Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Qur'an and the Crucifixion of Jesus

The Qur'an and the Crucifixion of Jesus
by Abu Daoud

Excerpts from a Conversation with a Muslim


Me: I am arguing that the Qu'ran does not actually say that Jesus was not crucified. The passage you reference is, "they did not crucify him, but it only appeared so." But if you look at the whole sura, you will see that it is discussing God's relationship to the descendants of the sons of Israel, whom we call Jews today. And historically, if you read the Injiil (Gospels), you will see that the Jews did not have the authority to crucify Jesus by their own power. They had to get the permission of the Roman authorities, and actually it was Roman soldiers that crucified him. So yes, to an observer it may have seemed like the Jews were actually totally responsible for his death, but that was not the case.

So when I say that Jesus was crucified, I am not saying anything against the Qu'ran itself, which you believe is from God. Rather I am disagreeing with one tasfiir (interpretation). The interpretations are not from God, but from man, so they may be incorrect.

Leith (my Jordanian friend): But we are guaranteed correctness in these interpretations because the Prophet related the correct interpretations to his followers and they have been collected by men likeAl-Muslim, Al-Bukhtori, [and so on].

Me: Ah, you refer to the ahadith [this is the plural of hadith, or the sayings of the Prophet, which after the Qu'ran extremely important for Muslims]. But who compiled the ahadith? They were men like you and me doing historical investigation. My point is that you cannot know for sure if they are correct because these men were not directed by God himself. The point is that I am disagreeing with the interpretation of the Qu'ran, not the text itself.

***

Leith: We are all sinners, but the prophets receive a special gift, they become immune to error and sin. They can no longer sin.

Me: But what about before they receive the message from God?

Leith: Yes, they can sin.

Me: But Jesus never sinned at all, that is in the Qu'ran. This is why we [Christians] pray in the name of Jesus. When we pray in our own name, why should God listen to our prayers? But when we come to God in the-name of Jesus, this is the only person in all of history who never offended God. So then God will listen to us and forgive us.

Leith: Actually we pray to God in the name of Muhammad and all the prophets.

Me: Ah yes, Muhammad. Who in the Qu'ran has problems with one of his wives because he is spending too much time with his Egyptian concubine. And then one of his wives gets jealous of her and tells him, "Don't come to me saying you have another message from [the Archangel] Gabriel!" I think she was too clever for him!

Leith: Yes! [Smiling] I think you are right. You know the Qu'ran well! Do you know how many wives he had?

Me: At any given time up to eight, but in all his life I think 13.

Leith: Eleven.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Islam: A Religion, and an Empire too! Part 2

Islam: A Religion, and an Empire too! Part 2
by Abu Daoud

In Part IV of this series I established that Islam is more than just a religion, according to Western standards, which allow for a separation of religion and state. Islam contains within its teaching regarding the relations and duties of man before God a very specific political order. What is it?

It is the caliphate. The Arabic word xalifa (caliph) means “successor [of the Prophet].” When God appointed Mohammad to be the Prophet who would bring the incorrupt and incorruptible revelation from God, he also chose him to be a ruler over the Umma. The caliphate existed in one form or another through the 20th century (1924), lastly within the Ottoman Empire (whose successor is Turkey). Devout Muslims therefore long for and must work for the restoration of the caliphate. This was precisely the desire of Abu Mussab al Zaraqawi (a Jordanian mujahid), recently deceased. He was a devout and good Muslim. This may seem like a troubling statement, but in reality his devotion to his religion extended far beyond my own devotion to my religion, and probably yours as well. He was working to restore the caliphate, to unite all Muslim people into one Umma that would unite all the nation states of Islam. In his willingness to use violence as a means of ushering in God's gracious and righteous reign he was following Muhammad's pattern of life (sunna).

In fact, the existence of nation states is reprehensible to devout Muslims. They run against a central tenet of Islam: that there are only two religious-political entities in the world: Dar al Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al Harb (House of War). The vision of conservative Muslims (it is an error to call them fundametalists) is to bring all Muslim peoples into one entity. The combined power would be capable of completing the effort (jihad) of making the peoples of the world submitters (muslims) to God’s rule.

