has somehow become detached from its origins in the Qur’an and Islamic theology as a term of warfare against the non-Muslim world. Bernie Sanders eschewed the term used by Rubio, declaring that those words are not “what’s important.” Instead, the real issue is groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda who are “a danger to modern society” principally in their treatment of women and children.” Apparently Mr. Sanders hasn’t taxed his mind enough to ask what motivates such groups to spring to life, and why they pursue the dangerous course they are on. Hillary Clinton gave the most expansive, yet vacuous answer: To say we are at war with radical Islam would be “…painting with too broad a brush.” She dismissed the phrase as “not particularly helpful,” and then went on to set up and knock down straw men — “I don’t think we’re at war with Islam. I don’t think we’re at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists.” Thank you very much for that scintillating analysis. From what source, pray tell, do these jihadists spring? Buddhist monasteries? Secular humanistic think-tanks? Western capitalists planning the overthrow of the world? Right wing Christian seminaries? Taoist sleeper cells?

Parroting Mr. Obama, she offers up the bromide that the world is at war with “violent extremists,” meaning those who use “religion” for power and oppression. I wanted to see the expression on her face as she spoke, but I couldn’t because of the elephant in the room blocking the TV cameras. Is there any question which “religion” is directing its power and oppression against the rest of the world such that the world feels the need to protect itself?

The dog and pony show continued with Mr. Obama’s press conference and John Kerry’s later comments to the American Embassy staff in Paris. We’re winning against ISIL (known by everyone except our administration as ISIS); this terror attack is just an unfortunate, but minor, setback. Make sure you don’t confuse this group with anything tied to Islam, because as we all know, Islam is a religion of peace. What is the rationale for this attack, then? Apparently it is just the irrational desire to destroy — nihilism. When our present secretary of State, John Kerry, addressed our diplomats, he said that one could perhaps understand the “legitimacy” — then changed that word to “rationale” of the mindset behind the Charlie Hebdo attack (after all, cartoonists had offended Muslims by drawing caricatures of Muhammad, so why shouldn’t the aggrieved respond by killing the cartoonists and others behind the French magazine?). But now, this slaughter of 132 innocents, with hundreds more injured, by ISIS terrorists. In Mr. Kerry’s mind, there can be no rationale — certainly no religious (i.e., Islamic) one.

Perhaps a reading of the ISIS missive, entitled “A Statement on the Blessed Onslaught in Paris against the Crusader Nation of France,” would help those unable to grasp the motives of these particular terrorists. It begins with the bismillah, the phrase which opens every chapter of the Qur’an save one: “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” followed immediately by a quotation 59:2 of the Qur’an: “Allah said, ‘They thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah; but Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and he cast terror into their hearts so they destroyed their houses by their own hands and the hands of the believers.’ So take warning, O people of vision.” The terrorists are variously referred to as “brothers,” “soldiers of the Caliphate” and “believers.”  The attack is termed a “battle” which was victorious due to Allah. Paris is described as “the capital of vice and prostitution, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe” (not many in the Western world would think of Paris as leading the mission of Christ in Europe, but in the eyes of fundamental Muslims, this fantasy justifies their hatred). The “believers” targeted this enemy in hopes of being “…killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of his religion, his prophet…, and his allies.” By their efforts, Allah “…cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland” (a reference back to the quotation of Sura 59:2). The letter culminates with a warning to France and all non-Muslim nations that they will remain at the top of the ISIS target list and that “…the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our prophet…, and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the land of the Caliphate….” This warning is punctuated with “God is the greatest” (i.e., Allahu akbar, rendered in English), and the letter closes with a final quotation again from the Qur’an: “And to Allah belongs all honor, and to his messenger, and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know” (63:8).

In spite of this direct communication from ISIS principals demonstrating their clear, Islamic mindset, Western leaders as illustrated by British Home Secretary Theresa May continue to declare that these attacks “…have nothing to do with Islam.”

Certainly it is true that not all Muslims subscribe to the orthodox Islam promoted by ISIS. But Islam by its very nature is hegemonic, supremacist, power-hungry and violent when necessary in order to advance its religiously-driven tyranny over the rest of the world. The problem is not Muslim people by and large, who are more victims of this terrible scourge than perpetrators of it, but the tyranny of Islam will continue to bloody the world body until non-Muslims have the will to decisively resist.

