Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Saying Unpopular Truths

I recently had a challenging conversation with a friend, whose family is from the Middle East. This friend, we'll call him 'George' to protect his anonymity, and I veered off onto the subject of Islam, about which we agree in many respects. We were lamenting how difficult it seems to be for peaceful, good-hearted Muslims of conscience to rein in, stand against, or refute their violent supremacist co-religionists. George related the story of his family's village, where Muslims and Orthodox Christians lived in harmony for centuries, respecting and honoring one another's festivals and fasts, the Muslims protecting their Christian neighbors and looking out for them.

Fair enough, good to know, and thanks be to God.

But then George began lamenting about the violent jihadists, and how they are going completely against the peaceful tenets of Islam. In other words, George was affirming Islam to be a 'Religion of Peace' which has been hijacked by a 'Tiny Minority of Extremists'.

This is when I felt obliged to correct his impression, or to at least try to attenuate it somewhat.

George's position is that shared by most sincere people of good will and kind heart, many of whom, like George, have had direct experiences with kind and virtuous Muslims who treated them and their families with respect, dignity, affection. Because of these experiences, George and those with similar experiences and similarly sincere hearts extrapolate from the microcosm to the macro, from their family or village experience to making a blanket assessment of Islam as a whole. Thus, "Islam truly must be a 'Religion of Peace' because my Muslim neighbors are peaceful people." And if that is the case, then "the jihadists must not be true Muslims, and must be deceived, misguided extremists and not followers of true Islam at all."

Yet is this necessarily so? I don't think it is, and I tried to offer a few thoughts to George as to why.

First of all, I began with Muhammad and his example as being the "beautiful pattern of conduct" for Muslims. As some have put it, Muhammad is the "secret decoder ring" to the Koran, which is indecipherable without the Sunnah, or "Way" of the prophet. Muhammad's life (by Ibn Ishaq) combined with the hadith (traditions and saying by and about Muhammad, which number in the hundreds of volumes) inform the ulema, the collective of Islamic jurists, who apply Muhammad's example to literally every imaginable situation so as to clarify how a devout Muslim should live. Some actions are obligatory, some optional, some permissible, some prohibited. One might think that this is a virtuous exercise for a pious Muslim, wanting to follow the example of their prophet. And indeed, there are many virtuous aspects to Islamic moral code. One can find an Islamic manual for life in the book Way of the Traveler, published by Al Azhar University in Cairo Egypt, the foremost center of Islamic jurisprudence in the world. Yet much of the "moral" code put forth in this book would shock any sane person.

A moral code is only as good as its source. And according to the Islamic source texts themselves, Muhammad is a decidedly un-moral person to follow. Muhammad married his favorite bride Aisha when she was only six years old, and consummated the marriage (i.e., had sexual intercourse with her) when she was nine years old.  Muhammad was 53 at the time.   Think on that for a moment.

“The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).” (Sahih Al Bukhari 7.62.88)

Muhammad had numerous wives, nine to eleven at one time according to Islamic source texts, as well as concubines captured during his many raids. He is described as having a schedule for regular conjugal visits, and sometimes had sex with all of his wives in one night, one after the other (Bukhari 1:5:268). Fr Zakaria Botros, using the Islamic source texts, tabulates the number of women Muhammad was intimate with, and comes up with a total of sixty six. Muhammad himself is reported as saying, "I never have enough of women" (from hadith Faid al-Qabir 3:371).

We also are told Muhammad was a ruthless warlord, who personally beheaded (according to the Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, a devout Muslim) 700-800 Jews after one battle.

Muhammad extolled deceit in dealing with his enemies. And most importantly for our consideration here, he commanded his followers to wage jihad until the world was brought under the rule of Allah and Islam dominated everywhere. This is the pattern of conduct Muslims are commanded in the Koran to follow. This Muhammad is who the jihadis are following. And this is the reason why so-called "moderate" Muslims have such a hard time. Their own texts are not on their side. There is no "moderate" Islam.

But perhaps Islam could be reformed?

My next point to George was to cite Dr Mark Durie and Islam scholar Raymond Ibrahim, who both solidly argue that the call for a "reformation" in Islam is a false hope. Those who assert that Islam is peaceful, and that it just needs to go through a reformation as did Western Christendom have lost sight of what the reformation was all about. Martin Luther and others sought to strip away the accretions and excesses of Roman Catholicism and return to the source texts, to the Gospels and the New Testament.

(*Note added 4/5/12 - Of course, as an Orhodox Christian, I would suggest that if one strips away the accretions and errors of Roman Catholicism, one arrives at the Orthodox Church, which is the New Testament, Apostolic Church.)

Yet when you apply the same principal to Islam, and return to the source texts (the Koran, the hadiths, the Sira) you get precisely what we see today in Salafism, Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. They ARE the Islamic reformation. Islam by its very nature as evinced by its source texts commands what these so called "extremist" groups are doing. They are following the dictates of the Koran and their prophet:

Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth [i.e. Islam] among the people of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Sura 9:29)

Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. (Sura 9:5)

I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes. (Sura 8:12)

Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the enemies of Allah and your enemies. (Sura 8:60)

So, when you meet those who disbelieve, smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly on them... Thus you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam. (Sura 47:4)

After getting to this point with George, I offered something of an olive branch.

How do we then understand the peaceful, generous, kind and virtuous actions of Muslims, especially when they are directed towards non-Muslims? This phenomenon is a result of a purely human, sincere heart — that is — of a warm and living human conscience which has not been subdued by the anti-human "meta-conscience" based on the Koran and Muhammad's example and commanded by the ulema. Put another way, a Muslim acting according to conscience will filter out disturbing passages from the Koran, and act according to conscience. Our conscience is a gift from God, an inner sense of knowing right from wrong. In fact, it is one of the traits which we bear within us by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God. Thank God many Muslims do, in fact, live this way.

But here is a hard saying: Muslims who live according to their conscience are not living as true Muslims. This is the crucial fact.

Conversely, when a Muslim starts becoming more devout, desiring ever more to follow the Sunnah, the Way of the prophet, that Muslim is in danger of having his God-given conscience slowly supplanted by the "meta-conscience" of Islam. Imposed from without, the Islamic meta-conscience commands the Muslim to go precisely against his God-given conscience, as seen in this verse from the Koran:

Fighting [i.e., Jihad] is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not. (Sura 2:216)

In the case of a jihadist, the human conscience is all but dead, subdued by the Mohammedan uber-conscience. This is how jihadists can kill innocent civilians and children. True Islam is not a religion of peace, but something quite dark and disturbing.

These considerations are an affirmation of the human conscience, and of Christian anthropology, while identifying a very concerning question, namely, where 1.2 billion Muslims on the planet stand in the continuum between possessing a basically healthy human conscience, and having that conscience subverted and replaced by the Islamic meta-conscience.

As I have written in my book and elsewhere, the answer to this challenge is for us to grow ever deeper in our own Orthodox Christian Faith, so that we might be prepared to confess Jesus Christ and share the Gospel when the opportunity presents itself. The heroic Priest-Martyr Fr Daniil Sysoev converted some eighty Muslims to the Orthodox Christian Faith before he was killed by an Islamic extremist. He even reached several very extreme Wahhabis. This should give us great hope, that in the heart of a zealous but misguided Muslim, there may remain a pure desire to know the True God, which can be touched by the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Forgive me, George, for speaking so boldly, but it is the truth, spoken in love.