Thursday, November 27, 2008

Christians in Iraq - and Edward the Saudi

SUMMARY: Most of the callers to an al-Jazeera show on the persecution of Christians in Iraq believed, if they even acknowledged that Christians were being persecuted, that the Americans or the Kurds were behind it. The notable exception was a Saudi Christian who believed the Christians were being killed simply because they were Christian.

COMMENT: Muslims have a difficult time acknowledging atrocities committed by other Muslims. If they do, it’s usually at least one level removed from the group they belong to. An Arab Sunni Muslim, for example, might admit that a Kurdish Sunni Muslim or an Arab Shia Muslim commits atrocities, but it is much harder for him to acknowledge the guilt of another Arab Sunni Muslim. Few if any of the callers below were willing to admit that members of their own group would be involved in the slaughter of Christians in Iraq.

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The current situation of Christians in Iraq was the subject of a recent al-Jazeera TV show where viewers were invited to call in and share their opinions about the reasons for the persecution of Christians there. Hostess Muna Salman introduced the program by informing her viewers that many of the Chaldean Christians still speak the language of Jesus, and that the Assyrian Christians are descendants of an empire that existed 700 years BC. They have formed an integral part of Iraqi society for 2,000 years, but are now targeted for killing and forced departure from their homes. Muna wanted to know whether her viewers believed the Christians were being killed for political or religious reasons.

The first two responses were, unfortunately, all too typical. The first caller was convinced the Kurds were killing the Christians. These were the same Kurds who in the 80’s cooperated with the Israelis and more recently with the White House. They were killing the Christians to create political instability so they could form their own Kurdish nation. The second caller, an Egyptian with a view of history most Copts might disagree with, said that in 642 the ruler of Egypt called upon the Muslim General Amer Bin al-Aas to come and protect the Egyptian Christians from the Romans. The General responded to the invitation, introducing both Islam and security to Egypt. Muslims have always protected Christians. The Iraqis on the other hand, had invited people – the Americans - whose only goal was to destroy the country.

The third caller was a surprising change. He introduced himself as Edward, a Saudi Christian. He believed the problem facing Christians in Iraq was the interpretation and application of religious texts that allowed people to kill them. Muna, as surprised as anyone to hear someone describe himself as a Saudi Christian, interrupted him to ask, “Excuse me, Edward, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this. Are you saying there are Christians who are Saudi citizens?”

“Yes, there are,” Edward replied, “For reasons of their own safety I cannot say how many we are, because as you well know there is no freedom of religious conversion here.”

“I don’t know any such thing,” Muna quickly retorted, “I am just listening to your point of view.”

“I am informing you,” Edward continued, “That there is no freedom of religion in our Arab countries and for that reason I cannot tell you how many converts there are. But I can tell you that I represent…..”

Muna interrupted again, “OK, let’s get back to our subject of the Christians in Iraq. The callers so far think that what they are being subjected to is due to political and not sectarian reasons. Do you agree with that?”

Edward’s response was clear. “No, ma’am, and my point of view might surprise some people. I believe that Christians in Arab countries are being persecuted just because they are Christians. Go back and look at the religious texts. They tell people to fight for Allah, they say, ‘I have been ordered to fight.’ We need a new understanding of these texts. We need love and we need culture. We don’t need someone saying, ‘I have been ordered to fight you until you accept Islam.’ There is no room for violence in our day. We need school curriculums that condemn violence, not ones in which students are taught these violent texts from elementary school to university. The Christians in Iraq are being persecuted and oppressed in application of these texts.”

Muna interrupted again, “Edward, the purpose of this program is not to discuss religious texts, whether they are Islamic or Christian. We are only talking about the political and social aspect, and we don’t have religious scholars here to clearly explain the religious texts.”

Edward wouldn’t give up. “I respect your opinion, but I want to point out that the basic issue is a faulty interpretation of some texts that produces a culture of extremism that results in this persecution, hatred, provocations, and genocide. I cannot display my cross in Saudi Arabia even though I am a Saudi citizen. I cannot carry a Bible….”

It was time to switch gears. “OK, Edward,” Muna said, “It’s not only the Christians who are being persecuted and killed in Iraq. Other groups are being subjected to the same thing, and millions have been forced to flee the country. Why do you think this is a religious issue only related to the Christians?”

