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“Three Lives in Mine”

September 30, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany

Over the years, my dear wife Shirley Winnifred and I got to know author Grace Irwin very well. We saw her once when she lectured at Wheaton College, Illinois, and another time when we visited her home in Toronto. 
Shirley went to be with the Lord on Sunday, 24 August 2008, at the age of 84. A month later, Grace Irwin went to her eternal home at the age of 101.
I would like to share Shirley’s review of Grace Irwin’s “Three Lives in Mine” published by Irwin Publishing, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, in 1986.       


“A book in praise of men! You’ve got to be kidding. I couldn’t relate to that.” Whether or not you are to relate to what you are reading is incidental. Grace Irwin’s seventh book about three of God’s good men is well worth reading.
Like a modern Jane Austen, she has captured almost a century of Torontonian social history. For the Christian, she has done even more. She has described a Christian environment which existed as living proof of the promise Paul made to the Galatians that the fruits of the Spirit would be “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Could this be how Toronto came to be known as “Toronto the good?” These attributes are to be found in Grace Irwin’s description of her times.
As a devoted reader of her books, it is impossible for me not to be prejudiced in her favor. Ever since I discovered her first book, Least of All Saints, and reviewed it for the Winnipeg Free Press, I have appreciated the skillful way in which she has recorded much of what is also my history. I refer to her Andrew Connington trilogy, and her personal story, In Little Place. I wonder how many Canadians are still required to memorize those lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses
“I am a part of all that I have met; yet all experience is an arch where through gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” 
What a tonic to the imagination! I have been chanting that since high school days and find it popping up in more than one recent Canadian book like a trademark to an educational system of which we were justly proud.
Certainly, if you have read the vivid portrayal of the life and conversion of the slave trader/hymn writer John Newton in Miss Irwin’s Servant of Slaves; and if you have been encouraged by what God can do for an entire country just by the faithfulness of one man, Lord Shaftesbury (The Seventh Earl), it will increase your interest in this new book. As usual you will find your vocabulary enriched by a choice of words biased by a lifetime as a Latin Teacher. 
Grace Irwin’s life has been full and rich. She takes issue with the prevailing wind of “self-fulfillment” for women. “I do not find my sense of personal worth in any or in the aggregate of my limited achievements. Rather it lies in the grateful realization that I have been privileged in varying degree to support, encourage, enable, cheer these men who have so immeasurably enriched me.” 
She refers to her father, her brother John, and her architect/preacher friend H. H. Kent. There is no sign of weakness or wavering in this author. She writes with youthful vigour.
We may not be able to turn the clock back, but our God has still the power to change individual lives and countries. One must be careful when talking about “the good old days,” or “when I was young,” but surely in Three Lives in Mine, we catch a glimpse of what Christian living which is historically accurate and refreshing to read. With God’s help and some ingenuity, we ought to see if we can emulate the pattern of home life and standard of work ethic which is recorded in abundant detail in this book. Many of us can still relate to such a way of life and we’re grateful to Grace Irwin for letting the world know that Christians did and do make a difference!
 

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Review of Brother Rachid’s Book

May 05, 2023
By Bassam M. Madany

“ISIS and Islam: Through the Eyes of a Former Muslim”[i]

By Bassam Michael Madany

4 October, 2016

Reading “Da’esh & Islam” by Brother Rachid, reminded me of another book I read in the early 1950s: “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers. He explained why he joined the American Communist Party, and became an important cell worker in it.  But he eventually became disillusioned with Communism in its entirety, left the Party and lived to tell the story of his long imprisonment in a false and dangerous ideology. I also read “The God That Failed”.  The six men who wrote essays for it included Americans Louis Fischer and Richard Wright, and Europeans André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Stephen Spender and Ignacio Silone. These intellectuals were all attracted to Communism but became disillusioned, and chronicled their experiences in this false ideology. and left it and also lived to tell about their experiences.

Brother Rachid’s work and his effort to expose another false ideology carry on the tradition of those famous anti-Communists from the mid-20th Century.  However, there are some differences between the accounts of “Witness” and “The God That Failed” and “ISIS and Islam: Through the Eyes of a Former Muslim”.  Marxism is a late entry in the in the world of ideas even while some of its concepts of governance and control over human beings have plagued mankind for centuries, with every dictator that has arisen to subjugate the masses.  Perhaps even more dangerous is the religious faith and political ideology of Islam. Rachid is educating his readers and listeners about this belief system that is more than a religion.  Unlike his Western counterparts who chose Communism as adults, Rachid was born into political Islam. He was lovingly taught its principles and ideology by his Imam father.    Like his Western intellectual counterparts leaving Communism, Brother Rachid’s exodus from Islam was a daunting experience. Blessed with a keen and inquisitive mind; at the age of 12, he began listening to Trans World Radio, a Christian organization proclaiming the Gospel of Christ into the Arab world of North Africa and the Middle East.

Eventually, notwithstanding many obstacles, he was converted to Christ and became a Christian.  The Arabic term for his action is called (Uboor”[ii] or “crossing over to another side.  He now has a vital Christian ministry over a Satellite TV station every Thursday evening, informing and educating his listeners about Islam and comparing it to his new-found faith in Christ.

The West is familiar with the term ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  The Arabic acronym for ISIS is Da’esh, the term Rachid uses throughout his book.  He began researching Da’esh & Islam in 2014. The radical Islam practiced by Da’esh is not a mere aberration of true Islam.  The West is made to believe that it is.  And it is certainly true that millions of Muslims practice their faith and live at peace with their neighbors.  So why did Da’esh come to be?

Rachid knows from experience that both his father and mother are peaceful, loving, and compassionate Muslims. Da’esh is also Muslim; it adheres to all the basics of Islam: Qur’an, Hadith, and Sirat Muhammad. The latter text is a life of Muhammad written in the 9th Century from both authentic and less reliable collections of Hadith, which were compiled somewhat earlier but well after the death of Muhammad.  Da’esh takes these authoritative Islamic sources seriously, conforming its beliefs and practices to those original sources of Islam.

Rachid’s book is addressed to ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims; it attempts to lift the veil that hides the true nature of this faith. This is necessary because many books on Islam cover up its imperialistic nature, either out of ignorance, or purposely.

Islam counts around 20 exegetical sources. The most well-known are: “Tafsir al-Tabari” (883 A.D.), Tafsir ibn Kathir (1370), and Tafsir al-Qurtubi (1273). These men agree on the fundamentals of the faith and the practice in Islam.

Da’esh doesn’t disagree at all with the heritage; on the contrary it seeks to link itself to the earliest sources of Islam. The founder of Da’esh, chose for his name, Abu Bakr, the very name of the founder of the Caliphate, and its first Caliph (632 – 634). He claimed to be a descendent of the tribe of Quraysh, the very tribe that Muhammad belonged to in Mecca!

 By literally following the teachings of the Qur’an regarding Jihad, Da’esh’s actions and propaganda are based on the principle that war between Kufr (Unbelief) and Iman (Belief) must go on until the Last Hour! Their source is Q 9 Verse 111:

“Allah has certainly purchased from the believers, their lives and their wealth (and in return) for that there is the garden for them, they fight in the way of Allah so that they kill and are killed. A promise made by Him in truth through the Torah and the Injeel and the Quran. And who (can) fulfill his agreement better than Allah? So rejoice in your trade which you have traded (with Allah) and that is a great achievement.” http://quranicresources.com/reflect/?p=35

“Jihad in the way of Allah” is a must for Muslims; its reward is al-Jannah (the Garden, i.e., Paradise)

Due to the prevalence of illiteracy among Arab and non-Arab Muslims, very few have the ability to find and read the exegetical books that refer to such teachings. (Classical Arabic is not a spoken language; most Arabs from Morocco to Iraq, speak their specific dialects which are not used in the literary circles)

The solution resides in the proper diagnosis of the Problem.

“Da’esh & Islam” began with Rachid’s reference to his father and mother, his love for them, and their good qualities. How can one reconcile the actions of violent murderous Jihadists who claim to be following pure Islam with other Muslims like his parents who strive to live in peace with those of other faiths?

It is obvious that Muslims don’t always behave in ways that correspond to the teachings of their religion. Their “humanity” transcends their “Islam.”  For example, when Rachid’s father was blamed for his son’s defection from Islam, his standing as the Imam of the village’s mosque, was “downgraded!” 

At one point in time in their relationship, the following dialogue took place between them. Rachid put this question to his father: “What does your religion require you to do with me?” The father looked at him perplexed, “What do you mean?” I responded, “you do know the answer, why do you ask?” He answered, “Islam requires me to kill you as you are a Murtad (Apostate); but I won’t do that, how can I kill my own son?”  What a moving scene between a Muslim father, and a son who had crossed over to Christianity!

At the end of the book, Rachid offers solutions which would deal effectively with Irhab (Terrorism);

Requiring Islamic countries to respect Human Rights

Changing the educational systems in Islamic countries

Unmasking the double standards practiced by Islamic countries: Saudi Arabia’s claim to be an ally of the West is inadequate, as long as its Wahhabi Islam propagates a culture of hatred vis-à-vis all non-Muslims, and non-Sunni Muslims.

Encouraging religious reformation

Reforming state-sponsored media by ridding it of the “Conspiracy Theory of History”.

Making it a crime to label dissidents as Kuffar (Infidels) 

Stopping the flow of monetary support from the Gulf States to mosques in the West many of which are controlled by radical Imams preaching hatred.

Ending the support of Western political, cultural, and informational circles that defend the worst aspects of Islam, absolving it from responsibility for the acts of terror perpetrated against the West.

Vetting immigrants coming to the West from anywhere in the Muslim world. It is not racism to expect immigrants to appreciate and learn to love the West, rather than take all its benefits and hate and seek to destroy it, as too often has been the case.

Rachid is brutally honest and fearless in his attempt to get the truth out about Islam and its total hegemony over those who inhabit its political, religious, cultural and familial environs. I'm learning much from him. Equally relevant and perhaps more easily accessible than his book, are the many archived weekly programs seen on Satellite TV which can be accessed on YouTube. There are approximately 450 of them, each lasting 90 minutes. Each presentation includes phone calls and email messages in Arabic from Eastern Christians, Muslims, and former Muslims.

These newly enlightened people express gratitude to those like Rachid who have helped them clarify their thinking about their core beliefs and their experience of joy in Christ after “crossing over” from Islam to Christianity.  This is a new and growing phenomenon coming out of a doctrinaire ideology and one can only hope it will continue unabated.  This book is a wonderful reference for those with a questing spirit.


[i] This review is based on the Arabic text of the book. Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Water Life Publishing 2016 Copyright USA

ISBN 978-1-935577-57-7

www.WaterLifePublishing.com The Arabic version may be purchased from this website and Amazon.

[ii] Uboor is a noun derived from the verb ‘abara, i.e. to cross over. The term is being used in the weekly television program of Brother Rachid to describe those who have crossed over to faith in Jesus Christ, and now call themselves, Masihiyyeen (Arabic for Christians)

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Book Review: Will Islamic Infiltration of Europe Succeed in transforming it into the House of Islam?

May 05, 2023
By Bassam M. Madany in Collaboration with June Engdahl

Book Review: Will Islamic Infiltration of Europe Succeed in transforming it into the House of Islam?

     A Review Article by Bassam M. Madany in Collaboration with June Engdahl

There is no dearth of books on WWII and the Cold War that followed it. However, not often does one come across a story which tells of events in post-war Europe that seemed so innocuous, or for Americans perhaps even promising, in their beginnings, but which proved to be so highly significant in their effects.  Beginning well before the end of World War II, the participants in the story were active in their own spheres of influence.  Who they were and what goals motivated them make for an impelling scenario?  Their wisdom and shrewdness, or lack thereof, in interpreting and responding to the political and social challenges of war-ravaged Europe, resulted in making our present moment so precarious.  What story and what events are we speaking about? 

Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize winning American author currently living in Berlin, tells that story, and relates those little known events in a book entitled:

A MOSQUE IN MUNICH: NAZIS, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST. Hardcover: 336 pages. Publication Date: 05/04/2010, ISBN-10: 0151014183, HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN, HARCOURT, NEW YORK

In the winter of 2003, Mr. Johnson, as he often did, was browsing the latest offerings of a Muslim bookstore in London.  Prominently displayed amidst the highly radical literature was a colorful map.  It highlighted important centers of Islamic influence around the world.  His curiosity was piqued in particular by a reference to “The Islamic Center of Munich.”  Mr. Johnson at first assumed its prominence on the map had something to do with meeting the needs of the vast number of Muslim immigrants who, since the 1960’s, were living in Germany and in Munich specifically.  But why, he wondered, was it up there along with only three other world-famous mosques including the one in Mecca?  What was so special about it that it could garner such attention?  Mr. Johnson spent the next several years researching the answer, combing through countless archives and interviewing people connected to the Mosque project.  The result is this excellent book chronicling events surrounding the Mosque’s creation decades ago and what it has become at this moment in time – a vehicle for spreading the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood into the West.  The story is a sharp reminder of the risk of unintended consequences that often result from even well-intentioned aims. 

In the first chapters, the reader is introduced to the post-World War II setting in West Germany and a particularly important character named Gerhard von Mende.  Among the many displaced persons inhabiting Germany after the war were Muslim minorities who had lived under Soviet domination in the Caucasus, as well as the Muslims of the Central Asian republics of the USSR.  Former Nazi von Mende believed there was a special place for them, many of whom had fought for the Nazis, in post-war Germany.  Von Mende had been a brilliant scholar with expertise on the Turkic peoples living in the Caucasus and Central Asia when Hitler found a task for him in his Third Reich.  He was put in charge of “the ‘Ostministerium’ where he developed plans for harnessing Islam, a strategy that would last long after the Nazi defeat.” (p. 21) Von Mende was a very willing and effective tool in Hitler’s Third Reich goals.  He had no qualms about the pogroms being conducted against the Jews, yet he was very proactive in the ‘Ostministerium’ on behalf of the Muslim minorities of the USSR. Throughout the war he dealt with captured Muslim soldiers from the Caucasus regions who had been conscripted to fight on behalf of the Soviets against the Germans.  Like von Mende, they hated the Soviets and became willing collaborators with the Germans.  An important ally of von Mende during the War was a Palestinian cleric named Haj Amin al-Huseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  As early as 1933, Huseini evidenced his hatred of Jews by advising the Nazis to “get rid of Jewish influence in economics and politics.”  (p. 112)

Huseini cooperated with the Nazis in their propaganda efforts to woo the Muslim World into fighting for the Third Reich.  Hatred of the Jews is not only a major theme running through Islamic thought, but has also proved to be a deadly principle of action for its Jihadists.  Whether Western leaders have learned from this dynamic is still an open question.

At war’s end the United States, first under Trueman and then Eisenhower, began serious efforts to combat the influence and expansion of the Soviet Union around the world.  They also saw a use for the Muslim minorities in West Germany.  Johnson relates how the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council were formed soon after the war. (p. 40) “Psychological warfare” was a highly popular tool with the new agencies and with Eisenhower, and it would be used in future CIA intelligence work.  In Europe the CIA created the American Committee for Liberation (Amcomlib) and Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe were two of its propaganda operations targeting the Soviets and their satellites.  Many of the Muslim minorities were employed in the daily operations of the stations, and rivalry began between those working for the Americans and those for the West Germans.

Von Mende’s plans for using the former Muslim soldiers to benefit West Germany were also taking shape.  His Nazi past was no detriment to him in the post-war years.  Both the new West German government and the United States were willing to work with him and benefit from his various areas of expertise.  He was given a nice office in Düsseldorf and put in charge of the “Office for Homeless Aliens.”  Cooperation between the two allies became more strained, however, as West German confidence increased over the years. Each feared losing the Muslim minorities to the other.  Johnson, in a particularly revealing chapter on how the Mosque was conceived, (pp. 91-103) relates growing tension in U.S.-German relations centering around West Germany’s desire for reunification with East Germany.  Things got complicated when another former Nazi named Theodore Oberländer came into the pictureAdenauer appointed him “cabinet minister in charge of refugees.”  (p. 93) As such he pushed the particular idea that Germany should recover those “vast stretches of German land lost to Poland and the Soviet Union after the war.”  (p. 91) Oberländer was baulking at the fait accompli that had occurred when the Oder-Neisse border had been fixed at war’s end by the allies.  He wanted von Mende to help him get the border redrawn so as to redress the East Prussians’ grievances at being made homeless by the Allied post-war remapping.  He made common cause with the “expellees” now living in West Germany (p. 92) in an attempt to fulfill his pipedream and keep the issue before the public eye. 

Johnson details the intricate maneuvering that occurred as the Americans were becoming alarmed at this turn of events and their belief that the West German government might make a deal with the Soviets to get reunification with East Germany in return for remaining a neutral power.  They also needed the Muslim minorities for their propaganda work at the radio stations and other projects necessitating the wooing of Muslim “agents”.  The Germans needed the Muslims for their aims as well but didn’t have quite the resources the U.S. did to sway the minorities.  However, they did conceive what proved to be a very clever chess move.  Why not, thought they, both control and unite their Muslim assets by building them a Mosque.

There were two important leaders of Munich’s Muslims at the time: an imam named Ibrahim Gacaoglu who worked for the Americans, and another imam, Nurredin Namangani, a personal friend of von Mende, who worked for the Germans.  The latter had been a “survivor of the Soviet gulag, imam of an SS division, holder of high military awards, he was an ideal choice to bring Munich’s Muslims into line.” (p. 96) He also was a man the likes of which future years would see a lot more of coming out of Islam: a dedicated Islamic true believer.

Ibrahim Gacaoglu was mellower and considered the elder statesman and popular leader of the rank and file Muslims still displaced in Germany, and was solidly with the Americans and their efforts against the Soviets.  Von Mende and the Bonn government, however, said Gacaoglu was an “American stooge” and “the only issue for them was how to knock out Gacaoglu and the Americans.” (p. 99) They wanted their man to be the Muslim unifier. They succeeded.  A small group of Caucasus Muslims met in a beer cellar in March of 1958, chose Namangani their imam, and created the “Ecclesiastical Administration of Moslem Refugees in the German Federal Republic” which was promptly recognized by the Bonn government and put on its payroll.  Bonn appropriated $30,000 in today’s money to help run the office. The Mosque project took off that same year, 1958, but was not completed until August 1973.  Over the years, money to fund the Mosque came from different sources, especially Saudi ones.  One Saudi businessman donated “one million marks.”  (p. 159)

Meanwhile, in 1956, a young man from Cairo named Said Ramadan also entered into the Mosque story.  With him came another element– the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Ramadan had already made a name for himself in the Brotherhood, traveling all over the Arab world lecturing and exerting his charismatic personality for the cause of Muslim unity.  He also founded The Muslim World League.  As a young man, he had been attracted to Hasan al-Banna, the founder, in 1928, of the Muslim Brotherhood. He became al-Banna’s secretary, and married one of his daughters.

Johnson details (p. 116-119) a most interesting incident in 1953 when Ramadan went to America with a group of Muslims for a Symposium at Princeton University and took a side trip to Washington to meet with President Eisenhower as well.  The White House and State Department wanted to work with the Muslim world and thought they could impress the Symposium delegates and Ramadan about U.S. moral superiority over the Soviets.  A CIA analyst reporting on the meeting had a less sanguine opinion of Ramadan than did the White House and State calling him a “political agitator. . . a political reactionary, a Phalangist or Fascist type. . . interested in the grouping of individuals for power.” (p. 118)

In 1956 Ramadan went to Cologne, Germany for doctoral studies under Dr. Gerhard Kegel.  His thesis was how to implement Sharia Islamic Law.  Dr. Kegel told Johnson in an interview that Ramadan was “intelligent if also fanatical.” (p. 121)  Besides working on his thesis, he was traveling all over the Muslim world promoting Islamic interests, including the Mosque. The CIA was supportive and even sponsored some of his conferences.  He was also successful in swaying Muslim students in Germany to his Brotherhood perspective and succeeded in taking control of the Mosque project away from von Mende and his Muslim soldiers.  But his influence eventually waned.  He had helped organize the Muslim World League but lost control of it to the Saudis, who not only funded its projects but came to control its governance.  He was soon to lose control of the Mosque as well.  When it was completed in August of 1973, Ramadan didn’t even attend the celebration ceremonies as he “had left the project in disgust…” (p.182)  He continued his work on Muslim causes from his home in Switzerland and even got involved in various controversies in his final years.  His son Tariq would become well-known as a European model of a moderate Muslim!  As the reader is no doubt aware, he was granted early in 2010, re-entry rights into the United States by the Obama Administration, after the Bush Administration had denied him visa rights for his questionable ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  He has recently spoken to admiring audiences in several venues in the U.S.

Even without Ramadan, Muslim Brotherhood influence over the Mosque via its “politically expansionist, Saudi-financed wing” (p. 185) only intensified as other men came on the scene to run it.  Its name even changed as the years went on reflecting its expanding commitments beyond a mere meeting place for local believers. Ghaleb Himmat, in particular, a Syrian and strong Muslim Brotherhood man, “was able to lead the Islamic Center of Munich down an adventurous path…” (p.188)  Youssef Nada, another wealthy Egyptian businessman, was his right hand man who knew where the contacts and money were and “helped guide the Mosque into the Saudi Brotherhood network.” (p. 190).  Even though they headed up the Munich project and the growing number of other German Islamic Centers, they both owned swanky homes near Lake Lugano in Italy from where they spread the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.  Nada, especially, traveled a lot and even lived in the U.S. for awhile where his three daughters were born.  So it was that the “marriage of Saudi money and the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology set the stage for the spread of Islamist thinking, not only across the Muslim world, but into the West too. Nada, Himmat, and the Islamic Center of Munich would be its epicenter.” (p. 191) Its ideology became more stridently provocative as it took up Jihadist thinking.  No wonder it would become a haven for future terrorists.  Even Himmat became suspect and had to resign the leadership because of accusations of helping finance Al Qaeda.    (p. 188)

Western leaders are slow learners, if they learn at all.  Recent trends are disturbing.  American officials both criticize and work with the Muslim Brotherhood, mostly the latter.  In 2005 the State Department sponsored a Conference paid for by American taxpayers to implement the idea that “the United States had better Muslim leadership” (p. 223) and could teach their European counterparts a thing or two.  And the teachers were all Muslim Brotherhood men.  So in effect, the “State Department was importing Muslim Brotherhood Islamists with roots in Europe to tell European Muslims how to organize and integrate.”  (p. 223) “This paralleled U. S. efforts in the 1950s to enlist Muslims in Munich for similar public relations purposes…. Just as in the 1950s and ‘60’s, the United States opted for the Brotherhood.” (p. 225) 

In the final chapters Johnson sets forth how the Muslim Brotherhood has exhibited a vastly expanded world-wide influence.  It can be pragmatic when necessary.  It has shown great organizational finesse in starting Islamic entities, with much Saudi financing, in democratic countries, particularly the United States.  It has a freer range of action in America and Europe than in its home country, Egypt, ironically “using” the free world’s media, governmental and academic institutions in perhaps a more effective way than ever the West “used” the Muslim minorities Johnson elucidates.  Iraqis in America founded the Muslim Student Association in 1962.  Ismail Faruqi took charge of the Brotherhood’s International Institute of Islamic Thought near Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he taught.  The Brotherhood’s goal “to provide the theoretical underpinnings for the spread of Islamism in the West” was its organizing principle.  (p. 195) Many Islamist leaders are suave and charming peddlers of the Brotherhood message, and adept at downplaying the harsher aspects of its unbending ideology. Gullible Western leaders in their desire to bend to the demands of “political correctness” are willing to overlook those harsher aspects as well.  The impression is given that they don’t really understand the religion and ideology opposing them.  Such submissive acceptance looks like self-imposed Dhimmitude.

In our post-911 world, the West has no excuse for not educating itself on the beliefs and aims of the Muslim Brotherhood and its desire to implement Islamist goals world-wide. What the Brotherhood has wrought for Islamism on a global scale through that one Mosque in Munich, is frightfully impressive.  Western politicians and intellectual elites would do well to take note of Johnson’s reminder that the Muslim Brotherhood is not just “an Egyptian political party” but “an ideological universe.” (p. 231) So much has been accomplished by the Islamists from events surrounding that small MOSQUE IN MUNICH.  Ian Johnson’s digging into the past for those background events has produced an impressive book.  Now we know how former Nazis, CIA operatives, heads of governments and a colorful cast of other characters used those Muslim minorities left in limbo after WWII for their own political ends.  And in the process the tables got turned.  We can only conclude that by insisting on bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to “educate” the Muslim refugees of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Americans and West Germans paved the way for an irreversible “Islamic Infiltration of Europe,” which may well transform it into part of Daru’l Islam, i.e., the House of Islam.  What will happen in America is still unknown

Posted in Book Reviews

Christians in the Arab East

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

 

Robert Brenton Betts, Christians in the Arab East. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978, 318 pp., $12.00

A review by Bassam Michael Madany

Prologue

May 2015

It was in 1980, when I reviewed “Christians in the Arab East.” I found it a compelling explanation of the “Plight” of Middle East Christians living under Islam for almost 1400 years. My purpose in posting this review 35 years later is to show how the advance of years has not lessened the turmoil in this part of the world.  As for those Eastern Christians who formerly were a significant part of the mix of peoples in the Levant, suffering has been their ongoing experience.  Their accumulating sorrows are ongoing and dreadful and pose serious current and future problems for the countries they are attempting to escape to.

During the decade of the 1980s, President Anwar Sadat ruled Egypt; Saddam Hussein was about to launch his eight-year war against Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. In Syria, an Air Force General, Hafeth al-Assad was in his tenth year as the undisputed ruler of the country. Next door in Lebanon, the Civil War was raging after five years of chaos and blood-letting, a war that was to continue for another ten more years!

