Thursday, May 31, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law -- part 10

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)  

It is also part of the myth that the Islamic world is at its high point. The high point of Islam was on September 11th 1683, the day before the Turks were routed by the Poles at the Battle of Vienna.  People are unaware that Russia was subjugated to the “Golden Horde” also called the Mongol-Tatar Empire, a collection of Mongol and Turkic invaders, some Buddhist, some animists, some Muslim, (An interesting side bar: The word “horde” means a kind of large mob in English. It is derived from the Persian/Iranian word “Urdu” which means “camp.”  Urdu now refers to the language spoken by 60 million Pakistani and Indian Muslims. It is a variety of Hindi, the national language of India) The Golden Horde became completely Islamicized by 1315 AD. They ruled Russia for almost 300 years. Allied with the Ottoman Turks, they burned Moscow in 1571. The invaders were finally defeated by the Russians in the next year at  Molodi, but south of what today is Russia remained under Muslim control for centuries to come.

During the same era, almost all of India/Pakistan was ruled by Muslims. The Sultanate of Delhi was established in 1206 and by 1266 controlled all but the southern tip of the Indian sub-continent. The Sultans of Delhi were Turkic Muslims who were eventually replaced Islamic Mongols called the Timurids who established the Mughal (Mongol) Empire in 1527 not unlike nor unrelated to, the golden Urdu, or horde in Russia. They ruled India for the next 250 years until the British ended Muslim domination of India/Pakistan in 1764. It is impossible to estimate the death toll of Hindus killed in the Muslim take over of India, but remembering that the Hindus were, by most measures, idolaters  and not necessarily entitled to Dhimmi status in Muslim, the toll is certainly in the tens of  millions, some estimates go as high as 80 million.

The list of countries that are no longer part of the Islamic world include Portugal, Spain, southern France, Sicily, Malta, southern Italy, India, parts of Russia and the Ukraine, Greece, southern Sudan and all the Balkan Christian countries (Croatia,  Serbia,  Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece. Kosovo and Albania are still Muslim majority countries, but Albania is considered one the 14 most non-religious countries in the world.)

Turkey which was the center of the Islamic world for 500 years is now a secular republic in which about a third of those who consider themselves Muslim do not actively fulfill their religious obligations. Lebanon and the Holy Land are, of course, contested on a daily basis. Dar al Islam, the World of Islam, had gotten a toe hold in the Philippines when Europeans showed up and now the Philippines is one of the most Christian of countries. The Muslim insurgents in the south are trying very hard to change that and to restore the Philippines to the Dar al Islam

This is a very disturbing list to some Muslims, and many of the devout think that job one is the restoration of the full compliment of Dar al Islam preceding the victory of Sharia, the divine Koranic government over the whole world. Still, there is no disputing that Dar al Islam is a smaller place in the 21st century than it was in the 17th century. 

Remember that at a number of points in world history, Islam was probably the majority religion of the world. The near East and India and China were where the bulk of the world's population lived. Europe in the year 1000 was just a backwater where a few unwashed, stinking, illiterate infidels (my ancestors) lived in the fog and frozen forests. In 700 AD and again in 1000AD it was  assumed in Europe that the future was Muslim, and then the Crusades halted the advance of Islam into Europe.

Though they are a defining moment in Western history, the Crusades were barely noticed in the Islamic world at the time. They were merely an irritation to the great Saladin. Undeterred, Islam continued its glorious march through history. As Christendom collapsed during the reformation, Martin Luther said “A smart Turk makes a better ruler than a dumb Christian.” 

Protestantism at the time found allies in the Turkish Muslims who shared their hatred of Catholicism and the Holy Roman Empire. There is a curious crescent shaped medallion that was minted in the Protestant Netherlands around 1570 when Holland was at war with Spain. It is a Geuzen or beggar's medal that had as its motto “Better the Turk than the pope.” So, once again Christianity was over in 1570, and then the battles of Lepanto and Vienna stopped the Turkish march into Europe once again. The Battle  of Lepanto had a significance that not everyone considers. By damaging Muslim sea power,  it opened the way for Christian navies, which intentionally or unintentionally, brought Christ to sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas and the Philippines. There are at present around 210 countries in the world. About 150 are Christian majority and about 50 majority Muslim. (These numbers are only approximate. No one can agree on what countries actually exist. The UN counts 207 sovereign states.)

