Monday, March 31, 2008

Pope Paul VI

Since I'll be blogging Evangelii Nuntiandi for a few days here it is good to have some basic info on the person who issued it. From Wikipedia (where else?):

Pope Paul VI was a troubled figure who angered both traditionalists and liberals. Reviled by traditionalists for implementing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, he was also a lightning rod for liberals for failing to change the Church's teaching on priestly celibacy, birth control, and the ordination of women. His encyclical On Human Life, which reaffirmed the Church's ban on birth control, was met with a storm of indignation, even within his own Church.

To Venerate or not to Venerate (Icons)

Well, JMW over at All Souls' Anglican blog has been quoting some old church historian (John Mendham?) on why the veneration of icons is in fact (ready?) idol worship. I mean, it's one thing to say it's just not a good idea for some people, or that it's not your bag, but JMW is pretty clear about it: that little statue of Saint Jospeh on your aunt's front lawn makes her an idolater. You are welcome to get into the fray and defend the icons, or hey, if you don't like icons, then defend Mendham and JMW.

The newest entry is here:
Mendham on Images, 2

The first entry is here: Image Worship

Blogging evangelii nuntiandi

I'm not saying my treatment of evangelii nuntiandi will be exhaustive, but I will be posting on sundry parts of it over the next days. It was written ten years or so after the close of Vatican II by Paul VI.

It starts out wonderfully, with a discussion of the Kingdom and salvation, which are rightly seen as the heart of Jesus' proclamation. Only then does Paul turn a discussion of the church and what was a quite evangelical document shows that it is in its heart quite Catholic (which is not a condemnation):

16. There is thus a profound link between Christ, the Church and evangelization. During the period of the Church that we are living in, it is she who has the task of evangelizing. This mandate is not accomplished without her, and still less against her.

It is certainly fitting to recall this fact at a moment like the present one when it happens that not without sorrow we can hear people - whom we wish to believe are well-intentioned but who are certainly misguided in their attitude - continually claiming to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church. The absurdity of this dichotomy is clearly evident in this phrase of the Gospel: "Anyone who rejects you rejects me."[44] And how can one wish to love Christ without loving the Church, if the finest witness to Christ is that of St. Paul: "Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her"?[45]

Paul VI on the Gospel: "a wisdom that is not of this world"

evangelii nuntiandi 5, by Paul VI:

[T]he presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people's salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world. It is able to stir up by itself faith - faith that rests on the power of God. It is truth. It merits having the apostle consecrate to it all his time and all his energies, and to sacrifice for it, if necessary, his own life.

“I equate evangelism with terrorism,” [Algerian] Religious Affairs Minister Ghoulamullah

Police in Muslim country detain Christians for carrying Bibles.

ISTANBUL, March 28 (Compass Direct News) – Police issued written orders for three Algerian churches to cease activity this week, bringing to 19 the number of congregations told to shut down since November, an Algerian Protestant leader said.

In addition to the three churches, registered under the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), two independent congregations were verbally ordered to close their doors, EPA President Mustapha Krim said.

The church closures come amid a flurry of antagonistic media articles warning of campaigns by Protestants to “Christianize” Algeria.

“Muslims do not accept seeing their holy symbols attacked,” Religious Affairs Minister Bu’Abdallah Ghoulamullah said this week in reference to a “Christianization campaign” targeting the country.

Ghoulamullah called on Christian groups in Algeria to re-register according to Algeria’s associations’ law, the March 25 article in Arabic daily El Khabar reported.

But some critics have responded that Algeria’s Christians, not its Muslim majority, are the ones being attacked.

“The repression of evangelist proselytism has turned into the harassment of Christians,” columnist Mustapha Hammouche wrote in Liberte on Tuesday (March 25).

Indeed, Algerian Christians have claimed that the government has blocked them from carrying out the required re-registration of their churches.

“The administration offices in Tizi-Ouzou did not want to or could not say which measures to take in order to obtain the famous ‘certificate of conformity,’” church leaders wrote on March 26. They said the certificate was required to show that they were in line with a new March 2006 law governing non-Muslim places of worship.

“[The] result: the churches are closed, services forbidden, and nothing can change the situation!” reported the Algerian Christian website on March 26.

In addition to restrictions on church building and worship locations, the 2006 religion law also bans evangelistic material and attempts to convert Muslims to other religions. As most Algerian Christians are converts from Islam, the law could be interpreted to make nearly all Christian churches in the country illegal.

Police detained two Algerian Christians traveling by public bus from Tizi Ouzou to Bejaia the evening of March 21 for carrying 11 Bibles.

Authorities held the two men for “proselytism” after finding the Bibles while searching their bags at a routine check-point in Beni Ksila, website reported. One Christian was carrying a personal Bible, while the other, a church council member in Bejaia, was carrying 10 Bibles.

Both men, who requested anonymity for security reasons, were released the following evening after spending a night and a day in police custody.

“It would be more logical that roadblocks catch terrorists,” columnist Chawki Amari wrote in El Watan on March 24. “[If] two Algerians were arrested at a roadblock in England and placed in custody because they carry a dozen specimen of the Quran, one could imagine the consequences: Demonstrations from Nouakchott as far as Islamabad, the burning of flags, unanimous condemnation, the anger of [Religious Affairs Minister] Ghoulamullah […]”

Equating Evangelism with ‘Terrorism’

Ironic particularly in light of Amari’s comment, Algerian authorities have begun comparing evangelization with terrorism in recent months.

“I equate evangelism with terrorism,” Religious Affairs Minister Ghoulamullah said in an article in L’Expression on February 12.

“I’ve asked the imams to remind the people that pastors don’t come to Algeria because they love the country, or because they love Christianity,” news service France24 reported Ghoulamullah as saying. “They come here to create minorities, which would give foreign countries a pretext to interfere in our internal affairs.”

An official report on Protestant activities in Algeria submitted to the Home Affairs Ministry warned of a “fierce attack” targeting the religion and unity of the country, according to local media.

The report recommended supporting Quran schools and mosques to counter Christian evangelization, a March 24 article in El Khabar reported.

According to the report, former EPA president and U.S. citizen Hugh Johnson, 74, was the leader of evangelization in Algeria. Johnson, a 45-year resident, left the country Wednesday (March 26) after having temporarily postponed a February 25 deportation order, reported.

“We are sorry that Algeria could not find another solution to this matter and is depriving itself of citizens like Hugh Johnson,” an article on the Algerian Christian website said.

Ranging in size from several dozen to more than 1,000 members, 32 congregations in Algeria belong to the EPA, while another 20 small fellowships exist independently.

Krim of the EPA said that five independent congregations and 14 EPA fellowships have been ordered to shut down.

He said that 11 of these received written orders from the police, two were told to close on a judge’s order, and six were given verbal warning by police and gendarmerie.

Congregations in Ait Amar, Ait Djemaa, Bachloul, Boughni, Ouargla, Tiaret and Tizi Ouzou are among those told to cease activity, according to Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern.

Despite increased church closures in recent weeks, Krim said that he had felt the support of prayers from Christians around the world.

“I feel the effectiveness of prayers for me from our greater family everywhere,” the pastor said.


What is Abu Daoud reading? Ten Muslims Meet Christ

You are in your car. You break out in a cold sweat. You realize that you have no idea what Abu Daoud is reading these days. Well, fear not. I am done with Day of the Jackal (hardly academic, I know) and almost finished with Andrew Walls' The Missionary Movement in Christian History which has been very influential for me.

So what am I reading now? This little gem found in a nearby library: Ten Muslims Meet Christ by William McElwee Miller. It is a very good read, and is all about the history of missions in Persia/Iran. It really is like reading a history of the Presbyterian and Anglican missions in Iran. I also like that it is written by a Presbyterian who seems to have a genuine appreciation for the historical churches in the region (Catholic, Armenian). He does not mind talking about sacraments like baptism and Communion. He tells of one Muslim believer who was in the opium den and as he was preparing to smoke his opium he realizes, "I have eaten the holy bread of my Lord with this mouth and now will I smoke opium?" and he leaves opium behind.

I say this book is like a history because it is set in the late 19th C. and early 20th C. So you get to read about Russians invading Iran and traveling by caravan to and fro, and the birth of the Baha'i religion, and so on. One is also struck by the motly assortment of Christians in the early days of the Protestant mission: you will often find descriptions of a baptism done by, say, an Armenian pastor of a Muslim believer, witnessed by an American missionary and a Jewish convert. I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Liberty, the highest of natural endowments"

Pope Leo XIII:

Liberty, the highest of natural endowments, being the portion only of intellectual or rational natures, confers on man this dignity -- that he is "in the hand of his counsel" and has power over his actions. But the manner in which such dignity is exercised is of the greatest moment, inasmuch as on the use that is made of liberty the highest good and the greatest evil alike depend.