In other words, God’s grace is manifest not in bread and wine and water and oil (as in our religion), but in political rule. Political-religious rule is how God reveals his grace and goodness to the world. It is how he works to restore justice and peace and order to the world. Until that rule of God is completely restored, the Ummah must continue to exert effort (jihad) to work for that restoration and submission and surrender.

This is the good and glorious vision of Islam for the world. I do not agree with it, of course, which is why my family is devoted to evangelizing Muslims. My family and I want then to understand that true submission (islam) to God means submission to his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the image (iconos, in Greek) of the glory of God, as Paul said. If one rejects the Son, how can one say he accepts the Father? "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Islam: A Religion (and an Empire too!), Part 1

Islam: A Religion (and an Empire too!), Part 1
by Abu Daoud

There are two central aspects of Islam that folks in the West tend to misunderstand. Because of these two flaws in our understanding we continue to make decisions and take actions that are ineffective or counterproductive in the Dar al Islam.

The second thing is the relation of power to grace. But the first thing, which is related to the second, is that Islam, properly speaking, is not simply a religion, but an entire civilization. Islam is a holistic and organic system of life that includes very specific regulations and laws regarding everything from inheritance to divorce, investing to commerce, and—here is sticking point—regulations regarding government.

Muhammad was the civil and religious ruler of the Umma (the Islamic nation) at the time of his death. Since a prophet gains immunity against sin once he has been called by God, he can do no wrong. This certainly gets around the messiness of dividing and distributing power, which the founders of the USA attempted to do. But there is a problem: original sin. For all have sinned! There is not one righteous, no not one!  

Christianity has flirted with the union of all civil and religious power under one person, specifically in the idea of the Holy Roman Emperor, who was considered by some to be rex et sacerdos—King and Priest. But overall we have tended to separate the two spheres in some way or another.

For traditionally-minded Muslims, the idea of separating the two kinds of authority is unnatural and an affront to the human person, who is at once a political and religious being. Before you dismiss this insight, let me point out that the so-called alternative (secularism) is running into great problems nowadays. The reason for this is that it is very difficult to figure out where to draw the line between the religious person and the political person—as Islam rightly argues. Does the line exclude a prayer before Congress meets? Does the line exclude students from bringing Bibles into public schools? Does the line exclude atheists from holding public office? What about Satan worshippers? My point is simply that Islam has a good point here: the human being is at once political and religious, reflecting the unity (tawheed, wahda) within God. So any attempt to divide the two spheres must be, to some extent, artificial, mutable, and provisional.

But what is a religion? This might seem like a simple question, but in fact it is very difficult to answer. Christians in the USA these days like to say that Christianity is a relationship (with Christ), not a religion. I appreciate the sentiment behind that statement, but it is in reality totally false. A religion, speaking generally, is any system of beliefs and practices that teach people(s) how to relate to Ultimate Reality (what we call God). So the very idea that Christianity is relational is a very religious idea: we should relate to God personally, not impersonally; or personally, and not communally. Some people say they are spiritual and not religious—I used to say that. Now I say I am very religious. Let people draw their own conclusions.

Islam teaches that part of the relationship between the political ruler and the religious ruler is all encompassed within the submission, yielding, sublimination, or surrender (various translations of the Arabic word islam) that must characterize the community and person before God and his Prophet. So to those who say that Christianity is a personal relationship, not a religion, the traditional Muslim replies that Islam is a political relationship, not just a religion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Islam and the other Religions

Islam and the Other Religions
by Abu Daoud


So here is the question: Is it important for Muslims to learn about other religions?

As I discussed the question with a number of Muslims it became clear that their answer is clearly YES. Then why do Muslims know so little about other religions? Because they believe firmly that everything they need to know about those other religions is contained in the Qu’ran. Who do you believe: the verbatim Word of God that existed with him from all eternity, or texts that have been corrupted and misinterpreted by Christians and Jews?

