Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yusuf Qaradawi: Muslims Protect Muslims

Repercussions of the relationship between President Bill Clinton and a young woman named Monica Lewinsky in 1998 occupied the media and paralyzed America's political system for an entire year. Some commentators noted that if an European Head of State had done what President Clinton did, it would hardly have raised a yawn. Less noted was that if it had happened in an Arab or Muslim country, it would not have even seen the light of day. This is not just because Arab rulers control the media, which they do, but because of an important Muslim principle little understood in the West in which Muslims are commanded to conceal - not reveal - shameful or embarrassing deeds committed by themselves or other Muslims.

Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi explained the doctrine of Sitr in this recent Al Jazeera TV interview. The word itself is related to the Arabic word for a curtain or a veil, and carries the meaning of drawing a blind over something that is not to be revealed. I would like to summarize what Dr. Qaradawi said, and then add a few comments.

Moderator Uthman opened the interview with a quote from sura Nur. After Muhammad ruled that a woman could not be convicted of sexual immorality without four witnesses, the Prophet chastised the men who had raised the accusations against her. "Why did you speak about something when you should have kept quiet?" he asked. "Allah forbids you from doing this, and warns you not to do it again. Those who spread allegations of sexual misconduct among the Muslims will suffer a painful torment both in this world and in the Hereafter." (Quran 24:16-19).

What is the importance of Muslims practicing Sitr to protect other Muslims, asked Uthman. And how is this related to Aurah, or shame?

Dr. Qaradawi noted that Aurah is the common Arabic word for both the male and female genital organs. Just as these genital organs are covered, there are actions and deeds that also need to remain protected and covered. The Aurah are not limited to our physical bodies, but there are also social Aurah. People often do things of which they are embarrassed and ashamed, things they want to conceal from others. Each individual has his or her own weaknesses, things they do not want others to know. These are all Aurat (the plural of Aurah) that are to be protected. A man might hit someone in rage, for example, or engage in a sexual digression, or get drunk. He would be ashamed if others found out about his action. For this reason the Prophet said in an authentic Hadith, "The Muslim who protects another Muslim will himself be protected by Allah." The Hadith says that Allah is both a Protector and a Lover of Modesty. That means that Allah not only  protects the Believers, but also wants them to protect each other. If a man falls into a transgression, he is not to be publicly exposed. Exposure only comes if he blatantly and flagrantly continues in the wrongdoing; then he must be punished.

This is true for all Muslim relationships. A Muslim is not to broadcast the sins of his neighbor, and a Muslim wife is not to make known the faults of her husband. They are instead to give the transgressor time to repent and seek forgiveness from Allah.

But what if the relationship has gone bad? asked the moderator. Can ex spouses badmouth each other after divorce, or neighbors criticize each other publicly after their friendship has come to an end?

Dr. Qaradawi replied that the principle of Sitr still applied. The neighbor should remember the good times they had together, and the divorced spouse should do the same. The Quran reminds Muslims in sura Baqarah to be generous to the wives they divorce (Quran 2:237).

Children should be taught from their youth that some things are to be kept private and not disclosed to others, continued Dr. Qaradawi. When the young Joseph dreamed that even the moon and the stars bowed down to him, his father Jacob warned him not to tell the dream to his brothers because they might plot against him in jealousy (Quran 12:5). (comment: the Biblical rendition of this same story in Genesis 37 does not contain this warning).

In a seeming reference to a parable of Jesus in Matthew 7, Dr. Qaradawi noted that some people were quick to notice a small speck of dust in their neighbor's eye, but oblivious to the log in their own eye. Similarly, he added, some people were more than willing to spread the word if a friend or neighbor committed sexual immorality, got drunk, or did something else shameful. The principle of Sitr requires that such behavior, whether committed by you or someone else, remains forever hidden behind the veil.


1. At first blush, the principle of Sitr seems admirable. We in America live in a society that has perhaps gone overboard in the other direction. Just walk through the supermarket checkout line and see the tabloids, or listen to the TV political talk shows. Every real or imagined faux pas of politicians, athletes, and celebrities is broadcast for the world to see.