The Opium Brides of Afghanistan

Remember that Afghanistan has one of the highest birthrates in the world and thus one of the fastest growing populations:

The Opium Brides of Afghanistan

[...] Afghans disparagingly call them "loan brides"—daughters given in marriage by fathers who have no other way out of debt. The practice began with the dowry a bridegroom's family traditionally pays to the bride's father in tribal Pashtun society. These days the amount ranges from $3,000 or so in poorer places like Laghman and Nangarhar to $8,000 or more in Helmand, Afghanistan's No. 1 opium-growing province. For a desperate farmer, that bride price can be salvation—but at a cruel cost. Among the Pashtun, debt marriage puts a lasting stain on the honor of the bride and her family. It brings shame on the country, too. President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: "I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn't give them to old men, and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages."

All the same, local farmers say a man can get killed for failing to repay a loan. No one knows how many debt weddings take place in Afghanistan, where 93 percent of the world's heroin and other opiates originate. But Afghans say the number of loan brides keeps rising as poppy-eradication efforts push more farmers into default. "This will be our darkest year since 2000," says Baz Mohammad, 65, a white-bearded former opium farmer in Nangarhar. "Even more daughters will be sold this year." The old man lives with the anguish of selling his own 13-year-old daughter in 2000, after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar banned poppy growing. "Lenders never show any mercy," the old man says. Local farmers say more than one debtor has been bound hand and foot, then locked into a small windowless room with a smoldering fire, slowly choking to death. [...]

Ireland's Catholic Orders

Great series of photographs of Ireland's Catholic orders over at new Newsweek:

Ireland's Catholic Orders

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Quran: "Allah is the best if deceivers"

"and [they] deceived and Allah deceived and Allah is the best of deceivers"

Sura 3:54

Fitna: The Movie, see it at Brussels Journal

Check it out HERE, until their web host starts getting threats too:

The Dutch getting sick of Islam

Look for more of this around Europe:

According to 56 percent of the Dutch, Islam is a threat to the Dutch identity. As well, 57 percent named admitting large groups of immigrants as "the biggest mistake in Dutch history".

From HERE. HT to

"The earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle."

Narrated Abu Huraira:

While we were in the mosque, Allah's Apostle came out to us and said, "Let us proceed to the Jews." So we went along with him till we reached Bait-al-Midras (a place where the Torah used to be recited and all the Jews of the town used to gather). The Prophet stood up and addressed them, "O Assembly of Jews! Embrace Islam and you will be safe!" The Jews replied, "O Aba-l-Qasim! You have conveyed Allah's message to us." The Prophet said, "That is what I want (from you)."

He repeated his first statement for the second time, and they said, "You have conveyed Allah's message, O Aba-l-Qasim." Then he said it for the third time and added, "You should Know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I want to exile you from this land, so whoever among you owns some property, can sell it, otherwise you should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle."

(See Hadith No. 392, Vol. 4) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 85, Number 77)

Islam: What the West needs to know

Well, it's longer than Fitna (which you can allegedly find on Google video), but I found it to be truly excellent. Very well-researched, I rarely post videos on my blog, but this one is well worth it.

Especially good are the discussions on abrogation (naskh and mansuukh) and taqiyya (dissimulation, wherein the Muslim must lie).

What the West needs to know

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitna dropped from Livelink due to threats

American Pundit says this:

I can’t hold animosity towards the staff of Liveleak. When others refused to even air it once, LL was there willing to stand up for free speech. Unfortunately, the forces looking to silence critics of Islam again take to threats of violence, rather than civil debate.

Meanwhile, what does the UN Human Rights Council concern itself with? Making sure governments actually prohibit criticism of religions, namely Islam.

Well, as they say in London: Anyone who offends the Prophet, behead him!

Or as they also say in London: Islam, our religion today, your religion tomorrow.

Fitna. It's here. (But not anymore.)

Geert Wilders is a politician in the Netherlands and he has recently released his short 15-minute video called Fitna. It is violent and harsh, it is a polemical film and should be taken as such.

See it here if you wish:


UPDATE FROM ABU DAOUD: Well, it was there for a while. It must have just been removed because I just finished watching the whole thing. Found it to be quite good actually. What a sad day this is. I have no doubt that it will somehow or another get out on the internet and I will let you know when it becomes available again. Liveleak says they took down the video because of "very serious threats to their staff." Which in many ways simply confirms what Wilders is proposing: that Islam is a profoundly and irreversibly violent civilization (It's not just a religion, you should know that by now).

Pray for Abu Faadil

Abu Faadil is a Muslim believer in Jesus, though his wife and kids are not. I believe that he is at an important time in his life where he needs to make some important decisions. Pray that God would give him courage and wisdom and boldness to do what is right even if it is not popular. Also pray that his immediate family would come to share in his faith.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Anglican Centre in Qatar

Here is the website for the Anglican congregation in Qatar. They are fundraising so that they can build their church building. We recently posted some info on the Roman Catholic congregation built in Qatar.

The Anglican Centre in Qatar

Allam's conversion and new opportunities for Muslims

[...] In many ways, the Allam conversion, and the controversy that is likely to ensure, will present both challenges and opportunities for ongoing Muslim-non-Muslim relations. First, it provides yet a further test of the Muslim commitment to universal human rights and, to a degree, compatibility with “Western values.” Earlier, opportunities arose in the context of the Pope’s initial remarks on Islam, and the publication of the Danish cartoons. These opportunities were wasted, and the perceived divide between Islam and the West has only grown. For Western Muslims in particular however, the Allam conversion affords an opportunity to demonstrate a respect for the universal human freedom of religion, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This necessarily requires the express rejection of the traditionalist Islamic approach to the issue. Will the Muslim world embrace this opportunity? [...]

From HERE.

Zakaria Botros: Fight Fire with Fire

In my discussion with Sherry (below) I mentioned this priest, whom I have met personally, as a good example of fruitful and excellent witness to Muslims that is confrontational and antagonistic. Like I said, ninceness is not a virtue. Courage is.

Islam’s ‘Public Enemy #1’
Coptic priest Zakaria Botros fights fire with fire.

By Raymond Ibrahim

Though he is little known in the West, Coptic priest Zakaria Botros — named Islam’s “Public Enemy #1” by the Arabic newspaper, al-Insan al-Jadid — has been making waves in the Islamic world. Along with fellow missionaries — mostly Muslim converts — he appears frequently on the Arabic channel al-Hayat (i.e., “Life TV”). There, he addresses controversial topics of theological significance — free from the censorship imposed by Islamic authorities or self-imposed through fear of the zealous mobs who fulminated against the infamous cartoons of Mohammed. Botros’s excurses on little-known but embarrassing aspects of Islamic law and tradition have become a thorn in the side of Islamic leaders throughout the Middle East.

Botros is an unusual figure onscreen: robed, with a huge cross around his neck, he sits with both the Koran and the Bible in easy reach. Egypt’s Copts — members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East — have in many respects come to personify the demeaning Islamic institution of “dhimmitude” (which demands submissiveness from non-Muslims, in accordance with Koran 9:29). But the fiery Botros does not submit, and minces no words. He has famously made of Islam “ten demands,” whose radical nature he uses to highlight Islam’s own radical demands on non-Muslims.

The result? Mass conversions to Christianity — if clandestine ones.
The very public conversion of high-profile Italian journalist Magdi Allam — who was baptized by Pope Benedict in Rome on Saturday — is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, Islamic cleric Ahmad al-Qatani stated on al-Jazeera TV a while back that some six million Muslims convert to Christianity annually, many of them persuaded by Botros’s public ministry. More recently, al-Jazeera noted Life TV’s “unprecedented evangelical raid” on the Muslim world. Several factors account for the Botros phenomenon.

First, the new media — particularly satellite TV and the Internet (the main conduits for Life TV) — have made it possible for questions about Islam to be made public without fear of reprisal. It is unprecedented to hear Muslims from around the Islamic world — even from Saudi Arabia, where imported Bibles are confiscated and burned — call into the show to argue with Botros and his colleagues, and sometimes, to accept Christ.

Secondly, Botros’s broadcasts are in Arabic — the language of some 200 million people, most of them Muslim. While several Western writers have published persuasive critiques of Islam, their arguments go largely unnoticed in the Islamic world. Botros’s mastery of classical Arabic not only allows him to reach a broader audience, it enables him to delve deeply into the voluminous Arabic literature — much of it untapped by Western writers who rely on translations — and so report to the average Muslim on the discrepancies and affronts to moral common sense found within this vast corpus.

