What’s Your Sentence?

If an all-seeing, all-knowing observer of your life were to write one sentence summing up your existence, what do you think it would be?

Recently while reading through 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament, I’ve been struck with some of the one sentence summaries of various kings of Judah. Two that really hooked me related to a father-son pair. One might think that the example of the father would have strongly shaped the life of the son, but such was not the case.

Jehoshaphat in this case was the father, and Jehoram the son.  2 Chronicles 17 sums up the career of Jehoshaphat, who shunned the idolatry of Baals prevalent in the northern kingdom of Israel, and even rejected the example of his father Asa who though he started out his 41 year reign over Judah trusting in God later rejected the Lord in favor of human alliances, and died a sad death. Jehoshaphat, from the beginning of his 25 year reign sought out God and strove to obey His commands. As a result, his kingdom flourished and was hedged about with a peace guaranteed by God.  2 Chronicles 17:6 sums up King Jehoshaphat’s life with this sentence: His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord…. He died at age 60. Wouldn’t you love to have that as your epitaph? I sure would.

On the other hand, Jehoram his son, who was 7 years old when Jehoshphat became king, and so had the opportunity to learn from his father’s example over 25 years, instead determined to go in a different direction. He began by slaughtering all his brothers, and any other powerful men who might contend for his throne. Rejecting the reforms of his father, Jehoram turned Judah back to the worship of idols, and to violence and warfare with neighboring lands. His reign was short, but not short enough. 2 Chronicles 21:20 summarizes his life in this way: He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem; and he departed with no one’s regret

For each and every human being, the day will come when our lives will be accurately summarized by the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. Worldly status and conquests will not matter, academic degrees and bank accounts will be forgotten, even the eulogies of family and friends will carry no weight. God’s assessment, the only right and true one, will weigh our worth in terms of our allegiance to Him and His ways, our love for His glory and excellencies, and our efforts to live in light of that allegiance and love. And in the end, there will only be one of two verdicts:

“You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” — Daniel 5:27

or

“Well done, good and faithful servant….Enter into the joy of your Master” — Mt. 25:21

So much time and energy in our lives seems to be devoted to chasing after the wind, to gathering chaff and ignoring the wheat, to acquiring trophies that the apostle Paul once referred to in Koine Greek as skubala — defined at best as the gunk you find in your drain trap after scrubbing pots and pans, or at worst as animal excrement — compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and being found in him, living now for his honor and glory. Many of us have been hypnotized by the prince of this world and the baubles he dangles before us. We grasp after them, even though Jesus’ words ring in our ears, “What does it profit you to gain the whole world if you lose your soul in the process?”

One irony of life is that the more we try to stuff our life with the things of this world, the more vacuous our souls become. The image of God, once weighty and profound in our early existence, is eaten away by our self-indulgence and we become vapid, inconsequential ghosts of what God created us to become. Should we continue on such a path, when the Day of Reckoning comes we will be placed in the balance and found wanting, because there will be nothing of substance to show for our lives.

The good news is that the final sentence for your life (and for mine) has not yet been written for all the world to see. While we have breath, it is never to late to take Jesus at his word and live for God rather than for the world. If you are not happy with the sentence that would summarize your life thus far, you can make a clean start. You may have had a faltering start, but you can end strong.

That’s my prayer as I look at the remainder of my days. My intention is to live in such a way that if anyone looks my way it will be because they see Jesus in and through me; that if anyone listens to my words, they will be drawn to Jesus; if anyone spends time with me, they will walk away having been lifted more fully into the presence of God. I want a heart that is courageous in the ways of the Lord, one which lives before the Throne with no regrets. My confidence is that will come about increasingly as I continue to follow after Jesus.  I have placed “my sentence” in his hands.

How about you? What’s your sentence? Is it one you want to carry on into eternity?

 

 

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Deception as Diplomacy

Can Iran be trusted? Its track record on honesty is decidedly poor. Even fellow Muslim countries don’t trust it, unless they are already in bed with the Shi’a theocracy. One major reason for this is that from the 7th C onward, the world of Islam has been split by a strong division between two major sects, the Sunnis (comprising roughly 85% of Muslims worldwide, and the Shi’ites making up the bulk of the rest). Politically, the Sunnis are decentralized, with no universally accepted leader or council. The Shi’ites, on the other hand, accede all spiritual, political, military, economic and social power to one leader, whom they believe to have been divinely appointed as Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, presently the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (not to be confused with Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first theocratic leader who passed away in 1989).

