A Crooked Take on the “Straight Path”


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).balaams ass 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, Ibn-Kathirone 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)ibn kathir

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.

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33 Responses to A Crooked Take on the “Straight Path”

  1. Faye Smith says:

    I thoroughly enjoy your posts. My son is on a mission to concert Muslims to Jesus Christ. He prays every day to encounter a Muslim to share the gospel. Keep speaking the Truth. It’s what sets us free.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andy Ekblad says:

      Mateen, thank you for your good work. Keep it up. I appreciate your insights and recent critiques. We need articulate, knowledgeable, and godly people to continue speaking truth into the culture and religious systems of our day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For this reason Jesus came ” that we might know the Truth! Thank you for the detail you have added which so clearly backs up the truth you have written.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Richard says:

    Mateen, it appears Mike Cole and the Facebook theologians have made the poor decision to enter your wheelhouse to begin this discussion. The hay and straw of their arguments is not withstanding the fire of logical cross-examination.

    This should be good. Where’s my popcorn?

    Like

  4. Pingback: A Crooked Take on the “Straight Path” - The Layman Online

  5. Kevin Ford says:

    Mateen– do you think Mike Cole also believes “the straight path” is wide and easy?

    Like

  6. beowulfme says:

    Well, “Thank you for your ministry and integrity” is what I meant to say.

    Like

  7. dan says:

    Why should you be surprised when snakes “hiss”?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Aahmes and Marilyn Overton says:

    Thank you, Mateen, for another brilliant, clearly written essay. So grateful you are doing this work

    Like

  9. David Freehling says:

    The argument raised against your blog reminds me of a friend who raised a wolf pup. He claimed it was tame as any dog. A domesticated wolf is an apparition compared to one living natively in the wild. Those who argue for peaceful Islam in the United States always refer to a Muslim believer (or “scholar”) who lives in the West not one native to Muslim countries. Your credibility, Mateen, is thoroughly valid and truly appreciated — as is your work to share the Gospel with all your heart.

    Like

  10. Lance Douglas says:

    Thank you for this article and for what you do for Christ. This article reminded me of a question I have always wanted to ask: Why is the Quran written in Shakespearean English like the King James Bible is? I have noticed the Book of Mormon is also written like that. I now Mormonism wasn’t around when King James had the Bible translated, so what’s up with the language in those two “revelations” penned by Mohammed and Smith, respectively?

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    • mateenelass says:

      Lance, I believe that in both cases, the KJV was the undisputed champion among English translations of the Bible, so was associated with authority when it came to revelation. Naturally, any other piece of writing to come along in the English language wishing its claim to be taken seriously as a revelation from God would inevitably piggy-back on the stature of King James English. Today, there are other English translations of the Qur’an in more modern verse, because the “original” Arabic text is available and can be translated into today’s English. The same cannot be said for the Book of Mormon, for there is no available original text of “Reformed Egyptian” to translate from, and to tamper with Joseph Smith’s English translation (though Mormon leaders have corrected numerous errors in it) would perhaps project the notion that Joseph Smith’s abilities were inadequate.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for the discussion.

    fwiw, as a retired long-term-care chaplain, I don’t see Mr. Said as necessarily “leading the assembly in prayer.” Opening worship happened before lunch, and business after lunch began with the liturgy in question that responded to the previous week’s Orlando tragedy, the anniversary of Charleston, and enmities in general with the theme ”Amen! may our grief be more than sentiment and our amen more than words. God, lead us on that our work may transform our neighborhoods into communities of inclusion and peace.”

    The PC(USA) Book of Occasional Services describes two basic ways to relate to interfaith gatherings, and the people present likely fell into one of those two groups. Some would understand Mr. Said’s words as expressing beliefs they could affirm, while others would understand them as you have described and so would instead “observe with respectful attention the prayer of persons from other faiths”: .

