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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Islam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Islam. Show all posts

Friday, February 10, 2017

Does Religion "Fly You Into Buildings"?


Physicist and anti-theist Victor Stenger famously claimed "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings." This kind of throwaway line is standard fare for the new atheist types and is often repeated via memes shared on social media sites. Stenger isn't the only one who thinks religion is a way to manipulate others into doing immoral acts. Sam Harris claimed "One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not."1

I'm not sure how Harris concluded that religion divorces morality from suffering. If he were a true student of world religions he would recognize that the question of human suffering is the primary focus of most faiths. Hindus seek to be come closer to the divine, eliminating the suffering associated with the cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists teach balance to avoid pain and suffering. Islam holds suffering as Christianity focuses on eliminating suffering by eliminating sin and its consequences. While I don't agree with the underlying assumptions of other faiths, it is disingenuous to say that religion divorces morality from suffering. The problem of human suffering is front and center in religious faith.

What about Jihadists?

 So how do we explain the ISIS or Al Qaeda suicide bombers then? Isn't it obvious that such horrendous acts are religiously motivated? I would say it's true only in part. Islam is a faith that offers Muhammad as its exemplar—the model Muslim to which all others should aspire. Muhammad was a warrior who slaughtered innocents and the famous "sword verses" of the Qur'an commands the faithful to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush." (Sura 9:5) and "When you encounter the unbeliever, strike off their heads until you have made a great slaughter among them" (Sura 47:4). Also, the Qur'an promises a reward to the warrior who dies in his fight for Islam: "So let them fight in the way of God who sell the present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights in the way of God and is slain, or conquers, We shall bring him a mighty wage" (Sura 4:74).

Because Islam offers both the commands of the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad, it allows for jihadists to kill themselves while killing the enemy in the name of martyrdom. But that doesn't mean suicide terrorism is the first resort of Muslims. In fact, it turns out that suicide terrorism isn't a historically popular strategy for followers of Islam. Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism notes that there were no suicide attacks by Muslims or any other groups from 1945 to 1980. From 1980 through 2003, Pape catalogued 315 suicide terrorism campaigns around the world with 462 individual suicide terrorists.2 Pape notes that "every suicide campaign from 1980 to 2003 has had as a major objective –or as its central objective—coercing a foreign government that has military forces in what they see as their homeland to take those forces out." 3Pape concludes, "The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation."4 So, politics and power are the real motivation for terrorist campaigns. It thrives in Islam because the belief system doesn't contradict its use.

What about the Destructive Power of Science?

The biggest problem with Stenger's quip is it is so self-selective. It gives a rosy picture of science by the example of one of our greate3st achievements and then contrasts it with one of our greatest horrors. But it isn't "science" that flies us to the moon. It's human beings who do that. Science allows human beings to understand thrust and gravity. It is a tool to help us accomplish whatever goals we have. Humans used science to develop the planes that Stenger seems to be so worried about, but he doesn't mention that. We use science to construct better weapons, too, producing some of them most incredible destructive powers on earth. Without science, we would never have had a Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  And without religion, we would never have a Mother Theresa or a Father Damien.

The Golden Rule and the concept of the Good Samaritan find their origin in Christianity.  Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt explains that it was the teachings of Jesus that "elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organizations, created hospitals, established orphanages, and founded schools."5

Harris and Stenger's comments not only show their bias, but they are demonstrably wrong. They have simply created straw men in order to easily knock them down. Perhaps if they showed a little more Christian charity toward those with whom they disagree, they wouldn't be so nasty and could see things a bit more clearly.

References

1. Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.
2. Pape, Robert Anthony. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Random House, 2005. Print. 14-16.
3. Pape, 2005. 42.
4. Pape, 2005. 23.
5. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 8.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Islam, Jihad, and Claims of a Religion of Peace



Is Islam a religion of peace? Realize that is not the same question as "are Muslims peaceful?" I have many Muslim friends and I can answer with assurance that they are not only peaceful, but they stand aghast at the various terrorist atrocities taking place in the name of Islam across the globe. They hate the fact that the religion with which they identify would be associated with such wanton evil.

While it is possible that for the most part the second question may be answered affirmatively, it doesn't follow that the answer to the first question is also yes. Islam has a history and an ethic beginning with the teachings of the Qur'an  and continuing through the lives of Muhammad and his successors that must also be weighed.

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a devoutly Muslim home. He was passionate about his faith, frequently engaging Christians in conversations and defending his faith against any detractors, usually with considerable success. However,when Nabeel went to investigate the teachings of Islam regarding jihad, he discovered a disjunct between what he thought his faith held versus its enshrined teachings. In his book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. he explains how the monumental event of September 11 caused a seismic shift in his understanding of his faith:
When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. I sincerely believe September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims like my family than for the average American. Not only did we newly perceive our lack of security from jihadists, as did everyone else, we also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes. It felt as if we were hemmed in on all sides. In the midst of this, while mourning our fallen compatriots and considering our own security, we had to defend the faith we knew and loved. We had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as we had always known. I remember hearing a slogan at my mosque that I shared with many: "The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam."

Many Americans proved understanding and received our responses graciously. They joined us in denouncing terrorists, asserting that they were not representative of Islam. Others, including friends at my university, were not so compliant. They pushed back, pointing to the violence in Islamic history. Given the prevalence of warfare throughout the history of Islam, they asked how I could argue that Islam was a religion of peace.

In that defensive posture, discussing the matter with people who appeared unfriendly to my faith, it was a knee-jerk reaction for me to say whatever I could to defend Islam. But when I was alone with my thoughts, I could ask myself honestly: What does Islam really teach about jihad? Is Islam really a religion of peace?

I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad's life, and to my genuine surprise, I found the pages of Islamic history dripping with violence. How could I reconcile this with what I had always been taught about Islam? When I asked teachers in the Muslim community for help, they usually rationalized the violence as necessary or dismissed the historicity of the accounts. At first I followed their reasoning, but after hearing the same explanations for dozens if not hundreds of accounts, I began to realize that these were facile responses. Their explanations were similar to my own knee-jerk responses to non-Muslims who questioned Islam. Of course, I understood why they were doing it. We truly believed Islam was a religion of peace, and we were interpreting the data to fit what we knew to be true.

But was it true? After years of investigation, I had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundations of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take.1
Many Muslims, especially those in the West, have been deeply influenced over the centuries by Western thought and ideals. It shouldn't surprise people if Muslims then interpret Islam in a more peaceful way, even if that isn't the authoritative teaching of the faith. I've made the point before that since the Qur'an calls for violence and Muhammad—the model of living out the Islamic ideal—practiced it, it is more reasonable to understand Islam as a violent warrior faith.