There is one word that you must learn in Arabic to understand how Muslims look at other religions: muharraf. It means something like corrupted and untrustworthy. This is the word used to describe the texts (called Books) of the other prophets such as the Torah which was revealed to the prophet Moses (Musa); the Zaboor, revealed to the Prophet David (Dahood); and the Gospel, revealed to the Prophet Jesus (Issa).

Indeed, there is a central difference between the Judeo-Christian concept of prophecy and that of Islam. In Islam the prophet does not bring a message inspired by God, but a verbatim message from God that must be recorded in a book. In the Judeo-Christian tradition there are many prophets who did not write a book (Elijah for one) or even have their prophecy recorded by someone else.

This obviously presents a great difficulty for Christians, as we do not have the Book that God supposedly revealed to Jesus, rather we have four recollections of his teachings and life by different men. Again, the Qu’ran is clear that Christians and Jews, though once possessing valid books from God’s prophets, no longer do. Rather, “They have tampered with words out of their context and forgotten much of what they were enjoined” (5:13).

The circular logic of Islam comes into play again here because the Qur'an proves itself:

“Say: ‘Have you any evidence you can put before us? You believe in nothing but conjecture and follow nothing but falsehoods’” (6:148). The Qur'an demands irrefutable evidence for anyone who would challenge what it teaches, but provides no justification for the truth of its own claims other than its own existence.

Enlightened Muslims know all there is to know about the other religions by reading the Qur'an.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Remember those riots in France?

Remember those Riots in France?

Well, since I have France on my mind I thought I would post something I wrote back when those Muhammad cartoons came out. It was Part II of my series on Islam (recently published Part XI on this blog). Enjoy.

Part II: Islam, Cartoons and Riots


I was chatting with a friend of mine who lives in Saudi Arabia yesterday. She has always lived there, her dad has three wives, she has never been outside of the Middle East. She is a smart lady, and witty too. I asked her about the cartoon debacle and she said what many folks here are saying: they don't have the right to offend Islam that way.

I just got back from spending some time with a very moderate Muslim friend who is not an Arab. His sisters don't wear head coverings, he doesn't go to mosque often. He compared the cartoons to people who praise the holocaust. I said that it was illegal to incite violence against a group, which is what you have in his holocaust example. Here violence was not being incited against Muslims. He responded, but it led to violence on the part of Muslims--so what's the difference?

These two twenty-somethings represent the future of the Middle East. They are well-educated, multi-lingual, intelligent people, and they are both dear friends of mine. Neither of them had even seen the cartoons though.

So what is the reason for this gulf between our approach and theirs? Let me suggest two possible factors:

The language of rights.
 It is foreign to Islam, specifically in the generalized form of "human rights" or "inalienable rights." While rejecting positivism, the rights of a person are derived from the fact that they are living under a valid Islamic authority. Politics is sacramental, so a Muslim ruler is an outward sign of an inward grace, namely the subjugation and subjection of the peoples of the world to God's rule. (Note that violence can become sacred under this model.) So speaking of a right to anything that is insulting to Islam is inherently self-contradictory.

The Final Revelation. 
Islam is very confident that it is the final and true revelation from God. Therefore to allow space for any belief that might contraddict this is unjustified. Christianity and Judaism are allowed to exist, but under a system of governance that assures their eventual extinction. This system has been spectacularly successful in Northern Africa and Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula.

These are just two points. There are others, but I think it will help us to at least size up how different the two frames of mind or worldviews are from eachother.

So how should Christians react to those who offend them? I think there is no one answer to that, but it is clear that the genesis of that action must begin with loving our enemies and blessing those who curse us. 

I think Christians are so used to having our faith ridiculed that it is hard for us to imagine the novelty of what many Muslims are experiencing. But give it a try. Feel the fury, the anger, the desire to kill and to destroy. But then hear the voice of your conscience brought alive by the Spirit reminding you that you are as guilty as your enemy, that if he deserves death then so do you, and that if you are to live up to the name of Christian that you must love him. And love mercy. Pray for that zealous desire to forgive. 