It is another myth that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. At the current writing there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world,  about 1 in 3 people on the globe. Islam with about 1.6 billion adherents, about 1 in 4 people, is the second largest religion in the world. No religion is the third largest religion in the world as claimed by 1,100 million people , and Hinduism is the 4th largest religion  in the world with about 950 million adherents.

The fastest growing religion in the world by percentage of its own membership is probably Bahai, Buddhism, Wicca or Zoroastrianism. Islam is growing faster than Christianity by percentage of its own membership. This is due to a high birth rate which is expected to drop over the next 20 years. In terms of absolute numbers of new adherents, Christianity is probably the fastest growing religion. Christian Churches in Sub-Saharan Africa and China are growing at a phenomenal rate, with at least 50 million Christians in China. China is, in fact, one of the largest Christian countries in the world. Devoutly Christian countries like the Philippines and Mexico continue to have a high birth rate as does Southern Africa. Most sociologists don’t see anything eclipsing Christianity in the foreseeable future.

It is to be remembered that  Islam is also losing adherents in the countries to which Muslims have migrated. The London Times estimates 15% of Muslims living in Western Europe have left Islam with 200,000 former Muslims in the UK alone. The secularism of Europe is a growing danger to the faith of Islamic emigrants.  In 1998, mosque attendance in the Netherlands was rated at 47 percent. In 2008 it is down to 35 percent. I remember seeing a group of beer drinking Turkish Muslims in my ancestral town in Germany who were watching a Catholic religious procession. I asked the town’s pastor if Muslims drank beer in Germany, and he simply smiled and said “Oh, Allah is very far away.” The much touted conversions to Islam are not all they seem to be either. Among American converts to Islam, 75% leave Islam in first two years.

There has never been a time in history when so many Muslims have converted to Christianity. It is estimated that about 15,000 Muslims convert to Christianity annually in France. In Russia, the number of ethnic Muslims in Russia who have become Christians is estimated at 2 million, while the number of the Orthodox who have been converted to Islam is only 2,500 according  Inter-religious Council of Russia. In Asia, the Mufti of the Malaysian State of Perak claims that  250,000 Muslim apostates have asked for permission to convert to Christianity (In Malaysia, non Malay ethnics may legally convert, though it is seldom allowed.) This is perhaps a matter of alarmism on the part of Muslim clerics, but it does indicate that conversion to Christianity is a problem. 

 Muslim authorities in Egypt are in a similar dither about Fr. Zacharias Botros an Egyptian Coptic priest and Koranic scholar. Islamic authorities count his converts from Islam in the millions. Fr. Botros just laughs at this and says that if a few hundred have converted to Christianity because of his radio and television ministry that would be a lot. Nonetheless. He is considered to be “Islam's public enemy No. 1”  by quite a few in the Islamic world. Al-Qaeda has put a $60 million bounty on his head. That’s how worried they are about the conversion problem. One hears of similar things going on in Kurdistan, in Iran and a number of other places in the Islamic world. This is particularly amazing when one remembers that to leave Islam is usually Shirq, an unforgivable sin. Muhammad declared the death sentence for apostasy. A family is honor bound to kill any of its members who convert to Christianity or any other religion for that matter. That does put a bit of pressure on prospective converts. It is also necessary to kill anyone who attempts to convert a Muslim to any other religion.

I’ve spoken to a number of  Muslim converts to Christianity. The thing that they found most amazing about Christianity is the idea that God loves Muslims. Remember that Islam has no belief in free will, as least as understood in the non-Calvinist west, and like Calvinists do not believe that God’s love is universal.  Mercy (rahmah) and pity are universal, but affection (wudda)  and love (hub) are limited to those of the faith. “Say, O My Prophet to the people, if you love God, follow me, God will love you (hub) and forgive you your sins, for God is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” (Koran3:31)

 In his farewell sermon Muhammad said, “Whomever Allah guides none can lead astray, and whomever He leads astray has no one to guide him.” To put it simply, if Allah loved you, you would be a Muslim. If you are not a Muslim, Allah must not love you, though he may pity you and show you mercy.  It is thus amazing to Muslims that the God of Christians loves them every bit as much as He loves the Christians. It will be interesting to see  the effect of an increasing awareness of Islamic texts by Christians and of Christian texts by Muslims. The world of Dar al Islam may not grow as quickly as some people think.