I recommend Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. It provides a sensitive yet clear understanding of Islam's teaching on Jihad and how Christians can respond to such an important topic.

References

1. Qureshi, Nabeel. Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Kindle Edition. 15-16.
Image courtesy Day Donaldson and licensed via the Creative Commons CC-by-2.0 license.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?



Last December, a Wheaton College professor ignited a firestorm when she created a Facebook post including a statement that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." This exposed a very interesting debate that has gone on within Christendom for some time with devote Christians and good thinkers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? The question may not be as easy as it first appears. Certainly, there are vast differences in the way each faith understands the nature and attributes of God. Jews and Christians hold to a God that is all-loving and who revealed himself through the Old Testament prophets and writings. Christians would go on to distinguish God as a Triune being, one who is three in persons but single in essence. Muslims would reject these descriptions.

However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share some beliefs about God. Each of the faiths are monotheistic in what can be termed a classically theistic way. That is, each understands God as a being who is eternal, self-existing, and necessary. There is no conceivable universe where God does not exist, for any possible universe must have its origin in God. Realize by defining God this way, one defines God as a unique being, distinct from everything else. There can only be one necessary being. So if each faith points to the necessary being as their God, doesn't that mean we worship the same God?

Getting God's Properties Wrong

Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues that we must be talking about the same being. At his blog, Beckwith argues that while Muslims may get many properties attributed to God wrong, that in itself doesn't invalidate the fact they are referring to the God recognized by Christians and Jews. He explains:
But doesn't Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn't this mean that they indeed worship different "Gods"? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.1

Distorting God Beyond Recognition

I appreciate Beckwith's point. Are Christians willing to say that Abraham didn't worship the same God we do because he wouldn't have ascribed the property "Trinity" to him? Yet, I don't think his analogy is quite correct. The Trinity is not the only aspect of God where there is division. The points at which Fred and Bob disagree about Jefferson are not substantial to describing the third president one way or the other. However, if Fred held that TJ was born in Virginia in 1743 and wrote the Declaration of independence while Bob held that TJ was born in Chicago in 1920 and played a trumpet, then it is his assumption that he is speaking about the third president of the U.S. that is in error. There are too many points of difference between the descriptions.

Here's the problem. The Muslim conception of God reminds me of what you get out of a pressed penny machine at Disney land or some other tourist spot. You start with a penny, which is recognized as legal tender and must be recognized as payment for debts in the U.S.2 If you owe a creditor $50, he is obligated to accept 5000 pennies as payment. However, let's say you ran all 5,000 pennies though the Disneyland penny press so they now look like the image at the top of this post. The press distorted the penny so much it can no longer be called a penny. It can no longer be used as legal tender; it's value is only measured by the price of  souvenir's copper bullion on the open market.3

This is exactly what Islam has done to the concept of God. While it began with the classically theist conception of God from the Jews and Christians, it has squished, stretched and distorted the description of God to the point where it has become unrecognizable by Christians or Jews. The Islamic God is capable of deception and evil (Surah 4.142, 14.4). He is not only non-Trinitarian, but anti-Trinitarian claiming that Christians are sentenced to hell (5.72). The Islamic god is not a father with whom one may develop a personal relationship (5.18).The Islamic God can and does change his mind, not in an anthropomorphized or conditional way, but a true change of intent. The God of Islam is actually capricious and not at all trustworthy.

When one looks at how the Allah is described in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that the properties he holds are not those of a necessary being. The descriptions don't fit; they're completely out of place and undermine the idea of a God who is the source of morality, love, and existence. To claim the Islamic God the same necessary being referred to by Christians like trying to use a pressed penny in a gumball machine. It simply doesn't fit.

References

1. Beckwith, Francis J. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" The Catholic Thing. The Catholic Thing, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/.
2. "Legal Tender Status." Resource Center. United States Treasury, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx.
3. "Mutilated Currency and Bent or Partial Coin." Federal Reserve Bank Services. Federal Reserve Banks, 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.frbservices.org/operations/currency/mutilated_currency_and_coin.html.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Christian Response to the Tragedy in Orlando (video)



The recent slaughter at the gay nightclub in Orlando Florida has sparked a variety of reactions. The gunman was Muslim, even claiming to act in solidarity with ISIS and the victims were gay. But, some blame the motivation for the murderous rampage on the anti-homosexual stance taken by Christians.

It is true that Christians have been at odds with those who lobby for things like same sex marriage. Activists have sued Christian bakers, florists, photographers, innkeepers, and others forcing them to lose their livelihoods. So, how should Christians respond in this instance? The answer is that Christians should love the LGBT so much they are willing to lay down their lives.

In this short video, Lenny looks to the instructions Paul lays out in Romans 12:9-21 and says Christians should show love. We should be self-sacrificial, even when those who would persecute you are being threatened. See why Christians should be willing to step in front of a bullet meant for another, no matter what their political stance is.


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Muslim Root of the Armenian Genocide

When we hear the accounts of oppression and slaughter coming out of the Middle East we're horrified. I recently read of one such story where a wedding party had just returned to the family's house from the church ceremony. A band of armed terrorists awaited them there, attacking the guests and the wedding party itself, robbing them of their belongings. When they reached the bride, they stole all she had, raped her, and left. Weddings then began to be held secretly in homes for fear of becoming targets or because the Muslims would kidnap the bride prior to the wedding, asking for ransom for her return.1



You may think that stories like this come from recent news reports. But, this story isn't about a group like ISIS seeking to exterminate Christians in Iraq. This was a common occurrence for Middle Eastern Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire from the 1500s until its collapse in the twentieth century.  Today, Armenians the world over are remembering the one hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide's beginning, with ceremonies, gatherings and stories. One hundred years ago today, the Young Turks, while looking to establish a  more modern, more European-like society also began a mass extermination that took approximately 1.5 million lives.

How could such a thing happen? How could a government seek to destroy an indigenous portion of its population? As Dr. Gregory H. Stanton has taught, there are eight stages people groups are subjected to that point to genocide.2 While the Armenian Genocide cannot be classified as exclusively religiously-motivated, it is the teaching of Islam that clearly set the stage.

