Friday, December 22, 2006

Islam and Victimhood

Part IX: Victimhood and Muslim Identity (December 2006)

“No one admits that his own yoghurt is sour.” --Syrian proverb

I want to suggest in this post that victimhood has become an integral and essential element in Muslim identity today. There are a number of reasons for this, some of them are valid, but many of them are not. I want to explain why and how this has come to be the case today.

If I may quote Sam Huntington, “The problem is not Islamists, it is Islam: a civilization convinced of its superiority and obsessed with its inferiority.” Islam is unlike Christianity in that it makes certain guarantees, namely that if a society is faithful in following Islam (and the sharia’) then certain consequences must follow: material wealth, political power, an ever-widening scope of authority over non-Muslims, scientific and economic advancement, justice and good governance, and so forth. It is very clear though to people throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that other than sub-Saharan Africa their region is near the bottom of the list in all these areas. With globalization, migration, increasing ease of travel, and of course the internet, it has become clear to Muslims everywhere that this is not at all the case today.

(It must be stressed that Christianity does not make any such promises. While there are verses from the proverbs that speak of God rewarding hard, honest work, and many of us have seen this in our lives, even stronger is Jesus’ insistence that the Kingdom of God is characterized by opposition which may well be violent, and indeed resulting in martyrdom.)

And the tension is not just between MENA and the West. Rapid development and the growth of a middle class have moved forward in nations like India and China, not to mention the astounding development of places like South Korea and Japan in the 20th Century.

So there is a very tense situation because the empirical evidence and experience of the people run directly against the claims of Islam. There are two common ways of trying to reconcile the evidence and the religious doctrine. The first is simply to say that none of the Muslim countries are actually practicing Islam correctly. I hear this a lot: this country is too strict, that country is too liberal; this country is not democratic enough; that country has a corrupt monarchy; and so on. My answer: There are more than 20 Arab Muslim countries, and you mean to tell me that not one of them can get Islam right? If that is the case then Islam is more of a dream than a realistic system that can actually work. It’s like someone telling you that you can get a million bucks for walking from the ME to North America. You can easily spend all your life trying to do it, but ultimately it is simply impossible, no matter how wonderful the promised reward is.

The second response though is my primary concern here: victimhood. The reason that Muslims nations are not the prominent world powers, that their governments are extremely corrupt, that nepotism and tribalism and rampant, that five million Israelis publish more scientific papers in a year than 400 million Arabs, that no Muslim nation in MENA actually has freedom of the press, assembly, or speech, and that the governments are not accountable to the people—the reason is simple: we are being oppressed.

The culprit changes from place to place and time to time: the French, the British, the Israelis, the Americans, but tomorrow it will be someone else. Sometimes the culprit is other Muslims, but even then (as is the case of fighting between Shiia’ and Sunni in Iraq) the real culprit is outside of Islam.

The rise of the sense of victimhood is integral to the recovery of jihad which we have witnessed in these last years. Historically Jihad need not be related to self-defense at all, but the appeal to self-defense strengthens those who advocate it. And here is the critical tie: If all Muslims are victims of Western anti-Islamism then any act of Jihad against the West becomes an act of self-defense. This was OBL’s explicit rational for the 9-11 attacks: they were a defensive measure. And since all Americans contribute to the American oppression of Islam by virtue of paying taxes, all Americans (children and women included) are in fact military targets and their execution is an act of worship to God. Such is his logic, which, while novel, has great appeal throughout Dar al Islam.

Victimhood is a central element of contemporary Islamic identity. When the West does not help Muslims it is oppressing them. When the West intervenes in the region it is imperialism and occupation. When the west opts for the long, messy, and sometimes ineffective path of diplomacy, they are indecisive. When the West makes dramatic moves they are brash and militant. Victimhood confers on one’s self the ability to abuse power in the name of protection and self-preservation.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only remedy because, as I outlined above, political and social efforts to help will always be interpreted by some as further persecution. Moreover, they lack the ability to bring about the profound moral and spiritual conversion that we call being born again. Only within the Gospel do we find a point of reference for victimhood and power because we understand that in the ultimate sense of the word no one is a victim because no one is absolutely innocent except for Jesus Christ. As the Gospel transforms our minds and our communities, the imperative is to be generous and forgiving rather than to assert the rightness of one’s cause. This is the transformation we should hope for in MENA.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Films from KSA?!

Interesting article here on some recent films from KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). While this is not about religion explicitly, I think it offers some good insights into the tension we see throughout Dar al Islam regarding change. In KSA many households have sat TV and can watch most anything they like, but actual movie theatres which are much easier to monitor are completely forbidden. Amazing.