Iran’s Supreme Leader has the final say on any and every matter considered by the government of Iran, including all military, defense and foreign policy decisions. He has full veto power over rulings of the president, the cabinet, the parliament and the guardian council. His appointment is for life, unless he becomes so disabled or senile as to be unable to function.

It is important to know that the Supreme Leader is first and foremost an Islamic legal scholar. His worldview has been irrevocably shaped by decades of immersion in Islamic scriptural, traditional and juristic study. He is, in essence, a seminary professor who was later thrust into political and military spheres after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Iran’s clerics under Khomeini took control of the government after ousting the Shah.

This is a crucial fact to consider when determining whether Iran can be trusted to honor any international agreements, especially with non-Muslim powers. One doctrine of Shi’ite Islam, disputed by some Sunni jurists, but embraced by Shi’ites as a whole, is that of taqiyya. Its literal meaning in Arabic is “guarding [oneself],” and it justifies deception or deceit under certain circumstances — if one’s life, or the lives of loved ones, or the viability of the Islamic community is under imminent or future threat because of allegiance to Muhammad/Allah, one may deceive the enemy until the threat has passed.

This doctrine is often supported by the following tradition:

The nonbelievers arrested ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir and (tortured him until) he uttered foul words about the Prophet, and praised their gods (idols); and when they released him, he went straight to the Prophet. The Prophet said: “Is there something on your mind?” ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir said: “Bad (news)! They would not release me until I defamed you and praised their gods!” The Prophet said: “How do you find your heart to be?” ‘Ammar answered: “Comfortable with faith.” So the Prophet said: “Then if they come back for you, then do the same thing all over again.” Allah at that moment revealed the verse: “….except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith…(16:106)”

The full Quranic text reads, “Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters unbelief, except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith — but such as open their breast to unbelief, — on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Chastisement.”

It is not a stretch to wonder whether Khamenei and his negotiating team consider the USA (the Great Satan, as we’ve been reminded by many of his recent speeches) such an imminent and great threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran (which they consider the bastion of Allah’s theocratic Kingdom) that in their own minds they can justify the use of taqiyya in their negotiations with the P5 +1 nations. This would ultimately mean that though they negotiate for the best deal they can get, they nevertheless “guard” their true intentions until they have neutralized what they perceive to be the  overarching threat to their future — America’s vast superiority militarily and economically. Once they have bought enough time to develop a nuclear arsenal of their own, they will have changed the equation, at which time they will discard the “agreement” and freely pursue their ultimate agenda, which is the overthrow or subjugation of all non-Islamic governments, particularly the Great Satan (USA) and the Little Satan (Israel). Until then, they will lie about their intentions to protect their future, smugly justifying their dissimulation under the doctrine of taqiyya.

I can’t imagine that our present federal administration lacks well-schooled advisors who  understand the Shi’ite mind and have shared this important consideration with our political leaders and negotiators, so it seems that the administration has chosen to disbelieve this perspective and move ahead anyway. Perhaps they are confident that we have the capacity to identify and stop any clandestine efforts by Iran to ignore the agreement. Perhaps they have discovered some overwhelming reason to trust Iranian leadership in spite of the theology and past track record. Certainly they have access to boatloads of pertinent information that I will never see. But I am hoping beyond hope that our Congress refuses to endorse this agreement, not only on the basis that it was poorly negotiated by the West, but because the theocratic leadership of Iran considers itself justified in lying for the sake of the future supremacy of Shi’ite Islam. Continue reading

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Selective Outrage — Proof of a Fallen Humanity?

No human being can feel outrage over all the evil committed on this planet — who has the energy or time, or most importantly, the moral rectitude? So we all, to some extent, engage in selective moral outrage — we choose, or react to, what most enrages us. One might hope that human anger would be directed at the greatest moral transgressions on the scale of good and evil. But there doesn’t seem to be much logic for the volcanic vituperation expressed against some acts versus the stunning silence surrounding other seemingly more heinous deeds.

Take for example an evil action reported in early July — the illegal trophy killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. I understand that Zimbabwe issues about 50 licenses yearly for lion hunts. Yet there is little to no murmur over this. So is the issue that the American hunter involved did this illegally? Hardly. The problem is that Cecil the lion was a celebrity on the animal preserve, at least in the eyes of those who worked there or who had participated in photo safaris. To the average Zimbabwean he was unknown, but to the Western tourist he was apparently iconic (though who among us had heard of Cecil before last month?).

