Friday, July 15, 2011

The Strange Teachings of Muhammad

Thus morning, happily, someone sent me this 2009 interview with Fr Zakaria Botros, whose return to the public eye I featured in a July 9 post. Rather than re-post the complete interview, which you can find here, I am selecting a few key sections which reveal a great deal about Fr Zakaria's life and sufferings, his heart for Muslims and their salvation, and his assessment of Islam and Muhammad based on the Islamic source texts.

For more on Fr Zakaria and his missionary work among Muslims, follow the links in this and the July 9 post. His biography, Defying Death, is out of print, and fetches over $500 a copy through's used book resellers.

The Strange Teachings of MuhammadBy: FrontPage Magazine | Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Coptic priest Fr. Zakaria Botros, who al Qaeda has  called  "one of the most wanted infidels in the world," issuing a 60 million dollar bounty on his head. Popular Arabic magazines also call him "Islam's public enemy #1". He hosts a television program, “Truth Talk,” on Life TV.  His two sites are and He was recently awarded the Daniel of the Year award.
FP: Fr. Zakaria Botros, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Botros: Thank you for inviting me.

FP: Let’s begin with your own personal story, in terms of Islam and Christianity.

Botros: I am a Copt. In my early 20s, I became a priest. Of course, in predominantly Muslim Egypt, Christians—priests or otherwise—do not talk about religion with Muslims. My older brother, a passionate Christian learned that lesson too late: after preaching to Muslims, he was eventually ambushed by Muslims who cut out his tongue and murdered him. Far from being deterred or hating Muslims, I eventually felt more compelled to share the Good News with them. Naturally, this created many problems: I was constantly harassed, threatened, and eventually imprisoned and tortured for one year, simply for preaching to Muslims. Egyptian officials charged me with abetting “apostasy,” that is, for being responsible for the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.  Another time I was arrested while boarding a plane out of Egypt. Eventually, however, I managed to flee my native country and resided for a time in Australia and England. Anyway, my life-story with Christianity and Islam is very long and complicated. In fact, an entire book about it was recently published.

FP: I apologize for asking this, but what were some of the tortures you endured when you were imprisoned?
Botros: Due to my preaching the Gospel, Egyptian soldiers broke into my home putting their guns to my head. Without telling me why, they arrested me and placed me in an extremely small prison cell (1.8x1.5x1.8 meters, which was further problematic, since I am 1.83 meters tall), with other inmates, and in well over 100 degree temperatures, with little ventilation, no windows, and no light.  No beds of course, we slept on the floor—in shifts, as there was not enough room for all of us to lie down.  Due to the lack of oxygen, we used to also take shifts lying with our noses under the crack of the cell door to get air. As a result, I developed a kidney infection (receiving, of course, no medical attention). Mosquitoes plagued us. Food was delivered in buckets; we rarely even knew what the gruel was. The prison guards would often spit in the bucket in front of us, as well as fling their nose pickings in it.
FP: My heart goes out to you in terms of this terrible suffering you endured. What is your primary purpose in what you do?

Botros: Simple: the salvation of souls. As I always say, inasmuch as I may reject Islam, I love Muslims. Thus, to save the latter, I have no choice but to expose the former for the false religion it is. Christ commanded us to spread the Good News. There is no rule that says Christians should proselytize the world—except for Muslims! Of course, trying to convert the latter is more dangerous. But we cannot forsake them. This is more important considering that many Muslims are “religious” and truly seek to please God; yet are they misdirected. So I want to take their sincerity and piety and direct it to the True Light.

FP: In what way can you summarize for us why you think that Islam is a “false” religion?
Botros:  Theologically, as I am a Christian priest, I believe that only Christianity offers the truth. Based on my faith in Christ, I reject all other religious systems as man-made and thus not reflective of divine truths. Moreover, one of the greatest crimes committed by Muhammad—a crime which he shall surely never be forgiven for—is that he denied the grace and mercy that Christ brought, and took humanity back to the age of the law.
But faith aside, common sense alone makes it clear that, of all the world’s major religions, Islam is most certainly false. After all, while I may not believe in, say, Buddhism, still, it obviously offers a good philosophical system and people follow it apparently for its own intrinsic worth. The same cannot be said about Islam. Of all the religions it is the only one that has to threaten its adherents with death if they try to break away; that, from its inception, in order to “buy” followers, has been dedicated to fulfilling some of the worst impulses of man—for conquest, sex, plunder, pride.  History alone demonstrates all this: while Christianity was spread far and wide by Christians who altruistically gave up their lives, simply because they believed in Christ, Islam spread by force, by the edge of the sword, by fear, threats, and lurid enticements to the basest desires of man. Islam is by far the falsest religion—an assertion that is at once theologically, philosophically, and historically demonstrable.
FP: You always document your discussions with Islamic sources. Why do Muslim clerics and imams have such a difficulty discussing what Islam itself teaches and instead just attack you personally?

Botros: I think the answer is obvious. The Islamic sources, the texts, speak for themselves. Muslims have no greater enemy than their own scriptures—particularly the Hadith and Sira—which constantly scandalize and embarrass Muslims. To date, I have done well over 500 different episodes dedicated to various topics regarding Islam. And for every one of these episodes, all my material comes directly from Islam’s textual sources, particularly usul al-fiqh—the Koran, hadith, and ijma of the ulema as found in their tafsirs.

