Friday, April 27, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 5

Letter to Charlene Law continued.....

The place of women is significantly different in Islam and Christianity. At first glance comparing Muhammad and Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in their treatment of women. Both Jesus and Muhammad had significant dealings with women. Jesus had women followers who provided for his needs and Muhammad was greatly influenced, as I’ve mentioned by his first wife Khadijah who convinced him that his revelations were heavenly and not demonic. His third wife, the child bride Aisha, was called his most beloved wife and seems to have had great authority after Muhammad’s death, but it seems that after the initial period of Islam, it becomes an absolutely male religion. Whereas women, though not ordained, are as important as men in the theology and leadership of the Church.

The Sahih al-Bukhari is one of the six canonical hadith collections of Sunni Islam. In it we read of a conversation between Muhammad and some women: “Once Allah's Apostle went out to offer the prayer... He passed by the women and said, ‘O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you women.’ They asked, ‘Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?’ He replied, ‘You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.’ The women asked, ‘O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?’ He said, ‘Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?’ They replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?’ The women replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her religion.’ ”

One might counter that Christianity, at least traditional forms, regards women as deficient in religion because women are not ordained to the priesthood. In fact the monastic orders elevate women to positions of great prominence. Women as well as men have positions of great influence in the Church. Popes and bishops on occasion are reprimanded by women. Take for example St. Catherine of Sienna and in our times, Mother Angelica and Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Not that she reprimanded, but she most certainly advised and did so quite strongly). It is incontrovertible that Muhammad veiled women and counted them as less than men. (Koran 4:11 regarding inheritance) “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females.” (Koran 2:282, regarding court testimony) “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.”  (Koran 2:228) “and the men are a degree above them [women]”

(Koran 2:223 regarding the relationship between men and women)  “Your wives are as a tilth (fertile farm field) unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will..” and (Koran 4:3) “Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four...” And very interestingly, (Koran53:27) regarding the gender of angels: “Those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names.”  In Islam, angels are male. The very concept of heaven is one of a garden of male pleasure. Muslim apologists try to refute this by saying that the pleasures of heaven will apply to women too, because they will desire no one but their husbands.  Men are promised as many beautiful women as they may want, as well as boys to serve them (Koran 76:19) “There will circulate among them young boys made eternal. When you see them, you would think them scattered pearls.”  The meaning of the eternal boys is unclear. The case can be made that they are only servants. Homosexuality in Islamic Law is usually punished by death, though imprisonment and whipping is prescribed under certain circumstances. The same is true for adultery. Under certain circumstances the punishment is flogging and house arrest for life, in others it is death by stoning.

In this world, a man is permitted as many as four wives, and certain Islamic sects allow for something called temporary marriage, allowing what  Christians would call “an affair.” Muhammad, in view of his unique role in Islam was given a special privilege. He was allowed more than four wives and is thought to have married 12 women, by some counts more. By a special dispensation from Allah, Muhammad was allowed to take his adopted son’s wife for himself. These concessions were uniquely for Muhammad, and not applicable to other Muslims. As all Muslim men, he was allowed slave-concubines of whom he had six.

Women are generally thought to be under the protection, and thus under the control of men in Islamic society. A woman generally may not marry without the consent of her guardian. Imam Malik, one of the four great Imams of the Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence, interprets Koran 2:232 to mean that the choice of partner by a Muslim woman is subject to the over-ruling power (“ijbar”) of her father or her guardian in the interests of the woman herself, and the legal guardian of a woman may annul the marriage of a woman made without her permission. The need for the marital interests of a woman to be supervised and protected by a male guardian is made clear in the two different forms of divorce which is allowed in Islam, though not encouraged. A man may divorce his wife by repudiating her three times. This is called “talaq.”  A woman may also divorce her husband, but in order to do so she must request the divorce, called “khula,” from her husband. If he refuses to allow her to divorce, she must obtain a judgment of divorce from an Islamic judge, called a “qadi,” who is, of course, a man

For traditional Christians divorce is absolutely forbidden, though in certain cases a marriage may be recognized as invalid. In Christian thought marriage is indissoluble because it has a symbolic meaning. It symbolizes the union of the Messiah and the Church for eternity. Unlike Islam, the ecstatic union of husband and wife is a foreshadowing of the perfect spiritual union of heaven. There will, however, be no carnal desire in heaven.  Jesus, who never seems to have married while in this world, taught rather that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt.22:30) 

Marriage is an important symbol for the Christian heaven, describing the relationship of the Messiah and his Church. In Islam male sexual relationships seem to be part of the substance of heaven. For Christians there is ultimately no distinction between men and women. St. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) 