Some are opposed to killing for sport in general. I can understand that. But the level of invective and grief generated all over the world by this killing has not been generated by other trophy killings that go on day by day. Others argue that the wrongness of this is due to the fact that the life that was taken was innocent and defenseless. I can understand that, too. One late night talk show host teared up as he included news about Cecil in his evening monologue. Thousands, apparently, have joined in protests around the country. Some are calling for the hunter’s extradition to face charges in Zimbabwe, or even worse, for physical harm to be done to him here as justifiable revenge. I can understand the feeling.

But here’s where the selective outrage has me bamboozled. Since 1973, over 58 million abortions have been carried out in this country. Even allowing for cases of rape, incest and/or physical/psychological harm to the potential mother (accounting for up to a total of 6% of all abortions), the massive number of abortions for the sake of convenience or birth control is simply morally obscene. Some argue that the lives taken are not yet human. But the fundamental fact remains that they are nonetheless lives — having unique DNA from their parents — and unless their lives are snuffed out, they will be born into this world as fully recognizable human beings. The recent secret video footage of Planned Parenthood doctors and executive staff talking in such blase and utilitarian terms about fetal organs and tissue to be harvested and sold, as if the unborn are to be to be treated like lab rats, vivisected for the welfare of the human race, made my blood run cold. Killing our unborn for the possibility of extending our own lives? Where’s the outrage over this monstrous industry that we have allowed in our society? If the killing of an innocent and defenseless lion in the wild elicits so much anger and grief, should not the killing of millions upon millions of innocent and defenseless unborn, meant to be safe in their mothers’ wombs, cause us to be overcome with paroxysms of anguish and rage? Yet, such is hardly the case. Selective outrage….

Or for those who refuse to consider the unborn as in any way alive (though the scientific, medical evidence completely disallows this viewpoint), let me point to another, more recent killing event. One week ago, 16 Christian fisherman from Chad were executed in Nigeria by agents of the Muslim group Boko Haram. Why? Because they were Christians, and because Boko Haram is upset with the government of Chad for seeking to rid its country of violent Muslim groups, particularly Boko Haram. These innocent and defenseless Christian men had their throats slit, rather than being gunned down (the terrorists’ preferred method of killing), because the perpetrators feared that some army troops might be nearby and didn’t want to alert them by discharging their weapons.

Sixteen helpless human beings slaughtered for no reason other than hatred inspired by Islam, and hardly a ripple caused on the public media pond, nor in the Twitter worlds of starlets and pundits. I don’t think I’ll stay up to see if Jimmy Kimmel tears up over this. Selective outrage….

I’ve tried to make sense of the moral incongruity — that human beings could get so bent out of shape morally to condemn a lion killer but not even muster a sigh over the nonchalant abortion industry in this country, or the murder of 16 human beings simply for living according to their religious convictions. All I can think of is that it is easier to condemn something safe (where no one will be seriously upset with our stand) than something that may lead to blowback. Or, that on the scale of moral value, human life is worth significantly less than the life of a lion in the eyes of our throwaway culture, where human beings are discarded regularly in so many venues.

Neither of these is really a good explanation. But if it has to be one or the other, I sure hope it’s the former and not the latter.

Of course, it could just be moral hypocrisy — we human beings are so practiced at that — another evidence of the fallenness of our souls, for which we need a Savior!

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The Good Life

According to Islam there was no fall from grace that rendered human beings sinners desperately in need of divine salvation. The offense of Adam and Eve was simply forgetting their duty to God, and once they were reminded of their lapse, they were back on track. Their human nature after their sin, and that of their descendants, was not corrupted with self-centeredness or a penchant for evil. Hence, for Islam there is no savior or redeemer, for there is no human crisis beyond human fixing. Human nature is basically good; what is needed is not moral transformation but absolute obedience (as best one is able) to the commands of Allah. One hopes as a Muslim to have been “obedient enough” to make the grade before the judgment seat of God so as to gain the reward of heaven.

Though the teachings of Islam are filled with moral demands, these are by and large not ends in themselves. That is, they are not actions which should spring from a perfect human nature, but rather are tests of obedience which God sets before the human race. To obey is to curry Allah’s favor; to disobey is to earn his wrath. Our lives in this world are not about the transformation of our character toward moral perfection but about enduring the time of testing with a passing grade from God.