The Ottomans, following Muslim Sharia law, had a policy of dhimmi, which meant that non-Muslims would have to pay a tribute tax (jizya) and hold second-class status in their own lands. Through Islamic law, the Armenians were classified, symbolized, dehumanized, and polarized, four key stages that Stanton identifies. Ramsay's report, written nearly two decades before the beginning of the exterminations, reports Christians were viewed as unworthy of even being converted to Islam for centuries:
They were dogs and pigs; and their nature was to be Christians, to be spat upon, if their shadow darkened a Turk, to be outraged, to be the mats on which he wiped the mud from his feet. Conceive the inevitable result of centuries of slavery, of subjection to insult and scorn, centuries in which nothing that belonged to the Armenian, neither his property, his house, his life, his person, nor his family, was sacred or safe from violence – capricious, unprovoked violence – to resist which by violence meant death! 3
The New York Times agrees that there was already "a policy of extermination directed against the Christians of Asia Minor" in place well before the Young Turks began their purging of Armenians.4 The Armenians had subsisted in this manner for so long because of their acquiescence to their Muslim conquerors. Ramsay continues:
Every one knew that any sign of sprit or courage would be almost certain to draw down immediate punishment… [The Armenians] are charged, by the voice of almost every traveler, with timidity and even cowardice; but the for centuries they had the choice offered them between submission and death. So long as they were perfectly submissive, they were allowed to live in comparative quiet; so long as they had money, they could purchase immunity from or redress for, insult. Naturally and necessarily the bravest were killed off, they that could most readily cringe and submit survived, and all efforts were directed at acquiring money, as the only way of providing safety for family and self."5
However, as Taner Akcam writes, in the nineteenth century things began to change. "The Christian minorities, infected with the spirit of progress and freedom blowing in from Europe, began to revolt against political and economic oppression and demand equality, followed by autonomy, and eventually territory. The Ottomans generally met these demands with violent suppression and terror."6

When The Young Turks, a group that sought to create a constitutional government in Turkey instead of a monarchy grabbed power, they provided the other four steps necessary for the genocide: an organized state, preparation, extermination, and denial.7 To this day, the Turkish government denies that any type of genocide has occurred, even though it was recognized by the United Nations thirty years ago.

Christianity upholds the equality of all people. We are all made in the image of God and all worthy of respect. Christianity teaches that we are to pray for our enemies, that we are not to take vengeance but it is up to God to repay. Islam teaches the subjugation and separation of non-Muslims.  It shouldn't be a surprise that horrendous atrocities can be cultivated in a culture where Sharia principles have been lived out for centuries.

References

1. Ramsay, William Mitchell. Impressions of Turkey during Twelve Years' Wanderings. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1897. Print. 208.
2. Stanton, Gregory H. "Genocide Watch." Genocide Watch. Genocide Watch, 1988. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/8stagesofgenocide.html.
3. Ramsay, 1897, 207-208
4. Kifner, John. "Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview." The New York Times. The New York Times, 2007. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/timestopics/topics_armeniangenocide.html.
5. Ramsay, 1897. 208.
6. Akçam, Taner. A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. New York: Metropolitan, 2006. Print. 27.
7. "Armenian Genocide History." Armenian Genocide. Armenian Genocide History, 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.armenocide.am/Genocide_history.html.

Friday, April 03, 2015

With Christians Dead, What's So Good about Good Friday?

The students were praying. It was Holy Thursday, when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s prayer in the garden. Then, suddenly, gunmen burst into the room and began shooting. CNN reports that 147 people were killed in the Islamic attack on Kenya University, with Somali gunmen singling out Christians for slaughter.1 After shooting some Christians and taking others hostage in the prayer service, the terrorists then proceeded to the student dorms, allowing Muslims to escape while executing the Christian students, according to witness Joel Ayora.



The news is gruesome and we mourn with our Christian brothers and sisters in Kenya, just as we mourn for Christians in other areas of Nigeria who have been slaughtered by another Islamic faction, Boko Haram.2 We also mourn for the Christians who were killed or driven from their 2,000 year old home of Mosul to the point of extinction by ISIS terrorists.3 According to Open Doors, each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith across the globe, along with 722 acts of violence against believers.4 And acts of persecution are growing.5

Islam Compared to the Cross

Today is Good Friday, and this day really emphasizes the difference between Christianity and all other faiths. It underscores the Uniqueness of Christ and his instruction to his followers. In Islam, Mohammad conquered with his armies while Jesus conquered with his blood. In Islam, Muhammad sought treatment to cure him and pleads for healing before his death6. In Christianity Jesus chooses to "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:1, ESV). In Islam, followers are instructed to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)" (Sura 9:5, Yusuf Ali) when Christians are told "rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4:13, ESV).

The suffering of Christians is sobering, yet we still rejoice because what Jesus accomplished on this day will ultimately make such sufferings worthwhile. Instead of seeking to conquer by force, Jesus conquered by sacrifice. Instead of viewing enemies as people to be slaughtered, Jesus saw enemies as victims to be saved. Instead of looking to establish its dominion in this world, Jesus sought to establish his kingdom by first defeating death and sin. When Christians suffer for their faith, they are simply following the model of their Lord.

It is because of his victory over death that Christians can rejoice, even when they face death. This is why we call this particular Friday "Good." It signals that the ultimate enemy of man has been defeated and no matter what our end on earth, our destiny in heaven can never be taken from us. Remember Christ’s sacrifice this Good Friday, Pray for those who also laid down their lives for their faith in him, but also pray for those who took those lives. Christ died for his enemies; may they be reconciled to him.

References

1. Levs, Josh, and Holly Yan. "Gunmen Attack Garissa University College in Kenya." CNN. Cable News Network, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/02/africa/kenya-university-attack/.
2. Morgan, Timothy C. "How Boko Haram's Murders and Kidnappings Are Changing Nigeria's Churches." ChristianityToday.com. Christianity Today, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/boko-haram-chibok-hostages-persecution.html.
3. Esposito, Lenny. "The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq." Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 22 July 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/07/the-atrocity-against-christians-in-iraq.html.
4. "Christian Persecution." Open Doors. Open Doors USA, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/.
5. Newman, Alex. "Christian Martyrdom Doubled in 2013, Persecution Growing." The New American. The New American, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/faith-and-morals/item/17417-christian-martyrdom-doubled-in-2013-persecution-growing.
6. Silas. "The Death of Muhammad." Answering-Islam.org. Answering-Islam.org, 28 Nov. 2002. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/mo-death.htm.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Are Christians Like Atheists With Respect to Islam?

In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris makes the claim that Christians know just what it's like to be non-believers. In fact, he asserts they are non-believers if one is considering the Muslim god. Harris writes:
Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. You think that Muslims are fooling themselves? You think that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe is misguided? Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way Atheists view Christianity, and in fact the way we view all other religions.1


Harris seems to make a convincing claim. Is this right? Are we rejecting Islam in the same way that atheists reject Christianity? Actually, no. Harris offers a false analogy here; Christians have very strong reasons for rejecting Islam while still holding to Christianity as the one true faith.