The title of this blog comes from the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, written in another time under very different circumstances. Yet in the mysterious ways of Providence, these words still steel the backbone of those under threat of subjugation: “Against us the bloody standard (banner) of tyranny is raised….” May the French today (and all the free world) be heirs of those who centuries ago resisted tyranny, and may we stand strong against those who would force an Islamic wasteland on those who love freedom. “Marchons, marchons…!”




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Will Hatred Have the Final Word?

While Muslims in the West often emphasize their kinship with Christians (the Qur’an claims we believe in the same God, and trace our lineage, spiritually at least, back to the same forefather Abraham), at the same time Muslims in other parts of the world are targeting Christians for extinction. It’s no secret that in modern times Christians are the most persecuted religious group among all the world’s faiths, and that Muslims in particular are perpetrating the greatest horrors against them.

So why is there such disparity in the Muslim world toward Christians? And who are the true Muslims, the friendly or the ferocious?

As to the first question, the answer lies in the schizophrenic stance which the Qur’an takes toward Christians. Early in the career of Muhammad as a prophet, when in the first twelve years he had minimal success in attracting followers, he sought to enhance his stature as a monotheist among pagans by placing himself in the same religious stream as Christians and Jews, thereby bolstering his appeal. Hence his early “revelations” in the Qur’an contain some very positive statements concerning Christians (among others):

Lo! those who believe [i.e., Muslims], and those who are Jews, and Sabaeans, and Christians — whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right — there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve. — Sura 5:69 (see also 2:62)

Dispute not with the People of the Book [i.e., the Bible] save in the fairer manner, except for those of them that do wrong; and say, ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we have surrendered.’  — Sura 29:46

Thou wilt surely find the most hostile of men to the believers are the Jews and the idolaters; and thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say ‘We are Christians’; that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud….  — Sura 5:82

The Qur’an even portrays Allah as commanding his prophet to go to the people of the Book (Jews and Christians) if he has doubts about the content of the revelations Gabriel is passing on to him. Allah’s implication is that the prior revelation found in the biblical texts will confirm what Muhammad is receiving:

And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers.  — Sura 10:94

However, as the Jewish and Christian tribes heard more of Muhammad’s recitations they grew more and more certain that his message was not in line with their Scriptures, and so they withdrew any pretense of support for his claims that he was a prophet in the same lineage as the biblical seers. This rejection increasingly angered Muhammad, and his “revelations” began to turn negative toward Jews and Christians as duplicitous and unbelieving. Their religions were now counterfeit, at enmity with the truth of Islam:

Whoso desires another religion than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers.
–Sura 3:85

The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! — Sura 9:30

They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Messiah, Mary’s son.’ For the Messiah said, ‘Children of Israel, serve God, my Lord and your Lord. Verily whoso associates with God anything, God shall prohibit him entrance to Paradise, and his refuge shall be the Fire; and wrongdoers shall have no helpers.’  They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Third of Three. No god is there but One God. If they refrain not from what they say, there shall afflict those of them that disbelieve a painful chastisement. — Sura 5:72-73

The unbelievers of the People of the Book and the idolaters shall be in the Fire of Gehenna, therein dwelling forever; those are the worst of creatures.  — Sura 98:6

Who are the “unbelievers of the People of the Book”? They are the Jews and Christians who refuse to embrace the claim that Muhammad is God’s true prophet to whom they owe full allegiance. They, together with all idolaters, are “the worst of creatures.”

In the span of little more than a decade, Allah’s tune has changed radically toward Christians, and not for the better (I’ll deal in my next blog with the even more vituperative and destructive language used of the Jews). Once nearest in love to Muslims, now orthodox Christians are classified as “the worst of creatures in hell.”

If Muslims adopt this mindset of their god, it will come as no surprise that they then are willing to treat Christians with contempt and hatred. After all, Allah commands such a response of his followers:

O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Whoso of you makes them his friends is one of them. God guides not the people of the evildoers. — Sura 5:51

O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you; and let them find in you a harshness; and know that God is with the god-fearing. — Sura 9:123

Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and who forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and who follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low. — Sura 9:29

According to the Qur’an, there is no hope of divine forgiveness for orthodox Christians because by embracing the claim that Jesus is God incarnate, we are guilty of Islam’s unforgivable sin — “shirk” — the association of anything in the creation with divinity. Allah may forgive any other sin, but this sin he will never pardon, according to Sura 4:119:

God will not forgive the sin of considering something equal to Him, but He may forgive the other sins of whomever He wants. One who considers anything equal to God has certainly gone far away from the right path.

