Qur’anic Scribe Rejects Islam!

Islam stands or falls on the claim that the Qur’an is a compilation of the literal and timeless words of Allah as transmitted inerrantly by the angel Jibril (Gabriel) to Muhammad, the last of the prophets, who then relayed those words verbatim to his listeners. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is without error of any kind and that there are no omissions or additions due to human corruption. The text is pure, pristine, straight from Allah’s eternal Book in heaven to the words on the page in today’s earthly Qur’an.

Muhammad, however, was according to Islamic tradition illiterate, and so incapable of writing down these revelations himself. As such, he needed a stable of scribes. Islam’s earliest and most highly respected historian, al-Tabari, lists ten men who served Muhammad in this capacity at various times in his revelatory career (Tarikh, vol. 9. pp. 147-8). One of those men is of particular relevance.

Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Abi Sarh was originally from Muhammad’s polytheistic tribe in Mecca (the Quraysh).  At some point (historical sources don’t tell us when), he converted to Islam and was entrusted with the signficant role of converting Muhammad’s dictations to written format.  But some years into this work, Abdullah fled from Medina (where Muhammad lived and ruled) and went back to his Meccan family, having rejected Islam. When asked why, he declared that the Qur’an contained his own words, as well as those Muhammad dictated. At times, Abdullah said, Muhammad would speak a phrase and Abdullah would write it differently. He would check with the prophet, who agreed that the scribe’s emendation was fine. One time, Muhammad was revealing something about Allah’s work in creating human beings (Sura 23:12-14), and Abdullah exclaimed, “And blessed be Allah, the best of creators.” Muhammad commanded Abdullah to include that in the text as part of the revelation. Based on his experience of times where his suggestions for improvement were accepted by Muhammad, Abdullah reasoned that either he was as inspired by Allah as Muhammad or Muhammad was wrong to replace “Allah’s dictations with the words of a fallible mortal. In either case, Abdullah Ibn Sa’d concluded that the Qur’an was not divinely inspired, and that Muhammad was not a true prophet. For this reason, he fled Medina and renounced Islam.quran mss.jpg
A few years later, in 630 AD, Muhammad arrived at the outskirts of Mecca with an imposing army of some 10,000 Muslim soldiers, ready to conquer the holy city if its pagan leaders would not voluntarily surrender. He told his jihadis to fight and slay only those who put up resistance, but to act peaceably toward all others with one notable exception. The prophet had a hit list of ten people who were to be executed wherever they were found, even if they surrendered willingly, even if they were found clinging to the curtains of the Ka’aba (custom dictated that any clinging to the hangings of the central shrine of Mecca were to be accorded mercy — no blood was to be spilled in the holy precincts, and petitioners were to be forgiven).

One of the names on Muhammad’s hit list was that of Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Abi Sarh. Why? According to Ibn Ishaq (Muhammad’s earliest biographer),

“The reason he ordered him to be killed was that he had been a Muslim and used to write down revelation; then he apostatized and return to Quraysh and fled to Uthman bin ‘Affan whose foster-brother he was” (Life of Muhammad, p. 550; trans. by A. Guillaume).Muhammad

Abdullah knew his life was in danger. Some accounts report that he reconverted to Islam on the day of Muhammad’s conquest of Mecca, hoping to avert Muhammad’s vengeance through the rule that Muslims are not to kill fellow Muslims. But one thing we know for sure is that he took refuge with his foster-brother ‘Uthman, who was one of Muhammad’s closest advisors and who would ultimately become the third Caliph of Islam.

‘Uthman determined it would be wise to wait a few days until the initial fervor of the Muslim conquest subsided, and after that to bring his foster-brother before Muhammad, to plead that Muhammad would rescind his death order, and instead would embrace Abdullah’s new oath of loyalty. Biographer Ibn Ishaq reports on this scenario:

“[‘Uthman] hid him until he brought him to the apostle [Muhammad] after the situation in Mecca was tranquil, and asked that he might be granted immunity. They allege that the apostle remained silent for a long time [in fact, other accounts portray ‘Uthman as asking for mercy three times before Muhammad finally broke his awkward silence] till he finally said yes. When ‘Uthman [and Abdullah] had left he [Muhammad] said to his companions who were sitting around him, ‘I kept silent so that one of you might get up and strike off his head!’ One of the Ansar [faithful jihadis from Medina] said, ‘The why didn’t you give me a sign, O apostle of God?’ He answered that a prophet does not kill by pointing” (Ibid.)