By 2015, Iraq, some of it parts having come under the rule of the Islamic Caliphate (known as ISIS and by its Arabic acronym, Da’esh,) is gradually being emptied of its Christian population. The Civil War in Syria, that began in mid-March, 2011, has not abated. Many factions are fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad even as many of them fight among themselves. Egypt, after a one-year of rule by President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is now ruled by President Abdel Fattah el-SiSi, a former military officer. This change was largely welcomed by the population; however, the condition of the Christians in Egypt hasn’t improved greatly. Libya is in extreme turmoil with a government barely in control as it deals with political factions and terrorists. Furthermore, people from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, transit through Libya on their way to Italy, many of whom are drowning in the process. How sad that freedom and good government and economic stability are absent in most of the Middle East.  Its Christians, in particular, are being systematically eliminated by one means or another.

Ever since the Arab conquests of the seventh century, a pervasive continuity has enveloped the lives of Christians in particular.  The work of Dr. Robert Benton Betts had a place in explaining one era of that continuum as it affected the status of Christians in the lands of the “Arab East.”

 

The Book Review

It was Easter Monday 1975.  A busload of Palestinian commandos drove by a Maronite church in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon.  They shouted some slogans in Arabic.  A group of Phalangists came out of the church service and a bloody battle followed.  That sparked the war in Lebanon.

Five years later, the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt called off the official celebrations of this great festival.  He was protesting the persecution of his people and the apparent reluctance of President Sadat to do anything to help the Christians of his land.

I have cited these two facts in the modern history of the Middle East in order to emphasize the plight of the Christians of that area.  The West is so preoccupied with the larger questions concerning the Middle East, that we are apt to forget its Christian minorities.  This is why Christians in the Arab East, by Robert Brenton Betts is such a welcome publication.  It seeks to inform and enlighten the readers about a subject which is seldom discussed; except among some specialists in the State Department, or the theologians who are interested in the Eastern churches.  The author, we are informed on the inside cover of the book, “took his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.”  Dr. Betts has added a sympathetic heart to his academic and professional career, which qualifies him to speak with love and objectivity.

What many Western Christians, Protestant or Roman Catholic, may not realize, Christians in the Middle East belong to a community which can tract its tradition back to the second or third centuries A.D.  Unfortunately, their history has been filled with strife and persecution.  The early theological controversies which were “officially” settled at Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451) brought into being several “heterodox” churches.

            “Thus when the armies of the Caliph (Khalifa) ‘Umar ibn-Al-Khattab stormed

            stormed out of the Arabian Desert into Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia, they

encountered two empires, each exhausted by lengthy wars against each other,

            and populated on their southern flanks by non-Orthodox Christians – Copts,

            Jacobites and Nestorians, all of whom were outside the prevailing ecclesiastical

            law and hostile to both Persian and Byzantine governments. For these Christians

            the invaders from the south, racial and linguistic cousins, were far preferable as

            rulers to the Greco-Roman Byzantines and te Aryan Persians. Not surprisingly,

            therefore, the Christians of Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia in many cases aided

            the invaders in defeating the imperial armies. And once removed from the political

            authority of Constantinople the Monophysites became like the Nestorians, beyond

            all hope of reconciliation with Orthodoxy. The Arabs like the Persians in

            Mesopotamia, found it expedient to perpetuate those divisions within Christianity

            which prevented the majority of their non-Muslim subjects from feeling a sense of

             loyalty, religious or political, to Constantinople. Thus both heresies, condemned by

            the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were permanently crystallized.”    P. 7

 

On the whole, the Arabs were more tolerant of the Christian minorities than the non-Arab Muslims (especially the Ottoman Turks) who succeeded them in the management of the vast Islamic Empire. Christians and Jews were always regarded as second class subjects.  Dr. Betts gives us a brief and helpful account of their tragic history.

In the 19th century, Christians were in the forefront of the movements for the revival of the Arabic language and culture.  This led to the rise of Arab nationalism, a movement which sought to divorce politics from religion, or at least to make it possible for non-Muslims to be accepted as fellow citizens.  It appeared for a while, especially in Egypt, that at last the Christian Arab was going to achieve the dream of being accepted by the majority of his fellow countrymen.  But the events of the First World War were shattering.  They were,

“for the Christians of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia a purgatory

from which they emerged broken and decimated, a tragic chapter in

       the history of suffering which today, more than fifty years later, remains

an omnipresent memory even to those born long afterward.” P. 28

 

For the Christians of Lebanon, especially for the Maronite church, that meant the absolute necessity of obtaining from the West (specifically from France) the assurance that they will never come under the dominion of an Islamic government.

This attitude of Lebanese Christians was not necessarily to be followed by other Christian Arabs.  On the contrary, the Copts in Egypt, and the Greek Orthodox and Protestants in Syria and Palestine, worked hard for the dawn of complete independence from the European colonialism.  However, they had always in mind, an Arab nationalism which will bring into being some “secularized” form of an Arab state.  It is quite intriguing to notice as we continue reading this book, how the Christian Arabs (this term does not refer to their personal faith, but reflects a nomenclature employed by the Muslim conquerors in their classification of their subjects) were in the vanguard of propagating Western political ideologies with proper adaptations for local consumption.  For example, the father of the Ba’ath Party which is the dominant political movement in both Syria and Iraq is a Greek Orthodox Syrian, Michel Aflaq.  But somehow, the feeling was always there, i.e., among Christians that, no matter how hard they work for the good of the country, they remain suspect.  Their patriotism is always in question!

One of the most valuable parts of Christians in the Arab East is the last chapter: “Future Assessment.” 

The big question remains,

                        “Whether or not the Muslim majority in the seventh decade

                         of the 20th century was ready to accept the ‘total immersion’

                        into the life of the Arab states by Arab Christians.”  P. 220

 

Dr. Betts seems to be a little hopeful that such a thing might take place.  Writing the revised text of his book in 1978, the author showed some guarded optimism about the fate of Lebanon. 

                    

“What is certain is that the Christians of Lebanon, more

so than any of their brethren elsewhere in the Arab World,

are determined to survive in the face of any challenge

which Islam, whether in the guise of nationalism or not,

might afford.” P. 227

 

I wish I could be as optimistic as that as I write in 1980.  The Islamic revolution in Iran has changed everything.  I am not simply referring to the political, economic and international aspects of this revolution.  But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has re-kindled the fires of Islamic exclusivism and superiority throughout the entire Muslim world, from Indonesia to Morocco.  Long after the tragic episode of the 50 American hostages has been solved, the problem for the Christians of the East will still be with us: how to survive as Christians in an ocean of Islam!

Great and informative as Dr. Betts book has been, unfortunately it fails to challenge Western Christians about their responsibility to help their brothers and sisters still living in the Arab East! However, with my own deep roots in the Middle East, I end my review with a quotation from another work that was published fifteen years earlier; it dealt with the same subject.  Edward Wakin,[i] writing on the plight of the Christians of Egypt ended his book, A Lonely Minority, with these moving and prophetic words:

At the end of this intimate rendezvous with the Copts, a concluding moral note is unavoidable.  The obligation to oppose tyranny stands even when the tyranny is elusive and unannounced, even unintended.  It begins with labeling injustice long before shop windows are smashed, icons broken, and families torn apart.  This labeling is an antidote to the danger of dulled sensibilities in our time and while the Copts can be accused of hypersensitivity, their problem is by no means imaginary.  They are feeling pressures that inflict suffering without mutilating, that intimidate relentlessly without exploding sporadically, that wound without bloodshed.

The Copts are numbed and helpless as well as anxious as their historic cycles of acceptance and rejection, their recurring stages of toleration, discrimination and persecution move inexorably in the direction of rejection.  Persecution is still the nightmare, discrimination the reality in the latest chapter of a long story of a people.  They are there in Egypt and there they remain, the ‘true Egyptians,’ the ‘original Christians,’ the four million Copts of the Nile Valley[ii], that troubled, enduring, lonely minority.

Perhaps we can do very little for them and for the other Christians of the Middle East.  But by reading books on the Eastern Christians we become more aware of them and their predicament.  They will be grateful just to know that their brothers and sisters in the West are aware and do care about them.


1 In the 1950s, Edward Wakin (1927-2009) and his then-wife traveled extensively in the Middle East, where he wrote articles for the Scripps-Howard News Service. He also wrote for Harper’s, Saturday Review, Catholic Digest, The Christian Century, and American Way and Beyond Computing magazines. In an obituary for his father, Daniel Wakin, a reporter for the New York Times, wrote that A Lonely Minority: The Modern Story of Egypt's Copts (William Morrow & Company, 1963) was arguably Edward’s most important book. “The Copts, the largest Christian community in the Arab world, were a sensitive subject in Gamal Abdul Nasser's Egypt, and Mr. Wakin said he had to smuggle his notes out of the country hidden in his luggage,” Daniel Wakin wrote. “Even 40 years later, Egyptian Copts would contact Mr. Wakin in appreciation of the book.”
 

http://www.fordham.edu/campus_resources/enewsroom/archives/archive_1732.asp

 

[ii] The actual number of Copts in Egypt varies greatly; Mr. Wakin mentioned 4 million, some Copts claim the number is much higher, as much as 8 million. Going back to the late 19th century, most Middle Eastern Christians who settled in the United States were primarily from Lebanon and Syria. The Immigration Law of 1970 allowed Middle Eastern people to come in great numbers to the US, including Copts from Egypt.

Posted in Book Reviews

Review Article - Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Review Article

Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road [1]– Paul Gordon Chandler

June Engdahl

 

This book is a study of the unusual witness of a Syrian-born Muslim believer in Christ, one Mazhar Mallouhi.  It is prefaced with praise from various well-known writers and certain leaders in Christian missions, including the late Ralph Winter, Greg Livingstone and Brother Andrew.   For Livingstone, Mallouhi is his “primary mentor in the Arab world.” Brother Andrew prays that the book “will build a new much needed bridge.”  

Paul Gordon Chandler, the chronicler of Mazhar Mallouhi’s life and understanding of Christ, is a Western Christian who has spent much of his life serving with the Anglican/Episcopal Church in various Middle Eastern countries.  He is most comfortable in a “Muslim context.”  (p. 1) Introduced to Mallouhi almost two decades ago in Tunis, they became fast friends.   Chandler writes glowingly of his unique and irenic witness in bringing Christ to Muslims in a way that they can be accepted and welcomed in their culture.

As he introduces his friend, Chandler poses this question: “Is it possible for someone from a Muslim background to follow Christ uniquely and remain an insider, staying within their Islamic culture?”  (p. 2) Mazhar Mallouhi says “yes”.  It seems reasonable enough that any new believer in Christ would not have to part with absolutely everything in his culture to follow Christ.  Foods and harmless customs and traditions would fit into that category.  But one has to understand that in Islam, culture, theology and politics cannot be separated. The Arab family, clan, religious community and nation are just too important a part of their culture to be questioned. (p. 102)    In order not to offend Muslims, Christ would have to be incorporated into their total Islamic belief system and made subservient to it. 

Chandler and Mallouhi, of course, do not admit as much, but the effect of their effort to re-present Christ in an “insider” friendly way does just that.  The Christ Mallouhi wants to share with Muslims is not the historic Christ of Scripture and the Christian Creeds of the major Christian traditions: Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.  In an effort to make Christ inoffensive to Muslims he becomes malleable in their hands.  The eternal Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, Son of God and Saviour of the world through His atonement for sin, before whom all the world will eventually bow in humble adoration, is missing from the Christ they have refashioned for the Muslim road. 

Striving to bring Muslims to believe in Christ is a worthy goal and not an easy task as history has proved.   But it should not be done at the expense of the biblical truth that defines Him.  Chandler wants to present Mallouhi as a breath of fresh air compared to what went before him.  This is clearly seen in his negative attitude toward the West, which he tirelessly reiterates.  He is scornful of most every Western interaction with the Arab world.  He does not challenge the Middle Eastern milieu’s simmering antipathy toward the West in general and Christianity in particular.   He notes that the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, became influential in the area’s schools.  The Brotherhood, along with the Arab media, considered the influence of Christian missionaries in the region a “kind of disease to be eradicated.” (p.19)

Chandler gives credence to a still popular book by Mustafa Khalidi and Umar Farrukh, first published in 1953.  Evangelism and Imperialism in the Arab World, essentially blames Christians, their activities, their works of charity, schools and hospitals as “dangerous agents of Western imperialism.” (p. 19) He fails to mention the fact that Umar Farrukh was a member of the Syrian Communist Party, and an ardent supporter of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, who insisted on linking Christian missions to imperialism.  One wonders if those Christian missiologists who so highly praise Mallouhi’s paradigm, as set forth by Chandler, actually agree that an Arab Communist’s negative interpretation of Western activities in the Arab world, especially Christian activity, should be touted as a valuable critique and warning for how Christian mission work in the area should proceed.

Conversely, Chandler exhibits no similar attitude toward Islam or Muslim culture.   Some of the more obvious defects that any neutral observer would see in Islamic teaching and culture are intolerance toward all other faiths, the often ill-treatment of Christians and Jews in Muslim majority countries, the inferior status of women and their mistreatment by men, in the home and in law, intolerance toward fellow Muslims who might question Islam or leave it, the imposition of Sharia law, the Madrasas teaching young Muslims to become Jihadists and murder in the name of Allah.  Chandler does not even get close to discussing such things.  And these serious defects are not even exhaustive.

Chandler and Mallouhi seek to elevate Islamic culture, not criticize it.  Inelegant truths do not serve their purpose.  They want to separate Christ from Christianity and bring him into the Muslim culture and their Islamic belief system just as it is.  This they suggest will make him acceptable to Muslims. Doubt is raised about devoted missionaries to the Muslim world in years past, who are seen as lacking the Spirit.  According to Mallouhi:

“The Muslim media picks up any negative comments from the Christian world about Islam.  For example, if you go to Bahrain, in the Gulf, you will hear some of the elderly local Muslims speak negatively about Samuel Zwemer, the famous American Protestant missionary, who served in the Gulf region in the early 1900s.  Although he is a great hero to Western Protestant Christians, there was something in his attitude that did not link with his message to them and his life’s efforts given to them.  It is very sad that the spirit of Christ was not evident to some Muslims.  So it requires generations of sowing the true spirit of Christ.” (p. 194)

His defensiveness toward any kind of criticism of Islam is obvious in how he prefaces his dismissive attitude toward Zwemer.  There is no questioning of the “elderly local Muslims” negative view of Zwemer.  It is likely that anything Zwemer would have said or done would be seen negatively if he was preaching Christ crucified, as the only way, truth and life.  Was that the “attitude” they didn’t like?  In any event, by what criteria does Mallouhi judge that Zwemer lacked the “spirit of Christ”? To even bring up such a gratuitous criticism dishonors Zwemer and attempts to delegitimize his myriad and worthy efforts for the cause of Christ in the Arab world.[2]

Mallouhi’s syncretistic perspective went through several stages.  As a child he was strictly schooled at home and school in Islamic belief and ritual.  However, by his early 20’s, Mallouhi rejected the Islam instilled in him from birth.  He began to study Eastern religions, read the world’s philosophers and loved Russian novels.  He joined the Baath Party and the Syrian Army, where he was eventually given a desk job when it was discovered he was a writer and a poet.  He began to study the works of the Hindu Gandhi and discovered his “great respect for Christ.” (p. 21) 

Mallouhi also read the Arabic Old and New Testaments which he received from another army man who was a Syrian Presbyterian.  He read them over and over and was finally struck with Christ’s words “come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” and “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”  And so it was at age 24, in 1959, his heart responded and he asserted that Christ was “truly” his “Lord” and he asked Him to give him that promised new life. 

Chandler’s description of Mallouhi’s change of heart lacks several things.  There is no indication that the objective truths of the Christian faith, as things to be believed, played a part in his enlightenment experience.  It was entirely subjective; a movement toward the Christ who promises rest and abundant life.  But such promises have a context in Scripture.  They apply to believers who understand, grieve for, and desire to be saved from, personal sin and guilt before God and his law.  They are a fruit of faith in Christ as Scripture reveals Him. 

As the story of Mallouhi’s life unfolds, it becomes clear his experience of Christ was going to be on his terms, free from any meaningful connection to Christianity, the Church, its creeds, confessions and doctrines in any traditional way.  Chandler states that Mallouhi experienced a change as his whole personality was vivified; he loved everyone, and danced for joy.  But rather than giving credit to the Holy Spirit working through the Scripture for his new life, Chandler attributed Mallouhi’s transformation to “God’s Spirit working through one humble Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, who did his best to live his life in the shadow of Christ as taught in the Sermon on the Mount.” (p.23)  In a section dealing with suffering, (p. 130-133) Mallouhi again mentions his debt to Gandhi.  While being imprisoned unjustly at various times by some of the despotic governments in the Arab world, notably Egypt and even Syria, his very own homeland, Mallouhi credits Gandhi as his inspiration to follow Christ. (p. 130) It is odd, if not heterodox, to find comfort in Christ as mediated by Gandhi, who was not even a Christian.[3]  One of Mallouhi’s favorite writers, the Methodist E. Stanley Jones, (p. 205) was also very appreciative of Gandhi, and claimed that unbelievers from other faiths actually “have” the Spirit of Christ while often Christ’s own followers do not.[4]    

As Mallouhi progressed in his particular understanding of Christ, he first associated with Arab Christians, who viewed Arab culture critically along strict orthodox lines.  They told him to “leave his cultural past behind.” (p. 105) He made the attempt but was troubled about it.  He believed they were either too doctrinaire or did not exhibit the spirit of Christ.  Finally, with the help of liberal Western Christians sympathetic to Arab culture, Mallouhi completely changed back to becoming very protective of his Muslim background and culture.

Mallouhi eventually went to Beirut, where there was a flourishing intellectual community.  Many had suffered persecution from Arab governments in the area and found Beirut a respite.  Mallouhi wrote several of his novels there and eventually married a Syrian Christian, but the marriage was troubled and only lasted four years.  He moved to Morocco, started a business, and eventually went to America and was a student at Fuller Seminary's School of World Mission, in the years immediately prior to his meeting and marrying his second wife, Christine, in December of 1975. Chandler does not say a lot about his life at Fuller, where “there was a special programmatic focus on the Islamic world” except that he was “able to be of assistance to professors in some of the classes.”  Fuller’s Mission Department at the time was in the forefront of advocating and advancing a new theology of missions at variance with historic missionary theory and practice.[5]

Chandler and Mallouhi steer clear of setting forth the truth claims of either Christianity or Islam.  The reader has to settle for Mallouhi’s claim to have great love for Christ as if that ends the matter.  He says very little about the Christ he loves: His Incarnation, Deity, Personhood and the doctrines formulated by the early Ecumenical Councils of the Church about Him.  To do so might conflict with his purpose of reaching Muslims for Christ, without offending them.  When he goes into Mosques and cafes with his Bible telling Muslims about Jesus one can only assume he is avoiding most of the basic truths that the scriptures outline.  The irreconcilable differences between the two faiths that would inevitably arise were he to do so are thus avoided.  The real issues at stake are deeper but not addressed.  What is to be done about the exclusive truth claims of the Christian faith and how they differ from Islam’s own claims to exclusive truth?  What is the responsibility of Christian missionaries to proclaim them?

Over 50 years ago F.F. Bruce, when describing the jailing of a Sudanese Christian man who had delivered a sermon on Jesus words “No man cometh unto the Father but by me”, wrote this:

 

“It does bring home to us what, to many people’s minds, is the crucial skandalon of the Christian faith, its central offence.  Christianity will not come to terms with other religions, nor will it relax its exclusive claims so as to countenance or accommodate them.  It presents itself, as it did in the first century, as God’s final word to man; it proclaims Christ, as it did in the first century, to be the one Mediator between God and man.  The Sudanese evangelist might be right in maintaining that he said nothing hostile to the Muslim faith so far as the law of the land was concerned, but in a religious sense any proclamation of the gospel, especially when based on such a text as he chose, must inevitably be hostile to a system which proclaims another Christ to be the spokesman of God par excellence.[6]

 

Chandler, Mallouhi and other Insider Movements on the mission field today are attempting to soften the skandalon.  Christianity, they say, should come to terms with Islam and be accommodating to Muslims.  They urge that great care be taken to avoid giving offense or discrediting anyone’s culture, excepting, of course, Western culture.  Certainly, needless offense should be avoided, yet it strains credulity to think Insider Movement techniques, be they what they will,[7] would lessen offense in any measurable degree for those who believe that Islam is the final revelation from Allah, superseding the Christian religion and outside the bounds of criticism.

 

To show how strongly Mallouhi is influenced by this mindset, he says that all efforts by Western Christians to convert Muslims to Christianity is “not true love or friendship.” (p. 81) Scripture, however, teaches that all men everywhere (including Muslims) are lost in sin and need salvation and reconciliation with God, which necessitates conversion.   If Western Christians (or any Christians) do not preach the necessity of conversion they are neglecting a seminal Christian truth.  Surely, if “conversion” from Islam to Christianity is so detrimental to “true love or friendship” why would Mallouhi and Chandler not also look askance at Muslims seeking converts to Islam?

 

They are looking for common ground between Christianity and Islam.  Thus Chandler says “In the Qur’an Jesus is called the Messiah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Word, and Spirit of God.”   “Christians and Muslims have a “commonality” in their “mutual respect for Christ.”  Mallouhi adds: “Building on what we have in common requires that Christians take a positive view of Muhammad and all he was attempting to do.  Beginning with this foundation, everything changes in how we view Islam.” (p. 89)

 

True, the Qur’an uses the terms described for Jesus.  But Muhammad gave them his own interpretation. Every word has a context. There is nothing in common between the Biblical Messiah and the Qur’anic Messiah.[8]  For instance, “Messiah” in Christianity relates to the Anointed One, the second person of the Trinity, Son of God, while  “Messiah” in Islam means he is a mere servant of Allah.  The other designations have similar contextual differences.  Missionaries cannot properly witness to the Gospel of Christ by simply noting that similar words are found in both the Qur’an and the Bible.  They have to be true to the Scripture as it witnesses to itself and not mold it to fit into any other religion’s tenets.

 

By suggesting that Christians are required to take a positive view of Muhammad and all he was “attempting to do”, Mallouhi is shutting off debate about the character and ethics of Muhammad as well as his aims and methods in spreading his new belief system. There is much in Muhammad’s life that is morally questionable.  The many Christians, who seek rapprochement with Muslims and their faith, generally ignore the dark side of Muhammad’s personality, but there are now many resources available, particularly on Internet websites hosted by ex-Muslims and reformist Muslims, that speak about these issues and criticize both Muhammad and the Qur’an.[9]

 

In describing what Muhammad was “attempting to do”, Chandler sanitizes his record considerably.  Muhammad’s Meccan phase “focused solely on spiritual reformation, preaching to the residents to return to following the one true God away from their polytheism.” His Medinan phase “became associated with power and authority, and he himself became a political and military figure, uniting the various Arab tribes around a common belief and mission.” (p. 90) In fact, from its inception Islam spread by conquest with the sword and belief was coerced on fear of death.  Chandler attempts to mute that fact by contrasting Muhammad with Constantine.  “[W]hen Constantine, the Roman emperor, converted to the Christian faith, he not only made the church officially legal, but put Christianity on the path to becoming the state religion and began to fight wars in the name of Christ.” (p. 90)  This comparison needs rebuttal beyond the scope of this review  Suffice it to say that, unlike Muhammad, Constantine did not claim “prophet” status, or claim to be the purveyor of God’s latest and final revelation to mankind.  His military exploits had more to do with fending off the Roman Empire’s enemies, not coercing belief with the sword.  He began a policy of religious toleration, especially for Christianity, which up to his time had not been tolerated by the Empire. 

 

Christianity had spread by persuasion and often by the martyrdom of its converts.  It is true that Christians, including Constantine, did not always live up to the principles of Jesus, and did spill blood on occasion in contending for the faith.  Yet their actions should not be judged as morally equivalent to those of Muslims, whose very teachings engender a jihadic spirit and allow, if not demand, wars of conquest for Allah!   Today Islam has many followers spilling innocent blood in its name, based on the teachings of its holy book.  Christians all over the Muslim world have suffered death for their beliefs at the hands of Muslims.  Yet in the light of these known facts, and seeing daily its current manifestations in terror networks around the world, why would Chandler instead direct his ire at Christians who, he says:

 

“are in danger of repeating harmful periods of history when the West has gone to war on the Muslim East to conquer, physically or spiritually, in the name of God.  Muslims rarely hear ‘Good News’ from Christians; instead they feel targeted as enemies in a new war. . . . Do Muslims know we are Christians by our hostility?  It is time to lay aside warfare rhetoric and antagonistic strategies; this only creates an unnecessary enmity between us.  The Christian faith will continue to be suspect to Muslims while the Christian West sees the Muslim world as an enemy.” (p. 74)

 

One of Mazhar’s protégés, a North African academic named Samir, is the type of believer Mazhar promotes.  Samir became a Christ follower while doing a doctorate on a Sufi mystic who wanted to be “crucified like Christ.”  Samir didn’t want to lose his “Arab identity” and rejected becoming part of the local Arab Christian community which was “viewed like those who have AIDS” because when they converted they were seen to have left their Arab culture and joined “the West.”  Mallouhi mentored him and Samir read his novels.  He continued “to study Sufism and came to the conviction that the essence of Christ’s teaching, and also the heart of Sufism, was of self-sacrifice for God.”   He continues to pray in the Mosques and his “spiritual growth” is enhanced by using “the beautiful verses of the Qur’an, the Gospels, and the Psalms.”  In his lectures at University he urges students to study the Bible. “He feels very comfortable inviting people to believe in Christ, since they do not need to become ‘churchians.’” (pp. 114-115) 

Here is another example of trying to make Christ fit into an Islamic belief system, in this case a mystical Sufi’s.  Do those missiologists who so highly praise Mallouhi’s efforts to reach Muslims really have no problem with this Sufi’s misunderstanding of the Person and work of Christ and his attempt to appropriate Him for his own subjective purposes?

