Monday, April 25, 2011

Part XXIII: The myth of Islamic religious tolerance through the ages

Part XXIII: The myth of Islamic religious tolerance through the ages
by Abu Daoud

A reader of the blog asked this good question:

Abu Daoud,

I've heard various Western historians say that Islam has historically been more tolerant than Christianity. They point out the treatment of non-Christians, particularly the Jews, in Europe and compare that with the treatment of Christians in the Middle East. It is true that even after the Arab conquests, there was a substantial Christian population in the Middle East for many centuries. The Muslim overlords needed the jizya, so Christians were tolerated. I believe it was only after the Crusades and Mongol conquests, when Christians sided with the Mongols, life for Christians got tougher. Now, of course, with the rise in Muslim fundamentalism things have got a lot tougher.

What do you say? Has Islam been historically tolerant, more tolerant than Christianity? Or has Christians always had it tough since the days Muhammad blazed on the scene?

Here is my answer: Islam does, in general, tolerate religious groups like Jews and Christians, but in such a way that Christians and Jews (called dhimmis) have curtailed religious, political, and economic freedom. They are doomed to a long slow decline. For instance, they cannot in general build new churches, convents, or synagogues, and can only repair existing ones with government permission. Their women can be married off to Muslims (or enslaved) in which case all the children will be Muslims, but they themselves cannot take Muslim wives (who would then produce Christian children, as per the father's religion). Dhimmis must pay something called the jizya or the poll tax, which fluctuated throughout Islamic history, it could be a crushing burden or something rather light. Once a Christian converted to Islam they were no longer obliged to pay that tax. Certain positions in government and military were, at times, limited to Muslims only, which provided another incentive for dhimmis to convert to Islam.

Outbreaks of anti-Christian violence likewise occur to this day. But the Christians cannot really do anything about it, can they? If they defend themselves then they are guilty of fighting against Muslims, and all will be punished. The Islamic government will sweep it under the rug and rarely are those responsible punished. The violence occurs. It is ignored by the government. Christians have no choice but to accept the injustice. If they call for justice they will be punished. It is a long, slow strategy of elimination. It has worked well over the centuries, leading to massive emigration of Christians and Jews from Muslim lands.

In other words, Islamic countries have the inhumane system of dhimmitude which is the Islamic equivalence of 'tolerance'. There never has been, and never will be, in an Islamic country genuine religious freedom. The key test in this area is simple: can a Muslim convert to Christianity (or some other religion) without being persecuted or resisted by the government? There are a very few Islamic countries where a person can indeed legally convert (Turkey is the only one I can think of, and maybe Lebanon?). It is legal in Turkey because Ataturk felt Islam was outdated and antiquated, in Lebanon, if indeed it still legal, because of the historical predominance of Maronites.) As the Prohet said, "man baddala diinahu, fa'aqtaluuhu"--Whosoever changes religion, slay him.

Regarding Muslims in Christian countries, they enjoy genuine religious freedom, something Christians in Muslim lands never have and never will experience because religious freedom and Islam are, in esse, incompatible. Historically, we don't have examples of large numbers of Muslims in Christian countries until recently. The expulsion of the Moors from Spain was more political than religious. Many of the Moors (Muslims) were explicitly treasonous and sought to overthrow the current political order, Europeans are glad to let such people remain in Europe nowadays, but in previous days Europeans had a bit more common sense and realized that you can't have a substantial population in your country that wants to overthrow the government. Europeans then realized what they seem incapable of understanding now: that Islam is not a 'religion', it is rather an imperial political movement sanctioned by theological myth.

Regarding the Jews in the lands of Christendom, there is a mixed bag. Certainly there were times when the Jews of Islamdom were better off than the Jews of Christendom. That was not always the case, and Christendom never totally purged itself of Jews, which is indeed what dar al islam today has done. So when we are talking about getting Jews our of your lands, at least as it stands today, Muslims have been more successful than Christians, even taking into account the Holocaust, which is viewed favorably by many Muslims today.