I like Izidore's attitude about her work. I also appreciate her family's artistic qualities. Very few people here in the ME are interested in art unfortunately.

Saudi Filmmakers

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jesus was a good Muslim, and stuff on being a dhimmi

Here is a review by Bat Ye'or of a recent book.

Bat Ye'or is one of my great historians. Her name means Daughter of the Nile, and she was born in Egypt to Jewish parents. She is not a citizen of France where she does most of her writing.

She is the world's foremost scholar on dhimmitude, that is, the continued existence of Christian and Jewish communities in the Muslims world. Unfortunately the Western press has often mutilated the term and spoken of rights of "religious minorities". This is utterly absurd and shows their absolute ignorance regarding Islam. Dhimmitude only requires a Muslim ruler. Indeed, if a European country were taken over by a Muslim government then all the non-Muslims would be dhimmis--even if that is 80 or 90% or the population. This was in fact the case in much of Turkey, at times there were entire regions that were over 80% Christian, yet they were still under the dhimmi.

In any case, a fine review from a brilliant scholar:

Do we Worship the Same God?

An excerpt:

"In the first section, the author provides information about and reflections upon the Muslim Jesus (Isa). He stresses as fundamental the Koran’s teaching that Islam is the first, primordial religion, preceding Judaism and Christianity, which are dismissed as invalid traditions, being falsified versions of Islam. Because Christianity and Judaism are thought to be a corruption of the pure message of Islam, anything true in these religions comes from their Islamic roots. Consequently, to obey their true religion, Jews and Christians should “revert” to Islam and accept the prophethood of Muhammad."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Liturgy? Hmm....

Liturgy, translated from the Greek word (which occurs a few times in the NT, see my post below for more on that) means 'work of the people'. Recently, my friend Erik, who is studying theology at Oxford, preached the sermon below. Please check it out, it is very insightful from a Western point of view.

Liturgy refers to, in modern terms, the flow of the worship service. Don't get me wrong: every church has a liturgy. Sometimes it is written down, like in most Lutheran or Episcopal churches, sometimes it is simply memorized by the congregation, like in most Baptist or non-denom churches. There is music, then a prayer for this, then a prayer for that, then a sermon, then a prayer for X, then there is Y, and finally there is Z. That is liturgy, to put it in rather vulgar terms.

This is what he is talking about. Please read his homily carefully and post your comments on his blog at Priests and Paramedics

In terms of our work here, the question for us is: what kind of liturgy works well for Christians who comes from a Muslims background? That is a complicated and--really--a very difficult question. Should they separate men and women? Should they baptize children or not? Should they read from the Qu'ran and the Bible, or only the Bible? Should they kneel facing Mecca? Jerusalem? The rising sun in the East? (Most Christian churches face east, because Jesus is the Sun of Righteousness and the Light of the Word.)

"The Gospel does not destroy cultures, it fulfills them," said Pope Paul VI in his letter to the church called, "The Gospel is Preached." A great insight. Our task here is to figure out what exactly that looks like. Erik is trying to do that in post-modern Europe and post-Christian USA, we are doing that here in our home country in Dar al Islam.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Harsh Sentiments

It has been tough these last few weeks to talk with Christians here in the ME. Many people have a very bitter attitude towards Islam.

One pastor I spoke with told me point blank that Muslimss are evil, and they may act like they know God but it is all false.

Another brother complained about the election of a Muslim to the USA House of Representatives. "Islam is like a cancer, once it enters in it destroys everything. You will see."

God have mercy on us.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

This Morning's Church Visit

I visited a Sriac Orthodox Church this morning here in our city. What's that? Glad you asked.

It is part of a family of what are called here Oriental Orthodox Churches. Not to be confused with Eastern Orthodox, these churches did not accept the definition of Chalcedon, which you can check out at New Advent if you like. Other churches in this famiyl are th Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic, and Armenian Apostolic.

The language there is Syriac. That is, you should not think this is a "syrian" church, in term of the actual nation of Syria. It is named after it's liturgical language. The book of liturgy, which was kindly gifted to me, has three columns: Syriac (with the Syriac alphabet), Syriac (with the Arabic alphabet), and Arabic. Quite fascinating.

Am working on figuring out the contours of the Lord's Prayer in Syriac right now. Then will move on to the Creeds, and then possibly (if I get that far) to the Great Thanksgiving.

People were friendly, and I got to meet the priest and bishop who was visiting. Quite a young man!

Blessings be upon them. It sounded like their community was growing, which is not normal here in the Middle East for Christian communities.