A third reason for Botros’s success is that his polemical technique has proven irrefutable. Each of his episodes has a theme — from the pressing to the esoteric — often expressed as a question (e.g., “Is jihad an obligation for all Muslims?”; “Are women inferior to men in Islam?”; “Did Mohammed say that adulterous female monkeys should be stoned?” “Is drinking the urine of prophets salutary according to sharia?”). To answer the question, Botros meticulously quotes — always careful to give sources and reference numbers — from authoritative Islamic texts on the subject, starting from the Koran; then from the canonical sayings of the prophet — the Hadith; and finally from the words of prominent Muslim theologians past and present — the illustrious ulema.

Typically, Botros’s presentation of the Islamic material is sufficiently detailed that the controversial topic is shown to be an airtight aspect of Islam. Yet, however convincing his proofs, Botros does not flatly conclude that, say, universal jihad or female inferiority are basic tenets of Islam. He treats the question as still open — and humbly invites the ulema, the revered articulators of sharia law, to respond and show the error in his methodology. He does demand, however, that their response be based on “al-dalil we al-burhan,” — “evidence and proof,” one of his frequent refrains — not shout-downs or sophistry.

More often than not, the response from the ulema is deafening silence — which has only made Botros and Life TV more enticing to Muslim viewers. The ulema who have publicly addressed Botros’s conclusions often find themselves forced to agree with him — which has led to some amusing (and embarrassing) moments on live Arabic TV.

Botros spent three years bringing to broad public attention a scandalous — and authentic — hadith stating that women should “breastfeed” strange men with whom they must spend any amount of time. A leading hadith scholar, Abd al-Muhdi, was confronted with this issue on the live talk show of popular Arabic host Hala Sirhan. Opting to be truthful, al-Muhdi confirmed that going through the motions of breastfeeding adult males is, according to sharia, a legitimate way of making married women “forbidden” to the men with whom they are forced into contact — the logic being that, by being “breastfed,” the men become like “sons” to the women and therefore can no longer have sexual designs on them.

To make matters worse, Ezzat Atiyya, head of the Hadith department at al-Azhar University — Sunni Islam’s most authoritative institution — went so far as to issue a fatwa legitimatizing “Rida’ al-Kibir” (sharia’s term for “breastfeeding the adult”), which prompted such outrage in the Islamic world that it was subsequently recanted.

Botros played the key role in exposing this obscure and embarrassing issue and forcing the ulema to respond. Another guest on Hala Sirhan’s show, Abd al-Fatah, slyly indicated that the entire controversy was instigated by Botros: “I know you all [fellow panelists] watch that channel and that priest and that none of you [pointing at Abd al-Muhdi] can ever respond to him, since he always documents his sources!”

Incapable of rebutting Botros, the only strategy left to the ulema (aside from a rumored $5-million bounty on his head) is to ignore him. When his name is brought up, they dismiss him as a troublemaking liar who is backed by — who else? — international “Jewry.” They could easily refute his points, they insist, but will not deign to do so. That strategy may satisfy some Muslims, but others are demanding straightforward responses from the ulema.

The most dramatic example of this occurred on another famous show on the international station, Iqra. The host, Basma — a conservative Muslim woman in full hijab — asked two prominent ulema, including Sheikh Gamal Qutb, one-time grand mufti of al-Azhar University, to explain the legality of the Koranic verse (4:24) that permits men to freely copulate with captive women. She repeatedly asked: “According to sharia, is slave-sex still applicable?” The two ulema would give no clear answer — dissembling here, going off on tangents there. Basma remained adamant: Muslim youth were confused, and needed a response, since “there is a certain channel and a certain man who has discussed this issue over twenty times and has received no response from you.”

The flustered Sheikh Qutb roared, “low-life people like that must be totally ignored!” and stormed off the set. He later returned, but refused to admit that Islam indeed permits sex-slaves, spending his time attacking Botros instead. When Basma said “Ninety percent of Muslims, including myself, do not understand the issue of concubinage in Islam and are having a hard time swallowing it,” the sheikh responded, “You don’t need to understand.” As for Muslims who watch and are influenced by Botros, he barked, “Too bad for them! If my son is sick and chooses to visit a mechanic, not a doctor — that’s his problem!”

But the ultimate reason for Botros’s success is that — unlike his Western counterparts who criticize Islam from a political standpoint — his primary interest is the salvation of souls. He often begins and concludes his programs by stating that he loves all Muslims as fellow humans and wants to steer them away from falsehood to Truth. To that end, he doesn’t just expose troubling aspects of Islam. Before concluding every program, he quotes pertinent biblical verses and invites all his viewers to come to Christ.

Botros’s motive is not to incite the West against Islam, promote “Israeli interests,” or “demonize” Muslims, but to draw Muslims away from the dead legalism of sharia to the spirituality of Christianity. Many Western critics fail to appreciate that, to disempower radical Islam, something theocentric and spiritually satisfying — not secularism, democracy, capitalism, materialism, feminism, etc. — must be offered in its place. The truths of one religion can only be challenged and supplanted by the truths of another. And so Father Zakaria Botros has been fighting fire with fire.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sherry and Abu Daoud: On mission to Muslims and Allam's baptism

Hi All,

Well, here is the last section on the debate between me and Sherry. I invite her to have the last word if she feels anything needs to be tied up. I think I have also addressed the concerns expressed by Shaw, though I have not answered his questions here explicitly.

Thank you to everyone for linking to our discussion here. If anyone has more questions please leave a comment or e-mail me.

SW: As you and I both know, some of the most effective witnesses *in the Muslim world* [...] don't have crosses on their meeting places, and they don't use bells, and women do cover their heads and men and women sit separately and they may use a Koran stand for their Bible, etc. They have adopted local customs that are not essential to the faith in order to more effectively be able to share the Gospel with others.

AD: Yes, but Italy is not the Muslim world. At least not yet.

SW: Abu Daoud, for instance, you use a common Arabic pseudonym and never reveal your Christian name or your location on your blog and have a special high security e-mail address. All very appropriate precautions but intended to give you the anonymity you need to be effective in your mission. You clearly feel that in-your-face candor is not appropriate or effective at all times (and I would heartily agree with you) so that you might be able to be present as a witness.

AD: This is very true and I want to elaborate on this point. We find in the Bible and church history two approaches to witness. One is antagonistic (think "your father is the devil," in Jn 8 or the sermon of St Stephen) and at other times it is irenic and friendly (think woman caught in adultery or Areopagus). Both are valid, and Raymund Lull (the first missionary to the Muslims) himself said so explicitly. If some classify this baptism of Mr. Allam as antagonistic that DOES NOT mean that it was not wise or good or prudent. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that being nice is a virtue. It is not.

SW: But some of my readers, who are not familiar with the realities involved, might regard this as "appeasement", knuckling under to unjust laws and customs instead of challenging them directly and boldly. Of course, if you do, you don't have access, so there you are.

AD: According to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in each individual moment I leave the question open. Sometimes I am very antagonistic and it has born surprising fruit. Sometimes I am very irenic and that has born fruit as well. Praise be to God. But it is simply wrong to say that one or the other is always right. (But dealing with governments is a whole different matter.)

SW: This is the model of St. Paul declaring that he was a Jew to Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, all things to all men that by any means he might reach some.

AD: And Paul was sometimes harsh and antagonistic. Which is ok. Antagonistic, sharp evangelism can be done in a manner sensitive to culture. So this verse does not rule out either approach to evangelism.

SW: If the question we are asking is "What has been most effective in actually winning significant numbers of Muslims to Christ?", the evidence is in. In 800 years of attempts at witness, aggressively, in-your-face challenge has consistently been the *least* effective. The alternatives are not less risky. They are often *more* risky to those who dare to take them but more importantly, they have proven to be much more fruitful. Even in this country where religious freedom reigns, we know that ordinary friendship and kindness is best way when it comes to our family members and friends whom we hope to win back to the practice of the faith or to the faith in the first place. Because it is a human way: we start with friendship and build trust and earn the right to speak about deeper things We don't begin the relationships by beating them over the head with a catechism.

AD: I want to disagree with this. For example, books like "The Balance of Truth" (Mizaam al haq) which in a straight-forward way reject elements at the heart of Islam, and are thus quite confrontational, have had a great deal of influence and have led to many conversions. Or let us examine the ministry of Abouna Zacarias Boutros, a Coptic priest, who classifies his style as "sharp, short, and shocking." He has spent time in jail. He has baptized hundreds of Muslim converts. He no longer lives in his home country of Egypt. But his satellite ministry has had a profound effect throughout the region. He speaks kindly and with love, but his confrontational style has caught the attention of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who otherwise would not have paid any attention. One could say the same about what BXVI and Allam have done.

SW: But is "what will make us most effective in our attempts to bring Christ to others?" the question that most of us around St. Blog's are really asking? I don't think so.

AD: I'm not on St. Blog's, alas. That is the question I'm discussing though.

