Friday, September 20, 2013

Time For Some Serious Questions, revisited - Part 2

My first 'revisited post' qualified as a standalone article. This is more of an attempt to reply to a flurry of concerns raised by a commenter over at Monomakhos. There are some great questions and points raised here, which provide several "teachable moments", so I decided to post the commenter's points, interspersed with my replies. Many of my replies are derived primarily from my book, FACING ISLAM, which is a well-rounded resource for Christians confronting the religion of Muhammad.


Commenter: Do you not realize that “Allah” is not a proper name? it is the Arabic word for “God” and it should be used, lest the Muslim teaching be distorted unfairly. Arabic-speaking Christians use the word “Allah” when they pray in Arabic, just as not Arabs use God. 

My Reply: 
I would respectfully suggest that there is a considerable amount of complex etymology surrounding the word/name Allah and its adoption by Muhammad during the formation of his religion of Islam, which should urge us to caution in trying to generalize about its proper use. 
There exist strong reasons to consider that Allah was but one of the many pagan deities worshipped by the Arab polytheists before Muhammad elevated him to pre-eminent status. The frequency of the crescent moon in archeological digs from the pre-Islamic pagan epoch, the Sabean lunar calendar so prevalent in the Arabian peninsula, and the apparent correspondence to the Babylonian deity Baal are indicators, as is Allah’s most used title in the Koran, Ar-Rahman (the Merciful), who was known in South Arabia as a moon deity. Perhaps due to the influence of Christianity and Judaism, there can be traced a development towards a proto or pseudo-monotheism in the Arabian peninsula, with the moon god’s domination earning him the appellation “Lord of Heaven and Earth.” This trend throughout the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., especially in the north around Mecca, and significantly in Muhammad’s own Quraysh tribe, paved the way for the “Prophet.” The Quraysh had come to be known even before Muhammad’s rise as the “People of Allah.” Thus Serge Trifkovic concludes, “the word [Allah] was well familiar to Muhammad’s contemporaries, denoting a pagan deity that his tribe revered as superior to all others, rather than the Supreme Being, creator and sustainer of the universe. He did not need to invent a completely new word but eventually redefined the uniquely Arab Allah on his own terms” (Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet, pp 19-24). 

It is a relatively recent notion that the name of Islam’s god, Allah, derives from the general term for god in Arabic: ilah. Literally, “the” (al), “God” (`ilah), can be seen to be similar to the personal name of God—Allah—in the Koran. Though the most popular modern explanation of the origin of the name, this is probably not correct, and there actually exists a strong similarity with the Aramaic languages, as in the Syriac Christian term for God, Alaha (see  
While a final verdict is still out on the specific “moon god” connection (the theory is only a hundred years old, and some argue that much archeological, historical and etymological research remains to be done), it is certain that the name of Allah is not revealed in any of the seventeen earliest “revelations” of the Koran. Rather it is an unnamed spirit, who is cryptically referred to as “your Lord.”  Thus it is most significant that the only real demonstrable continuity for the name of Allah is through the Arabian pagan deity of the same name, with a colloquial similarity to the Syriac/Aramaic word for God.  
It does indeed seem that Allah is actually the last Arab pagan deity left standing, and the selection of his name a deliberate attempt at a form of syncretic legitimacy, by adoption of a name familiar to the pagan Arabs as well as similar sounding to Arab Christians with Syriac roots. Mere phonetic familiarity, however, should not qualify as evidence of Muslims worshipping the same God as Orthodox Christians. 
As an example of how this question plays out in the real world, in Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, the government recently instituted a ban on Christians using the word “Allah” in their publications, ruling that only Muslims can use the term Allah to refer to God. So it’s all very complex, and even a great many (if not the vast majority of) Muslims consider Allah to be the proper name of God.

Commenter: The Muslim creed is that there is no God except God, and Allah is a prophet of His. Perhaps you hope this will not become widely known, though…

I think you meant to type “Muhammad is a prophet of His.” But the emphatic Islamic use of Allah really casts the Muslim creed, the shehada, as follows: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.”   This is how many Muslims in English speaking countries chant the shehada at demonstrations and such.
I do desire that this be widely known, and indeed, it is imperative that it should be understood, for this is at the root of Islamic supremacism and the persecution of those who do not submit to Islam.

Commenter: ...they have no “persons” in God, no begettings by Him, no hypostases but One. In other words, they are the very most radical of monotheists. 