“Because,” Edward replied, “The Christians are peaceful. Everyone in Iraq will testify that the Christians are peaceful and not aligned with this or that political party. The only reason they are being persecuted is because some takfiri salafi Wahabis want to…”

Muna decided to bring the discussion to a close. “Edward, don’t wander off the subject, because there is no-one here from the other side to respond to what you are saying. But I thank you for expressing your viewpoint. You believe that the reasons are religious, and you believe the Christians are being persecuted because they are Christians. We will see if other viewers agree with you. Khalil, from Palestine?”

Khalil cut to the chase. “I want to reply to Edward. The truth as confirmed by history is that Christians have never lived a life better than that under Islam. Islam gave them the same rights it gave Muslims, and made the same demands on them it made on Muslims. Islam guaranteed them food, clothing, lodging, and protection, and anyone who attacked any of them was given the same punishment as if he had attacked a Muslim.”

Muna reminded Khalil that the earlier caller from Egypt had also spoken of how Christians were protected when Islam entered Egypt, and Khalil readily agreed. “That’s exactly correct. And when the European Crusaders came to attack Muslim countries, the Christians stood with the Muslims to defend them.” Khalil went on to express his viewpoint that the only solution for Iraq was the application of an Islam strong enough to end all sectarian conflicts. Those with a Sunni or Shia or Kurdish platform were only carrying out the plans of the Western kafirs to shed both Christian and Muslim blood.

When Muna pointed out that the number of Christians in Iraq had dramatically dropped from over a million to less than 600,000 in just a short time, he replied that Muslims were being persecuted throughout the Muslim world 100 times more than the Christians. The fact that Muslim rulers were worried about the Vatican and the West, in fact, probably meant that Christians were suffering less in their countries than were the Muslims.

One caller from Morocco claimed that “the Prophet lived in peaceful coexistence with the Christians and the Jews”, and Muslims today should do the same. A Syrian caller asked why Syrian Christians were not being “persecuted” if the issue was one of Christian persecution. His answer was that the Western media was exaggerating the situation to gain support for the Bush administration’s war policy, and that the groups targeting Christians were carrying out the plans of that administration. As soon as a demonstration took place in Canada calling for the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan, the media began playing up the story of Christians being persecuted in Iraq. He also agreed with previous callers that “never in the history of the world have people been pressured or oppressed or persecuted as Muslims are today by their own rulers”.

An Iraqi now living in Qatar took strong exception to the suggestion that the Christian persecution in Iraq was a new phenomenon or supported by the West. He said Christians were targeted there from the beginning of the war by terrorists who entered Iraq from other countries including Jordan and Iran. The entire Christian population of the Baghdad section of Dorah had either killed or forced into exile. He claimed it was a mistake to ignore the terrorists group present in the country and blame everything on the Americans. “There are,” he said, “Terrorist groups and unprotected borders and militias entering the country from all over the world.”

But he was in the minority. Most of the remaining callers agreed on one thing – it was the Americans (or the American-supported non-Arab Kurds) who were behind the killing of Christians in Iraq. Arab Muslims would never do such a thing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 2 - Domestic Political Influence

SUMMARY: In this program from Al-Hayat TV, Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros examines the political and economic situation of Mecca and the surrounding region that influenced the personality of Muhammad. The idea that a prophet would arise who would combine political and religious rule was not unique to Muhammad, but commonly believed by many Jewish tribes in the region. The animosity between Muhammad and the Quraysh did not begin when Muhammad first announced he was a prophet, but when he began to attack their religious beliefs and request they follow him.

COMMENTS: Muslims believe, and many Western writers and academics pick up the refrain, that the early Muslim community in Mecca was intensely "persecuted" for thirteen years before the immigration to Medina. As is often the case, the only evidence for this is what Muhammad himself said. Looking at the situation more objectively in light of other written evidence, as Zakariya Boutros does, gives a quite different conclusion.

AHMAD: In the last segment we talked about the tribal factors that influenced the personality of Muhammad. What do you want to talk about today?