SW: I think that in this discussion, we have confused two issues: the western concerns about large scale Muslim immigration into Europe, and what to do when a significant part of your population no longer shares your most basic assumptions about law and freedom - the whole Eurabia debate - and the very different situation of those who are, this very moment, taking enormous risks to be present as loving Christian witnesses in the Muslim world.

AD: This may well be true of some readers. I can only speak for myself: I want to see Muslims turning to Christ everywhere, both here in MENA and there in the West.

SW: Abu Daoud: Another factor in this debate that no one has mentioned so far is the huge charism in mission experience since the 60's between Catholics and evangelical Protestants. Catholic missionaries, for the most past, jettisoned the proclamation of Christ as the primary focus of mission 40 years while evangelicals revved their engines.

AD: And they (The Catholics) were castigated for this by JPII in his encyclical, missio redemptoris, which is about the permanent validity of the church's evangelistic mission to the nations. Wherein he also says that religious dialogue is nice, but it's not the same as mission. The exact position I hold to.

SW: So the two categories that Catholics tend to think of as Catholic are 1) the (understandably) extremely cautious, we-won't-bother-you-by-sharing-Christ-if-you'll-just-leave-us-alone stance of historic Christian minorities in the ME and parts of Asia and 2) the older Christendom model where everyone is assumed to be Catholic and state and cultural norms and church all reinforce one another and the Catholicism fills the public square. The fearful, quiet minority or the big battalion. Egypt and Italy, if you will. (Allam's life bridges both)
But in my experience, Catholics are hardly ever familiar with [option 3] the vastly different evangelical experience of the past 40 years in the Muslim world - where a huge number of creative, pro-active, alternatives to categories 1 & 2 above have been tried. Many have proven fruitless but some have born enormous fruit and given rise to the first Muslim background Christian communities in history. AD, your own ministry would fall into [option 3] I think?

AD: I don't come from a religious home and I was not raised in any church at all. I knew nothing at all about Christianity up til I was about 11 or 12, and that exposure was in Latin America, not in the West, so my experience of the Gospel, culture, and church are quite different than what other people may have known. So yes, unlike 1) I do want to preach the Gospel, unlike 2) I am not operating out of a Christendom paradigm.

SW: The most common reaction I get from Catholics when I mention these alternatives is that they aren't legitimate, are somehow deceptive and immoral and imperialistic (which is how these same folks often regard evangelization in this country as well) and are simply unrealistic. Because no *normal* Christian (they must be emotionally and religious unstable freaks) could or would ever do anything like this - could or would do what you are doing, AD.

AD: I get that in mainline Protestant churches too. Most people seem to be in awe of my faith, which was very strange to me at first, because I don't consider myself to be more faithful or devout than your average Christian in the pew in the UK or the USA. But they should learn more church history. You share the Good News because it's good news.

SW: The whole debate around St. Blog's seems to presume that door number one and door number two are the only two truly Catholic alternatives. And obviously, operating from those assumptions, the recovery of Christendom is the more attractive option. The reality of tens of thousands of MBB's in the Muslim world is unknown to Catholics or at best, an abstraction, while the situation of a highly westernized Muslim man wanting to become a Catholic in Italy is immediately understandable. [...] His public reception is a blow for our side in the future-of-the-west wars and it feels good.

AD: That may the reason that some people are happy about it. I'm glad because I think it will encourage Christians in MENA and bring more secret MBB's out of the woodwork in the West as well as embolden heretofore fearful clergy. Just because some people rejoice for the wrong reason doesn't mean that there's not a right reason for rejoicing.

SW: Meanwhile, the cost to MBB's and the historic Christians of the Muslim world is not obvious - is hidden from us because we hardly know they exist. Nor is the very real possibility that the promotion of a man with his history as the model of conversion may turn off many seeking Muslims who were already on the journey. Because very few Catholics believe that Muslims can and do become Christian as an act of faith. They think the concept is as new to everyone as it is to them.

AD: And this bold act will help to remedy this bad situation. Catholics now know that some Muslims are attracted to the faith, praise God.

SW: The irony is that Allam's public conversion will illuminate western Christians who didn't realize this was possible and will probably hurt the efforts of those who are already in the thick of it. That's why I'm raising the issue. Those of us who do know have to keep pointing out that there is more at stake here than the real and important debates about the Christian identity and future of Europe. There is also the identity and future of the rest of the world.

AD: Sorry for the bad news but in terms of human rights and freedom of religion the countries of MENA have been going downhill for the last four decades or so (1967 if you want a date). Things were already getting worse here, the Christians have been leaving in droves for decades, Islam is being reformed and is this returning to its more coercive and militant roots. All this was happening before Easter and will not stop any time soon, as far as I can see. Meanwhile, this baptism has the capacity to make real positive changes for MBB's and the churches in the West, especially Europe.

This made my day!

From DarwinCatholic:

(Incidently, if all blogosphere argument was as civil and thoughtful as the Sherry/Abu Daoud exchange, it would be a pretty wonderful thing.)

Let me also post this quote, which was, I thought, quite insightful:

Benedict is no political and cultural fire-breether, but he is a thoughtful and holy man who is in no sense afraid of difficult and unpopular truths. I wonder if the pope, who according to Allam immediately agreed to personally receive him into the Church when Allam made the request, means with this action to make a statement that he will bring to the table when he meets with scholars from the A Common Word initiative in November: Toleration means not merely ignoring and minimizing points of difference, but respecting the conscience of others even in the face of grave and important points of difference.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sundry Items of Interest

Delicious pickings from around the globe:

Food prices are going up all around the world. Did I mention that the next big war will probably be about food and water? Not oil...

Comoros military mobilized against rebels. Why is this important? Because Comoros is generally on all the lists for least-evangelized countries in the world, especially when you look down the road ten or 20 years. Any one called to Comoros? Really pray about it.

Iranian preacher evangelizes Muslims in the UK.

Spengler: "convert European Muslims"

From the irascible Spengler at AsiaTimes:

As I wrote in 2005, "Now that everyone is talking about Europe's demographic death, it is time to point out that there exists a way out: convert European Muslims to Christianity." Today's Europeans stem from the melting-pot of the barbarian invasions that replaced the vanishing population of the Roman Empire. The genius of the Catholic Church was to absorb them. If Benedict XVI can convert this new wave of invaders from North Africa and the Middle East, history will place him on a par with his great namesake, the founder of the monastic order the bears his name.

2020 UK: worshippers at mosques to outnumber Catholic church-goers

The Telegraph

The increasing influence of Islam on British culture is disclosed in research today that shows the number of Muslims worshipping at mosques in England and Wales will outstrip the numbers of Roman Catholics going to church in little more than a decade.

Projections show Muslims are to outstrip Catholic Sunday worshippers by 2020.

Projections to be published next month estimate that, if trends continue, the number of Catholic worshippers at Sunday Mass will fall to 679,000 by 2020. [...]

Allam: We must "affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims"

Hello All,

Had a nice day really. I wish I could tell you more about what I did, but suffice to say I spent most of the day with a talented theologian and friend who can intelligently answer questions about, say Rahner's theology of the Trinity, off the top of his head. And had a great lunch.

I will write an answer to Sherry and Shaw's comments tomorrow, but for now I think our new brother has said it very well:

His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

--Magdi Cristiano Allam

And how wonderful that his name, magdi, is Arabic for "my glory."

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Baptism of Magdi Allam: wisdom or folly?

Sherry from Intentional Disciples and I have been having an ongoing debate about this topic for all of two days. I think we have established that in many respects we are actually in agreement. So I think the main topic at this point is regarding the prudence of this specific act: was it the wisest and most prudent path for Benedict to baptize this particular Muslim on Easter at St. Petersburg?

I think there that Sherry would answer NO. But my answer is Yes. So let me address this specific topic instead of trading in hypotheticals, which is what we have been doing until now.

1) It was wise because this man has been thinking about converting for years. This is not a sudden decision or something that has not had forethought. He said it himself if you read the articles. This is important.

2) It is right because the man lives in Rome. Benedict is the bishop of Rome and thus the senior or chief pastor of that city--even Protestants and evangelicals must agree with this. It is therefore good and right for him to baptize new Christians.

3) Mr. Allam is already a public figure. He is a journalist and knows how to deal with publicity and questions about his motives and positions. This is very important because it means that he is in an excellent position to be an apologist/evangelist for his new faith. Many MBB's are very sincere and godly, but do not know how to adequately explain their motives and reasons--this man does and has.

4) It is good because it is a claim of solidarity with MBB's by the pope. By taking this action Benedict has decidedly cast his lot--within the context of further dialogue with Muslims--with the converts. He is this carrying on the heritage of JPII and his proclamation that evangelistic mission is and always must be at the heart of the church's ministry (read Missio Redemptoris by JPII if you haven't already). He is also saying quite clearly that he is willing to suffer the odium and persecution of the shari'a with Muslim apostates.