Islamic theology refers to this temporal world by using the Arabic word “dunya,” which is found in the Qur’an and Hadith traditions often.  The tempting blessings of this world provide the tests concerning one’s allegiance to Allah. So we find for example in Sahih Muslim (bk 1, hadith 70):

The Prophet said, “The life of the world is sweet and green [i.e., alluring]. Allah makes you generations succeeding one another so that He may try you in respect of your actions. So beware of the beguilements of the world and those of women. The first trial of Banu Israel was through women”.

The young Chattanooga Muslim  terrorist, Mohammad Youssuf Abdelazeez, who earlier this month shot and killed five American servicemen, was motivated by this core understanding of Islam — obedience to Allah, culminating in death by jihad, is the ultimate ticket to “making the grade” into paradise. Three days earlier, on July 13th, he posted a blog entitled, “A prison called Dunya” ( you can read the entire post at https://myabdulazeez.wordpress.com/) in which he writes:

Imagine that you are taken by force and placed in a prison. Once in the prison you realize that the living arrangements in this prison really aren’t that bad. There is a sun room, a TV to watch, computer to use, phone, different kinds of food, and even a section for exercise. After spending a couple weeks in the prison you get used to it and develop a routine. You still aren’t sure why you are in prison, or how long you will be there, but you are comfortable in your life. At this time one of the guards enters with a large folder that he hands you. You open the folder and read its instructions, stating that you will be spending the next couple years in this prison, and at the end of this term you will be given a test at a random time. It could be in 2 years or it could be in 4. The instructions state that passing this exam will result in you being released to the city of your choice and your living expenses will be paid as well as an allowance. Failing will lead to your transfer to another prison cell, one that has no windows or accessories except a hole in the ground for you to relieve yourself, and your meals will be the same oats and water day after day until you die.

A study guide for the test is included in the folder, and you are left alone. Put yourself in this position. What would you do?

I would imagine that any sane person would devote their time to mastering the information on the study guide and stay patient with their studies, only giving time for the other things around to keep themselves focused on passing the exam. They would do this because they know and have been told that they will be rewarded with pleasures that they have never seen.

You might wonder why committed Muslims would  gun down unarmed soldiers, or behead Christians, or drown unbelievers, or beat and throw alive into a furnace those they accuse of blasphemy, or torture and crucify apostates. How could religious people engage in such barbarous, immoral and inhumane behaviors. The answer is: They believe they are acting in obedience to Allah, and earning his pleasure.  The intrinsic evil of the act (as judged by others) makes no difference to them. All that matters is showing obedience to Allah, in order to gain paradise. And the Muslim paradise is no home to moral purity. Believers there are not lauded for their holiness or moral decency. The emphasis of paradise is one of unbridled sensual pleasure (at least for men). The cuisine of heaven offers all the delicacies so difficult to find in a 7th C Arabian desert context. The landscape likewise contains an overabundance of greenery. The climate is delightfully cool, and the surroundings teem with rivers and well-shaded carpets of comfortable moss. In addition to wife or wives, there are other beautiful women created especially for your sexual pleasure. In fact, according to some Muslim scholars, a man’s main activities in paradise will be endless sex with women (and perhaps boys), punctuated by breaks for sumptuous meals. Many of the divine laws governing life in the time of dunya will fall by the wayside: whereas wine and strong drink were forbidden on earth, there are now in paradise rivers flowing with wine free for imbibing. All the purity rituals (washing, food restrictions, prayers five times a day, etc.) seem to have disappeared. Where most Muslims have only one wife on earth and no slaves to serve them, those who make it to heaven will have a bevy of personal attendants and a harem with a minimum of  72 virgins (in addition to any wives) to keep them fully satisfied.

One might imagine that even the most crazed sex-addict would not be able to keep up with all these pressures, but Islamic tradition offers great reassurance:

Anas ibn Malik narrated that the Messenger of Allah said:

“A believer in Paradise will be given the stamina to have sexual intercourse such-and-such (number of times).”

Anas said, “O Messenger of Allah! (How) will he have the ability to do so?”

He replied:

“He will be given the stamina of one hundred (men).”

— Collected by at-Tirmithee (#2536)

The point of all this is that the religion of Islam does not envision or promise that its adherents will have broken, sinful natures redeemed and perfected. Rather, it promises as a reward the fulfillment of a hedonistic lifestyle beyond what the most dissolute and depraved man could ever achieve on earth, provided that individual obeys Allah fully in this present world.