Indeed, they are the “very most radical of monotheists,” both in their beliefs, and in their reactions against the beliefs of others. And it is the heresy of shirk — the adding of associates to God, such as Islam claims we Christians do with the Trinity — against which the Qur’an most strongly speaks: 
  • Say not “Trinity”: desist: It will be better for you: For God is One God: Glory be to Him: (Far Exalted is He) above having a son... (Sura 4:173)
  • In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the Son of Mary. (Sura 5:19)
  • They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary . . .” They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (Sura 5:75,78)
  • Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God doth make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! (Sura 5:78)
  • The Jews call 'Uzair a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the Son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the Unbelievers of old used to say. God's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! (Sura 9:30)
  • In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him — they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him. (Sura 4:157) 
See how Islam’s holy book — supposedly the literal words of God — calls down curses on Christians. These are just some of the theological statements against core Christian dogma in the Qur’an, including trying to deny the historical fact of the Crucifixion of Jesus, which is reported by both Jewish and Roman historians of the first and second centuries. 
Below are some of the violent commands in the Qur’an concerning how Muslims are to deal with Christians, commands being carried out by Muslim extremists in Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, and literally across the Islamic world: 
  • 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 mushrikun [polytheists, which includes Christians because of our faith in the Trinity] 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)

Commenter: And please don’t ignore how the Muslim rulers for centuries have protected Christians that were Orthodox or heretical, without distinction, and that they allowed Christians (and Jews) to occupy high positions in government and finance that remained closed to the illiterate Muslim nomad. 

The “protection” to which you refer is the dhimma contract, first utilized by Muhammad and referenced in the Qur’an: 
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) 
Islam, in accordance with the Koran and with Muhammad’s example, invites all people to embrace and convert to Islam, to submit to the rule of Allah and his Prophet. If a people refuses to convert, war may be waged against them to force them to submit. If they neither convert nor submit, they may be killed.  
For those who choose not to convert, but agree to submit to Islam’s political rule, Islam offers a third choice, the contract of protection, the dhimma. In practice this is seen in Muhammad’s example when he conquered the Jewish tribe at the Khaybar oasis, who were spared to remain and work the crops, submitting to Muhammad’s rule (and were allowed to retain their Jewish faith). In the Islamic source texts we see the dhimma implied in the hadith where Muhammad states, “If they perform all that [i.e., submit to him and Allah’s rule], then they save their lives and property from me” (Bukhari, 1:2:25, also Sahih Muslim, Book of Faith, 1:10:29-35).
The components of the dhimma are explicit and severe: the jizya tax (not an ordinary poll or head tax, as some modern apologists claim, but a crippling levy designed to humiliate the dhimmi subjects and their communal sense of self-worth) is the fiscal cornerstone, established to be paid each year in a ceremony graphically intended to remind the dhimmi of his being subdued and spared from slaughter by Islam. Thus it is a reparation of sorts, a payment which restores to the Muslims what is rightfully theirs (booty from the conquered dhimmi), and a reward of gratitude for sparing the dhimmi’s life. The prescribed public ceremony involved a simulation of the dhimmi’s execution, with the Muslim laying a sword against the dhimmi’s neck as he submitted his jizya payment. The decisively humiliating aspects of the public jizya payment are numerous, all forcefully reminding not only the dhimmi making the payment, but all of his co-religionists, of their complete subjugation under their Muslim overlords. This practice is documented as extending for well over a thousand years, across North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Persia, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, Spain, and Afghanistan, even down to the mid-twentieth century. (cf. Mark Durie, The Third Choice, pp 118-139.) 
The conditions of the dhimma contract were at least as humiliating as the annual jizya payment ritual itself, especially when one considers that these conditions constitute a daily submission and humiliation of the dhimmi as a sub-class person, who acknowledges himself to be inferior to and greatly beholden to his Muslim conquerors. The death penalty was prescribed for any Muslim who converted to Christianity or any dhimmi trying to convert a Muslim from Islam. A Muslim man could marry a Christian or Jewish woman, but a Muslim woman was forbidden from even associating with a non-Muslim man. (Modern honor killings are often committed on this basis.)  
Other restrictions were designed to sap the will and vibrancy of the dhimmi populations; for example, no new churches or synagogues could be built, and existing ones could not be repaired. Christians and Jews could not openly practice their faith or wear signs of their faith. There were prohibitions against criticizing Islam, Muhammad, the dhimma agreement, or even an ordinary Muslim. Dhimmi peoples were also prohibited from learning about the Koran or teaching others about Islam, perpetuating a culture of fear and ignorance. Should any of the numerous requirements of the dhimma contract be neglected by the dhimmi, it would imply they had forsaken their “protection” by the umma, and they would be subject once again to the jihad.  
The Islamic dhimma “protection” contract is fully analogous to the “protection” offered by a Mafia kingpin to the poor business owners who happen to live on his turf. If they pay the protection money, the Mafia’s thugs won’t beat him up, smash his business up, hurt his family. It’s a racket, plain and simple.