ABUNA: I would like to look at the influence of the domestic political situation on Muhammad’s personality. By that, I mean the situation in Mecca and in the Arab Peninsula. In his book “The Arabs in Ancient History”, Lutfi Abd al-Wahhab Yahya describes the situation at that time. As we saw in the previous episode, the Quraysh were weak following the rule of Abd al-Mutallib. His son Abu Talib was not at his level, and we can now understand the Quranic verse that says of Muhammad, “We found you poor and gave you wealth.” It was a time of need, not in Mecca only but in the entire Arab Peninsula. The situation had deteriorated economically, financially, and in security. The first need was for stability and security. There was a need to establish an organized army to protect the people. There was also a need to guard the caravans as they travelled to and from Syria and Yemen. There was the need to bring back a united control to Mecca and the region. There was a need for someone as strong as Muhammad’s ancestors Qusay, Hashim, and Abd al-Mutallib who could unite the people of Mecca and establish rule over them.

AHMAD: What is the connection between united political rule and the prophethood of Muhammad?

ABUNA: The connection is very close. When Qusay wanted to acquire political power, he was very keen to obtain the keys of the Kaaba. He rebuilt it, reestablished religious rule in it, and revitalized the religion of Abraham. The political leader needed to be the religious leader, largely because of the economic importance of the Kaaba. Abd al-Mutallib followed the example of his grandfather Qusay by paying attention to the Kaaba, to worship, and to the religion of Abraham. The connection between religious and political power was very strong. The person who wanted to rule needed to pay attention to the religious aspect. As we saw in the previous segment, Abd al-Mutallib claimed that revelation to dig the well of Zamzam came to him while he was sleeping in the Kaaba. From the example of Qusay and Abd al-Mutallib, it was clear that religion was important to establish the state. Sayyid al-Qimni said in “Islamiyat”, “Religion was used in the Kaaba as a means to establish the state.”

AHMAD: Where did they get this idea to link religion and power?

ABUNA: It came from the Jews who were scattered around the Arab Peninsula, especially in Medina. The Jews at the time had the concept that their tribes would never be united, unless it was under the rule of a prophet-king as they were originally united under King David. This person would first be a prophet and then a king. This dream was widespread among the Jewish tribes of the region, and each tribe imagined the prophet-king would come from their tribe.

AHMAD: Where there pretenders among them who claimed this role?

ABUNA: There were many. The Arabic history books mention names such as al-Aswad al-Ansi in Yemen, Musaylama in Yamama, Tulayha in the Beni Usid, Askar in Samrira, and others. Some of these lived in the time of Muhammad. They claimed to be prophets, and called upon people to follow them.

AHMAD: Was Muhammad one of these who claimed to be a prophet?

ABUNA: I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am merely a reader of history and am not making declarations about Muhammad? What is doubtless is that he appeared during this time when many people were claiming prophethood. Sayyid al-Qimni says in “Islamiyat”, “When Muhammad reached the age of forty he settled the matter and announced that he was a prophet for the people.”

AHMAD: He “settled the matter”?

ABUNA: Everyone was claiming to be a prophet, and Muhammad “settled it” by declaring he was the true prophet. And by the way, Muhammad did not first announce that he was a prophet of Islam. He declared he was a prophet of the “hanifiya”, the monotheistic religion of Abraham. The idea to name his religion Islam came later. Quran 16:123 says, “We sent the message to you, Muhammad, to follow the hanifiyah of Abraham who was not one of the idolaters.”

AHMAD: How did people respond to this claim?

ABUNA: First of all, it was not a strange or original claim because the hanifs were common at that time. Even Muhammad’s own ancestors, including Qusay, Hashim, and Abd al-Mutallib, had been among them. It was not a problem for him to say that he was a hanif.

AHMAD: What happened when he first began to say it?