Matt, Gina, & Matthew

The Pope on Islam and Evangelism

Pope urges 'firm, humble' dialogue with Muslims
Nov 10 2:16 PM US/Eastern

Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to engage in "firm and humble" dialogue with Muslims, in an address to bishops from Germany, which has a sizable Muslim minority.

Pope Benedict said Catholics should manifest their beliefs with the same conviction as Muslims, who "are attached with great seriousness to their convictions and their religious rites."

The pope, who will travel to mainly Muslim Turkey at the end of the month, said Muslims "have the right to our firm and humble witness for Jesus Christ."

Such dialogue "obviously presupposes a solid knowledge of one's own faith," he added.

Pope Benedict is to pay a four-day visit to Turkey, his first official trip to a Muslim country, starting on November 28.

The planned trip follows uproar across the Muslim world over remarks by the pope in September seen as linking Islam and violence.

From Breit Bart

Monday, November 13, 2006

Islam and Christianity in Europe

Great article here. I wish there were more info on Islam in Europe. I think the percentage of the population in Europe that is Muslim will increase greatly in the coming years.

Demography and Europe

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Liturgy in a Middle Eastern Environment

A Selection from a Work in Progress (WIP)
by Abu Daoud

Before one embarks on the difficult task of evaluating, critiquing, and revising liturgy, it is important to answer two questions (at least): what is the purpose of liturgy? And, how does one evaluate the success of a liturgy?

The word liturgy is derived from the Greek and means the work of the people. The Greek word does appear in the New Testament a number of times. In Luke 1:23 it is in reference to the cultic duties of the Levitical priesthood at the Temple, specifically in reference to Zechariah father of John. It is used in 2 Cor. 9 in reference to the giving of the Corinthian church for the saints in Jerusalem. In Phil 2 Paul speaks of the ministry of the Philippian church to him as a leitourgias. And Hebrews 8:6 and 9:21 refers to the ministry of Christ in the heavenly Temple, of which the earthly Temple was only a shadow, as a liturgy. Thus the usage of the actual word is very diverse in the NT.

It has at once specific cultic and priestly references, but is also used to refer to the collective ministry of communities in terms of charity for fellow saints and supporting the Apostolic mission of Paul.

The role and function of liturgy is dynamic and it is not possible to provide a permanent definition of the word. In general though, the NT supports an etymological generalization wherein a liturgical community is at once working, and a people. According to this observation, the work or mission of the people is informed and influenced by the liturgy, whether in a strictly cultic sense, or within the general sense of the wider ministry of the community. Also, the liturgy creates and sustains “a people.” That is, when successful, it provides, sustains, and passes on an identity. When a person asks the question, “who am I and what is my role within my wider community?” His answer should be informed by the liturgy of his church—if that liturgy is successful. Thus liturgies teach the difference between lay and clergy; Christian and non-Christian; married and single; child, adolescent, or adult; man and woman; and so on.

The idea of the liturgy sustaining a community implies a bifurcation in terms of purpose: at once the liturgy must be strict or delimited enough to forma real identity that is not merely lost among the other identities of the person as a member of an ethnic or national group. The liturgy of the community must sustain the sense of the otherness of this community and why it is special. On the other hand, a liturgy must establish a sense of identity that is willing and hopefully zealous to welcome in others, for the simple reason that most communities that do not welcome in others or have no desire to welcome in others are not giving. Such communities become introverted and their greatest goal simply becomes self-preservation.

A helpful image may be the human family. The identity of the family must be maintained through space and time by a sense of why the family is important, good, unique, and so on. Yet there must also be a willingness to grow, and biologically that means producing offspring with people from other families. Thus identity is paradoxically maintained only with the awareness of a dynamic and shifting construal of itself. Once identity becomes static and cannot develop and grow, it often becomes in itself an idol and people start worshipping Episcopalianism/Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy or evangelicalism, or what have you.

The practical implications of such a theory of liturgy are multiple. Within the context of the Eastern Churches, specifically the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, the twin scourges of Islam and Communism have been absolutely devastating—far more traumatic than anything that the Western Churches, whether Latin or Protestant, have suffered. Communism made certain promises regarding economic equality that it ultimately and dramatically failed to fulfill, thus leading to its general collapse. During its reign it certainly persecuted Christians zealously and effectively. This can be seen from the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church had more martyrs than any other church in any century during the 20th Century. Or consider the fact that communist Albania is the only country in this history of the world to even have been officially declared an atheistic state. But its reign was not sustainable because it failed to tie in the most profound needs of the human being, which are spiritual and transcendent.