So what can the sheikhs of Islam do?  If they try to address the issue I raise based on Islam’s texts and sharia, they will have no choice but to agree—for instance that concubinage is legal, or that drinking camel urine is advocated.  The only strategy left them, then, is to ignore all that I present and attack my person, instead.

And when well-meaning Muslims ask their leaders to respond to these charges, one of their favorite responses is to quote the Koran, where it says “Do not ask questions of things that will hurt you.”

FP: So what does it say about a religion whose religious teachers and members have to ignore their own theological texts because they cannot endure what those texts really say? What sense does any of this make?
Botros: Again, this is a reflection of the fact that Islam is less a faith, more a vehicle for empowerment. As you say, what is the point for a person to closely guard and follow a religion that he himself has to rationalize, ignore, minimize, constantly reinterpret, dissemble over, and so forth? The fact is, most Muslims do not know what is in their own texts; at best, they know, and here and there try to follow, the Five Pillars.  This is why the issues I broach often traumatize Muslims—like a freshening slap across the face: a short, sharp, shock.  The stubborn, who take it as an attack of “us versus them,” irrespective of truths, just fume and plot to kill me; the other, more reasonable Muslims, who are really searching for the truth, end up waking up to the biggest hoax perpetrated on the human race in 1400 years, and many come to the ultimate Truth.
A better question is why do the ulema hide these issues from both infidel scrutiny as well as the eyes of the average Muslim? One would think that if anyone is dedicated to the truth it would be the ulema; yet their deceptive tactics reveal the opposite. For instance, it is often the case that, after I quote problematic passages from certain Islamic books, they have a strange tendency of disappearing from the book shelves of the Arabic world.
The bottom line is, many Muslims think of Islam less as a spiritual system dedicated to ascertaining and putting one on the course of the truth, and more a way of life—first and foremost not to be questioned—that if followed closely, will result, not only in future paradise, but earthly success, honor, and power.

FP: In your view, who was Muhammad? 
Botros: Well, I have received the answer from Islam’s own books. Ironically, Ibn Taymiyya, who happens to be the hero of the modern mujahid movement, explained the prerequisites of prophet-hood very well.  One of the things he stressed is that, in order to know if a prophet is in fact from God, we must study his sira, or his biography, much like the Christ’s statement that “You shall know them from their fruits.”  So, taking Ibn Taymiyya’s advice, I recently devoted a number of episodes analyzing the biography of Muhammad, which unequivocally proves that he was not a prophet, that his only “fruits” were death, destruction, and lust.  Indeed, he himself confessed and believed that he was being visited and tormented by a “jinn,” or basically a demon, until his wife Khadija convinced him that it was the angel Gabriel—which, of course is ironic, since Muhammad himself later went on to say that the testimony of a woman is half that of a man: maybe over time he realized she was wrong, and that his first assumption was right.

FP: Fr. Botros, thank you for visiting us today.
Botros: Thank you, and may the true God richly bless you.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Canaries in the Coalmine Pt 2: Iraqi Christians

Aftermath of 2010 Baghdad Church
Massacre, in which dozens of
worshipers were killed by
extremist Muslims.
In this, our second in the 'Canaries in the Coalmine' series (the first looked at the worsening situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood continues its acquisition of power and its push for an Islamic republic based on the shariah), we consider the heartrending and dire situation of Christians in Iraq.  Some on the ground in Mosul and elsewhere are already referring to Muslim persecution of Christians as "ethnic cleansing," and point to the hundreds of thousands of Christians fleeing Iraq as further proof of the horrendous conditions there.

Some of the stories below also refer to the horrific persecution of Christians in Iran, and the collapse of Christianity in the Holy Land in general as Islam continues its renewed, belligerent ascendancy.

It must be emphasized that these attacks on Christian communities are not "sectarian" or political in nature; as can be discerned from the accounts of survivors of the Baghdad church massacre, the Muslims who perpetrate these atrocities are basing their actions on Islamic teachings as found in the Koran and the life and example of Muhammad. Dr Mark Durie relates the nature of these attacks as follows:

It is good to note well the testimony of these survivors, because there is a view, widespread among the secular professional terrorism analysts of Western nations, that contemporary terrorism is not essentially religious in nature, but is a political movement which exploits the religion of Islam to serve what are in reality political goals.

One of the dangers of this rhetoric is that it causes the Western media to overlook or 'filter out' incidents of terrorists attacking indigenous Christians (and other religious minorities), because these attacks cannot be accommodated in the category of 'political violence'.