Evaluating the Evidence

Harris first tries to stack the deck with his claim that Christians cannot prove that the angel Gabriel didn't visit Muhammad in a cave to unveil the first verses of the Qur'an. That story is itself not part of the Qur'an, but in the later written collections of traditions about Muhammad known as the Hadith.2 These stories were compiled by al-Bukari some 200 years after Muhammad's life.3 While this doesn't exclusively invalidate the Islamic revelation tale, it certainly doesn't put it on the same footing as the Gospel accounts that were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to Jesus's resurrection.

More importantly, the Qur'an references the Bible throughout its pages. Note that the angel claimed to visit Muhammad is the Arch-angel Gabriel. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old Testament (Daniel 8:16, 9:21) and the New Testament (Luke 1:19,26). Jesus (Isa) is talked about repeatedly as is acknowledged as a messenger from God. Further, the Qur'an points to the Gospels and even instructs Muhammad to verify his doubts with “those who have read the book before you” (Sura 10:94) meaning Muhammad should check with the Christians and Jews who had the Word of God in their book.

Contradictory Claims

Given that Muhammed is to compare his teachings with those of the Bible, it is reasonable to say that the Qur'an recognized and leverages the authority of the Bible. Yet, as Muhammad's teachings evolved over the years, they became more and more unlike those found in Scripture. Islam's description of God is nothing like that found in either testament. So, it is reasonable to reject Islam on the basis that the very authority of their faith (the Qur'an) extols that Bible as the confirmation of the truth, yet contradicts the Bible on the essentials of who God is and what his message is. The Qur'an gives us the test as to whether Muhammad's message is reliable itself: compare it to the Bible. All Christians know that Islam and Christianity are simply incompatible belief systems. They cannot both be true. Since the Qur'an relies upon the Bible and holds it up as a preexisting standard, one is more reasonable to believe the Bible rather than the Qur'an.

The Category Error of Harris' Atheism

There's one other point I want to make in Harris' charge. Believing in no God at all is markedly different than believing in one specific God over another. The fact that there is a Creator of the universe has been recognized throughout all of human history. Getting attributes of the Creator wrong is not the same thing as dismissing any chance of a creator at all.

Other atheists I've engaged with have offered a more sweeping but similar charge, something like “There have been thousands of gods people have believed in across history; you don't believe in Thor or Zeus or Ra. While you're an atheist regarding all these, we just believe in one less god than you.” Such a retort is silly. Imagine turning in your math quiz blank and telling your teacher, “There are thousands of answers to those problems that you don't believe are right. You reject them all. I just believe in one less right answer than you.” I don't think such logic would carry you very far.

Atheists like Harris are categorically different than theists like Christians and Muslims. We recognize that the problem of “Why is there something rather than nothing” is a problem on the table and needs an answer. As a Christian, I will work out the problem with the factors that are set before me. The evidence adds up to Christianity. Harris turns in his blank page and smugly walks away telling everyone else he aced the test.

References

1. Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Knopf, 2006. Print.7
2. Al_Bukarhi , Muhammad.“The Revelation.” Sahih al_Bukarhi, (Vol 1, Book 1, Num 3). Web. http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_1_01.php
3. "Sahih Bukhari."SahihBukhari.com, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015. http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/.

Friday, February 06, 2015

What Were the Crusades? Busting Some Myths

Just what were the Crusades? In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, President Obama likened the evil savagery that ISIS has been perpetrating in the name of Islam to Christianity and the Crusades. First, it makes no sense to with a wave of one's rhetorical hand dismiss one evil because of another. In logic, that is known as the tu quoque (Latin for "you too!") fallacy. Yet, there is another problem with the president's comparison: it's based on a very common, very popular, but very wrong misconception about what the Crusades were about and what actually happened historically.



I want to take a moment to play myth-buster and show why the modern assumptions are very much backwards and why the Crusades are not parallel with the ISIS killings we read in the headlines today.

What Were the Crusades? Myth – Christians Unilaterally Attacked Muslim Lands

This seems to be the foundational myth in misunderstanding what were the Crusades. Many believe  that Christians gathered their armies from the various parts of Europe to march into Muslim territory and conquer anyone believing in Islam. Usually, Christians are painted as religious bigots trying to stamp out the unbeliever through warfare and violence. In a supplemental text to the video game "Crusade of Kings, " R. Scott Peoples writes "The soldiers of the First Crusade appeared basically without warning, storming into the Holy Land with the avowed—literally—task of slaughtering unbelievers."This is a popular picture, but one that's dead wrong.

What Were the Crusades? Reality –Hundreds of Years of Muslim Aggression

Thomas F. Madden summarizes distinguished Crusades expert Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith and writes, "All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church."2 The Muslim aggression towards Christians in Christian lands had been recurring over hundreds of years. Muslim invaders had swept across Northern Africa in the seventh century while simultaneously conquering Christian areas in Palestine, up through Russia and southern Italy. For another three hundred years, they attacked Christian southwestern Europe and west Asia.

Scott Thong in his article "Christianity vs Islam – Who Started This Whole Mess?" presents a detailed timeline of all Muslim aggression prior to the Christian response, but I've reproduced a condensed version below:3
  • 634 A.D. Muslim invasion of Byzantine Christian Empire and Palestine
  • 650 A.D. Muslim invasion of Khazar (Ukraine and Russia), until 737 A.D.
  • 652 A.D. Muslims invade and occupy Christian Sicily and Italy, until 1091 A.D.
  • 700 A.D. Muslim invasion of Nubia
  • 711 A.D. Muslims attack, invade and occupy Christian Spain, Portugal, Andora and Gibraltar, and try to invade France but are soundly trashed in the Battle of Tours, until 975 A.D.
  • 846 A.D. Muslim Saracen sacking of Rome
  • 1064 A.D. Muslim invasion of West Asia - Turkish Muslims attack, invade and occupy Asia Minor and Syria, until 1308. However, later events cause them to remain under Muslim occupation today.
  • 1095 A.D. The First Crusade - First Crusade begins. Campaign is limited to retaking formerly Christian lands.
  • Today, all the territory reclaimed from Muslim occupiers during the Crusades has returned to Muslim occupation

What Were the Crusades? Reality - Christians Hoping to Save Their Brethren

Medieval Historian Paul F. Crawford in his article "Four Myths about the Crusades" sums it up by writing:
Far from being unprovoked, then, the crusades actually represent the first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century, and which continued on thereafter, mostly unabated. Three of Christianity's five primary episcopal sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) had been captured in the seventh century; both of the others (Rome and Constantinople) had been attacked in the centuries before the crusades.4
Madden and Riley-Smith agree:
The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.