Perhaps now it is easier to understand the wide disparity across the Muslim world regarding the appropriate treatment of Christians by Muslims. But both approaches can’t equally be right. It can’t be right to love and honor Christians, and at the same time hate and murder them. So how does a Muslim decide which path to follow?

Unfortunately, traditional Islam has opted to handle contradictions in the Qur’an by arguing in favor of progressive revelation. Thus, where one divine declaration clashes irresolvably with another, the later revelation trumps the earlier one (this is known in hermeneutics as the law of abrogation). Muslims committed to the traditional interpretations of their religion (particularly those most radically oriented to the Qur’an) will decide how to relate to Christians on the basis of the last revelations given on the subject. And the last revelations are the ones most virulent in their loathing against Christians. So which Muslims are acting most in concert with core Islam, the friendly or the ferocious?

The answer is overpoweringly obvious. And unless the small, moderate, Western Muslim faction is able somehow to steer the juggernaut house of Islam away from its fourteen century trajectory of anti-Christian enmity, the non-Muslim world will continue to be overpowered by beheadings, immolations, drownings, whippings, crucifixions and other horrors until the Christians are for all intents and purposes removed from Muslim lands. Then it will be time to go after the rest of the non-Muslim world, all for the glory of an insatiable Allah.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if moderate Muslims won the day in the world of Islam? One can always dream. But here’s a better dream. Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful if the Church around the world truly loved its neighbors and preached the gospel of salvation for all peoples? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if increasing millions of Muslims met the risen Christ and found their joy in spreading grace rather than gruesomeness?

That’s a dream worth pursuing. Indeed that’s the dream Jesus commands his disciples to pursue. So what’s stopping us?

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The Not-So-Gentle Rain of Terror

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia pleads with Shylock to show mercy to Antonio, who has defaulted on a loan and must pay with “a pound of flesh,” i.e., his life. Shylock wonders why he should be obligated to show mercy, to which Portia replies with these oft-quoted words:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

As gentle rain drops effortlessly from heaven upon the earth, so the quality of mercy is such that it is never forced, but flows freely from a heart of compassion. It blesses the giver in eliciting praise from observers; it blesses the receiver in conveying grace rather than judgment.

In the world of Islam, mercy is not a quality that flows effortlessly from heaven to earth. Though Allah is repeatedly described as “the Merciful, the Compassionate,” his mercy is wrapped within the mysterious clouds of his inscrutable will. Thus he guides whom he will to reward, and he misleads whom he will to destruction. Even the best of Muslims can have no assurance of Allah’s mercy. Muhammad himself anxiously importunes heaven that mercy might be shown to him on the Day of Judgment.

Rather than mercy, what seems to flow unrestrained from Islam’s heaven is terror, or at the very least the threat of terror. Allah accomplishes his purposes much more effectively through psychological and physical warfare than through love and gentleness. When Allah commands Muhammad to rally his followers to war against non-Muslims, and a number of Muslims shrink back from the prospect, Allah reveals that the furnaces of hell await those who shirk this divine duty. Enough said. When the non-Muslim peoples are not moved by threats from a god they do not believe in, Allah deputizes Muhammad to be his agent of terror so as to convince the recalcitrant to submit:

Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.” This because they contended against Allah and His Messenger: If any contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment. (Sura 8:12-13)

Allah is serious about terrorizing his enemies, as numerous Quranic passages make clear:

Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers! (Sura 3:151)

Let not the unbelievers think that they can get the better (of the godly): they will never frustrate (them). Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly. (Sura 8:59-60)

And Allah turned back the Unbelievers for (all) their fury: no advantage did they gain; and enough is Allah for the believers in their fight. And Allah is full of Strength, able to enforce His Will. And those of the People of the Book who aided them – Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts. (So that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners. And He made you heirs of their lands, their houses, and their goods, and of a land which ye had not frequented (before). And Allah has power over all things. (Sura 33:25-27)

