Monday, June 30, 2008

Chesterton on Islam: it simplifies too much

From ch 1 of hishis book The New Jerusalem which is available online here for free or can be bought from

...the Moslem, the man of the desert, is intelligent enough to believe in God. But his belief is lacking in that humane complexity that comes from comparison. The man looking at the palm-tree does realise
the simple fact that God made it; while the man looking at
the lamp-post in a large modern city can be persuaded by a hundred
sophistical circumlocutions that he made it himself. But the man
in the desert cannot compare the palm-tree with the lamp-post,
or even with all the other trees which may be better worth looking
at than the lamp-post. Hence his religion, though true as far
as it goes, has not the variety and vitality of the churches
that were designed by men walking in the woods and orchards.
I speak here of the Moslem type of religion and not of the oriental type
of ornament, which is much older than the Moslem type of religion.
But even the oriental type of ornament, admirable as it often is,
is to the ornament of a gothic cathedral what a fossil forest is
to a forest full of birds. In short, the man of the desert tends
to simplify too much, and to take his first truth for the last truth.

And that is the question, isn't it? Does Islam over-simplify? Is it accurate to say that in focusing on the one-ness of God Islam starts in the right place, but then stays there and cannot move, cannot develop any further? What do you think?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Demographics in Europe; European Islamdom III

The question of demographics is very important. The reason that Islam is growing faster than Christianity is entirely demographic. Worldwide there are more converts to Christianity each year than to Islam. But when Muslim families are having upwards of three or four children, and Christian families are hovering around one or two, maybe three, it does not bode well at all.

The IHT has an article on the topic here, though they try to spin the decline of Europe positively. Also, they make the same error as the secular liberal press always makes, which is to say that the main danger for Europe is economic. It is not. It is civilizational. What is the fate of Europe? I have proposed three options here:

European Islamdom I

And there is some more good info here: European Islamdom II

But for your pleasure, a section from the IHT article:

...The figure of 2.1 is widely considered to be the "replacement rate" - the average number of births per woman that can maintain a country's population level. But according to the report, for the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3.

For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country's population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover. Kohler and his colleagues invented an ominous new term for the phenomenon: "lowest-low fertility." [...]

Will Europe as we know it just peter out? Venice has lost more than half its population since 1950; its residents believe their city is destined to become a Venice-themed attraction. Will the same happen to Europe as a whole? Might the United States see its closest ally decay into a real-life Euro Disney? [...]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Christophe Luxenberg and the Syriac influence on the Quranic Text

From the (in)famous, Wikipedia:

Luxenberg, like many scholars before him, remarks that the Qur'an contains much ambiguous and even inexplicable language. He asserts that even Muslim scholars find some passages difficult to parse and have written reams of Quranic commentary attempting to explain these passages. However, the assumption behind their endeavours has always been that any difficult passage is true, meaningful, and pure Arabic, and that it can be deciphered with the tools of traditional Muslim scholarship. Luxenberg accuses Western academic scholars of the Qur'an of taking a timid and imitative approach, relying too heavily on the biased work of Muslim scholars.

The book's thesis is that the Qur'an was not originally written exclusively in Arabic but in a mixture with Syriac, the dominant spoken and written language in the Arabian peninsula through the 8th century.

“What is meant by Syro-Aramaic (actually Syriac) is the branch of Aramaic in the Near East originally spoken in Edessa and the surrounding area in Northwest Mesopotamia and predominant as a written language from Christianization to the origin of the Koran. For more than a millennium Aramaic was the lingua franca in the entire Middle Eastern region before being gradually displaced by Arabic beginning in the 7th century.”

Luxenberg argues that scholars must start afresh, ignore the old Islamic commentaries, and use only the latest in linguistic and historical methods. Hence, if a particular Quranic word or phrase seems meaningless in Arabic, or can be given meaning only by tortured conjectures, it makes sense -- he argues -- to look to the Aramaic and Syriac languages as well as Arabic.