A Christian worldview, on the other hand, begins with the declaration that human beings have sinful natures, and are driven by inordinate desires that need to be tamed and ultimately reformed. The promises of heaven are not sensual, but spiritual and relational. The redeemed will have new natures, reflecting the perfection of Jesus Christ (“Those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” Romans 8:29). Beyond streets of gold and pearly gates, the grand emphasis of the biblical description of heaven is that God will be with His people, personally wiping every tear from the eyes of His adopted children. To be eternally in the sacred presence of Him who is the source of every joy will be an experience that dwarfs even the greatest sensual pleasures the human body could ever muster.

Those who “enter into the joy of their Master” will love what God loves, will shine with His holiness, will act with His righteousness, ever filled with the Holy Spirit. Such a transformation begins even now, when one enthrones Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in his/her heart. Such spiritual and moral transformation forbids actions which oppose God’s eternal commands, which is why you will never find a true disciple of Jesus doing to others what true disciples of Muhammad are doing increasingly in public.

I of course recognize that some who take the name of Christ (but not His nature) do engage in inhumane actions toward others, and on the other that some Muslims resist the commands to violence and live lives of kindness toward the larger world. But the trajectory of each religion is clear, and the fruit of their promises all too divergent. It’s time to wake up and stand for truth — live the good life!

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Islam and Perceived Insults to Its Prophet, or “Zeal for thy head will consume me,” with apologies to Ps. 69:9.

Islam does not take kindly to criticism of any kind. As far as I can tell, this is due to inherent factors in its theological claims to perfection, and to the example of its prophet recorded in its sacred traditions. According to Islamic law (sharia’), built upon these traditions and seen by Muslims as perfectly encapsulating Allah’s will for all humanity, any actions rising to the level of blasphemy are punishable by death in this life and eternal fire in the hereafter. Blasphemy may be defined as any action that intentionally demeans Allah or his prophet Muhammad or his sacred word, the Quran. Some examples of this would be:

  • speaking of Allah as a false god, or one of many gods
  • depicting Allah in visual form
  • associating the written Arabic word “Allah” with anything “unworthy”
  • casting aspersions on the character of Muhammad
  • accusing Muhammad of gross sins
  • depicting Muhammad in visual form (this is a more recent ruling; there are examples in early Islam of the prophet being drawn with a face)
  • tearing, burning, or mistreating Quran in any way
  • challenging the full inspiration or truthful nature of the Quran.

Even in regions of the world where sharia’ law is not in place, Muslims seek special protection for the matters they consider most sacred, expecting non-Muslim governments to take forceful action against any non-Muslims who commit blasphemy as defined by Islam. Many take to the streets in peaceful or not-so-peaceful demonstrations, or turn to defacing, ransacking or burning non-Muslim establishments, especially churches, and to injuring or killing non-Muslims as a dramatic expression of their displeasure.

Recently we have seen renewed evidence of this tendency even here in the USA. A few weeks ago a group seeking to challenge worldwide Muslim demands for special exemptions against freedom of expression regarding Islam convened a conference in Garland, TX, dealing with the various visual depictions of Muhammad down through history. In conjunction with this, they held a contest offering a prize for the best cartoon drawing of Muhammad. The winning cartoon was itself a commentary on the challenge to free speech inherent in Islam. It pictures an angry Muhammad facing the cartoonist as he is being drawn, with upraised sword and searing words, “You can’t draw me!” The cartoonist, even as he continues to sketch Muhammad, responds, “That’s why I draw you.”

As this conference was under way, two Muslims from a mosque in Phoenix drove the 1078 mile distance armed with significant ordnance to kill large numbers of conferees, so as to underscore with “the blood of the guilty” that one may not make fun of Islam’s prophet, regardless of the laws of the land. Fortunately they were killed by law enforcement after they had opened fire but before they could commit any significant mayhem. But their actions brought back to mind the deadly attacks at the Charlie Hebdo office in France, the assassination of Theo van Gogh, the riots following publications of “Muhammad cartoons” in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper, and the death fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie back in 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini. And these are merely a sample from among a much larger pool unknown to or ignored by the Western press.

After this attack, some moderate Muslims went public with denunciations of the actions of the would-be jihadists. Others did not. Why not?  Because Islam by its very nature requires Muslims to defend the honor of their prophet, using force if necessary. Let me explain.