It is He Who got out the Unbelievers among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering (of the forces). Little did ye think that they would get out: And they thought that their fortresses would defend them from Allah! But the (Wrath of) Allah came to them from quarters from which they little expected (it), and cast terror into their hearts, so that they destroyed their dwellings by their own hands and the hands of the Believers, take warning, then, O ye with eyes (to see)! (Sura 59:2)

In the two most authoritative collections of traditions concerning Muhammad we find these words attributed to the prophet of Islam:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror, and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.” Abu Huraira added: Allah’s Apostle has left the world and now you, people, are bringing out those treasures. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)

Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I have been given superiority over the other prophets in six respects: I have been given words which are concise but comprehensive in meaning; I have been helped by terror (in the hearts of enemies): spoils have been made lawful to me: the earth has been made for me clean and a place of worship; I have been sent to all mankind and the line of prophets is closed with me. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1062; see also 1063, 1066, 1067)

(emphasis added)

Are these statements from the Quran and Ahadith anomalies, unrelated to the essence of Islam? Unfortunately, no. The god of Islam repeatedly incites his followers to violence so as to spread his kingdom over all humanity. How else can one understand a comprehensive religious statement from the mouth of Allah such as, “It is not for any Prophet to have prisoners until he make wide slaughter in the land. You desire the chance goods of the present world, and God desires the world to come; and God is All-mighty, All-wise” (Sura 8:67; the title of this Quranic chapter is “The Spoils of War”)? Or Allah’s words to Muhammad’s followers: “Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not” (Sura 2:216)?  Or Muhammad’s declaration in Bukhari (vol. 1, book 2, no. 24), “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me…”?

Today’s ISIS radicals (as well as al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah, Hamas, Jaish e Muhammad, Lashkar e Taiba, and a growing host of others) rightly trace their barbarism back to the root teachings and actions of Muhammad, the mouthpiece of Allah. Their modus operandi is to strike terror into the heart of the non-Muslim world so as to advance the claims and control of core Islam over the entire globe.

But those who belong to Christ are not to fall prey to such strategies, nor to seek to utilize reciprocal strategies to terrorize the Muslim world. The apostle Paul reminds us that “…God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). Our weapons against evil are more powerful than those of terror and compulsion. We wield the love of God in Christ, which overcomes evil and transforms fallen human hearts, as John reminds us: “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Or as Paul puts it, “Since God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Rom 8:31).

Recently I read of an East African missionary working among Muslim Somali refugees who one evening while making his dinner heard some sharp knocks on his door. Upon opening it, he was confronted by an imposing 65-year-old Somali imam demanding an answer: “Yes or no, Jesus’ blood paid for the sins of everyone in the world?” When the missionary said, “Yes,” the imam cried out, “You’re lying!” As it turned out, the imam was feeling the unbearable weight of his own sins, and believed he was beyond forgiveness. But when the missionary explained the gospel of God’s love in Jesus’ self-sacrifice, and the two prayed together, the imam was born again. Before he left the missionary that evening, he grasped his arm and said:

“When you look at me on the street, you see my Muslim hat and my beard, and you are afraid of me. And to tell you the truth, that is why we dress this way, to make you afraid of us. But you need to know — you need to know that inside we are empty. Don’t be afraid of us. We need the gospel.”

— David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam, p. 81

We have the gospel message. The hearts of Muslims are empty. Will we cower in fear and leave them in their destructive thrashings for meaning and purpose, or will we serve them in love, bringing to their lives the only remedy that can cure sin-sick souls? If we truly walk with Jesus, then we know indeed that the quality of mercy is not strained; it drops as gentle rain even among those breathing threats and murder against God’s people, as Saul the Pharisee once discovered! Let’s engage the Muslim world in the name of Jesus.


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Islam and Presidential Politics

I rarely venture into the world of national politics, but two troubling stories involving Islam have made ripples in the news recently.

