I’m back after a three month hiatus spent working on a book project in my “free time.” Now that the manuscript’s been sent off, I can turn my attention back to other projects, like pursuing clearer understanding of liberal Christianity’s “kinder, gentler face” known as progressivism. But before I do that, I want to share some thoughts on what’s happening in the world of Muslim-Christian relations.
The project I just finished compared the words of Jesus (in the Gospels) with those of Muhammad (in the Quran — yes, I know Muslims deny these are Muhammad’s words) on 60 topics) — I hope the publisher gives it a final green light! These comparisons underscore the significantly different world views held by these two world-changing figures. Regardless of what modernist PC commentators say about Islamic violence being an aberration rather than an application of the teachings of Muhammad, the facts prove otherwise. We are seeing a rise in Muslim physical violence against Christians (particularly) and other minorities in Islamic countries from Indonesia to Pakistan to Egypt to Nigeria, Somalia and the Sudan. In addition to this, there are endless documented cases of Christians suffering political, economic and emotional violence as governments such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and those of the Arabian peninsula incarcerate individuals on fanciful, trumped-up charges in order to close down churches or to “legally” appropriate private property or businesses owned by Christians and other non-Muslims. In worst-case scenarios, Christians are being executed not only by Muslim vigilantes but by Islamic governments who claim to be upholding the law. This is not happening with impunity across the whole Muslim world, by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that it is happening anywhere is cause for alarm — and not just for minorities, but for Muslims themselves.
The latest horrors have occurred in Pakistan, over the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was seized by Muslim men of her village after some Muslim women claimed she had insulted the prophet Muhammad in a heated discussion they were having while working out in the fields one day. She was then taken by the authorities, secreted away from the public while a mock trial ensued at which she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, without once being allowed to make a statement in her own defense.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws contain three sections: one deals with willful desecration of the Quran or any use of its contents in a derogatory way, the punishment for which is life in prison; a second deals with attempts to destroy or defile places of worship, or engaging in “…acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens” — it too is punishable by a life sentence (this law seems to be applied only to Muslim sites and sensitivities, as attacks on churches and Christians are not prosecuted under this statute); and the third blasphemy statute (the one Asia Bibi is accused of breaking) reads: “whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to fine.”
Her conviction is now being appealed to Pakistan’s highest court, but the mood of the country and its leadership is not promising. Four days ago, Asia Bibi had a potential champion in the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab. He was convinced that she had not broken the blasphemy law, and he argued carefully that these laws, though well-intended in their purpose, were merely human, not divine laws, and they were being abused in this case. The governor, a Muslim himself, no longer defends Asia Bibi, because four days ago he was gunned down by a special forces police officer assigned as a bodyguard to protect him. While in a marketplace, the Muslim officer pumped two dozen bullets from his semi-automatic into the governor’s back. When the smoke cleared, he surrendered to the authorities with a self-satisfied smile, saying the governor got what was coming to him for seeking to support this Christian woman over against the blasphemy ruling.
Even more frightening, many in Pakistan are lauding the officer/assassin as a hero for eradicating what most of the rest of the world would have called a voice of reason. True, some politicians are speaking up in honor of the slain governor, but they are very careful in wording their statements so as not to give any potential offense to fellow Muslims. But many others from the mainstream to the right wing of Pakistani Islamic parties are openly praising the gunman. A religious body of 500 conservative Islamic scholars in the country declared that he had acted honorably in defense of Islam and should be released. When the gunman arrived at court to be arraigned, he was showered with rose petals by attorneys and others showing their support of his treachery.
You may remember that Pakistan was created back in 1947 out of what had been part of British India. Muslims won independence from outside rule and created Pakistan to be the first modern Muslim state determined to show the world what a truly Muslim culture and government could produce in the way of heaven on earth. 63 years later Pakistan remains one of the world’s most troubled and troubling nations, reflected in a small way by how it is handling the situation surrounding Asia Bibi. Oops.
But this is just the latest of atrocities carried out daily around the world by those steeped in Quranic memorization and Muslim history, who feel Islam has been shortchanged and Muslims oppressed for far too long, and that now the world balance of power must shift. As we are seeing, it is not just non-Muslims in the crosshairs, but moderate Muslims as well when they are viewed as colluding with the outside world against “pure” Islam.
The soul of Islam is in the balance. Will moderate Muslims join together to stand firmly against these violence-wielding radicals, at the risk of their own lives? Will masses of silent Muslims voice their repeated rejection of these beliefs and recraft Islam into a beneficent or at least harmless (to outsiders) religion? Only Muslims can effectively police themselves in a lasting way. Otherwise, we are truly headed, I believe, to a deadly clash of civilizations, of which today’s headlines are merely a faint harbinger. Unfortunately, the radicals have the interpretation of the Quran, of Muhammad’s life, and of Islamic history on their side. For the moderates, the hill to victory will be steep and dangerous. May the Prince of Peace grant them aid.