2. But I'm not so sure. Keeping secrets and shame locked behind closed doors is not always healthy. Many visitors to Muslim countries have noted that one striking difference is that here in America we do not keep children with mental or physical disabilities locked up at home. Walk through a mall in the Gulf and see how few families bring these children out with them. I still remember my conversation with a blind young man from Jordan who came to America as a teenager, learned English, and when I met him was about to graduate from an American University. Had he stayed in Jordan, he told me, he would probably still be a beggar on the street.

3. Law enforcement officers in the United States have noted that sometimes - not always, but sometimes - Muslims are reluctant to inform them about friends, family members, and neighbors who express radical tendencies and sentiments. I doubt if many of these officers have taken the time to inquire whether the principle of Sitr might have anything to do with the silence.

What I Believe

After I posted my interest in having Muslims consider the possibility that Muhammad was not a Prophet of God and the Quran not a book from God, a reader responded, "If you wouldn't mind, providing your readers the courtesy of describing why you - as a Lutheran, no? - believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible is the Word of God would be most appreciated."

It is common for Muslims to respond with a question to a question. Ask a Muslim about Muhammad, and he'll ask you about Moses. Raise a question about amputated hands flying in the Quran, and she will inquire about stones hurled in Leviticus.

But this was different. It was an honest question that deserves a serious answer. What do I believe, and why?

Before I get into it, let me present a few alibis. First of all I'm a Lutheran because, as I describe here, I made a spur-of-the-moment turn off the highway last year. The label of the church that attracted me was merely incidental (and what Martin Luther wrote about the Jews in his later years was, in my opinion, indicative of a person who had become mentally unstable).

Secondly, have you noticed how much easier it is for people to talk about what they don't believe than what they do? People proudly describe themselves as agnostics, or doubters, or atheists. Ask them what they do believe, rather than proclaiming what they don't, and you get an glazed stare.

One more thing. In religion, as in politics, it is imperative to define the terms you are talking about. What does the reader mean when she uses the terms "word of God" and "son of God"? If she is thinking Islamically, she means that God dictated words to Biblical writers who wrote them down as Muhammad recited verbatim the messages given him from Allah via Gabriel. She also means that a human, Jesus, somehow became God and Christians call this man-god the son of God.

Back to what I believe about the Bible and Jesus. I believe the Bible is a unique book that conveys two powerful messages: the presence and the purpose of God. God is present with us, and our lives have purpose. We are not alone, and the things we do as well as what happens to us is not meaningless.

Tell me about Noah's drunkenness, Lot's incest, Moses' murder, David's adultery, Samson cavorting with prostitutes, Joshua's plundering, Ezra forcing men to divorce their wives because they did not belong to the right tribe - and these were the good guys! - and my response is, "Yes, that's who people are and what people do. And the incredible message of the Bible is that God uses people like this to accomplish his purposes." People who, in spite of their weaknesses, want to live close to him. People like Martin Luther, and you and me.

So what do I believe about Jesus? Well, I do believe that for the only time in history a young virgin became pregnant without the input of male sperm. God himself impregnated her, and just as my sons carry characteristics of me Jesus carried the supernatural characteristics of his father. God expressed himself uniquely in human form (which is quite different than a man becoming God, and is also quite different than describing someone such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela as being godlike).

I also think that Jesus died and physically came back from the dead, and that somehow his death means that my shortcomings, sins, and failures are forgiven. The most important moment of my week is when the pastor says every Sunday morning, "You are forgiven of all your sins."

Why can't God just forgive sins? Why did he require the blood of a human sacrifice? I don't know, but I believe there was a necessary link between the death of Jesus and the pardon of my trespasses.

I believe one more thing. I think the Golden Rule is really important, but it is a lot harder to do consistently than people imagine and we often get it wrong. It's not just to treat other people the way you want them to treat you, it is to treat them as they want to be treated. When my housekeeper cleans my house, the Golden Rule is not for me to treat her the way I want her to treat me. I want her to clean thoroughly and not steal my valuables, but that's not the point. What is important is that I treat her with the respect and honor that she deserves as a human being, including not trying to get as much from her for as little money as possible.

Well, there you are. In a nutshell, that's what I believe.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Yusuf Qaradawi and Applying Sharia Law

What exactly is Sharia anyhow? What do Muslims mean when they talk about applying Sharia today? Does a Shaykh addressing an Arabic-speaking audience explain it differently than a Muslim apologist talking to Americans? If so, does that matter?

Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi recently devoted an entire interview on Al Jazeera TV to this important subject. I would like to summarize what Dr. Qaradawi said, and then add a few comments. For those looking for a quick thirty-second read, I apologize. Dr. Qaradawi is a significant scholar in the Sunni Muslim world, and I want to accurately present what he said and believes.

Moderator Uthman began by quoting from the sura Talaq (Divorce), "These are the Hudud, the set limits of Allah, and anyone who transgresses them harms himself (Quran 65:1). He then posed his first set of questions. Why are people today calling for the application of Sharia? What does that mean? Are the corporal and capital punishments in Sharia relevant today? Can Sharia be applied in Western countries?

For 13 centuries, Dr. Qaradawi responded, Muslims were ruled only by Sharia which can be defined as the judgements of Allah and his Prophet as laid down in the Quran and the Sunnah (the life and teaching of Muhammad). Muftis, judges, and jurists all based their rulings on Sharia. This only changed when 19th century Imperialists entered Muslim countries and replaced Sharia with European law. Since then, Muslim reformers have been calling for the restoration of Sharia. This is to be expected, because Muslims must be governed by the laws that came down from Allah. It is only natural that people today are calling for a return to the rule of Sharia, and we are among those people.

The application of Sharia, however, must be governed by Ijtihad, or creative thought, to determine how it can be enforced today. It would not be helpful to simply take rulings from ancient texts and apply them carte blanche to modern societies. Just as the Ulama, or Muslims scholars, used Ijtihad in the past to determine how to apply Sharia, scholars today must do the same. Sharia is applicable for all societies throughout all time, but the Ulama must engage in Ijtihad to determine exactly how to apply it today. Most Muslim countries today are governed by civil law. This is often compatible with Sharia, with the main difference being that Sharia incorporates the corporal and capital punishments represented by Qisas and Hudud. Qisas is the element of recompense, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and Hudud refers to the limits determined by Allah beyond which which physical punishment is required.

Sharia, continued Dr. Qaradawi, cannot be divided up into sections with some accepted and others rejected. If we are going to apply Sharia, we must apply it all. The controversial elements of Sharia, those of Qisas and Hudud, are contained in the final revelations of Allah to his Prophet (comment: the later suras of the Quran, in Islamic theology, are considered the most important because many of the earlier suras were abrogated or cancelled out by later revelations).

There are five rulings in the Quran that include corporal and capital punishment, including one for Qisas and four for Hudud. The text about Qisas is in Baqarah (Quran 2:178), which stipulates that a murderer is to be killed unless the family of the victim is willing to accept blood-money instead of the life of the killer.

The four rulings for Hudud are sex between unmarried people, falsely accusing women of immorality, opposing Allah and his Prophet, and theft. Sura Nur (Quran 24:2) states that unmarried people who engage in sexual activity, or Zina, are each to be flogged 100 times. The same sura (Quran 24:4) declares that men who falsely accuse chaste women of immorality are to be flogged 80 times. Sura Maidah rules that those who "wage war against Allah and his messenger and do mischief in the land" (Quran 5:33) are to have their hands and feet cut off from opposite sides. The final Quranic ruling, which is from the same chapter, states that both male and female thieves are to have their right hands amputated (Quran 5:38).

These few verses, however, represent only a small part of Sharia. There are thousands of verses in the Quran that lay out the way Allah commands people to live (comment: the literal meaning of Sharia is "the path Allah intends people to follow"). Sharia includes religious, civil, moral, cultural, and commercial rulings. It governs personal, family, national, and international relations. All of these are included under the rubric of "Sharia Law".

At this point in the interview, a viewer noted that videos splashed across Youtube and the Internet showing hands and heads flying off were giving "enemies of Islam" ammunition to attack Allah's religion. Isn't there a problem, the viewer asked, with the literal application of the Hudud of Islam?

The problem, replied Shaykh Qaradawi, is that the Hudud are being enforced before the conditions for their application are met. The first goal of Muslims is to establish true Islam, and then they can apply Sharia with the Hudud. Muhammad fully established Islam in Medina, with its rules for social and economic justice, before ruling the hands of thieves were to be cut off. The Quran states in 2:43 that "prayers are to be conducted and charity is to be given" in the Muslim society, and this refers to establishing true Islam. If this is done in equity, with money taken from the rich and given to the poor, and opportunities for employment given to all, there will be no need for the thief to steal. When a wealthy merchant informed the Caliph Umar that he wanted to cut off the hand of his slave because the slave had stolen his camel, Umar replied, "Had you properly fed and cared for your slave, he would not have needed to steal your camel. Go and meet his needs as his master, or I'll cut off your hand!" Islamic justice must first be established in Muslim countries, and then the Hudud can be applied.