What Mallouhi thinks about the Bible’s truth claims and the Church’s doctrinal beliefs is troubling to say the least. 

Concerning the Church Mallouhi says this: 

“Personally, I have not been part of an official religious institution.  But rather I have focused on serving and working together with others interested in spiritual matters.  I feel we often limit our Lord, putting him in a box, building a structure around God.  And then too often we lose the power in it or can’t experience the spirit of it.  I am fed more often than not by those outside the church.  I do, however, love fellowship with followers of Christ, and wherever I have lived I have started such groups – people meeting together to talk about Christ and grow together in our understanding of God.  This is what ‘church’ is to me.” (p. 182)

Such unconcern for the Church, Christ’s bride, (Rev. 21:9) which He loves and for which He died (Eph. 5:23-27) is a denial of a main truth of Christianity.   Meeting with people outside of it is to separate them from Christ’s bride, the body of believers.  Going to church was “difficult” for Mallouhi, “like ‘going to the dentist’”   This is how he described a more “positive” church-going  experience:

“The one time I felt I truly had a positive worship experience in a Christian Church service was in a very small Anglican gathering in Rabat, Morocco.   There were very few of us present, but the liturgy, the cantor response, and the celebration of Holy Communion all together led me to worship God.  In church services I find that I am more often than not an observer of what is happening at the front and it is often entertainment.  In the mosque I am a participator in worship.”  (p. 177)

Several elements of the Anglican service moved him to “worship God”, but in the Mosque he could actually “participate” in “worship.”  This attempt to find a commonality in Christian and Muslim worship is spurious.  Can Mallouhi and other Insiders truly claim that Jesus’ command that we worship the Father “in spirit and truth” applies to both church and mosque?   Who precisely is the object of worship in these two settings?  The Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or the Muslim’s Allah?  One thing is clear though.  For Mallouhi worship in the mosque takes precedence over what takes place in the church.

Mallouhi further elaborated on what he thought of the Eucharist/Holy Communion as follows:

“. . . sharing a meal with others who follow Christ is what I find as my ‘holy communion.’  Sharing the bread is very significant in Arab culture.  When you meet a Middle Easterner who likes you, he will want you to share his bread, to be part of his family.  The root is in the Old Testament, such as the stories of Melchizedek and Abraham and the three strangers, and Jacob and Esau.  For us Arabs, this is still our tradition.  My father and grandfather did not go to lawyers for agreements.  They broke bread.  When tribes fight, in order to seal their reconciliation, they break bread together.  It is sad that the Church has lost this meaning; we have lost the sense of responsibility for each other.  It has become instead a church liturgical tradition.” (p. 178)

This may be a nice tradition for reconciling Arab tribes in conflict and sealing agreements without lawyers, but its only similarity to Holy Communion is “breaking bread.”  Men and women need to be reconciled to God before being reconciled to each other.  God in Christ has done something about that.  In the Eucharist/Holy Communion believers break bread and drink wine to remember that Christ shed his blood for them, accomplishing their reconciliation with God (Matt. 26: 26-29; Rom. 2:14-16; Col. 1:21-23).   It is not the Church, but Mallouhi, who has lost the true meaning of “breaking bread.” 

Asked whether baptism was necessary for someone “from a Muslim background” he responded:

“It depends on the person . . . it is the equivalent of when a Western Christian becomes a Muslim and has to go to the Mosque and say the shahada.  So I usually encourage baptism.  Of course, it is not necessary, as millions of people follow my Lord without having been baptized.  This highlights a challenge within Western Christianity.  Often Western culture has become more influential in religion than spiritual things.” (p. 178)

But what does Christ say? “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)   If Mallouhi wants to truly obey his Lord, he cannot so cavalierly make baptism an option. “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”[10] And what does he mean by conflating Western Christianity with Western culture?  He seems to be saying in this confusing assertion that the doctrine of baptism has been a mere cultural accoutrement that needs to be challenged because it is part of Western “religion” while his approach is more “spiritual” and thus superior. Furthermore, Mallouhi’s claim that “millions of people follow my Lord without having been baptized,” has no verifiable proof behind it!

When asked specifically about the Trinity he said “he didn’t understand it” but the reality for him was living with his Master and his Father and he feels led of God’s Spirit and that “whatever form Christian theologians want to put on it is up to them” but it is not a “necessity” for him. (p. 177)

A proper Trinitarian understanding is necessary to understand the Orthodox doctrine of God.  Islam’s doctrine of God is fatally flawed and needs to be pointed out to Muslims seeking to know Christ.  In Robert Letham’s study The Holy Trinity In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship[11] he writes:

“A fully self-conscious and developed Trinitarian theology is indispensable for the future progress of evangelism and missions.  We find ourselves face-to-face with a militantly resurgent Islam.  I find it hard to see how Islam, or, for that matter, any religion based on belief in a unitary god, can possibly account for human personality or explain the diversity in unity of the world.” (p. 10)

Letham further states:

“Islam has no way to explain or even to maintain human personhood.  Relationality among human beings cannot be founded on man being the image of God, since God himself is not and cannot be a relational being.  Moreover, love cannot exist in God.  A monad cannot love.” (, p. 444-445)

Islam fails to understand sin and its devastating effects upon man and the created order due to Adam’s fall.  There is no place for a Savior to atone for man’s sin.  As Letham explains “Allah is a solitary monad with unity only. . . centered on power and will. . . and there is “virtually no room for love.” Muhammad came from an area where there were heretical Christian groups so he never really knew orthodox Christianity.  Jesus was a mere human prophet, who never died on a cross, which would be too humiliating for a God whose “favor is evidenced by success.” (Letham, p. 442-443)

Chandler and Mallouhi are not attempting to do with Islam what they want to do with Christianity.  Islam in the end remains untouched.  Its leader, its tenets, its holy book, its culture and traditions, its attempt to dominate the world are not criticized.  Only Orthodox Christianity is tampered with.  Christ is made malleable, his commands unheeded, the Church’s Sacraments marginalized and its doctrines trivialized.  Christ and His Church are fashioned into what they want them to be, not what they actually are.

Mallouhi is known for his writing.  He has his own publishing house, Al Kalima.  His novels are popular in the Arab world and his interesting literary output can be found on his website http://www.al-kalima.com/fiction.html.  Other facets of his work can also be found there. 

Of more immediate concern for Christians, however, is his involvement in translating several books of the Bible into Arabic, which he terms “re-presentations”.  The work is discussed in a chapter provocatively entitled “Opening a Middle Eastern Book: returning the Christian Scriptures to their Middle Eastern Origin.” (pp. 147-159)  Mallouhi believes the Bible should be brought “back to its original roots, where it should be.”  He re-reads it “with a different approach and from a different angle.”  He believes the Bible is a Middle Eastern, not a Western book, inferring that only people steeped in knowledge of the Middle East can truly understand it.  But Scripture is God’s revealed truth for all mankind, wherever they are and whatever their ethnic makeup.

Mallouhi’s re-presentations include An Eastern Reading of the Gospel of Luke, A Sufi Reading of the Gospel of John and Genesis: The Origin of the world and Humanity.  During translation, he cooperated closely with Muslim Arabs and other “influential Muslims, including well-known literary figures.”  The aim was to “produce publications that re-present the Scriptures in a way that addresses their [Muslims] felt needs, and to shatter stereotypes, overcome prejudices, and illuminate and resolve typical Muslim misunderstanding of the text.” (pp. 147-148)  Along with the Bible text is a “Muslim focused commentary that explains the Scriptures and presents Christ as the Middle Easterner that he was.”   The commentary is meant to help explain to Muslims such sensitive terms as “Son of God” and “Trinity” and remove “theological misconceptions and barriers.” (p. 148)

Translators should not bring preconceived notions about how Scripture should be made acceptable to Muslims or anyone else into their translations.[12]  Being so concerned with “felt needs” and “prejudices” indicates a preconceived bias about how Scripture translation work will proceed in order to speak to such concerns.  It does not instill confidence that it will be done with an eye to a faithful interpretation of the text. The Insider Movement is flirting with similar approaches to Scripture and missiological methods.[13]

Mallouhi is to be praised for the love and concern he exhibits for his people and culture and that he wants them to know and love Jesus like he does.  He has communicative skills which any Western missionary would be pleased to have.

It is interesting that Mallouhi loves the biblical stories so much, and tells his own so well, as evidenced by the effect his novels have on people.   His love of stories also points to something missing in Islam, which would be difficult for him to admit: it has not many stories.  Mallouhi’s biblical re-presentations affect people positively as well.  They seem hungry for the word.  One can only hope and pray that one day they will read Scripture for its own sake, in the classic Van Dyke Arabic translation.  Unlike the lady who, after reading Mallouhi’s Luke re-translation stated: ”it’s ‘the Injil with a Muslim feel to it.’” (p. 151) they would understand that the Bible is indeed for the Muslim, but also for every nation, tongue and people, the bread of life for the whole world.  

June Engdahl, the writer of this review, has been assisting in the ministry of Middle East Resources since September, 2008.  She edits the works of Rev. Bassam Madany whose articles appear on this website as well as on several other international websites.


[1] Paul-Gordon Chandler, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.

[2] Many of Zwemer’s works are now on-line at the Answering Islam website and are worthy of reading: Click on “Z” at the Index site to access his writings: http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/index.html

[3] Zwemer also had a different opinion about Gandhi.  At the beginning of a series of five lectures [entitled The Solitary Throne] given at the Keswick Convention in 1937 he said this: “The title is borrowed from a statement made by Mahatma Gandhi in one of his books: “I am unable to place Jesus Christ on a solitary throne.”  He believes, as do all Hindus, in many incarnations, and not in the unique origin, character and messages of our Saviour.  The finality of Christianity is being challenged even in so-called Christian circles.  But the Lamb is on the Throne and He alone is worthy to open the seals of the Book of Life and History.” http://www.muhammadanism.org/Zwemer/solitary_throne.pdf

[4] Jones’ critique of the West and its Christian witness in India early in the last century produced a classic study The Christ of the Indian  Road (the Abingdon Press, 1925), which can be compared to Chandler’s updated version of the paradigm. 

[5] This has been well documented in an essay by the late Dr. Frederick Evans, Jr., “Neo-Evangelicalism and Its Impact on Missions: An Historical Overview” http://www.www.unashamedofthegospel.org/impact_missions.cfm It was read at a meeting of some concerned Evangelicals who met at Four Brooks Conference Center, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, between July 9 and 11, 1985.  The meeting was called to discuss the Contextualization Movement, especially as it impacted Christian Missions to Islam.

[6] F. F. Bruce, The Defense of The Gospel in the New Testament, pp. 88-89,Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965.

[7] Among other things those in Insider Movements seek to find replacement terminology for scriptural words and concepts like “Son of God” and “Trinity”, which are highly offensive to Muslims.  Mallouhi does the same thing in his Bible translations.

[8] This subject is dealt with in a book by Jeff Morton entitled Two Messiahs: The Jesus of Christianity and the Jesus of Islam, Biblica Publishing, 2011.  Dr. Morton is a scholar at Biola University, Los Angeles, California.

[9] An example of this type was recently posted on http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/madany/what_is_quran.html

[10] Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to Question 94 “What is Baptism”.

[11] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship, P&R Publishing Company, 2004.

[12] The 19th Century missionary/scholar, Henry Jessup, wrote an autobiography entitled Fifty-three Years in Syria which is now online. A very interesting chapter in that book relates how the famous Smith-Van Dyke Arabic Bible was translated. It can be found on-line at http://www.arabicbible.com/christian/53yearsinsyria/chap4.html  The reader is urged to read this informative study for a comparison to Mallouhi’s technique.

[13] See an excellent online article about Insider Movements by Bill Nikides, recently published in St. Francis Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, August 2011 http://www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/images/stories/Bill%20Nikides%20August%202011.pdf

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

The World in the Post Nineties

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

A Review Article by Rev. Bassam Madany

In one of his famous lectures, De Descriptione Temporum, “On the Description of Our Times,” C. S. Lewis set forth a thesis that it is absolutely necessary for us to understand the true nature of the times in which we live. It was over fifty years ago when he delivered this lecture on the occasion of his assuming a new position at Cambridge University. After his conversion to the historic Christian faith, he had become deeply concerned about the de-Christianisation of our Western culture. He called it Post-Christian. As a lecturer at Cambridge, he did not leave his faith outside the lecture hall. This conviction shaped his entire career and made him one of the most influential Christian lay theologians and apologists of the twentieth century.

I have been tremendously helped by this thesis of C. S. Lewis about the necessity of assessing the true nature of the cultural milieu that surrounds us. His thesis echoed our Lord’s admonition (Matthew 16:1-3) to his contemporaries about the necessity of discerning the “the semeia ton kairon” i.e., the “signs of the times.” (KJV) The Pharisees knew how to forecast the weather in the eastern Mediterranean, but showed an abysmal ignorance of the critical nature of the hour in Palestine during the first century. By fostering the hope of a coming political Messiah, they immunized their people against receiving the true Messiah who came to save them from their sins. Eventually, the outcome was horrible. In AD 70, the Temple was destroyed, and in AD 135, the Romans finished their destructive work on Jerusalem. For centuries it ceased to exist, in the aftermath of the second Jewish revolt. Another scattering of the Jewish people ensued that would last for centuries.

What about our times?  Do we take seriously the lessons of history?  A British authority on the Soviet Union, Robert Conquest, reminds us about the necessity for a realistic diagnosis of the history of the past century, with the hope that we might learn some important lessons. In his new book, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, he makes these observations:

The huge catastrophes of our era have been inflicted by human beings driven by certain thoughts. And so history’s essential questions must be: How do we account for what has been called the “ideological frenzy” of the twentieth century? How did these mental aberrations gain a purchase? What was the sort and condition of people affected? We need to develop the history and the nature of the various destructive ideologies in action. We need to consider the history and traditions of the culture that stood in opposition to them. But before we turn to these broader themes, we need to examine the history and background of the mental arena in which the battle of ideas was fought.

Both scarcely formulated fanaticisms and closed systems of ideas are, of course, to be found throughout the past. These historical phenomena are full of lessons for our time (indeed ignorance of history is one of the most negative attributes of modern man). The basic characteristic and attraction was and is the archaic idea that utopia can be constructed on earth; the offer of a millenarian solution to all human problems.

Chapter 1, Sections 1&2

What about us, now living at the beginning of the Third Millennium? Have we learned the lessons of history? Do we discern the “signs of the times?”  The cold war is over. The Soviet Union is a thing of the past. Germany is united. Even Mainland China has discarded Marxist economics and is knocking at the door of the World Trade Organization. Some Western intellectuals have advanced the thesis that “history has come to an end.” What they mean is that the world that most of us knew and experienced during the major part of the twentieth century is gone. The West and its values have triumphed on a global scale.

Professor Huntington’s thesis is opposed to that advanced by the “end of history” theorists.  In his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, he wrote:

Modernization, in short, does not necessarily mean Westernization. Non-Western societies can modernize and have modernized without abandoning their own cultures and adopting wholesale Western values, institutions, and practices. The latter, indeed, may be almost impossible: whatever obstacles non-Western cultures pose to modernization pale before those they pose to Westernization. It would, as Braudel observes, almost “be childish” to think that modernization or the “triumph of civilization in the singular” would lead to the end of plurality of historic cultures embodied for centuries in the world’s great civilizations. Modernization, instead, strengthens those cultures and reduces the relative power of the West. In fundamental ways, the world is becoming more modern and less Western.

Universal Civilization? Modernization and Westernization. Chapter 3, p. 78

If the above thesis of Samuel Huntington is correct, and I do believe that it is so as attested by the events of the nineties of the last century, what is our responsibility as Christians living in the West, enjoying its privileges, and witnessing, at the same time, its slow slide into anarchy and nihilism? We must resist the steady secularization of our culture, and allow our two thousand year old tradition to guide our thinking and our plans on a truly Biblical course.  It follows then that we reject the superficiality and the triumphalism of the thesis that the West, with its values and traditions, has become the universal civilization. On the contrary, since the end of the cold War, we have observed the re-birth of old civilizations that affirm their own values and traditions. The world has not become one world, but it is still composed of many worlds, each informed by its own culture, which in its turn, is based on a specific religious tradition.

Professor Huntington describes The World of Civilizations:

Of the Post-Nineties as composed of nine distinct civilizations. They are the Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Japanese. In this review article, we limit our concern to the Islamic world, and the rise of radicalism now referred to as Islamism.  This emphasis on Islam is necessary when we make an analysis of the world events and trouble spots since the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth-century.

The great singular and most dramatic event that may still be fresh in our memory is the Gulf War. America demonstrated its overwhelming military power and advanced technology in transporting 500,000 men and women with their equipment halfway across the world. The war was won with minimum casualties. Of course, like the Korean War, it was not decisive. It left Saddam Husein in power, and subjected his people to untold suffering due to the sanctions that were imposed on their land. Furthermore, the Gulf War had a profound impact on the thinking of the Muslim peoples of the world. Radical leaders depicted the war as a Western invasion of the sacred land of Arabia, and not as a liberation of Kuwait, a small Islamic state.

Since the end of the First Gulf War, almost all of the conflicts occurred within Islamic parts of the world. Think of the festering border war that pits Pakistan against India over Kashmir. From the Indian subcontinent, move on to Europe. The disintegration of Yugoslavia after the death of Tito was followed by the Serb’s attempt to overwhelm Bosnia. This brought the West into the area in defense of its Muslim population. Then, a new geographic entity was thrust on our attention, Kosovo, and the decision of NATO to oust the Serbs by military force from that province. The war against Serbia by the NATO led forces led to the destruction of most of the infrastructure of the country. This “police action” had an important Islamic component. The majority of the people who lived in this Serbian province were Albanians, most of them belonging to the Muslim faith. Nowadays, we watch on our television screens the savage war in going on in Chechnya, which pits the Russian forces against the Muslim Chechnians.                                                                   

It is not my intention to dwell on all the conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims.  Think of East Timor and its almost complete destruction by the Muslim militias with the support of the Indonesian army. And since the early days of 2000, we witness the horrible events in Nigeria where certain northern states, dominated by Muslim majorities, declared their intention to implement Shari’a Law on all the population, whether Muslim, Christian or animist.  The city of Kaduna looked like a war zone in the report of BBC Television.

It is neither prejudice nor a willingness to ignite old conflicts between Islam and the Rest, but simply a realism that requires us to consider that    the major challenge of the new century is how to coexist with the growing radicalization of Islamic societies in a globalized world. The age of conquests and re-conquests belong to the past. The distinct worlds and cultures of Samuel Huntington, much as they seek to live according to their own traditions, are still quite interdependent. New problems of great proportions have arisen such as: desertification, the lack of adequate water supplies for the soaring populations of most Islamic countries, the growing and unchecked pollution of the environment, require the attention and the help of the whole world. There may be nine distinct worlds, rightly classified as such, on a cultural basis, but there remains only one oecumene, one inhabited earth, one world, in which we all live, and one atmosphere that we all share!

What should our position be, as Christians, vis-à-vis the challenges of the New Millennium, and especially, our relationship with the Islamic World?  The West has been unable to formulate a rational and consistent policy to guide our international relations with the one billion Muslims of the world, living in more than forty Islamic countries. This can be witnessed in our rushing to help Muslim minorities in Europe, but failing to lift a finger to help the African Christians in Sudan who have lost more than a million of their people in a struggle with the Muslim government of the North. We talk about human rights, but are selective in our going to the help of victims of oppression should they happen to be Christian. Is it because African Christians are of less human value than the Muslims of Bosnia or Chechnya? Are we motivated solely by an ill-defined national interest, which may be nothing more than a materialistic concern for our economic prosperity? It is indeed a sad commentary on the condition of Western civilization when it claims to be the universal defendant of the rights of the weak and oppressed, and yet is rather selective in the application of that ideal. Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations serves as a unique and necessary contribution to the reflection of Christians as they seek to live responsibly at the dawn of the Third Millennium on the global scene. To discard any utopian dream to bring about a perfect world order this side of the Parousia does not imply that we should remain passive as we live in a world filled with conflicts. Whenever there is a need to speak out against oppression, we should not hesitate to fulfill our responsibility as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Sovereign King.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of Word Order, by Samuel P.  Huntington. A Touchstone Book, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, NY  10220, 1997 Paperback U.S. $14.00

Reflections on a Ravaged Century, by Robert Conquest. An Excerpt, Part 1 of 2 and Part 2 of 2
http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall99/conquest 1.htm

Posted in Book Reviews

The Arab Christian

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Book Review by Bassam M. Madany

The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East, by Kenneth Cragg.  Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991. Pp. ix-336.

The English-speaking world has at its disposal a great body of literature dealing with the Arab world and its dominant religion, Islam. However, books about Arab Christians are rather scarce.  Kenneth Cragg's latest book, The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East, is a welcome contribution to the literature on this subject.  This work deals with the history of Arab Christians from before the rise of Islam to the present day.  But it is much more than a historical account of a minority group as it covers a variety of theological and missiological subjects.

After the Muslim conquest of Syria, Mesopotamia and Egypt, Christians continued to be the majority of the population well into the ninth century. Their survival required total submission to Islam. Actually, they became "non-citizens," a fact often overlooked by Muslim historians.

Chapter 4, Christian and Muslim in the Early Centuries, traces the encounter between the conquerors and the conquered and the gradual "legal and spiritual inferiorization" of the latter. Cragg describes the meeting of the two theistic faiths in these words:

It is clear that Muslims had their frame of reference fully in place. If we accept the traditional view of the finalizing of the Qur'an in the first quarter century, its supreme court of appeal was in control of its stance, with the steadily growing complementary authority of Tradition deriving from Muhammad by criteria of authenticity developing with it.

By warrant of these, Muslims were equipped to teach Christians what thoughts about God were thinkable and what were not. The Nicene Creed and its subsequent elaborations...were in the latter category, once that creed got beyond the unity of God and the fact of creation. The divinity acknowledged in Jesus by Christians...was unthinkable. God had made His word a Book from heaven. Books were all that prophets had, and they were only means to guidance and direction.

The author could not avoid discussing briefly the Christological controversies and their future impact on the Christian-Muslim encounter.

Monophysites were ready to risk [a certain] artificiality in the humanity of Jesus in the interests, as they saw it, of safeguarding the dignity of the divine. But this very fact disqualified them from commending the faith of the Incarnation intelligibly to Muslims when the conquest brought them together. To be sure, the complexities of Chalcedon were not conducive to ready comprehension by adherents of a faith so bound over as Islam was to assertive simplicity about God and transcendence. By its implicit Docetism (or the threat of it), Monophysite Christianity in Egypt and elsewhere seemed to admit the Qur'anic premise that somehow a human dimension was derogatory to the divine.

During the Ottoman period (1516 - 1918), converts to Islam from Christian groups in the Balkans were a constant reminder to Arab Christians of their option to Islamize and be done with their inferior status. So, many Arab Christians, finding themselves in difficult situations, opted for Islam. Others sought the protection of European powers.  Foreign protection of Eastern Christianity brought during this period the "Uniate" phenomenon and added to the divisions of the Eastern Churches. The pope and his emissaries succeeded in the creation of such churches as the Greek Catholic, the Coptic Catholic, and the Nestorian Catholic (known as the Chaldean.)  The entire Maronite Church of Lebanon came under the banner of Roman Catholicism.

Early in the nineteenth century, Protestant missionaries arrived in the Middle East. Their impact went beyond the organization of evangelical churches. They built schools, hospitals and orphanages. The most prominent educational institution was the Syrian Protestant College (1866) that came to be known early in this century as the American University of Beirut. It is to their great credit that they produced in 1865, with the help of Lebanese Christian scholars, a new translation of the Bible known as the Smith-Van Dyck Version.

Secularism entered the Middle East at the same time as Protestant missions. As a by-product of this Western worldview, Arab nationalism was born. Arab Christians played a major role in its spread among the educated people. Kenneth Crag raises some crucial questions regarding the participation of Arab Christians in the political life of their countries in the Middle East, on a basis other than the "dhimmi" (i.e., protected) tradition.

The notion implicit here of a non-Muslim sharing or belonging with Muslims would seem, initially at least, to be an uncongenial Islamic proceeding. It implies a motive other than that of outright "submission" and approves a kind of Muslim-Christian duality very different from the contractual dhimmi relationship as historically understood --- a relationship for which there was no expectation of faith (which could not be other than entire if it was to be "Muslim") and no thought of shared belief or common community.

Chapters 8, 9 and 10 are devoted to such specific areas as Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. Under the title of Perspectives of Egypt, Cragg offers some insights that enable us to understand both the genius and the plight of the Copts. This is extremely important for Western Christians as they watch the rise of Islamic radicalism and its vision of a totally Islamized Egypt. The Tragedy of Lebanon enables the reader to take into consideration the various factors that led to the civil war in what used to be called the Switzerland of the Middle East. It also leaves us with a strong feeling of the hopelessness of reconstituting Lebanon as it was during its modern history. The author attributes the tragedy to the unwillingness or inability of the Maronites to view the world in a realistic way.

Chapter 10 deals with the Palestinian Arabs. It is titled Arab Christianity and Israel. Due to the impact of Dispensational hermeneutics on many evangelical groups, an extremely one-sided attitude has developed among Western Christians vis-a-vis the Palestinians. This reading of the Bible quite often gave Israel a carte blanche in its treatment of the Arabs of Palestine. Bishop Cragg's analysis and insights offer a much-needed corrective to this one-sidedness. His emphasis on the great prophets of ancient Israel not sanctioning the expansionism of Israel today is very much in place. However, more could have been said regarding the New Testament concept of the new era that was inaugurated by the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God. The classical New Testament passage concerning the status of the Jews (Romans 9 - 11) prior to the return of Christ, is silent about the re-birth of a Jewish state.   Furthermore, when we take the unity of the Bible into consideration, one cannot but take exception to Cragg's suggestion that "Arab Christianity has somehow to detach itself from the more menacing parts of its Old Testament heritage. This must be so both in its theological focus and its liturgical usages."