Luxenberg also argues that the Qur'an is based on earlier texts, namely lectionaries used in the Christian churches of Syria, and that it was the work of several generations who adapted these texts into the Qur'an we know today.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rumors of War: Iran

From the AP:

The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief warned in comments aired Saturday that any military strike on Iran could turn the Mideast to a "ball of fire" and lead Iran to a more aggressive stance on its controversial nuclear program.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Schmemann on the Orthodox understanding of the Church

Alexander Schmemann:

In our [Eastern Orthodox] own "sources"– the Fathers, the Councils, the Liturgy – we do not find any formal definition of the Church. This is not because of any lack of ecclesiological interest and consciousness, but because the Church (in the Orthodox approach to her) does not exist, and therefore cannot be defined, apart from the very content of her life. The Church, in other terms, is not an "essence" or "being" distinct, as such, from God, man, and the world, but is the very reality of Christ in us and us in Christ, a new mode of God's presence and action in His creation, of creation's life in God. She is God's gift and man's response and appropriation of this gift. She is union and unity, knowledge, communion and transfiguration.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Part XVIII: Islam and Democracy

Part XVIII: Islam and Democracy
by Abu Daoud
June 18, 2008

Presently there exists in a large and important Middle Eastern country an effort to introduce democratic government. Indeed many of the people express a desire for greater freedom, and one might think that this would go hand in hand with some form of representative democracy, wherein no one party has all power and sides are forced to compromise and accommodate differing view points.

What is missing from this calculation is the fact that Islam is religion plus, as I pointed out in Parts IV and V of this series. Not only does it come with a complete set of ritual and doctrinal elements, it also presents a complete economic model (coming soon to a city near you in the form of Islamic banking, which is growing robustly) and a fairly detailed political model that does not include elements or practices traditionally associated with democracy at all.

At the heart of the Islamic polity is the Caliphate. The Arabic verb khalafa means “he succeeded” or “came after”, so a caliph (khaliifa) is the successor in any given office or position. When we speak of an Islamic Caliphate we are talking about the person who succeeds Muhammad. The office has been around for a very long time and is subject to the creative permutations of history: at times there have been more than one caliph, the process for the selection of a caliphate has varied from appointment by tribal elders to hereditary succession to seizure by military coup. At times the caliph has been an extremely important, pious and influential person, at other times he was a debauched pawn of his generals. Also, caliphs have come from numerous ethnicities: Arab, Persian, Albanian, Turkish, Kurdish, Mongol, and so on. Some were Shi’a and some were Sunni. Their capitals ranged from Iberia to Arabia to Asia Minor then over to Southern Asia.

The original division between Sunni and Shi’a Islam was in fact regarding how the caliph should be chosen—by marriage into the Prophet’s family (Muhammad had no sons who survived into adulthood—a great dishonor in Arab culture) or by consultation of the leaders of the Islamic community. The caliphate was dissolved in 1924 by Kemal Ataturk who desired to found a secular nation in Asia Minor (Turkey), and the vast territories of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire were transferred from Islamic Imperialism to the hands of European Imperialism.

In theory, the Caliph rules over all of the Umma (the Islamic Nation) and his authority respects no national boundaries (which in themselves are theoretically un-Islamic). By virtue of his inheriting the authority of Muhammad his power is at once religious and civil, spiritual and military. He is the one who has the authority to declare an offensive jihaad to aggregate lands and peoples into the Umma until, as Muhammad said, “all religion is for Allah.”

There are today efforts to reinstate the office of the Caliph, but this is probably a pipe-dream. No sovereign nation state will cede power to such a person. Also, the ethnic divisions among Muslims are extraordinarily strong and it is hard to see Nigerians and Albanians, Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shi’as agreeing on one person to hold the office. This is the case even for a solely Sunni Caliphate. But it is what it is: the official Islamic form of government and rule according to the sharii’a.

Democracy is, on the other hand, profoundly un-Islamic. The concept of conferring equal decision-making power on men and women, on rich and poor, on pious and wicked—it sounds as bizarre to many Muslims today as it did to Christians in the middle ages. In some ways democracy is in fact anti-Islamic, for Islam seeks to locate all power and authority in the hands of one person who represents the one god, just as Allah is unitarian in his person, so authority is unitarian in nature and is entrusted to one person. Moreover, the democratic impetus to divide power is related to the Christian concept that all humans have a nature corrupted by sin, thus making no one person capable of the unbearable load of absolute power. Compare this to Islam wherein Allah may, as he pleases, grant a person immunity to sin (as he has with the prophets), and wherein sin is understood as a lapse occasioned (probably) by ignorance.