In each case, the faithful went to war to defend Christians, to punish the attackers, and to right terrible wrongs. As Riley-Smith has written elsewhere, crusading was seen as an act of love—specifically the love of God and the love of neighbor. By pushing back Muslim aggression and restoring Eastern Christianity, the Crusaders were—at great peril to themselves—imitating the Good Samaritan.5
So, the comparison the president makes concerning the Crusades and ISIS aggression simply doesn't hold up. ISIS is continuing what Muslims have historically done, with the notable exception that they are seeking to take lands from other Muslims as well. It makes no sense to deflect such barbarism by trying to offer a poor historical comparison. It makes even less sense given the fact that people are dying right now because of ISIS. The threat is immediate and real; pointing to false stereotypes helps no one.

References

1. R. Scott Peoples, Crusade of Kings (Rockville, MD: Wildside, 2009), 7. Web. https://books.google.com/books?id=rdDyOiWYC6AC&lpg=PP1&dq=Crusade%20of%20Kings&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q&f=false
2. Madden, Thomas F. "Inventing the Crusades." First Things. First Things, June 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/06/inventing-the-crusades.
3. Thong, Scott. "Christianity vs Islam - Who Started This Whole Mess?" Leading Malaysian Neocon. Scott Thong, 22 Apr. 2008. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. http://scottthong.wordpress.com/2008/04/23/christianity-vs-islam-who-started-this-whole-mess/.
4. Crawford, Paul F. "Four Myths About the Crusades." First Principles. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Spring 2011. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1483.
5. Madden, 2009.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Christian Terrorism?

The recent attacks on the French satirical periodical Charlie Hebdo resulted in a worldwide outpouring of support for the victims and condemnation of the terrorists. But the condemnation also came with a lot of confusion and rhetoric from both liberal and conservative factions. I don't believe it is right to paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush. As John A. Azumah explained in his recent piece, the Wahabbists follow a specific type of Islam, but they also shirk their own authority structures and seek to take matters into their own hands.1 Thus, the terrorists are both the natural outworking of Islamic beliefs and violators of its governing bodies.



While some on the right may have a penchant to see every Muslim as a terrorist, some on the left make two very different types of errors. The first is to see no connection between the terrorists and Islam at all. This is absurd to the point of ridicule. After Mohammad's conquering of Medina and Mecca, the Caliphite expansion across North Africa and into Spain, the Crusades, the Ottoman expansion, the attack on the Marine base in Lebanon, the attack on the USS Cole, 9/11, the London Subway bombings, the Madrid train bombings, and countless more attempts that have been thwarted, I think that any reasonable person can see a pattern developing. History shows that Islam was in fact spread by the sword, and it is easy to see how the children of the Hanbali tradition would see justification in continuing that tradition.

But it is the other mistake some have made that concerns me even more deeply. There are some on the left who would argue that it isn't Islam that's the problem, but it is any type of dedicated religious belief. These people charge that Christians who take their faith seriously are just as much a terrorist threat as radicalized Muslims.

One case in point is an article written by Jack Jenkins that appeared on the Think Progress site a month before the Charlie Hebdo attack. Entitled "The Other Kind Of Religious Extremism: The Christian Terrorist Movement No One Wants To Talk About," Jenkins tries to link individual attacks, such as the white supremacist Larry McQuilliams who shot up several buildings (but no people) in Austin, Texas with groups like Al Queaeda, Boko Harem, and ISIS.

Jenkins knows that McQuilliams was following the teachings of the white supremacist group the Phineas Priesthood. But for him, that's more evidence that some Christians can be dangerous. He writes, "McQuilliams' possible ties to the Phineas Priesthood may sound strange, but it's actually unsettlingly common. In fact, his association with the hateful religious group highlights a very real — but often under-reported — issue: terrorism enacted in the name of Christ." 2

Wait a minute. Did Jenkins really enact terrorism in the name of Christ? Did he scream out "Jesus be praised" during his attack? Not at all. According to the Austin Chronicle, who interviewed FBI special agent Chris Combs, "he had a rooted motive. 'He could not find employment,' Combs said. 'He was also upset that – in his eyes – many immigrants had more services afforded to them than he had afforded to him.'"3 Yet, Jenkins is pretty quick to rush his judgment simply because he had a book published by a white supremacist movement with the word "Christendom" in the title. Jenkins then shows his hand by widening his scope:
But there is a long history of terrorist attacks resembling McQuilliams' rampage across Austin — where violence is carried out in the name of Christianity — in the United States and abroad. In America, the Ku Klux Klan is well-known for over a century of gruesome crimes against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and others — all while ascribing to what they say is a Christian theology.4
Is he kidding? "All while ascribing to what they say is Christian theology?" Jenkins uses the IRA of Northern Ireland as one example of "terrorism enacted in the name of Christ." That's ridiculous; the IRA was very much a political group, described as "a militant nationalist organization" by the Encyclopedia Britannica.5 There was no ascribing their actions as the proper outworking of Christian theology. Likewise, the Klu Klux Klan cannot claim any verse that tells them to burn crosses or hang people because of the color of their skin. In order to demonize Christianity, Jenkins simply tries to grab hold of anything that seeks to use the word "Christian" while violating both the core teachings of Christianity and the example set by its founder, Jesus Christ.

When looking at the foundation of Christianity, one sees that the followers of Jesus died for their faith, and even during those times of early persecution they didn't form an army against their persecutors. The inherent worth of all men including those with physical or mental defects comes from Christianity. The teachings of Jesus such as the Golden Rule, to go the extra mile, or to "turn the other cheek" are the best values for a civilized and gracious society. Jesus Himself did not conquer with an army, but gave himself as a sacrifice for others. If an individual's acts with intent to terrorize or kill, you no longer have Christianity. You have something else entirely.

In perpetrating intentional distortions such as these, Jenkins himself engages in a kind of journalistic terrorism, seeking to ghettoize the faithful followers of Jesus as some kind of threat. The public would be better served with the truth than misleading articles such as his.

References

1. Azumah, John A. "An Explanation of Islam's Relation to Terrorism and Violence." First Things. First Things, Jan. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/01/challenging-radical-islam.
2. Jenkins, Jack. "The Christian Terrorist Movement No One Wants To Talk About." ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress, 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/12/04/3599271/austin-shooter-christian-extremism/.
3. Hoffberger, Chase, and Michael King. "Shooter Had ‘Hate in His Heart'" The Austin Chronicle. The Austin Chronicle Corp., 5 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2014-12-05/shooter-had-hate-in-his-heart/.
4. Jenkins., Think Progress, 2014.
5 "Irish Republican Army (IRA) | Irish Military Organization." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/294148/Irish-Republican-Army-IRA.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

What Islam Really Teaches About Images of Muhammad

The world is in shock at the grave tragedy in which twelve people were gunned down at Charlie Hebdo by Muslim extremists. The French satirical newspaper had published several cartoon caricatures of the Islamic prophet Muhammad over the years, many of them placing the prophet in scandalous or obscene positions.