Hope that answers your question. When people toss out these slogans it is worthwhile to do some good historical research, something most Muslims will not do, as it inevitably leads to the conclusion that the Qur'an is wrong and Muslims are by no means 'the best of all people'. It is also sad that some contemporary authors (non-Muslims) perpetuate these myths (Armstrong? Menocal?), but it is very PC to do so, and leads to grants, published articles, and cushy positions at Oxford. And in Western academia today, these things are much more important than trivial things like truth.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Horatio Southgate of Constantinople--accused of being an anglo-catholic!

One of the interesting events of Southgate's life was a rather intense dispute he had with some Congregationalist and Presby missionasries from the ABCFM, which is the grand-daddy of all American mission boards.

Southgate was sent out by the Episcopal Mission Board in the 1840's, and eventually got into deep trouble because he read some sensitive material written by an ABCFM missionary to an Armenian Christian. It was about how a division in the Armenian Catholic Church (non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, for all you church history nerds out there) would be desirable.

Obviously, this caused a big stir. In a very obscure article which I wanted to bring to light in this post, a detailed description of the entire ordeal is giving. The article on the whole is very critical of Southgate. He did make a big mistake reading that material to an Armenian Christian in the Ottoman Empire, I suspect, but in the end the article's author finds fault with him for being high church Episcopalian.

Interesting article, if a bit long-winded. No author is given.

Tyler, Edward R, et al, eds. 'Bishop Southgate and Episcopal Missions' 1845. The New Englander and Yale Review. Vol 3:2, Pp 244-272.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What was the first Protestant family to permanently live in Jerusalem?

What was the first Protestant family to permanently live in Jerusalem?

John (or Hans) Nicolayson. Originally a Lutheran employed by the venerable Church Missionary Society (CMS), was later ordained by the Anglicans and was the driving force behind the strenuous effort (the Arabic word jihad comes to mind!) it took to get the Ottomans to allow for the construction of what is now Christ Church.

The original CMS effort was actually directed at Jews, at least there in Jerusalem.

More details can be found here.

p 494.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Muhammad and the Jews of Medina (Yathrib)

Muhammad before his move from Mecca to Medina (the beginning of the Islamic calendar) expected the Jews of Medina to accept him as a prophet, but, of course, they did not. Whereupon he launched a series of efforts (utimately successful) to the three Jewish tribes of the oasis killed, enslaved, or exiled. Here is a good hadith giving us a picture of the tense relation:

"It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira who said: We were (sitting) in the mosque when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) came to us and said: (Let us) go to the Jews. We went out with him until we came to them. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) stood up and called out to them (saying): O ye assembly of Jews, accept Islam (and) you will be safe. They said: Abu'l-Qasim, you have communicated (God's Message to us). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I want this (i.e. you should admit that God's Message has been communicated to you), accept Islam and you would be safe. They said: Abu'l-Qasim, you have communicated (Allah's Message). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I want this ... He said to them (the same words) the third time (and on getting the same reply) he added: You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I wish that I should expel you from this land. Those of you who have any property with them should sell it, otherwise they should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle (and they may have to go away leaving everything behind)".

Sahih Muslim vol 3, chapter DCCXXIII, verse 4363.

A warm welcome to readers of From the Pew

Thank you Steve for your kind and encouraging words, and pointing some of your readers to my blog.

I recommend that new readers start by checking out some of my series on Islam, which you can see all in a row to the right hand side in a menu.

Please do let me know if you have any questions.


Abu Daoud

Translations of the Qur'an and Islamic Apologetics

Another ploy employed by these people is to blame the translators of the Koran, Hadiths and Sunnah. Even the eminent translator like A. Yusuf Ali is not considered as authentic translator. These bigots will never say which one is the authentic English version of the Koran, Hadiths, Sunnah, etc. They will simply say that one must be very good in Arabic to interpret Koran. This is akin to saying that one must be very good in Aramaic and Hebrew languages to understand the Bible and the Talmud. Or that you must be very good in Greek, Latin and Dutch languages to understand Aristotle, Roman laws, Copernicus' 'laws of heavenly bodies,' etc. These are absolutely illogical ideas. Strangely though, you will notice that these bigots will use the English translation of the Koran when it suits their purposes.

From Abul Kasem, an ex-Muslim (and not a convert to Christianity, incidentally).