ABUNA: He did not find any resistance for a number of reasons. First of all, freedom of expression and criticism was common at that time throughout the Arab Peninsula. There were hanifs, Jews, Christians, Sabians, and others. There was freedom of expression; it’s not like today. Secondly was the matter of economic interests. Mecca was a commercial center for all these religions as well as the idolaters, and religious conflict was of no financial benefit to anyone. Thirdly, there were many hanifs in the area and there was nothing unusual about Muhammad calling people to the religion of Abraham, which was only one of many religions coexistent in Mecca. Fourthly, in the beginning his call was not confrontational, and he did not force anyone to accept his message. Many of the early suras emphasize tolerance and coexistence. Quran 109:6 says, “You have your religion and I have mine.” Quran 10:99 says, “If Allah had willed, he could have made all men believe. So will you then, Muhammad, compel mankind to become believers?” Quran 35:23 says, “You, Muhammad, are only a warner.” There was no pressure from Muhammad in the beginning.

AHMAD: So what happened?

ABUNA: The conflict began little by little. Sayyid al-Qimni says in “Islamiyat”, “Conflict began when Muhammad began to call upon the people of Mecca to follow him. The opposed him saying, “Have you gone crazy and become a madman?” They were saying, in effect, “Believe anything you want, but don’t tell us we need to follow you.” His response was to tell them in Quran 74:50 that they were like wild donkeys running away from a lion. He began to call them kafirs, which is the title of sura 109.

AHMAD: So he was the lion, and they were the wild donkeys. Did the situation get worse after that?

ABUNA: Definitely. Theirs was a slave society, and the slaves were the backbone of the trade caravans. The workers, camel drivers, and guards of the caravans were the slaves. They served as a de facto army. Sayyid al-Qimni writes in “Islamiyat” that Muhammad began to incite the slaves against their owners by telling them to follow him and he would give them treasure. Some of them tried to run away from their masters, and in turn were captured and punished.

The next thing Muhammad began to do was attack the gods of the Quraysh. The history books relate that the people of Mecca did not distance themselves from Muhammad until he began to mock and attack their idols. Tabari writes that a delegation from the Quraysh came to Abu Talib saying that if Muhammad would stop cursing their gods they would allow him to freely worship his God. Muhammad responded by calling upon them to recite the shahada, that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. They then left him and separated themselves from him.

AHMAD: So the conflict began to get serious. What was next?

ABUNA: Al-Qimni writes in “Islamiyat” that the Meccans began to understand the intentions of Muhammad. They realized he had a political purpose, and was beginning to attack the Quraysh in their economic interests. They suspected he wanted to gain control of the city. He wanted to advance the cause of the Beni Hashim at the expense of the other tribes and clans.

AHMAD: What did they do after they realized that?

ABUNA: The next stage was one of attack. The Quran became more warlike in its expression. Quran 100:1-5 says, “The panting horses ran into the midst of the foe, striking sparks of fire from their hooves and raising clouds of dust in the air.” It was like a declaration of war. Tabari writes that once when Muhammad was walking around the Kaaba he said to the people there, “Will you listen to me, people of Quraysh? I tell you by him who holds my life in his hand, I have come to you with slaughter.”

AHMAD: That was a threat. What was their response?

ABUNA: It was the beginning of an increasingly hostile confrontation that resulted in the emigration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. But I would like to present the viewpoint of his own relatives. The oldest son of Muhammad’s ancestor Qusay who ruled Mecca was Abd al-Dar. Abd al-Dar’s younger brother Abd al-Manaf wrested power from Abd al-Dar to become the leader of Mecca, and after that there was conflict between the two families. Muhammad was from the line of Abd al-Manaf. Amre al-Hashim was one of Muhammad’s relatives from the line of Abd al-Dar. Speaking ruefully of the power that had been taken from his family and the claims of Muhammad, Amre said, “They took our honor from us. They told us to feed them, and we fed them. They told us to give, and we gave. And now they are saying, “We have a prophet who receives revelation from the sky!” Our response was, “By God, we do not believe in him nor do we believe he is true.” It was a war of words. Another response was a poem of the time written by Ibn al-Zubari that says, “The Beni Hashim rose up and took power. But no king has come, and no revelation has come down.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 1 - Geneology

SUMMARY: It is common knowledge that Muhammad was orphaned at an early age, but it is less known that his ancestors ruled Mecca for five generations. Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutrous examines in this segment the influences of Muhammad’s family and tribal background on his personality.