Islam has been much more effective in the long term of nullifying the life of the Christian community by striking at the heart of the liturgy: the ability, much less the desire, to welcome in new members. The liturgies of the Eastern Churches certainly became central to maintaining the identity of the Christian dhimmis, this is true whether we are speaking of the earliest dhimmi contract or the elaborate millet system of the Ottoman Empire. If this theory of the liturgy is valid, then baptism actually becomes anti-liturgical once it is accepted that certain people within a community cannot receive it. It is anti-liturgical because it announces the emptiness of the work of the church, and denigrates the people who are working it. The foundation of the Church is openness to others, indeed working towards creating openness to others (what we have traditionally called mission and evangelism). And once a church has closed itself to the other, it has made a decision against the work of the people. For this reason martyrdom is the most profound of liturgical acts within the Church: it is the Eucharist written on the body.

The criterion of success for liturgy does not need to be viewed through a Western lens of church growth and popularity. Continuity of a community is certainly important, and many of the churches in MENA are declining, and some are on the verge of total extinction. Additionally, the commission of Jesus to make disciples of all ethnic groups and nations, as well as the archetypal example of the early church in Jerusalem, certainly implies that over the long term growth and welcoming in people who formerly had not entered into the Kingdom of God was to be normative and mandatory.

Book Meme

From my friend's blog at


The rules are:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

And I would have to add a 6. to that: don't include dictionaries and atlases, because those were the closest books to me:

Thus Aubrey Moore argues that evolution restored 'the truth of the divine immanence', which Deism had denied--but this led to a pantheistic reaction. In relation to these extremes, orthodox theism could be presented as reasonable, as 'the safegaurd of rational religion against deism and pantheism'. Another attempt to integrate evolutionary theory with previous Christian thought was made in this volume by J.R. Illingworth, who argued that 'the theory of evolution has recalled our minds to the "cosmical significance" of the incarnation', which was a prominent thought in the early and medieval Church.The tone here is different from that of natural theology a la Paley, but also different from that of Essays and Reviews.

The Study of Anglicanism, eds. S Sykes, J Booty, and J Knight. So sad that it turned out to be such a dry selection from a great collection of essays. This was from the essay "Reason".

Let's see if Erik Twist posts something interesting on his blog at Priests and Paramedics

Monday, November 06, 2006

Islam and Victimhood

I found this post to be very englightening:

It is true! The Muslim community understands itself to be unqiuely favored and priveleged before God. Moreso of course than communities of Christians or Muslims should be.

Thus the demand for ever-expanding rights will never cease. Even here in the Middle East where the national constitutions explicitly spell out inferiority of rights under Islam for those communities. And yet, there are many people who would like to see those limitations increased and the already-limited freedom of Christians further curtailed. Why? Allahu Akbar! God is great, thus the greater the humiliation of Christians and Jews, the more God is exalted.

Some Muslims don't agree with this, thanks be to God. But once you get to the core of the matter they will admit that Muslims should and must have superior rights and supremacy than others. That is how Islam has always been and will always be.

++Michael is right.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Meeting with a Mercenary

I met Stephen (Steven?) at XXXXXXXX, a restaurant-bar at one of the big hotels near our place. As I was forging through Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (more on that later), I noticed that one of my neighbors was speaking with a decidedly un-Arabic accent and we started chatting. Following are excerpts from my rather long conversation with Stephen, a Scottish mercenary, who has just arrived from Baghdad earlier that day:

When I was in Angola, my troops and I would travel around from place to place. And these little kids would somehow find out where we were. They would come and set up camp outside of our camp—the oldest one of them must have been 12 years old. And there was one I liked especially, they called him Babba. I would sit him on my lap and give him good food from my plate. He must have been about two and a half. One day I noticed he was not there, so I called for him and did not find him. I went out into the brush—they would make little canopies from the long grass in the brush to sleep under—and I found him dead underneath the grass. He had been strangled to death. I lined them all up and asked them who had done this. Later one of the African soldiers told me it was my fault because I had treated him with preference. It’s the law of survival. They had killed him because he was getting more food than the rest of them. If they had been adults I would have killed them all right there…

The best weapon is the AK-47, made by peasants, for peasants. You can bury it under sand for a month, and if you dig it up and still works fine…

I asked him: So, having spent time in Iraq, what do you think are the prospects for the country? Not good, he said.

Many Christians in the US are upset because it looks like the Christians will have less religious freedom than before, when Hussein was in power, I said.