5) It is good and right because it will give hope to Christians throughout MENA. Some might say that the Christians in MENA will be persecuted because of this. Guess what? They are persecuted either way and every day, several times, they hear resounding from the minaret that 'there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet' which means, yes, that the Christian faith is useless and empty. They are used to it. I am used to it. Here is a secret, small glimpse of hope for them. That thought they hear this message called out day after day that someone has said, "NO: Muhammad is not his prophet." And that the most influential Christian in the world has fellowship with this man.

For these reasons, and others, I think that BXVI's act of baptizing brother Allam on Easter in St. Peter's was a good and right thing to do--and more than that, prudent and wise.

The persecution against Christians in MENA is already here--this will give them hope and strength to withstand it.

Response from Sr. Sherry, my response to her

Read it all here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sister Sherry on the Baptism of Allam

Sister Sherry over at Intentional Disciples is not too excited (I think) about the baptism of Allam by the good Roman bishop. She says:

Historically, this sort of gesture has actually hamstrung the cause of the gospel in the Muslim world by exacerbating the enmity against those considering baptism, isolating converts from their natural social network, and making the price of conversion the loss of all family (including children) and friendship ties. The result: only the already marginalized became Christians and many didn't go the distance because the social isolation was too terrible to bear. The breakthrough happened when Christians stopped demanding individuals convert in a way that doomed them to isolation and started to work with whole families, tribes, and people groups.

With all due respect to her (and I really do respect her ministry, may God prosper it!), I think she is perhaps missing a couple of things which I want to point out. There is in the mission field of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) generally only the possibility of private baptism. A minister, the convert, and perhaps some people from the local church, if there is such a thing. A de facto baptism open to the public and where it is known in advance that one of the candidates is a Muslim is probably impossible, except maybe in Lebanon. So really comparing Rome with any of those cities is not sensible.

But will this bring persecution on the Christians in MENA? Well, the honest answer is they already have it. Living fearfully and sheepishly and hiding our lights under baskets is not the way of the Kingdom of God. Good for el papa. Let your light shine before man. Allam is a Christian now, and a son of the Catholic church. That is good news and we are to shout it from roof tops if at all possible. In Rome it is still, for now, possible. The day is coming when it may not be...

Christians in MENA will indeed live with this for years. They will live with the image of the best know Christian in the world baptizing a Muslim. It will give them hope. It will encourage other Muslims to convert. It will, in a few Muslims' minds, occasion the question, "What if I left?" Most of them have never even considered the possibility. Many of them don't even know that people DO leave Islam.

This is great news for the Catholic Church as well as the mission to Muslims. Muslims respect the Catholic Church and the pope because he is powerful. That is a language that they can understand. They know that he holds more sway around the world Christians than does any single person in Islam. They know he has a country of his own. They know his office is very ancient. These things, to the Muslim mind, and specifically to the Muslim Arab mind are often attractive. Becoming a non-denominational Christian with no clear affinity or relation to anyone else is not always appealing to a Muslim considering conversion.

So yes, will there be persecution? Of course, but at least this time it will be for a good and glorious reason: the public confession of faith of a Muslim hajji in the best-known church in the world on the holiest day of the year by that city's bishop.

Persecution will come, and marginalization from families is almost unavoidable, dear sister. Jesus knew this well--that his message would divide families, which is why he promised that anyone who left wife or children or brothers for him would receive ten thousands times more in the next life, and this life. Those thousands upon thousands of new brothers and sisters are me and you. Amen.

(PS: I don't see how this baptism of Allam means that the church is not working with peoples and tribes...)

"Benedict has got Islam's number"


"The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy — which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas — said the baptism was his own decision.

'He is an adult, free to make his personal choice,' the Apcom news agency quoted the group's spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying. [...]" -- from this article

My, my.

We are expected to believe that Muslims believe that he, Magdi Allam, or anyone else, for that matter, who is born into Islam and "is an adult" is therefore "free to make his personal choice."

This merely means that, for now, given the image problems Islam has been having, official Islamic groups in Italy are going to lie about what is permitted, for fear of alarming and angering the Infidels further.
Magdi Allam is frequently on Italian television (the RAI), writes frequently in the most important paper, the Corriere della Sera, and furthermore, was baptised by the Pope himself, which puts the Vatican squarely front and center. If anyone still needed proof that Benedict has got Islam's number, whatever little pretend pieties about Interfaith-Healing may come out of the Vatican, this is surely it. [...]

Prominent Muslim becomes Catholic on Easter

This is all over the blogosphere. Praise be to God. May many more follow. It is so important that the bishops of the church take the lead in this, and what better way by baptizing the converts? In many ways it is a sign of solidarity because Muslims take the sacramental act very seriously, and the one who baptizes becomes guilty of a crime against Allah, though not as serious as the one committed by the one who professes faith in Christ in the sacrament.

Prominent Muslim becomes Catholic on Easter

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Italy's most prominent Muslim commentator converted to Roman Catholicism on Saturday during the Vatican's Easter vigil service presided over by the pope.

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim, Magdi Allam has infuriated some fellow Muslims with his criticism of extremism and support for Israel.

The deputy editor of the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Allam often writes on Muslim and Arab affairs.

He told the Il Giornale newspaper in a December interview that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombings generated threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizeable security detail.

Pope Benedict XVI baptized seven adults during the service.

It marks the period between Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus' crucifixion, and Easter Sunday, which marks his resurrection.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said of Allam before the service that anyone who chooses to become a Catholic of his or her own free will has the right to receive the sacrament.

Lombardi said the pope administers the sacrament "without making any 'difference of people,' that is, considering all equally important before the love of God and welcoming all in the community of the Church." [...]

Seven Stanzas at Easter

I always post this at Easter. I really love this poem:

Seven Stanzas at Easter
by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday: An in-between moment

In this empty hallway, there’s nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they’ve been up all night with someone who’s seriously ill or dying, or when they’ve been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of ‘limbo’, an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.

–Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

(HT to TitusOneNine)

Saudis to retrain 40,000 clerics

Saudis to retrain 40,000 clerics

[...] Saudi clerics have long been accused of encouraging Saudi youth to join global jihad and of inciting hatred of non-Muslims.

Nearly 1,000 imams have already been sacked over the past few years.

The Saudi royal family has come under increasing pressure - mainly from Washington - to change religious textbooks and to rein in militant clerics.

But critics are sceptical about whether such initiatives would work as long as the powerful, and ultraconservative, religious establishment in Saudi Arabia continues to exert enormous influence over society.

Only last week, a prominent cleric called for the beheading of two liberal writers who had questioned the orthodox view that Muslims can not change their religion.

Good Friday, the Gospel of John, Fake Peace, and Real Peace

From Peter Leithart, who is brilliant:

...Rome brings final peace and justice to the world.

There was something to that, but in the trial of Jesus we discover the blunt injustice and bald pragmatism on which Roman peace was founded. Three times Pilate declares Jesus innocent: I find no fault in Him, I find no fault in Him, I find no fault in Him. But the Jews insist that since Jesus has made Himself a king, He threatens the Roman empire, and it’s clear from the agitation of the Jews that Jesus threatens the peace of Israel. If I don’t get rid of Jesus, Pilate reasons, I’m going to have no end of trouble from these Jews. I could lose support in Rome, and I could lose my job. It’s better for one innocent man to die than for me to be faced with enraged Jewish agitators. It’s better that one man die, than for me to lose the perks of being a provincial governor.

This is Roman peace. It is peace founded on the murder of the innocent. It’s a peace designed to protect the interests of those who hold power. It is peace from the barrel of a gun. Augustine recognized that Roman peace is a kind of peace; you can keep most people quiet if you have enough guns. But it is only a shadow of the tranquility of order that is true peace.

For their part, the Jewish leaders realize that Jesus threatens the nation – or, more precisely, their leadership of the nation. “One man must die for the people,” Caiphas said, thinking not of substitutionary atonement but of national survival. If Jesus isn’t stopped, he reasons, then the Roman army will come crashing down on us to destroy the temple and scatter our people.

In the event, we know this is ironic, because the New Testament shows that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and the apostles is precisely what brings the Roman siege engines to Jerusalem. That irony is already evident in the trial itself. The Jews are given a choice of Jesus or Bar-abbas, Jesus or this other “Son of the Father.” They choose Bar-Abbas, and that choice expresses a political agenda. For Bar-Abbas is not a “robber” but a rebel leader, an insurrectionist, a bandit who uses his banditry to destabilize Rome. We could without much exaggeration call him a terrorist. This is the man the Jews want more than Jesus. This is the path they choose. To save themselves from the Rome, they choose a man who devoted his life to provoking Rome. [...]