Clearly, Muhammad saw Abdullah’s betrayal and his private knowledge of the “sausage factory process” by which the “inspired” Qur’an was constructed as factors worthy of the death penalty.  There was no question that Muhammad’s law mandated that apostates be put to death. But what about apostates who reconvert in order to save their necks? At times Muhammad showed mercy in such cases, and at other times his heart remained stony and the sentence was carried out. But Abdullah Ibn Sa’d was a special case — his “testimony” would torpedo the two unassailable claims of Islam — that the Qur’an was the perfect, uncorrupted revelation of Allah, and that Muhammad was Allah’s preeminent spokesman. And that didn’t sit well with the prophet.

Hence Muhammad’s hit list, with Abdullah’s name at the top. Things didn’t work out the way the prophet wanted, with his former scribe’s head on a platter. He was hoping beyond hope that one of his assassins would read his mind, but was shamed by his silence during three repeated requests for mercy. Finally, he gave his grudging assent, and Abdullah walked away a free man.

In exchange for his life, Abdullah realized that he could no long openly mock the prophet as an impostor without swift and lethal action being taken against him. So, he faded into the background even as Muhammad continued his imperious ways until his death two years later in Medina.

Even though we hear little more of Abdullah, it seems he remained under the umbrella of ‘Uthman’s protection, and when the latter became Caliph in 644 AD, Abdullah Ibn Sa’d was appointed governor of newly-conquered Egypt, which post he filled until ‘Uthman was assassinated in 656. After ‘Uthman’s death, Abdullah fades from history.

But he had left his mark — Islam’s early historians record for posterity his original apostasy and the reasons for it. Students of Islam are left to draw their own conclusions.

The evidence seems pretty damning to me. If Abdullah’s own account is not to be believed, what would have led to his departure and apostasy? And what would have let Muhammad to such hatred/fear of his former scribe that he would “put out a contract” on Abdullah when his army conquered Mecca, and then resist ‘Uthman’s pleas for mercy by stalling for time in the desperate hope that one of his henchmen would step forward and decapitate Abdullah before he would have to grant mercy?

If Abdullah’s account is believable, even as recorded by Muslim historians and biographers, then Islam is not believable, for the Qur’an is demonstrated to be the work of human engineering, and Muhammad shown to be less than sure of his recitations as a prophet.

This account is just one of many hair-raising reports in early Islamic sources about the actions and beliefs of Muhammad and his companions. Unfortunately, very few Muslims read their own religious history, and so know little about the true prophet, believing instead the hagiographies spun by pious imams and theologians who are committed to their false narratives.

The truth deserves to see the full light of day, to set Muslims free from darkness and to immunize the rest of the world. I hope you will help me get the word out, by sharing these posts with others!

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What Shakes the Foundations of Heaven?

Is there anything momentous enough to shake the foundations of heaven? According to biblical tradition, there is one thing — the unobscured glory of God’s holiness. In Isaiah 6:1-5, the prophet shares his revelatory vision of the Lord seated on His throne in the heavenly Temple, “high and lifted up.” Mighty seraphs fly throughout the Temple, crying out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah records that at the recognition of this full radiance of divine glory “…the foundations of the thresholds [of heaven] shook” (v. 4).Isaiah 6.jpg

This makes pretty good sense to me. If anything could cause the created order to shake, it would have to be the all-surpassing glory of God almighty!

Islam also records an instance where heaven was shaken. This is not found in the Qur’an itself, but in the earliest and most authoritative Muslim biography of Muhammad, that written by Ibn Ishaq. He records:

“…[the angel] Gabriel came to the apostle [i.e., Muhammad] when Sa’d was taken [i.e., died], in the middle of the night wearing an embroidered turban, and said, ‘O Muhammad, who is this dead man for whom the doors of heaven have been opened and at whom the throne shook?’ The apostle got up quickly, dragging his garment as he went to Sa’d and found him already dead” (Life of Muhammad, p. 468; trans. by A. Guillaume).

A bit later we are told:

“…Sa’d was a fat man and when the men carried him [his bier] they found him light. Some of the disaffected said, ‘He was a fat man and we have never carried a lighter bier than his.’ When the apostle heard of this he said, ‘He had other carriers as well. By him who holds my life in his hand, the angels rejoiced at (receiving) the spirit of Sa’d and the throne shook for him” (Ibid.)

One of his Aus tribesmen (Arabs from Medina) composed a short couplet concerning their leader:

We have never heard of the throne of God
Shaking for any dead man but Sa’d Abu ‘Amr (Ibid., p. 469).

The mother of Sa’d Mu’adh (known as Umm Sa’d) reportedly composed a short eulogy while following his burial procession:

Alas Umm Sa’d for Sa’d the brave and bold,
Leader glorious, knight ever ready,
Stepping into the breach, cutting heads to pieces (Ibid.).Sa'd.jpg

Who is this man according so much honor and favor, both from men and angels, whose entry into heaven caused its very foundations to shake?