(Next week: The grand finale. Finally)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 9

Letter to Charlene Law continued….)

The Arab era of the Crusades ended with the fading of the Fatimid Caliphate and a new force, already mentioned, the Turks became the driving force in Islam. Until the 20th century, the terms Turk and Muslim were pretty much interchangeable. 

After the Crusades, Christianity had its own divisions. The eastern Christian Roman Empire which we usually call the Byzantine Empire shrank away under the onslaughts of the Turkish Muslim invaders until it was just a few sections of Greece, some Greek islands and the enclave immediately surrounding Constantinople and its massive walls. In 1453 Constantinople finally became part of Dar al Islam. 

The Turkish Muslims had succeeded where the Arab Muslims had failed. The Turkish Muslim invaders swept through the Balkans into Austria and Dar al Islam embraced what today are Greece, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Macedonia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia, Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes and many of the other Mediterranean islands were all part of the Islamic Empire. Vienna stood alone as the gateway to the final Muslim conquest of Europe. 

In 1529, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna, the weather turned, the Austrians and their few allies held fast and the Turks had to retreat. One hundred fifty years of intermittent war ensued and the Turkish Sultan amassed a great fleet and army for the invasion of Italy and the final conquest of Rome, weakened by the Reformation. Luther had said that life under the Muslims would be easier for Protestants than life under the Pope. 

The fleet was gathered just across the narrow Adriatic in the Gulf of Corinth, at Lepanto. On October 7, 1571 a meager force of Christians had gathered, led by Don Juan of Austria.  They sailed to what seemed certain doom, the picture of Our lady of Guadalupe placed prominently on Don Juan’s flagship. The wind turned, the Muslim fleet defeated, and the sea power of Dar al Islam was broken and to this day the Islamic world is not a naval power. 

Vienna was once again put under siege by the Muslim invaders in 1683. On September 11, 1683. September 11th.... where have I heard that date? The Islamic Empire in Europe reached its high water mark.  There were two battles happening simultaneously. Armies of Turks were trying to tunnel under the walls, but it is said that the bakers of Vienna, the first ones up in the morning heard the sound of scraping under their shops and realized that they were being tunneled under! The tunnelers were defeated, Meanwhile above ground, King Jan Sobieski and the Polish army came to the relief of the Christians, and on September 12, routed the Turkish armies, which began the steady retreat of Dar al Islam in the Christian west, at least until our own times.   

Dar al Islam has never been so extensive as it was on Sep. 11, 1683. Every time you eat a croissant, French for crescent, you may be eating a commemoration of the great battle of Vienna, one of the many times Poland saved Christianity, because as the old story goes the bakers made crescent rolls to give thanks for the defeat of the Turks whose battle flag bore the crescent moon of Islam. The steady retreat of the (Muslim Turkish) Ottoman Empire continued until it vanished like a soap bubble in 1922, having already lost most of its European possessions.

The myth says that the Crusades were a failure. All that killing for nothing, and there certainly was killing, and mismanagement and excesses on the part of the Christians. What did it accomplish? 

It accomplished plenty. In the year 1000 it was a foregone conclusion on the part of Christian and Muslim alike that Christianity was over. The heartlands of Christianity, Egypt, Syria, North Africa were all lost to Christendom. Muslims had invaded the heart of Christendom and they wouldn’t and they won’t stop. Ever. The Crusades stopped the steady drumbeat of Muslim invasion and took back at least some of the lands stolen by the armies of Islam. The Muslim invader is nothing if not persistent. The initiative was lost by the Arab founders of Islam, but was picked up the Turks who lost it in turn. 

Now the Ayatollahs of Iran and the Wahabi sheiks of our Saudi Arabian allies seem ready to try again. We like to think that the world has changed. In the unending war between the House of Islam and the rest of the world nothing has changed and we are wishful; fools if we believe things are better now. 

We slaughtered them. They slaughtered us. Nothing much here to be proud of for Christians, but it is sheer stupidity to believe that Islam was the victim and Christendom the aggressor. Clearly Christians in their attempts to defend themselves did not always live up to the tenets of their faith. In this there is nothing to be proud of.   

The chilling thing is that while one side failed  on occasion to live up to expectations, one side was true to its founder in the midst of conquest and slaughter.