However there was no political advantage to be gained by killing unarmed Christian worshippers in Baghdad.  It was a purely religious act.  Thus, according to the survivors, their attackers:

  1. Cried out Allahu Akbar 'Allah is greater' each time they shot Christians.
  2. Called the Christians kafir 'infidel'.
  3. Witnessed to the Christians that Allah is one.
  4. Said it was halal (religiously permitted in Islam) to kill them, because they were Christians.
  5. Rebuked their victims for 'worshipping' the cross and Christ and told them not to do so, e.g. they said, 'Don't worship the cross'.
  6. Selectively targeted young men for killing: one of the attackers said 'Don't leave a young man alive.'  This is in accordance with the laws of jihad, which stipulate that male captives can be killed. Authentic hadiths (traditions) of Muhammad report that when he eliminated the  Jews from Medina, he had the men executed.  (A Jewish boy called Atiyyah later reported that when an examination revealed he had not yet begun to grow pubic hair, he was allowed to live).
  7. Declared that they themselves would go to paradise but their Christian victims would go to hell.  They seemed to presume that they would be killed as an outcome of the seizure.
  8. Refused to put a wounded victim out of her misery, by ending her life, although she was begging for this, on the grounds that it was fitting for her to suffer in this life because she was on her way to hell anyway.
  9. Deliberately targeted Christian symbols for destruction, e.g. destroying crosses and a statue of Christ. (It was a tradition reported by Waqidi that Muhammad would destroy anything he saw which had a cross on it: W. Muir, The life of Muhammad.Volume 3, p.61, note 47.)

Here are just a few highlights of Muslim persecutions of Iraqi Christians from the past couple of years. Click on source links for the full stories:

December 2009 - Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - A policy of "ethnic and religious cleansing" is underway in Mosul; in fact, it has worsened as Christmas approaches, Mgr Louis Sako told AsiaNews. For the archbishop of Kirkuk, this means that "security measures must be strengthened or the holiday season". Meanwhile, tensions and fear are palpable in the city, made worse by a new attack against two places of worship, killing one person and wounding 40 more. A Christian source, anonymous for security reasons, said that the "community is destined to die".

March 2010 - Mosul (BBC News) - Hundreds of Iraqi Christians have taken part in protests calling for government action after a spate of killings. At least eight Christians have been killed in the past two weeks in the volatile northern city of Mosul. The killings prompted an appeal by Pope Benedict on Sunday for Iraqi authorities to protect vulnerable religious minorities. The UN says more than 680 Christian families have fled Mosul since the recent attacks.

October 2010 - Iraq (AINA) - As US forces continue to withdraw from Iraq, many fear a return to sectarian violence once they've gone. Iraqi Christians are particularly fearful of the removal of the main barrier between them and their persecutors. Their churches are burnt-out husks and heaps of rubble. Their businesses are targeted by extremists. Their leaders are kidnapped and assassinated. The Christian minority in Iraq, once a community left in peace to prosper, continues to be under threat from a campaign of persecution which has forced as many as 500,000 Christians to flee the country.

October 2010 - (AINA) - BISHOPS WARN OF CAMPAIGN TO DRIVE CHRISTIANITY FROM IRAQ - Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue were the focus Friday morning during the 8th General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. Pope Benedict XVI was present for the session which saw interventions from auditors and special delegates, as well as greetings from the World Council of Churches....
Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran of the Vatican's council for inter-religious dialogue said "let us not be shy in reclaiming not only freedom of worship, but also religious freedom". In this context one suggestion was the developing of a UN resolution on religious freedom that protects from discrimination, while condemning the use of religion to justify wars, or political and economic interests....
Discussions then widened out to the horrible tragedy of Christians in Iraq: bishops from the nation warned that there is a deliberate campaign to drive them out of the country and called on the international community not to remain silent. The difficult situation of the Church in Turkey was also touched on, a reality that is sometimes overlooked but one which is at risk of survival. Its story, concluded the Synod Fathers, was written with the blood of victims such as Mgr. Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, who was murdered in June.

November 2010 - (Foreign Policy) - ...The [October 2010] massacre in Baghdad is only the most spectacular example of mounting discrimination and persecution of the native Christian communities of Iraq and Iran, which are now in the middle of a massive exodus unprecedented in modern times as they confront a rising tide of Islamic militancy and religious chauvinism sweeping the region.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in both Iraq and Iran, with roots in the Middle East that date back to the earliest days of the faith. Some follow the Apostolic Orthodox Armenian Church. Others subscribe to the 2,000-year-old Syriac tradition represented mainly by the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and by Aramaic speakers widely known as Assyrians in both Iraq and Iran.

In Iraq, Chaldean and Assyrian Christian communities have witnessed increasing violence by militant Muslims against their neighborhoods, children, and religious sites since the U.S. invasion. Even pastors are not safe -- two died in the recent Baghdad bombing; many have been killed by Sunni and Shiite Iraqis since 2003. In Iran, other clergymen, including members of the Armenian, Protestant, and Catholic churches, have been arrested, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, or even summarily executed, over the past three decades.