According to Islamic tradition, Sa’d was one of the chieftains of the Aus tribe (one of two major Medinan Arab tribes that predated Muhammad’s arrival to the city in 622 AD). His tribe had a special relationship with one of the three Jewish tribes of Medina, the Qurayza. As leader of the Aus, Sa’d was on very friendly terms with his these Jewish allies. Shortly before Muhammad fled Mecca for Medina, Sa’d heard the message of Islam from some Medinan converts who had met Muhammad the previous year while they were on pilgrimage to Mecca. Sa’d turned to Islam and gave his allegiance to Muhammad.  He quickly became one of the prophet’s favorites and bodyguards.

Sa’d was hot-tempered and prone to violence (see p. 453), ever quick in his desire to defend Muhammad. Once, when the prophet’s pre-teen wife A’isha got lost from a caravan and was rescued by a young man, rumors started to spread that she had been unfaithful to the prophet. These were not idle charges, since the penalty for adultery was death. Muhammad stood up in the mosque to try to quell the rumors by berating those who had “forged stories”. Sa’d leaped to his feet and exclaimed, “O Messenger of Allah! Allow me to chop their heads off!” (see al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 5, Bk 44, Hadith 3180). The problem ultimately was solved when Muhammad soon after received a convenient revelation from Allah confirming A’isha’s innocence. The rumors stopped — after all, who knows better than Allah?

Sa’d was mortally wounded during the Battle of the Trench in 627 in Medina, though he died a lingering death. He was struck in the lower arm by a stray arrow, which pierced one of the main arteries near his elbow. Those tending him tried everything from binding to cauterizing the wound, but the wound would not fully close. During the days of his treatment, Muhammad was busy with his troops laying siege to the forts of the final Jewish tribe in Medina (he had already forced the other two to abandon their settlements, leaving whatever they couldn’t carry for the Muslims to plunder).

After a siege of 25 days, the Qurayza were desperate, and surrendered to Muhammad in hopes he would just banish them as he had their Jewish compatriots a few years earlier. Their Arab Muslim allies, the Aus tribe which Sa’d led, pled with Muhammad to show leniency. He responded that he would leave the judgment in this matter to someone of their liking, and proposed Sa’d bin Mu’adh, their chieftain and the prophet’s loyal sidekick. The Aus could not object to such a proposal. So they turned to Sa’d, their leader, and implored him to remember their Jewish allies with mercy.

But Sa’d, as he was being brought to Muhammad on a donkey because of his severely wounded arm and exceeding weight, refused to be moved by these pleas, saying, “The time has come for Sa’d in the cause of God not to be care for any man’s censure.” This did not bode well for the Qurayza tribe.

When he arrived, he asked his tribal members to swear before Allah that they would abide by his ruling. They agreed. Then he asked Muhammad the same thing, and he said yes. Sa’d ruled:

“Then I give judgment that the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives” (Ishaq, 464).

Muhammad was over the moon with joy at this verdict. He said to Sa’d, “You have given the judgment of Allah above the seven heavens!”

That judgment was carried out in the following manner:

“The the apostle went out to the market of Medina…and dug trenches in it. The he sent for them [the Jewish men to be executed] and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought to him in batches…. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900” (Ishaq, p. 464).

Other early sources tell us that this mass execution was so time and energy-intensive that it went on well into the night. Muhammad ordered torches to be lit, and then exhausted from his sword-wieldling labor, he retired to a viewing area with his teenage wife Aisha at his side until the final head rolled.

Allah’s righteous judgment as discerned by Sa’d bin Mu’adh, had been carried out to the letter. Sa’d had lived to see it, but only just barely. Ibn Ishaq records rather matter-of-factly (p. 468) that “When the affair of the Qurayza [tribe] was disposed of, Sa’d’s wound burst open and he died a martyr therefrom.”

He slipped out of this world with little fanfare, but according Muslim tradition, his entry into Paradise caused the Throne of Allah to quake, startling all the angels and residents, even Gabriel. Apparently, Sa’d bin Mu’adh was a warrior of such bloodlust and violence, faithful to the end in carrying out the will of Muhammad, that his towering stature caused heaven to tremble.

What can cause the foundations of heaven to quake? The Bible says: Only the holiness of the presence of God. Islam says: The death of a Muslim warrior responsible for the execution of more Jews than any Muslim in history up to that point.

Which account do you think is more believable? Which do you think better reflects God’s true nature?

Me too.


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Relationship Trumps Hearsay Every Time!