Next week: more slaughter.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law -- part 8

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)                

There are quite a number of myths about Islam that are popular in the West. Let’s talk first about the Crusades. The myth is that the aggressive West invaded the Islamic world which was minding it’s own business. Quite the opposite is true. The Crusades were a response to the Islamic invasion of Europe and the whole Christian world.

In 711, less than a century after the death of Muhammad, Muslim Arabs, called Saracens at the time, conquered Spain in just a few years. They continued into France as far as Tours in the north where they were finally stopped in 732 by the Franks (a Catholic Germanic Tribe then living in Northern France), led by Charles Martel, the deputy of the Frankish King. The Muslim invaders established the Caliphate of Cordoba, which included territory in France around the city of Narbonne, and were not pushed back into Spain until 759. Charles Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, finally started the reconquest of Spain which only ended in 1492, just a few months before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a period of 781 years! 

Part of the popular myth is that Islamic Spain was a paradise of tolerance and diversify. Medieval Christians of what is now Spain and Portugal were constantly under the threat of Muslim raids. For example, in an attack against Lisbon, in 1189, the caliph Yaqub al-Mansur captured 3,000 women and children who were subsequently enslaved and did the same in Silves in 1191, taking 3,000 more Christian slaves. The Almohads, a Muslim dynasty founded in the 12th century, dominated northern Africa and southern Spain. They were Muslim fundamentalists who believed that Christianity was to be eliminated by unremitting war. The only choices they gave both Jews and Christians in southern Spain were death or conversion. Jews and Christians fled, including Maimonides, the great Jewish physician and thinker. He and other Jews fled east to Egypt while Christians fled north to the small Christian kingdoms. It is a pure myth that everyone got along. When they were tolerated, Jews and Christians had Dhimmi status. When they were not tolerated they were simply killed or converted.

The same  invasion that had struck Spain, Portugal  and France also struck Italy. In 846, Islamic invaders plundered St. Peter's Basilica and St. Paul's Outside the Walls, but were unable to take the whole city of Rome which was still protected by its ancient walls. The Italians resisted but Sicily, Malta, and parts of southern Italy were conquered by the Saracens (Muslim Arabs) and remained part of the Islamic world until 1091 when the (Christian) Normans finally ousted them and set up their own kingdom.

When Muhammad died in 632, the Holy Land had been a largely Christian country for 300 or perhaps 400 years. When the Romans were still pagan in about 132AD, they had put down the Jewish revolution led by Bar Kochba and they subsequently killed or exiled much of the Jewish population. The land became essentially Greek and largely Christian, especially after the conversion of the Romans to Christianity. 

Muslim invaders arrived in 633, but the majority population of the Holy Land remained Christian until probably the late 900’s when the Fatimid Caliph Hakim (called “Hakim the Crazy”) decided that, after 600 years, it was time to rid the Holy Land of Christians. In 1009, Hakim ordered the churches of the Holy Land, about 3,000 in number destroyed, including the church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest pilgrimage shrine in the Christian world. 

Can you imagine what would happen if Christians today even talked about the destruction of the Kaaba in Mecca? Two Muslim factions, the Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks were locked in a struggle for control of the Islamic world and Jerusalem was caught in the middle back and forth between them. In 1056 hundreds of Christians were expelled from Jerusalem and pilgrimage to Jerusalem was forbidden. In 1077 the Jews and Christians of Jerusalem were massacred by Emir Atsiz ibn Uvaq, in retaliation for an uprising against the Seljuk government. Already by 1063, Pope Alexander II had given his blessing to Spanish Christians in their war against the Muslims. 

When a cry for help came from the Byzantines in Constantinople who were also threatened by the latest wave of Muslim invaders, the Seljuk Turks, Pope Urban II sent out the call to rescue fellow Christians from the invaders and to recover the Christian lands lost to Muslim aggression since 630 AD. 

The closing of pilgrimage, the slaughter of Christians, the destruction of the Christian’s holiest shrine and the prospect of continuing Muslim slave raids, and invasions finally pushed the Christian world over the edge. The Islamic world was in a weakened state because of the struggle between the Muslim seljuk Turks and the Muslim Arabs, and they didn’t at first take the Christian threat seriously. After all, the Byzantine Christians had fallen easily before Muslim armies and the Latin Christians in the West were unwashed illiterate barbarians from what the cultivated Muslims regarded as the western jungles of  Europe, the frozen fringe of the world. 

