My last two blogs apparently caused a bit of a ripple in the world of liberal PCUSA leaders. I learned on July 1 that General Presbyter Mike Cole, executive of the New Covenant Presbytery (whom I have met in the past and found to be a congenial fellow), recently sent an email missive out to presbytery members in response to the stir caused by the worship leadership of a Muslim at the PCUSA General Assembly (GA), and by my interpretation of the import of that Muslim man’s prayer. Likewise, a group of theological liberals in a Facebook group pilloried my comments, complaining that I wasn’t being accurate or fair.
Apparently, my words cannot be trusted for the following reasons:
- I am no longer a PCUSA minister, having committed the unforgivable sin of pastoring a church that decided to leave the PCUSA for a new denomination (ECO) during my tenure there, and having had my ordination credentials transferred from the PCUSA as well.
- I am no longer even a pastor at that church, having left it in obedience to God’s new call on my life and ministry. Mr. Cole describes it this way: “His ministry is the conversion of Muslims and he regularly blogs on the evils of Islam.”
- My perspective cannot be trusted because of my “background.”
- The clause “lead us to the straight path,” which Mr. Said prayed in Arabic as the opening recitation from the Fatiha, does not mean what I think it does but is capable of a wide range of meanings.
- Mr. Said would never pray to Allah for the conversion of Presbyterians (or any non-Muslims) because many of the GA commissioners personally met him and he is a nice man. Indeed, Mr. Said is “Exhibit A” of a moderate Muslim whose participation in the GA interfaith service demonstrates his denunciation of violence and terrorism, and opposition of radical Islam. How deplorable that someone like me would speak ill of a Muslim wanting to be part of the solution to terrorism rather than part of the problem.
- Muslims really love Jews and Christians, because according to one Muslim scholar Mike Cole consulted, “The Quran refers to both religions as good and worthy of following.”
- The scholar further declared with no apparent irony, “Islam orders us to respect other faiths. We believe that everyone is entitled to choose their faith and belief system.”
- The clear intention of the Muslim’s prayer was to “…affirm Presbyterians in faith and stand with us for peace and justice and against violence.” My blogs by contrast were shameful, demonstrated by the fact that I would “…choose to twist the intent to be something nefarious and devious.”
The first three claims are ad hominem attacks leveled against me as an untrustworthy source because of who I am. It’s always the sign of weak argumentation to attack the messenger rather than the message. Truth stands or falls on the basis of its own merits, not on the merits of the speaker. Balaam’s ass did not have much pedigree to recommend itself as a divine messenger, but Balaam would have ignored it to his own peril (see Numbers 22:21-34). What Mike Cole says about me is true, though slanted. I served as a PCUSA minister from 1982-2000, then as an EPC minister from 2000-2007, and then again as a PCUSA minister from 2007-2013. Since 2015 I have been working in a mission to the Muslim world, seeking to introduce Muslims to Jesus Christ and to warn the larger world of the dangers of Islam as a system of beliefs and behaviors that point away from salvation in Christ and toward eternal destruction. I would hope that Mike Cole, as a fellow Christian, would wholeheartedly applaud that endeavor.
The claim that my background disqualifies my comments as “biased” leaves me almost speechless. It’s true that I was born to a Muslim father, was raised in Saudi Arabia, still have many Muslim relatives, have studied Islam for close to 40 years and have written two books and many articles/blogs dealing with Islam, and am coming from the perspective of having left Islam almost 40 years ago to become a follower of Jesus Christ. That such a background should somehow leave me less qualified than theological liberals who may have read a chapter on Islam in a world religions class, or than a Muslim “scholar” who has a vested interest in presenting the “kind face of Islam” to a skeptical American audience, would be a laughable thought if it weren’t so sad. But such is the way with ad hominem arguments.
The crux of the attack on my views is that I misrepresented Mr. Said’s intentions in his Arabic recitation of Surat al Fatiha, and his subsequent English prayer, particularly the verses (6-7) which read, “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored, not [the path] of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.” In his English prayer, Mr. Said repeated the petition, “Guide us to the straight path,” then further clarified its meaning, “the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.”