"Many Christians from Mosul have been systematically targeted and are no longer safe there," said Laurens Jolles, a UNHCR representative, in 2008, after Chaldean women were raped while their men, including Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, were tortured and killed in warnings to Christians to abandon their homes and livelihoods...
But the roots of Christian decline in the Middle East actually date back centuries. In Iran, intolerance toward all non-Muslim minorities took a sharply negative turn from the 16th century onward with the forced Shiification of Iran by the Safavid dynasty. The early 20th century saw pogroms against Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians in the Ottoman Empire and northwestern Iran. Under the Pahlavi shahs, Assyrians, Armenians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Baha'is regained some of their rights and came to represent the modernizing elements of 20th century society. But the Islamic Revolution of 1979 undercut all those advances. Prejudice and oppression now occurs with impunity.
The numbers speak for themselves: The population of non-Muslims in Iran has dropped by two-thirds or more since 1979. From Iran, these groups flee to Turkey and India -- often at risk to life and limb through the violence-ridden border regions of Iraq and Pakistan. The number of Assyrian Christians in Iran has dwindled from about 100,000 in the mid-1970s to approximately 15,000 today, even as the overall population of the country has swelled from 38 million to 72 million people over the same period. In Iraq, Christians are fleeing in droves. U.N. statistics indicate that 15 percent of all Iraqi refugees in Syria are of Christian background, although they represented only 3 percent of the population when U.S. troops entered in 2003. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that between 300,000 to 400,000 Christians have been forced out of Iraq since 2003. And Christians have left because the message from Sunni militants and Shiite ayatollahs is crystal clear: You have no future here.

There is now an alarming possibility that there will be no significant Christian communities in Iraq or Iran by century's end. Christian schools, communal halls, historical sites, and churches are being appropriated by national and provincial governments, government-sponsored Muslim organizations, and radical Islamist groups. Economic and personal incentives are offered to those who adopt Islam. 

November 2010 - London (BBC) - A senior Iraqi Christian has called on believers to quit the country, after gunmen targeted a church in Baghdad. Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, who is based in the UK, made his appeal during a service at the Syrian Orthodox Church in London. The archbishop said Christians had been without protection since the US-led invasion in 2003. At least 52 people died as security forces stormed a Catholic Church in Baghdad to free dozens of hostages.

December 2010 - KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi Christians on Wednesday called off Christmas festivities in three cities across the country as al-Qaida insurgents threatened more attacks on a beleaguered community still terrified from a bloody siege on a Baghdad church. Church officials in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul along with the southern city of Basra said they will not put up Christmas decorations, have canceled evening Mass and urged worshippers to refrain from decorating their homes...  "Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak."  Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since a Baghdad church attack in October that left 68 people dead. Days later insurgents targeted Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital with a series of bombs.

December 2010 - World Blind to Christianity's Evaporating Roots in Holy Land (Vatopaedi Friend/Calgary Herald) - One of the staples of television news over the Christmas holiday is coverage of celebrations in the Holy Land, providing a familiar and comforting nod to the ancient roots of Western civilization. Even in our increasingly secular society, images of Christians worshipping in Nazareth and Bethlehem provide welcome confirmation that we have a long and substantial history — even if we’re fuzzy on the details. It all looks so traditional and Christmassy.
Unfortunately this comforting image depends to a large extent on a dwindling number of embattled Christian communities. We are, in fact, witnessing the twilight of Christianity across much of the Middle East.
Not so long ago Bethlehem was a majority Christian town — about 80 per cent — and now is down to less than a third. Nazareth, too, has seen its Christian population almost halved in recent decades, and in Jerusalem itself the Christian community has fallen from a slight majority 80 years ago to below two per cent today. Christians are leaving the West Bank, in particular, to escape the instability and a long-standing Muslim boycott of Christian businesses that has ravaged the community’s economic foundations.
Thankfully this modern day exodus is mostly peaceful, which puts it in marked contrast to much of the history of Christian depopulation in the Middle East.
This is history the West has largely forgotten and ignored. Your average European or North American will certainly be more familiar with the story of the Palestinians and the much-publicized grievances of the Arab world in general.
Yet we’re not talking ancient history here.
Many people will have heard something of the Armenian genocide in Turkey in the years following the First World War, but few would know it was part of a larger religious and ethnic cleansing that also saw the mass slaughter of Greek and Assyrian Christians.
Almost three million Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Christians perished in what are now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. In the first quarter of the 20th century Christians represented about one-third of the Syrian population, but now they account for less than 10 per cent. In Turkey there were about two million Christians in 1920, now reduced to just a few thousand.
Even more recently, the campaign of violence and persecution against Iraqi Christians is surely one of the most under-reported stories since the invasion of 2003. Iraq’s Christians once made up three per cent of its population, and now account for half of its refugees. About 500,000 Iraqi Christians have fled that country over the past seven years, and it’s not hard to see why. As recently as the end of October, 52 people were killed when security forces tried to free more than 100 Catholics taken hostage during a Sunday mass in Baghdad.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Return of Fr Zakaria Botros

Raymond Ibrahim has just posted a new article telling of the return of the fearless Coptic priest, Fr Zakaria Botros. Just as did the Holy New Martyr Fr Daniil Sysoev of Moscow, Fr Zakaria boldly confronts the utter falsity of Islam and the abject depravity of Muhammad (the 'ideal pattern of conduct' for Muslims). Yet he does this not with anger or vindictiveness, but out of his evangelical love for Muslims, and his desire that they be delivered from falsehood and spiritual deception, and brought to a saving faith in Christ Jesus.

Fr Zakaria and Fr Daniil exemplify our calling, our three-fold path regarding the religion of Muhammad: (1) to grow ever deeper in our Most Holy Faith, in our abiding in Christ; (2)  to stand firm against and refute Islam; and (3) to lovingly reach out to Muslims with the Gospel of Life, the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Zakaria Botros: Islam’s Scourge Returns
Posted By Raymond Ibrahim On July 8, 2011
Father Zakaria Botros, also known as Islam’s “Public Enemy #1,” is back.