The Harrowing of Hell

Holy Saturday: Christ descends to the grave and opens the gates for the righteous deceased.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Video from Sana'a in Yemen

Nate has posted some nice footage of Sana'a the capital city of Yemen at his blog. Check it out:

Pictures of Redemption

Liberal Christianity and Decline

One could find similar figures for the other large, liberal denominations (ELCA, PCUSA, UMC, etc.):

The raw, ugly truth is that there are less than 800,000 practicing Episcopalians on any given Sunday. That number is declining at the rate of 1,000 a week. According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, the Episcopal Church is the fastest dying mainline protestant denomination in America. It dropped 1.5% in attendance last year. That figure is projected to only increase and escalate in 2008.

The Episcopal Church has declined in absolute numbers. According to statistics presented by Kirk Hadaway, the Episcopal Church's director of research to the Executive Council, the church is losing 1,000 parishioners per week. Only one in three Episcopalians attends a parish church on a weekly basis. Membership in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church totaled 2,320,506 in 2006, down 2.2%, or 51,502, from 2,372,008 in 2005. That's the equivalent of 1,000 Episcopalians walking away from the Episcopal Church each week. There is no indication it will turn around any time soon, if ever. Since 2007, the decline has only accelerated.

One entire diocese, - San Joaquin - taking about 90 percent of its members, has departed the Episcopal Church. Three more dioceses, - Ft. Worth, Quincy and Pittsburgh, will, in all likelihood, leave over the next year taking thousands more with them. In the past 10 years, over 10 of the largest Episcopal parishes in the country have fled to other jurisdictions, my rector tells me. What does that tell you?

The figures don't lie. The Episcopal Church is not growing, it is dying.

From HERE.

Arabic Christian Writers

A huge list!

Now I just have to figure out where to get these writings...

Muhammad not 'the founder of Islam'

Muhammad is Allah’s Last Messenger, not the ‘founder’ of Islam

21 March 2008

THE Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) name has yet again been in the media as of late due to the republication of the offense Danish cartoon caricatures that continue to be used to taunt Muslims and tarnish the good name of the final messenger (pbuh).

As I watched the recent protests unfold on live television from Muslims around the world in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations, I became increasingly irritated with the broadcaster’s commentary. She kept referring to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the ‘founder’ of Islam. And even her interviewees responded in a similar fashion by also referring to him as the ‘founder’ of Islam.

To imply that Muhammad (pbuh) founded Islam or created it is a gross and reprehensible lie that quite often is used by the enemies of Islam to water-down the impact that Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophethood had on the entire world. This world has never seen a greater man, prophet, father, statesman, politician, orator, warrior, commander, friend, teacher or confidant than Muhammad (pbuh).

The simple fact remains that centuries after Muhammad’s (pbuh) death, Islam runs strong with people converting every single day because the message of Allah in the Holy Quran rings true and is enticing to the seekers of all that is good in this world. The founder of Islam is actually Allah Almighty. Allah chose Muhammad (pbuh) to be the final Prophet sent to this world to give both a warning and glad tidings.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Erik Twist, Part X: No Loopholes

Part 10 of his Why Catholic? series:

[...] Fr. Scott’s way of approaching issues was, well, Magisterial. He spoke with clarity and confidence and in such a way that as I listened to him I was remembering why Catholicism had initially intrigued me; it had the audacity to speak as though it was authoritatively true. But most of all I was mesmerized by the philosophical consistency which under girded Fr. Scott’s responses. There were no loopholes. There was no jumping from one assumption to the next. There were reasonable answers for each reasonable question. In his responses I was constantly amazed by how they both upheld the dignity of mankind while not overshadowing the sovereignty of God. In Protestantism this never seemed quite possible. Either the former was emphasized to the point of secular humanism, or the latter was emphasized to the point of rigid Dutch Calvinism. [...]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ziya Meral: Bearing the Silence

Excellent article here from a Muslim-background believer (MBB) in Turkey. Please do read it all, but here is one section:

Bearing the Silence

I must admit, I am no heavenly man! Unlike most other Muslim-background believers, there is nothing supernatural to tell about how I came in touch with Christians or decided to be one.

On the contrary, I went to an old Anglican church with some friends because of an article about it in a local Turkish newspaper, which accused it of luring young people to become Christians by offering them wine, 100 U.S. dollars every Sunday, and the possibility of marrying a young British woman.

I was 17 years old when I had to face my family and relatives about my decision to be a follower of Jesus. I remember vividly how fearful I was, and how isolated and alone I felt as I lay in the fetal position in a sleeping bag on a friend's floor.

I am still broke, sober, and single after all these years, and I still struggle with shame, loneliness, and fear.

[...] More Christians are killed than are saved from execution at the last minute. More Christians stay locked in prison, beaten and tortured, than are able to walk free, guided by miraculous escape plans. More Christians suffer lifelong deprivation of their most basic civic and economic rights. More converts from Islam give up their faith than stay Christians, and those who remain in the church struggle with lifelong battles with shame, depression, and isolation, caused by the loss of ties to their families, communities, and nations.

Above all, for the average persecuted Christian, there are unanswered prayers and the absence of peace, strength, courage, and joy. Their humanness in a very earthly plot line finds no place in our modern-day obsession with heroic stories with victorious resolutions. [...]

A Church in Saudi Arabia?

Very unlikely, IMHO. But still worth reading. Maybe in one of the special economic zones where regular Saudis are not allowed in without special permission...

A Church in Saudi Arabia?

Presiding over the cradle of Islam and home to its holiest sites, the Saudi monarchy has long banned the open worship of other faiths, even as the number of Catholics resident in Saudi Arabia has risen to 800,000 thanks to an influx of immigrant workers from places like the Philippines and India. Mosques are the only houses of prayer in a country where the strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam dominates. But Archbishop Paul-Mounged El-Hachem, the papal envoy to the smaller countries on the Arabian peninsula, such as Kuwait and Qatar, has confirmed that talks are under way to establish formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, and to eventually allow for Catholic churches to be built there. Pope Benedict XVI is believed to have personally appealed to King Abdullah on the topic during the Saudi monarch's first ever visit to the Vatican last November.

Top Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that a Catholic parish in this key Islamic country would be "a historic achievement" in the push to expand religious freedom and foster a positive interfaith rapport. [...]

Most Palestinians favor violence over talks, poll shows

Most Palestinians favor violence over talks, poll shows

RAMALLAH, West Bank: A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the attack this month on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem that killed eight young men, most of them teenagers, an indication of the alarming level of Israeli-Palestinian tension in recent weeks.

The survey also shows unprecedented support for the firing of rockets on Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip and for the end of the peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The pollster who conducted the survey, Khalil Shikaki, said he was shocked because it showed greater support for violence than any of the surveys he had conducted over the past 15 years in the Palestinian areas. Never before, he said, had a majority favored an end to negotiations or the firing of rockets at Israel.


His explanation for the shift, one widely reflected in the Palestinian media, is that recent actions by Israel, especially a series of attacks on Gaza that killed nearly 130 people, an undercover operation in Bethlehem that killed four militants, and the announced expansion of several West Bank settlements, has led to despair and rage among average Palestinians who thirst for revenge. [...]

VOM: Christians killed in Ethiopia

Christians Killed - VOM Sources/International Christian Concern
On March 3, Muslim militants killed at least two Christians and wounded dozens in Nensabo town southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. According to The Voice of the Martyrs contacts and reports from International Christian Concern, militants attacked Christians, including women and children, while they were attending a worship service. According to reports, "Eight of the wounded have been taken to the town of Awassa for hospitalization, while others with serious injuries were taken to Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa. Among the wounded were a police officer and a Christian whose hand was cut off by the attackers." Reports indicated that the attack was part of a plan by Muslim militants, influenced by the spread of Wahhabism, in the area to wipe out Christians from the Muslim-dominated region. Pray for those mourning deceased believers. Ask God to comfort them. Pray God will protect and guide believers in Ethiopia facing harsh conditions.


Al Kimel on Purgatory

Since Erik just wrote about Purgatory, I thought I'd post a section of Al Kimel's apology for the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which Eastern orthodox tend to not accept either. But I think as far as apologetics go his is the best one could present:

[...] But the punishment [of Purgatory] is not primarily or exclusively retributive: its purpose is the sanctification and perfection of the sinner. The punitive dimension of purgatorial suffering must be interpreted through its medicinal purpose. The person is truly being “punished” for his own good—to heal the disorder of his heart and liberate him completely from the power of sin.