Dr. Qaradawi followed this with an anecdote from an eighth century scholar in Basra, Iraq, named Imam Hasan al-Basri. During one of Hasan's sermons, a clamor arose in the street. When Hasan asked what the noise was about, he was informed that a thief had been arrested. Hasan commented, "So the thief who steals secretly (the government official) has arrested the thief who stole openly." Corrupt businessmen today, noted Qaradawi, who are close to Arab rulers and who steal millions from the national treasury are not prosecuted, whereas an unemployed laborer who steals to feed his family is punished.

It is also important, added Shaykh Qaradawi, to be sure that the accused really is guilty before applying the punishments of Hudud. For the ruler to err by granting pardon to a guilty man is better than his erring by punishing a man who was in fact innocent.

"That all sounds fine," responded moderator Uthman, "But are Sharia and the Hudud really applicable in the 21st century?"

Scholars have argued across the centuries, replied Dr. Qaradawi, whether Allah ordained the Hudud as a deterrent to crime or a purification for crimes committed. In reality they are both. They are a purification and a motivation for the individual who has been punished not to repeat his crime, and they provide a deterrent to others who see the severe punishment meted out upon the criminal. Some people argue that the Hudud of Sharia are overly severe, but what is the alternative? The alternative in civil law is imprisonment, but in reality prison is neither a deterrent nor a punishment. Many thieves who go to prison are released only to repeat their crimes. Even worse, they meet criminals in prison who teach them to become experts in crime. The individual with a high school education in crime gets his BA in prison, and the criminal with a BA gets his PhD! They meet people in prison with 50 years of criminal experience, and learn all the tricks of the trade. The thief who goes to prison because he stole a sheep learns how to steal the whole herd.

The Islamic law of corporal punishment is more severe, but more effective. The basic principle is that the individual must know that if he or she commits the crime the punishment will follow. The Caliph Umar said, "The punishment is only to be given to the person who knew it was coming." If the society does not know the difference between what is Hilal and Haram (right and wrong) in Islam, society must be taught.

Many people do not understand the principle behind the Hudud. They think, for example, that a man who commits fornication should be punished. But Sharia states that he is only to be punished if he does this flagrantly and openly with four witnesses. If a man commits fornication privately and seeks Allah's forgiveness, he does not need to be punished. But if there are four witnesses who testify before a judge that the man committed fornication, he is to be lashed. This is the punishment for a man who has sex with an unmarried woman; if she is married and there are four witnesses they are to be stoned to death.

When Islam has been established in the society, the rules of Hudud are to be strictly enforced. After the Prophet established Islam in Arabia, he commanded that a woman from the Beni Makhzum tribe should have her hand cut off because she had stolen. Her tribe sent spokesman Usamah bin Zayid to plead for mercy for her. Muhammad became angry and demanded, "Are you asking me not to apply the punishment that Allah has commanded? Are we to perish like those before us, who punished only the weak and did not punish the strong? I swear by Allah that if my own daughter Fatimah committed theft, I myself would cut off her hand."

The moderator next asked if the rulings for Hudud were only in the Quran, or were also found in other sources. Dr. Qaradawi replied that many were also located in the Hadith and the Sunnah, the sayings and life examples of Muhammad. The difference is that punishments not specified in the Quran are open to Ijtihad. As an example, the Quran forbids the drinking of alcohol, but does not specify the punishment for imbibing. Some scholars ruled that the punishment for drinking alcohol was 80 lashes, but others said 60 and still others 40. Some scholars, on the other hand, believe that the punishment for drinking alcohol should be merely a slap or a fine.

Capital punishment for the crime of Ridda, or leaving Islam, is also specified not in the Quran but in the Sunnah. Many people know the Hadith narrated by Ikrima, "The Prophet said, If a Muslim leaves Islam, kill him," but there are many similar Hadiths. Abdallah narrated, "The blood of a Muslim can only be shed in three cases: if they commit murder, adultery, or leave Islam."