From around 2005-2010, this 76 year-old Coptic priest was Islam’s bane. Appearing weekly on Arabic satellite, where he was viewed by an estimated 60 million people worldwide, mostly Muslims, he meticulously exposed any number of theological problems with Islam—all from Islam’s own books—while simultaneously evangelizing from his own book, the Bible.

mission “is to attack Islam, not to attack Muslims but to save them because they are deceived. As I love Muslims, I hate Islam.” 

And he has been effective: Mass conversions to Christianity, open and clandestine, have resulted. Indeed, years back al-Jazeera aired a segment complaining about Fr. Zakaria’s “unprecedented evangelical raid” on the Muslim world; similarly, one Sheikh Ahmad al-Qatani lamented that as many as six million Muslims annually “apostatize” to Christianity.

Unsurprisingly, Fr. Zakaria’s exploits caused al-Qaeda to proclaim him “one of the most wanted infidels in the world,” putting a $60 million bounty on his head; undeterred, the priest kept going, his viewers and converts multiplying by the week.

Then, in May 2010, after a particularly graphic episode on Muhammad, his shows inexplicably stopped airing. His enemies exulted. Muslim leaders, preachers, and sheikhs appeared on TV, gleefully announcing that Allah had silenced the great enemy of Islam.

Yet, over a year after his many foes—external and internal, Muslim and non-Muslim—have managed to stifle him, Fr. Zakaria is back on satellite, now with his own station Fady TV(Redeemer TV), “a channel for those searching for the truth.”

Though other Islam-critics and evangelists have appeared on Arabic satellite since, many with a good following, it is clear that people have not forgotten the priest, the original trailblazer of open and honest talk on Islam—the original scourge of Islam.

Watching the first episode of his new show, “Knowledge of the Truth,” was like witnessing a reunion between a lost flock and its spiritual shepherd. Viewer after viewer—Christians and Muslims, much more of the latter—called in to express how much they had sorely missed the evangelist, and how happy they were to see him again, some in tears, others in joyous laughter.

And while their words were full of sincere and enthusiastic praise—many insisted that he is a living saint, others a modern day St. Paul—it was only when an elderly-sounding woman asserted that everyone must support Fr. Zakaria, not for his sake, but for the sake of his work liberating Muslims from bondage, that the normally stoic Zakaria broke down in tears.

Why is Fr. Zakaria so loved—and hated? For starters, as a native Arabic-speaker, he takes his message straight to the heart of the Islamic world; as a man of God, he takes his message straight to the heart of Muslims—something the Western approach cannot achieve.

You see, while Western critics are limited to making secular arguments against specific aspects of Islam—for instance, that it is illiberal, intolerant, sexist—he makes spiritual arguments against the very foundations of the religion.

This is not to say that Western polemics are not beneficial; they are, in that they awaken Western peoples to the nature of Islam. However, arguing or even proving that Islam falls short of Western/secular standards has little impact on Muslims—except perhaps to make them more tenacious of their faith (the inevitable result of comparing apples and oranges).

But an attack on the veracity of the religion itself—an attack articulated through a spiritual as opposed to a secular paradigm—must be confronted by Muslims.

In short, Fr. Zakaria’s success rests in the fact that he fights fire with fire; that he speaks the same language Muslims do—not just literally, Arabic, but more importantly, figuratively, the language of religion and faith, the language of God. He cannot simply be ignored.

For example, during this, his first episode, he discussed Sheikh Huwaini‘s recent assertions that Islam advocates plundering, enslaving, buying, and selling infidels. Many have written about this anecdote either to show that Islam is intrinsically violent, or that “radical Islamism” is spreading, or that Islamic teachings are incompatible with the West.

But Fr. Zakaria takes it a step further—takes it right to the heart of the matter. After asserting that “God created mankind in his image,” he sincerely addressed his Muslim viewers: “Would God truly want you to kill your neighbor, to enslave him? Would the Almighty truly want believers to buy and sell other human beings like animals? Think people! Use your minds, listen to your hearts—for your souls are at stake!”
The same reason the secular mindset may find this approach too simplistic or “unsophisticated” is the same reason it is far from comprehending Islam.

Still in its early stages of development and financially challenged, Fady TV has yet to reach the Middle East, where the real battle for souls is waged, though the priest is hopeful. The station is set to air entire programs dedicated to examining various topics in depth, including the Koran, the Hadith, Muhammad, and Allah.

As I previously did, I plan on following and summarizing Fr. Zakaria’s programs. See for example “The Perverse Sexual Habits of the Prophet” and “Was Muhammad a Messenger from God or Satan?” for a sampling.

For more information on this singular priest, read his exclusive 2009 FPM interview, wherein he discussed his life story, including the torments he experienced for preaching to Muslims in Egypt. Also, to get a feel for his very “non-dhimmi” approach, watch his famous “Ten Demands of Islam.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Vice of Anger, the Virtue of Discernment, and the Imperative to Stand for Truth and Aid Those in Danger

Over the last week or so I have been listening through a special podcast by Hieromonk Irenei Steenberg on Ancient Faith Radio, and in the second Q&A session, Fr Irenei responds to some excellent questions concerning anger, and whether and how we should intervene if we see that someone is being wronged. The issue of righteous anger is discussed, as well as Gospel accounts of how Christ challenged wrong teachings and practices, and how he intervened on behalf of those in danger (e.g. the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was in danger of being stoned).