Commenter: Explain St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, explain the flourishing of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the Ottomans. 

Regarding the curious example of St Catherine’s, there is a certain document, the “Charter of Privileges,” supposedly written in 628 AD by Muhammad himself regarding the Monastery, which commands Muslims to “respect” and “protect” St Catherine’s until “the Last Day.”  
Dr. Mark Durie, an Anglican pastor in Australia who is a highly regarded Islam scholar, and is deeply involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue in Australia, as well as in Indonesia says this about the Charter and St Catherine’s: 
"Scholarly opinion does not regard this document as genuine.  It is almost certainly a forgery, created to bolster the security of the Monastery.  This is why the document no longer exists in its original form: there never was an original letter.   In reality the very existence of this document is evidence of the fear under which the monks have lived, as are the impregnable walls of the monastery building itself." 
Therefore, it is quite likely the legend that grew up around this “Charter of Privileges” helped protect St Catherine’s. For more on the Charter of Privileges and St Catherine’s, please see my article here. 
Regarding the second example of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the Ottoman Muslims, that could hardly be described as a “flourishing.”  Rather, it was persecution against the Patriarchate and the Church which flourished. Fr Alexander Schmemann, in his work, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, describes it this way: 
     "The position of the Church in the Turkish empire... was very often a terrible one, and it is impossible to describe all the suffering, humiliation, and outright persecution the Church was obliged to undergo in this age, which was dark indeed. The “rights”... were not rights at all in our sense of the word, but represented the mercy of the sultan…  The Turkish sultan was the source of all rights and of mercy, as well as of the lack of it, and he was accountable to no one for his actions. According to Islam, Christians were rayah or cattle, the conquered, the unbelievers, and they had no real rights or citizenship. If all sultans had been on the same high cultural and political level as Mohammed II, his firman [charter of legal status of Christians in the Ottoman Empire] might have been observed, but it was broken even by Mohammed himself, when he took away from Patriarch Gennadius the Church of the Twelve Apostles, which he had previously granted to him. 
      "Shortly after, a period of political decline set in for the Ottoman Empire, and arbitrariness, unscrupulousness, and corruption became the rule. The sultans fleeced their pashas, who in turn fleeced the Christians. There was no one to whom one could complain. The situation worsened perceptibly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the bleakest in the history of the Church. As the Russian historian, Kartashoff, has remarked, Turkey could have been swept away by any of the European powers in this period, but Europe supported her for fear of Russia, and closed its eyes to the scandalous sufferings of the Christians. In some places every Christian was slaughtered. Russia alone intervened on their behalf, but this frequently resulted only in a worsening of their position. 
       "The rights of the patriarch were gradually reduced to nothing; all that was left to him was the “right” of being responsible for the Christians. In the course of seventy-three years in the eighteenth century, the patriarch was replaced forty-eight times! Some were deposed and reinstalled as many as five times; many were put to torture. The rebellions of the Janissaries were accompanied by terrible bloodshed. Churches were defiled, relics cut to pieces, and the Holy Gifts profaned. Christian pogroms became more and more frequent. In the nineteenth century Turkey was simply rotting away, but the “sick man of Europe” was supported at all points by other nations in opposition to Russia. There was, it is true, a series of reforms by which the sultans attempted to Europeanize Turkey and thus improve the position of the Christians; actually their situation grew worse, especially as national self-consciousness and dreams of freedom arose within the empire. Greeks in Turkey and Constantinople paid for the Greek uprising of 1821 by terrible slaughter. 
       "That year was marked by the martyrdom of Patriarch Gregory V. He was not saved even by the decree of excommunication he brought himself to issue against the rebels, his own fellow believers, and later he redeemed this cowardice by his faithfulness to Christ at the hour of death. When it was suggested to him that he recant his faith, he answered, “You are laboring in vain; the Christian patriarch will die a Christian.” This was on Easter Sunday, 1821. In the morning the patriarch had performed the Easter liturgy and had called on all, on this great feast, to forget all earthly cares. After distributing an Easter egg to everyone, he was arrested and hanged that same day at the gates of the patriarchate." (Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, Chapter 5, The Dark Ages, Christians Under Turkish Rule.) 
I could cite books by scholars of Islam such as Mark Durie, Bat Yeor, Andrew Bostom and others who compile historical data from both Muslim and Christian sources to drive home the high-level summary of Fr Schmemann. For a discussion of the martyric deaths of many of the Ecumenical Patriarchs under the Ottoman yoke, and the very real threat to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew today, see my blog post here, which has numerous historical references.