Surprise! After 300 years, the western Christians had begun the push back against the Muslim invasions of 700AD. Sicily, Malta, southern Italy and half of Spain were back in Christian hands much to the shock the Islamic world. They have never quite gotten over that shock. The steady growth of Dar al Islam met its first setback. A land once ruled by Islam is thought of as Dar al Islam, the House of Islam, to which others have no right in the eyes of Allah. The loss of Spain in particular is still a thorn in the Muslim scheme of things. The expulsion of Islam from Spain featured prominently in the thinking of  Osama bin Laden. Things like the train bombings in Madrid in March, 2004 that killed 200 people are retaliation for the expulsion of Muslims 500 years earlier! Bin Laden was determined to take Spain back for Islam and he is not alone in that project.

There is another myth that when the Crusaders finally took Jerusalem back in 1099 that all the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were killed by the Crusaders. Those Muslims who were holed up in the fortress of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque were indeed killed, but those in the citadel of David on the opposite side of town were given a safe conduct, and there is no contemporary evidence that any Jews were killed. In fact there are contemporary documents found among Jewish papers in Egypt (from the Cairo Geniza) indicating that Jews survived the siege of Jerusalem. 

It is often mentioned that Saladin spared the Christians of Jerusalem when he reconquered the city in 1187. This is not as magnanimous as it might seem. At first Saladin had no plans to do so. Crusaders threatened to kill 5,000 Muslim hostages, and to destroy the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Saladin accepted the terms, on the condition that a ransom was paid for every Christian of the city,  man, woman and child but Saladin, Patriarch Heraclius, the bishop of Jerusalem paid the ransoms for about 18,000 of the poorer citizens, but  another 15,000, who could not afford ransom were enslaved. So much for the chivalrous Saladin, despite recent movies.

Another group of Muslim invaders about 60 years later in 1244, the Khwarezmian Tartars, sacked Jerusalem, decimated the city's Christian population and drove out the Jews. Finally in the 1500's the Ottoman Turks took Jerusalem and a status quo endured until the 20th century in Jerusalem, the City of Peace.

To be continued

Monday, May 14, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 7

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)

So, Charlene, this letter could go on indefinitely. The comparison of two such rich traditions is practically inexhaustible, but I imagine you and anyone else who reads this is close to exhaustion with the effort. There are so many things yet to compare.   

Poetry is one of the great Arabic arts, but strangely not music. Music is central to Christian worship, but has almost no place in the Muslim liturgy beyond the Muezzin’s call to prayer. Theater and even musical notation developed in the christian world and in more recent times have entered into the Muslim world. Orchestral and Symphonic music has yet to make a dent in the world of Islam.   Islamic calligraphy is exquisite, but beyond that there is no portraiture and certainly no sculpture. Things that we in the West regard as normal visual arts are forbidden. 

History is essential to the educated Christian. The monks of Christian Europe carefully preserved the pre-Christian pagan traditions, believing that all cultures, no matter how disparate, were expressions of human longing for and reflection of the divine. There is no truth that is not of interest to Christian scholarship. Islamic scholarship has no interest in the non-Islamic roots of its culture. When the science of archaeology was in its infancy, Muslims thought it pretty amusing that all those Englishmen, and Germans were so intrigued by piles of old stones. What good were they? The ruins of ages past had and have no appeal for devout Muslims. 

In fact most orthodox Muslims would deny that they have any roots that are non-Islamic. History start with Muhammad. There was a period in the beginning of the Islamic period when this was not true, but Islamic scholarship made the decision around 1200 AD, that what was not in the Koran and the Hadith were not worth learning. If Allah thought them important, he would mentioned it. 

The particular effect of this decision is incalculable for a very simple reason: Aristotle! From Aristotle we dhimmis in the Dar al Harb -- the non-Islamic world -- learned one very simple idea. The world is real. At exactly the time that Islamic scholars, most particularly al-Ghazali, the great Muslim Jurist (born in Iran 1058, died 1111) were denying that Greek philosophy had anything to offer Islam. Thomas Aquinas, an Italian priest of the Dominican order (1225-1274), was using Aristotelian methods to explain Christianity. Aquinas became the guide of Christianity and Western culture until my youth. As a result Aristotle was taught in every Catholic university and seminary for perhaps 600 years. 