Islamic activist and Sharia law lecturer Anjem Choudary seemed to justify the attack in a USAToday Opposing Views piece where he said that freedom of expression "comes with responsibilities" and explained that "the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike."1 He seems to place the emphasis on the satirical aspect of the portrayals rather than the fact that these were images of Muhammad. However, it's being reported that any depiction of Muhammad is banned in Islam. A CNN report entitled "Why Islam forbids images of Mohammed" wrote that "The prohibition again illustrating the Prophet Mohammed began as an attempt to ward off idol worship." They also note the prohibition extends to other prophets and noted that "some Muslim countries banned the films Noah and Exodus this year because their leading characters were Hebrew prophets."2

But that's not quite what Islam teaches.

No Images of Any Living Creature

To be clear, there is no prohibition whatsoever against images of the prophets in the Qur'an. The closest one gets is Sura 21:52 where Abraham rebukes the idol worship of his people with the question "What are these statues to which you are devoted?"3 However, it isn't only the Qur'an that informs the religion of Muslims. Muslims must also rely on the traditions of Muhammad, as recorded in a series of books known as the Hadith. There are different Hadith for different factions of Muslims, but most Muslims are Sunni by far and their Hadith bans not simply depictions of Muhammad or the prophets, but any visual representation of any person or animal is forbidden!

One such Hadith has Muhammad rebuking a woman who purchased a pillow for him to recline upon because it had images of people on it:
Narrated ‘Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet)

I bought a cushion having pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he stopped at the gate and did not enter. I noticed the signs of hatred (for that) on his face! I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I turn to Allah and His Apostle in repentance! What sin have I committed?" He said, "What about this cushion?" I said, ‘I bought it for you to sit on and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished (severely) on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them, ‘Make alive what you have created.'" He added, "Angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Number 844)4
Another Hadith has Muhammad stating, ""Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Number 833)5 According to an article on Answering-Islam.com, Muslim scholars both ancient and recent have concluded that anyone making depictions of living creatures will be required by Allah to breathe life into them on the Day of Resurrection. When one cannot, that person will be punished for idolatry. 6 The article goes on to state that: "'No pictures' includes no photos (still or moving). ‘No pictures' might reduce idolatry, but the reason given is not that, but that Allah will torment all who have made pictures" and "No pictures in the home includes no television in the home."7

The prohibition on images in Islam is wide and sweeping. The Answering-Islam article notes that for some reason while images on a pillow are banned, Muhammad didn't have a problem with little girls playing with dolls.8 This makes little sense as the doll makers are certainly doing the same thing as sculptors or pillow manufacturers. Also, most Muslims today don't seem to ban television or cameras from their homes.

The ban on images is simply one more way to underscore the fragmented nature of the teachings of Islam. The press misunderstands the ban and in some ways helps justify the offense in the eyes of the west by limiting it to some kind of attack only on the holiest figures of the Islamic faith. That is a misrepresentation, since even a harmless depiction of an anonymous individual is not allowed. Choudary allowed the USAToday web site to publish his Op-Ed with images of people accompanying the piece. He also has his own web site that shows his picture.  Such actions show the hypocrisy of his stance.

References

1. Choudary, Anjem. "People Know the Consequences: Opposing View." USA Today. Gannett, 08 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/01/07/islam-allah-muslims-shariah-anjem-choudary-editorials-debates/21417461/.
2. Burke, Daniel. "Why Islam Forbids Images of Mohammed." CNN. Cable News Network, 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/07/living/islam-prophet-images/index.html.
3. "Surat Al-'Anbyā' (The Prophets) - سورة الأنبياء." Qur'an.com. Qur'an.com, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://quran.com/21/52.
4. Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 72, Number 844. Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/072-sbt.php#007.072.844 .
5. Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 72, Number 833. Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/072-sbt.php#007.072.833 .
6. "Are Pictures of Muhammad Really Forbidden In Islam?" Answering Islam. Answering Islam, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.answering-islam.org/Muhammad/pictures.html.
7. Answering Islam, Ibid.
8. Answering Islam, Ibid.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Defending the Trinity Against World Religions (video)

The Trinity and the Atonement are the doctrines that most differentiate Christianity from all other faiths. It's no surprise then that it's also one of the most attacked doctrines from those of other faiths. What makes the Trinity so unique and why is it such a crucial concept? How should Christians understand the doctrine of the Trinity and how should we best defend it against skeptics and objectors?




In this video class, Lenny helps believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the claim that it is logically contradictory, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand. Plus we look at common objections to the Trinity from Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Islam's Claims of Biblical Corruption Actually Impeach the Qur'an

Islam began in the early seventh century, when Muhammad supposedly received many revelations providing him with the Qur'an. Given that Christianity and Judaism had been in existence for centuries, it's easy to see why Muhammad would have found it attractive to try and co-opt these monotheistic faiths as part of his own. To this end there are many places in the Qur'an that address Christians and Jews, and their holy books.



One key passage may be found in Sura 10:94, where Muhammad writes, "But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers."1 Here, Muhammad is addressing the children of Israel, and appealing to the Bible in the phrase "the Book" as a way to authenticate his message.

There are many such passages in the Qur'an, some of which point specifically to the New Testament writings. The Arabic word for gospel is Injeel and Muhammad lifts up its authority as well:
If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil. O Messenger! proclaim the (message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. And Allah will defend thee from men (who mean mischief). For Allah guideth not those who reject Faith. Say: "O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith. (Sura 5:66-68, emphasis added.)2
Another passage advocating study of the Bible is found in Sura 4:136:
O you who believe! believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger and the Book which He revealed before; and whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His messengers and the last day, he indeed strays off into a remote error.3
Notice how this verse places the Bible (the "book which He revealed before") as equal with the Qur'an ("the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger.) Clearly we are to believe both books, otherwise this verse makes no sense.

Recommending a Corrupt Guide?