Late last week in Texas, a Muslim teenager got in trouble for bringing a homemade digital clock to school. Even though the device was suspicious-looking, was housed in container looking like an attache case, and drew attention to itself for making a beeping sound when plugged in, and even though in these days of heightened concern about keeping schools safe from violence the school administration rightly took precautionary measures, and even though when detained and questioned by authorities the teen refused to answer any questions other than  to say the  device was a homemade clock, nevertheless this incident made the news as an example of Islamophobia and/or racism run amok. Even before many facts were available to the public, President Obama had already waded into the matter with a tweet: “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House?”

Perhaps the matter could have been handled more sensitively — not knowing all the details, I remain agnostic on that question. But the President’s self-insertion to this event raises serious questions. First of all, does he not have more important matters needing his valuable time than a case of overzealous, protective school administrators? How about ISIS beheading Christians? Or twelve million plus homeless Syrians? Or the potential for infiltrating Muslim terrorists among those streaming across our porous borders? How about the shrinking middle class, historically low work-force ratio, the rising murder rates in our cities, the callous attacks on law enforcement across the country, the increasingly indifference to the value of life in our culture as evidenced by the Planned Parenthood travesty of selling baby body parts as commodities? What about Iran? North Korea? Russian occupation of Crimea and even more recent meddling in Ukraine and Syria? Chinese hegemony over the South China Sea? Our  political and religious prisoners languishing in the Islamic regimes of Iran and Pakistan? Are there not enough issues of importance to occupy our President’s time that he finds himself concerned enough to turn his energies to commenting on a small matter without waiting to learn all the facts?

Some may think I’m being too hard on Mr. Obama. After all, we all have “down time” during which we blow off steam, or engage in trivial pursuits. It doesn’t take much time to fire off a tweet. So true.  But the President could have had his staff contact the Mohammed family privately and arrange a White House visit away from public view. By using Twitter, the President made a statement siding with a “Muslim student of color” over against school and law enforcement authorities, thereby further driving a wedge of division into elements of our society with regard to race and Islam.

Am I overreacting? A few days ago, also in Texas, another teenager received an in-school detention for breaking the school’s dress code. Under his hoodie (which was legal) he was wearing a patriotic tee shirt hidden from view that sported the stars and stripes and image of the American bald eagle, one of the symbols of our nation. A teacher asked him to lift his hoodie, and then cited him for wearing a prohibited item of clothing. Though he suffered detention that day, within twenty-four hours the principal apologized for an overzealous application of school rules. As with the clock kerfuffle, no harm no foul. However, I’ve not seen reports of any tweet from POTUS saying, “Cool shirt, Jaegur. Want to wear it to the White House?” Why not? I guess such matters aren’t worth tweeting about in the President’s down time.

The other issue in the news is Republican candidate Ben Carson’s interview comments declaring his personal opposition to the future possibility of a Muslim President. Within less than a day, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR — an organization with demonstrated ties to the Palestinian Muslim terror group Hamas) decried Carson’s “unconstitutional, un-American, racist and Islamophobic remarks” and demanded that he step down from the 2016 presidential race. There is a growing rumble in liberal political circles that Dr. Carson must be unfit to hold office after espousing such views.

But what, exactly, did he declare? That the principles of orthodox Islam and of the U.S. Constitution are largely incompatible. If that is true, then an orthodox Muslim (who is committed to furthering the goals of Islam) would by his/her very beliefs be committed to working against the principles of the Constitution. Such a person could not with integrity take the presidential vow to “…preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Some religiously uninformed commentators have railed against Carson that he seeks to impose a religious test on presidential candidates, contrary to an express prohibition of this in Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution. If adherence to Islam is out, then what about Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, etc.? The answer to this is: only Islam, out of all these religions, seeks by divine fiat to establish itself as an earthly Kingdom, envisioning a day when all nation-states are subsumed under the banner of Islam and the world lives together as the “ummah” — the society of believers governed directly by one Caliph under the divine Law revealed by Allah. An orthodox Muslim president would by definition be committed to this world view over and against the U.S. Constitution, working behind the scenes if not publicly to pave the way for the USA ultimately to become part of the worldwide ummah of Islam.