Abu Musa recounted that after Muhammad sent him to Yemen as a governor, the Prophet sent Muadh bin Jabal to assist him in his duties. As Muadh rode into Abu Musa's court, he saw a man bound hand and foot as a prisoner. Before Muadh dismounted from his horse, he inquired why the man was bound and was informed he was a Jew who had become a Muslim and then left Islam. Muadh refused to get off his horse until the man was killed, saying, "I will not sit with you until he is killed in accordance with the decree of Allah and his Apostle." Only after he was killed would Muadh dismount and sit with Abu Musa.

The Quran also indicates the death penalty is to be applied for those who leave Islam, said Dr. Qaradawi. Sura Maidah (Quran 5:54) says that if Muslims leave Islam, Allah himself will bring people to fight against them. The meaning of this verse is that Ridda is to be resisted in the strongest possible terms, especially when it is a community or society that is turning away from Islam.

The interview concluded with Dr. Qaradawi giving his opinion on various details of Hudud; should the hand of a thief be cut off at the wrist or the elbow? The Shaykh says it is the wrist.


1. A professor I had years ago used to say, "Consistency, thou art a jewel!" If nothing else, Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is consistent. Unlike most Muslim apologists in the West, he does not water down his message to meet the expectations and assuage the concerns of his audience. With Shaykh Qaradawi, what you see is what you get.

2. His message is not only consistent, it is also perfectly logical if you accept his basic presupposition that Allah revealed his perfect and final revelation to Muhammad. If that is true, then whatever Allah told Muhammad is as relevant and applicable today as it was in Medina 1400 years ago.

3. The argument of Muslims in the West (as well as the Archbishop of Canberbury) that parts of Sharia can be adapted to Western civilization while other aspects can be rejected makes no sense in light of Qaradawi's primary argument. If Sharia is from Allah, his followers do not have the right to pick and choose what they want while rejecting the rest.

4. Western Muslim apologists often deny that Islam calls for the death penalty for those who leave Islam, as well as the stoning of married people who commite adultery. Based on the texts provided by Dr. Qaradawi, I don't think these apologists are telling the truth.

4. Media commentators have recently mocked the voters of Oklahoma for voting not to apply Sharia law in any form in their state. In the context of how Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi interprets Islam and Sharia, my opinion is that those voters probably made a pretty good choice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Matt Lauer and the Dr. Laura Interview

I don't watch much TV, but a recent snow day kept me in bed a few extra hours and flipping through the channels I noticed the Today show was about to interview Dr. Laura to discuss her new book Surviving a Shark Attack. I thought the interview was one of the dumbest I've ever watched. I encourage readers to view it here and let me know whether or not they agree.

Matt found it necessary to say repeatedly that Dr. Laura was "controversial". In today's media parlance, someone who is controversial is someone you don't respect very much. He inquired about the subject of her book, which deals with betrayal and revenge, but interrupted her midway through her response to indignantly inform her he did not agree because he prefers the "turn the other cheek" approach.

He looked down at his list of questions and proceeded to the next. He wanted to know more about the nude photos of Dr. Laura that a former lover had strewn over the Internet. She replied, probably for the 1000th time, and he again looked down at his paper for the next question. This one was about her use of the N word that garned much media attention last year. She patiently responded again, probably for the ten thousandth time, but halfway through they cut off for a commercial break and that was the end of this dumb interview.

Matt had no interest in really discussing her book, or learning what she thought about anything. He just wanted to put her down.

In ninth grade I was on my High School Junior Varsity basketball team. It was a lousy team; we didn't win a game all season. After each loss, however, we praised each other with High Fives and compliments. Way to go, Rich! Great jump shot, Ron. Nice rebounding, Bill!

Finally the coach had enough. In the locker room after yet another blowout, he threw his cap to the floor. "You guys are terrible," he shouted. "And yet you think you are fantastic. You keep telling yourselves how great you are. You have no idea how bad you play."

I think TV broadcasters are like that. They hang around with each other, interview each other, and tell each other how great they are. Just last night Anderson Cooper added Dr. Laura to his Ridiculist. They don't realize how shallow and dumb they often are.

Matt Lauer found it necessary to remind Dr. Laura that she had repeated the N word 13 times. Never mind that she repeated it merely for emphasis to get her point across. It's like my saying I thought his interview was dumb, dumb, dumb. And the questions he asked were dumb, dumb, dumb. And Anderson Cooper's reaction was equally dumb, dumb, dumb. There you go; I've outdone Dr. Laura. If I had a radio show, I'd probably be toast as well.