This week I watched a video featuring a self-confessed Salafi (i.e., fundamentalist) Sunni scholar named Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zaid, who lives in Sidon, Lebanon. In response to some softball questions from Gabe Lyons, the sheikh began by mouthing the typical bromides that Islam is a religion of peace and that the standard Muslim greeting “as-Salaamu ‘alaykum” is a greeting meaning “Peace be upon you.” He neglected to mention that among conservative Muslims that greeting is to be shared only with Muslims, not unbelievers, and that “Islam” is rightly defined as “submission,” where peace is achieved by subjection rather than by agreement among equals. But why quibble over such things?

What really interested me were Sheikh Muhammad’s remarks about what makes for good relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims. He noted that much of the reason for barriers is that we tend to carry negative stereotypes of each other, and that these can be broken down best by actually getting to know one another personally. I agree wholeheartedly.

He quoted a famous Arab saying, “Knowing someone is better than just hearing about him,” and proceeded to share how his travels to the United States helped him to love and appreciate Americans as people even though he has a very hard time with U.S. foreign policies in the Middle East. Simply to hear about a person without the chance to actually meet, speak with, share meals with and get to know that person, leaves one with only hearsay, which then the human mind naturally augments with its own usually faulty imagination as it builds a fuller picture. In other words, in such cases we base our opinions on caricatures rather than reality, and are often completely wrong. It is in meeting others and building relationships that we have the opportunity to truly know them and be known.

But, that got me thinking further. One of the colossal differences between Christianity and Islam has to do with the “knowability” of God. Islam asserts that Allah is so transcendent and lofty that human beings cannot know him personally — indeed, that Allah is not interested in being personally known. unknowable God.jpgThe idea of God becoming incarnate on our little planet is incomprehensible to Islam, even blasphemous. Allah did not communicate personally even with his favorite prophet, Muhammad, but used the angel Gabriel as an intermediary. Even heaven in the standard Muslim description is not a place with Allah and his rewarded saints rub shoulders, but rather the location where the chosen enjoy endless romps with virgins, broken only by feasting on delicacies and drinking fresh wine and other libations. Allah is not present there — such would be unseemly; instead, his abode is in heaven above Paradise, where he does not have to mix with his sensually-minded creatures. Lastly, the Qur’an itself is never seen as Allah’s self-revelation to human beings, but rather the revelation of his will for his creatures — what he expects them as slaves to do or refrain from doing in obedience to him.

What we have in Islam is a god about whom you can only discover hearsay reports, but one you can never meet and get to know.

The biblical God,  on the other hand, is one who from start to finish desires personal relationship with His human creatures. From the time of Eden, He is pictured as walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden. Even after the rupture of relationship through the Fall, God is at work planning the restoration of harmony between heaven and earth. He reveals Himself to Abraham and promises to work for the blessing of all the earth through Abraham’s descendents. He reveals to Moses and the Jews His personal name, Yahweh, by which He is to be forever known. (An interesting side fact is that the name Yahweh appears some 7,000 times in the Bible, while never finding one mention in the Qur’an; isn’t that strange for a book which claims the same God as its source of revelation?) His presence (the Shekinah) goes before the Jews as they wander in the wilderness for forty years, and He orders the settled Jews in the promised land to construct the Temple in Jerusalem where the presence of God would always be found in the Holy of Holies. With the Incarnation, the person of God the Son takes up residence as a human being, Jesus, in order to meet us on our own level and become the bridge between heaven and earth. As the Gospel writer John put it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Not only did Jesus reveal the nature of God most fully through his words and actions, but by his loving self-sacrifice he repaired the breach between God and humanity which sin had caused. As a result, human beings can not only know God personally, but can experience union with Him through the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, whom the Father and Son have poured into the hearts of all who trust in Jesus.

The Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation, His giving of Himself, not merely His decrees, to the human race. His message is one of love, of restored relationship, of grace and mercy promising eternal fellowship which begins and grows from the moment we open our lives to receive His salvation. The picture of heaven is not one of a distant deity rewarding his faithful slaves with a brothel of never-ending sensuality, but of a God who lives among His redeemed, whom He names not as slaves but as sons and daughters. tears.jpgAccording to the Book of Revelation, this God will take His children to Himself and wipe every tear from their eyes — there is no greater symbol of intimacy and warmth than this.

As Jeremiah prophesies concerning the New Covenant:

No longer shall each man teach his neighbor, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more” (31:34).

Sheikh Muhammad is absolutely right that to know someone is better than to hear about him. This is so vital to the creation of harmony and blessing among human beings. “To hear about” always pales in comparison with meeting “the real thing.”