    “Persons of different faith traditions call God by different names, follow different patterns for the worship of God, and pray to God in distinct ways. Even among the monotheistic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, different ways of prayer to the one God require acknowledgment, understanding, and mutual sensitivity. Given differences in both doctrine and prayer, maintaining a respectful presence suggests two basic forms an interfaith celebration may take: 1. Persons from different faith traditions may agree to gather for specific purposes, using language and symbols acceptable to all present. In such a setting, it is important to seek ways in which all may pray together authentically. These will necessarily be different from the ways each might pray within a specific faith tradition, but they should not be offensive, compromising, or beyond the genuine expression of any one faith group. 2. Different faith traditions gather for specific purposes, using language and symbols distinctive to each of their particular traditions. In such a setting, we seek to stand with one another in prayer. In alternating moments, we participate fully in Christian prayer in the presence of others, and we observe with respectful attention the prayer of persons from other faiths. Appropriate readings, prayers, and music may be offered by each religious tradition. Care should be taken to ensure that no one faith tradition dominates or overshadows another.” [286-7 online link is below – sorry it needs to be so long!]

    My question is, Why tell the terrorists that their interpretation of the Qur’an is correct and they are the only true Muslims? Why not acknowledge liberal Muslim understandings – and even help disseminate them? Who knows – a young person flirting with jihadi websites might be deterred, saving their life and the life of those they would destroy along with themselves.

    Wishing you well, Elizabeth

    https://books.google.com/books?id=AIadexWRGhAC&pg=PA286&lpg=PA286&dq=Persons+of+different+faith+traditions+call+God+by+different+names,+follow+different+patterns+for+the+worship+of+God,+and+pray+to+God+in+distinct+ways.+Even+among+the+monotheistic+traditions+of+Christianity,+Judaism,+and+Islam,+different+ways+of+prayer+to+the+one+God+require+acknowledgment&source=bl&ots=K8pMAtNlwr&sig=_HEuW-38796_cMtVeG7piQv7p_M&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj7hNKPo-zNAhUCRCYKHTsRDHEQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=Persons%20of%20different%20faith%20traditions%20call%20God%20by%20different%20names%2C%20follow%20different%20patterns%20for%20the%20worship%20of%20God%2C%20and%20pray%20to%20God%20in%20distinct%20ways.%20Even%20among%20the%20monotheistic%20traditions%20of%20Christianity%2C%20Judaism%2C%20and%20Islam%2C%20different%20ways%20of%20prayer%20to%20the%20one%20God%20require%20acknowledgment&f=false

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    • mateenelass says:

      Elizabeth, thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I was not aware of the material in the Book of Occasional Services regarding interfaith gatherings. However, it seems to me that neither of the two forms of “interfaith celebrations” applies in this circumstance. This was not created by some interfaith coalition but by a department within the Office of the General Assembly of the PCUSA. It was not announced to the GA participants as an interfaith gathering but rather as a liturgy of remembrance/repentance — as such, it was indeed a worship service. The litany of response that you quoted is couched in the form of a corporate prayer. Mr. Said’s statements in Arabic and English before he turned to the written litany were both prayers to Allah. I don’t see how you can conclude that he wasn’t leading the GA in worship, even if more observant participants determined at that point that they couldn’t join in. Unfortunately, for the majority there didn’t seem to be any discomfort.

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      • Elizabeth says:

        Thanks again, very much!

        My guess is that part of the difficulty is that the request for a time to lament and respond to these tragedies and our ongoing public violence was necessarily addressed quickly, and there may not have been input from people who do not agree with the Interfaith Toolkit that “Allah is the Arabic word for God. Muslims accept the same God as Jews and Christians, and also revere the same Biblical prophets, including Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Jesus, who they consider the word of God and a prophet, but not the divine son of God.” [Interfaith Toolkit – download at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/islam/ ]

        The questions raised after GA222 will hopefully help in the future, by making sure to include more points of view during planning, and maybe describing the approach of “respectful presence” before a litany begins, for those who would want to relate in that way.

        I noticed at the conclusion of the litany in the vimeo, that the candlelighter from Bethel AME in Portland and Mr. Said exchanged a hug, so I think probably they have served together in the Portland community and have confidence in each other’s stance. The community organization Mr. Said is co-founder and president of is described here — http://www.metpdx.org/index.php — and an excerpt from the interfaith outreach page is interesting:

        “ ‘O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is All-Knowing and All-Aware.’ [Quran – 49:13]

        “Interfaith dialogue is an integral part of MET’s mission. Since its inception in 1993, the Muslim Educational Trust (MET) has committed itself to bridge the gap between our community and other religious and ethnic groups and MET has developed into a leading contributor to our region’s cross-cultural and interfaith understanding. Through our interfaith work, we bring communities together and create opportunities for mutual dialogue and bridge-building that transgress the boundaries of race, color, faith, and ethnic background to break down the barriers and stereotypes and promote our shared values of compassion, justice, and mutual understanding.” http://www.metpdx.org/index.php/outreach/interfaith

        As an individual, I was glad to see Mr. Said included along with representatives of the African American, Latino, and glbt communities…. I do hope we will figure out the best ways to support all groups who are threatened. And after last Thursday, now we are thinking about law enforcement too. How distressing!!! We’ve never more needed our Prince of Peace.