Such a discussion is profoundly relevant and helpful when it comes to the issue of Islam, and the Christian response to it. I can speak from my own experience in writing my book, Facing Islam, as to how I struggled with anger and outrage during my initial research into the religion of Muhammad. I was outraged by fourteen centuries of Muslim atrocities against Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims. I was outraged at the thought of an estimated 270 million killed in the name of Islam, over 60 million of them Christians. I was infuriated that people could so deaden their conscience as to adopt the ravings and 'revelations' of a depraved desert warlord, and submit themselves to a false god of hate, murder, misogyny, pedophilia, perversion and bloodshed.

Over time, and thanks in large measure to conversations on the subject with respected friends and dear priests, I worked through that initial storm of passionate anger, hopefully having reached a place of tentative soberness. Although I would suggest the attainment of soberness in these matters is essential, likewise it might be better seen as a process, a path, which we all struggle along as we become aware of daily outrages and atrocities committed by fundamentalist adherents of Islam. When we read news reports out of Egypt of Coptic girls being kidnapped and sold into slavery by Muslims, or of Muslims burning down churches and threatening or killing Coptic priests and laity to collect the jizya tax, we ought to feel outrage, grief, pathos... If there is no initial reaction in our hearts, are we not defective in some way? Is lack of outrage evidence of a serious disconnect within us? If we give Islam a pass even after learning of the daily atrocities perpetrated in its name all over the world, and especially if we blandly offer sighing platitudes of "Father forgive them..." are we perhaps deadening our hearts so as to avoid the unpleasant truth, that we are at war with the age-old enemy of mankind, who is stirring anew the followers of Muhammad to persecute, torture, marginalize, subdue and kill the followers of Christ. Christ from the Cross offered up the divine prayer for His persecutors, "Father forgive them..." yet He did so not in a state of denial, false apatheia, or delusional pseudo-dispassion. He forgave his tormentors (and us, who nailed Him to the Cross by our sins) precisely at the peak of His suffering, under excruciating pain, experiencing every temptation common to man confronting wrongful persecution and death at the hands of one's enemies.

I am convinced that for a Christian, soberness when grappling with issues regarding one's enemies (and make no mistake, Islam is clearly a powerful enemy of Christians) does not mean in the least acquiescence, passivity or maintaining a false sense of quietude. Nor does soberness mean blinding oneself to reality so as to avoid the contest. Nor does it mean inertia, paralysis. All of these distortions of and substitutes for soberness are merely psychological tricks, clever ways of burying our talent in the ground, perhaps wrapped in a clean, pretty cloth of pseudo-dispassion.  All of these distortions are really forms of apathy (not apatheia), and, as the saying goes, "the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy."

Sadly, apathy is a classic psychological response to the immense, multifaceted and difficult challenge posed by Islam, as seen in this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on apathy:

US novelist John Dos Passos wrote that "Apathy is one of the characteristic responses of any living organism when it is subjected to stimuli too intense or too complicated to cope with. The cure for apathy is comprehension."  

"Comprehension" is indeed part of the cure, hence the need for books and blogs such as mine.

When one looks at the global picture, the daily atrocities committed by the Tiny Minority of [Islamic] Extremists, and when one sees the denial of responsibility by Muslims for the same — and their claims that Islam is 'The Religion of Peace' and that they are the ones being persecuted by others — and when one considers that there are some 1.5 billion adherents of this religion, the dire implications of this horrendous scenario are almost too much to bear. When one considers that so-called "Moderate Muslims" are virtually silent in the face of the endless outrages of their co-religionists, yet protest with indignation over every imagined slight and incident of "Islamophobia", the temptation is to languish in apathy, and hope it all goes away, or gets better, or some other such rot.

Yet this is not the authentic Christian response at all. Below are excerpts from Fr Irenei's Q&A session (with my occasional observations interjected), which can greatly help us navigate these difficult waters. The goal is to become firmly established on the Royal Way, the Middle Path, giving in neither to the temptation to excessive softness and apathy on the left, nor to a fierce, combative 'super-correct' aggression on the right.

 Question: Hello, could you clarify, or give us more information, about not judging. I'm particularly interested in this as a parent because I know my children and myself need to learn how to distinguish between right and wrong.  So I'm wondering, does not making judgment mean more "forgive," when you see right and wrong?  Or does it just mean, "not make a judgment?"    What can you tell me?