Sadly, Islam delivers only hearsay about God, and thereby fills its teachings with all sorts of unhelpful, even destructive, imaginings concerning the true God and His nature. Since Islam denies the possibility of ever personally knowing God, these false images cannot be corrected within the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah (the practices of Muhammad).

If human beings are to truly know God, it can only happen in a context where God openly reveals Himself, and welcomes human beings as His adopted sons and daughters, in and through the life, death and resurrection of His eternal Son, the Beloved, made incarnate for us in Jesus Christ.

To know God is better than to hear about Him. And it is the joyful responsibility of those who know Him to introduce Him to those who as of yet have only heard about Him. This is the heart of Christian missions. And what greater mission field today than the vast world of Islam, where the god who is known about is only a woeful caricature of the God of inexhaustible love. May this God continue to raise up workers to send into the harvest fields with the good news of redemption, joy and life eternal, and may He give Muslims ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive His Spirit for themselves — that they may know God, and not only hear about Him!

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A Stark Contrast Between Jesus and Muhammad That Explains So Much!

Have you noticed the spate of deadly attacks by born-again Christians against non-believers in the last twenty years — fanatics yelling “Jesus is Lord!” while plunging knives into the necks of innocent bystanders or setting off bombs in public squares, mosques and temples to kill as many heathens as possible? No?

Me neither.

On the other hand, it’s been hard to ignore (much as the mainstream media and secular elites would like to) the worldwide atrocities committed by Muslims screaming “Allahu akbar” (“Allah is greater,” i.e., greater than any force arrayed against Islam) while beheading or otherwise obliterating non-Muslims and apostates. In the last 16 and 1/2 years there have been some 32,000 such documented attacks.

That begs the question: Why is the world’s largest religious group (Christians) marked by a relative tendency toward peace (though there are always some exceptions) while the world’s second largest religious group (Muslims) is characterized by a relative tendency toward violence (though there are always some exceptions)? The answer has to do with the character and teachings of their respective founders.

Jesus, in the Gospels, makes it clear that his Kingdom was not to come about by force and bloodshed but by love and self-sacrifice. When his disciples sought to use violence and revenge against others, Jesus rebuked them sternly. Remember James and John, the Sons of Thunder, who yearned to call down fire from heaven against unresponsive Samaritan villagers, against whom they burned with racial and religious hatred?Fire-From-Heave Jesus rebuked them, and according to some early manuscripts, added: “You don’t know yet know to what spirit you belong, for the Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:51-56). Likewise, at the scene of Jesus’ arrest, Peter pulls out a short sword to fend off those seeking to take Jesus into custody. In the process, he strikes off the ear of a servant to the High Priest. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter, saying “Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword,” and he proceeds to use his miraculous power to restore the servant’s ear rather than to annihilate those arrayed against him (Mt. 26:52; Lk. 22:49-51). A few hours later, Jesus would stand before the Roman procurator Pilate, a man who well understood the use of violence and force to subdue others. Pilate would ask Jesus, “Are you King of the Jews?”, seeking to understand why his own religious leaders would hand him over for crucifixion. Jesus’ response was, “My kingship is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight that I not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from this world” (John 18:36). The Messiah made it clear that his Kingdom was an eternal one, built not upon violence or force but upon love and spiritual transformation. Those who follow his teaching today are committed to loving others and introducing the world to Jesus, the risen Lord and Savior of humanity.

Muhammad, on the other hand, made it clear that the kingdom of Allah was to be spread by threat or by conquest. The Qur’an itself, slightly shorter than the New Testament, contains 109 passages detailing Allah’s will concerning jihad, and many associated passages speaking of fighting and killing those opposed to the Arabian prophet or the spread of Islam. commanding jihadThe early biographies of Muhammad, and the traditions (Hadith reports), which attain near scriptural status for Muslims, contain hundreds upon hundreds of martial accounts where Muhammad and his marauders, or those sent under his orders, fight, kill, kidnap, enslave, rape,  or otherwise devastate those who refuse to submit to his authority. There is no way to sugarcoat this. Muhammad did not acquiesce reluctantly to this bloodthirsty, inhuman methodology, but eagerly embraced it.