COMMENTS: The merger of religious and secular power in Mecca did not originate with Muhammad, but with his ancestors Qusay and Hashim. Religion was seen not as a personal goal, but as a means to power. The concept of revelation was not unique to Muhammad, but was seen in the dream of Hashim in which Allah told him to dig the well of Zamzam. Truth can exist in Islam apart from historical fact. Muslims believe Abraham’s son Ishmael lived in Mecca and drank from the well of Zamzam, although older historical records indicate he lived in what is now Gaza and never even visited the Arabian Peninsula. Many of Muhammad’s concepts of leadership were taught him at a young age by his grandfather Abd al-Mutallib who dreamed of uniting Arabia under a single ruler.

ABUNA: The first thing I want to say is that Muhammad was an important historical figure who is worthy of study. This will involve examining the factors that affected his personality, the people who influenced him, his ambitions and goals, and his plans to carry them out. We’ll look in detail at his personal situation and his tribal background, as well as the political, economic, and religious milieu of his day.

AHMAD: Let’s start with his personal situation.

ABUNA: We all know what we learned in school. The Quran says in 93:6-8, “Did he not find you an orphan and gave you a refuge? He found you unaware and guided you, and found you poor and made you rich.” Ibn Kathir explains that Muhammad’s father died before he was born, his mother died when he was 6 years old, and he was next cared for by his grandfather who died two years later. He then entered the household of his uncle Abu Talib, who later protected him against the Quraysh even though he never accepted Islam.

AHMAD: What does the Quran mean when it says, “He found you poor and made you rich?”

ABUNA: Imam Qurtubi explains it by saying, “He found you without a family and gave you Khadija, because Khadija was a wealthy woman. But my question is, how could Muhammad have been poor if he came from the wealthiest tribe of Mecca?

AHMAD: What do you mean? We all know he was an orphan.

ABUNA: This leads to today's study, which is his tribal affiliation. The history books tell us that the previous five generations of Muhammad’s family were his father Abdallah, his grandfather Abd al-Mutallib, his great-grandfather Hashim, and before that Abd al-Manaf and Qusay al-Qurayshi. Let’s begin with Qusay.

AHMAD: Is this going to be a history lesson?

ABUNA: Not exactly, but there are lessons to be learned in history and there’s an important point in what I’m going to say. History is the root, and the present is the fruit. If we want to understand what is happening now, we need to look at the history.

AHMAD: All right, let’s begin with Qusay.

ABUNA: Our references are the biographies of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham and al-Halabi, as well as the Islamic Encyclopedia of Knowledge. Qusay’s original name was Zayd. His father died and his mother remarried a man who took them to Syria to live. His name became Qusay, which means “someone who lived far away”. He returned as an adult to Mecca with his new name.

AHMAD: But we all know that he became the ruler of Mecca and the Kaaba. How did that happen if he grew up in Syria?

ABUNA: At the time the al-Khuzai tribe controlled Mecca, and its chief was Khalil al-Khuzai. Qusay married Khalil’s daughter, and when Khalil died Qusay became the new leader.

AHMAD: So Muhammad’s ancestor five generations back was the ruler of Mecca. What did he do?

ABUNA: The first thing he did was unite the tribes. It is possible the name of the Quraysh tribe came from that, because one of the meanings of the verb “qarasha” is to unite. He purchased the keys of the Kaaba, reestablished religious worship in it, and revitalized the religion of Abraham. This is important to note; in order to become the leader, he took interest in the religious side. He wanted to control the Kaaba, and wanted to control religious worship in it so that his leadership was sanctioned by the divinity. Another important note is that he revitalized the religion of Abraham. There were Christians in the region, as well as idolaters. But he chose the religion of Abraham, who was considered a “haneef” or a worshiper of the one true God He established taxes, as well as civil and religious rule. A most important thing that he did is noted by Sayyid al-Qamni, in his book “Islamiyat”. Sayyid writes, “His gaining control of Mecca was in accordance with a carefully laid out plan of political awareness towards a specific goal. This plan was carried out by means of religion.”

There is a big difference between religion being a goal, and religion being used as a means to achieve power. Since the time of Qusay, religion has been used to acquire power. Sayyid continues, “Thus Qusay was able to gather all the legal, civilian, and religious authorities under his control. He was the first complete ruler of Mecca.”