In any liturgical reading of Old Testament passages, and this is specifically necessary in the Arabic speaking world, it is the responsibility of the reader to place the specific passage within the larger context of God's plan of redemption. The particularism of the Old Testament era was for that specific time. The problem does not reside in certain parts of the Old Testament scriptures, but in their exposition. The role of Biblical Theology becomes very concrete in enabling the Arab Christian to properly "read" the Bible and remain within the historic tradition of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

The plight of Arab Christians is described in Chapter 12 under the heading of, A Future with Islam?  It begins with these solemn words: "The question mark can be removed, for there is no future for Arab Christianity except with Islam. Yet the interrogative remains. It is the quality of that future which is in perpetual question."  In this respect, Kenneth Cragg's message becomes difficult to grasp. We are told that there are  "points of commonality" between Christians and Muslims, for example. On a highly theoretical level, this may be true. But in the real life as lived by Arab Christians today, they find little comfort in such musings. They feel betrayed by their former "protectors" in the West and rejected by their Muslim compatriots. But thanks to the globalization of world civilization, Arab Christians do expect other Christians to manifest a genuine ecumenicity by declaring their solidarity with them. In an era that seems to recognize the human rights of all minorities, it is only proper and just to speak to the conscience of the Muslim majorities, to properly respect the rights of Arab Christians.

Two misprints appear in the book. On page 210, the name of a former president of Lebanon should be spelled, Amin; and on page 237, the Israeli intelligence organization is known as "Shin Beth" and not "Beth Shin."

We owe a great debt to Kenneth Cragg for his timely study of Arab Christianity. A word of thanks is also due to the Westminster/John Knox Press, for making this book available to the public.

Posted in Book Reviews

After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy by Noah Feldman.

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

After Jihad: America and the Struggle
for Islamic Democracy
by Noah Feldman.
New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003. Pp. 260, $24.00

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany


Islam & Democracy

One of the most urgent challenges facing Muslim nations today is their willingness to espouse democratic principles and act upon them in our ever shrinking and globalized world. Several books dealing with Islam and politics have appeared in the last few decades. Noah Feldman’s book has the distinction of treating the subject in a very hopeful manner, notwithstanding the events that have rocked parts of the Muslim world since the First Gulf War. This book could not have appeared at a more auspicious time as the United States is working hard to establish democratic regimes in Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The book is organized around three major themes: The Idea of Islamic Democracy, Varieties of Islamic Democracy, and The Necessity of Islamic Democracy. I am very impressed by the author’s coverage of vast areas of the Muslim world. To peruse its pages one gets an up-to-date description of politics and political activities from Indonesia all the way to Morocco. This feature makes the book very helpful to students of contemporary Islam.

Having thus far drawn attention to the positive aspects of “Islam and Democracy,” let me say that I found the book rather abstract, with the author assuming all along that Islam and democracy, can, and should co-exist.

At the outset, the book would have been very helpful to the average reader, if certain clear definitions were made at the beginning of the work. The word ‘democracy’ cannot be simply understood etymologically. Across the last few centuries, it has acquired a specific political baggage. Thus, for North Americans, Europeans, the peoples of India, South Korea, and Japan, democracy implies political freedoms, the rule of law, a parliamentarian form of government, and the guarantee of the rights of minorities. Is “Islamic” democracy to be a unique genre of democracy? Nowhere in the book, did I find any serious discussion of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities within the future and hoped-for democratic Islamic regimes.

While the notes at the end of the book refer to many sources that the author had consulted, it is not clear whether Noah Feldman did research dealing with the topic in Islamic languages such as Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and Malay. I don’t mean that a writer on Islam has to know all these languages; however an ability to consult Muslim scholars writing in their own languages for domestic readers on this subject, would have made the book more realistic in its forecast for the future of democracy in Islam.

It is my conviction that a prerequisite for the rise of democracy within Islamic countries is the renewal and modernization of the Arab mind. Dr. Zaki Naguib Mahmoud, an Egyptian scholar undertook such a project in several books as well as in the Kuwaiti journal, “Al-‘Arabi.” He called for “the opening of the door of Ijtihad” as well as for the jettisoning of the irrational elements in the Arab-Muslim intellectual heritage.” Until such serious thinking spreads in the Muslim world, no kind of democracy can take root and flourish.

One sign for the rise of a true democratic spirit within Muslim lands is to see whether self-criticism is allowed and practiced. For example, there is a general tendency among Muslim thinkers to brand every policy vis-à-vis their world, undertaken by Western countries as bearing the marks of another “crusade.” The implication is that only Islam had a right to conquer territories outside Arabia. Nowadays, the crusader wars (1099-1291) are not glorified or celebrated by any descendants of the Crusaders. It is high time that those wars be placed in their proper perspective. As Bernard Lewis put it in "The Arab in History":

"At the present time, the Crusades are often depicted as an early experiment in expansionist imperialism --- a prefigurement of the modern European empires. To the people of the time, both Muslim and Christian, they were no such thing. When the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, barely four hundred years had passed since that city, along with the rest of the Levant and North Africa, had been wrested by the armies of Islam from their Christian rulers, and their Christian populations forcibly incorporated in a new Muslim empire. The Crusade was a delayed response to the jihad, the holy war of Islam, and its purpose was to recover by war what had been lost by war --- to free the holy places of Christendom and open them once again, without impediment, to Christian pilgrimage” P. 139

Quite often, Turkey is mentioned as the only true democratic country in the Muslim world. But this is true only up to a point. Elections are held, and governments change. Beginning as a purely secular republic under Ataturk’s autocratic rule, the Turkish Republic has evolved into a more tolerant country where Islamic parties may exist and even participate in elections, and form governments. But if judged by the universal understanding of what a true democracy is, Turkey falls short of the mark. It oppresses ethnic minorities (like the Kurds) and the lot of religious minorities (Christians) is worse than under the Ottoman rule.

When dealing with Pakistan, Noah Feldman asks the question, “Why has democracy done so poorly in Pakistan? Is Islam somehow at fault, given that neighboring Hindu-majority India has managed to preserve its democracy for half a century.” (P. 125) The answer he gives, partially blaming geography, is unconvincing. The same applies to his dismissal of the remarks of V. S. Naipaul in his latest book, “Beyond Belief” (P. 208)

As the author nears the end of his book, he has an eloquent chapter dealing with “Imagining an Islamic Democracy.” “What would an Islamic democracy look like in practice?” This description, or rather this hopeful forecast, is very touching. One only hopes that it would come to pass before too long. The very title of the last chapter (which is also the title of the book) is “After Jihad.” Our author remains hopeful, notwithstanding the history of Islam during the last fourteen hundred years. He looks forward to a period in world history when Muslims would no longer understand jihad as a struggle against the “other,” but as an inner struggle to master one’s self and become a better Muslim, truly submissive to the will of Allah. Judging by events taking place in mid-2003, it seems that the “old-fashioned” jihad is still going on. Still, let’s hope that there is going to be an “After Jihad.”

Posted in Book Reviews

Troubled By the Truth

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Biographies in the Presence of Mystery by Kenneth Cragg.
Cleveland, The Pilgrim Press, 1994. Pp. 328, $14.95 (Paper)

The back cover of this book informs us that "in this collection of thirteen faith-biographies of literary and religious individuals from Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Indian beliefs, Kenneth Cragg, widely acknowledged as the premier Western Islamicist in the world, tells these stories in ways that emphasize the importance of religious tolerance and respect for others."

We are introduced by the author to the inner lives of twelve men and one woman, striving to make sense out of human existence from within their particular faith-systems. To list them is to indicate the daunting task that Bishop Cragg undertook in guiding the reader in this intellectual and spiritual exploration. They are: Henry Martyn, Charles Freer Andrews, Constance E. Padwick, Elie Wiesel, James Parkes, Abraham J. Hescehl, Isma'il al-Faruqi, Salman Rushdie, Salah al-Sabur, Asaf 'Ali Asghar Fyzee, Raimundo Panikkar, Arnold J. Toynbee and Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

According to the author, as a by-product of the pluralistic societies that now exist in the Western world, an "inter-faith situation" has come into existence.  This leads to dialogue between the followers of these different faiths. In these encounters, if they are to be authentic and sincere, the Scriptures of those engaged in dialogue assume a primary importance. Thus posited, Cragg begins his study by recounting the moving story of the pioneer missionary, Henry Martyn (1781 - 1812).

Born into a Methodist family, Henry Martyn studied at Cambridge and was later ordained in the Church of England. He was greatly influenced by the writings of William Carey and the biography of David Brainerd. Having felt the call to be a missionary, Henry Martyn went to India. His main concern was the translation of the Bible into Urdu, Persian and Arabic. Even though he died at a young age in the mission field, he left us a great legacy which is described by Cragg in these memorable words:

"His quality of spirit made him the first of modern missionaries to know the painful perplexity of registering the sheer otherness of faiths. For he did not academicise the experience and seek refuge in study for its own sake. Gifted scholar as he was, he did not escape his burden by foregoing the convictions that shaped it. Nor did he allow the philology he loved to suffice him as in itself an end. He therefore exemplified the truth that the full measure of dialogue - as we now intend the term - is known only where something more than dialogue is consciously at stake." (P.31)

Quite often, while sympathetically sharing with us the lives of these pioneers and interpreting their struggles "in the Presence of Mystery," Kenneth Cragg reveals his own thinking, as for example, when dealing with the mission work of Charles F. Andrews in India, he comments:

We have seen Henry Martyn inwardly struggling with the puzzle of how to be truly in the steps of the New Testament in a world so different - a world for which that supreme New Testament had no precise directives except the duty to ‘make disciples,’ which was exactly where its cultural limits least satisfied its ‘loyalists’ in the India they found. (P.40)
       
That there are difficulties in spreading the Gospel in lands whose cultures had not been influenced by the Christian Scriptures, New Testament history itself bears witness. The Gospel must have sounded very odd to the ears of the Corinthians as they heard Saint Paul proclaiming the crucified and risen Messiah as Savior and Lord. Yet he resolved to preach what was intellectually an unacceptable message. He was convinced that it was precisely this specific message of the "Word of the cross" that he was commissioned to herald everywhere. At the same time, he was fully aware that the fruits of such preaching did not depend on human factors alone, but on the presence and secret work of the Holy Spirit. This Pauline theology of missions does not receive the attention it deserves in the comments of our author.

The accounts of the biographies of Elie Wiesel and Abraham Heschel introduce us to the thinking of two modern Jewish intellectuals. Cragg is very helpful in guiding us through the various aspects of this journey. Some quotes are shocking such as when Wiesel writes about Jesus Christ: "Unable to save Israel, Jesus ended up saving mankind." (P.84) Granted that everything that he wrote was influenced by the horrific event of the Holocaust, yet it does not follow that decades later, Wiesel had the right "to identify Christianity with Nazism and drown the Christian meaning of the Cross in the Judaic meaning of the Holocaust." (P. 83) In depicting one of the super tragedies of world history, one should not be so selective as to ignore other similar tragedies, if not as horrible as the Holocaust, from the standpoint of numbers, yet equally so as to their relative dimensions. I am referring to the genocide of the Armenians which was perpetrated against them by the Ottoman Turks and that took the lives of 1,500,000 innocent men, women and children during World War I.   

When dealing with the Christian-Muslim encounter, Kenneth Cragg seems to read more into the Islamic sources than what they actually say or mean to an Arab reader. Perhaps this is inevitable, since notwithstanding his great erudition and knowledge of world religions as well as his excellent command of Arabic, he is still at heart an Anglican from the United Kingdom. His largesse of heart and his eagerness to be sympathetic to the others lead him to find in his readings of the Qur'an what Muslim interpreters have never discovered. In seeking very hard to find a bridge between Christianity and Islam, he tends at times to give the impression that there are two valid roads that lead to God. And yet, when the reader seems to have almost arrived at such a conclusion, Cragg draws back from any thought that denies the uniqueness of Christ or the finality of Christianity.

The study of Isma’il al-Faruqi's life and work is perhaps the most helpful chapter dealing with a representative of orthodox Sunni Islam. We learn about the dreams of an uprooted Palestinian Muslim, educated at the American University of Beirut and at McGill University's Institute for Islamic Studies. His teaching career took him to the University of Syracuse and later on, to Temple University in Philadelphia. Al-Faruqi represents those Muslims who having left their homelands and mastered several aspects of Western culture and remained deeply committed to the faith of their birth. They sought in their new environment to affirm the superiority and adequacy of Islam for the entire globe. His life project was nothing less than the "Islamicisation of all knowledge."
 
Al-Faruqi, like other Muslim critics of the Christian faith, was very opposed to the doctrine of original sin. While Bishop Cragg does not deny this orthodox Christian teaching, his interpretation of the nature of original sin is very questionable. "It is, therefore, ‘original’, not in the sense of being innocently inherited, but in the sense of characterising the personality as such. To express this in the myth of ‘the fall’ is to say that it is of the nature of humanity."

At the risk of sounding very critical of our author, I must register my extreme unhappiness at the choice of the biography of Salman Rushdie, the Indian born Muslim, now a British citizen made famous through his authorship of The Satanic Verses.   Besides being very offensive to Muslims, Rushdie's book does not serve any recognizable purpose other than acquainting Westerners with a bi-cultural émigré’s critical thoughts and musings about the religion of his birth. Readers of Cragg's book would have been better served in becoming acquainted with some of the serious works of contemporary Muslims who are doing their utmost to "renew" Islam and enable its one billion adherents to properly cope with the innumerable problems that confront them. Cragg’s familiarity with Arabic, for example, would have enabled him to share with us the remarkable literary products of such serious and scholarly men as the Egyptian intellectual, the late Dr. Zaki Naguib Mahmoud.

The closing chapters of Troubled by Truth deal with Raimundo Panikkar, Arnold Toynbee and Wilfred Cantwell Smith. In them we find the greatest challenge from within to historic Christianity. To be even partially acquainted with their work is to become aware of how different our times are from the closing years of the nineteenth century, that period in church history that witnessed the great expansion of the church into many parts of the world. Divided as the missionaries of the past were on secondary matters, they were all committed to the uniqueness,  finality, and superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not so with the thought world of Panikkar, Toynbee and Smith. They may be regarded as the proponents of theological pluralism with a goal to bring about a "world theology." While this dream may sound very attractive to Western intellectuals/theologians, the representatives of the other world religions will never "buy" such a project. In any attempt to bring about a world religion through the adoption of a world theology, the followers of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, will soon discover that such schemes are thoroughly Western and thus require the total abandonment of the particularism of each major world religion. As Prof. S. Mark Heim of Andover Newton Theological School, writing about the pluralist theologies as advocated by Smith and others put it in his article, Pluralism and the Otherness of World Religions, (FIRST THINGS, August/September 1992):

"Ironically, these antidotes to Christian particularism may prove to be much more culture and time bound than the theologies they condemn, and the very religious traditions they wish to affirm may find on the whole they have no less to fear from the pluralists' embrace than the exclusivist's confrontation."
        
The rather frequent critical remarks of the work under review are not meant to detract from the value of this informative book. Its coverage of the lives and literary products of fellow-humans in search of the meaning of life "in the Presence of Mystery" cannot but enrich us as we seek to fulfil our mission in life. It should be a great challenge to every Christian living at the dawn of the Third Millennium to dig deeply into the Scriptures in the light of the accumulated heritage of the church in order to formulate our responsibilities to our contemporaries. Our allegiance to the "historic Christian faith" will be strengthened as we meet and briefly "live" with the personages who were introduced to us in this serious study crafted in the unique style and irenical spirit of Bishop Kenneth Cragg.

Posted in Book Reviews

Hated Without a Cause?

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

A Survey of Anti-Semitism, by Graham Keith
Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 1997. Pp. vii + 301. Price Unknown (paper)

Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany in the
Calvin Theological Journal, Volume 33, Number 2, November 1998


During the last two thousand years, three momentous events took place in the history of the Jews: the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the Holocaust, and the birth of the State of Israel during the fourth decade of the twentieth century. Not only do they occupy central stage in Jewish history, but they are of equal importance to Christians as well.

Hated Without A Cause? comes at an important time as we are about to welcome the Third Millennium. The author, Dr. Graham Keith, teaches Religious Education at James Hamilton Academy in Ayr, Scotland. He undertook to write this book after viewing, in 1991, a television series entitled The Longest Hatred which dealt with anti-Semitism. After some research and study he was "convinced that there was more to the Christian legacy of anti-Semitism than" he "had at first thought."

The book consists of twelve chapters. In the first one, Anti-Semitism in the time before Christianity, Prof. Keith remarks on the earliest literary manifestation of anti-Semitism: "We can, therefore, say with confidence that tensions between the Greek and Jewish populations in Egypt in the second or possibly in the third century BC saw the start of a literary tradition of anti-Semitism which has persisted in varied forms until today." (P. 10)

Chapter Two deals with a controversial topic: Anti-Semitism in the New Testament --- the Gospels and Acts. Dr. Keith states the case in these words:

"Since the ending of the Nazi Holocaust the Christian Church has been buffeted by two distinct storms of criticism about its responsibility for generations of anti-Semitism. The first storm as stimulated by Jules Isaac, a Jewish historian from France.

... [He] insisted that the Christian church was primarily responsible for the anti-Semitic legacy on which the Nazis capitalized. But he did so without impugning the New Testament itself. Instead, he claimed the church had misunderstood its own Scriptures and its own founder.

The second storm was initiated by a Roman Catholic theologian, Rosemary Radford Ruether, who argued ... that the New Testament could not be exonerated from the charge of inherent anti-Semitism. (P. 34)

It is very important, as we follow the argument of Dr. Keith, to be careful in our exegesis of the pertinent passages in the New Testament which deal with the opposition of the Jewish authorities to the Lord Jesus Christ and his response to their hostility. This is why there must be a distinction between anti-Semitism and an opposition to Judaism. The former is an antipathy to a specific people based on their race, while the latter is a religious opposition to a reconstruction of Old Testament faith in Rabbinical Judaism.

In Chapter Three entitled, The Testimony of the Apostle Paul, Prof. Keith expounds an interpretation of Romans 11 which reminds us of John Murray's exegesis of this passage. "I would conclude that Paul's discussion in Romans 11, especially at verses 12, 15 and 26, does entail a future blessing on the Jews out of all proportion to anything Paul saw in his own day, a blessing that would have beneficial repercussions for the whole church of Jews and gentiles alike." (P. 68)

Chapter Four ends with a rebuttal of the charge that the New Testament itself is guilty of anti-Semitism:

"The charge, therefore, that anti-Semitism is embedded in the New Testament is false. Certainly, if sections of the New Testament are read superficially or without due regard to the full context, they may well provide scope for those who come looking for additional fuel to fan the flames of anti-Semitic prejudice which has already been started for very different reasons. Sadly, the church has been guilty of misreading its own Scriptures at this very point, and in the process has betrayed the same blindness as has afflicted the Jews.

Subsequent history has proved the appropriateness of the warning that Paul issued to the gentile church against the same religious arrogance as led the Jews to reject Jesus. Obviously we cannot blame the New Testament for this; the real culprit is gentile arrogance in ignoring the plain warning of Scripture. (P.90)

After detailing the attitude of the early church toward the Jews in Chapter Five, Dr. Keith describes the "Hardening of Attitudes Toward the Jews during the Middle Ages" in Chapter Six. This legacy is carried over, with some modifications, to the time of the Protestant Reformation. Chapter Seven is dedicated to a discussion of Luther and the Jews. A distinction is made between Luther's early writings and those which date from the latter part of his life. In 1523 he published a tract, That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew. "It was addressed both to gentiles to urge them to a brotherly respect for the Jews, since they were kinsmen of Christ, and to Jews in the hope that some of them might be converted to Christ." (P.151)

In his latter years, Luther became embittered by the lack of response of the Jews to the gospel offer. He wrote in 1543 a major work with this provocative title: On the Jews and Their Lies. Sadly, as Prof. Keith put it: "Perhaps the worst of Luther's legacy was left until this century when the Nazis were able to make capital out of the popular perception of Luther as an anti-Semite and German nationalist." (P. 169)

In Chapter Eight, The Reformation after Luther, we are introduced to the other reformers, and especially to John Calvin's attitude toward the Jews. While not shedding completely the legacy of the Middle Ages, his understanding of the total Biblical message made him quite different from Luther. "Calvin believed that the Apostle Paul implied in Romans 11 that it was improper to despair of the salvation of the Jews. Commenting on verse 28, he was bold enough to say, 'Paul shows that the very worst feature in the Jews does not mean that they are on that account to be despised by the gentiles.' On both counts ... he had rebuked the attitude of the later Luther." (P. 179)

Chapter Nine, From the Reformation to the French Revolution, details the impact of Spinoza on the Jews of Europe. He played a major role in sowing the seeds of doubt among the Jews regarding their status as a chosen people as well as their Messianic hope. The Enlightenment brought about the process of emancipation and the challenge of assimilation.

In Chapter Ten, Modern European Anti-Semitism, the author disputes the claim that anti-Semitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was primarily a German phenomenon. Both in Russia and in France, there were shocking evidences of a virulent type of anti-Semitic attitudes and actions. The state-sponsored pogroms in Russia drove out multitude of Jews forcing them to seek shelter elsewhere. The Dreyfus Affair in France exposed a strong anti-Semitic current running not only among segments of the French population, but equally within the high command of the French army. Of course, one cannot deny that anti-Semitism was quite strong even before the defeat of Germany in the First World War. But it was left for Hitler and the Nazis to bring about the horrors of the Holocaust.

As "Simon Wiesenthal has pointed out that since a stand was not made against the lesser injustices ... it became impossible to resist the much greater injustices. By endorsing the idea that there was a Jewish problem, the [German] churches did not oppose the first comparatively mild anti-Jewish measures of the Third Reich. And so, by the time the trains started running to Auschwitz it was too late to do anything significant." (Pp. 240, 241)

Chapter Eleven treats the subject of Arab and Islamic anti-Semitism. This topic is extremely important because it deals with a phenomenon which is much alive nowadays and is not likely to disappear in the near future. In Islam, both Jews and Christians were classified as dhimmis, i.e., the protected people. They were treated as second class subjects, but anti-Semitism was not known during the first thirteen centuries of Arab or Islamic history. What gave rise to this attitude was political Zionism and the birth of Israel. As Dr. Keith put it: "The very existence of a sovereign Jewish state in the Arab heartland ... represents a threat to the political triumphalism which is part of the Muslim identity." (P. 251) While there are some hopeful signs that certain Arab leaders are willing to accept Israel's existence, this mood is not necessarily shared by the masses in the Arab world.

I found Chapter Twelve entitled Conclusion of great help. It comes from the heart of a Christian scholar of the Reformed tradition who endeavors to do justice to the difficult subject he has treated. While taking history seriously, his solution is sought from within the framework of the Bible. He does not agree with liberal Protestants who want to declare a moratorium on the evangelization of the Jews. Neither does he approve the hermeneutics of "such American Christian Fundamentalists as Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell ... and Pat Robertson. They have identified the emergence of a Jewish state as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, a vital stage on the road to the establishment of the millennial kingdom of Christ. ... unreserved support for the Jewish leadership in Israel will neither promote justice among the peoples of the Middle East nor further the claims of Jesus of Nazareth among the Jewish people." (Pp. 280, 282)

This book is highly recommended for its thorough scholarship and genuine love and concern for the ancient people of Israel who have suffered beyond measure in our century.

Posted in Book Reviews

Islam and War

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

A Study in Comparative Ethics, by John Kelsay. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Pp. ix+149. $14.99 (Paper).
Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany

A new era in world history began when the United States dropped two atom bombs, one on Hiroshima, August 6, and one on Nagasaki , August 9, 1945.  The subject of war and peace assumed a critical importance as man had now at his disposal the ability to make the earth a wasteland.

Even though the danger of nuclear war has diminished with the fall of the Soviet Empire, our world is not entirely safe from nuclear conflicts. Several countries such as North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Libya have shown a great interest in pursuing research that will enable them to join the nuclear bomb club. We are therefore indebted to John Kelsay who teaches in the Department of Religion at Florida University in Tallahassee, for offering us such a timely study of Islam And War:  A Study in Comparative Ethics.  The value of this book has increased since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. There is an urgent need to conduct a serious discussion of the ethics of war. As we now live in a globalized world when all nations have become our neighbors, our reflection must take into account other traditions. Specifically, we need to acquaint ourselves with the Islamic view of war.

The author divides his work into six chapters dealing with: The Gulf War and Beyond: Thoughts on the Legacy of Saddam Hussein; The Islamic View of Peace; Religion as a Cause of War: Resort to War in the Islamic Tradition; Islam and the Conduct of War: The Question of Jus in Bello Restraints; Soldiers Without Portfolio: Irregular War in the Tradition of Islam; and Religion and World Order.

Even though Saddam Hussein is officially a "secular" Arab leader following the nationalist Baath Arab Socialist Party ideology, his rhetoric during and after the Gulf War has shown his appropriating Islamic symbols. He wants to be known as the believer president fighting for the cause of Islam. Upon his instructions, the Iraqi flag now carries the Islamic assertion of the greatness of God, "Allahu Akbar" which has always served as the war cry of this faith. Whether the Iraqi leader is a true believer or not, one thing is certain, he must appear as a Muslim leader fighting from within the tradition of Islam in order to legitimize his actions before, during and after the Gulf War. Thus it becomes very important for the West in general, and for Christians in particular, to learn about the basic view of Islam regarding war and peace. John Kelsay offers us this description of the classical Islamic teaching regarding war:

The territory of Islam is theoretically the territory of peace and justice...Islam provides the best and most secure peace available to humanity. The peace of the world cannot be fully secure unless all people come under the protection of an Islamic state. Thus there always exists an imperative for Muslims: to struggle to extend the boundaries of the territory of Islam. Thus...the classical Sunni perspective on peace involved a program of action. The struggle to extend the boundaries of the territory of Islam is the jihad. (Page 34)

Before the advent of Islam, Arab tribes fought each other. But having embraced the new faith and become brothers, they were no longer to raid and plunder each other. Their energies had to be spent in the territories of the Infidel. Following the death of Muhammad in 632 A.D., his successors, the caliphs, presided over the conquest of the world. By 732, the Arab-Islamic empire extended from Spain to western India. Theorizing on the subject of war among Muslims followed their conquests.  The lands belonging to them were known as Darul-Islam (Household of Islam) and the lands outside that realm were designated as Darul-Harb (Household of War.)
   