The problem that the Qur'an has is that other writings of Muhammad contradict the idea that the Bible is an accurate guide to God. Sura 2:75-79 is a good example:
Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know (this) And when they meet those who believe they say: We believe, and when they are alone one with another they say: Do you talk to them of what Allah has disclosed to you that they may contend with you by this before your Lord? Do you not then understand?… Woe, then, to those who write the book with their hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn (emphasis added).4
But why would the Qur'an itself recommend people to follow the Old and New Testaments if these are supposedly corrupt? If I receive a set of directions that promises to lead me to a destination, but I know that they've been corrupted, it would be silly for me to either follow them or provide them to another. Corrupt directions leads a person astray.

Because of the tension in the Qur'an, Muslim apologists have had to resort to a bit of double-talk in seeking to reconcile their stance. This is a good example:
The reason why the "gospels" of the bible are named as such today is because they were named after the original Revelations that Jesus had. So in other words, the real Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else is a fabrication on the mouths of Jesus and his disciples. There is no such thing, in Islam, called "gospel of Matthew", "gospel of John", etc... Now whether or not there is actually a gospel out there with the name "The Gospel of Jesus", in the scriptures outside the bible, that is something I don't know, and certainly, even if it does, we still couldn't be sure that it too didn't get corrupt. The original teachings are simply lost from this earth. Only the Glorious Qur'an is the original Word of Allah Almighty. Nothing else stands. All of the other books contain corruptions and lies in them (emphasis in the original.)5
However, such an explanation is hopelessly confused. This is primarily because we know that the New Testament preceded Muhammad by some three hundred years.6 By the time of Muhammad's writing, the scriptures were firmly established and the text is the same then as what we have now. This leaves the Muslim with quite a dilemma: either the Qur'an in those verses that recommend believers to seek out the Gospel and the Bible were telling them that the Bible as it now stands is reliable or it is instructing believers to read a collection of books that simply don't exist and didn't exist even in Muhammad's day. Wither you are to gain guidance from corruption or you are to seek out guidance from a non-existent entity.

Following the Map to Atlantis

Most Muslims that I speak with take the latter choice. They claim that the true Gospel has been hidden, but one can find it in the pages of the Qur'an. However, that doesn't solve their problem. Why does the Qur'an then command people to look to the Gospels and the Bible for truth? It's like telling someone that they must find and follow the map to Atlantis. Because Atlantis is a mythical place, there's no way that any map can lead them to truth.

Altering the Words of Allah

The last problem that Muslims run into when making the claim is that they undercut their Qur'an in another way, for as Sura 2 claimed above, Go d gave His word to the prophets, but it was nearly immediately corrupted. But why would Allah allow his holy word to be corrupted at all? The Qur'an itself teaches against this idea. In Sura 6:34 we find the statement "There is none that can alter the words of Allah" and in Sura 10:64 Muhammad writes "No change can there be in the words of Allah." So, how could these people have changed what it unchangeable? How can this be?

If the word of Allah is unchangeable, then the Bible cannot be corrupted. However, if men have the ability to change Allah's word, then the Qur'an itself must be understood as under the same suspicion of change as the other books that Allah gave to his prophets. That means that the Qur'an must withstand certain scrutiny, such as whether it is internally contradictory. Given its claims on the Bible, I don't see how it could pass that test.

References

1. Shakir, M. H. The Qur'an Translation. New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, 2002. N. pag. Print. 136-137.
2. Shakir, 72-73.
3. Shakir, 61.
4. Shakir, 7.
5. "Were the "gospels" of the Bible the Original Injil?" Answering Christianity. Answering Christianity, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. http://www.answering-christianity.com/injil_and_gospels_according_to_islam.htm.
6. See the section entitled "Internal Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible" at http://www.comereason.org/is-the-bible-true.asp

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hot Button Issues in Islam

When talking about Islam, certain issues always seem to rise to the top of everyone's minds. How does Muhammad compare with Jesus? Is Islam really a religion of peace? What does Jihad really mean? And what about the Crusades? In this podcast series, Lenny will equip Christians to better understand these trigger points when witnessing to your Muslim neighbor.


To subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, click here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ISIS, Jihad, and the Model of Muhammad

CNN just published an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry commenting on the recent US response to the Islamic State's barbarism in Syria and Iraq. At the beginning of the interview, Kerry stressed that the US is heading a coalition of forces, including Muslim nations, in its fight against ISIS (although the New York Times reports that the idea of a coalition may be overstated.)  Kerry said the effort to involve nations such as Saudi Arabia was a "major effort to reclaim Islam by Muslims, by those to whom it belongs."1


Obviously as Secretary of State, Kerry's first goal is to create as much consensus with the nations of the Middle East as possible, even though most have done nothing to stop the carnage ISIS is creating in their own back yards. However, his claim (echoing President Obama) that the Islamic State is somehow not Muslim or a distortion of Islam needs to be reconsidered. The same claims have been offered since 9/11, with many making the comparison that ISIS or Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity.

To be clear, I don't doubt that many Muslim groups have been shocked and horrified at the actions of ISIS.  It is also true that the vast majority of ISIS' targets have been Muslim.  And I believe the leaders of those sects of Islam that take a more moderate view of the Qur'an teach a form of Islam that would say the killing of civilians is wrong. However, that doesn't mean that these Muslims are the definitive version of Islam. The question actually is: "Whose interpretation of Islam is correct?"

The Problem of Context

When one looks at both Islam and Christianity, there are a couple of ways to establish whether the beliefs that one holds align with the teachings of the faith. The first is to look at the Scriptures of that faith itself and see how your actions line up. For example, the Bible contains passages such as Judges 19:22-29 where a Levite cut his concubine into twelve pieces after the men of Gibeah had raped her all night. But the context shows that neither the rape nor the response of sending the girl's dismembered body is approved in scripture. In fact, the refrain of "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" is replete throughout the text of Judges, and the writer here makes the actions of the Gibeonites parallel to the men of Sodom, which is a clear condemnation on them.

In the Qur'an there are many verses known as the "sword verses" that teach about fighting and conquering the enemy. Immediately, Sura 47:4-6 comes to mind:
Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He guide them and improve their condition, And admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them.2
The call to "smite at their necks" until the enemy is "subdued' (which many clerics read as "slaughtered") is completely natural from the text. More moderate Muslims would interpret these verses in a more poetic fashion, not calling on the actual beheading of unbelievers but as symbolic one. The problem is that unlike the Biblical books, the Qur'an isn't set up in a narrative style. Several verses may deal with one issue and the next set may switch topics completely. It's much more akin to reading the book of Proverbs than a historical narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. That means that either interpretation could be legitimately derived from the text.

The Model of Muhammad

Because context doesn't really answer the question of the meaning of Islam, one must look to another definitive source to get a better understanding of what the faith really teaches. The best way to do that is to look at the person that exemplifies that faith and see how he behaved and what he valued. For Christians, the model is Jesus Christ himself. Christians are to look at Jesus' life, see how he would sacrifice his own personal comfort for the benefit of others, and ultimately lay down his life for his friends.