If democracy were to succeed in the Arab Muslim world (something which I think over the long term is unlikely) it would entail a very strong suppression of the traditional Islamic voices who know very well that Islam and democracy have nothing in common. People mention countries like Malaysia and Turkey as examples that Islam and democracy can go hand in hand, but the coming decades will prove them wrong, if recent events are any indicator.

Martin Luther and Allah and Islam

Regarding the view that Muslims and Christians worship the same God:

Those Lutherans who would attribute such a view to Luther...seem to be revealing more about their own theology than rather than Luther's. In fact, in On War against the Turk, Luther identifies Allah as the devil.

Adam S. Francisco
'Luther, Lutheranism, and the Challenges of Islam'
in Concordia Theological Quarterly, July/October 2007

Pictures of Jerusalem

Some great recent pictures of Jerusalem are over at Pictures of Redemption, check them out:

Jerusalem Pictures

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

News from the Anglican Diocese in Egypt

Good to be back home in the Middle East! I will say the consultation I attended was very helpful and while I have some reservations I am looking forward to putting the stuff into practice.

That having been said I do have some more travel coming up, to GAFCON. If you will be there then you know what it is, if you don't know what it is then it's probably not important to you. If anyone will be there and would like to meet for kebab or something like e-mail me at winterlightning [a+] safe-mail [do+] net.

Meanwhile, here is some recent news from the Episcopal Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. Congrats to soon-to-be-bishop Bill, whom I have never met personally:

The following announcement was made by the office of the President Bishop and Bishop of Egypt [Mouneer Anis]:

It is with great joy that we announce the formation of a new Episcopal Area in North Africa. We have decided to appoint the Rev. Canon Dr. Bill Musk as Area Bishop for North Africa as well as Rector of St. George’s, Tunis.

With the growth of the Church in this area and increasing demands for discipleship, community service and interfaith dialogue, we felt that the time has come to create this new Episcopal Area. We are sure that Canon Bill Musk has a lot to contribute to the churches in this area.

Rev. Dr. Bill Musk, 59 years, and his wife Hilary have lived in this region for over a decade and served here in All Saints' Cathedral from 1981 to 1986. He is a well-known Islamicist and the author of several books: The Unseen Face of Islam, Touching the Soul of Islam, Holy War, Kissing Cousins? and The Certainty Trap.

He is currently the vicar of Holy Trinity & St Matthias, Tulse Hill, London. He has four daughters and three grandchildren.

We warmly welcome Bill and Hilary back to our diocesan family. Your prayer support for them and the churches in North Africa would be much appreciated.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Allah says to Jesus, "I am terminating your life."

It has long been said that the Quran teaches that Jesus did not die, but that is not true. In fact if one can read the Arabic it is quite clear that Jesus did die:

[3:54] They plotted and schemed, but so did GOD, and GOD is the best schemer.

[3:55] Thus, GOD said, "O Jesus, I am terminating your life, raising you to Me, and ridding you of the disbelievers. I will exalt those who follow you above those who disbelieve, till the Day of Resurrection.
Then to Me is the ultimate destiny of all of you, then I will judge among you regarding your disputes.

[3:56] "As for those who disbelieve, I will commit them to painful retribution in this world, and in the Hereafter. They will have no helpers."

[3:57] As for those who believe and lead a righteous life, He will fully recompense them. GOD does not love the unjust.

[3:58] These are the revelations that we recite to you, providing a message full of wisdom.

That is, of course, not from a Muslim translation of the meaning, but the word in 3:55 cannot be interpreted in any other way. I am not going to go into the grammar here because it would not be very helpful for those who don't know Arabic.

It has been a great week here, meeting with other people in this line of work and hearing about new methods being used in various parts of the world. I think it will really increase the fruitfulness of my ministry and I have a lot of new tools in my tool box. Also great has been being around other people who can engage in penetrating analysis of Arabic grammar, which is not something your average Arab can do.

Also, I am finally getting to the place where I can engage the Arabic text of the Quran, which is not small feat.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Goodness, the Lord's Prayer in Arabic

Here is some goodness: having dinner at an Indian restaurant with fellow missionaries to Muslims in places like Russia, Yemen, and Indonesia. That is goodness. I love working with these people. It is one of my favorite things about my job, I work with excellent people. Also goodness during this brief sojourn outside of MENA: being able to share and learn with other workers--what is working for them, and what is not? How can I communicate more clearly and effectively the good news? That is what we're talking about.