Theologically, Islam claims to be the perfect religion, revealed by the one true God. Since God is perfect, what He has revealed is perfect. Hence the Quran is by definition unassailable. Likewise, the man chosen and destined by God to be the deliverer of this revelation is also perfect, or at least he is the perfect exemplar of humanity — the Arabic title ascribed to Muhammad, al-Insan al-Kamil, means literally “the perfect human,” the ideal toward which every other human being is to strive. To attack the perfect God, or his perfect revelation, or his chosen prophet is to commit a most grievous sin, and the only earthly punishment harsh enough for such an act is death by execution. In Muslim societies, this is carried out as a matter of course. In non-Muslim societies, if anything is to be done about it to assuage Muslim sensitivities, it must be done by a Muslim willing to “sacrifice himself for the cause.”

“Wait a minute,” some might say, “Jesus is insulted within our culture on a daily basis by people who take his name in vain, or depict him as an active homosexual, or who use his image in scurrilous art simply to draw attention to themselves or their cause. Yet, Christians do not riot, rampage or assassinate in response to such insults.” This is true, in large measure due to the example of Jesus himself, who “when reviled did not revile in return,” or worse.  Muhammad’s behavior, though, is another story.

As Muhammad gained power and renown in his day, he also faced a growing list of enemies. Many of these used the old tribal ways of dealing with enemies — creating poems and turns of phrase to mock, scorn, ridicule and taunt their opponent. Muhammad apparently had rather thin skin in this regard, and so we find in the traditions (both ahadith and early biographies) numerous stories where Muhammad seeks or commands the death of those who have insulted him. Here are a few examples:

‘Uqba bin Abu Mu’ayt was an early and vociferous opponent of Muhammad in Mecca, having accosted and insulted him several times before the prophet finally fled to Medina in 622. He had earned Muhammad’s enduring, personal wrath. In 624 during the first major military contest between the Muslims and the Meccans, the Battle of Badr, ‘Uqba is captured as a prisoner of war. Muhammad sentences him to death, even though the vast majority of prisoners are ultimately released after ransoms are paid by the Meccans. ‘Uqba pleads for mercy, saying his family needs him. Muhammad is not moved.

…‘Uqba said, “But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?”

“Hell,” he said….”[1]

With no delay, ‘Uqba’s head is severed from his body by one of Muhammad’s Ansari soldiers.

Soon after the Battle of Badr, an Arab Jew from Medina named Ka’b bin al-Ashraf heard of the death of a number of his friends among the fallen fighters from Mecca. Leaving Medina, he stayed with friends in Mecca to share their grief and to compose derisive poems about Muhammad and his followers. Upon his return to Medina, he compounded his offenses by composing suggestive and insulting poems about the Muslim women in town. One day Muhammad groused to his companions, “Who will rid me of Ibn al-Ashraf?” A man named Muhammad bin Maslama stepped forward, declaring, “I will deal with him for you, O apostle of God, I will kill him.” The prophet responded, “Do so if you can.” After a few days of frustration, unable to come up with a good plan, the would-be assassin came back before the prophet confessing his uncertainty of success. Muhammad told him, “All that is incumbent upon you is that you should try.” The man replied, “O apostle of God, we shall have to tell lies,” (i.e., in order to lure the target to an area where they could attack him easily). Muhammad’s declaration of absolution was, “Say what you like, for you are free in this matter.” So Muhammad bin Maslama with a small group of conspirators cooks up a plan, and indeed lures Ka’b from his fortress to an open area where the armed conspirators are waiting. They hack him to death with swords, then return to Muhammad and report to him as he finishes his morning prayers that they had killed God’s enemy.[2]

Since the prophet of Islam is so concerned about his own reputation and stature that he is willing to countenance executions as well as deceptions leading to assassination of enemies, how could his loyal followers of today sit back and allow their prophet’s honor to be tarnished by cartoon-drawers or Quran-burners or those who speak ill of him for his other immoral acts?

The savagery we are seeing today against the West from many core Muslims finds its principal roots not in income inequality, joblessness, Western cultural hegemony, American foreign policy or any other factor external to Islam. At heart, this violence is shaped and fueled by the religious zeal of Muslims following the example of their prophet and his earliest companions.

[1] Ibn Ishaq, The Life of the Prophet, p. 308.

[2] Ibid., p. 368.