PS. By the way, Dr. Laura is now on SIRIUS radio. If you aren't a member, I encourage you to join. Her show alone is worth the subscription.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jared Loughner and the Tucson Shootings

Dr. Christopher Lillis at this link provides a thoughtful and professional diagnosis that Jared Loughner suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Rather than pretend to be a doctor myself and cut and paste a description of this tragic and ferocious mental illness, I encourage readers to read his article.

That's not enough for not-very-thoughtful and non-professional bloggers, columnists and pundits of all types who are finding a link between conservative politicians and talk show hosts and the killings.

Some conservatives, on the other hand, are claiming that President Obama's Tucson memorial speech was a "campaign speech." Since politicians have been known (I know this is hard to believe) to use such occasions for political gain, I carefully read the President's speech to see if I could detect any political bias in anything he said. If it was there, it would take a more astute reader than me to find it. 

So the left thinks conservative politicians and talk show hosts fueled Jared Loughner's rage, and the right thinks the President's response in Tucson was a campaign speech. It seems to me there is more than enough stupidity going all the way around.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fallout from the NPR Juan Williams Firing

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to spend some work-related time in New York City. I'm originally from the country, a dairy farmer's son, but now I love cities and enjoyed every moment in the Big Apple.

One Saturday morning I decided to walk Fifth Avenue as far as I could go. I began in midtown Manhattan, walked all along Central Park, and continued North until I was well into Harlem. At about 120th street - I don't remember where exactly - I realized I was in unfamiliar territory. Words we don't use much anymore, such as "slums" and "the ghetto" came to mind. It seemed as if I was the only white person in sight. I felt uncomfortable, turned around, and quickly scurried back.

Psychiatrists say that feelings are neither good nor bad - they are simply an expression of our emotional state at the moment we have them. Were my feelings of discomfort in Harlem justified? Probably not. Do they indicate that I am a racist? I hope not. Would I have those same feelings if I walked those streets today? I doubt it.

Apparently it is not safe in America anymore to publicly express personal feelings. When NPR veteran reporter Juan Williams said in October that he felt uncomfortable in an airport when he saw Muslims dressed in traditional garb, it cost him his job. Last week NPR senior vice-president Ellen Weiss was forced to resign for the clumsy way in which she handled his firing.

Here's what I find interesting. Juan Willians was raised in Brooklyn's rough-and-tumble Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He probably would not have felt the discomfort I felt walking Fifth Avenue through Harlem. I, on the other hand, lived in the Middle East for years and never felt uncomfortable on an aircraft surrounded by Muslim men wearing traditional clothing. If it happened to me here in the States, rather than being afraid I'd probably engage them in conversation.

The discomfort we both felt was, I would guess, at least partly due to the fact that we were in an unfamiliar situation, a little out of our comfort zone. I would hope that no one would interpret my feelings to assume that I was racist, and I think it is very unfortunate that Juan Willians lost his job after expressing his.

NPR Vice President Ellen Weiss took the fall recently for firing Williams over the telephone. She handled it clumsily, the top brass said, not professionally, so she had to go as well. The real tragedy is not that Williams said what he felt, or whether he was fired in person or over the telephone, or that Weiss also took the blame. It is that all CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had to do was call NPR as soon as they heard Juan Williams' comments on FOX and express their "deep concern" that he might be "Islamophobic" (in quotes because it is only a cleverly-invented word intended for occasions such as this), and his comments could be "fear-mongering".  That NPR would be so fearful of CAIR's bluster that it would immediately call Juan Williams to inform him he was history is the real tragedy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Alexandria Coptic Christmas Bombing

Now that I am technically a Lutheran, I'm getting used to the idea that major holidays are seasonal events that not only begin long before the week of the celebration, but continue afterwards. I have always been accustomed to weeks of Advent before Christmas, but to hear a sermon on "The Slaughter of the Innocents" the first Sunday after Christmas, when gift wrapping was still scattered around my living room floor, was a bit disconcerting. For those who don't know the story, the Wise Men who came to see the infant Jesus announced they were coming to greet a King. The local ruler Herod was threatened by this news of another King, and immediately killed all male children under two years of age. Jesus was only saved by the fact that his parents whisked him off to Egypt before the soldiers got to him.