And also this: here is a plate with the Lord's Prayer in Arabic. The big word is Abana, which means "our Father" and then it just gets smaller :-)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Furor in France, Frustration in Jordan, and Women

Two interesting links here. One is regarding the furor in France:

PARIS (AP) - The bride said she was a virgin. When her new husband discovered that was a lie, he went to court to annul the marriage—and a French judge agreed.

The ruling ending the Muslim couple's union has stunned France and raised concerns the country's much-cherished secular values are losing ground to religious traditions from its fast-growing immigrant communities.

The decision also exposed the silent shame borne by some Muslim women who transgress long-held religious dictates demanding proof of virginity on the wedding night.

In its ruling, the court concluded the woman had misrepresented herself as a virgin and that, in this particular marriage, virginity was a prerequisite.

But in treating the case as a breach of contract, the ruling was decried by critics who said it undermined decades of progress in women's rights. Marriage, they said, was reduced to the status of a commercial transaction in which women could be discarded by husbands claiming to have discovered hidden defects in them. [...]

And some great remarks on the awkwardness of interacting with women while living in the ME (in his case Jordan):

...It is this segregation of the sexes that creates vexing problems for me sometimes. For instance, even after two years in our apartment building, I still would not recognize two out of the three Jordanian women who live here if I ran into them on the street. I've had conversations with them, but only through the closed doors of their apartments when I've come to ask a question of their husbands. Hence, I have no idea what they look like.

A further issue occurs when I see women on our street that I have seen outside before and know live nearby. My instinct is to be friendly, to say a simple hello, perhaps engage in small talk, and move on. This is what I would do at home, and perhaps after a time we would move on from small talk to something more meaningful. Here, though, such friendliness would be considered somewhat forward, and who knows who might be looking down on me from their upstairs window? As a result, if I happen to cross paths with a women, usually I just put my head down and keep walking. This even troubles me, though, when I come across women I do know. Recently I happened to be at the falafal shop nearby when a women from church came in. I talk to her at church, and she has been to our home more than once. However, because of the stigma that surrounds gender mixing here, I was unsure of how to acknowledge her presence. I wanted to greet her, but I didn't want to appear too friendly in front of all the guys at the falafal shop. So, we did speak for a minute, but it was an awkward conversation during which I wondered the whole time what everyone else was thinking.[...]

Personal Note

Abu Daoud will be traveling over the next week or so, so there won't be many posts. Just FYI.

Monday, June 02, 2008

EN 51, 52: pre-evangelism and evangelism

It is sections like 51 and 52 of Evangelii Nuntiandi that often confuse evangelical Christians. What evangelicals call evangelism is here called "pre-evangelism" though Paul VI says that even this first proclamation of the Gospel is indeed part of the larger work of evangelism.

What catholics call evangelism is what evangelicals often call discipleship or simply Christian education. By evangelism Paul VI is talking about, it seems, everything from the first proclamation of Jesus' name to the tribal leaders who have never heard it, to, presumably, catechesis and continuing education for grownups at their churches. The difference is that one view seeks to share the message and secure a commitment to it; the other seeks to deepen a person's allegiance to that message, wherever they may be on a spectrum of spiritual maturity.

We should not be surprised that evangelicals tend to identify that initial proclamation as the act of evangelizing, because "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." The fact is that Paul has to explain that this pre-evangelism is in fact part of evangelism: She carries out this first proclamation of Jesus Christ by a complex and diversified activity which is sometimes termed "pre-evangelization" but which is already evangelization in a true sense, although at its initial and still incomplete stage.

Perhaps this tendency to lump in frontier mission (taking the Gospel to where it has never been heard or to where there is no witness to it, like much of the Middle East) with the rather amorphous and all-encompassing term "evangelism" is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church has been so inactive in the Muslim world over the past decades.

It is certainly in line with EN (and Redemptoris Missio by JPII) to affirm a central role for this "pre-evangelism" sort of evangelism in the ministry of the Catholic Church, though I don't know of anywhere that this is actually happening with reference to the Muslim world.