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Sacred Barbarism

Much of the cruel barbarity in the religious world today is being perpetrated by self-confessed Muslims. Though many moderate Muslims are beginning to decry the atrocities of Boko Haram, the Taliban, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, AQIM, al-Shabaab, Hamas, Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaeda, etc., these movements continue to proclaim their Islamic bona fides, justifying their beliefs and actions on the basis of sound, authoritative traditions within Islam concerning Muhammad as well as upon standard jihad and retribution texts in the Quran.

Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, for example, have taken to crucifying Christians and to severing hands and feet of those accused of “causing mischief in the land” (a Quranic phrase capable of application to a wide array of disapproved behaviors). Where did they come up with these tortures, and others such as immolation? The short answer: from the traditions of Muhammad and his companions.

Take this story, for instance, from the most highly regarded of the Hadith collections (second only to the Quran in authority for Sunni Muslims), that of Sahih Bukhari. To be fair, Muslims acknowledge that some of the traditions found, even in Bukhari, are doubtful or even spurious, but the following account occurs no less than ten times in Bukhari’s collection, with minor variations. It is widely accepted by the Sunni world:

A group of people from `Ukl (tribe) came to the Prophet and they were living with the people of As-Suffa, but they became ill as the climate of Medina did not suit them, so they said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Provide us with milk.” The Prophet said, I see no other way for you than to use the camels of Allah’s Apostle.” So they went and drank the milk and urine of the camels, (as medicine) and became healthy and fat. Then they killed the shepherd and took the camels away. When a help-seeker came to Allah’s Apostle, he sent some men in their pursuit, and they were captured and brought before mid-day. The Prophet ordered for some iron pieces to be made red hot, and their eyes were branded with them and their hands and feet were cut off and were not cauterized. Then they were put at a place called Al-Harra [a wilderness region outside Medina], and when they asked for water to drink they were not given till they died. (Abu Qilaba said, “Those people committed theft and murder and fought against Allah and His Apostle.”)  — (Bukhari, Vol. 8, Book 82, Hadith 796)

In a related tradition found in Sunan Abu Dawud, we find a short sequel to the above account:

When the Messenger of Allah cut off (the hands and feet of) those who had stolen his camels and he had their eyes put out by fire (heated nails), Allah reprimanded him on that (action), and Allah, the Exalted, revealed: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is execution or crucifixion.” (Bk 39, Hadith 4357).

This tradition, considered weak by many Muslim jurists (no doubt because it reveals that Allah had to reprimand Muhammad, whom Muslim dogma declares to be the moral exemplar of humanity), provides the rationale for the revelation of the Quranic text found in Sura 5:33:

The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter. (Hilali-Khan translation)

This text, quite clearly, is one which provides modern disciples of Muhammad the justification for the atrocities they are committing with apparently clear consciences. When you add to texts like this the overarching Quranic ethic of retributive justice (“And one who attacks you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you” – 2:194), it becomes easy to trace the rationalizations of jihadists who feel that the whole Western world is on a personal quest to eradicate them and Islam as a whole.

It’s no use claiming that all “revealed religions” have texts commanding violence, and thus it’s wrong to single out Muslim atrocities. The pertinent texts in the Bible are all limited in time and scope – they were meant for limited periods of history and cannot be stripped of their context to encourage modern expansionist violence against all non-believers. Primary evidence of this is found in the fact that we don’t see any biblical terrorists anywhere reciting holy texts as they decapitate, maim or incinerate enemies.  For Christians, on top of that, we have direct teachings from Jesus that eschew force or violence as a means to Kingdom expansion. In Islam, however, these incendiary texts are taken by and large to be timeless commands, meant to be in force until the whole world converts or is subjugated to Allah and his prophet. Nothing in the Quranic text itself limits the application of these commands. One may appeal to all the scholars one wishes in order to seek to blunt the plain reading of the text, but most Muslims are not tuned in to the nuanced, tiptoeing dances of moderate scholars while their imams wax eloquent in their Friday sermons about Allah’s pleasure in the spilled blood of the infidel.

The example of the prophet, his commands, the actions of Islam’s caliphs, and the history of Islam on the march all have contributed to making certain forms of barbarism sacred in the minds of today’s disciples of Muhammad. If this is not what moderate Muslims want Islam to be known and reviled for, it’s time to stand up and be counted, not just as individual objectors but as a reform-minded movement that squelches the radicals and sterilizes the religion from any future strains of violent jihadism.