Though a slew of passages from early Muslim authors could be adduced to support this, I will share only one, which shows clearly the stark contrast between Muhammad and Jesus on this issue. In the preeminent collection of Hadith traditions, that of al-Bukhari, recognized by Sunni Muslims as most authoritative, we find this account:

Narrated Ibn Masud:

I witnessed Al-Miqdad bin Al-Aswad in a scene which would have been dearer to me than anything had I been the hero of that scene. He (i.e. Al-Miqdad) came to the Prophet  while the Prophet was urging the Muslims to fight with the pagans. Al-Miqdad said, “We will not say as the People of Moses said: Go you and your Lord and fight you two. (5.27). But we shall fight on your right and on your left and in front of you and behind you.” I saw the face of the Prophet getting bright with happiness, for that saying delighted him [emphasis mine] (Bukhari; vol. 5, bk. 59, no. 288).mongols15.jpg


Are you looking for a leader who takes delight in followers ready to slay enemies on his behalf, or one who forbids violence and seeks instead to win enemies to his side by offering forgiveness and love? A stream can only be as pure as its source. Muslims who would like their religion to be more peaceful and loving towards the world cannot overrule Muhammad’s life and teachings without rejecting his claims to be a true prophet and premier example of a divinely-pleasing life. If they are willing to reject these elements of Islam, then they must necessarily reject the pillars upon which Islam’s claims to truth rest: that Muhammad’s revelations and lifestyle are without error and thus trustworthy.

For any such Muslims (and I pray there are millions of you), let me recommend to you the Jesus of the Gospels. He is the answer to your yearnings, the Prince of Peace and the conduit of God’s love to a desperate, dark world. He will free you from the commands to hate and enslave unbelievers, and teach you how to love your enemies and give yourself away for the welfare of your neighbor. You will find nothing in him about which to be embarrassed, nothing which needs to be explained away or hidden from the world.

Why not choose Light over darkness, Love over hatred, Peace over war, Invitation over compulsion? Come to Jesus — He will not disappoint you.

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“I Pledge Allegiance to…”

When we pledge allegiance to a person or cause, we are committing ourselves to the pursuit of a particular agenda larger or better than our personal desires in life.

I remember as a child standing in class with hand over heart and reciting the pledge of allegiance.Students Pledge Allegiance To The Flag In Pennsylvania I didn’t really know what it meant, but I knew the act of pledging was somehow profound and patriotic. Many of us Americans today, politicians included, would do well to ponder the meaning of the words we have recited repeatedly over the years. Let me frame them with spaces to bring out their meaning more clearly:

I pledge allegiance

to the flag of the United States of America


to the Republic for which it stands,

one nation under God,


with liberty and justice for all.

As American citizens, we pledge allegiance to our flag, not as an end in itself, but because it serves as a symbol for our Republic — a nation meant to stand united under the providential hand of God, charged with protecting the freedom and human rights of all within her purview. In a time of such hatred and division roiling our country, it wouldn’t hurt for all Americans to pause and recommit ourselves to a heartfelt allegiance to this cause.

However, there are even greater causes to which human beings can give their allegiance, dreams which transcend the vision and purpose of any single nation. These are often gathered together in quests for the betterment of all humanity, both from temporal and eternal perspectives. Often these are expressed in religious terms, and people are willing to commit their all, even their lives if need be, for such causes.

So the disciples of Jesus, as they learned his vision of the Kingdom of God more and more clearly, gave their full allegiance to him, ultimately sacrificing their livelihoods and lives to spread the good news of his love and invite people from every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” to become participants in God’s redemptive Kingdom. Those who give their allegiance to Jesus are still committed to that same mission of grace and love today.

Muslims also pledge allegiance — in their case it is to Allah and his apostle (messenger) Muhammad. Many Muslim apologists report that such allegiance leads to peace and tolerance towards the rest of the world. Evidence of widespread Muslim violence and atrocities in just the last two decades argues against this. Whom or what are we to believe?

To answer this fairly, I propose that we go back to the earliest Muslim sources to see what they have to say about giving one’s allegiance to Muhammad and his cause. The two earliest biographical sources, accepted by all orthodox Muslim scholars, are Tabari’s Tarikh al-Rusul w’al-Muluk (History of the Prophets and Kings) and Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat al-Rasul (translated into English by Alfred Guillaume as The Life of Muhammad).

622 AD started out as a bad year for Muhammad. After twelve years of presenting himself to the people of Mecca as their prophet, he had gained very few converts and alienated many powerful people (relatives included). Rhetoric on both sides had become very heated, and blows had been exchanged. Something would have to give.