        Thanks again for the discussion!

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    • mateenelass says:

      As for your question “Why tell the terrorists that their interpretation of the Qur’an is correct and they are the only true Muslims?”, I can assure you the terrorists (and radical Muslims generally) are not looking to others (especially non-Muslims) to bolster their confidence that they right. To throw our weight behind the liberal Muslim world, and even help disseminate their views, seems to me a bit like throwing our weight behind the Flat Earth Society against the settled weight of geological, geographical and astronomical facts. The radicals have the Qur’an, the Hadith, the Sirat (early biographies of Muhammad) and the Shari’a on their side, as well as the fact that Islamic scholars concluded that the opportunity for further interpretations of true Islam had closed by the 11th Century, as all orthodox views of the Qur’an and Sunna had been fully enunciated by then. The goals of liberal Islam to cut and paste the Qur’an, to see the prophet as a good but flawed man, to view the call of Islam to be a personal response to Allah rather than an advancement of Allah’s Law over all the world, willingly or under compulsion, fly in the face of the overwhelming current of Islam throughout history up until today.

      That’s the main reason some young Muslim men (and women), raised in Western, liberalized mosques are being radicalized. As they see the true elements of their religion proclaimed by the radicals and compare it with the unsupported beliefs in which they were raised, they turn to what they conclude is authentic Islam. If the liberal approach were more true to Islam, why would young Muslims be attracted to a false version whose barbarisms, excesses and evils are so easy to point out?

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      • Elizabeth says:

        Again, thank you!

        It seems like Islam is variegated, like Christianity, with devoted scholars on all sides. An interesting collection of contemporary Islamic statements against terrorism is here – http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism/

        About early interpretations — I was interested in Karen Armstrong’s saying that “Until the middle of the eighth century CE, conversion to Islam was not encouraged. It was assumed that Islam was the religion of the Arabs, the descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael, as Judaism was the religion of the children of Isaac and Jacob, and Christianity was for the followers of the gospel. Today some Muslims denigrate Judaism and Christianity, and some extremists speak of the Muslim duty to conquer the entire world for Islam, but these are innovations that break with centuries of sacred tradition.” [The Great Transformation, 2006, p.387 ] She went on to describe how after hostilities he “pursued an astonishingly daring, nonviolent policy. In 628 CE he announced that he wanted to make the hajj pilgrimage and invited the Muslim volunteers to accompany him…. In going unarmed into Mecca, Muhammad was, therefore, walking into the lion’s den. Nevertheless, a thousand Muslims chose to accompany him.” [389]

        When you mention the liberal attempt “to view the call of Islam to be a personal response to Allah rather than an advancement of Allah’s Law over all the world,” are you thinking also of former congressman Mark Siljander and his “A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim – Christian Divide”? That was a very thought-provoking read!

        The Muslim chaplain at Duke University is a very appealing advocate for liberal Islam, and people like Eboo Patel and the teacher of the Muslim students murdered in Chapel Hill NC make me confident that there is a moderate voice that would be good to support. I’m not so happy with the interpretations of Reza Aslan, who argues in “Zealot” that the prophet was more nonviolent than Jesus!

        I think you’re right about the radicals often being appealing to young people who’ve grown up in moderate families. When I did a Clinical Pastoral Education unit at Duke in ’95, one of the professors described how upset some of the young students were that their parents had not told them about the militant ideas that they were finding to be compelling. Fortunately, few go that path… and it could be that supporting moderate interpretations could deter one or two — like saving all humankind, the Qur’an says : )

        Again, many thanks for helping us think through these issues!