Eternal life and the role of gender couldn’t be more different in the founding texts of the two religions, and in the lives of their respective founders.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 4

Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)

Another thing that Christianity and Islam have in common is that they are both missionary religions with claims to universal truth. The methods by which they both exercise this universal claim are significantly different.  Allah establishes a universal government for the well being of humanity, called the Caliphate. It is the will of Allah that every human being be subject to Islamic Law and to Islamic government. Allah intends to bring unity and peace to the world by means of one legal code, called Sharia. On the other hand, Jesus said to Pilate that “My kingdom is not of this world.” Most Christian thinkers would agree that government by practicing Christians would be a fine thing, but they might  not necessarily want a Christian government.

At the end of the first century (100AD) there were certainly no more than 100,000 Christians and the figure was probably more like 10,000 or 20,000 in the Roman Empire of 70 Million. I am not very numerically inclined, but either figure is certainly much less than one percent. Two hundred years later, Christians comprised at least ten percent of the empire’s population, perhaps more and was the majority religion in a few places. This, despite concerted efforts by the Roman state to eliminate the Church. The faith had also spread east in the Persian Empire and by the year 300 was well established in places as distant as Germany in the north to Ethiopia in the south and from Spain in the west to India in the east. It was persecuted everywhere yet grew everywhere.

There seems to have been three elements involved in the growth of Christianity. The first was its claim to miracles. St. Gregory the Wonder Worker is a good example of early Christian evangelism.  Gregory was born in 213 AD in Caesarea, the capital of Pontus in what now is northern Turkey, on the shore of the Black Sea. As the name suggests he was a worker of miracles. When he began his ministry there were seventeen Christians in town, but at his death there were only seventeen non-Christians!  His ability to work miracles, especially the casting out of demons and the healing of the sick won the area to Christ. You may think this is nothing but primitive superstition, but the Catholic church has always spread by means of miracles. In the 20th century, there are such examples as Venerable Solanus Casey of Detroit,  St. Andre of Montreal and St. Pio of Pietralcina. Look ‘em up. They worked miracles like some people work a crowd.  I have a cousin who was healed by Solanus Casey of a mastoid bone infection that needed immediate surgery in the days before antibiotics. This was in the late 1930's in Detroit when she was only 6. He cured her with a touch. The surgery was cancelled and she still is in great shape .

Saint Andre was a distant cousin to my sister-in-law and his miracles were pretty much daily fare in her childhood home. Lourdes, Fatima, St. Ann de Beaupre, are healing shrines. Who has time to mention them all? Christianity was spread and is maintained by things that most people would regard as supernatural or simply unbelievable. I have a friend, a Korean deacon, whose family became Christian when his uncle was healed by the anointing of the sick. The faith has caught fire in Korea and in China in the current era, because of healing. Sub-Saharan Africa is fast becoming the new heartland of Christianity because of Pentecostal/Charismatic preaching of which miraculous claims are an integral part. It was and it remains Christianity’s claim to the supernatural that has caused it to be the world’s majority religion. Christian states and Christian armies had nothing to do with it.

Christianity was an outlaw religion for the first 300 years of it’s existence. The faith was illegal until the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD. It did not become the state religion of the Roman empire until 380 AD. Until that point, forced conversion by a government or a Christian army was unthinkable among Christians. However..... the newly Christianized emperors of Rome had no problem with the idea. Subsequent Christian kings and rulers have, on occasion, followed the example of the Byzantine/Roman emperors with gusto. It doesn’t work very well. Take Mexico, one of the world’s most fervently Catholic countries. St. Juan Diego’s vision of our Blessed Mother at Tepeyac converted the  indigenous Mexican people to Christianity a whole lot more effectively than did Spanish steel. As far as I know, there is only one Christian state in existence today: the Vatican. There is certainly one Christian army: 135 Swiss Guards. They probably engender more giggles than fear with their halberds, helmets and striped pantaloons, but since  Mehmet Ali Agca tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, their practical use as a papal bodyguard has become far less quaint.