AHMAD: What happened after Qusay’s death?

ABUNA: His descendants remained in power, but there was conflict between the families of his sons Abd al-Dar and Abd al-Manaf that resulted in war between the two. Abd al-Manaf’s side was called the Party of the Perfumed ones because they would bring a bowl of perfume to the Kaaba and dip their hands in it before rubbing them against the walls of the Kaaba to show their solidarity. The other side did the same, but with a bowl of blood. The two families eventually reached an agreement in which they shared power, but with the passing of time the family of Abd al-Manaf regained power of the entire city. Ibn Kathir writes in the “The Beginning and the End” that power was eventually consolidated in the hands of Abd al-Manaf’s son Hashim.

AHMAD: The father of Abd al-Mutallib, Muhammad’s grandfather. What can you tell us about him?

ABUNA: Hashim’s name originally was Amre, but during some lean years he adopted the practice of breaking up bread and mixing it in broth to feed the pilgrims who came to the Kaaba. The verb “hashama” means “to break up”, and so he was named Hashim. He was a good businessman and instituted the custom of sending out two trade caravans per year. One would go to Syria in the summertime, and the second to Yemen in the winter. He transferred Mecca from merely a transit town that collected taxes from caravans passing through and fees from pilgrims visiting the Kaaba, to a major commercial center. The Encyclopedia of Islamic Knowledge says it was known as a “commercial republic”.

AHMAD: Hashim seems to be an unusual person. Can you tell us more about him?

ABUNA: Yes, because he was the great grandfather of Muhammad, and to understand Muhammad we must know where he came from. Hashim was an intelligent man, a great businessman and equal to the kings with whom he met. He established a trade agreement with Rome so that the caravans could travel safely to Syria. He strengthened his clan, the Beni Hashim, and married one of the leading women of Medina in order to strengthen his relationship with the rulers there. When his son Abd al-Mutallib was born, Hashim left him in Medina with his wife so that he could learn horsemanship from his mother’s relatives and religion from the Jewish community living there. Abd al-Mutallib’s name was originally Shayba, and when he grew up his uncle al-Mutallib went to Medina to bring him to Mecca. As they approached Mecca and the people saw Shayba for the first time, they assumed al-Mutallib was bringing a new slave he had purchased. They called him Abd al-Mutallib (“abd” means slave and Abd al-Mutallib means “the slave of Mutallib”), and the name stayed with him.

AHMAD: Did Abd al-Mutallib become the ruler of Mecca after Hashim?

ABUNA: Not immediately. After Hashim died during a trade expedition to Gaza, al-Mutallib ruled for a short while. He soon died, and Abd al-Mutallib became the next ruler of Mecca. He shared his father’s intelligence and political and business acumen. He became greater than any of his ancestors, and was well-loved by his people.

AHMAD: What did he do to become so great?

ABUNA: He benefitted from the expertise of his ancestors Qusay and Hashim and, like Qusay, revitalized the religion of Abraham and removed idols from the Kaaba. Another very important thing he did was dig the well of Zamzam, which he said was the well where God miraculously provided water to Hagar and Ishmael. He said the revelation to dig the well came to him while he was sleeping in the Kaaba. Note the similarity of the fact that he said the idea to build the well was a revelation from God to the later revelations claimed by Muhammad.

AHMAD: Was this really the well that Ishmael drank from?

ABUNA: There is no record of that in any Islamic source except that Abd al-Mutallib said it was revealed to him in a dream.

AHMAD: Was there really a well at all?

ABUNA: The Bible records the original story of Ishmael and the well, but says it took place in Beersheba, which is in southern Gaza. It was not anywhere near Mecca. The original records also say that Ishmael lived in Gaza, and there is no historical evidence he ever went to Mecca.

AHMAD: What did Abd al-Mutallib do other than dig the well of Zamzam?