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  12. mateenelass says:

    Elizabeth, thank you again for your thoughtful interaction. I will look up the reference from unc.edu. As for the statements by Karen Armstrong on Islam, I don’t know any serious scholar on Islam who treats her statements as carrying much weight when dealing either with the Qur’an or early Islamic history. Concerning her statement that Muhammad saw Christianity as for Christians, Judaism for Jews, and Islam for Arabs, this is hardly the case. Not only does the Qur’an declare that the only true Jews and Christians are those who accept Muhammad as the true and final prophet, but Muhammad sent envoys to the Byzantine Emperor, Persian Chosroes, and leaders of other non-Arab powers inviting them to Islam rather than to facing overthrow by his Muslim armies. When those armies swept through Egypt (634) and North Africa (which were all non-Arab), completing their conquest of all that region by 710. Though it is true that the Muslim hierarchy was glad for Christians and Jews to opt for dhimmi status and so increase their coffers with the jizya tax, the polytheists/animists had no such option — it was convert or die. Not many chose death. The same was true during the same time frame as other Muslim armies marched through Mesopotamia and Persia — hardly the middle of the 8th Century. Further, given the fact that Muslim leaders were always worried about bida’ (innovation), not wanting to do anything that didn’t have the sanction of the Prophet in word or example, where would they come up with the notion that conversion of the non-Muslim world should be pursued with such vigor if that had not originated with Muhammad. His leading of a major army to confront the Byzantines at Tabuk in 631 (who were not there), less than a year before his death, made clear his vision of expanding the reign of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula.

    To argue that Muhammad increasingly pursued “an astonishingly daring non-violent policy” is, in my opinion, to display an astonishingly ignorant perspective on early Muslim sources. After Muhammad’s pilgrimage trip to Mecca in 628 (which apparently Armstrong cites as an example of peaceful intent), he takes his army immediately after to the Jewish community of Khaibar, and lays it waste, killing many men, claiming the women and children as slaves, and torturing the tribe’s treasurer, Kinana, to locate the immense treasure he believes is buried there. Kinana is laid out on the ground, a fire is built on his chest while the question of the treasure’s location is repeatedly put to him. He never gives any accurate information, finally becomes incoherent from the pain, and Muhammad orders his beheading. “Astonishingly daring non-violent policy”? I don’t see how.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe there are indeed many liberal Muslims and liberal Muslim scholars, at least in the West where they have freedom to propose alternate approaches to Islam. But I maintain there is no such thing as liberal Islam, if one is committed to the full Qur’an, the Sahih Hadith, the earliest extant biographies of Muhammad, and the composite divine Law which became known as Shariah. And if one is not committed to those, as liberal scholars cannot be without an avalanche of caveats, then what foundation does Islam stand on? If Muhammad is fallible in character and in truth claims, not the perfect paragon of human nature nor a true prophet, if the Qur’an is a good book but not the eternal, unchanging words of Allah, then why should anyone accept the claim that Islam is the fulfillment of Christianity and Judaism, supplanting them both. How is an imperfect man with an imperfect message an improvement on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? I don’t see how liberal Muslims can convince the majority of the Muslim world, for whom the perfections of Muhammad and his message are unassailable, that these modern scholars and Westernized liberals are right and 1400 years of Islamic orthodoxy is wrong. I wonder what would happen if one of these “moderates” were to go to Saudi Arabia and make the circuit of universities and madrassas, teaching there what they teach openly here about Islam. I don’t think he’d get very far — in fact, he’d be lucky to escape with his life. One doesn’t tamper lightly with these deepest of pious convictions.

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    • Elizabeth. says:

      Yes, immediately preceding Armstrong’s “nonviolent policy” comment, she writes: “During the five-year war with Mecca, atrocities were committed on both sides, as was customary in the bloodbath of pre-Islamic Arabia. Bodies were mutilated, and after one of the Jewish tribes of Medina tried to assassinate the prophet and plotted with Mecca to open the gates of the settlement during a siege, the men of the clan were executed. But as soon as the balance shifted in his favor, Muhammad cut the destructive cycle of strike and counterstrike…” etc.

      An interesting paper on whether liberal Islam is authentic is this one by Charles Kurzman
      http://www.rubincenter.org/1999/09/kurzman-1999-09-02/

      It draws and expands on his anthology, “Liberal Islam: A Source-Book” (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988):

      “Within the Islamic discourse, there are three main tropes that I call:

      (a) the ‘liberal shari`a’

      (b) the ‘silent shari`a’

      (c) the ‘interpreted shari`a….

      “The ‘liberal shari`a’ argues that the revelations of the Qur’an and the practices of the Prophet command Muslims to follow liberal positions. For example, in the case of Ali Bula (Turkey, born 1951) quotes Sura 109, Verse 6 of the Qur’an: ‘To you your religion, to me my religion.’ He goes into great detail describing the ‘Medina Document,’ a treaty signed by the Prophet Muhammad with the Jewish tribes of Medina in the first moments of the Islamic era:….