I think he has really hit the nail on the head here with this critique of how some Muslims defend Islam. I have heard so many times, "Oh the Qur'an really cannot be have to read it in Arabic." And then you say, "Ok, fine, let's read it in Arabic--I can do that." And then you run into one of two responses. One, well, your a foreigner, so you can't really understand the classical Arabic of the Qur'an! Or, well, I don't know Arabic, so how can I trust you that you are translating it correctly! Ha! The whole thing is either sad or funny, depending on how you look at it. --AD

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American Evangelicalism is Gnostic?

I was re-reading an old article of mine from my three-part Mission and Sacrament series, which was published over at St Francis Magazine. Here is one paragraph about the importance of sacrament, and how sacramentality helps us resist Gnostic temptations inherent in American Christianity:

Without a robust sense ofmeaningful ritual, ritual that changes people and touches the deepest aspects of our beings and bodies inscribing the Gospel of Hope on our very flesh and blood, then we have half a Gospel: we have a one-sided coin, we have a message that so easily tends towards fads and seeking after the next, big thing (gnosis) which will finally bring us up “to the next level” (profoundly Gnostic language).

Page 2. If you have not read it before, do feel free to check it out HERE.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Islam: A mono-lingual religious empire

At the police registries where Moroccans go to officially designate their childrens' names, non-Arab names like Jurgurtha and Messina -- the names of ancient Berber kings -- are blacklisted. Only Arabic names like Hassan and Ahmed are allowed.

"To Berber militants, this is a case of trying to completely eradicate any Berber heritage," Jalali Saib, a leading activist who teaches at Rabat University, told the BBC earlier this year.

The first language of most Moroccans is some form of Berber, generally called Tamazight, though there are a number of variants. But the constitution recognizes only Arabic as the official language.

Check it all out here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Horatio Southgate, Episcopal missionary to the Ottoman Empire

The Church of England sent out many a missionary to the Muslim world over the years, but less known (and less active) is the Episcopal Church in the USA. Horatio Southgate was one such missionary, he did two tours in what was then the Ottoman Empire. At one point, he got in trouble with some of his fellow missionaries, who wrote back to the USA about him, and he had to write a letter in his defense. You can read it here.

Note here one of the issues of complaint, and his defense of himself:

Never so much as once did I receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion from the [non-Episcopal] missionaries at Constantinople; never so much as once take any part with them in the administration of it. They may, perhaps, refer to a single instance in which I did receive it, from other Congregational missionaries, in another place. If so, why do they speak of sitting down "with us," "receiving from our hands," and "taking part with us? Those who write are the missionaries at Constantinople, and they say expressly, in two different places in their pamphlet, (pp. 5 and 30,) that they speak throughout only of what concerns themselves and their station. But again, they speak of this intercommunion as if it had been a habit with me; whereas I never but once partook of the Communion in connection with Congregational missionaries in Turkey[...]

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New issue of St Francis Magazine

Well, issue two of volume seven of St Francis Magazine has now come out. I'm not surprised it took a while longer than usual, given the tumult in the Middle East where several of the editors are. But that having been said, I'm really excited about several of the articles. Here they are, and let me share why I think they are worth your scrutiny. (Though let me admit that I have not yet read all of these, though I have read some of them.)

John Damascene in context: An Examination of “The Heresy of the Ishmaelites” with special consideration given to the Religious, Political, and Social Contexts during the Seventh and Eighth Century Arab Conquests, by D. Bryan Rhodes

I'm a big fan of church history, as long-time readers will know. I am looking forward to detailed analysis of the first documented commentary of a Christian on Islam.

What is the Qur’an? A Moroccan intellectual’s critique of the Qur’an’s ethical teachings, by Bassam M. Madany

Madany is a great source for translating and interpreting Arabic-language documents. Also, he's been doing ministry for longer than I've been alive.

‘Your swords do not concern me at all’: The liberation theology of Islamic Christianity, by Duane Alexander Miller

I love the idea of combining liberation theology and ex-Muslim Christians doing theology!

Enjoy the reading! And let me know what you think about the various articles.

--Abu Daoud