Orthodox Islam teaches that Allah has given to the world through Islam this all-encompassing, unchanging moral and societal Law known as Shariah. Any country refusing to adopt or abide by Shariah is living in rebellion against Allah.  It is incumbent upon true Muslims to work for the establishment of Shariah, and the punishment of the non-compliant in places where Shariah has already been established. Embedded within this perfect, unchangeable Law are such principles:

  • Democracy (defined as the right of a people to govern themselves by laws established by majority vote) is forbidden in Islam — since Allah has given his perfect Law, any votes by human society to institute something at variance with Shariah are signs of “fitnah” (rebellion), where human beings are substituting their own will for that of Allah. As such they are unbelievers, and worthy of death.
  • Women do not have equal rights with men — their testimony carries half the weight of a man’s in court; a Muslim man can marry up to four wives at a time, including Christian or Jewish women, but a Muslim woman can only have one husband, who must be a Muslim; if a wife is disobedient, the husband under some circumstances has the right to beat her until she submits once again to him; she is prohibited from divorcing her husband with few exceptions, but he can divorce her for any reason he chooses; a woman under most circumstances cannot inherit amounts equal to what her male siblings receive; and so on.
  • Non-Muslims do not have equal rights with Muslims — they are legally treated as second-class citizens (known as dhimmi), forced to pay a head-tax (known as jizya) and oppressed until the “feel themselves subdued,” according to wording from the Quran (9:29). If they kill a Muslim, they shall be killed in return, but if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, he is not subject to the death penalty.
  • Freedom of religion is severely circumscribed — Christians and Jews (and a few other monotheistic groups) are allowed to practice their faith privately, but cannot openly worship or invite others to join them; if their houses of worship are damaged or fall into disrepair, they cannot fix or rebuild them; polytheists or atheists are not tolerated, but instead given the ultimatum to choose Islam or die; likewise, any remarks deemed insulting to Allah, Muhammad or the Quran are punishable by death — this includes academic, philosophical or religious questioning of accepted orthodoxy.
  • Shariah demands that Muslims support the cause of jihad, wherever it is has been rightly commanded (by order of the Caliph). Whether or not a Muslim actively fights in jihad, he has an obligation to support the efforts and goals of jihad. How would such a position impact the foreign policy of a Muslim president when the interests of the United States and those of jihadists were at odds?

Ben Carson made clear in his statement (and again in follow-up interviews) that he was speaking only of an orthodox Muslim President, one who accepts Shariah as divine Law, the Quran as ultimate truth, Islam as the supreme religion with a privileged place in the world. He declared that if a Muslim candidate for President openly renounced allegiance to these convictions, then such a candidate would not be a threat to the Constitution, and Carson would have no problem with him/her. Of course, such a person would no longer be an orthodox Muslim, either, simply one in name only.

In that case, they could easily join the large club with other possible presidential contenders every four years, who by and large claim to be of one religious flavor or another, and often prove to be so, in name only.


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“Hosting Angels Unawares”

The Bible commands believers to give special care to strangers (those foreign to the community of which one is a part). This applies to everyone from Sunday morning church visitors to those fleeing their homelands to escape persecution or the ravages of war. We are called to remember that once we too were “strangers in a strange land,” and of course Jesus teaches that one of the highest values of the Kingdom of God is that we love our neighbors as ourselves. These directives are made to the people of God, not to secular nations, but I find it instructive when viewing the latest humanitarian refugee crisis unfolding from Syria.

Most everyone knows that for over four years Syria has been embroiled in a bloody civil war exacerbated by conflicting brands of Islamic terrorism. The primary losers have been the Syrian people, especially native Christians and Kurds. Latest estimates show up to a million deaths from this conflagration. Out of a population of roughly 23 million (almost 90% Muslim), close to half have fled from their homes. (Imagine here in the USA with a population of 330 million, some 160 million US citizens uprooted from the homes trying to find safety somewhere else.) Roughly 7-8 million have relocated to relatively safe, though often not comfortable, places within Syria, while another 4 million have fled the country to seek asylum under the protection of other nations.

Naturally, most refugees have scant resources, and are hard-pressed to travel great distances, so bordering countries tend to bear the brunt of this human tidal wave. In this case, the small countries of Lebanon and Jordan have taken in some 1.8 million Syrians between them, but now have closed their borders because their infrastructures are severely overtaxed. Turkey to the north has had an estimated 1.8 million Syrians cross its border also, but has made clear that it is not willing to shelter them for long. The Turkish prime minister recently scolded the European Union for not reaching out to take more refugees into Europe, calling them a “Christian fortress” even as thousands of needy Arabs surge across the borders into Hungary, Austria and Germany, with Turkey seeking to sweep them out of its own territory.

