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....)

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