Since there is no distinction in Islam between "church" and state, religion and politics, the faith may be spread by preaching or by war:

[For] Sunni intellectuals, a "normal" war is connected with the effort to extend the boundaries of Islamic territory. This struggle, for which the preferred means is the spread of the Islamic message through preaching, teaching, and the like, may nevertheless take on the character of war.

...the territory of Islam --- really, the world --- could not be a secure place until and unless Islamic hegemony was acknowledged everywhere. To secure such hegemony was the goal of the jihad, or "struggle in the path of God."  According to the Sunni theorists, war or jihad by means of  killing is justified when a people resists or otherwise stands in opposition to the legitimate goals of Islam. (Page 61)

But what about today's Muslim thinkers?  On the one hand, they realize that to live in our modern world, they cannot simply hold on to the classical Islamic view regarding the legitimacy of war as a means for the expansion of the faith. They may quote the Quranic verse "There is no compulsion in religion"  (2:256) to support some type of modus vivendi with peoples and nations living outside Darul-Islam.  While John Kelsay's irenic spirit is clearly detectable throughout his study, he could have stressed the fact that whenever circumstances are in their favor, both Muslim intellectuals and rulers have justified their involvement in wars such as the conflict in southern Sudan. For almost two decades, the Muslim dominated government in the north has waged a brutal war against the Christians and animists of the south. This action has been portrayed as a war against a secessionist movement, however, the majority of the Southerners as well as some Western observers, perceive it as a planned effort to Islamize the south!

In any treatment of the topic of Islam and War, such as in the book under review, I find it rather strange that the comparison restricts itself to Islam and the West. The underlying thought is that we are comparing two political traditions. This is partially true. While Islam must be regarded as much more than a religion, as this word is understood in the modern West, yet fundamentally, Islam’s basic component is a religious faith. It ranks itself among the heavenly (i.e. theistic) world religions, such as Judaism and Christianity. Thus, when a comparative study is made with Islam as one side of the comparison, the other side must also include Christianity.  When such a theological and ethical pursuit is undertaken, the comparison between the two religious traditions would readily appear as a contrast between two widely different worldviews.

For example, in early Christianity, converts were citizens, or subjects, or slaves within the Roman Empire. Their faith spread through proclamation, witnessing and martyrdom. As Christians did not exercise political power, they did not face seriously the subject of war and peace. Eventually, following the conversion of Constantine and the gradual "Christianization" of the Roman Empire, it became necessary for Christians to reflect on the subject of war. Thus, it was within the Christian community that "the just war tradition was born."  As our author reminds us in his Introduction:

Over the last thirty years, perhaps no issue in religious ethics has attracted more consistent attention than the use of  force in war. Inspired by the attempts of Fr. John Courtney Murray and Paul Ramsey to recover the just war tradition for theological ethics, more recent writers have been interested in philosophical and historical inquiries concerning the ethics of war.

Both Murray and Ramsey are churchmen and dealt with the subject from within the Christian tradition. It is the responsibility of Christian theologians and ethicists to pursue their studies on the subject, building on the rich heritage handed down to us since the days of Saint Augustine. In our reflection on our past, we do confess that the church has not always been consistent with New Testament teachings. For example, it was Pope Urban II who launched the First Crusade in 1096, claiming a divine right to re-conquer the Holy Land. But today, no responsible Christian church leader or theologian of whatever communion, would advocate the resort to war for the spread of the Christian faith or the reconquest of a lost Christian territory! 

While moderate Muslims do acknowledge today the interdependence of all nations and no longer think in terms of Darul-Harb and Darul-Islam, radical Muslims still cherish this outlook. It is the responsibility of Christians to point to Muslim intellectuals, many of them now living in the West, that it is their duty to speak loudly about the necessity for all peoples and nations to live in peace. The global situation requires the recognition that we face unique challenges that must be met without resort to war. And it is specifically Muslim nations facing problems of gigantic proportions that need to realize that history does not repeat itself and past conquests and exploits cannot be duplicated. In order for them to cope with modernity in this high tech era, they must not waste their resources in a pursuit of the development of weapons of mass destruction. They need to tackle and solve such real problems as population explosion, unemployment, scarcity of water supplies, and very weak agricultural output.

We thank John Kelsay for his serious initiative in the study of the ethics of war, bringing to our attention the teachings of a major "other" tradition about this subject. We hope that similar studies will be conducted in the future enabling us to face the challenges of the new millennium. Many had hoped that after the demise of the Soviet Union, we were about to enter a period of a peaceful world order. Unfortunately, the first decade of the Twenty-first century seems to have ushered us into a new phase of world disorder.

Posted in Book Reviews

Now They Call me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror

May 05, 2023
By Shirley W. Madany

by Nonie Darwish.
Sentinel, Penguin Books, 2006, 258 pp

A Review by Shirley W. Madany

From our first encounter with Nonie Darwish, through her articles and web site, we felt that she was someone special.  We were attracted by her open and obvious love for America.  That web site disappeared, only to reappear as www.arabsforisrael.com, with its unique opening statement:

To Muslims and Arabs across the globe:Reject hate, embrace love. Bring out the best in Islam by showing your compassion, gratitude and forgiveness. Make the holy land truly holy by giving Israel and the Jewish people the respect they deserve in their tiny little country. This is not a crisis over land. It is a crisis of the soul; a crisis in our faith, judgement and self confidence. Israel should not be regarded as an enemy, but as a blessing to our neighborhood. We need not fear peace, but embrace it.

These are remarkable words to be coming from the daughter of a “shahid” (a martyr for jihad) who was assassinated while serving as a high-ranking Egyptian military officer stationed in Gaza specifically to be of assistance to the Palestinians.

The September 2001 attack on the twin towers in New York was life-changing for many people.  From that moment on Nonie Darwish felt compelled to take a stand.  It led her to write her life story “Now They Call Me Infidel” which is a pure gift to all of us.  She also stepped out into public life with all its demands of speaking engagements,  and  the disapproval she was bound to experience.

After reading her book with eagerness, I would suggest that it is the perfect book for supplemental reading by all High School students.  Let them hear about Islam from someone who has experienced it fully from birth and has turned to Christianity and America for a better life. Let them sense her loyalty and love for her new country.  As she describes it—“Many immigrants come to this great nation in search of material gain, which is fine; however, the biggest prize I gained was my religious freedom and learning to love.  For me it was nothing short of cataclysmic.  I had turned from a culture of hatred to one of love.”

In her book she describes her impressions of America.  We Americans need to see our country through someone else’s eyes, so that we can withstand the propaganda that insinuates that we are the culprit and instigator of all the troubles of the world.  It is eye-opening to read through the chapter “A New Beginning in America” and find out why the following words are in italics; and learn just how much our culture differs from the Muslim culture in Egypt.  This is specially applicable to the difficult life programmed for  women.  She considers  friendliness and helpfulness”,” courtesy”, “diversity and multiculturalism”, “self-sufficiency, pride in labor”, “generous, honest, and open”, “informality”, “women’s relationships”, and “child rearing”. 

Gradually, to Ms. Darwish’s horror, she discovers that her beloved land of refuge, her America which means so much to her, is being attacked from within. She is painfully aware of those old patterns of hatred, as they eminate from mosque after mosque.

She lashes out at terrorists who are invading the Western countries:  America’s Islamic enemies and critics—even those who love living in the United States – are nothing more than pirates.  That’s what Islamic terrorists are – pirates.  Instead of building their own society as a model of what Islam should be, they leave it in ruins and look to conquer hard-working successful lands…..They cannot stand to live in a Muslim culture, and they have their eyes set on beautiful and welcoming democracies, not to blend in, but to rob those democracies of their soul and ruin the value system and culture that made them great….” p. 185.  You need to get hold of this book and sense the depth of Ms. Darwish’s feeling as she begs you to save our precious country from the onslaught she sees coming.

She describes her shock at the Arab world’s response to 9/11.  They dared to rejoice over the tragedy.  When she phoned family members and close friends, whose opinions she had formerly trusted, she could not believe that many thought America deserved to suffer.

The last chapter is “Jihad Comes to America”.  Nonie dismisses the popular and over-used definition of jihad as merely spiritual pursuit:  there is only one meaning for jihad, and that is:  a religious holy war against infidels.” p. 201.  She remarks that she is shocked by the radicalism she encounters on the American campus.  I am stunned to see them choose to revive the worst of Islamic culture in America rather than be part of America and demonstrate the best of Islamic culture.”

On page 159 there is a moving description of Nonie’s introduction to Christian worship when she and her husband and family attended a church and “listened to a message of compassion, love, acceptance, tolerance, and prayer for all humanity.”  There had been some violence in the Middle East and the pastor prayed for everyone—“Muslims, Jews, and Christians.  It was very different message from the prayers to ‘destroy the infidels’ that I grew up with….I learned the most important command in scripture was ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Nonie had found what she was hungering for:  In this church, that day, my soul was revived and nourished with the love of a tolerant and forgiving God.”  Knowingly she was willing to be called an infidel.

After a remarkable experience of visiting Israel Nonie explains:  I now fully understand why the United States supports Israel and rightfully so.  My love of America now extends to Israel.”  Hence the name of her new web site! 

We salute another brave woman, and heartily recommend that you read this extremely important book.

Posted in Book Reviews

Islam in Context: Past, Present, and Future

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Islam in Context: Past, Present, and Future
by Peter G. Riddell & Peter Cotterell
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, A Division of Baker Book House Company, 2003. Pp. 231 (Paper)

Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany


Over the years, I have read many books on Islam (in Arabic and English) and reviewed quite a few. There is something very special about Islam in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Once you begin reading it, you are gripped by the relevance and timeliness of the historical facts the authors relate and explain. This is not just another book on the history of Islam; it is a serious attempt to make sense out of an extremely difficult and complex subject that touches our daily lives.

In their Introduction, Riddell and Cotterell set the tone for their work by taking exception to a widely circulated and simplistic view, that the West is primarily responsible for the unrest that grips many parts of the Islamic world. "In our view it is not the non-Muslim world that stands at the crossroads, but the Muslim world. Islam has, throughout its history, contained within itself a channel of violence, legitimized by certain passages of the Qur?an, though put in question by other passages." P. 7

Part One of Islam in Context is titled: Looking Back.

After we learn about the life and accomplishments of Muhammad, we discover that his death, in June 632, ushered in the new order of the caliphate. Since the Prophet was considered as Allah's final messenger to mankind, a caliph (successor) could have only a limited role, to serve both as a political and spiritual leader of the Muslim Umma (community) in Madina. As Muhammad left no instructions for an orderly transfer of leadership, that gave rise to many divisions in Islam that have plagued it ever since.

Muslims are unanimous in regarding their early years as constituting the Golden Age. The first four caliphs are honored by the title al-Rashidoon, the Rightly-guided.The details that are related in the book about this phase of Islamic history are extremely important for the proper understanding of Islam, then and now. The first caliph, Abu Bakr, lived only two years, but due to his foresight, a collection began of the "utterances or pronouncements of Muhammad that would eventually constitute the Qur'an." P. 35

During Umar's and Uthman's caliphates, Islam spread militarily from Arabia into the Middle East and beyond, making it unique among the world religions by joining faith and politics into one inseparable entity. The fourth caliph Ali was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. He did not receive the unanimous support of the leaders of the Muslim community in Madina. His assassination in 661 marked the end of the religious and political unity of Islam. From then on, Islam followed many roads: Sunni, Shi'ite, Khariji, and Sufi. Commenting on the tumultuous events that took place in this period, our authors observe:

'Islam had now advanced far beyond the boundaries of the Arabian Peninsula, but while it entered the period of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs along a single broad road, the rule of Ali and especially that of Al-Husain brought Islam to crossroads, which it left along different routes. The main highway was taken by the Sunnis. A lesser road, though not without its significance, was taken by the Shi?a. Along a third road, scarcely discernible as a road, traveled the Khariji. The Sufis, being adaptable, trod either the Sunni or the Shi?a road, though not the Khariji road. The Muslim travelers carried with them their Qur?an and would soon add to that the Traditions. Further along their respective routes, they all would encounter the philosopher-theologians, the mu?tazila, who would question not a few of the philosophical assumptions carried along so far without question by the Muslim peoples. P. 44

Part 2 of the book deals with IN BETWEEN: THE EBB AND FLOW OF EMPIRE.

Every historian writing on Islam faces this serious question: Are there reliable documents that date from the early history of Islam? In answer to such a query, Riddell and Cotterell remark: "The bulk of our historical texts on early Islam are to be found in a body of compilations and digests composed roughly between 850 and 950 A.D. P. 83

This observation implies that, with the exception of the compilation of the Qur'an, all written documents that deal with the history of the Prophet (570-632), the period of the Rightly Guided caliphs (632-661) as well as those of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) date from several centuries later. Furthermore, they could not have been composed without some redactions that were colored by the specific historiography of the Abbasids, the Umayyads' successors.

The Abbasid period lasted for several centuries and was centered in Baghdad. It witnessed the flowering of Islamic civilization. Arabic culture, the arts, and knowledge were much promoted. The peak of Abbasid glory occurred under Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and his son Al-Ma'mun (813-833). During this period Baghdad was a magnificent urban center.

Our authors do not hesitate to comment on some controversial issues such as the Crusades. It is customary nowadays for radical Muslims to look upon the West's present involvements in their world as a revival of the Crusades. From his hideout in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, or Pakistan, Osama bin Laden inveighs against the 'Salibis' (Crusaders) who have desecrated Daru'l Islam. He, as well as many contemporary Muslims, is fully committed to the Islamic worldview that regards Islam's conquests of the Middle East and North Africa (which took place in mostly Christian lands) as divinely sanctioned. They were called "futuhat," literally, "openings" or "liberations." But once a territory passed into Daru"l Islam, it must always remain Islamic. In other words, "Conquista" by Muslims is regarded legitimate, but "Reconquista"  by non-Muslims, is considered illegitimate! To this very day Arabic poetry continues to lament the fall of Granada (1492) and the end of seven centuries of Islamic presence in Andalusia (Spain).

In reflecting on this topic, the authors comment:

[The Crusades] represented the response of the Christian world to the earlier Islamic expansion and to the loss of the Byzantine territories in the Middle East and North Africa. They do, of course, raise substantial moral issues, but consideration of these should not be divorced from the historical context. If apologies are to be extended, it is important that this be done in a framework of mutual  acknowledgment of error and excesses, and shared repentance. P. 102

The very title of the book (Islam in Context) reminds us of the importance of considering the context of all the historical events throughout the march of history. For example, Martin Luther began the Reformation in 1517. This is a well-known fact. However, it is doubtful that many Christians are aware that, at that very time, Europe was being threatened by the advancing armies of Islam. In the early days of the Reformation, Budapest fell to the invading Turks, who then dominated Hungary for the next 150 years. And in 1529, the first siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks occurred! Personally, I do not recall being made aware of that larger context which surrounded the Reformation, while studying Church History in the USA (1950-1953)!

The history and details of recent conflicts and the birth of the State of Israel are described in Chapter 9. We are given a concise account of the tortuous history of that period between 1948 and the beginning of the Third Millennium. At the conclusion of Parts 1 & 2, we find the following comments:

Parts 1 and 2 of this book have focused on history. We have seen that the history of Islam is one of greatness and decline, of empires and occupation. There have been recurring flashpoints between     Islam and Christianity through the centuries.

In addition to the tension and rivalry between Islam and its fellow monotheistic faiths, the internal history of Islam itself has suffered from periods of great fragmentation and rivalry between competing groups. For the first 1,350 years of its existence, Islam has had to negotiate its way through a series of internal crossroads, where different ideologies competed to define the identity of the faith. Such rivalries were periodically resolved, only to resurface in other forms at later points in Islamic history.

We will now turn our attention to the modern day, keeping in mind aspects of history that have left a clear imprint on events unfurling around us at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and considering how internal tensions are playing themselves out as different Islamic groups vie to define the identity of the faith in the new millennium. P. 145, 146

In Part 3 of Islam in Context, the following subjects are considered: The Muslim Masses and Westophobia,  The Radical Islamist Worldview,  The Moderate Worldview,  Responses to Terrorism, ending with   Conclusions.                                          

Because of 9/11/01 (USA) and 3/11/04 (Spain,) Part 3 assumes a special importance. The authors return to deal with the views of some Western "experts" who insist that it was the American policies that were to blame for the present unsettled situation in the Muslim world. As Osama bin Laden summarized the Arab-Muslim grievances: "The storm will not calm as long as you [the United States and Britain] do not end your support for the Jews in Palestine, lift your embargo from around the Iraqi people, and have left the Arabian Peninsula." P. 153

However, those critics gloss over the existence of a virulent animus against all things Western (perceived in the Muslim mind as Christian) and which have strong roots in both the texts of Islam and its long history of confrontation with Christendom. We must not omit from our consideration of the causes for Westophobia among the Muslim masses, the role played by the sacred and authoritative texts of Islam, (Qur'an and Hadith).

Islamic sacred scriptures, the Qur'an and Prophetic Traditions (Hadith), include a vast array of verses that serve to mold Muslims' views toward non-Muslims. Throughout the Muslim world, an important part of the educational formation of young children includes study of the scriptures. In this way, from an early age Muslim children's views toward non-Muslims, both conscious and unconscious, are fashioned by their encounter with the Muslim sacred texts. P. 156

Chapter 11 deals with The Radical Islamic Worldview. It describes the "mind-set and motives" of the radical Islamists who are bent on the destruction of the present world-order and replacing it with a purely Islamic one. Quotations are gathered from various sources such as the Egyptian semi-official Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Al-Jazeera TV of Qatar, The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Washington Post, as well as various sources available on the Internet.

It is important to remind ourselves that radical Islamists would not immediately embrace the West if the modern issues were quickly resolved: that is if suddenly Israel were dismantled, Iraqi sanctions were dropped, and U.S. troops withdrew from Arabia. If these three steps were taken, Muslim radicals would find other causes for complaint because in essence --- and this is the key point --- their particular literalist reading of Islamic scripture leads them to conclude that non-believers (non-Muslims) are infidels and should be fought. The issues of Israel, Iraq, and U.S. military bases --- plus other struggles such as those in Chechnya and Kashmir --- are merely manifestations of the radicals? conflict with the West, rather than its causes. Pp. 166,168

In Chapter 12, the authors deal with a very important subject: the Moderate (Islamic) Worldview. It must be noted that a history of a moderate strain within Islam goes back to the ninth century. The Mu'tazila in Baghdad did their utmost to elaborate what may be called a moderate Islamic worldview. They criticized the currently accepted doctrine of Predestination as incompatible with the justice of God. Furthermore, they tackled head-on the claim of Orthodox Muslims that the Qur'an had existed from all eternity. The Mu'tazila?s attachment to the doctrine of tawheed (unity of Allah) demanded a Qur'an that was temporal.

Unfortunately, the Mu'tazila being children of their times demanded and received the cooperation of several caliphs in enforcing their views. For example, they were instrumental in the persecution of Imam Hanbal, a famous legal scholar, and a founder of one of the four recognized schools for the interpretation and implementation of the Shari'a.

After his release from his incarceration, Imam Hanbal's views became dominant in Sunni Islam. Centuries later, his strict jurisprudence became the inspiration for the rise of the Wahhabi movement in Arabia. It is the preferred interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and among the radical Islamists such as Hizbullah (Lebanon), Hamas (West Bank and Gaza), and al-Qaeda.

Over the years, I became interested in the study of the works of certain modernizing Muslims who called for tajdid (renewal) and tahdith (modernization). I was especially attracted by the writings of Dr. Zaki Naguib Mahmoud, an Egyptian scholar who worked hard to bring about both tajdid and tahdith. Unfortunately, after his passing away in the nineties, I am not aware of any Arabic-speaking scholar that has continued his work. However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the works and testimonies of such men as Kanan Makiya (an Iraqi exile) of Harvard, Fuad Ajami (a Lebanese) of Johns Hopkins University, and Amir Taheri (an Iranian journalist living in Paris, who was on a lecture tour in the USA, in March 2004). They all advocate a moderate Muslim worldview that will enable contemporary Islam to cope with modernity and to coexist with the Rest of the world.

In commenting on this subject, Riddell and Cotterell remark: In effect, there is a titanic struggle taking place between moderates and radicals for the hearts and minds of the Muslim masses in the middle. Who is winning? It is too early to say, but there are certain pointers that provide an indication of what is happening among the Muslim masses. Salman Rushdie, in a letter to the New York Times, sounds a note of warning: Paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, infidels, for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the revival project of modernity, is presently the fastest growing version of Islam in the world. P. 193

Chapter 13 deals with the urgent topic of Responses to Terrorism. In a sense, it could be lifted out of the book, and made into a tract for distribution far and wide. Riddell and Cotterell approach this subject by calling for a new Qur'anic hermeneutic where "the meaning of a text must be determined by reference to the wording of the text, the related text around it, and the historical context within which the text was produced." P. 206

I find these words extremely important and helpful. If only they would be taken to heart by some responsible moderate Muslim scholars who happen to live in the West, and who would be ready to interact with the irenicism of our authors. For not until a neo-Mu'tazila movement arises within Islam and calls for a non-literalistic hermeneutic of the Qur'an and the Hadith, can we expect Westophobia and the violence that it engenders to disappear.

Until then, the bad news keeps coming; and the list of the geographical areas that have become impacted by Islamic terrorism gets longer: Beirut, Mogadishu, Nairobi, Dar-el-Salaam, New York, Washington, Moscow, Bali, and Madrid. And as I was finishing keying this review on my computer, I heard about another terrorist attack: this time in Uzbekistan, Central Asia!

We owe a special word of thanks to the authors of this timely book. Our gratitude goes also to Baker Academic, a Division of Baker Book House Co., for their efforts in making this work available to the public in such an attractive form. We trust it will have a wide circulation and many reprints in the future.

Posted in Book Reviews

Islam and the Cross Zwemer Selections

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

IslamandtheCross (Zwemer Selections)editedbyGreenway


Islam and the Cross: Selections from ‘The Apostle to Islam’ Samuel M. Zwemer, edited by Roger S. Greenway. Phillipsburg, NJ 08865-0817: P&R Publishing, 2002. Pp. xviii +165 Price: Unlisted

Beginning with the closing years of the twentieth-century, books on Islam have been appearing rather frequently. Most of them deal with geo-political subjects such as “Islam and Political Power” and “After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy.” This is why “Islam and the Cross” is a very welcome book as it reminds us Christians, that the challenge of missions to Muslims is greater than ever. Millions of Muslims have now moved to North America, and are to be found in every major city in Canada and the United States. While some new works on missions to Muslims have appeared lately, yet there is hardly anything that equals the books of Samuel M. Zwemer. They breathe with Christian fervor coupled with solid scholarship. This fact earned him the designation of “Apostle to Islam.”

During his long career both as missionary in the Muslim world, and professor of missions at Princeton Seminary, Dr. Zwemer authored more that fifty books, and was the founder and editor of the quarterly journal “The Moslem World.” He knew Arabic very well, and was patient and understanding when Muslim inquirers came to see him to discuss the claims of the Christian faith.

After reading his book, “The Cross above the Crescent” back in 1950 while I was a theological student in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I wrote Dr. Zwemer expressing my deep appreciation for the contents of his book. I was delighted to receive a very warm response from him. He encouraged me to continue in my special interest in missions to Muslims, and made a few suggestions that I have always cherished. Not long after that letter, “The Apostle to Islam” passed away on April 2, 1952. By the end of that year, J. Christy Wilson published, Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Baker Book House)

It is not easy nowadays to find the many titles of the Zwemer legacy. This is why we are very indebted to the labors of the editor, Dr. Roger S. Greenway, in providing us with these important selections from the writings of this great missionary. Part I, deals with the topic of Islam and Christianity where we find excerpts from The Muslim Christ, Mohammed and Christ, Islam and the Holy Spirit, Christianity’s Stumbling Block, and The Way to the Muslim Heart. Part II, treats the general subject of Islam and Animism. The concluding chapter, A Call to Prayer, was originally published in 1923 in London. It remains relevant eighty years later, as we witness the revival of Islam as well as its offshoot, Islamic radicalism.

It is my fervent hope that more of the writings of Dr. Zwemer would be made available to a new generation of Christians who need to hear the call of missions to Islam through his inimitable style, and his contagious zeal.

Posted in Book Reviews

Faith & Intifada - edited

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany
FAITH AND THE INTIFADA: Palestinian Christian Voices
EDITORS: Naim S. Ateek, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Marc Ellis.
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992 Pp. xv-207. $13.95 (paper).

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany

On December 8, 1987, a fatal traffic accident took place in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli truck hit a car carrying Palestinian laborers. Many similar accidents had occurred in the past, but this one was different. It triggered protests and demonstrations against the Israeli army which has been occupying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since June 1967. Palestinian youths began to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers. The confrontations led to the arrest of many young men and women who were held in detention camps. This uprising, Intifada in Arabic, has continued to the present.