I observed that in Islam “the straight path” is a synonym for Islam, and that Mr. Said’s prayers were a petition to Allah that his listeners be guided to Islam and away from Christianity, or Presbyterianism to be more precise. But my liberal Presbyterian colleagues clamored that “straight path” is capable of multiple meanings, and my interpretation was wrong. Certainly it is true that “straight path” can mean many things, but in context it has one primary meaning. For example, when I hear the statement, “I pledge allegiance to the flag,” one could rightly say to me, “Well, ‘the flag’ can mean many different things.” After all, there are over 195 sovereign states in the world, each with its own flag. There are also other political and business groups which have their own flags. There are also companies such as Black Flag Insecticides, which use the term as an identifier. So, when I hear the words of the pledge of allegiance, I guess I can’t be sure who or what the pledger is swearing allegiance to….until I hear the subsequent words “of the United States of America….” In reality, the initial words of the pledge of allegiance are so well-known that the natural assumption is that the speaker is a patriotic American citizen. It would be shocking to discover these words being used to pledge allegiance to something else. Such is the case with the phrase, “Guide us to the straight path…” within the Qur’an specifically, and Islam generally. The following words in the Fatiha clarify which path the petitioner wants to be guided to: “The path of those Allah favors, as opposed to the paths of those who have earned his wrath, and of those who have gone astray.” Whom does Allah favor? The Qur’an’s answer: those who submit to him and who affirm Muhammad as Allah’s final and perfect messenger. Who are such people? Muslims. Who are those who incur Allah’s wrath, and those who have gone astray? Well, in general they are all non-Muslims, but traditionally within Islam these categories have been used to single out Jews and Christians respectively. Just so you know I am not making this up, here is some Quranic commentary on vv 6-7 by Ibn Kathir, one of Sunni Islam’s most highly revered classical commentators:
Concerning v.6, Ibn Kathir writes bluntly, “The straight path mentioned in the Qur’an refers to Islam” (http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=64&Itemid=35).
As to verse 7, he declares, ”
But, help us to avoid the path of those whom Allah is angry with, whose intentions are corrupt, who know the truth, yet deviate from it. Also, help us avoid the path of those who were led astray, who lost the true knowledge and, as a result, are wandering in misguidance, unable to find the correct path. Allah asserted that the two paths He described here are both misguided when He repeated the negation `not’. These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why `anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as `led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians. Those who know, but avoid implementing the truth, deserve the anger, unlike those who are ignorant. The Christians want to seek the true knowledge, but are unable to find it because they did not seek it from its proper resources.
This is why they were led astray. We should also mention that both the Christians and the Jews have earned the anger and are led astray, but the anger is one of the attributes more particular of the Jews. Allah said about the Jews, “Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath” (5:60). The attribute that the Christians deserve most is that of being led astray, just as Allah said about them, “Who went astray before and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right path” (5:77). (http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=63&Itemid=35)
For the stubborn of heart, let me direct your attention to the fact that the term “straight path” is used over 20 times in the Qur’an. There is never a doubt that it refers to the revelation of Allah throughout history, the expression of which culminates in the Qur’an. Here are a few of the relevant passages:
- “And lo, thou (Muhammad) verily dost guide to a straight path, the path of Allah”(42:52-3)
- “Those who deny Our revelations are deaf and dumb in darkness. Whom Allah will He sendeth astray, and whom He will He placeth on a straight path.” (6:39)
- “And (He commandeth you, saying): This is My straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This hath He ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil).” (6:152)
- “Say: Lo! As for me, my Lord hath guided me unto a straight path, a right religion, the community of Abraham, the upright, who was no idolater.” (6:160)
- “By the wise Qur’an, lo! thou art of those sent on a straight path…” (36:1-3)
- “Verily We have sent down revelations and explained them. Allah guideth whom He will unto a straight path. ” (24:46)
- “And Allah summoneth to the abode of peace, and leadeth whom He will to a straight path.” (10:25)
- “When Jesus came with clear proofs, he said: I have come unto you with wisdom, and to make plain some of that concerning which ye differ. So keep your duty to Allah, and obey me. Lo! Allah, He is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. This is a straight path.” (43:63-4) and
- “Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.”(3:51) [Note: Even the Qur’anic Jesus is a true Muslim!]