I’m impressed with the generosity of Germany, which recently announced its willingness to accommodate up to 500,000 refugees a year for the next few years. Other European countries have followed suit, with smaller numbers. This will most likely hasten the already rapid Islamification of Europe, with increasingly negative ramifications for the Western world. (ISIS has declared one of its strategies to be the placing of jihadi sleeper agents in the West by embedding their own terrorists within the waves of refugees to Europe and beyond.) But compassion must outweigh fear — at least that seems to be the argument of European leaders. Though Europe is now anything but a Christian powerhouse, I can’t help wondering if the remnants of a Christian worldview haven’t colored the thoughts of those westerners clamoring that Europe has a moral responsibility to care for those outsiders in need.

I’m also impressed by the fact that so many Syrians are willing to walk over a thousand miles to get to Europe, and to a world that is so different from their Middle Eastern ways. Could it be that they are attracted to a culture that has encouraged the advancement of knowledge, freedom and prosperity for the benefit of all, something they have not found in their own Muslim-dominated, highly constrictive societies?

Why is it that these refugees are flooding toward Germany, and not south to Egypt or the Arabian peninsula or east to Iran or Pakistan?  Most of these refugees are Muslim. Wouldn’t they naturally want to seek shelter within the Muslim ummah (the worldwide “family of Islam”)? Certainly the trip from Damascus to most parts of the Muslim world would be a lot shorter than to Germany — to Munich, it’s roughly 1625 miles; to Berlin about 1725. Here are the distances to some key Muslim cities from Damascus:

  • Medina (the revered home of Islam’s prophet) — 650 miles
  • Mecca (Islam’s holiest city) — 860 miles
  • Cairo — 370 miles
  • Alexandria — 400 miles
  • Benghazi — 975 miles
  • Tripoli, Libya — 1333 miles
  • Tunis — 1333 miles
  • Kuwait City — 750 miles
  • Manama, Bahrain — 992 miles
  • Dammam, Saudi Arabia — 960 miles
  • Qom, Iran — 700 miles
  • Tehran — 1150 miles
  • Doha, Qatar — 1075 miles
  • Abu Dhabi — 1250 miles
  • Dubai — 1275 miles

Why are these Muslim refugees not streaming to these more proximate, welcoming centers of Muslim civilization? I believe there are two central reasons. First, when given the forced choice of leaving their home, most Muslims find the qualities of Western life a lot more attractive than life under the rule or influence of Shariah law. They’d rather be in Europe or North America than in the Muslim world. Why not head to one of Islam’s two holiest cities (Medina or Mecca) — both less than half the distance from Damascus than Berlin is)? Or, for minority Shi’ites, why not head to the Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly to the center of Islamic study, Qom, where aspiring mullahs congregate? Surely refugees would find great compassion there among such Muslim holy leaders? Qom also is less than half as far from Damascus as Germany. But no streams of refugees are reportedly headed to Arabia or Iran. How interesting.

But the second reason is even more fascinating. The five richest oil-producing nations of the Arabian peninsula (Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE) have taken in a total of zero (!) Syrian refugees. Why? They are afraid for their safety — hidden among refugees there might be terrorists who could unsettle their regimes — so they have closed their doors to fellow Arabs and Muslims in need. Some argue that the cost of living in the Emirates, for example, is prohibitive for resettlement of refugees. So much for Arab solidarity, or for the vaunted Muslim ummah.  That’s not to say they’re totally lacking in compassion. Estimates are they have donated a combined total of almost $900 million to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to help with refugee camps in those countries. Compare that, however, to Great Britain, which has already given around $1.5 billion in refugee aid, or to the USA, which has already donated almost $4.5 billion to this cause (about five times that of the Muslim Gulf nations).

I’m not sure how much of the glaring differences between the Western world and the Middle Eastern countries on this matter can be traced to their respective roots in Christianity and Islam, but I’m guessing that’s an important factor. In any case, what’s happening with Syria’s refugees is a timely reminder for those of us who call ourselves Christians that God has a special place in His heart for those homeless and vulnerable through no fault of their own. Even for us Christians here in America, to whom the Syrian refugee crisis seems so remote, we can pray for God’s mercy on those in harm’s way, and we can donate some of our wealth to groups that are doing good work on the ground in the refugee camps. A few wonderful organizations to check out, if you’re looking to contribute, are Samaritan’s Purse, Doctors without Borders, Save the Children and Compassion International.