In her preface to the book, Rosemary Radford Ruether states that "the book represents, in part, papers that were given at the First International Symposium on Palestinian Liberation Theology at Tantur, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, during March 10-17, 1990." The work is divided into five parts dealing with:

  • THE PALESTINIAN REALITY
  • PALESTINIAN CHRISTIAN IDENTITY
  • POWER , JUSTICE, AND THE BIBLE
  • WOMEN, FAITH AND THE INTIFADA
  • INTERNATIONAL RESPONSES TO THE QUEST FOR PALESTINIAN THEOLOGY

The book comes out of a context which accepts the modern notion of "regionalized" theologies. This is seen in the Preface where Father Naim Ateek speaks of the necessity for a Palestinian theology of liberation. Right away, one who is convinced of the importance of maintaining a truly ecumenical theology based on the tradition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, is taken aback by the contents of most of the chapters of the book. Do we have to fashion a specific theology for every problem we confront? Or, should our quest to find proper solutions to present-day problems be found within the vast treasury of the various disciplines of the historic Christian faith?

Having stated the above unease at the "map" provided by Liberationist theologians for a just solution of the Palestinian problem, one can readily sympathize with Christian Palestinians. They are thoroughly distressed at the attitude of many Christians within the West who have been extremely pro-Israel and who have expounded the Word of God in such a way as to legitimize Israel and its conquests. It seems to them that the only friends they have are the Liberation theologians; so they welcome them as well as their theological baggage.

The Palestinian problem has been aggravated by the triumph of Dispensational hermeneutics within many evangelical churches. This radical method of "reading" the Bible led them to accept the notion that the birth of the State of Israel was based on solid Biblical grounds. More than a generation of Christians was brought up on the belief that the birth of Israel in May 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

But having acknowledged these facts, the statement on page 2 that "there are more than sixty million Christian fundamentalists in the United States" who are pro-Israel cannot be sustained. The last two decades have witnessed the rise of a great concern among many evangelicals for the Palestinian cause. Furthermore, the authors of these papers have not taken into account that several churches had never accepted Dispesationalism nor blindly showed a one-sided attitude vis-a-vis Israel. One may mention the, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

In sketching a historical account of what happened to the Palestinians since the beginning of the British Mandate after the First World War, Munir Fasheh who contributed a chapter on PALESTINIAN CHRISTIAN IDENTITY, seems to be unable to distinguish between official policies and actions of Western governments and the attitude of Christians living within the West. He states on page 64:

The distortion of the world has been accomplished through an elaborate ideological structure and through European hegemony, of which Western Christianity has been an integral part. That Western Europeans governments were expanding their empires is a fact. But one may not charge Western Christians for all the wrong policies of their governments. It is extremely doubtful that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which declared the British Government's favor for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, was the result of a Christian demand for such a home.

The contributors to the various chapters of the book have been living under severe pressure due to the oppressive nature of the Israeli occupation. This explains the anguished style of their essays. Suad Younan, a Palestinian women who serves as coordinator of women's groups in Lutheran churches throughout the West Bank writes about her assessment of the help received from Liberation Theology:

"Nowadays, there has developed in the world a theology of liberation, which seeks to meet the distress of the people on the basis of the biblical message. As a Palestinian, I regard liberation theology as an essential expression of faith in the message of Christ, to liberate woman and man without discrimination of gender and race. As a Christian, I see Jesus as a unique revelation of true humanism and personhood, for he helps us to understand our personhood. His life displays characteristics of love and compassion. In him, women and men, oppressed and oppressor, are set free to work together on behalf of the liberating purpose of God."

There is no mention of sin, atonement and salvation from the power of the evil one. No doubt Palestinians do need freedom and self-determination. But should the elaboration of a "Palestinian" theology be pursued at the cost of exchanging Apostolic Christianity for liberation theology? The salvation which is set forth in most of the chapters of this book is purely horizontal. Matters of the here and now are important within the Christian tradition, but not at the expense of ignoring the vertical dimension of the faith.

The first response to THE QUEST FOR PALESTINIAN THEOLOGY forms the fifth part of the book. The contributor is Marc Ellis, a Jewish theologian who directs the Justice and Peace Studies Program at the Maryknoll School of Theology. He deplores the ignoring of the Palestinian problem in the regular dialogues which go on between Christians and Jews in North America. His words are very harsh, but one can understand the agony of soul which prompted them:

"This, then, is the ecumenical dialogue --- culpability in ethnocide --- and it includes such august bodies as the National and World Council of Churches, despite their protests to the contrary. With this knowledge the ecumenical dialogue takes on a criminal aspect and those who continue it become liable in criminal activity. If this sounds too strong, perhaps one can suggest a better term for those who help legitimate the displacement of a people and the destruction of its culture? Certainly Jews have had little hesitation in defining this activity when it relates to their own community."

Marc Ellis' chapter is followed by one contributed by Mary H. Shertz whose sympathies for a radical hermeneutic are quite evident. She has a serious problem with the Hebrew Bible. But granted that the Old Testament has been wrongly "read" by Jews and some Christians, does that justify her embracing of Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza's "feminist" reading of the same text? What is really astonishing in this chapter whose author is a New Testament scholar is that hardly any attention was given to the classical NT passage, Romans 9-11 which deals with the problem of Israel, its failure and its future salvation. Saint Paul makes no mention at all of any re-constituting of an Israeli commonwealth. If we take this passage seriously as well as the teachings of the Epistle to the Hebrews, a proper reading of the Bible does not yield a de jure basis for the State of Israel. That this state exists is an undeniable fact, but its presence is a de facto matter, and must not be regarded as supported by a specifically Biblical sanction.

In conclusion, there are two gems within this book, one by Bassam E. Bannoura entitled, BEARING THE CROSS. It is a sermon on Isaiah 53:1-12 and Luke 9:3. It should be printed as a pamphlet and made available to Christians throughout the world. The other one was contributed by the well known Father Elias Chacour entitled, A PALESTINIAN CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE TO THE WEST. Their tone is quite different from the majority of the other papers due to their irenical spirit.

In any future edition, two corrections are a must. The first one on page 80. Tariq Ibn Zayyad, who led the Islamic armies early in the 8th century in their conquest of Spain, could not have been the liberator of the Jews from the Inquisition. This infamous institution did not take shape until after 1492! On page 84, the first name of the Lebanese scholar Nasif Al-Yazeji wrongly appears as Nasir Al Yazeji.

Posted in Book Reviews

Christ in Islam & Christianity - Robinson

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany
Christ in Islam and Christianity, by Neal Robinson.
Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991.
Pp. x-235. Paperback $18.95, Hardcover $57.50

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Islam has engaged the attention of Christians ever since its rise early in the seventh century. One obvious reason is the fact that most early Muslim conquests took place within Christian lands.The people of the Book, as Jews and Christians were called, were given the choice to Islamize or remain in their own religions. Those who made the second choice often gave a reason for this decision. They could not forsake the Messiah as revealed in Holy Scripture. Thus, from the beginning of the Christian-Muslim encounter, the main debate centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Neal Robinson, a Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies,at the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, England, has authored a critical study on the topic of Christ in Islam and Christianity. This subject is just as relevant today as it was fourteen hundred years ago. Both Christians and Muslims need to know exactly what they believe and where their differences are. How did these differences arise and how have they been understood by the adherents of the two faiths? Mr. Robinson does not claim to offer a definitive answer, he simply shares with us the fruits of his research over a period which covered the decade of the eighties. He consulted both original Arabic sources as well as Western works in several European languages.

The result is a thorough study of 'Isa (the Qur'anicname of Jesus) as depicted in the Muslim sacred book and as expounded in the standard classical commentaries of Sunni and Shi'ite Islam. Furthermore, the author shares with us a summary of some of the traditional Christian interpretations of the reason for this unbridgeable gap which separates the Biblical Jesus from the Qur'anic 'Isa.

Every chapter in the book (their total being seventeen) ends with a summary under the heading of DISCUSSION. It is intended to exhibit a provisionary conclusion of the complex subject treated in the chapter. For example, chapter three ends with these words:

"Despite our extensive knowledge of Byzantine Orthodoxy and of the principal forms of Christianity which flourished in Syria and Persia, we know all too little about Christianity as practised in Najran and Abyssinia in the seventh century and even less about Arab tribal Christianity. The external evidence and the evidence of  the Qur'an itself both point to a predominantly heterodox influence on the early environment of Islam. Although the external evidence would favour Nestorianism and Monophysitism, the internal evidence is equally indicative of some form of Jewish Christianity. We should probably think in terms of a variety of rival sects some of which may have vanished without trace."

Professor Robinson's research is concentrated on these basic teachings relating to the person and work of the Messiah as depicted in the Qur'an and in the classical Islamic commentaries on the Qur'an: Jesus' Return: (Qur'an 4:159), the Crucifixion, the Miracles and the Virginal Conception. In none of these areas do the teachings of Islam approximate the statements of the Bible which emphasize the redemptive character of the mission of the Messiah, his uniqueness and his finality. In his Postscript, the author summarizes his research with these incisive words:

"The classical commentaries represent Jesus in a manner which is fairly constant and it makes little difference whether their authors are Sunnites or Shi'ites. The Qur'anic picture is fused with that of the 'authentic' ahadith [traditions] which refer to Jesus' future descent to kill the Antichrist and which relativise the Qur'anic statement about God's choice of Mary. The commentators are unanimous in accepting the literal truth of the virginal conception and of the miracles which the Qur'an ascribes to Jesus but they interpret them as proofs of his prophethood, not of his divinity. They are also unanimous in maintaining that Qur'an 4:157 denies that Jesus was crucified. They generally assume that this aya [verse] is best understood in the light of the traditions which describe how Jesus' semblance was projected onto someone else while he himself was raised bodily into heaven - or to be more precise into the third heaven where Muhammad encountered him on his night journey."

What is refreshing about "Christ in Islam and Christianity" is the thoroughgoing scholarship which is evident on every page. The author does not pretend to find materials in the Qur'an or the vast Islamic exegetical works which might support any claim that these Islamic sources teach anything akin to what the Bible says about the Christ. Some Christian apologists both in the past and at present, have sought to "enlist" the Qur'an in order to "prove" a Christian point of view. They should take to heart the closing words of this work:

"At their worst, Christian apologists who force their interpretation on the Qur'an remind me of the agents of the Reconquista who built their cathedral in the heart of the mosque of Cordoba. At their best, Christian historians who detect elements of Christian provenance embedded in the Qur'an are more like skilled archaeologists who have unearthed vestiges of Constantinople beneath the surface of Istanbul. They know that Aya Sofya Camii [pronounced: jami'i] was once a Christian church but that it could not be 'restored' merely by removing the minarets with which it is now adorned. Its 'meaning' is now inextricably bound up with the many splendid Ottoman buildings which surround it on every side."

On the global scene where both Muslims and Christians rub shoulders and many are citizens of the same realm, it is imperative that they learn how to freely express their beliefs without either side being forced to keep silence for fear of persecution. If pluralism is to be genuine and not used merely for propagandistic purposes, Christians living in Muslims lands and Muslims living in "Christian" lands should enjoy equal rights and privileges. This entails the right to freely verbalize what they believe as well as to embrace the faith one's conscience compels him to adopt. Neal Robinson's book appears at a timely moment in history when old empires have vanished and when people everywhere should learn to live in peace notwithstanding the real differences in their beliefs!

Posted in Book Reviews

American Muslims - Asma Hassan

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

American Muslims: The New Generation
by Asma Gull Hasan.
New York: Continuum, 2000. Pp. 200. $19.95

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany

One of the major topics claiming our attention at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the soaring population of the world. Our planet is now the home of six billion people. An equally important phenomenon is the migration to the Western countries of a great number of people from Asia and Africa. Some of our new neighbors may be followers of a major world religion. For example, Muslims are now quite visible in certain metropolitan areas of North America due to a great influx of immigrants from South East Asia and the Middle East. Islam has also gained quite a few converts, especially among African Americans. It won't be too long before Muslims overtake the Jewish population and become the second largest religious community in the USA and Canada. While there is no dearth of literature in English on Islam, most of these works are written by non-Muslims. This is why Asma Gull Hasan's book, American Muslims: The New Generation is of unique importance. We do need to listen to what American Muslims are telling us about their aspirations and hopes, as they develop roots in the New World.

After introducing herself in the Preface as an American Muslim, born in Chicago, and raised in Pueblo, Colorado, Miss Hasan launches into an effort that is sustained throughout the whole book, of giving the American public what she believes to be a true and accurate picture of Islam in general, and of American Muslims in particular. The author is pained as she describes what average Americans think of her faith and her people.

From what I've gleaned from a short lifetime of reading newspapers and watching television and film, I realize that most Americans would associate the word "Muslim" with black America and the Nation of Islam or with terrorism…

This book is about other Muslims like me, who are living as Americans and Muslims and figuring out their spirit and identity as we all go along. (Pp. 3,4)

In Chapter 8, the author describes what the agenda and the goal of American Muslims should be:

American Muslims' primary issue should be a push for greater understanding of Islam and Muslims among Americans. American Muslims should concentrate practically all their efforts on educating fellow Americans. (P. 154)

How successful is Asma Hasan in her effort to educate the general American public about Islam and American Muslims? While in some instances she has succeeded to educate and enlighten, yet her book suffers from a lack of objectivity as well as historical accuracy. In some places, it verges on propaganda.

The strong points of the book consist in the extremely frank manner the author describes the American Muslims. I am not aware of any other book on this subject that gives us such a vivid description of the life of American-born Muslim men and women. This book is therefore an invaluable tool in helping Americans to become acquainted with our new neighbors whose religious and cultural backgrounds are quite different, if not unique. On this point, I give the author a very high score.

Unfortunately, the book has several weaknesses that may be classified as one-sided descriptions of the history of Islam, its spread in the world, and its treatment of minorities. I say this not to distract from the value of the book, but to suggest that the goal of the author would have been enhanced, should she have absorbed more from the American culture when it comes to the telling of the story. In America, the entire story is told without embellishments. For example, we appreciate what the Founding Fathers believed that "all men are created equal," but we bemoan the fact that they were inconsistent because they tolerated slavery. It took decades and a civil war to abolish this inhuman institution.

Here are a few examples to clarify the above paragraph.

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the Arab Islamic armies began the conquest of the world. Arab historians do not hesitate to use the word, "Futuhat" which literally means, conquests, when they deal with the spread of Islam. The conquered peoples in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe had to choose between Islam and remaining in their previous religions. If they decided for the latter choice, they received the status of "Dhimmis." Etymologically this Arabic word meant "the Protected Ones;" actually it placed on Christians and Jews, certain burdens and limitations, like paying the poll tax. There is no hint of that in our book. While the author, who is a member of a religious and ethnic minority, enjoys all the freedoms of the American way of life, such privileges are not accorded to minorities living in the Household of Islam.

When dealing with the topic of slavery in Islam, the author states: "In fact, the Qur'an instructed Muslims to allow their slaves to buy their freedom through payment of an agreed-upon sum." But there is a dark side to slavery in Islam. The vast majority of the slaves that were brought into the Middle East from East Africa were castrated. They worked as eunuchs in the palaces of the rich and powerful. Bernard Lewis, the British scholar who taught both at the University of London and at Princeton University, has documented this subject in his book, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1990.

One of the most important passages in the book deals with the problems young American Muslims are facing. Here is how Miss Hasan puts it:

We must distinguish between what is culture and what is religion. In order to be both American and Muslim, we are going to have to let go of certain aspects of our ethnic cultures, of Islam, and of our American culture. If we don't make some hard choices we'll end up being confused and in denial.

American Muslims don't have the cultural support system most Muslims all over the world have. Each Islamic country has its own set of Qur'anic interpretations, even a group of academics that set those interpretations, called the ulema. Here in the Unites Sates, Muslims are mostly flying blind, although we do have a national Fiqh Council, created by and consisting of some American Muslim leaders… However, we need to create our own support systems to do with our new approaches to the Qur'an. (P. 132)

The book ends on an optimistic note:

When a Muslim prays, it is between him or her and God; there are no clergy that must conduct the relationship. … In Islam, individuals must read the Qur'an themselves and interpret. God will deal with them and their interpretations on Judgment Day. It is not the place of a Muslim to tell another that he or she has sinned against God; Muslims believe that only God can make such a pronouncement. (180)

Asma G. Hasan rightly describes the lack of "the cultural support system" that most Muslims have. But the problem is not so much the absence of this specific support system, important as it is. The real problem is that in the lands of Daru'l Islam (The Household of Islam), it is primarily the state that has always played the crucial role in seeing to it that the faith is practiced. A good example of the necessity of an Islamic regime for Muslims is illustrated in the fact that back in 1930, a Muslim Indian leader, Muhammad Iqbal, began to speak about the absolute necessity of creating a Muslim state within the sub-continent. Eventually the British Raj accepted this concept, and partitioned India in 1947, thus creating the Muslim state of Pakistan, alongside of India.

Theologically speaking, Islam like Orthodox Judaism is a legalistic religion. The "Shari'ah" plays a unique role in the life of the Muslim. But it is not an internalized principle. The obligations of the Muslim believer, known also as the Pillars of Islam, do require the cooperation, even the enforcement of the state, in order to enable the believers to live in harmony with the faith. During the 1400 years of Islamic history, Muslims have lived within their homelands. Even during the colonial era (19th and first half of 20th centuries), the laws governing the practice of Islam were respected by the foreign rulers.

The problem facing those Muslims now living in the secularized West is new and daunting. The Jewish experience in North America does not afford a proper paradigm, since the followers of this oldest monotheistic faith have learned, over the last two millennia, to live and partially survive in the lands of the Goyim. Muslims have had no such experience. Only the future will tell whether the large Muslim minorities in Western Europe and North America will remain basically Islamic.

In the closing part of the book as quoted above, the author overemphasizes the right of private interpretation in Islam. While it is true that Islam has no clergy similar to the Christian clergy, this does not imply that there is no body of Muslim religious leaders that decide on matters of faith and practice. Quite early in the history of the Muslim community, there arose a great need for the proper interpretation of the Qur'an. Commentaries were written by famous scholars whose writing are still authoritative today. Furthermore, the science of separating the authentic from the spurious Hadith (Tradition) was created. Among the Sunnis, only four schools for the interpretation of the Shari'ah Law were and are still recognized as Orthodox.

After a relatively short period of theological ferment in the second Islamic century (800s AD), Muslims arrived at the consensus that the "door of Ijtihad, i.e., of theologizing, should be closed." The Muslim scholar who played a great role in the call for the cessation of theological discussions, Al-Ghazzali died in A.D. 1111. While there have been several calls for the "reopening of the door of Ijtihad" during the last one hundred and fifty years, this has not yet happened. And it is not likely to take place in the near future, due to the rise of Islamic radicalism. I doubt it very much if the leaders of the Islamic communities living in the West would "buy" our author's claim that Muslims have the right for a private interpretation of the Qur'an.

There are a few misspellings that should be corrected. The fourth pillar of Islam should be spelled "sawm" (the fasting during the month of Ramadan,) and not "swam" (P. 60) "Talikan" is a misspelling of "Taliban." (P. 108), the radical Muslim party that controls Afghanistan. 'Interpreneurs' should be spelled, "entrepreneurs." (P. 133)

I would like to congratulate Asma Gull Hasan for her venture in sharing with the American public her innermost thoughts about what it means to be both Muslim and American. I also hope that as she studies more about the history of both the United States and Islam, her future works would manifest more balance.

Posted in Book Reviews

Onward Muslim Soldiers - Robert Spencer

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Onward Muslim Soldiers:
How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West
by Robert Spencer.
Washington, DC: Regenery Publishing Inc., 2003. Pp. xiii + 352, $27.95

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany


The title of this book could conceivably be a headline for a news item in a Western newspaper. Throughout the closing days of 2003, and early in 2004, we have lived with a heightened sense of danger as the terror alerts kept rising, and several air flights to the U.S. were canceled Thanks to Robert Spencer’s “Onward Muslim Soldiers,” we have on hand a non-varnished description of this new era in global history.

Soon after the 11th of September 2001, the contents of Muhammad Ata’s suitcase were discovered. In it were found the Arabic text of the instructions he gave his fellow-conspirators on the eve of their horrific attack on New York and Washington, DC. After exhorting them to remain calm, and rejoice in anticipation of their attack on the symbols of the hated West, he quoted an Arabic poem: “Smile in the face of death, O young man/ For you are on your way to immortality in paradise.” Then, he went on quoting several Qur’anic texts to bolster their resolve to become the vanguard of a new type of shuhada (martyrs) in the path of Allah. What Ata’s hastily composed hand-written notes revealed, Robert Spencer documents in his new book on Islamic Jihad.

What we had observed in Spencer’s Islam Unveiled (2002,) we find strengthened and well-documented in Onward Muslim Soldiers. The book has ample references to jihad in the authoritative texts of Islam: the Qur’an, Hadith (plural: Ahadith), as well as in the recognized commentaries of both Sunni and Shi’ite Islam. Based on these texts and the history of the Islamic conquests in Asia, Africa, and Europe, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Jihad is part and parcel of the Islamic tradition.

The reason why many of our contemporaries find it difficult to accept this fact is that they regard Islam as simply a religious faith, like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto. But Islam is, and has always been, far more than a religion in the accepted sense of the word. It began as a religious faith in Mecca (610), and then it progressed into an expansionist religio-political system from Medina (622). Eventually Islam produced a distinctively Islamic culture and worldview in Baghdad and Cordoba (after 800.)

Most Americans have an added difficulty as they seek to understand Islam. The birth of the United States in 1776 occurred at a time when the last major Islamic power, the Ottoman Empire, was in a state of rapid decline. It finally disintegrated at the end of World War I when most of its territories were taken over by European colonialists. Up to the mid-forties of the 20th century, the United States had very little to do with Islamic countries. The meeting of President Roosevelt with King Saud on a U.S. destroyer in the Suez Canal during World War II, marked the beginning of America’s practical “encounter” with Islam.

Now “Onward Muslim Soldiers” provides us with this much-needed guide to understanding the true nature of Islam, and its attitude to the Rest of the world. This book is organized around three parts. Part One deals with “Jihad Now.” Part Two covers the history of jihad under the rubric of “Jihad Then.” The title of Part Three is very disturbing, “The Great Jihad Cover-Up.”

This “Cover-Up” is evident, for example, in “The Carolina Qur’an Controversy” related on page 145. In 2002, the University of North Carolina assigned “a translation of a part of the Qur’an to all incoming freshmen,” that became “a cause for genuine concern. The assigned book was Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations, translated by Michael Sells. The “early revelations” of the subtitle are the Meccan suras… which preach tolerance and mutual coexistence without a hint of the doctrines of jihad and dhimmitude that unfold in the later Qur’anic revelations.”

Robert Spencer asks: “what was such a misleading misrepresentation designed to accomplish, especially in light of continuing threats from terrorists? Sells has defended his decision to translate only early Meccan Suras on the grounds that they are the most accessible introduction to the Qur’an and Islamic study as a whole. That may be true, but taken in isolation as the only book a young non-Muslim would read about Islam, Approaching the Qur’an could be severely misleading about the nature of the religion as a whole and about the intentions and motives of Islamic terrorists, the very people who have made Islam such a 'hot topic' for students.”

This literary product of Professor Michael Sells, in keeping out the Medinan chapters of the Qur’an, does not surprise me. In May 2001, and later on in January 2002, PBS telecast a documentary, “Islam: Empire of Faith.” This expert on Islam was one of several Western commentators who contributed to this program, whose very title was historically questionable. How could the Islamic Empires of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottomans, and the Mughals, be described as “Empires of Faith” when they were all built on the “futuhat” i.e., on conquests? Neither Michael Sells nor any of his fellow-commentators every referred to the impact of jihad on the native populations of the conquered territories, nor to such infamous institutions as “dhimmitude.” The apex of disinformation in “Empire of Faith” was reached when reference was made to the “devshirme” system of the Ottomans in Eastern Europe. The Western scholar described this barbaric institution of taking young Christian boys from their families, forcibly Islamizing them, and enrolling them in the elite Ottoman corps of the Janissaries as “recruitment.” Is this genuine scholarship, or a white-wash, as Robert Spencer would describe “The Great Jihad Cover-Up?”

The author concludes his book with these sober words. To ignore them is irresponsible, and tantamount to wishing away a real danger that will be with us for decades to come. “The theology and history of Islam bear out that this is how all too many Muslims have always understood their law. Until Islam undergoes a definitive and universal reform, this is how the warriors of jihad understand it today and will continue to understand it. This is the version of Islam that radical Muslims are pressing forward with bombs and guns and threats around the world. That is why the struggle against jihad is the struggle of every true lover of freedom.” P. 304

Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West” is a much-needed book. To read it and digest its contents is of utmost importance as we daily face the by-products of Jihadism all over our world. We thank Robert Spencer for his excellent work on a topic that remains as current as the daily newspaper, radio and the television news.

Posted in Book Reviews

A Muslim & Christian in Dialogue

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

 

A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue
Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1997. Pp. 219 (paper) Price unknown.

Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany in the
Calvin Theological Journal, Volume 33, Number 2, November 1998

 


This is a unique book as it offers the reader a dialogue, in written form, that took place between an East African Muslim, Badru D. Kateregga and an American Christian missionary, David W. Shenk. Both have taught at Kenyatta University, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Each participant discussed certain basic doctrines and practices of their respective faiths in twelve brief chapters. Prof. Kateregga dealt with such topics as, There is no God but Allah, The Creation, Adam and Hauwa, Satan and Evil, The Books of God, The Prophets of Allah, The Seal of the Prophets, The Umma, Divine Guidance and Peace, Worship, Right Conduct, and the Mission of the Umma.

Prof. Shenk organized his expositions of the Christian tradition under the following titles: The Lord God Is One, The Creation, Adam and Eve, Sin and Evil, The Word of God, The Prophets in History, Jesus the Messiah, Salvation, The Church, Worship and Fellowship, Right Conduct, and The Mission of the Church.

For an understanding of what Sunni Islam teaches, Kateregga does a good job. It becomes very clear that he takes a strong exception to the Biblical teaching about the radical nature of the Fall and the necessity of redemption. Such a stand would explain the Muslim rejection of the Incarnation and the mission of the divine-human person of Jesus, the Messiah. One wishes that Shenk was clearer in his responses to his Muslim counterpart. For example, I have read and re-read his words on the topic of The Seal of the Prophets, and failed to grasp their true meaning and intention.