- “He [Satan] said: Now, because Thou hast sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Thy Straight Path.” (7:16)
- “Whereby Allah guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto paths of peace. He bringeth them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guideth them unto a straight path. They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary…” (5:16-17)
- “And then We should bestow upon them from Our presence an immense reward, (67) And should guide them unto a straight path. (68) Whoso obeyeth Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favour…” (4:67-8)
- “Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory, that Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favour unto thee, and may guide thee on a straight path…” (48:1-2)
Because of these and many other similar passages, Western Islamic scholar John Esposito, darling of the liberal intelligentsia, wrote an introduction to the religion of Muhammad in 2005, entitled Islam: The Straight Path (OUP). Only the willfully blind at this point could mindlessly bellow that “the straight path” of 1:6 has nothing to do with Islam, and the petition before “unbelievers” has nothing to do with seeking their conversion before Allah.
The claim that Mr. Said is a nice man, and therefore would never seek the conversion of non-Muslims, is a non sequitur. Indeed, a nice person who truly believed that Islam was the sole pathway to heaven would do everything in his power to lead non-Muslims to submit to Allah. Anything else would be the height of unkindness. I have nothing against Mr. Said seeking to convert non-Muslims to Islam — it’s what I would expect of a devout Muslim who has the courage of his convictions. I also have nothing against Mr. Said as a moderate Muslim (if he indeed is) wanting to stand against radical Islam and its violent terrorism. That would be a good thing, if indeed his presence at the GA accomplished anything in that direction. My problem was not with Mr. Said, but with the GA leadership and their wrong-headed thinking which caused them to invite an anti-gospel proponent to lead a Christian assembly to worship the Trinitarian God (whom Mr. Said as a good Muslim rejects).
The Muslim scholar that Mike Cole consulted very carefully tells only part of the story in his claim that Judaism and Christianity are good and worthy of following, and that Islam respects other faiths and the freedom of all to choose their beliefs. In reality, Islam claims that Judaism and Christianity were truly revealed religions before being corrupted by their followers, and that only Jews and Christians who now bow before Allah and accept the revelation of Muhammad, i.e., become Muslims, are true believers. The Qur’an declares, “The religion of Allah is Islam” (3:19). Those who reject Islam are unbelievers. Allah directs Muslims to “slay unbelievers wherever you find them…” (9:5), “make war against those who have been given the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and who forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His ‘Messenger’, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low” (Surah 9:29). The Qur’an declares, “Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings” (98:6). It describes how Muslims are to treat those who reject Islam as follows: “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves” (48:29). Such words are not imputed to Islam from outside but understood by Muslims to be the eternal, unchanging truths of Allah.
As to the claim that Islam champions freedom of religion, the declaration of 2:256 that “There is no compulsion in religion,” gives way in later revelation to 8:39 (the sura known as “Spoils of War”) with the command, “And fight them until there is no fitnah [rebellion, persecution] and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease – then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do.” There is not much doubt that Allah’s goal is not freedom of belief but rather suppression or eradication of belief against Islam. Even further, the act of apostasy (leaving Islam) is punishable by death (according to all the Islamic schools of law). Muhammad says in the Hadith, “Whoever changes his religion (i.e., leaves Islam), kill him” (Bukhari 84:57; 52:260; 89:271; etc.).
Lastly, contrary to the words of Mike Cole, I find no clear intention in Mr. Said’s prayers to “…affirm Presbyterians in faith and stand with us for peace and justice and against violence.” Indeed, the very fact that he “went off script” indicates to me that his purpose was not simply to affirm Presbyterians in faith, but rather to present his own Islamically-minded prayers to Allah before reciting the printed liturgy (which he also modified orally in one place as an attack on those “bigots, hateful and Islamophobes” toward Muslims). Also, contrary to Mr. Cole’s assessment, my blogs had no intent to twist Mr. Said’s prayers into something nefarious and devious, but only to point out their true import. If there was anything nefarious or devious in this GA debacle, it had nothing to do with Mr. Said but rather with the intent of the Presbyterian leaders who crafted this ill-conceived worship event and invited Mr. Said to participate.
Interested parties will have to draw their own conclusions.