Hieromonk Ireneii:  I think we have to start by defining what the commandment against judging can't possibly mean.  It can't possibly mean "don't distinguish between right and wrong" because Christ specifically tells us to do that.  We are called to know what is good and what is evil and to embrace what is good.  We are called to help other people do this.  And in fact, in the litanies during the Diving Liturgy, the prayers that we offer for the bishops of the Church are specifically that they may rightly divide the word of God's truth. And the word for "divide" is translated in many ways in English but in Greek it's the same word as "judge."  Division between right and wrong is judgment. 
So there is a need to be able to discern between what is good and what is bad.   And that is not forbidden by the commandment not to judge.  The difficulty is when we use that discernment not for spiritual growth but simply to cast a judgment upon another.   This is never spiritually healthy.  The fact that you may be doing something wrong and I may know that it's wrong doesn't mean that my telling you it's wrong —and telling you that's very bad — is spiritually good for you or for me. There may be occasions in life where pastorally I have to do that.  But pastorally in order to love another person I have to identify for them what is wrong and what they're doing and how it is self-destructive.  But the litmus test is precisely the pastoral question "Is this going to help somebody?"  ...
…if you're responsible for children or a flock or for a classroom or whatever the case may be there are times when you have to point our right and wrong in order to help them to grow.  For example, if I have a classroom full of young children and a guest speaker and the guest speaker starts to say blasphemous things as if they were true, I have to stand up and say "No."  It would be pastorally irresponsible of me to just sit and listen and do nothing. 
This last point by Fr Irenei is precisely where we engage as Orthodox Christians on the issue of Islam. When I read an Orthodox author who flatly states that Muslims worship the same God as do we, or an Orthodox hierarch who states that "Muhammad was an apostle, a man of God, and therefore when I speak against Muhammad I am not found in agreement with God," or a Metropolitan who tells his clergy that "Islam and Christianity are 90% the same," then I must correct those false statements. For to equate the Allah of Islam with the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Creating and Undivided Trinity, or to view Muhammad as divinely inspired, or to accept any of Islam's foundational theological tenets is to, ultimately, deny our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and commit apostasy. Even if I may not convince the author of the falsehood himself, the correct teaching must be put forth with as full a presentation as necessary so as to guide and protect other Christians from the false teaching. This is exactly the application vis a vis Islam of Fr Irenei's principle in his example above.

 Question   Thank you, Father,  for being with us today.  There's a show —I haven't seen it —but it's sort of an interesting premise, it's on TV.  It's called —What Would You Do? — And they stage scenarios,  like a soccer mom drinking before she takes her children into a car, or a man threatening a woman in a park.  And I'm curious.  If we close our mouth and do nothing, is that the preferred way when we see people in harm's way, or let's say within the Church —what is the proper response?
 Hieromonk Irenei   Very good question, thank you.   When we talk about closing our mouth and being still and being non-judgmental, this doesn't mean to become weaklings, and it doesn't mean to disengage from the pastoral care of other people.  We're talking about the fundamental ways in which we order ourselves.  We will all at some point find ourselves in positions where we are witnessing evil that causes suffering to another person.  And the example of Christ is not to stand by and watch the evil happen.  Christ interjects himself when the adulterous woman is about to be stoned.  He stands in between and stops it.  He doesn't do it by a great show of force but he gets right in the middle.  Christ throws over the tables in the temple —overturns them when he sees God being blasphemed in this way. 
The life in Christ is not a life that says in order to be non-judgmental and not angry I will just let evil happen. We are called to be pastoral, to look out for the care of others.  And that's where discernment is important, it's a skill we have to develop with time, to know when am I stepping in for the sake of the other person, when am I stepping in just to interject myself?  And again, the test always has to be the pastoral question:  "Does this person need my help?"  And if the answer we're giving is "Yes, because I'm brilliant and the thing I'm going to tell them is going to change their life," then that's always an illusion.  But if the question is, "That person is suffering, being abused, hit, attacked," or something, and I don't try to assist them, then you fall prey to precisely what Christ said,  "What you did not do to the least of these you did not do to me."
When we see clearly reported the atrocities committed by Muslims against Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims — a daily occurrence throughout the Islamic world, from Egypt and Northern Africa, to Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, to the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc, where churches are being destroyed and Christians persecuted, raped, killed, imprisoned and tried on blasphemy charges for insulting Muhammad —then we must seek to help our suffering brothers and sisters. Much of what we can do is through education here at home, especially as we come to better understand Islam, and can convincingly document how this horrible treatment of non-Muslims by Muslims is sanctioned by and codified in Islamic law, as propagated consistently for thirteen centuries by the ulema (Islamic clerics, those who guide the ummah). That persecution of non-Muslims by Muslims is growing exponentially throughout the Islamic world is proof of the urgency of the conflict. We must not let evil happen. We are called to do what we can to prevent it. And here, I personally believe that Christ's words to the Church in Laodicea apply. Better we get a little hot and bothered about this, rather than be mealy-mouthed and lukewarm. How ironic and tragic it would be if we, in our desire to live a quiet Christian life free from anger and the vice of judgment, find ourselves being condemned at the Last Judgment because we did nothing to say "No" to Islam, and did nothing to aid those suffering under its satanic yoke (not the least of whom are the Muslims themselves). "Whatsoever you did to the least of these, you did it to Me."
 Question   Father, my question is how does one remain forgiving and hospitable towards one [or a people] who is known to be very toxic in one's life,  and destructive,  not only to an individual but to those who are around him,  his whole family [the family of mankind].  What does that look like, for somebody who's not only just trying to protect themselves from this destructive force but also their family?  What does that look like? 