In June that year, during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Arabs from Medina came as they had in year’s past. Two years earlier, six pagans from Medina had heard Muhammad’s preaching during the hajj of 620 and had given their allegiance to Muhammad and his cause. Now, two years later, some seventy-five Medinans met with Muhammad secretly at night and gave their pledge of allegiance. This event became known as the Second Pledge of ‘Aqaba, or the Pledge of War.aqaba.jpg

Both Tabari and Ibn Ishaq record this event in some detail, and their reports are enlightening as to what Muhammad and his earliest followers understood their pledge to mean. Tabari writes that as they gathered to take their oath of allegiance, Muhammad’s representative called out:

“People of the Khazraz [the larger, pagan Arab tribe from Medina], do you know what you are pledging yourselves to in swearing allegiance to this man?” “Yes,” they said. He continued, “In swearing allegiance to him you are pledging yourselves to wage war against all mankind [emphasis mine]. If you think that when your wealth is exhausted by misfortune and your nobles are depleted by death you will give him up, then stop now, for by God, it is disgrace in this world and the next if you later give him up….” They answered, “We shall take him even if it brings the loss of our wealth and the killing of our nobles. What shall we gain for this, O Messenger of Allah, if we are faithful?” He [Muhammad] answered, “Paradise” (Tabari, vol 6, p.134).

Ibn Ishaq’s rendition of this event is very similar, but the variation in wording is striking:

“‘0 men of Khazraj, do you realize to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry” (emphasis mine; Guillaume, p. 204).

There was no mistaking what one’s pledge to Muhammad and his cause meant among early Muslims. War against Arab pagans. War against the Jews of Medina and Khaibar. War against the Quraish of Mecca (Muhammad’s own tribe). War against all who refused to submit to him and his Islam. War against Muslim apostates (Muhammad’s successor spent the bulk of his two years as Caliph in what are known as the Ridda Wars (wars against apostasy) as many tribes in the Arabian peninsula strove to break free from Islamic control after Muhammad’s death in 632).war and Islam.jpg And of course, war against the infidel world which led the armies of Islam to expand the empire from North Africa and Spain in the West to the edges of China and India to the East in just one century!

People today are free to say whatever they wish about the nature and essence of Islam — a case in point are the blithely ignorant politicians who love the mantra, “We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with radical Islam.” But even well-meaning politicians are not free to change the early Muslim sources concerning Muhammad and his followers. Nor are they free to change the historical record of the first three centuries of Islamic imperialism after the death of Muhammad.

Muslims who pledge their allegiance, even today, to Muhammad and his god are committed to an overarching vision of war against the unbelieving world until such time as all humanity bows the knee willingly or by force to the unchallenged rule of Allah.

It is up to those who have pledged their allegiance to Jesus, it seems to me, to show the world a better way.

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Deception Before the Reception!

Yesterday I read a strange news account of a down-on-his-luck 25 year old millennial who got the break of a lifetime. He had promising though minimal business experience, yet found himself hired by one of the richest (and most attractive) Fortune 100 CEOs to run one of her enterprises. His initial efforts were very successful, and she was duly impressed as his boss.

Though twice-widowed, and now 40 years old and wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, she had been the desired target of many suitors, none of whom was deemed “good enough” by her traditionalist father, whose word she would never oppose. But this young millennial had caught her eye, and she fell in love with him. Secretly, she probed through a friend whether he might respond positively to her amorous intentions, despite their age difference. It turned out that for him it was a dream come true.

Not wanting to waste any time, she called him directly and told him to wait until she could figure a way to convince her father to give his permission, and then to come immediately to her home with some family members as witnesses once she called again.

Late that afternoon, she invited her father over for dinner. She had purchased for him a new, expensive outfit from his favorite Joseph Abboud haberdashery and ordered a fancy catered dinner to arrive later that evening. She also presented him with his favorite French cologne, and cajoled him into trying on his new clothes and slapping on some scent. three sheetsWhen he returned from the dressing room, she had opened a bottle of wine and began plying him with drink. Within 90 minutes he was three sheets to the wind, and ready to agree to anything.

Quickly she called her beau and his relatives — they arrived within minutes. And as they all began to party, enjoying the catered feast, she introduced her swaying father to the young man, announcing their intention to marry. Dad thought that to be a grand idea, and gave his permission in the presence of all the guests. The marriage contract was drawn up and executed then and there.

A few hours later, while the merriment continued, the father sobered up enough to ask what was going on. His daughter replied that since he had given his permission for her to marry her young beau, they were all celebrating. Exploding with anger, he claimed he had never done that, indeed that he had already turned down many suitors who had a lot more going for them than this young pup, and he would never have agreed to such a proposal. But they brought out the marriage contract, which had his signature on it, and there was nothing he could do. It was a done deal, ensured by the trickery of the bride and groom.mohammad-khadija.jpg