"Thus when a Christian looks at the Prophet Muhammad, he needs to evaluate Muhammad in light of the total biblical witness culminating in Jesus the Messiah. To the extent that the Prophet Muhammad accepts the total biblical witness and the central significance of Jesus the Messiah, and to the extent that the life and teachings of Muhammad give witness to the revelation of suffering, redemptive love which we perceive in Jesus the Messiah, Christians should appreciate and affirm the Prophet Muhammad. " (P. 76)

While we cannot but applaud the irenical spirit which pervaded the entire dialogue, ultimately not much is accomplished on the Christian side in any serious conversation with a representative of a world religion, when the uniquely redemptive character of the Biblical revelation is not re-iterated time and again. The human predicament is not merely a lack of supernatural knowledge, but fundamentally the need for a divine intervention. Jesus Christ was not simply a prophet who gave mankind another law, but the unique savior and emancipator of mankind which he accomplished by his vicarious death on the cross and his mighty resurrection from the dead. The high Christology of John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1, must form an integral part of our witness to the followers of other religions. Unless the Christian's participation in dialogue becomes a passionate desire that the other experiences a saving knowledge of the Messiah, the encounter ends up in nothing more than a friendly conversation.

Any future reprint of this book, should have the following corrections: On page 91, "awe (rabbah) should be spelled (rahba);" on page 122, "foulness" should be spelled "fullness"; on page142, "Thy word as a lamp" should read "Thy word is a lamp," and on the bottom of page167, "Ismailil" should read "Ismail."

Posted in Book Reviews

Islam: Its Prophets, Peoples, Politics & Power - Braswell

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, by George W. Braswell, Jr.
Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996. Pp. xii + 338. Price Unknown, (paper)

Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany, in the
Calvin Theological Journal, Volume 32, No. 1, April, 1997

 


There is a growing list of books on Islam and the Middle East. Some deal with specific topics such as political Islam or the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism. The book under review is unique. In fact, with some qualifications, it is encyclopedic. The author, Dr. George Braswell, is professor of missions and world religions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the late sixties and early seventies, he taught at the Faculty of Islamic Theology of the University of Teheran, Iran.

In the twelve chapters of his book, the author gives us the necessary details about the origins of Islam, the life and teachings of Muhammad, the spread of this monotheistic religion, the empires that advanced the cause of Islam in the world , the status of the Muslim world today, and the future of the relationship between the West and the Islamic nations.

There are several unique features in this book. It provides the reader with the necessary information to become acquainted with Islam, without overwhelming him by too many details. It quotes at length from the primary sources such as the Qur'an and the Hadith, and gives several charts dealing with such topics as: Authority and Tradition in Islam, the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah, Historical Development of the Sects of Islam, The Islamic Prayer, and Islam's Heartland.

Unlike many other books on Islam which evade certain sensitive topics, Dr. Braswell is very concerned about the Christian-Muslim relations both in the West and in the Household of Islam. In chapter 11 dealing with the general theme of "The Encounter Between Islam and Christianity," he has this to say:

"Christianity needs to engage Islam about such topics as theocracy, the relationship of religion and government, the nature of religious pluralism in a society, and the provision of religious liberty and freedom of choice in religion. The way Islam answers these topics influences the missionary nature of Christianity, the sending of missionaries across cultures, the continuing relationship of Christianity and Islam, the freedom of individuals to choose their religion, and the protection provided citizens of a nation. Christianity in its encounter with Islam must raise the issue of religious liberty. On one hand the Qur'an states, 'Let there be no compulsion / In religion.' On the other hand it asserts, 'If any one desires / A religion other than/ Islam (submission to Allah), / Never will it be accepted / Of him, and in the Hereafter / He will be in the ranks / Of those who have lost.' Within Islam can Christianity stand alongside Islam and be granted the freedom of expression? Can a Muslim have the right to change religion or is it apostasy punishable by death?"

However, there are a few statements in the book which need to be clarified or corrected. For example, the reference to India on page 35 is rather vague. "The recent history of India has seen partitions of lands resulting in an Islamic state and also much internal conflict within India." Actually, it was upon the insistence of the majority of the Muslims of India, prior to the end of the British rule, that the country was partitioned in 1947 between Muslims and Hindus. That gave birth to Pakistan. Then, about two decades later, a conflict occurred within the Islamic state when the Bengali Muslims of the East revolted against the hegemony of the Punjabis of West Pakistan and formed the Republic of Bangladesh.

On page 40, "the oil embargo against the West" is dated as having occurred "in the l960s." Actually it took place in the in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war of October 1973.

In the very informative fifth chapter, Islamic Devotion, the Arabic version "of the confession (shahada) of Muslims" is rendered: "Ilaha illa Allah. Muhammad rasul Allah." The first Arabic word of the confession is omitted: "La." Without it (a negative particle,) the confession is meaningless. Usually, this brief Islamic credo is prefaced by the Arabic words: "Ash-hadu anna," i.e., I bear witness. The complete Muslim confession states: "I bear witness that there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

When explaining the beginning of the crusades (1099), the author mentions that a certain "Turkish emir took control of Jerusalem under the aegis of the Ottoman Empire" and "placed difficulties upon the Christian pilgrims." ( p. 256) The emir who made it hard for the pilgrims could not have done so with the encouragement of the Ottoman Turks, but of the Seljuk Turks. The first time the Ottoman Turks appeared on the horizon of world history was around 1280, and their impact on the Middle East was not felt until the early years of the 16th century.

These suggested corrections are not meant to detract from the great value of this work. Braswell's ISLAM, with its many excellent features, ends with a ten page glossary of Arabic and Islamic words. Any serious student of Islam will be enriched by owning this book.

Posted in Book Reviews

Islam Unveiled - Robert Spencer

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions
About The World's Fastest-Growing Faith
by Robert Spencer.
San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002. Pp. xiii + 214. $24.95

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany


Learning About Islam

Books on Islam have been appearing quite frequently during the last twenty-five years. Most of these works dealt with specific topics, such as "Islam and War," "Islam and the West," Race and Slavery in the Middle East," "Faith & Power: The Politics of Islam," "The Political Language of Islam," and "In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power." What distinguishes Robert Spencer's new book, "Islam Unveiled" is the fact that he treats a wide range of current issues in a thorough and objective manner against the background of the sacred Islamic texts, the Qur'an and Hadith.

The publication of "Islam Unveiled" occurred between two important, but troubling media events. In May 2001, and in January 2002, PBS broadcast a two-hour documentary, "Islam: Empire of Faith." A video of the documentary is being shown in some public schools as part of social studies. One can hardly believe the shocking revisionism, distortions, and omissions that are replete in this account of the history of Islam.

Not content with launching the above-mentioned documentary as a means to "enlighten" the American public about the true nature of Islam, one week before Christmas 2002, PBS broadcast a similar documentary on the Legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. Referring to this television event, Robert Spencer wrote an article for the National Review Online with the title, "Islam Soft and Hard: PBS's Whitewashed Commercial for Islam." (December 19, 2002) Commenting on the manner in which the slaughter of the Jews in Arabia was described, he referred to the main narrator, Karen Armstrong, a British former Roman Catholic nun. He quoted this "indefatigable apologist for all things Islamic," as commenting on this mini genocide, "All that can be said is that this cannot be seen as anti-Semitism, per se. Muhammad had nothing against the Jewish people per se, or the Jewish religion."

In the Foreword to Islam Unveiled, a British expert on the Arab world, David Pryce-Jones states,

"Most people in the West know virtually nothing about Islam. A few may visit one or another Muslim country as tourists or perhaps on business, and find that the inhabitants, hospitable and vivacious, seem to be getting on with their lives like everybody else. The events of September 11 therefore appeared to come from nowhere. What was this holy war against the United Sates and the West, this jihad, declared by Osama bin Laden, and how was it possible that to the Arab and wider Muslim world he became an instant popular hero because he had organized the murder of several thousand innocent people in New York and Washington? Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, had little or no idea that there were Muslims out there who so hated them, and little or no idea either of the causes of that hate." ix

Robert Spencer endeavors to give us his explanation for this hatred in ten chapters, nine of which are framed as questions. As already mentioned, his answers are solidly based on the authoritative Islamic texts, the Qur'an, which is regarded by Muslims as the eternal and uncreated Word of Allah, and the Hadith, i.e., the Traditions relating the sayings and example of the Prophet Muhammad.

Here are the titles of the ten chapters of "Islam Unveiled."

  1. Is Islam a Religion of Peace?
  2. Does Islam Promote and Safeguard Sound Moral Values?
  3. Does Islam Respect Human Rights?
  4. Does Islam Respect Women?
  5. Is Islam Compatible with Liberal Democracy?
  6. Can Islam Be Secularized and Made Compatible with the Western Pluralistic Framework?
  7. Can Science and Culture Flourish under Islam?
  8. The Crusades: Christian and Muslim
  9. Is Islam Tolerant of Non-Muslims?
  10. Does the West Really Have Nothing to Fear from Islam?

At the outset, Spencer disagrees with those who claim that the word "Islam" means peace. Etymologically, the word means "surrender" i.e., to the will of Allah as revealed in the Sacred Text. Historically, the claim that Islam means peace is disproved by the fact that it spread primarily by conquests. Growing up in Syria, I read in my teens many Arabic historical novels that glorified the conquests of the Middle East, North Africa and Andalusia, the Arabic name for Spain. The presupposition of the authors was that those conquests were necessary, and sanctioned by the will of God. In fact, in Arabic, they are called, "Futuhat," i.e., "openings." Modern Arab Muslims writers call them euphemistically, "liberations." However, unlike the later European empires that came and went away, Islamic conquests, with few exceptions, altered permanently the demography and the faith of the conquered lands.

Thus, Robert Spencer is right in disagreeing with both President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton, who kept on telling the nation that Islam, is a religion of peace. Most likely, they were motivated by political factors, partly internal, and mostly by the necessity to keep the good favor of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, our "allies." Unfortunately, neither man seems to possess an adequate and objective knowledge of the history of Islam, relying mostly on the "experts" from the State Department.

The treatment of Christians in the conquered lands is discussed on pages 30 to 32. In response to the claim that both Christians and Muslims have indulged throughout their history in persecuting others, Robert Spencer responds by referring to the present-day persecution of Christians in the Sudan and Pakistan, and adds: "When confronted with this kind of evidence, many Western commentators practice a theological version of "moral equivalence," analogous to the geopolitical form which held that the Soviet Union and the United States were essentially equally free and equally oppressive. 'Christians,' these commentators say, 'have behaved the same way, and have used the Bible to justify violence. Islam is no different: people can use it to wage war or to wage peace.'" P. 33

But what these Western liberals seem to forget is that violence, conquest, and religious apartheid, are sanctioned by the texts of Islam. The Bible does not sanction violence. And, during this New Testament age, the Bible does not endorse any theocracy. When Christians resort to violence, with the exception of participating in a just war, they are acting against their sacred Text.

The timeliness of "Islam Unveiled," can be noticed in several chapters. I would like to refer here to the discussion in Chapter Six of the subject, "Can Islam Be Secularized and Made Compatible with the Western Pluralistic Framework?" Robert Spencer refers to the latest book of Bernard Lewis, "What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response." The British scholar and expert on Islam and the Middle East "proposes that Muslim states follow the Western secular model in order to solve some of [their] difficulties."

"This advice is not acceptable to Mohamed Elhachmi Hamdi. 'There is nothing new about this remedy, which is one that the West has tried before to impose on Islamic countries, albeit without major success." For him and other Muslims of like mind, the Sharia is not negotiable. "Muslims will not abandon their belief that state affairs should be supervised by the just teachings of the holy law.'" P. 103

Chapter Seven deals with the question, "Can Science and Culture Flourish under Islam?" Our author details the great achievements of Islamic civilization in several pages and states that "Muslims built their great medieval civilization with an attitude of openness to what they could learn from non-Muslims." P. 118

However, due to the influence of the great Sufi theologian, Al-Ghazali (1050-1128), the author of "The Incoherence of the Philosophers", a "closing to the Outside World" took place. Spencer quotes from Philip Hitti's book, The Arabs, with these comments on the consequences of the closing of the Arab-Muslim mind: "In no branch of pure or physical science was any appreciable advance made after Abbasid days. In fact the whole Arab world had by the beginning of the thirteenth century lost the intellectual hegemony it had maintained since the eighth." P. 124

Continuing his discussion of this subject, Spencer quotes from V. S. Naipaul in his book, "Among the Believers." In Islam, says Naipaul, "The West, or the universal civilization it leads, is emotionally rejected. It undermines; it threatens. But at the same time it is needed, for its machines, goods, medicines, warplanes, the remittances from the emigrants, the hospitals that might have a cure for calcium deficiency, the universities that will provide master's degrees in mass media. All the rejection of the West is contained within the assumption that there will always exist out there a living, creative civilization, oddly neutral, open to all to appeal to. Rejection, therefore, is not absolute rejection. It is also for the community as a whole, a way of ceasing to strive intellectually. It is to be parasitic; parasitism is one of the unacknowledged fruits of fundamentalism." P. 129

There is no question mark at the end of Chapter Eight. It deals with the Crusades: Christian and Muslim. The juxtaposition of Christian and Muslim in the title of the chapter is of great importance here. Muslims never cease to reproach the West for the crusader wars (1099-1291). Their assumption is that, while the Arab-Muslim armies of the seventh century had a "divine" right to conquer Christian lands, Western Christians were not to engage in re-conquest. Spencer quotes from "The Arab in History" of Bernard Lewis, where the British historian comments:

"At the present time, the Crusades are often depicted as an early experiment in expansionist imperialism --- a prefigurement of the modern European empires. To the people of the time, both Muslim and Christian, they were no such thing. When the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, barely four hundred years had passed since that city, along with the rest of the Levant and North Africa, had been wrested by the armies of Islam from their Christian rulers, and their Christian populations forcibly incorporated in a new Muslim empire. The Crusade was a delayed response to the jihad, the holy war of Islam, and its purpose was to recover by war what had been lost by war --- to free the holy places of Christendom and open them once again, without impediment, to Christian pilgrimage." P. 139

Chapter Nine deals with the vaunted "tolerance" of Islam. According to the Islamic Law, followers of Judaism and Christianity were allowed to remain in their faith. They were granted the status of "dhimmi," an Arabic world that etymologically means "protection." However, "dhimmitude" was not equivalent with real freedom. Dhimmis were not supposed to propagate their faith, their houses of worship could not be repaired without governmental approval, and no new churches could be built. And once a dhimmi Islamized, no return to his or her formal religion was allowed. And yet, Muslims love to talk about their tolerant treatment of non-Muslims.

One little-known Ottoman Muslim practice, the Devshirme, exhibited one of the most inhuman and barbaric treatment of Eastern European Christians. Let Robert Spencer enlighten us about this subject.

"Another source of the fear in which dhimmis lived in the Ottoman Empire was the notorious devshirme. Begun in the fourteenth century by Sultan Orkhan and continued until late in the seventeenth century, this was the seizure and enslavement of 20 percent of the Christian children in various predominantly Christian areas of the empire. These boys were given the choice of Islam or death, and, after rigorous training, were enrolled in the janissary corps, the emperor's elite fighters. At first these unfortunate boys were torn from their homes and families only at irregular intervals --- sometimes every seven years and sometimes every four --- but after a time the devshirme became an annual event. By the time it ended, around 200,000 boys had been enslaved in this manner." Pp. 152,153

At this point in my review, I remember how horrified I was when viewing for the first time the documentary, "Islam: Empire of Faith." The narrator dealing with devshirme, looked almost angelic in her account, and referred to that evil institution with a smile on her face, and by claiming that those Christian boys "were recruited." That statement went unchallenged; and yet since that narrator was a Turkish "expert," I should not have been surprised. More than seventy-five years have passed since the Armenian genocide of World War I, and Turkey, to this day, does not acknowledge that it has ever happened!

Chapter Ten deals with the question, "Does the West Really Have Nothing to Fear from Islam?" and ends on a very sobering note:

"Whether or not Islam ever becomes dominant in Western Europe or elsewhere in the former lands of Christendom, the wars will not end. Militant Islam will not go away with the death of bin Laden, or Arafat, or Saddam Hussein, or anyone else. It will clash increasingly with the weary secular powers that it blames for all the ills of the umma. No one can predict the features of the world that will emerge from these conflicts, except that it will be new, and that it will be difficult --- unless there is some wondrous intervention from the Merciful One." P. 176

This book is heartily recommended to all those who want to understand the global challenge of Islam. While its forecast for the future of Islam's relation to the rest of the world may sound very alarming, yet it does not differ from the prediction of Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations," that appeared in the mid-nineties.

In a future edition of Islam Unveiled, a correction should be made on page 103, in the subtitle of Bernard Lewis' book, "What Went Wrong?" Spencer's version of it reads as follows: "Approaches to the Modern History of the Middle East." However, the subtitle on the book itself (published by the Oxford University Press,) reads: "Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response."

Posted in Book Reviews

What You Need to Know About Islam and Muslims - Braswell

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

What You Need To Know About Islam & Muslims
by George W. Braswell, Jr.
Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.
Pp. xiv + 183.  Price: $9.95 (paper)

Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany

 


One of the most discussed topics in the closing years of the twentieth-century was the soaring population of the world. At the dawn of the New Millennium, our planet is now the home of more than six billion people. An equally important phenomenon has been the migration to the Western countries of a great number of people from what used to be known as the missions fields of Asia and Africa. This fact demands our attention since some of our neighbors are followers of one of the major world religions. Lately, Muslims have become quite visible in our metropolitan areas due to a great influx of immigrants from S. E. Asia and the Middle East. Furthermore, they have gained quite a few converts, especially among African Americans. It won’t be too long before they overtake the Jewish population and become the second largest religious community in the USA. While there is no dearth of literature in English on Islam, most of such works are written by secular authors who naturally have no interest in missions to Muslims.

This is why the appearance of this latest book of George W. Braswell, Jr. on Islam and Muslims is such a welcome event. In 1996, he published a similar work, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power. The author is Professor of Missions and World Religions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In the fourteen chapters of his book, Dr. Braswell treats the following topics: The Muslims Are Coming!;  Muhammad: Prophet, Ruler, Commander in Chief;  Believe Correctly, for the Quran Says So; Living the Good Life: How to Get to Heaven;  A Whirlwind Beginning: A Global Expansion;  Are All Muslims Alike? Unity And Diversity;  Sitting at Table with Muslims;  Muslims and Some Big Issues;  The Clash of Two Giants: Christianity and Islam;  Islam’s View of Jesus and Christians;  Christian Responses to Muslim Denials;  Jesus and Muhammad;  The Christians Are Coming!;  Muslims in the United States.

So it is no exaggeration to say that the scope of this book is encyclopedic. Everything you need to know about Islam and  Muslims is right here at your fingertip. The “You” in the title of the book, is obviously the American Christian who values his or her faith as based on the Holy Scriptures, and who needs help to properly engage in missions. In this age of globalization, Muslims and other followers of world religions, have become our new neighbors. We have a golden opportunity to meet Muslims and share with them the authentic Good News. But it is not an easy task, for unlike the followers of other religions, Muslims have come to reside among us accompanied by a religious and cultural baggage that is thoroughly antithetical to the Christian faith and life.

I totally agree with Braswell when he writes: Christian witness to Muslims is based not only on understanding as much as possible about Muslim belief and practice but also on one’s own preparation in Scripture and prayer. (P. 7)

There are other quotable gems. Professor Braswell contrasts the different 'mandates' of Christianity and Islam in these words:

What does the future hold for relations between Christianity and Islam? That is uncertain, but one thing is clear: both religions have a message and a mandate. Christianity has a mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel, a gospel of salvation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Islam has a mandate to practice jihad and to bring the non-Muslim world under the rule of Allah and the injunctions of the Quran. (P.8)  

Another statement dealing with Religious Liberty and Freedom of Religion deserves a full quotation.

On one hand the Quran asserts, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) On the other hand it states, “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to God), never will it be accepted of him, and in the hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost.” (3:85)

Islam has a history of ill treatment and at times death to those who leave it. The Quran speaks harshly of apostasy; an apostate will face the wrath of God in the hereafter. (47:25-28) Islamic law (sharia) often demanded the punishment of death for apostasy from Islam. Many traditions say of those who change their religion from Islam, "Let them be killed."

Christians have been placed in great danger in missionary efforts toward Muslims. Any convert from Islam to Christianity has also faced even greater risk. Thus, freedom of religion has not been a positive matter within Islam. Some Muslim nations prohibit missionary activity, restrict the religious freedom of minority religions, and place great obstacles in church building and growth.

The overarching worldview of Islam is that of Islam against the world. The world must be converted to Islam, or brought under its domination. ..… The Muslim view has been "once a Muslim always a Muslim," thus the harsh treatment for apostasy. As Islam grows and multiplies in non-Muslim populations, it faces issues of separation of religion and state and religious liberty for all peoples. (P. 121)

While I have great appreciation for this book, I found certain mistakes that should be corrected in a future edition. They fall under two categories: some are in the area of transliteration of Arabic words, while others are important factual errors.

On page 10, the author in referring to the controversies among Christian churches in the days of Muhammad (sixth and seventh centuries,) wrote: "Also, within the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Orthodox Christians had theological differences with the Roman Catholic papacy in Rome. There were disputes over the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of Jesus Christ. These disputes were later to influence Muhammad and his understanding of Christianity."

There is no doubt that the disputes among Christian churches before the days of Muhammad may have contributed to his misunderstanding of Christianity. However, these theological controversies beginning with Nicea in 325 AD, and culminating at Chalcedon in 451 AD, were not disputes between Rome and Constantinople.  The controversies centered around the natures and wills of Jesus Christ. They occurred within Eastern Christianity and gave rise to the Monophysite and Nestorian Churches. The final rupture between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism did not take place until 1053 AD, four centuries after the rise of Islam!

On page 46, the author deals again with the divisions among Christians at the time of the rise of Islam. But he describes these controversies as having occurred between Rome and Constantinople. "Christianity was engaged in internal struggles between the Roman Catholic Church headquartered in Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church headquartered in Constantinople." But as I remarked in the previous paragraph, actually the theological and ecclesiastical divisions at that time occurred within the territory of Eastern Christianity. The Great Schism between East and West did not take  place until early in the Second Millennium.

The real tragedy of Eastern Christianity is that the Orthodox party used the arm of the state to persecute the Monophysites in Egypt and the Nestorians in Mesopotamia. It was the followers of these non-Chalcedonian persecuted churches, that mistakenly welcomed the Arab-Muslim armies imagining that they were their liberators. Later on, they discovered to their dismay that the Muslim conquerors had imposed on them the harsh rules of the so-called "Protected" or "Dhimmi" status.

A similar confusion between Rome and Constantinople is found on page 95, in the fourth paragraph.  Instead of reading it as "the Church of Rome," it should read "the Church of  Constantinople."

On page 32, when transliterating the Arabic words of  THE GREAT CREED OF ISLAM, an important word is omitted. The Arabic version "of the confession (shahada) of Muslims" is rendered: "Ilaha illa Allah. Muhammad rasul Allah." The first Arabic word "La" of the confession is omitted.  Without it (a negative particle,) the confession is meaningless. Usually, this brief Islamic credo is prefaced by the Arabic words: "Ash-hadu anna," i.e.,  I bear witness. The complete Muslim confession states:

"La Ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah." ("I bear witness that there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

On page 37, the Arabic name for the Feast of Sacrifice is "Id al-Adha," and not "Id Adhan," as printed. The latter spelling may be due to Dr. Braswell’s great acquaintance with the Persian language that transliterates the Arabic original words differently.

On page 91, the name of the radical Muslim leader should be transliterated, "Qutb," and not "Qubt"” Qubt is the Arabic spelling for a Copt, a Christian from Egypt.

On page 97, there is a great confusion regarding the exact identity of the Muslim rulers who persecuted Western Christian pilgrims coming to Jerusalem, thus paving the way for the Crusades in 1096. The following episode is related by the author. "In 1076 a Muslim Turkish emir who took control of Jerusalem under the authority of the Ottoman Empire placed extreme difficulties upon Christian pilgrims." Actually, the first time the Ottoman Turks appeared on the horizon of world history was around 1280. The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, thus bringing to an end the Byzantine Empire. It was not until 1516 that they began the conquest of the Middle East, and getting control over Jerusalem.  The "Muslim Turkish emir" belonged to the Seljuk Turks, who had wielded power in the Middle East centuries before the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

These suggested corrections are not meant at all to detract from the great value of this work. Braswell's WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAM & MUSLIMS, has many excellent and helpful features. Any serious student of Islam will be greatly enriched by owning this book.

Posted in Book Reviews

Jesus in the Quran - Parrinder

May 05, 2023
By Bassam M. Madany

Jesus in the Qur'an by Geoffrey Parrinder.
Rockport, MA: Oneworld Publications, 1995. Pp. 187. $13.95 (paper)

Reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany, in the
Calvin Theological Journal, Volume 32, No. 1, April, 1997

 


According to the Muslim faith, there are three heavenly (theistic) religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three faiths affirm the unity of God, his transcendence and his involvement in the world which he created. While these similarities are important, there are major differences between them, especially when we compare Christianity with Islam. The greatest disagreement is in the way these two religions regard the person and the work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus in the Qur'an, is a new title dealing with this important topic. The author, Geoffrey Parrinder, is Professor Emeritus of the Comparative Study of Religions at the University of London. In the Introduction, Professor Parrinder states that "... the encounter of the world religions is a major fact of our times and it demands a restatement of traditional theological expression. This restatement must take account of all the new knowledge available." (p. 14) As we are informed that "the present writer has often disagreed with some of the theological views of Dr Hendrik Kraemer..." (who had championed in his days the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ,) we are alerted to look for such disagreements. They will become evident when we reach the conclusion of the study.