Aristotle taught that things were real. That may not seem very important to you if you are a westerner, but there are countless religions that believe the world is a sort of illusion. The investigation of the world around us is therefore of limited value. If things are real, they are worth investigating. Enter science and the scientific method. (If you are curious about this, may I suggest the book “Aristotle’s Children” by Richard E. Rubenstein, Harvest Books, 2003) 

There is a philosophy called nominalism. It holds that something is what it is only because it is so called. This belief extends into the world of religion; God becomes the great nominalist. Things are so because He says they are so. Hence, the world exists only as an illusion, and God being absolutely sovereign could forget about the world and, Poof! No more world. The same applies to morality. Murder, theft, adultery, all wrong because God says so. If one morning the Almighty decided that murder and theft and adultery were fine things, well, they would from that point on be fine things. He is after all, sovereign. 

There is a classic question asked by philosophers and irritating third-graders, “Can God make a stone so big He Himself could not move it?” The Islamic answer would be, of course He is God. He can do whatever He wants. The Catholic and Jewish answer is, “Certainly not!” Creation itself is a reflection of God and to think that God could and would change His mind about existence is to think that one could stand in front of a mirror, raising one’s arm and expect the arm reflected in the mirror to remain un-raised. 

God has no limits or law beyond Himself, but He is His own law, and as the Christian scriptures say “He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim2:13).  This extends to moral law, or natural law. The Ten Commandments are not arbitrary, they are reflections of the very nature of God, who is perfect existence. There are lots of liturgical and religious laws that can change, but the essential natural law that is available to all humanity and is expressed in the Ten Commandments.   

This belief that God is not creation, but at the same time is not divorced from creation brings us to the great the deepest and the most insurmountable difference between Islam and Christianity: the Fatherhood of God. 

Shortly after the Muslims conquered the Christian city of Jerusalem in 638 AD they built the Dome of the Rock, the golden dome that one sees in so many pictures of Jerusalem.(691) It was built to keep Muslims from being seduced by the beauty of Constantine’s church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulcher) with its shining golden dome. The Dome of the Rock was built on the site of the temple of Solomon, and was intended to make a powerful statement that Islam was restoring the religion of Abraham without its Jewish and Christian additions. Inside, in truly beautiful arabic calligraphy around the dome is written “He (Allah) begets not nor was he begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him. Allah has no companion.” (Koran 19:35–37) 

God is absolutely alone. He has no son, and has no need of companions. There could not be a clearer juxtaposition of the deepest difference between the God of Christianity and Allah. The God of Jesus is love. The God of Muhammad is other. He is faceless, he is sovereign, he is not bounded by love law or reason. The God of Jesus is bounded by His sacrificial love for His creation, humanity in particular. He has stooped to love us with real love, love unto death. 

The central prayer of Muhammad and Islam is the Shahadah: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The central prayer of Jesus is the Our Father. “Our Father who are in heaven.”  The very prayer “Our Father” is a form of shirq in Islam. Shirq is to place partners alongside God. Shirq is an unforgivable crime. God may forgive any sin except for shirq. It is a sentence of damnation to die in a state of shirq. 

In other words, to say the Our Father, to claim divinity not only for Jesus, but, at least potentially for all humanity makes one worthy of eternal death and hellfire. To reconcile the Christian world with the Muslim world, the prayer “Our Father” must be obliterated.

Next week, some of the myths of history!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 6

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)

We like to believe that slavery was a passing thing and that humanity has outgrown it. Don’t be so sure. We have definite archeological evidence for slavery going back to 8,000 B.C. and at the date of the present writing, there are numerically more slaves than at any other time in history. 
As we enter the 21st century there are perhaps 20 to 30 million slaves in the world. Historically there are a few ways to become slaves. One can be born into slavery be enslaved as a captive of war or kidnapping, be enslaved as a punishment for crime or be enslaved for non-payment of debt. All these forms of enslavement, though universally outlawed are practiced at the present time. Governments turn a blind eye to the problem throughout the whole world, including the U.S. Government.   

The U.S. does not permit slavery.  It simply allows the import of the labor of slaves. There are slaves who are forced to work sugar plantations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. There are thought to be as many as 10,000 slaves in the United States, mostly held against their will for purpose of prostitution. There are at least a few hundred thousand slaves in India, principally children who are locked in factories. There are prisoners in China forced to work as slaves as well as outright human trafficking, but the great majority of modern slaves are found in Islamic countries, principally the Sudan. (Black African Christians captured in war). 

In Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, indentured servitude, (also called bond slavery or enslavement for debt) is common and Bangladeshi slaves are found as far away as Yemen and Malaysia. And of course our friend and ally, Saudi Arabia denies that it permits slavery, but I know all sorts of people who have relatives and friends, especially Filipinas, who have gone for work in Saudi Arabia only to find that they are not allowed to leave and are at the whim of their Saudi master. Our other friend and ally, Pakistan, is one of the great slave holding countries of the modern world. The estimates of the number of child bond slaves in Pakistan is anywhere from 2 million to 20 million. They are forced to make things as diverse as carpets and surgical instruments for export. A Pakistani child is thought to be able to stitch three footballs a day. 

There is a chance that your carpets, your expensive designer athletic shoes, your sporting goods, your tables and chairs, your clothes, the sugar in your coffee are made by modern slaves, often children, most of them in the Dar al Islam, the World of Peace. So friends, you and I mustn’t feel too enlightened or superior. We are no better than slave holders. We are too arrogant to have slaves ourselves. We simply enjoy the cheap luxury goods  that are made with their sweat, their blood and their tears.

There is a very subtle and very important difference between Christianity and Islam regarding slavery. Both religions assume that slavery is a natural phenomenon.

The Koran actually discourages slavery, and the freeing of slaves is considered a meritorious act. Muhammad freed 67 of his own slaves. He did however seem to have kept some women slaves as concubines. No Muslim can have relations with a woman to whom he is not married, except with a concubine who is, in fact, a slave. There is no penalty for relations with an enslaved woman, either for her or for the man involved. (Koran 33:50) “O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowries; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee.” And we read in the Hadith (Bukhari 34:351) “A man decided that a slave of his would be manumitted after his death and later on he was in need of money, so the Prophet took the slave and said, ‘Who will buy this slave from me?’ Nu'aim bin 'Abdullah bought him for such and such price and the Prophet gave him the slave.” 

So Muhammad both owned and sold slaves.  Still, he freed many slaves and in Islam no free born Muslim can be enslaved. One born as a slave, even though a Muslim, doesn’t have to be freed, and anyone captured in battle can be enslaved. A person who is not in one of the permitted religions faces death, slavery or conversion as the only possible options if captured in Holy War. In short, the freeing of slaves is meritorious but not required. 

At first glance Christianity seems to have very little to say about slavery. It is acknowledged as legal, but in his letter to Philemon, Paul urges his friend to free the slave, Onesimus, which Philemon apparently did. Onesimus is thought to be the third bishop of Ephesus. St. Callistus (217-222) the 16th pope, started out life as a slave at a time when the Roman world believed slavery was an indelible blot on the character, even if the slave were eventually freed.  Slavery in the ancient world was  part of the social contract. “You should have fought harder in the battle and rather have been killed than captured.” “You shouldn’t have put yourself and you children up as collateral for a debt.” The free man would respectably kill himself rather than be enslaved. 

So you see, if you were a slave it was your own fault and the fault of your slavish nature.  Still, slavery  was not an impediment to St. Callistus’ election as bishop of the growing Roman Church, because in the Church all were slaves and none were slaves. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal.3:28)  The title “slave” (Greek: “doulos”) was an honor among Christians. The Blessed Mother and St. Paul both call themselves slaves. Jesus himself is called a slave in St. Paul’s letter to the Phillipians “(Jesus), being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave.” (Phil. 2:6,7)

Slavery continued, though diminished in the Byzantine, Eastern Christian empire. It continued, but was very actively discouraged in western Europe, only to be replaced by serfdom. Slavery in early medieval Europe was still common enough that the Roman Catholic Church repeatedly prohibited it, especially the sale of Christian slaves to non-Christian lands. Non-Christian slaves taken in war were permitted with the exception of enslavement for reasons of race or nationality which were expressly forbidden first in 1435 by Pope Eugene IV regarding Guanches, the indigenous inhabitants of the Canary Islands and by Pope Paul III (1534) in reference to the indigenous inhabitants of the newly discovered Americas. Ultimately, slavery has largely disappeared where Christians are the majority, but it continues and seems to be growing in parts of the Muslim world.