In Hebrews 13:2 we are urged, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” May many angels, and others, experience God’s hospitality mediated through the body of Christ!

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What Does It Profit…?

There are only a few fulcrum questions of life, i.e., questions upon which the deepest issue of life hinge. Not surprisingly, most of those questions proceed from the lips of Jesus. One in particular, reported in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 16:26; Mk. 8:36; Lk. 9:25), says rather incisively, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?”

Not long ago in my reading of 2 Chronicles, I was reminded of the life of a fairly good king of Judah, Amaziah (“…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a blameless heart” — 25:2), and his determination to trust God even though it would mean a big hit to his bank account. You can read the full account in 2 Chronicles 25:1-13, but here’s a synopsis:

Amaziah has determined to go to war against the Edomites, and so he musters the troops of Judah, some 300,000 men. Still feeling insecure, he decides to rent some troops from the northern kingdom of Israel, which at the time was definitely not in God’s good graces. Striking a deal for 100,000 mercenaries in exchange for 100 talents (750 lbs) of silver, Amaziah now feels ready to march out against Edom. Ready, that is, until an unnamed prophet warns Amaziah that the Lord is not with Israel, and that if he puts his hope in Israel’s assistance rather than in God alone to bring victory to Judah, he will be in for a rude surprise. At this point, Amaziah asks, “But what about the 750 lbs of silver (roughly $1.75 million in today’s market) that I already paid Israel’s army?” The prophet’s answer: “That’s chicken feed compared to what God can give you” (my free-wheeling translation…). At this, King Amaziah dismisses the Israelite troops and sends them home, much to their testosterone-laden displeasure.

I’m not sure I could have done that so quickly. I know I would have argued with the prophet. “Since I’ve already paid out the money, wouldn’t it be a matter of good stewardship to utilize the rent-a-legion, defeat Edom, and then send the mercenaries home? I promise from now on, I won’t turn to other armies for help.” “Anyway, why did you come to me now, after I already paid the silver? Doesn’t God know everything? Why wouldn’t He have sent you sooner, if He didn’t want me to make this deal?” In the end, however, I know I would have acceded to the prophet’s message, and sadly kissed the $1,750,000 goodbye, trusting a bit reluctantly in the prophet’s true words, “God can supply you much more than this.”

One of the big problems with sin is that it skews our capacity to think clearly and accurately. We think that certain deals, relationships, possessions, goals, attitudes, etc., are good for us, and so we pursue them. We think that by placing our trust in them rather than in God (whose resources we cannot see at the moment) we will be better off — by our own wheeling and dealing we may even gain the whole world! Amaziah evidenced his trust in God’s willingness to win victory on Judah’s behalf, even though it cost him quite a bit of money as a result. It seems rather rare today to find Christians willing to give up false pursuits in order to exercise a deeper trust in God. We want to gain the whole world, and keep our souls.

Perhaps you’re clinging to something today that is barring you from God’s blessing. You’ve committed a substantial amount of resources to this pursuit, and you are troubled by the fear that God wants you to give that up. But you really want to keep that part of your life, and so you try to bargain with God. “Let me see this through, God. If it doesn’t work out, I promise I’ll drop it and turn to You….” Perhaps it’s a relationship you know you shouldn’t be in, but the thrill of illicit pleasure is too enticing to give up. Maybe it’s a shady business deal promising you a big payout. Or a surefire cheating scheme at school enabling good grades to get you into the college or grad school of your choice. Perhaps you’ve mastered the art of argumentation so as to be able to win at every contest of wits that comes your way.

Whatever the issue, if you are depending on something other than God to bring you the result you are yearning for, and yet you are praying that God will bless your self-styled efforts, perhaps the example of Amaziah will encourage you to cut your losses, give up your star-crossed pursuit, and bank your hopes instead upon God and His promises.

There is no profit in gaining the world at the expense of losing God. May the Spirit give us ears to hear this truth!

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