ABUNA: In his creativity, he invented some things which have become part and parcel of Arabic and Islamic heritage. He claimed that the Arabs in general and the Quraysh in particular were direct descendants of Ishmael. He followed the religion and example of Abraham to the extent he wanted to sacrifice one of his sons as Abraham was ordered to do. He vowed that if he had ten sons, he would sacrifice one of them to God. When his tenth son was born, Abdallah the father of Muhammad, he prepared to carry out the vow but the Quraysh stopped him and sacrificed camels instead. The businessman Abd al-Mutallib linked his activities of the religion of Abraham and taught a complete package of religious and secular leadership to his grandson Muhammad. Abu al-Mutallib would also retreat during Ramadan to the cave of Hara. He announced that he would not drink alcohol and proclaimed certain moral values and warned about the final Day of Judgment, just as Muhammad did later.

AHMAD: Are there other things Abd al-Mutallib did that can give us a more complete picture of him?

ABUNA: Abd al-Mutallib’s ambitions were larger than merely ruling Mecca. He wanted to unite the entire Arab peninsula. In “Towards Wider Horizons”, Abkar al-Saqqaf writes that Abd al-Mutallib said, “If Allah wanted to establish a state, he would have created people such as these,” and pointed to his sons and grandchildren.

Abd al-Mutallib raised Muhammad with this perspective. Al-Bayhaqi says in his book “The Evidences of Prophethood” that Abd al-Mutallib put a carpet in the Kaaba on which none of his children or grandchildren were allowed to sit except the young Muhammad, and Abd al-Mutallib would say that Muhammad was going to be great. He prepared the way for Muhammad to rule through the medium of religion.

AHMAD: How old was Muhammad when Abd al-Mutallib died?

ABUNA: He was only eight years old, and was next raised by his uncle Abu Talib. Abu Talib was not the leader his ancestors had been, and the Quraysh tribe quickly weakened with conflicts breaking out between ancient rivals.

AHMAD: What happened to the Quraysh tribe in this period of weakness?

ABUNA: Abu Talib saw in Muhammad the hope of the Quraysh, and stood by Muhammad the rest of his life even though he never accepted Islam. Abu Talib was interested in the political and economic aspects of power, not the religious side. His only interest was in bringing rule and wealth back to the Quraysh. For this reason he had no interest in accepting Islam. His poetry still remains in the history books, and it was all about bringing back the power and the wealth and the glory of Quraysh rule.

AHMAD: This brings us to the end of the segment on the influences on Muhammad’s life from his family and tribal background.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Future of Islam

In the forward to Ali Sina’s “Understanding Muhammad”, an unnamed writer notes, “Ali Sina predicts that Islam will be nothing but a bad memory in a few short decades and many of us will see its end in our own lifetime.” It’s one thing for an ex-Muslim to talk about the demise of Islam, but did Muhammad himself prophesy the end of the religion he created? Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros asks that question in the following interview on Al-Hayat TV.

AHMAD: What is your opinion of the spread of Islam in the world?

ABUNA: You need to define your question. Do you mean the spread of Islam by the sword, as we have seen during the past 14 centuries, or do you mean the adaptation – not the spread – of Islam to the world of the internet and satellite TV that is allowing things to be discussed openly that were never discussed before?

AHMAD: We’ve already experienced the spread of Islam by the sword, and don’t want to repeat that. What I mean is, how do you see the future of Islam in light of the freedom that has come to people through mass communication?

ABUNA: I am not a mufti and do not express my views of Islam. Because I do not want to be accused of attacking Islam, I prefer to look at what Islamic sources themselves say. The hadith of Sahih Muslim report, and this was repeated 18 times, that Muhammad said, “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange.” The Sunnan al-Tarmizi explained this by saying that Muhammad said Islam would shrink back to the Hijaz (western Saudi Arabia) from which it came as life returns to its source. Muhammad said this, not me.

AHMAD: Do you think this is happening?

ABUNA: I do not want to express my personal opinion about the collapse or disappearance of Islam, but want to point out what Muhammad said. I don’t believe that Muhammad was speaking prophetically, but I think he knew what was going to happen. If Muhammad was really a prophet from God, would he be speaking about the end of Islam? But let’s look at sources Muslims recognize. On Al-Jazeera TV, the famous Muslim daiah (missionary) Shaykh Ahmad al-Qatani devoted two programs to the spread of Christianity in Africa and Asia. He said that six million Muslim per year in Africa were converting to Christianity. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan said that 10,000 Algerians per year were becoming Christian. The online newspaper reported that 45,000 Moroccans are now Christians.

AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani say about Asia?

ABUNA: He divided it up by country. In Cambodia, he said there were a quarter of a million Muslims, and now there are none. Russia in 1927 had 24,321 mosques. Now there are 20, and they are like museums. Tens of thousands became Christian in Kyrgyzstan between 2001-2004. There were four million Muslims in Burma, and now there are 300,000. Saudi Arabia has 50,000 Christian converts, and before there were no Christians there.

AHMAD: They have left Islam for Christianity?

ABUNA: No, they left Islam for the person of Jesus. Let’s not talk about religions.
Al-Qatani went on to say that Pakistan had 80,000 Christians in 1947, but six million by 2000. Ten million people have become Christians in Bangladesh. He also said that Islam is being strongly attacked in Malaysia and if Islam falls in Malaysia it is the end of Islam in Asia. Remember that Jesus said there is joy in heaven if one person repents. Imagine the joy over these millions.

AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani say about the results of dawah (Muslim evangelism)?

ABUNA: He said that people becoming Christian is a problem so huge and so serious that all the Arab countries together are unable to stop it. In the past we would hear that a family in Africa converted to Islam, or some doctor in some university became Muslim. But for every person who turns to Muslim, thousands become Christian.

AHMAD: It is well-known that the Islamic dawah organizations and wealthy Arab countries use money as a weapon to spread Islam. What is the result of the money they spend?

ABUNA: Shaykh al-Qatani dealt with this also. He said that the Islamic humanitarian organizations give money for a period of time to cover needs and disasters. Dozens of people might become Muslim, but after the disaster is over and the money is gone they return to Christianity. They professed Islam, but there was no belief from the heart.

AHMAD: What about the influence of Muslim websites and chat rooms?

ABUNA: Shaykh al-Qatani said that these websites and chat rooms are embarrassing.

AHMAD: Was he optimistic about the future of Islam?

ABUNA: I carefully studied his interviews and their transcripts. He said repeatedly, “We are living a disaster, by Allah, we are living a disaster. I am afraid that darkness will cover us and we will no longer find Islam in Africa or anywhere else.”

AHMAD: How did Shaykh al-Qatani evaluate the situation?

ABUNA: That’s a very good question. I’m glad you didn’t ask me about my evaluation, because my viewpoint holds no weight. But the opinion of a well-respected Muslim scholar is valuable in the minds of our Muslim viewers. The moderator asked Shaykh al-Qatani directly, “How do you evaluate the size and force of Christian missionary activity?” His reply was, “It is immense. When the Vatican announced in 1962 that the eighties would see the end of Communism, they were correct. And when they announced that 2000 would be the end of Islam in Africa, I tell you with deep regret that they were also right.”

AHMAD: Did he say anything in comparison about Islamic missionary activity?

ABUNA: The moderator asked him about that. He replied that the force of Muslims was non-existent. He quoted a Christian missionary leader as saying, “We will not stop our efforts to bring Muslims to Christ until the cross is raised in the skies of Mecca and Holy Communion is celebrated in Medina.”

AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani mean by all that?

ABUNA: Well, I don’t think he was preaching Christianity! He was trying to stir up the emotions and passions of Muslims. But the situation is no longer one that can be remedied by the sword of Saladin or even the sword of Muhammad. The world has changed. Following the arrival of modern technology and the freeing of the human mind, the weapon of logic has replaced the sword of steel. There is no doubt that Islam does not possess the weapon of intellect, and that is greater than the atomic bomb.

AHMAD: My next question is a little sensitive. Isn’t is possible that Christian efforts among Muslims will result in increased violence by Muslims against Christians

ABUNA: That is certainly possible. But can terrorism stop us from speaking the truth?

AHMAD: What do you personally see as the main factor influencing the future of Islam?

ABUNA: The first thing is the age of technology that has removed the barriers from speaking out. Can you imagine me saying what I say now on the streets of Cairo 25 years ago? They would have killed me. But the barriers have come down. The next thing is increased freedom of thought. People are thinking about and discussing issues such as the contradictions in the Quran, and Muslim scholars have no answers.