In Islam, Muhammad is the model. In fact, the Qur'an teaches this as well.  Sura 33:21 reads, "Ye have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in God and in the final day."3 So, we can glean more about Islam from the pattern of conduct of Muhammad himself. Looking there, we learn that Muhammad did in fact command beheadings. In fact, after Muhammad had taken control of Medina he still went out and beheaded the Jews who had resisted him there. He could have exiled them, but chose instead to kill all of the Jewish men and boys from around twelve and up. Realize that this was no small cohort, either, with estimates ranging from a low of 300 to possibly even 800 or 900 people. In the Muslim Hadith, which are holy books that recount the actions of Islam‘s prophet, one Jewish captive reports:
I was among the captives of Banu [tribe] Qurayzah. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.4
Of course, this isn't the only record of Muhammad and his army. It is well known that Muhammad would lead raids on caravans heading toward Mecca, stealing whatever he wished and he ultimately marched his army into Mecca, conquering it with barely a fight. The Hadith of Abu Dawud explains, "The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The best of the actions is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah."5

Who Models Islam More Closely?

Of course, ISIS has several other problems, such as killing Muslims, which is explicitly condemned in the Qur'an. But they would counter that because the moderates have reinterpreted the Qur'an and they have not followed the Islamic law on other issues, these should be considered unbelievers and therefore should be attacked accordingly.

All in all, it isn't fair to say that ISIS is the Muslim equivalent of the KKK. The Klan's actions are clearly the opposite of both the teachings and actions of Jesus, but ISIS is acting in ways that Muhammad himself acted when he faced his enemies. They may not believe other Muslims are faithful, and they would be wrong on that point, but they cannot be said to be a misrepresentation of Islam itself. They are simply being consistent with both their understanding of their scriptures and the model of their prophet.

References

1. Caldwell, Leigh Ann, Holly Yan, and Gul Tuysuz. "John Kerry: The Fight against ISIS Is 'going to Go On'" CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/24/politics/kerry-on-isis/index.html .
2. Sura 47:4-6. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/47
3. Sura 33:21. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/33
4. Abu-Dawud, Book 38, Number 4390."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/038-sat.php#038.4390
5. Abu-Dawud, Book 40, Number 4=4582."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/040-sat.php#040.4582

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq

There are only two books in the Bible that end in a question. The first is the book of Jonah, which tells the story of God going to remarkable lengths to share the message of redemption with a seemingly irredeemable people. Because the prophet Jonah was Jewish, he rebels against God's command to preach repentance to the Ninevites who were ruthlessly cruel and would inflict that cruelty upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel some years later. Jonah wants to see the Assyrian capital judged by the Almighty. However, God knew that if the right person delivered His message those people would be saved.

Today, the city that occupies Nineveh's location is named Mosul. Mosul is famous for its long history of Christianity, which goes back to within a 100 years of Jesus' death1. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox faiths have early roots there and the city was the capital of Nestorianism since the sixth century. Christians are a significant part of the historic fabric of the city.

But all that has changed. With the recent takeover of the city by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Jihadist group, Christians have been targeted. ISIS has purged the city of Christians, forcing them to either convert to Islam, agree to second-class status, or die. ISIS terrorists, echoing the Gestapo's branding of Jewish houses with a Star of David, were marking every door identified as Christian with the Arabic letter N for followers of the Nazarene, Jesus. Ironically, Nazareth is also the area where the prophet Jonah was from.

The UK Telegraph passed along a report from the local news agency that "ISIS troops entered the house of a poor Christian and, when they didn't get what they wanted, the soldiers raped the mother and daughter in front of their husband and father." 2 The New York Times reports that "at least 1,531 civilians were killed in June alone" in Mosul and the city's Christian population has gone from 30,000 in 2003 to zero.3 While major media outlets continue to splash headlines decrying the nearly 500 dead in Gaza, the fate of Christians in Mosul gets no such preference. This when the crisis is a direct result of US troop toppling the Iraqi government then abandoning the country.4

As I said, Jonah is one of only two books of the Bible ending in a question. It records the redemption of a people. The other is the book of Nahum, which records the utter destruction that was heaped upon Nineveh as judgment came. Today, Christians are faced with a question. Will we as the body of Christ be reluctant to intervene or will we extend ourselves to minister to those who are suffering because of His name?

What Christians Can Do

The horror ISIS is inflicting on our brothers and sisters in Christ is staggering and the church needs to act. The Apostle Paul instructs us "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Here then are three things we can do to help Christians fleeing Mosul:

1. Support the Christian Refugees

Christians can support those fleeing their homes in Mosul. We first support our brothers and sisters by praying fervently for them. Pray daily. Pray before each meal as you thank God for your blessings that He would offer compassion and shelter to the refugees as well. But you can support the refugees in more concrete ways as well. Currently I've found two Christian organizations that are providing relief efforts to the displaced Christians from Iraq. You may donate to either  International Christian Concern or the Barnabas Fund. Both are registered with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

2. Write Your Congressional Representative

We need to speak up for those people who are being murdered and displaced from their homes. I recommend you write to your federal congressional representative and let them know that you have serious concerns about the suffering in Mosul. Be respectful and keep your letter short and on point. I have created a sample letter here. For US citizens, if you don't know who your representative is, you may find out here.

3. Talk about it

Let's raise the awareness of this atrocity to the level of national discourse. Post about the plight of Iraqi Christians. Update your status on social media platforms and share links. Encourage others to do the same. If you're a pastor, talk about this from the pulpit. The more attention we draw to those afflicted by evil, the more other people will join with us to help.

References

1. See Rassam, Suha. Christianity in Iraq: Its Origins and Development to the Present Day.(Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 2005). 24-26.    
2. Stanley, Tim. "Iraqi Christians are raped, murdered and driven from their homes — and the West is silent." The Telegraph. 21 July 2014. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100280803/iraqi-christians-are-raped-murdered-and-driven-from-their-homes-and-the-west-is-silent/
3. Rubin, Alissa J. "ISIS Forces Last Iraqi Christians to Flee Mosul." The New York Times, 18 July 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/world/middleeast/isis-forces-last-iraqi-christians-to-flee-mosul.html?_r=0
4. Stanley, Ibid.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Challenge of Islam (podcast)


Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, but is still a mystery to most Christians. Is it a religion of peace and a breeding ground for terrorists? Join us as we examine Muslim beliefs and discuss how to effectively witness to Muslims.
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