The language of “punishment” in this context should therefore be recognized as a form of figurative speech. The torment individuals suffer in Purgatory varies, Bonaventure explains, “according as they took with them from their earthly life more or less of what must be burned away. … The more deeply a man has loved the things of the world in the inner core of his heart, the harder it will be for him to be cleansed.” With Augustine and Caesarius of Arles, Bonaventure affirms that the sufferings of Purgatory exceed the sufferings of our present life, but “because those who are being cleansed possess grace which now they cannot lose, they neither can nor will be completely immersed in sorrow, or fall into despair, or be moved to blaspheme.” Two hundred years later St Catherine of Genoa would remind the Church that though the sufferings of the poor souls may be great, their joy and happiness is greater still: “No happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed.” [...]

Council of Chalcedon (451)

I was just reading about the Council of Chalcedon two days ago and I learned that there were between 500 and 600 bishops there. And that only two of them were from the West, both of whom were papal legates, and two more from Africa. That means that the Definition of Chalcedon (below) which is authoritative for all churches except the Oriental Orthodox was brought forth from a very Eastern milieu.

Moreover, all the main sees were involved in the controversies on Nestorianism and Monophysitism which were addressed at Chalcedon (and Ephesus 20 years earlier). St Cyril of Alexandria was the main opponent of Nestorius, who was a monk from Antioch but who had been made bishop of Constantinople. The Council promulgated the Tome of Leo (bishop of Rome) as orthodox teaching against the two heresies mentioned above.

Also important: Ephesus (431) promulgated the title Theotokos (God-bearer) for Mary against Nestorius.

The canons of Chalcedon were all accepted by Rome except for the elevation of Constantinople to be a Patriarchal See second only to Rome.

Here is the Definition of Chalcedon:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly G and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God..."

Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly.

Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Erik Twist, Purgatory, and "Decision"

From Part IX:

...The Protestant notion of salvation is an all-in-one, instantaneous occurrence where the deal is sealed upon "conversion." Today the supposition is that such an event takes place once an individual "prays the sinner's prayer." I've been to many an evangelical rally, a few of which have been Promise Keepers events. At the last one I went to in San Antonio (3 years before Catholicism became a serious possibility) I remember being very turned off by the way salvation was articulated during the "altar call". The usual evangelical process was undertaken; lights were dimmed, the band played some ethereal tune in the background, and the "leader" spoke passionately about the benefits of a life with Christ. As droves of people came forward they were encouraged to fill out "Decision Cards" that were being passed out around the arena.

My good friend Duane Miller was with me and we reflected on the implications of referring to conversion as a "decision". In many ways it is quite innocent and probably mostly reflects the desire for Promise Keepers to keep a tally on how well their rallies are doing in "spreading the gospel." And there is certainly an element of personal decision in the spiritual life. The problem with it, we thought, was how reductionist it ends up being. [...]

US Embassy attacked in Yemen


US Embassy says three mortars detonated close to the compound and closes.

Moses and the Green Man

Nice summary here of one of the longer stories from the Qur'an, in this case it is from Spencer's commentary on the The Cave, one of the chapters of the Qur'an:

[...] Verses 60-82 of Sura 18 contain one of the strangest, most arresting stories in the entire Qur’an: that of the journey of Moses and Khidr, one of the great road-trip stories of all time. Moses, traveling with his servant, forgets the fish they had carried along for their meal (vv. 60-64). Returning to retrieve it, they encounter “one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence,” (v. 65). In Islamic tradition this man is identified as Al-Khadir or Al-Khidr, or, more commonly, Khidr, “the Green Man.” Some identify him as one of the prophets, others as a wali, a Muslim saint. [...]

Anyway, at the beginning of their encounter, Moses asks Khidr: “May I follow thee,” so that “thou teach me something of the (Higher) Truth which thou hast been taught?” Khidr is leery (vv. 67-68), and finally agrees as long as Moses asks him no questions (v. 70). Moses agrees.

Khidr and Moses then get on a boat, which Khidr immediately scuttles – whereupon Moses breaks his promise for the first time, and upbraids Khidr (v. 71); Khidr reminds him of his promise (vv. 72-73). Shortly thereafter, Khidr murders a young man in an apparently random act, and Moses criticizes him again (v. 74), with the same exchange about the promise then following (vv. 75-76). Finally, Khidr rebuilds a wall that had fallen down in a town that had refused the two hospitality, and Moses scolds him yet again (v. 77), for he could have gotten wages for his action, which the two could have used to buy food and lodging.

Finally Khidr tells Moses that their journey is over, and explains his strange actions. (Muhammad commented: “We wished that Moses could have remained patient by virtue of which Allah might have told us more about their story.”) Khidr damaged the ship because a king is seizing “every boat by force,” but not ones that are unserviceable (v. 79) – presumably the poor owners of the boat could repair it once the king passed by. Khidr killed the young man because he would grieve his pious parents with his “rebellion and ingratitude” (v. 80), and Allah will give them a better son (v. 81). And as for the wall, there was buried treasure beneath it that belonged to boys too young to inherit it at this point — so repairing it gave them time to reach maturity while protecting the treasure from theft (v. 82).

Maududi enunciates the point of all this: “You should have full faith in the wisdom of what is happening in the Divine Factory in accordance with the will of Allah. As the reality is hidden from you, you are at a loss to understand the wisdom of what is happening, and sometimes if it appears that things are going against you, you cry out, ‘How and why has this happened’. The fact is that if the curtain be removed from the ‘unseen’, you would yourselves come to know that what is happening here is for the best. Even if some times it appears that something is going against you, you will see that in the end it also produces some good results for you.’” [...]

"Frighten the enemies of GOD"

From the Qur'an:

8:60 You shall prepare for them all the power you can muster, and all the equipment you can mobilize, that you may frighten the enemies of GOD, your enemies, as well as others who are not known to you; GOD knows them. Whatever you spend in the cause of GOD will be repaid to you generously, without the least injustice.

8:61 If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in GOD. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Father of Jesus? God of Muhammad?

Here is the short blog post:

Kevin DeYoung passed along today an excerpt from chapter 2 of Timothy Tennent's book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology (p. 48):

This study has sought to clarify many of the issues that lie behind the question, "Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?"

First, I pointed out the importance of differentiating between those predicates about God that we share with Muslims and those predicates about God that are distinctively Christian. We observed not only how crucial the distinctively Christian predicates are to Christian identity, but even how a truly Christocentric perspective transforms the shared predicates.

Second, I attempted to demonstrate that the long and sustained use of the word "Allah" by Muslims has altered its connotation such that, for Muslims, it has become a name for the Islamic God, not just the Arabic equivalent of the English word "God" as it is used by Arabic speaking Christians and Jews. For the Muslim, the word "Allah" is becoming more like the equivalent of the Jewish Yahweh (YHWH) than the more general words el or theos, which, like the English word "God," have a broader application.

Finally, we reflected briefly on the pastoral and evengelistic implications of our question, since this issue has major ramifications for large communities of people who follow the "God of Muhammad" and the "Father of Jesus" respectively.

The result of this survey has concluded that although "Allah" and "God" are etymological equivalents and, as monotheists, we only believe in one God, it would fragment our very identity as Christians to accept the statement that the Father of Jesus is the God of Muhammad.

The reason is that the statement is not essentially an etymological or an ontological statement, but an attempt to identify the predicates associated with the Islamic and Christian use of the words "Allah" and "God" respectively. The phrases "God of Muhammad" and "Father of Jesus" are spoken by communities of faith with important books of revelation that provide hundreds of predicates, all helping to set forth the full context for the meaning of thee two phrases. From the perspective, I must conclude that the Father of Jesus is not the God of Muhammad.

But the real action starts in the comments. Read em all and share your mind.

Black Iris: How Denmark Became a Jordanian Distraction

Excellent comments here from a guy in Jordan, who is trying to help that country move forward. He makes these comments after describing various efforts to start a boycott of Danish goods.

How Denmark Became a Jordanian Distraction

[...]I find boycotts ironic sometimes, especially in Jordan. But forget about the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot quality that comes with hurting local businesses here in Jordan more than the Danish media in Denmark. Forget about the fact that people are boycotting Danish butter but are still taking their insulin shots (80% of which are imported from Denmark). Forget about the irony of the pirated DVD shop, Hammudeh, posting “Don’t buy Danish products” on its door. Instead, think about this:

Why is no one boycotting local goods by local producers whose prices have skyrocketed, some of which have gone unchecked by the consumer protection society (in my opinion)? Isn’t that the natural reaction? Why were no boycotts issued for Israeli products or more specifically American products, over the massacres happening in Palestine?

I ask these questions not to urge such boycotts but to point out the irony of Jordanian’s having chosen to boycott something utterly ridiculous in light of much more serious issues.

Produce prices have gone up.

Bread prices have gone up. We even have to pay for the plastic bags they put them in now.

Fuel prices have gone up.

Dairy prices have gone up.

Real wages have stayed the same.

Where is the outcry there? Where is the outrage over an issue that hits closest to home? Where is the mass mobilization and campaigns and vibrant speeches in the Parliament by our “representatives”?