This is a true story, though I have changed the time and place, and modernized the setting. The original story took place over 1400 years ago. The father’s name was Khuwaylid; his daughter was Khadijah, wealthiest lady in all of Mecca due to her trading empire; the young man was Muhammad (yes, the Muhammad who would become the prophet of Islam). This account is found in one of the five earliest “historical” sources of Islam and Muhammad (the five are the Qur’an, the Sira [Biography] of Muhammad preserved by Ibn Hisham, the Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and the Tarikh al-Rusul w’al-Muluk (History of the Prophets and Kings) by al-Tabari). The account quoted below is one of three alternate versions found in al-Tabari’s Tarikh, and has greatest claim to authenticity since it is most embarrassing to Muhammad, and would be least likely to have been created by Muslim historians after accounts more favorable to the prophet’s reputation had already been reported. Here it is, as found in Tarikh, vol. 6, p. 49:

They also say that Khadijah sent a message to the Messenger of God [Muhammad] inviting him to take her, meaning that they
should marry. She was a highly respected woman, and the whole
of Quraysh [tribe] would have been eager to marry her and would have
spent much money to that end had they aspired to it. She called
her father to her house, plied him with wine until he was drunk,
slaughtered a cow, anointed him with perfume and clothed him
in a striped robe; then she sent for the Messenger of God and his
uncles and, when they came in, her father married him to her.
When her father recovered from his intoxication, he said, “What
is this meat, this perfume, and this garment?” She replied, “You
have married me to Muhammad b. ‘Abdallah.” “I have not done
so,” he said. “Would I do this, when the greatest men of Mecca
have asked for you and I have not agreed?”

Of course, such behaviors are not all that unusual in the history of the human race; they attest to the biblical truth that all human beings have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However, for a religion which enshrines Muhammad and Khadijah as the Prophet and First Lady of Islam, and which sees Muhammad as the perfect model of behavior to be emulated by all believers (even though by the time of his marriage he had not yet received his prophetic “call”), this account is problematic. Subterfuge and self-promotion are not qualities one associates with those touted as al-insan al-kamil (the perfect human).

Unfortunately, even after Muhammad’s prophetic call, things didn’t get better.

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Better Than a Persian Carpet Ride!

“Are you Iranian?

That was the question greeting me as I hopped into the back seat of a car for an Uber fare to the George Bush airport in Houston. The driver of course had seen my name on his phone before seeing me, and knew that “Mateen” was a Farsi (Persian) word/name. However, I hardly look like a typical Iranian.Persian carpet ride

So, I smiled at the question, and responded, “You are very observant! But, no, I am not Iranian. I am of Syrian background. The name ‘Mateen’ is also an Arabic word, and so that is my heritage. But you, you must be Iranian?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he replied. And so for the next 21.04 miles and 27:28 minutes (thanks to Uber analytics), we talked non-stop about Iran’s history and present-day circumstances. My driver, Nassergholi, fled Iran with his parents in 1979 when the religious revolution took hold and created the Islamic Republic. He was just fourteen. But he has never lost his roots and love for the people and land of his heritage, and his passion in wanting to reclaim his country from the ayatollahs was moving. He uses Telegrato stay in regular contact with his friends and family in-country.

I took the opportunity to test some of my newly-learned statistics on him. “Well-placed Iranian friends of mine have recently told me that around 80% of the population of Iran is sick and tired of the Islam under which they have been governed, and want nothing more to do with it. They would like a secular government instead. Do you think that statistic is accurate?”

“At least,” he exclaimed. “Our people want to be free. We love the West and want to enjoy the same rights as Westerners do.”

I went on to ask, “I’ve learned recently that many Iranian Muslims are becoming atheists or Christians. In fact,” I said, “my friends tell me that there are now some four million Christians in Iran. Have you heard that?” (This is out of a population of some 80 million total.)

Nassergholi is not a particularly religious man, so he admitted he did not know much about the burgeoning house church movement and impressive conversion rate of Iranian Muslims to Christian discipleship. But, he said, “I would not be surprised at all. I do know that many of my friends have turned to atheism.”

He went on to share how Islam had hurt his country, how it was (in his mind) an Arab imperialistic movement that had overrun Persian culture back in the late 600s AD, and that the Persian people had never really embraced it as their own, even though now it is so deeply entwined with their history and culture. Nassergholi is hopeful that the recent unrest serves as a harbinger of a new and imminent revolution where the people rise up and sweep out the Islamic regime. He told me, “I don’t mind if individuals want to be Muslims, or Christians, or Zoroastrians, or Bahais, or atheists. Whatever they want. But the government must not be religious, forcing people to obey one religion.”

I won’t regale you with details of the rest of our conversation, but wanted you to know that what I learned from my Iranian Christian friends in London and the Emirates last November has found external corroboration from a member of the Iranian diaspora in Houston with no Christian agenda to push.

God is certainly on the move. The days of the Islamic Republic of Iran are numbered. May that number dwindle to zero in quick fashion, and the regime be replaced by a government of the people, by the people and for the people!

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