Islam does not claim the miracles that Christianity does. The beauty and poetry of the Koran is considered the greatest miracle of Islam, especially in consideration of Muhammad’s lack of literacy. It is simply not true that Islam originally spread by forced conversion. There is no call to spread Islam by forced conversion in the Koran as far as I can tell. The mandate of Allah is that Sharia, Islamic law, become the universal law of the world. Sharia allows “people of the book”, Christian, Jews and Sabians, whoever they may be, to practice their religion, with a few conditions. They must pay a special tax called the jizyah. Muslims pay zakat, which means charitable donation, and the khums, a separate assessed tax. The amount of these taxes is calculated differently in different times and different places. In order to practice their own religion, the peoples of the book must pay a different kind of tax, jizyah, more properly a “tribute,” something paid by conquered peoples. You might say, “What’s the difference? Muslims pay zakat and khums. Christian and Jews pay jizyah in the Muslim state.” In reality the fees levied on non-Muslims were considerably larger than the tax on Muslims and thus, conversion to Islam brought tax relief. The jizyah was sometimes double the taxes on Muslims. 

Muslim legal opinion teaches that the Dhimmi, the non-Muslim who is allowed to practice his religion, must be made to feel subjected when he paid the jizyah. He must be bowed with eyes to the floor when he paid. In certain places and times it was considered appropriate to symbolically slap the Dhimmi (non-Muslim) when he paid his jizyah (tribute tax). For those whom poverty made unable to pay the tax, the only recourse was conversion, imprisonment or slavery. The Dhimmi, permitted non-Muslim, is restricted in his dress, the height he can build his house, the walls around his house, the jobs he may take, the types of animals he may ride. (Only donkeys and mules, no camels or horses) He can not have religious schools for his children, nor can he repair his churches or build new ones. A Dhimmi may have no religious signs or symbols in his home or church or on his person that can be seen by a Muslim. Friendship with non-Muslims is explicitly forbidden by the Koran. In addition, the children of non-Muslims are fair game for conversion to Islam. Beginning as early as about 1350 AD, the Ottoman Turks would take the most promising of Christian subjects, aged between 10 and 12. They would be taught the Turkish language and  the religion of Islam. They were then drafted as Janissaries, the elite troops of the Caliph, the Ottoman Sultan.

The effect of these restrictions were the gradual conversion of the subjected peoples to Islam, primarily by means of tax relief, whether that tax be one’s money or one’s children. There were some stubborn hold outs against the religion of Allah, like the devoutly Christian Copts in Egypt and Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Assyrians, Armenians, Georgians, Chaldeans, Lebanese, Maronites and Malachites and the Greek Orthodox and the Palestinian Christians who are the descendants of the very first Christians, and in our times, it is estimated that some 2,000,000 (two million) Catholics among other Christians have been killed for resisting Sharia in the Southern Sudan. The world is divided into two parts especially in the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence:  Dar al-Islam, (the House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (House of war). Despite 2000 years of Dhimmi restrictions, the Christians of the House of Peace have continued to profess Christ.

Oh, by the way, there is dispute about whether or not to include Hindus, Buddhists and a few others as people of the book. This is significant because if you aren’t a person of the book, you must convert or die. So you see, Islam is not spread by the sword. Islamic law is spread by the sword. One must be precise in one’s definitions, mustn’t one?     

 (To be continued....)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 3

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)
There are, as I said, many similarities between Islam and Christianity, and many substantial differences. A book is very close to the heart of both religions for Islam that book is the Koran and for Christians the Bible, consisting of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. 

The Bible, strictly speaking, is not a book it is a collection of books all of which Christians believe to be equally inspired, that is “God-breathed.” One part is not necessarily more inspired than the other. The Bible  is filled with historical narrative. Many parts of it read like an adventure story. 

The Koran is completely different. The Koran has practically no narrative at all. It is simply a collection of sayings, not the sayings of Muhammad but the sayings of Allah. It can be thought of as a non sequential conversation between Allah and Muhammad by means of the Angel Gabriel. It is not the speaking of any man nor the opinion of any man. It is Allah who is the speaker and as such, the book should not be interpreted, or in the view of some, even translated from the very poetic, complex and ancient Arabic in which Allah first spoke it. To change the book is to change the speaking of Allah, and as such is blasphemous.   

Christians, on the other hand are always translating and amending the translation and reworking the text as better ancient scrolls are found. In Islam this sort of treatment for the Koran would be unthinkable.  Muhammad never wrote anything. The same is true of Jesus. His followers would remember or write down the things that Allah had told Muhammad and these were collected by them after Muhammad’s death in 632. 

They are not necessarily written down in the order in which they were spoken by Allah to Muhammad. This is important to remember. Much hinges on when apparently conflicting verses of the Koran were written. In addition to the Koran, there exist texts called the Hadiths, or acts and sayings of Muhammad that teach the Muslim way of life. They were set down about a century after the death of Muhammad, and there is dispute about which Hadiths are authentic. The Hadiths in no way are comparable to the Koran, but they support it. There are some words of Allah in the Hadiths which some Muslims hold on the level of the Koran, but in Islam the Koran stands alone. Muhammad was simply speaking for Allah. He put none of his own opinions in the text.