Fifteen chapters are devoted to a thorough investigation of the Qura'nic references to such topics as Jesus, Names of Jesus, Mary, The Birth of Jesus, Works of Jesus, The Death of Jesus, Son of God, Trinity and Gospel. Of the total 114 Surahs (Chapters) of the Qur'an, fifteen make mention of Jesus or refer to him. While Professor Parrinder quotes at length from these chapters and gives us his own interpretations, yet he constantly refers to the expositions of the great Muslim exegetes such as Razi, Baidawi, Tabari, Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, Biruni and Ibn Khaldun. This is important to keep in mind. Actually, no "new" reading of the Qur'an is possible without reference to the works of the classical expositors. Their commentaries are still recognized as authoritative by present-day Muslims.

The reader is almost overwhelmed by the painstaking work of Professor Parrinder in his gathering of all the Qur'anic texts relating to his subject and thus allowing the student of Islam to study the primary source of this faith. For this time-consuming labor, we are deeply indebted to the author. But when we actually assess his interpretation of the subjects mentioned in his book, we cannot but become alarmed.

For example, in the chapter which deals with Jesus Christ as Prophet (nabi), Parrinder posits a polarity between the primitive Christian understanding of the role of the sufferings of Jesus and that of Gentile Christianity whose theology "was determined more by faith in the resurrection than by the memory of the sufferings of the Cross." (p. 37) Quite often, the author displays a rather facile acceptance of higher critical views of the Biblical text. Thus he writes in the chapter on The Annunciation, "The Magnificat is no doubt a later hymn, whether attributed either to Mary or Elizabeth, but it has no mention of an unusual birth." This quotation, as well as many others, manifest a low view of the inspiration of the Christian Scriptures. In the chapter on the Words of Jesus, we come across this statement, "But that the Holy Spirit comes in later messengers cannot be denied." (p. 100) A similar assertion regarding special revelation beyond the Bible is found in the chapter on Trinity, "So God was revealed in his essential nature of love in Christ, but he is revealed in other ways in nature and in other faiths." (p. 140)

When Professor Parrinder sums up the results of his research in the last chapter, Conclusion, his irenical spirit is very evident. Equally his desire to re-write the tenets of Christianity in order to make inter-faith dialogue a fruitful enterprise on the global scene. Any forthright statement which is part of the accepted Christian tradition regarding the substitutionary nature of Christ's death on the cross, is deplored. "There is no doubt that Christians hold firmly to the Cross as a historical fact, but they are not bound to accept theories that would interpret it in terms of legal satisfaction or sacrificial substitution." (p. 169) But what about the words of Philip addressed to the Ethiopian in which Isaiah 53 became the starting point for the preaching of the gospel? And how are we to understand Paul's words in I Corinthians 15, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures"? Are these words to be reinterpreted so as to make them acceptable to Muslims?

When we reach the end of the Conclusion, we are "challenged" to engage in a radical reappraisal of the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

"It is too easily assumed that all traditional doctrines are firmly based on the Bible. The Semitic view of God may need to be cleared of some Greek theories that have overlaid it. ... Terms like Son of God, Trinity and Salvation need to be re-shaped and given new point. Concepts of prophecy, inspiration and revelation must be re-examined in view of the undoubted revelation of God in Muhammad and in the Qur'an." (p. 173)

Such an agenda belongs to a genre of pluralistic theology which seeks to "reconcile" Christianity, a redemptive religion, with Islam, a faith which is fundamentally legalistic. This may appear both possible and realistic to some Western theologians. However, a Christianity which parts company with the ecumenical creeds of the early church, is anemic and will eventually disappear. Furthermore, it is very important for all Western pluralists to realize that their attempts to reinterpret Christianity in order to make it acceptable to the followers of other religions are not reciprocated from the other side. In my study of Arabic sources which have been preoccupied during this century with the challenge of "tahdith" (modernization) and "tajdid" (renewal) of Islam, modernizing Muslim intellectuals are engaged in heroic efforts to reconcile the Islamic worldview with modernity. But no responsible Muslim modernizer has manifested any desire to depart from the historic Islamic belief in the authority and finality of the Qur'an as God's last word to mankind or the uniqueness of the person and mission of Muhammad, the seal of the prophets. These two areas of "iman" (faith) are not negotiable to Muslims. Thus the hope of Western pluralist theologians to "sell" their agenda globally is unrealistic and is bound to fail.

Within the global pluralistic scene in which many of the followers of the world religions find themselves as neighbors, what is needed is respect and toleration of one another. Certainly Christians must exert themselves to learn about the beliefs of other faiths, but that endeavor should not be marked by diminishing their allegiance to "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints."

Posted in Book Reviews

Islam and War - Kelsay

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Islam And War: A Study in Comparative Ethics, by John Kelsay.
Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
Pp. ix + 149. $14.99 (Paper).

reviewed by Rev. Bassam M. Madany


A new era in world history began when the United States dropped two atom bombs, one on Hiroshima, August 6 and the other on Nagasaki , August 9, 1945. The subject of war and peace assumed a critical importance as man had now at his disposal the ability to make the earth a wasteland.

Even though the danger of nuclear war has diminished with the fall of the Soviet Empire, our world is not entirely safe from nuclear conflicts. Several countries such as North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Libya have shown a great interest in pursuing research which will enable them to join the nuclear bomb club. We are therefore indebted to John Kelsay who teaches in the Department of Religion at Florida University in Tallahassee, for offering us such a timely study of Islam And War: A Study in Comparative Ethics. It was occasioned by the Gulf War and as the events in Somalia and Bosnia have shown, there is an urgent need to conduct a serious discussion of the ethics of war. Since we live in a global era when all nations have become our neighbors, our reflection must take into account other traditions. Specifically, we need to acquaint ourselves with the Islamic view of war.

The author divides his work into six chapters dealing with: The Gulf War and Beyond: Thoughts on the Legacy of Saddam Hussein; The Islamic View of Peace; Religion as a Cause of War: Resort to War in the Islamic Tradition; Islam and the Conduct of War: The Question of Jus in Bello Restraints; Soldiers Without Portfolio: Irregular War in the Tradition of Islam; and Religion and World Order.

Even though Saddam Hussein is regarded as a "secular" Arab leader following the nationalist Baath Arab Socialist Party ideology, his rhetoric during and after the Gulf War has shown his appropriating Islamic symbols. He wants to be known as the believer president fighting for the cause of Islam. Upon his instructions, the Iraqi flag now carries the Islamic assertion of the greatness of God, Allahu Akbar which has always served as the war cry of this faith. Whether the Iraqi leader is a true believer or not, one thing is certain, he must appear as a Muslim leader fighting within the tradition of Islam in order to legitimize his actions before, during and after the Gulf War. Thus it becomes very important for the West in general and for Christians in particular to learn about the basic view of Islam regarding war and peace. John Kelsay offers us this description of the classical Islamic teaching regarding war:

The territory of Islam is theoretically the territory of peace and justice. ... Islam provides the best and most secure peace available to humanity. The peace of the world cannot be fully secure unless all people come under the protection of an Islamic state. Thus there always exists an imperative for Muslims: to struggle to extend the boundaries of the territory of Islam. Thus ... the classical Sunni perspective on peace involved a program of action. The struggle to extend the boundaries of the territory of Islam is the jihad. (Page 34)

Before the advent of Islam, Arab tribes fought each other. Now that they embraced the new faith and have become brothers, they were no longer to raid and plunder each other. Their energies had to be spent in the territories of the Infidel. Following the death of Muhammad in 632 A.D., his successors, the caliphs, presided over the conquest of the world. By 732, the Arab Muslim empire extended from Spain to India. Theorizing on the subject of war among Muslims followed their conquests. The lands belonging to them were known as Darul-Islam (Household of Islam) and the lands outside that realm were designated as Darul-Harb (Household of War.)

Since in Islam there is no distinction between "church" and state, religion and politics, the faith may be spread by preaching or by war: [For] Sunni intellectuals, a "normal" war is connected with the effort to extend the boundaries of Islamic territory. This struggle, for which the preferred means is the spread of the Islamic message through preaching, teaching, and the like, may nevertheless take on the character of war. ...the territory of Islam --- really, the world --- could not be a secure place until and unless Islamic hegemony was acknowledged everywhere. To secure such hegemony was the goal of the jihad, or "struggle in the path of God." According to the Sunni theorists, war or jihad by means of killing is justified when a people resists or otherwise stands in opposition to the legitimate goals of Islam. (page 61)

But what about today's Muslim thinkers? On the one hand, they realize that to live in our modern world, they cannot simply hold on to the classical Islamic view regarding the legitimacy of war as a means for the expansion of the faith. They can quote the Quranic verse "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256) to support some type of modus vivendi with peoples and nations living outside Darul-Islam. While John Kelsay's irenic spirit is clearly detectable throughout his study, he could have stressed the fact that whenever circumstances are in their favor, both Muslim intellectuals and rulers justify their involvement in wars such as the conflict in southern Sudan. For almost two decades, the Muslim dominated government in the north has waged a brutal war against the Christians and animists of the south. This action has been portrayed as a war against a secessionist movement, but the majority of the Southerners as well as some Western observes perceive it as a planned effort to Islamize the south!

In any treatment of the topic of Islam and War such as in the book under review, I find it rather strange that the comparison restricts itself to Islam and the West. The underlying thought is that we are comparing two distinct political traditions. But this is partially true. Islam has always been regarded as much more than a religion, as this word is understood in the modern West. Yet fundamentally, Islam is a religious faith. It ranks itself among the heavenly (i.e. theistic) world religions such as Judaism and Christianity. Thus, when a comparative study is made with Islam as one side of the comparison, the other side must also include Christianity. Should such a theological and ethical pursuit be undertaken, the comparison would readily appear as a contrast between two widely different worldviews.

For example, the New Testament does not sanction theocracy within the present world order. The contrast is not between "Christendom" and some other political realms, but between the Kingdom of God and the world, understood as an organized opposition to God. In early Christianity, converts were either citizens, subjects or slaves within the Roman Empire. Their faith spread through proclamation, witnessing and martyrdom. As Christians did not exercise political power, they did not face seriously the subject of war and peace. Eventually following the conversion of Constantine and the gradual "Christianization" of the Roman Empire, it became necessary for Christians to reflect on the subject of war. Thus, it was within the Christian community that the just war tradition was born. As our author reminds us in his Introduction:

Over the last thirty years, perhaps no issue in religious ethics has attracted more consistent attention than the use of force in war. Inspired by the attempts of Fr. John Courtney Murray and Paul Ramsey to recover the just war tradition for theological ethics, more recent writers have been interested in philosophical and historical inquiries concerning the ethics of war. Both Murray and Ramsey are churchmen and dealt with the subject from within the Christian tradition. It is the responsibility of Christian theologians and ethicists to pursue their studies on the subject building on the rich heritage handed down to us since the days of Saint Augustine. In our reflection on our past, we do confess that the church has not always been consistent with New Testament teachings. For example, it was Pope Urban II who launched the First Crusade in 1096 claiming a divine right to reclaim the Holy Land. But today, no responsible Christian church leader or theologian of whatever communion, would advocate the resort to war for the spread of the Christian faith or the reconquest of a lost territory!

While moderate Muslims do acknowledge today the interdependence of all nations and no longer think in terms of Darul-Harb and Darul-Islam, radical Muslims still cherish this outlook. It becomes the responsibility of Christians to point to Muslim intellectuals, many of them now living in the West, that it is their duty to speak loudly about the necessity for all peoples and nations to live in peace. The global situation requires the recognition that we face unique challenges which must be met without resort to war. And it is specifically Muslim nations facing problems of gigantic proportions which need to realize that history does not repeat itself and past conquests and exploits cannot be duplicated. In order for them to cope with modernity in this high tech era, they must not waste their resources in a pursuit of more sophisticated armaments. They need to tackle such real problems as population explosion, unemployment, scarcity of water supplies and weak agricultural output.

We thank John Kelsay for his serious initiative in the study of the ethics of war bringing to our attention the teachings of a major "other" tradition about this subject. We hope that similar studies will be conducted in the future enabling us to face the challenges of what was hoped to have been a new world order and which unfortunately has turned into a frightening world disorder.

Posted in Book Reviews

Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War

by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996. Pp. 172 
 

A Review Article

Reading Ecumenical Jihad is a unique experience. Many of us share with Peter Kreeft, this intensity of feeling regarding the by-products of secularization in the life of Americans. But, I find it very difficult to accept his plan for the fight against secularism which would include a so-called ecumenical jihad. Furthermore, I am baffled by the absolute conviction he shows in equating the Roman Catholic Church with the Church our Lord Jesus Christ established 2000 years ago! As a twentieth century Henry Newman, he considers himself a herald called by God to summon Protestants (as well as followers of major world religions) to find their safe home within the Catholic Church, the leading world institution in the great war against secularism.

In this review article, I plan to set forth the various theses of his book before giving an analysis of its contents.

While there have been many articles written in religious magazines describing and deploring the moral chaos in American society, Peter Kreeft is singularly gifted in the way he enumerates the glaring and shocking sins which pervade various sectors of our public life. He writes simply and convincingly endeavoring to follow in the footsteps of C. S. Lewis, a man he greatly admires and quotes. In his first chapter he describes the problem as follows:

"So: without religion, no morality, and without morality, no salvation of society or of individuals. But: there are two structural obstacles to this solution, this only possible solution. One is the separation between our society and religion, and the other is the separation and split both within the Christian religion and among the religions of the world." (21)

 

These words help us get into the mind of Professor Kreeft. He acknowledges an inherent problem within the American experience: that of attempting to define the foundations of private and public morality apart from their source in a religious faith. This is due, as many contemporaries think, to the constitutionally-mandated separation between "Church and State." Furthermore, recognizing that nowadays we live in a global milieu, Kreeft is tremendously exercised by the divisions among the religions of the world. This does not help in our war against secularism.

How are Christians (as well as followers of other world religions) to face the common foe and eventually defeat him? Peter Kreeft's answer is that followers of the major world faiths must work together in a struggle which is nothing less than a worldwide jihad. As he puts it:

"The battle lines are obviously changing. No longer are Protestants and Catholics anathematizing each other. Relations with Jews and even Muslims are beginning to show signs of understanding and respect never before seen in history. ... It seems that our divine Commander's strategy is to bring this change about by confronting us with the increasingly clear and present danger of the common enemy, the new Tower of Babel." (28)

 

The war against secularism is bringing people of different faiths together. More than that, in spite of their theological differences, they are fighting together. This is the important thing today. No one can tell what the outcome of this new alliance would be. It is still in its "early stages of formation. That formation is in a clearer and more advanced stage in front of abortuaries and in inner-city drug centers than it is in the churches or seminaries or universities. Practice is leading theory." (28)

This war or jihad against secularism takes place within several circles. First, within Christian groups regardless of their ecclesiastical differences. This is Christian ecumenism in practice. It is followed by Jewish-Christian ecumenism, Christian-Muslim ecumenism, also that ecumenicity which embraces Hinduism and Buddhism, and finally, "even atheists and agnostics, if they are of good will and intellectual honesty and still believe in objective truth and objective morality, are on our side in the war against the powers of darkness. Perhaps they can be called 'anonymous Christians', as Karl Rahner suggested." (31)

That this is not a merely practical alliance in the war against secularism is seen in these hopeful words regarding the future possibilities of ecumenical jihad.

"I have no idea what new theological understanding might emerge from this new tactical moral alliance; but I think that such an understanding will happen. For love causes knowledge. Orthopraxy leads to orthodoxy, as well as vice versa." (31)

Peter Kreeft sees this coming together of people of different religions in their spiritual warfare as part of "God's Strategy." He has the highest admiration for pope John Paul II whom he regards as "a new Gregory the Great." After all, "he has surely done more than anyone else in our century to save the world from Communism and from nuclear war." (33)

Seeing that many Western readers would object to the use of the term Jihad in describing the war against secularism, Kreeft devotes Chapter Two to the defense of this theme, followed in Chapter Three by another defense, that of Fanaticism. Another defense appears in Chapter Four, that of "Culture Wars." In a rather amusing way, he tells us of a unique experience he had when he was attempting to surf after "Hurricane Felix turned the East Coast into Hawaii for two weeks." He was caught by a "twelve-foot wave" which ushered him onto "a Heavenly beach" where he had a great discussion with Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad and Moses. (Chapter Six)

The remaining part of the book marks a shift from the main theme of Ecumenical Jihad. Having set forth the urgency for all religions to work together in the fight against godless secularism, Peter Kreeft begins a discussion designed to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church of Jesus Christ. This is accomplished in a rather skillfully described meeting between C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas. Our author, as a lifelong student of the great British apologist, enlists the "help" of the German Reformer and the Italian Doctor of theology, in an attempt to heal the great rift within Western Christianity. The trialogue is built around a subject treated in one of Lewis's well known books: "Is there such a thing as "Mere Christianity"?

Finally, Peter Kreeft displays his ardent faith in the power of the Eucharist to bring Christians together. "No Catholic dogma is so distinctive and so apparently anti-ecumenical as the dogma of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet this dogma may be the greatest cause of ecumenism and eventual reunion." (145) His testimony follows. He was born and brought up in the Reformed Church in America; he received his college training at Calvin College of the Christian Reformed Church. He was 21 when his conversion took place. He was not the only Protestant intellectual to make the switch to Rome. There was the conversion of Tom Howard of Gordon College. And in his dedication of the book, he includes another illustrious Protestant, the Lutheran Richard John Neuhaus who, not long ago, went over to the church of Rome.

The Analysis

I must confess that even before reading the book, I was intrigued by the title he chose. I had noticed it in an ad in a religious journal. The juxtaposition of "ecumenical" and "jihad" is extremely awkward. As a teacher of philosophy, he must have been aware of the tradition that one does not arbitrarily decide the meaning of a specific word. After all, words are not simply etymologically defined, they carry a historical baggage with them. This is specially the case for foreign words. While some modern writers on Islam have tried hard to down play the meaning of jihad, claiming that it denotes primarily a spiritual struggle with self, actually and historically across 1400 years, it has meant holy war to expand the territory of Daru'l Islam, i.e., the household of Islam.

Before the rise of this theistic faith in the seventh century, the tribes of the Arabian peninsula raided each other as a way of life. After they accepted Islam by 632 A.D., their energies were directed against the Persian and Byzantine empires in a holy war of conquest. Within one hundred years after the death of Muhammad, a huge Islamic dominated empire stretched from Spain to the western parts of India. The terms of jihad offered the conquered Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, either conversion to Islam, or the status of dhimmis, i.e., "protected groups." While dhimmis were allowed to remain within their own religions, they were required to pay special taxes and refrain from publicly witnessing to their faith. The by-product of jihad was the disappearance of the church in North Africa, and the marginalization of the various Eastern churches in the Middle East.

War against secularism is fine, but not that type of ecumenical jihad as envisaged by Kreeft. Our author has based his extremely optimistic view of Islam (as well as the other non-theistic faiths) on his encounter with some of their followers in the West. This is not a proper way to plan alliances with followers of world religions in the face of a common foe. Had he armed himself with a realistic global outlook, he would have realized that his dream for a common front against secularism was utopian.

At the very time I am writing this review (during the Advent season), a real jihad against the Christians and animists of southern Sudan by Islamic fundamentalists is taking place. In Iran, Protestants are officially denied the status of dhimmis which is accorded to the older Christian churches (Assyrian and Armenian.) They are persecuted severely; several of their pastors have been martyred during the 1990s. This is jihad in action. No amount of Anglo-Saxon rhetoric can redeem this word!

Another matter that disturbed me in Peter Kreeft's apologetical work is his historiography. No responsible church historian has the right to make such generalizations as "the first millennium was the millennium of Christian unity. There was one and only one worldwide visible Church from Pentecost to 1054. The second millennium was the millennium of disunity: tears in Christ's seamless garment: 1054, 1517 and all the further tears that followed 1517." (26)

Nothing is more damaging than divisions within the body of Christ, especially when we face the challenge of secularism at home and the resurgent non-Christian religions abroad. But equally devastating is any departure from the truths of God's Word, the Bible. So when dealing with church history, we may not gloss over some undisputed facts. For example, division did not begin in 1054 but in the aftermath of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451! Several churches in the Middle East did not accept the formula of the One Person of Christ with two natures (divine and human), and exercising two wills (divine and human). I am not defending the theology of the non-Chalcedonian churches. However, I cannot condone the severe persecution which was inflicted on these Christians by the Byzantine emperors and the Orthodox Church.

The 1054 schism was not about an insignificant matter. While it is evident that quite early in the history of the Body of Christ, episcopacy became the modus operandi within the church, no specific episcopal center was acknowledged as primary or superior to others. It was the persistent claim of the bishop of Rome for primacy over the other centers of the church (in Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Constantinople,) which precipitated the division between the Western and Eastern churches. Thus, no objective research can substantiate the claim that the Roman see was the unique center of Christianity during the first millennium. At this point, I'm afraid that Peter Kreeft is engaged in propaganda and not in a serious account of ecclesiastical history.

The saddest part of the book is in Chapters Seven and Eight. Having fully expounded his thesis in defense of a global ecumenical war against secularism, the author shifts gears to the second division of his book.

While formally staying in the background, it is Peter Kreeft who directs the proceedings of the "Trialogue with C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Thomas Aquinas." His goal is to prove that whatever wrongs happened in the Western church under Rome, today it is no longer defensible to stay away from Rome.

Peter Kreeft allows Luther to give a shocking description of our times in which the awful consequences of secularism are depicted. Underneath this fair treatment of Luther's view, we encounter the real agenda of our author, which is that we may differ in our theologies, both Protestant and Catholics (and others as well) and still work together in a common war against the enemy. Eventually, our orthopraxy will enable us to re-formulate our doctrinal positions! Luther is treated cordially and not as he was actually handled after the Diet of Worms, but he is still classified among the heretics. Here is an important part of one "imagined" response of Aquinas to the German Reformer:

"Historical research will show one position or the other. And I claim it will show the continuity of Catholic dogma and the roots of that dogma in the earliest writings of the Church Fathers. Many a Catholic convert has trod this path to Rome, the historical path --- for instance, Cardinal Newman. All the distinctively Catholic doctrines are to be found there very early in Church history, though some more clearly than others. And none of the distinctively Protestant denials of Catholic doctrines is there, except in those writers who were identified by the universal Church as heretics." (135)

Peter Kreeft believes that ultimately, the unique claims of Roman Catholicism are decided in The Eucharist. In his autobiographical account of his journey "from Dutch Reformed Calvinism to Roman Catholicism, the one Catholic dogma that most drew me in was the Eucharist."

The subject of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Lord's Supper was of primary importance for our author. He considers that Protestants merely have "Christ ... present only subjectively in" their souls! But what really drew him as a magnet to Rome was the doctrine that Christ was "more fully present, present also objectively, in the Eucharist ... I became a Catholic essentially for the very concrete historical reason that I discovered that Jesus Christ had founded the Catholic Church.... A Protestant taking a time machine back to any time at all before the Reformation would not feel at home. I knew that, because I was that Protestant, and history is a time machine, and I did not feel at home. He would feel that he had stumbled into a Catholic church. The center of worship was the Eucharist, not the Bible; the altar not the pulpit; the consecration of the bread and wine, not the preaching of the sermon." (147,148)

Here is the theology of Peter Kreeft stated in the most succinct way! It is too bad that he caricatures the Protestant doctrine of the Holy Supper as a mere symbol. This a real blunder especially for someone who was brought up in a Calvinistic church and received his college education at Calvin College. Had he seriously studied John Calvin's Institutes and the Genevan reformer's commentary on John 6? Has he consulted Article 35 of the BELGIC CONFESSION dealing with The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper? His specific tradition taught a very high doctrine of the Lord's Supper. It was not the Zwinglian genre which unfortunately considered this Sacrament as a memorial supper. This sixteenth century confession does acknowledge a real presence of Christ in the Holy Supper, but the manner of his presence is not physical, but spiritual, i.e., by the Holy Spirit.

"Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God's Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.

"Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood ---- but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit, through faith." Belgic Confession, Article 35

Ecumenical Jihad has some very serious parts where Peter Kreeft, as mentioned earlier, is at his best when describing the ravages of secularism in our American culture. This aspect of his work is laudable. However, his veering at one time towards universalism and at other times towards theological pluralism, renders his book confusing. Perhaps this is due to the fact that his religio-sociological laboratory was limited by his North American academic experience.

The author's argument that Rome should be our ultimate home is not convincing to anyone grounded in the fundamental disciplines of theology, church history, and above all, the Bible. It is hoped that this passionately written book will bring Protestants together, not in some kind of shallow ecumenicity, but around the heritage of historic Christianity as it has been preserved and handed down to us in the ecumenical Creeds and the Protestant Catechisms and Confessions of Faith of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. If this book would act as a catalyst for such ecumenicity, it would have served a useful purpose, notwithstanding the manifest desire of Peter Kreeft who wants us to follow in his steps!

Bassam M. Madany


This article first appeared in the spring, 1997, issue of Reformation and Revival Journal of Carol Stream, Illinois. It was reprinted in the December, 1997, issue of The Outlook, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


 

A Short Bibliography

Atiya, Aziz. History of Eastern Christianity. Notre Dame, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1968

Belgic Confession, is found in the PSALTER HYMNAL of The Christian Reformed Church in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: CRC PUBLICATIONS, 1987

Betts, Robert B. Christians in the Arab East: A Political Study. Atlanta: John Know Press, 1978

Braswell, George W. Jr. Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996

Cragg, Kenneth. The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991

Kelsay, John. Islam and War: A Study in Comparative Ethics. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993

Lewis, Bernard. Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992

Miller, Judith. God Has Ninety-nine Names: Reporting From a Militant Middle East. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996

Robinson, Neal. Christ in Islam and Christianity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991

Ye'or, Bat. The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1996

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