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Modern Islamic Terror — Ancient Roots

Many moderate Muslims and their apologists in the West have challenged the view that the actions and beliefs of ISIS and like-minded terrorist organizations are truly Islamic. Islam, they argue, is a religion of peace and has strict codes calling for the humane treatment of non-Muslims. The real religion, they say, allows only defensive jihad – Muslims may attack only those who have first attacked them; even so, they are to prefer mercy over retribution.

For example, in response to the Atlantic cover story by Graeme Wood “What ISIS Really Wants,” a Muslim professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross (rather ironic!) named Caner Dagli argues that the behavior and religious interpretations of ISIS fall outside the pale of true Islam, and that in fact these extremists do not take seriously the texts and traditions of the religion. However, there seem to be more and more reports of other self-named Muslim groups who carry out similar atrocities. Are they all outside true Islam – illegitimate and un-Islamic? Apparently so, according to these moderates and intellectual elites.

Recently I read of an attack by a small army of Muslims against a wealthy agrarian tribal community in the Middle East. The goal of the attack was to capture, plunder, enslave and kill until the entire community surrendered to the Muslims. The Muslim leader had already executed the elder leader of this tribe in a previous encounter. Now he was intent on conquering the tribe as a whole and claiming for himself and Islam the reportedly sizable treasure that they had hidden in their village. After a significant number of the men of the tribe had been killed by the Muslim army’s surprise attack, the Muslims began to divide up the significant booty as well as to claim the captive women as slaves or wives. However, the reputed treasure could not be located. The Muslim commander found the treasurer of the village and ordered him to reveal its location. When the treasurer refused, the commander ordered that he be tortured until he gave up its whereabouts. The man was stretched out on the ground, and a fired was kindled on his chest which burned until the man was near death, now incoherent with pain and confusion. Unable to extract any helpful information, the commander ordered the treasurer beheaded, and the order was carried out with alacrity. On top of all this, the treasurer’s new bride, considered the beauty of the village, was claimed by the commander as his own possession. It turns out that she was the daughter of the former chieftain of the village, whom the Muslim commander had previously ordered executed. Now she had just lost her husband to torture and murder, and earlier that day had lost her brother in the surprise attack at dawn. As the Muslim army withdrew that evening, they stopped and set up tents so that the commander could “marry” his new bride and seal the deal by consummating the relationship in his tent while the rest of the army waited.

What do moderate Muslims and their apologists say concerning this horrific series of events carried out by other Muslims? Mr. Dagli and many others no doubt would like to argue that these actions were un-Islamic, and that the protagonists are either not really Muslims at all, or that they are at the very least bad Muslims. I wish that were true. Unfortunately it cannot be.

You see, the account I summarized is not a contemporary event. It happened in 629 AD. The commander was Muhammad, the army was his companions (the Muslim faithful), the community attacked was Khaibar, an oasis town some 95 miles north of Medina, populated by Arab Jews. The treasurer’s name was Kinana al-Rabi, and his wife was Safiyya, who subsequently became one of Muhammad’s fourteen wives.* All the details of this story are known even by half-awake Muslims, for this account is celebrated within the Muslim world for its violent victory over Jews, who are routinely vilified in Muslim teaching. One of the regular Arabic rhymes chanted by Muslim crowds whenever Jews are killed by terrorists, or Israel is attacked by Hamas or Hezbollah is: “Khaibar, Khaybar, ya Yahud, jaysh Muhammad sawfa ya’ud” which translates as “Khaybar, Khaybar, O you Jews, the army of Muhammad will return!)

To denounce this event would be to denounce Muhammad, something no Muslim is willing to consider. Indeed, far from being an account about which Muslims are embarrassed, it is one in which they glory. And if Muhammad is held within their thinking to be the “perfect man,” the one whose behaviors are to be imitated by the faithful, then who today appears to be the more true or faithful believer: the ISIS radical, or the Western moderate Muslim?

Apologists for Islam can mewl all they wish, but until the worldwide Muslim community is willing to denounce such stories of their prophet rather than celebrate them, the rest of us will continue to take radicals at their word that they are truly disciples of their religion’s founder, and we Christians will continue to point people to a better Master, in whom alone there is salvation for the world.

 

* The full story of the attack on Khaibar can be found in the earliest biography of Muhammad (written before any of the collections of Hadith traditions, and generally accepted by Muslims to be the most authoritative sources for information on the actual life of Islam’s prophet), penned over 100 years after the death of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq and handed down to posterity in an edited form by his student Ibn Hisham, translated in 1964 into English by the Arabist and Islamic scholar Alfred Guillaume. See pp. 510-22, 757-8.

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