For instance the 4th chapter (surah), 34th verse of the Koran says:
“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.”   
This is not Muhammad’s opinion. This is Allah’s opinion, if one may say it that way. It is the infallible and unchangeable speaking of Allah. It can not be interpreted, modernized or nuanced.  It is the divine command. On the other hand, the precise nature of the veiling of women is not made clear in the Koran, though it is clear in the verse quoted that women should be veiled. The Hadiths indicate that  Muhammad taught a woman should show only her face and hands. The authenticity of each Hadith is discussed and there is room for interpretation regarding the Hadiths, and thus the nature of the veiling of women. That is why you see so many forms of the hijab, or veiling.

There is another very interesting similarity between Christianity and Islam, the doctrine of abrogation or “naskh.” Surah 2:106 says, “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar. Knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things?”  This means that nothing abrogates the Koran except the Koran. Naskh (abrogation) is a kind of gradual  revelation. 

Allah revealed his truth to Muhammad over the course of 20 years, gradually introducing Muhammad and his followers to more difficult and fuller truths. The problem with this is the dispute over the chronology of the verses. If one verse seems to contradict another, it is only an appearance because the later and fuller verse abrogates the earlier verse. The time at which a word was received by Muhammad is thus a matter of the greatest importance. 

Which came first, Sura 8.12 which says, “Remember thy lord has inspired the angels with the message. Give firmness to the believers and instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. Smite them above their necks and smite the fingertips of them,” or “Let there be no compulsion in religion” Surah 2:256?  It’s a rather important question. Surah 9:5 is called the “Verse of the Sword” and has caused no end of controversy. “When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.”   

Some Muslim modernists insist that verse applies only to the battle of Badr, but the history of Islam is in fact one of unremitting war. The general rule of thumb is that the earlier verses of the Koran revealed in Mecca are superseded by those revealed later at Medina. When the Muslims were still at Mecca they were too few in number to make war. When they were at Medina, they were better organized and stronger and thus Allah revealed his plan for the conquering armies of Islam and his goal of making the world subject to Sharia (Islamic Law) revealed in the Koran. The direction of abrogation is from word to sword, from critique to warfare.

Christianity too, has a kind of doctrine of abrogation, the New Testament abrogating the old. Jesus explain this in his teaching on divorce. Matthew 19:8 “Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.'”  What had been allowed in the covenant of Sinai was not to be allowed in the covenant of Calvary. The covenant of Calvary is meant to return Christians to the primeval innocence of the Garden of Eden. 

Thus Christians don’t stone adulterers or sorcerers, though this is commanded in the Law of Moses. They don’t permit divorce and above all don’t permit any violence that is not clearly self defense. The Christian form of abrogation is a turning away from violence. Christianity too has its own verses of the sword. When Jesus was being arrested he refused to let his disciples defend him. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to (Peter) him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”  And again: Matt 5:38,39 “You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” This abrogates Deuteronomy 19:21, “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  The Koran seems to side with Deuteronomy. (Surah42:42) “But there is no blame on those who defend themselves after they have been wronged.” This is amplified by Surah 2:193: “Persecution is worse than slaughter.”  This is usually taken to mean that religious persecution is the greatest offense and the greatest grounds for violent action.

So we share the concepts of Sacred Scripture and the concept of abrogation, but in these ideas Islam and Christianity are as different from each other as can be. There is very clearly a sword at the heart of Islam while there is a cross at the heart of Christianity.

To be continued…...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 2

(Letter to Charlene Law, continued.)

Muhammad continued to extend his conquests through Arabia, personally leading his armies in most cases. He lived a simple life in Medina when he was not out doing battle. He did the usual chores that an Arabian man would do and his life was not ostentatious. In 620, in the midst of his conquests,  Muhammad claimed to have traveled to the “farthest mosque” on a flying horse, named Buraq, accompanied and guided by the angel Gabriel. From there he ascended into heaven and was shown  hell as well as heaven. He spoke with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and the other early prophets. Some Muslim theologians claim this was spiritual, a vision. Others claim it was an actual physical journey. 

In 632, he made his final pilgrimage to Mecca and returned to the home of Aisha, his child bride in  Medina. She was quite probably the favorite of his twelve wives. He had married her at the age of 53. She was only nine years old at the time and was the daughter of Abu Baker, Muhammad’s companion in conquest, the first successor, a Caliph of Muhammad. Aisha long survived Muhammad and exerted a powerful influence on Islam. It was her father, Caliph (Successor) Abu Baker who extended the rule of Islam into the Persian and Christian Roman Empires.  There in Medina at the home of his beloved Aisha, he came down with a fever and died a few days later on June 8, 632. 