The ending of slavery in the Christian world is a good window into one of the prime differences between Christianity and Islam. Some Christians speak of the development of doctrine.  Most Catholics prefer the term, the “unfolding” of doctrine.  Understanding and applying the teaching of Jesus and the meaning of His words in new situations is an integral part of Christian life. Take, for example, the phenomenon of WWJD bracelets, the letters standing for  “What Would Jesus Do.”  A traditional Christian may just as easily ask “What Does Jesus Want Me to Do?” The visionary experience is alive and well in the Christian world, believing that the Holy Spirit still speaks, not giving new revelations, but reminding believers of what has been revealed and applying that revelation to the present situation.

There is a saying among Muslims, that “the gates of Ijtihad are closed.” Ijtihad is the making of a decision in Islamic law by an individual. For most Muslims, the revelation and the interpretation of that revelation is absolutely complete as of around 900AD. There can be no new law or new interpretation. This is much more significant than it first appears. Christianity has nothing to compare with the structure of Islamic law. Islamic law dictates what one wears, what one eats and drinks, whom one marries and just about every other area of life. Islamic law is revealed and is divine in its inspiration. Christian law is much less detained. It is limited to certain moral principles and must be fleshed out in the societies where the Christian finds himself. There are basic laws and principles, but most Christians cannot be known by what they eat, by what they wear, or how they look.  Even the extensive codes of Canon Law, common in Western and Eastern churches, are commonly reworked and changed. It is human law based on the need of the church in a particular era. It is not thought to be divine in its origin.

The closing of Ijtihad has to do with the nature of both Muhammad and the Koran. The Koran is the unchanging, infallible word of God. It is not the expression of a man, but of Allah. It cannot be questioned or changed in anyway. In fact, most Muslim scholars are uncomfortable even with its translation into modern languages. To translate something is to change it. Allah did not say anything in English or French or even modern Arabic. He said it in classical Arabic and to translate even into a more contemporary Arabic is to change it, and thus it is impossible to have a real understanding of divine revelation if one does not take the trouble to learn classical Arabic.   

Muhammad is the perfect man,
Al-Insan Al-Kamil. To do what Muhammad did is always moral.  The content of Islamic faith and law cannot be changed in any way since the beginning of the Islamic era. It cannot be improved on, or restated or accommodated in any way. What Muhammad did, the Muslim should do. As Muhammad prayed, the Muslim should pray. As Muhammad fought, the Muslim should fight. As Muhammad lived, so the Muslim should live. And so on. Muhammad is worthy of imitation in all things. It is impossible to absolutely change things like child marriage, concubinage, slavery and religious war. They may diminish, but they cannot be outlawed, because to do so would be to impugn the perfection of the prophet of Allah. With the exception of more than four wives at one time and the authoritative speaking of inspired revelation, all that he did the Muslim man may and should do.

There is still one more implication of the perfection of the Koran and its prophet and the closing of Ijtihad that is very much misunderstood by the liberal governments of the West. Heaven knows that at different times and places in the West, there have been slavery, child brides and religious war, and these things are not what separates the West and the Islamic world absolutely. The most difficult thing for Westerners to understand is that, in a fully Islamic society, an elected legislature is morally wrong. No such thing existed in Islam until the arrival in the East by the liberal ideas of the French revolution. 

Christianity has always had a balance between election and delegation. Abbots, abbesses, popes and bishops are all chosen by a process that involves both election and delegation. They, in turn, make the changeable laws of the Church and apply unchangeable divine law to the current need. The Church is not much concerned with civil law, unless that law demands that the believer violate divine law. In Islam, civil law is religious and religious law is civil. Muhammad was a ruler of an earthly state, and his Successors followed his example. 

Here is the point: As far as the Muslim is concerned, no elected body can make law! Only Allah can make law and he has done so in the Koran. These laws were fleshed out by the first four, or rightly guided Caliphs (Successors) and to attempt to make new law and new interpretation is blasphemous. Our attempts to impose Western style democracy on an Islamic world are utterly futile. Law is made only by Allah and its interpretation is a theological task, not a civil or secular one. The governments of America and Europe are fooling themselves to think that Islam is modernizing. If it modernizes it ceases to be Islam. The depth of understanding of Islam by most Western leaders is so shallow as to be laughable. The belief that, “Muslims are really just like us and want what we want” is both absurd and insulting to Muslims.

To be continued………….