I think that is where Christians are obliged to start, though depending on conditions it will lead us to different places and actions. But not to hoping for nuclear destruction in this or that country or the lawless torching of embassies. Not there, I am sure.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Intro to the Qur'an

Part I: The Qur'an: Introduction

It is often said that the Qur'an is like the Bible: one is the holy book for Muslims, and the other is for the Christians. This is not a very accurate way of looking at the situation though because the two books are very different. The Bible is really a collection of many kinds of writings (prophecy, poetry, genealogy, history, personal letters, and so on) written by a large number of people across over a thousand years. The Bible was written in three languages across three continents (Europe, Asia, Africa). 

The Qur'an is wholly different. According to Islam, it was not written by anyone, it was revealed, word for word, from God, by the angel Gabriel (Jabriil in Arabic) to Muhammad throughout his life. The Qur'an consists of 114 chapters, called surahs in Arabic. These surahs are organized like Paul's letters to the churches: from longest to shortest. The second is "The Cow" which is 31 pages long (in the translation I use), and the last one is "The Men" which follows:

SAY: 'I seek refuge in the Lord of men, the King of men, the God of men, from the mischief of the slinking prompter who whispers in the hearts of men; from jinn and men.'

That is the entire surah.

The word "qur'an" is possibly derived from the Arabic word qara' which means "he read." The word itself means something like recitation. 

The content of the book is much more uniform than that of the Bible, as could be expected from a book produced by one person over a much shorter period of time. There are dietary laws, there are rules about how the believers should interact with Jews and Christians and idolators. There are regulations about the use of the spoils of war (there is a surah called "The Spoils"). Every aspect of life is touched upon, much like the Torah for Orthodox Jews.

There is a great deal of equivocation about the Jews and the Christians in the Qur'an. There are some positive remarks, like, "Believers, Jews, Sabeans, and Christians--whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right shall have nothing to fear or to regret." But then two paragraphs later we find this: "Unbelievers are those that say: 'God is one of three.' There is but one God. If they do not desist from so saying, those of them that disbelieve shall be sternly punished." (5:69 ff.) There are many examples of this throughout the entire book, so it is not surprising that among Muslims there are so many points of view. (Also you will notice that the author obviously does not grasp the theology of the Trinity. This is not the kind of thing a Muslim can say though since each and every word is from God.)

The same can be said in terms of the use of violence, though the verses limiting violence seem to be fewer in number than those extolling it as long as it is carried out correctly. One that is frequently quoted in the Western press is this: "whoever killed a human being [...] shall be regarded as having killed all mankind" (5:32ff). These seem like the words of a religion of peace indeed. But the entire verse needs to be examined to understand how it has functioned throughout history:

"That is why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as a punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all humankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as having saved all mankind."

So if there is "other villainy" then capital punishment is called for. Such crimes include insulting the Prophet and renouncing Islam. And lest we be impressed by this graciousness, we find this admonition a few verses later, "As for the man or woman who is guilty of theft, cut off their hands to punish them for their crimes. That is the punishment enjoined by God. God is mighty and wise." Fortunately most Islamic countries do not do actually do what "God enjoins." But you can clearly see that there is no question of this being a rule for a specific people at one time in history. It is more like a command for every believer in the world throughout all of time.

Let me know what questions you have. I have quoted mostly from "The Table" in this e-mail, if you would like to read the entire surah.

Peace be with you all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Orthodox Archbishop Job on Christianity and secularism

I love this quote:

"The role of the Church is to witness to sanity. To real sanity in a world which has gone berserk. A world in which people speak of freedom, but no longer know what that means...people who speak a language which has lost its meaning."

What a great quote! Check out this interview from the 90s with Archbishop Job.


HT to The Sounding Blog.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A vision for liberal reform of Islam

Every now and again one runs across a writing by a Muslim who is really, sincerely wants to see a liberal, progressive Islam. I don't think that such a project will ever succeed on a large scale and over time. I don't think that such a 'reform' would be even remotely close to the ethos the founder of Islam.