 Hieromonk Irenei   On a personal level I think—one of the things I would say to begin—is that being forgiving doesn't mean constantly putting yourself into a position that you know might hurt you.   Christ, when he commissioned the seventy apostles said, "If you go into a town where they welcome you, stay.  If they don't welcome you, go."  He doesn't say "Go and suffer no matter what, on purpose."   In some cases we know that people cause us to be angry or they do things that are going to provoke passions and anger and things in us.  We don't have to continually put ourselves in those circumstances.  Of course, the difficulty is when you can't get out of them, when you're not in control of this.  But there's nothing unchristian at all of saying, "That relation is unhealthy.  I'm going to try to minimize my contact with it."  In fact, it's something explicitly called for in the Gospels, to be discerning in what company we keep.  
But you ask,  "What does it practically look like to forgive people like this?"  It looks strange.  It looks odd to see someone, and when you see a really forgiving person, it's puzzling because you see them wronged, sometimes very dramatically, and still loving to the person who has wronged them.  And it's hard to accept.  You want to have righteous indignation and say, "No! That person is clearly bad!" and therefore we wrung our hands of them. "I wash my hands of thee," said Pontius Pilate.  That's not a quote that we want to be taking for ourselves.  That's not one of the good quotes from Scripture. 
How do you do it?  How do you forgive someone who constantly makes a sport of hurting you?  Answering that question will take your whole life.  But the root of it has to be seeing suffering of another person.  When you simply see another person as someone who has chosen to do bad, to do wrong, what else are you going to do but judge them, to become angry at them, and frustrated at them, because you see a free agent freely doing what is bad.  But we have to come to a point, we have to come to a point where we understand that evil is done because of a sickness of the heart.  A basic Christian confession is that people are not born evil.  There's no such thing as an evil person.  There are people who do great evil.  Tremendous evil.   But they're not evil by constitution.  That wrong that they exemplify is because their heart is broken, cold, defenseless, poisoned.  And it's ultimately a fruit of suffering.  Any evil someone does is ultimately a fruit of a pain that they may not acknowledge.  They may feel fine. They may utterly repudiate any suggestion that they have suffering within them. They may just believe that "I am right and this is what I should do."  But from a Christian point of view, the only way we can understand this is that something is broken inside. Their heart is longing for something that it doesn't have. And if you see a person in that way, it becomes much harder to respond judgmentally and harshly.  I'm not saying it gets rid of the temptation, I'm not saying it's a magical way out, but if you look at a person who is doing wrong and you see a suffering heart in need of redemption, and you see the evil that they've done to you as the fruit of suffering, then the compassion is stirred up inside you.  But again, this is not something that happens overnight.  You can't all leave this room and the next time someone does something bad say,  "Oh, he's suffering and therefore I'm fine." This is a condition of the heart that takes long exercise. It's a real ascesis because my natural inclination is just to get mad.  Defensive.  Angry.  To want to punish.  Christ beholds the sin of the world—we should always remember this as Christians—a world which has from the first moment of its existence done everything in its power to rebel against him and deny him.  And taunt him, through centuries and centuries. And he becomes incarnate and they taunt and mock all the more.  None of us have faced that kind of continual hatred and anger. And yet, he responds by offering his life.  He could have called fire down and destroyed everything, and we would have had to say, from a rational point of view, that that was entirely justified.  But he offers his life in compassion to save the world.  That is our paradigm.  That is what we have to do.  Little by little, find a way to offer ourselves.  See that the cause of evil is pain, pain of sin, the pain of a world that needs to know God and doesn't, and respond accordingly. 
I find it absolutely amazing that Fr Irenei's words all throughout this podcast, and especially this Q&A session, can be so consistently applied to how we deal with Islam and Muslims. In this last answer, he is basically charting the course of the martyrs, the prototype being our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, followed by St Stephen (who begged God to forgive his persecutors) and the martyrs of every age, including for our consideration here the Holy Neomartyrs under the Muslim Turks, and those Christians suffering throughout the Islamic world today. We can even include ourselves here in supposedly free America (and throughout the West), where our right to criticize and speak out against Islam, Shariah law and Muslim aggressiveness is being vigorously challenged as "hate speech." Although it is true what Fr Irenei says, that none of us have personally "faced that kind of continual hatred and anger,"  yet it is also true that the Church —together with the Jewish people — has indeed faced continual and perpetual anger, hatred, persecution and aggression from Islam from the seventh century to this day. It is codified in the Koran, the Sira (the biography of Muhammad), the hadiths (sayings and traditions by and about Muhammad), and all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

Our challenge is thus to stand against Islam, revealing it as a deception of satan, a false gospel presenting a different Jesus and a different spirit (cf. Gal 1:6-8,  2 Cor 11:3-4). Our calling is to "convince, rebuke, exhort" (2 Tim 4:2), to build up the faithful, and on Muslims if possible "to save with fear" (Jude 1:23). And above all this to do so with love and forgiveness, not judging or condemning, yet standing firm and strong in the faith. This issue is not going away. Muslim chiliastic dreams of conquering the West and the United States, ushering in an Islamic golden age and a global caliphate is the accelerent. The Church must stand firm in defending the Faith, and in its missionary work throughout the world, and especially among Muslims. May the Lord direct our steps.