Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Arab Theology : Youssef Zeidan

A new book entitled Arab Theology is leaping off the shelves of Arabic bookstores in the Middle East. The first copy of 5000 copies disappeared in a few days, and subsequent printings went almost as fast. Five thousand copies might not seem like much for a Middle East population of over 300 million people, but Arabs don't read a lot of books. The Oprahesque concept of curling up in a comfortable chair with a good book on a lazy Sunday afternoon is not your average Arab's idea of a good time.

Author Youssef Zeidan notes that the Arabic word for theology or divinity, Lahout, is of Syriac origin. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic that was spoken by the Christians who lived throughout Arabia until they were exterminated by Islam in the seventh century. Numerous other theological words present in today's Arabic, such as Malakout (the Kingdom of God), Jabarout (omnipotence), and Nasout (human nature) also derive from Syriac.

Youssef argues that the Nestorian Christians of Arabia developed the only true Lahout, or study of God, whereas the Coptic Christians of Egypt and the Orthodox and Catholic congregations of Eastern Europe and Near Asia were sidetracked by the person of Jesus. The Nestorians saw Jesus as a Prophet, not as God, and as the Syriac language was gradually replaced by Arabic the Nestorian concept of God found its way into Islam through Muhammad. According to Youssef, what are commonly described today as the Three Great Monotheistic Religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are in fact a single current of thought and belief that stretches across several thousand years.

Having established his theory that there is really only one monotheistic religion which finds expression today in the trilogy of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, Youssef develops his main argument which is that the real sources of violence and religious conflict come from competing sects within each faith.  The battles of the Crusades between Muslims and Christians, he argues, were nothing in comparison to the wars between Israel and Canaan in the Old Testament or those between Protestants and Catholics in 17th century Europe.

The reason for these Biblical and European religious conflicts, believes Youssef, is the concept of Harb Al Muqaddasah or Holy War. The Hebrew soldier who annihilated the Philistines in Canaan three thousand years ago was convinced he was serving God in Holy War, and the Israeli soldier who kills a Palestinian in Israel today is convinced he is doing the same thing. God promised Abraham the land for his descendants, and the Israeli soldier is making sure the promise is fulfilled.

I have not yet been able to obtain a copy of this book, but listened to the author's description of it here on Al Jazeera TV. As he spoke I had the sense that I so often have in listening to similar presentations. It is as if a thick cloud surrounds the speaker, permeating his every thought and word. He thinks he is thinking objectively and speaking logically, but the cloud that influences every part of his being is Islam.

I was reminded of another Al Jazeera program I described here, where people were calling in to give their opinions of who was responsible for the slaughter of Christians in Iraq. Some people thought it was the Kurds, and others the Iranians. A surprising number were convinced it was the Americans. Only one person, Edward the Saudi, had the courage to say that we, Arab Sunni Muslims, are the ones who are killing Christians there.

I was reminded of the interview I translated here, where Ahmed Mansour interpreted the statement of a Coptic Priest that Christians in Egypt were prepared to die for their faith as a call for war.

They all think Islamically, which means they apply an Islamic understanding to everything they talk about. Because militant Jihad is a part of Islam emphasized repeatedly in the Quran, Youssef thinks that Israeli soldiers are gleefully killing Palestinians to carry out Holy War. Because the Islamic concept of martyrdom is the Shahid dying in war for Islam, Ahmed believes that Christian martyrs do the same thing. They are all unable to truly see reality from the viewpoint of the other, but only from the perspective of Islam.


Juniper in the Desert said...

Those muslim morons are only going to read something that agrees with the brain-washing they have received already.

celltech said...

Thank you for your articles. Your efforts to keep your finger on the pulse, and sharing what you see is greatly apreciated. I have forged a close relationship with a Qatari lady, and we are frequently engaged in deep disgussions over Islam and Christianity. These typically last deep into the night. It is not unusual for us to be drawn by the views and issues that you present here. I am especially impressed by the compassion that you maintain in your writing. I am constantly discovering that I have wrong ideas about what muslims are like. About what Arabs are like. My Qatari friend shares many personal stories with me, that allow me to see into the culture intimately. I am often in awe over the special problems that persist in the gulf states. For women regarding work, social relations, marriage, for children and parents regarding education(extraordinary),the many persistent cultural problems and the lack of any change for the better, and countless other grippingly interesting complications that are mostly hid from sight. But I am also finding that there are some rather good people amongst all this. My friend and her family are clearly decent people, and in no way less able to see through the cloud of Islam than you and I. Yet they are very much Muslims. It is my belief that other ideas, are simply missing amongst these people. When I introduce suggestions that are non-islamic in origin, they are often accepted, and not rejected outright when they don't conform to Islamic norms. The cloud can be penetrated, with compassion and acceptence. I can say that there is one Qatari family for whome I have gained much respect and trust.
Your articles have played certain parts in this exciting process.
I believe it is possible to reach some of these people and see through the cloud. I am learning that the Arabs are far more troubled than I imagined, and that amongst all this, some are far more capable than I realised. My friend in Qatar, as it turns out, she's as smart as a whip.
Thanks again, for your generous efforts. I always enjoy comming here to learn.
Sincerely, Lars.

Susanne said...

Lots of interesting information once again. Thanks for the lesson in Arab theology.

I remember visiting a Syriac church or two in Damascus. :)

Cyril Lucar said...

One of the principles of ethical discourse is that your opponent must recognize himself in your description of him.

No Nestorian theologian of the ancient or the modern (Assyrian) church would claim that Jesus was not God. The Nestorian controversy was over the way in which Jesus' divinity was joined to his humanity. Ironically, Nestorius was not "Nestorian" (as we no know after discovering a book which he wrote about the matter), the ancient Nestorians were barely Nestorian and the modern Nestorians are not Nestorian at all. Confused?

The long and the short of it is that it sounds like this book is written by someone who doesn't understand his subject matter. And since Muslims consistently refuse to hear what Christians are saying about the Trinity and serially misrepresent what we are saying, this doesn't surprise me.

I will note that Christians seem to go to great lengths to research Islamic sources and it seems to make Muslims quite angry.

sara said...

Oprahesque concept??? BTW heard someone say that the Christian that surrounded M. were so corrupt and sinful, M. had no choice but to point to a better way...thoughts? He also said that Jesus is mentioned more than Mohammed in Islam's holy books...thoughts?

Traeh said...


Abu jahl said to them: "Muhammad alleges that if you follow him you will be kings of the Arabs and the Persians. Then after death you will be raised to gardens like those of the Jordan. But if you do not follow him you will be slaughtered, and when you are raised from the dead you will be burned in the fire of hell." The apostle [Muhammad] came out to them with a handful of dust saying: "I do say that."

Quotable Quotes: said...

Of course I have a comment! How could I disappoint you? My comment is that most non-Muslims learn about Islam from Muslims, not from doing their own research. I'd bet a week's payhcheck the person you mentioned got his information about the "bad Christians who surrounded Muhammad, so he just had to start a new religion" from a Muslim. (new definition of a Muslim: someone to whom the most important thing in life is defending Muhammad)

Anonymous said...

Well, ladies and gentlemen, lies against Islam, trhough a milliennium and half, are growing old, while Islam is, fastly growing up. Islam is prevailing and is to prevail. You accuse Muslims of not listening to you, do you listen to them?

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