      “The second trope, the ‘silent shari`a,’ holds that coexistence is not required by the shari`a, but is allowed….

      “But there is a third trope that takes issue with each of the first two. This trope is ‘interpreted Islam.’ According to this view, ‘Religion is divine, but its interpretation is thoroughly human and this-worldly.’ (Abdul-Karim Soroush, Iran, born 1945) (page 246):”….

      From the Conclusion:

      “There is a growing number of Muslims who share common concerns with Western liberalism, one of which is peaceful multi-religious co-existence. There are three Islamic approaches in this context which, while still very much minority views, seem to be growing. In the ‘liberal shari`a’ school, Islamic scholars base their arguments on injunctions in the Qur`an and on precedents from the early years of Islam.

      “Using an argument that might be called the ‘silent shari`a,’ Islamic scholars argue that the shari`a does not speak about certain topics-not because the revelation is incomplete or imperfect, but because these matters have been intentionally left to human invention.

      “The third approach is the ‘interpreted shari`a,’ where Islamic scholars argue that the revelation is divine, but interpretation is human and fallible and inevitably plural.

      “These liberal approaches to multi-religious co-existence have been stimulated by three historic shifts of the past quarter century: the rise of secular higher education in the Islamic world, which has broken the monopoly of the seminaries over religious discourse; the growth of international communications, which has made educated Muslims more aware than ever of the norms and institutions of the West; and the failure of Islamic regimes to deliver an attractive alternative….

      “These liberal approaches face serious challenges, including accusations of treason and inauthenticity, and a Western ignorance about the existence and importance of this internal Islamic debate.”

      These are huge challenges, and we need to understand as thoroughly as we can… Thank you for being passionate about what is true!!! and for devoting time and resources to it!!!!

      Gratitude, Elizabeth

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    • Elizabeth says:

      Postscript: Your description of Islam’s expansion made me wonder what Ms Armstrong would say about that, and remembering that she wrote a biography of Mohammed, on searching I found her booktalk to the National Press Club, where she drew an interesting parallel between Islam and Christianity. Both founders were men of peace, she said, and advocates of preemptive war in their names are heretical. The wars after Mohammed’s death were waged by politicians, and conversions were still frowned upon, is her description. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09TI5CHQuac

      This reminds me of early Christian pacifism until Constantine’s dream “under this sign, conquer.”

      Thanks again for the discussion… I’ve ordered a copy of the biography, which sounds interesting…. and again wishing you well! Elizabeth

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      • mateenelass says:

        Elizabeth,
        Isn’t it interesting that there were no Christian armies or violent efforts at conversion until almost 300 years after Jesus’ death, and then by a secular emperor/general whose conversion to Christ was tenuous at best, at least at the start? Compare that to Muhammad, whose closest followers/aides took the lead in spreading Islam by the sword, almost immediately after his death. Where did they get that notion, especially when they continually made the point that to do anything out of step with the prophet’s teachings/behavior was bid’a (innovation) and so forbidden? And what suddenly made them “politicians”, as if that is an evil thing, rather than simply faithful followers of their prophet? The conquests outside the Arabian peninsula was delayed by a few years, during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, because he had to take time to whip back into line (through force) the Arab tribes which decided now that Muhammad was dead they could go back to the former non-Muslim allegiances. Once he had shored up the home front, then the Islamic armies started their external conquests.

        Armstrong’s pairing of Jesus and Muhammad as “men of peace” is laughable, if she truly said that. From 622-632, he ordered 65 military campaigns or raids, commanding 27 of them according to Ibn Ishaq (his earliest Muslim biographer). That’s an average of one every two months. One wonders what the next years would have brought, should Muhammad have lived longer! It’s no surprise his disciples believed Muhammad had given them the mandate to conquer the surrounding world.

        It’s fascinating that Armstrong should qualify her comparison of Jesus and Muhammad by saying neither of them advocated “preemptive war” in his name. She can’t say, of course, that neither of them advocated “defensive war” in his name, for there’s no question that Muhammad did, scores of times. But she is actually wrong about Muhammad and offensive or preemptive war — he is guilty of this multiple times.

        Thanks for your continuing dialog.