Having heard the sermon, in which the Pastor reminded us that children are still being unjustly killed in many parts of the world, I should have been prepared for the news of the bombing of the Coptic Church in Alexandria in which 25 people lost their lives. I'm not sure why this particular story has saddened me so much. After all, Muslim suicide bombers have killed hundreds of people - not only Christians but Shia and innocent Sunnis as well - over the span of only the past few weeks. Maybe it's because I've walked the streets of Alexandria and visited Coptic churches in Cairo. Maybe it's because I've had Coptic friends. Perhaps it was seeing this Facebook page of Mariouma Fekry. Her last post, just a few hours before she went to church where she was blown to little pieces, was: 2010 is over...this year has the best memories of my life...really enjoyed living this year...I hope 2011 is much better...i have so many wishes in 2011...hope they come true...plz god stay beside me & help make it all true. :)

In the midst of Muslim denial, denial, denial, writer Hani Shukrallah in this article which is well worth reading gets closer to the truth than most. He at least acknowledges the thinly-veiled resentment, jealousy, and hatred many Middle Eastern Muslims feel towards the Christians living in their midst. But as a Muslim, Hani cannot go to the root of the problem. It is not only that he is unwilling and unable to, he is not allowed to. The one thing Hani Shukrallah cannot do is consider the possibility that the hatred many Muslims harbour toward non-Muslims finds its source in their Prophet and their Book and their Religion.

The most important thing in understanding Islam is to see it from the perspective not of a 21st century Muslim academic living in the West, but of Muhammad. To the Prophet and his early followers, the world was divided into two groups of people. Those who accepted Muhammad as Allah's Final Prophet were the mumineen, the true believers. All who rejected the message were the kuffar.

This is where the story gets interesting. The Quran has nothing good to say about the kafir (singular) and the kuffar (plural). Ask your Muslim friends if they consider you a kafir, and they will assure you that you are not. "You are a Person of the Book," they will say. "The Quran says that Christians are the closest people to the Muslims. It would never use the word kafir to describe a Christian."

On the surface, that sounds nice. The reality is that the only reason Christians and Jews were called "People of the Book" is because they had books - the Torah and the Injil - that they could read, whereas the Arabs were mostly illiterate and had no books. The Christians whom the Quran describes as close to the Muslims were those who accepted Muhammad as a Prophet. But what about the statement that the Quran never called a Christian a kafir?

It is true - technically - that the word kafir is not used in the Quran to describe Christians, but a quick look at Arabic grammar gives a different story. The difference between a verb and an active participle, or the person doing the action of the verb, is a simple change of vowelling and pronunciation. The verb sakana means to reside, and a resident is a saakin. Kataba means to write, and a writer is a kaatib. Qatala means to kill, and a killer is a qaatil. Saraqa means to steal, and a thief is a saariq. Kafara means to disbelieve in Muhammad, and an unbeliever guessed it, a kaafir.

When your Muslim friends tell you the Quran does not use the exact active participle kaafir to describe a Christian, they are correct. But the Quran does say in surat al-Maidah (5:17) that those who believe Jesus was the Son of God are guilty of kafara. Following Arabic's own rules of grammar, they are the kuffar.

It is ironic, if not tragic, that the country the infant Jesus fled to in order to escape a Roman King would, 2000 years later, blow up 25 of his followers as they were leaving a celebration of his birth. 2010 began with the slaughter of 7 Copts as they were leaving a church in Nag Hammadi, and ended with the massacre of four times that many in Alexandria. Until Muslims become willing to look at the source of this hatred, my fear is that things will get much worse before they get better.

Monday, January 3, 2011

There You Go

The other day I heard a stand-up comic give a routine about the common expression "There You Go". "It's a great phrase," he said. "Some idiot comes up and tells you something that's really stupid. You don't want to get in an argument or fight with them, so you just listen until they finish and then you say, "There you go." They walk away impressed with what they have told you, not realizing that to you it makes no sense at all."

A Muslim neighbor engaged me in conversation today about the recent church bombing in Alexandria. "Some people think the Mossad were behind it," he said. "Even a Coptic Member of Parliament publicly stated that Israel is trying to separate the Christians and the Muslims in Egypt. Israel wants to divide the entire Middle East into little countries that will have no influence."

Well, there you go.