But still, when one sees such a thinker it is interesting to point it out.

So here is a tidbit from Dr. Habib Fayad at the Lebanese University:
Renewing Islam means cleansing it from prejudices, falls, myths and changes that have affected it throughout the course of history, and apply it in a manner consistent with the spirit of the time and era. It also means going back to reading the religious texts with the reason, morality and spirituality of the Prophet, and not merely literally.
Read it all HERE.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The time when Muhammad received a Christian delegation

I am really impressed by this recent article by Fred Farrokh over at Themelios. By all means read the whole article, but here is Farrokh's summary of the time when a Christian delegation came from Najran (in southern KSA today) to establish an agreement with Muhammad.

The encounter in Medina of the Najrani Christians with Muhammad provides a clear picture of Muhammad’s interaction with, and policy toward, Christians. As Muhammad and the Muslims gained political hegemony over Arabia, various tribes came to seek terms of peace with the Prophet of Islam. The town of Najran sent a Christian delegation to seek such a peace agreement. The Najranis, who were accompanied by their bishop, spent three days in theological discourse with Muhammad in Medina. This episode is referred to in Sura 3 (al-Imran). Gordon Nickel provides a thorough recap of the encounter and its treatment by Qur’anic commentators.19 
The Najrani Christians offered to pledge their political allegiance to Muhammad if he would embrace their belief in the divinity of Jesus. This Sura recounts their testimony to the Annunciation (3:42–46), the Virgin Birth (3:47), Jesus’s miracles (3:49, including some apocryphal miracles). 
The Qur’anic narrative then markedly pivots to an antibiblical Christology in which Jesus denies his own Lordship (3:51). Jesus’s disciples then shockingly declare: “We have believed in Allah and testify we are Muslims” (3:52). Sura 3:57 establishes salvation by works, and also states that “Allah does not love those who do wrong,” another drastic departure from biblical theology. The Najrani episode concludes with Muhammad declaring that Jesus was no more the Son of God than was Adam, who also was created without a human father (3:59). 
Because of this theological impasse, Muhammad insisted on a mutual cursing ceremony with these Najrani Christians. Though the Najranis declined to curse Muhammad, Muhammad gathered his daughter Fatima, his son-in-law Ali, and his two grandsons under his cloak, and cursed the Najranis. The incident is known in Islamic history as “The Cursing” (al-Mubahala) with Muhammad’s indictment stated in Sura 3:61: “May God’s curse be upon those who lie!” The Qur’anic narrative ends here with: “This is the true account. There is no god but Allah. . . . If they turn back, God has full knowledge of those who do mischief.” (3:62–63). 
For those keeping track of the verse numbers, the next verse in this passage is 3:64. This is the “common word” verse in which Christians are called to repent of associating partners with Allah (i.e., worshipping Jesus) and to return to Tawhid. Thus, Muhammad’s single notable encounter with a Christian community ended with him cursing that community because of their biblical beliefs regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.

Read it all here.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Positive Infinity interviews Abu Daoud on Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America

What a pleasure to be interviewed again for one of my favorite blogs, Positive Infinity. Here is one question with the answer:

  1. How should Christians accommodate the cultures Muslims come out of to aid them in sharing the gospel?
Ultimately we’re working towards evangelizing and sanctifying entire cultures. What does it look like for Yemeni culture to know Christ? What does it look like for Libyan culture to be baptized and sanctified? The challenge is that these cultures are so inextricably intertwined with Islam that it is hard to know where Islam ends and a given culture begins. All of this to say, it is a lengthy, hard work, and we should not expect to be able to answer the question in the lifespan of a single generation of believers. Use Scripture, draw on your own denominational tradition, and be patient as new believers stumble along by the grace of God figuring out how to construct a new convert identity in Christ and his Church.
Check out the rest of the interview HERE.

Also, there were two previous interviews from 2012 (Part 1 and Part 2)