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  15. Elizabeth. says:

    Yes, Armstrong began by saying that Muhammad was not a pacifist but a realist; he recognized the necessity of defensive war & strong rules developed: only in self-defense, no civilians to be killed, no country where Muslims could worship freely to be attacked, no fire used. She said he was a general and in violent times and under attack he did say fight, but peace and forgiveness were better. He risked the unarmed hajj in the midst of war, accepted terms that made followers almost mutiny, but received the revelation that this was a manifest victory and Muslims had experienced the shekinah, the spirit of peace, settle on them which linked them to the Jews and Christians, the People of the Book. [around minute 15-19]

    She takes issue with popular understandings of “kafir” and “jahiliyyah,” and says also that in some cases words like these referred to certain individuals in the community who everybody would know were being identified. She says the Qur’an insists on being seen as a whole and not quoted out of context.

    She says the wars after Muhammad’s death had no religious significance until much later, and for the first 100 years after his death there were no forced conversions, conversion was frowned upon: Islam for Arabs, Judaism for Jews, Christianity for followers of Jesus.

    When my book arrives, I will be interested in the footnotes! I appreciate the issues you raise, and thank you again! Elizabeth

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  16. SML says:

    For me – this whole event was the one that pushed me out of the PCUSA. My local Pastor is using Revelations 2: 20-25 as a “hang in there” type of argument. I’d be interested in your take on that passage or if others have presented it as rationale for staying within the PCUSA?

    20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

    24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

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    • mateenelass says:

      Steven, I’ve not heard of this passage used as a rationale for staying in the PCUSA, especially if the rationalizer agrees that the leadership of the PCUSA represents the Jezebel of vv. 20-23. The text clearly says, “I have this against you [the congregation at large], that you tolerate that woman Jezebel….” Isn’t the problem of the membership of the PCUSA that they have tolerated Jezebel too long? It seems to me that this passage would say to those who stay, “Either you stop tolerating Jezebel and cast her out from your midst, or you stop tolerating her by removing yourself from her presence. To remain in place silently seems to me to be the definition of tolerance, which the risen Lord says is what he finds reprehensible in the stance of his people. Or am I missing the biblical argument of the pastor? I must be, because to me this passage would argue against “hanging in there.”

      Like

      • beowulfme says:

        Good discussion on this blog. I have chosen to “stay” only because leaving would mean loss of over thirty years of pension…I’m no longer so quick to “fall on my sword/take one for the team/trust God it will all work out.” I do, however, preach very strongly against what is happening and find it resonates with the very small churches that likewise have nowhere to go unless the entire congregation simply walks away from their historic church.I have no illusions about this situation. If anything close to renewal is going to happen, it will take at least two and possibly three generations – a lot of funerals are going to have to happen before renewal begins.  Donald D. Denton, Jr., D.Min., LPC, LMFT

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      • mateenelass says:

        Donald, I don’t know your situation, so hesitate to offer any advice, but I know for a fact that if you have contributed to the Board of Pensions for 30 years, your position is vested, meaning that it is secure and can’t be taken from you, whether you continue in the PCUSA, retire, transfer to another denomination, or turn to some non-ordained position. Once you leave a called position in the PCUSA you are no longer able to contribute further to your pension credits, but what you have already accrued remains in trust for you until you declare your retirement and fill out the appropriate paperwork, at which time you will receive your monthly payments from the BOP.

        I understand completely what you say about small congregations who have no resources to be able to leave the denomination but would if they could. Renewal is always a possibility under God’s sovereign grace, but presently there doesn’t seem to be any sense among the PCUSA leadership that they need renewal. Instead they believe the directions they are pursuing have been baptized and blessed by God.

        Like

      • beowulfme says:

        You’ve put your finger on part of the problem – I am a Pastoral Counselor and not an Installed Pastor. Thus leaving the PCUSA will stop any further contributions to my pension. Neither the EOC, the PCA nor the EPCA appear to recognize Specialized Ministry, at least not without a lot of negotiations with no guarantees.
        I am in high demand as a Pulpit Supply, filling these small churches roughly 80% of the Sundays most years for the last five years. In every case the members are aware the denomination is essentially apostate. They have reduced their connections as much as feasible, given that the presbytery appears poised to go a-hunting. i continue to remind members that they are not bound to stay, i.e. they can simply begin attending another church. But as you might guess for elderly members this is a hurdle they cannot conceive themselves making.

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