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 is.....you 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.