I was in Nashville once, and I had nothing to do, and the only book around the hotel was the Bible, so I started reading it. I found many contradictions…

I said, traditionally, I would ask you what those contradictions were and try to explain each of them away. But let me tell you that my experience is that Christianity works because I lived it out. When I became a Christian, I just did what I was taught: respect your parents, or, be kind to those whom no one else likes or respect—the unpopular kids at school. So I started trying to live out these Christians teachings, and saw that they really worked. So, it’s kind of like a puzzle—you don’t need to solve the whole puzzle before you can understand what it portrays…

Keep Stephen and his wife and their two children in mind as he travels back to Scotland tomorrow morning. He will be leaving to go to Afghanistan soon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Persecution of Iraqi Christians

Thousands of frightened Iraqi Christians are fleeing Iraq, after an escalation in anti-Christian violence.

Several horrific attacks on Christians in the last three weeks have increased the fear amongst the Christian community. This appears to be a response to a call by militants for increased violence during the Islamic fasting month, Ramadan (which this year is 24th September - 23rd October).

See the Rest:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Church in Exile (The Chaldean Catholics)

Father Denis and I walked from the Jesuit House in the neighborhood next to mine to the make-shift church that the Iraqi Christians had set up in a small apartment.

I had called him on the phone earlier today to ask if I could go to the Chaldean mass with him, and he was cautious. “The bishops just released a letter to the Iraqi Christians telling them to be careful with evangelicals. This is their community: their language, the people they dance with, they worship with, and when you take one person out of the community it is like tearing the fabric of who they are.” I assured him that I wanted to learn only and had no plans of recruiting the Chaldean Christians for my church. He recalled that the Anglican churches had a good history of respecting other traditions so he would talk to the priest there and see if it was OK for me to come. He called back later to let me know it would be fine.

I would have never known we had arrived at the church had it not been for the sign reading “Chaldean Church in XXXXXXX” in front of the apartment building. We walked downstairs to the bottom level and people greeted Denis with the customary “abouna” which is Syriac for “father.”

The church was basically a living room and dining room with the doors dividing them removed. Plastic garden chairs were set up in rows and about 15 people were inside saying the rosary in Arabic. Denis checked to see if the priest there was available, he was not. “He is in the office, which is also his bedroom, counseling a married couple.” Checking in another room revealed a small group of young women learning Syriac, or as it is called here “Suriani,” a Semitic language closely related to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke on a daily basis. It only survives as the liturgical language of the Chaldean church.

There are a massive number of Iraqis here—something that makes the local population quite bitter as prices for everything from apartments to bread to gas has gone up because of this large influx of people in a country with a population of about five million. At this Monday evening mass there were over thirty people, including some teenagers. Many of the women cover their heads during prayer or when they take communion, a common practice here among all Christians.

The church was very simple, aside from the chairs everything could have been packed into a suburban in an hour. There were inexpensive portraits of the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Family, and the baptism of our Lord hanging from walls. The mass was mostly in Suriani. I did not understand much, but I gathered that the Gospel reading was from John 6.

The Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon (its full name) is the church of the great majority of Christians in Iraq. It is one of the many churches in communion with the Holy See and the bishop of Rome (the Pope). But they are not Roman Catholics: they have their own bishops, their own liturgy, their own church laws, and so on. The senior bishop in the church is the Patriarch of Babylon (Baghdad).

There is tension between the evangelicals here, who view the Catholic and Orthodox as unsaved people who need to know the Lord, and therefore it is necessary for them to join an evangelical church. The Chaldeans are hostile to the evangelicals, viewing them as thieves and poachers who take advantage of a church that is already in a very difficult situation.

Let us pray that our Chaldean brethren would be zealous for the Gospel and filled with the power of the Spirit. Let us pray for our evangelical brethren, that they would be humble before a church that has perdured for centuries in a hostile, Islamic culture. Both communities have much to learn from each other.

A Parable

A Parable

"There was a king, and in his kingdom there were two cities that we having grave problems. One city sent a messenger to the king to ask for help. The king sat down and wrote a letter to the city and sent the messenger back.

"The other city sent a messenger to the king, and the king sent his son to that city to address the problems there. Which of these two cities has received the greater honor?"

I told this parable to a Muslim friend today, and here was his answer: the city that received the prince has received the greater honor. When he arrives he will see what the problems are and take immediate action; the people of the city cannot disobey him. The city that received the letter from the king--in that city maybe the mayor will read it and tear it up, or maybe he will read it and not take action right away.

I responded: and this is the difference between Islam and Christianity: we believe that the Word of God is a person, Muslims believe that the Word of God is a book.

The point of the parable might not be obvious to people not used to thinking in terms of honor. The point is not that God has given two religions, and that one of them is superior. Rather it is that the God of Christianity shows more honor and generosity to humanity than the God of Islam.

For those of you who talk with Muslims regularly I encourage you to learn this short parable and ask your Muslim friends what they think about it.


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 repsonded, 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.

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.