So you’ve gotta ask yourself: what the hell is going on here? [...]

Questions from a reader

One reader from Australia asks: "(1) Why is the West not getting it (security forces, government) and (2) What hope is there for the West?!"

My answer:

1) Because we are addicted to petroleum and the truth is not convenient. And because we love the idea of separation of religion and civil authority, so we don't get that this system doesn't work when addressing Islam. Islam is political in its very marrow.

2) Hope for the West? I don't know about Australia, but this question is directly related to questions of immigration, reproduction, and religion. Are people having children? In Europe the answer is no, not even enough to keep a stable population. Are lots of the immigrants Muslims? In Europe the answer is yes: think Turkey, Pakistan, N. Africa. Of the indigenous population are people practicing Christians (of any type at all including Catholic)? In Europe the answer is no. So I think Europe has little hope right now.

The last question is important because Islam is not invincible, Muslims can be evangelized, but only if there is a critical mass of committed people with resources to do the work. The USA (and Canada to a lesser extent) does have people devoted to evangelizing Muslims.

In the US people still have kids, and most of our immigrants are Christians (Mexico) and a good portion of people are still church goers. So the US might be OK. How does Australia answer those questions?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

OXFORD: Muslim call to prayer sounds strained note

OXFORD, England (AFP) - Famous for its university and quintessentially English "dreaming spires," the city of Oxford has been plunged into controversy over the sound of Muslim call to prayer from a local mosque.

Those church spires have been joined by a minaret, with a loudspeaker on top which has triggered protests from locals concerned about the influx of a foreign culture.

"I don't have any problem with Islam but don't force it on people," said Oxford University historian Allan Chapman, whose typically English house has a view of both the minaret and the nearby Church of Saint Mary and Saint John.

The Central Mosque was built in the east of the city, the "other Oxford", which is home to a poorer population and more immigrants than the historic centre of ancient, sandstone colleges, libraries and students on bicycles.

Cutting through the area is the main, multi-ethnic thoroughfare of Cowley Road, where Pakistani men in traditional tunics and other immigrants rub shoulders with the city's student intelligentsia going to and from their digs.

In this city, with a population of just 140,000, including nearly 20,000 students, nothing is very far away.

The mosque itself -- which can hold up to 700 of the town's 6,000 Muslims -- is little more than a 15-minute walk from Oxford's colleges, many of which were founded by Christian religious scholars as long ago as the 12th century.

But while the city's history is marked by Christianity's influence, some believe the mosque's imposing minaret defiles the city's famous skyline, which has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Those feelings have been brought to a head since last November when mosque authorities expressed a desire to broadcast via loudspeaker the Muslim prayer call, the Adhan, sparking controversy that has not yet died down.

Wearing a three-piece suit with a bow tie and a gold chain hanging out of his jacket pocket, Chapman describes himself as "profoundly English" but rejects suggestions that he is taking an extreme view.

"I'm a liberal... I want to be inclusive but I don't want to be walked over," he said.

For him, the issue goes above and beyond the noise created by the call to prayer, which goes out five times daily in Muslim countries, and instead challenges English tolerance and threatens Britain's values and history.

"If Oxford accepts it, it would be used right across the country," he said.

Charlie Cleverly, the rector of the Saint Aldates church, in the heart of Oxford, says the city has long represented "the essence of Englishness".

"It is common knowledge, though few will say it, that 'radical Islam' has a programme to 'take Europe, take England and take Oxford'," he said.

"In this strategy, some say the prayer call is like a bridgehead, spreading to other mosques in the city."

The local Oxford Mail newspaper quoted locals in the area as fearing the creation of a "Muslim ghetto". The counter argument runs that the pealing of church bells is also a call to prayer.

To calm the mood, Central Mosque's treasurer Masood Ahmed insisted that the desire to issue a call to prayer was still only a proposal which required the approval of Oxford's mayor.

"We'll get their views, what they feel," he said.

The Church of England Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, has entered the row, but supports plans to broadcast the Adhan, calling for people to "relax" and "enjoy community diversity".

"I believe we have good relationships with the Muslim community here in Oxford and I am personally very happy for the mosque to call the faithful to prayer in east Oxford," he said in January.

But he accepted that the number of times the call went out and its volume still needed to be resolved.

Chapman, though, is less accommodating, pledging to seek compensation from the mayor for "discrimination" if the proposal is approved.

For the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the debate is as futile as its direction is inevitable, as a debate rages over the extent to which cultural diversity is affecting the traditionally British way of life.

"The call to prayer will be part of Britain and Europe in the future," said Inayat Bunglawala, the MCB's assistant secretary general.

He said that the Adhan was already broadcast three times a day at a large mosque in east London and that it had "never been problematic".


The Hermeneutics Quiz

OK, so I'm a hermeneutics junky. I think it's the main challenge today for evangelical/Protestant Christianity (and I am one of course). So I took this hermeneutics quiz with joy, and discovered that I am...ready?

MODERATE (60 points)

Take it and let me know what you score.

First church inaugurated in Qatar

Great news here from AFP, and other sources as well. This is a controversial occassion because there is a hadith wherein Muhammad said, "Let there not be more than one religion in the Arabian Peninsula." This is why KSA has no churches of course, KSA is the second worse violator of religious freedom in the world (after N Korea) and of course after oil its main export is Wahabi-Salafi Islam which is reformed, violent, and militant.

But enough on KSA. As you read this article let me point out how we should be praying for this new church as well as the other ones that are in the work.

One concern is safety obviously, but in this region that is a given.

Let us also pray that the ministers in these churches would have a great desire and ability to communicate the good news with their flocks but also with the Muslim population there.

Finally, note that the absence of any crosses or bells is classic shari'a. If it has been established that the location where the church is built used to be a church or convent or monastery, then the construction of this new church could be classified as the repair of an ancient church, which is lawful in the shari'a as long as it is done with the permission of the Muslim ruler.

Thousands of Catholics attend first mass at Qatari church

DOHA (AFP) — Thousands of Christians took part on Saturday in the first mass at Muslim Qatar's only church, opened this week despite threats from Islamists.

Vatican envoy Cardinal Ivan Dias presided over the eucharist attended by around 15,000 worshippers at Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic church in Doha, thanking "God and Qatar for this great gift".

The church, which like elsewhere in the Gulf Arab region has no bells or crosses on its exterior, opened on Friday ahead of western Christianity's celebration of Easter, which this year falls on March 23.

It is the first of five to be constructed in the gas-rich Gulf state.

From early morning, Catholics began arriving at the church, which accommodates around 5,000. Big screens were erected in the grounds to allow the overflow to follow the mass, celebrated during the consecration of the building.

The mass was conducted in English, but prayers were also said in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish and French for the many nationalities that would worship in the church.

Dozens of police were deployed around the church, which cost some 20 million dollars (13 million euros), and female officers searched the handbags of women worshippers.

Western embassies, particularly from the United States and Britain, warned nationals living in Qatar to be extra vigilant after an Islamic militants on the Internet made threats linked to the opening of the church.

The US embassy on Thursday released a warning that the new church might be targeted.

"Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include ... the new Christian Church complex in Doha," it said.

Worshippers said they were not concerned by the threats.

"It is a day without precedent. I am very happy. The threats were made but I didn't pay them much attention. I trust the country's authorities," Filipino Catholic Shato Mawude told AFP.

Fellow Filipino Ariel Almyede added: "This church is a sign of a possible dialogue between the different faiths."

Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah added: "The church sends a positive message to the world ...

"At the moment we are enjoying the construction of mosques and Islamic centres in the West, so we must be fair" toward Christians in the region and allow them places of worship.

Qatar is a close ally of Washington and hosts the command headquarters for US forces in the Middle East.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), meanwhile, police were seen on Saturday guarding one of the main churches in bustling Dubai and searching worshippers entering the compound.

Police closed off access to cars around St Mary's Catholic Church and signs were put up in the street directing motorists to park their vehicles in other specified places, an AFP correspondent reported.

A priest who asked not to be named told AFP there had been no threat against the church and the security deployment was a preventive measure. Policemen said the "precautionary" moves would last until March 25, after Easter.

The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity, and most Gulf Arab states have long allowed Christians to worship in churches.

But Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a rigorous doctrine of Islam known as Wahhabism and is home to Islam's holiest sites, bans all non-Muslim religious rituals and materials.

However, the papal nuncio in the Gulf, Archbishop Paul-Munjed al-Hashem, said on the sidelines of the Doha mass that talks had begun with Riyadh to convince it to become the final Gulf Arab state to allow churches.

"Discussions are underway with Saudi Arabia to allow the construction of churches in the kingdom," he said, adding that the country had between three and four million Christian residents. "We cannot forecast the outcome."