As Aisha cradled his head in her lap he asked her to dispose of seven coins, all the wealth he had, and died. He was buried where he died in Aisha’s house and the first two caliphs were buried next to him. There is a fourth tomb next to these three graves which is said to be for Jesus when he eventually dies. He was whisked away to heaven by Allah to await his return to earth where he joined in the battle against the False Messiah. He will rule the Islamic world, die and be buried. The Romans crucified someone else disguised as Jesus, not Jesus himself.

The story of Jesus is much simpler. Jesus was born in Bethlehem just south of Jerusalem, some 600 years before Muhammad. He was born in cave that was probably the storage space of a small house, where farm animals and implements were kept. It is there to this day. His mother claimed that she’d had a vision of the angel Gabriel and thus her miraculous pregnancy involved no human father. His birth was accompanied by rumors of angels and visits by shepherds and some odd travelers called magi, from Iran. They bore expensive gifts and their presence brought down the wrath of the paranoid Roman-appointed king, Herod the Great. Joseph was forced to take Mary and her baby and flee to Egypt from whence, after a few years, they returned to Nazareth.

He lived a quiet life with his mother Mary, in Nazareth an unremarkable town in Galilee. Nazareth means “Little Shoot” in Hebrew. That about says it all “What good can come from Little Shoot?” Seems to have been a proverb at the time. There couldn’t have been more than 200 people in the village, most of them from the old threadbare nobility descended from King David. They thus were mostly relatives of Jesus. 

He lived there quietly learning the building and carpentry trade from Joseph who though not his biological father had raised him as a son. He probably worked as a day laborer in Sephoris, two miles from Nazareth where there was plenty of work. His only trips out were probably  those taken to Jerusalem for religious festivals. When he was twelve he stayed behind to question the teachers of the law and when they realized he was not in the caravan they rushed back to find him after three days of looking. There he was in conversation with the rabbis. 

This was the only thing that seemed to have happened to him since his odd birth that might indicate there was something unusual about the fellow. He was quite undistinguished. He never married and when he was about thirty years old, possibly at his mother’s insistence, he was baptized by his cousin John, a radical reformer who had broken with the temple and its priestly establishment. His disciples said that he experienced an  overshadowing by the Holy Spirit of God which forced him into the desert. 

After this he began a preaching ministry and gathered disciples and students around him. They claimed that he healed the sick, expelled demons and worked miracles. These things are reported in the memoirs of the disciples and quite possibly in the writings of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. He drew the wrath of the temple priests and their political/religious party, the Sadducees who had him executed by means of crucifixion under Roman law, not Jewish, when he was about 33 years old. 

His disciples claimed that after three days he rose from the dead and claimed to have seen him risen for a bit longer than a month after his death and supposed resurrection. He told them to announce the forgiveness on sins through the whole world. They held him to be the divine Word, the divine manifestation of the God of the Hebrews.

There are some interesting parallels and interesting differences between Jesus and Muhammad. Both never wrote a book. It was their disciples who wrote down what they said and did. Curiously, Jesus had twelve disciples. Muhammad had twelve wives. Both announced the arrival of Kingdoms. Muhammad announced the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) which is at unceasing war with the rest of the world known as Dar al-Harb (House of war) until all the world becomes Muslim or at least accepts Islamic rule and superiority.   

Muhammad vigorously extended the House of Islam by military means, and commanded his followers to do likewise. Jesus, at his trial, told the Roman governor that his kingdom did not belong to this world. Muhammad was a victorious general. Jesus never even owned a sword.  Muhammad never claimed divinity. His title is “the messenger of God.” He did nothing less nor more than deliver God’s message. Jesus, if his followers are to be believed not only claimed divinity he claimed that he WAS God’s message.  

 Most interesting of all, in both Islam and Christianity the tomb of Jesus is empty. In Islamic belief it is empty because Jesus has not yet occupied it. In Christian belief it is empty, because Jesus, though he once occupied it, rose from the dead leaving it forever empty. Muhammad is buried in Medina next to the tomb the Muslims believe Jesus will some day occupy. The tomb in Jerusalem where Christians believe Jesus was laid to rest after his death on the cross is most certainly empty. 

I have been in it. I have prayed in it. It is most certainly empty. 

Happy Easter.

(To be continued.....)