Commenter: Explain how the Jews survived in Jerusalem and Palestine under the Muslims, but were massacred by the Christian Crusaders. Explain the dozen or so synagogues in Tehran, with their attached Hebrew schools, their elected representative in the parliament (majlis) of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

I would love to get into this batch of examples also, but there is not space sufficient here to discuss every specific example of supposed Muslim leniency and generosity which might be put forth.  
However, Fr Schmemann’s observation, that “the sultan was the source of all rights and of mercy, as well as of the lack of it, and he was accountable to no one for his actions,” sums up accurately the principle we see at work in the history of Islam’s treatment of conquered peoples. 
The rules for treatment of Jews and Christians were established in the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example, codified in the Conditions of Omar and subsequent writings of Islamic jurisprudence, then applied by pashas, sultans and kadis, some of whom were “lenient,” most of whom were not. Lenient Muslim rulers retained a human conscience; brutal ones had allowed their God-given human conscience to be supplanted with Islam’s specific commands on how to subdue and humiliate Christians and Jews who submit to Muslim rule but refuse to convert to Islam.  
I made a remark about the Crusades in my earlier reply; by bringing in the Crusades again you seem to be trying once more to establish a false religious equivalency, which is a blatant fallacy.  Atrocities committed by Christian soldiers during the Crusades (or any atrocities committed by Christians at any time) are patently against the teachings and example of Christ, the Apostles and the Church. Atrocities committed by Muslims against Christians and Jews are 100% mandated by Islam’s sacred texts and the example of Muhammad. How can one claim otherwise?

Commenter: The devil, Zosimas, can quote the Qor’an as well as he quotes our Holy Scriptures, and he can mislead Christians into violating Christian teaching as easily as he can do the same with Muslims. 

Indeed he can. 
In point of fact, the devil is the author of the Qur’an. The author of the Qur’an could not possibly be the True God. And it is unlikely it was written by a mere mortal. There is a spiritual force behind Islam. This is why St John of Damascus called Islam itself a “forerunner of the Antichrist.”  
Certainly the devil can and sadly does mislead Christians. And he and his demons can and do readily enflame Muslims to commit violent acts. The difference is that it is the “lenient” or “moderate” Muslims who are ignoring the specific commands of their sacred texts and not applying them as strictly mandated in the Qur’an and in Islamic jurisprudence. Lenient Muslims are to varying degrees acting according to their conscience, not according to Islam’s teachings and commands.

Commenter: You and many others with you may boast of the triumphs of Christ in Church, but outside it you act and speak as if His Church is a fragile hothouse flower in danger of destruction by the invincible forces of Islamic fanatics!

I certainly hope I have not given that impression!  If you read my book or my blog, you will see that I firmly believe in Christ’s promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against His Church.  
That however does not minimize the gathering wave of genocidal persecution against Christians sweeping through the Islamic world. For Christians being slaughtered, raped, imprisoned, tortured and persecuted in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and across the entire Muslim world, we can pray for them, and perhaps even help their situation by trying to influence US foreign policy. Just as in the Soviet era, if America speaks up about human rights violations against persecuted Christians, their lot can often be improved. When America is silent, the persecutors know they can get away with it. And when we Christians ignore the persecution of our brethren and do not pray for them, nor intercede with rulers to improve their lot, the darkness grows.  
You mentioned above the example of St Catherine’s Monastery. Yet the Monastery has now had to totally shut down due to threats of Muslim jihad attacks. The attackers are not secular, they are wholly of an Islamic bent. Whether Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi, Wahhabi, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra or any of the other variations, they have repeatedly made clear their intention to establish Islamic sharia as the law everywhere they spread, and to exterminate Christians from the lands they occupy.
This is why so many Orthodox and Eastern Christian leaders have spoken out so strongly (see here, here, here, and here) to try to influence the Obama administration to not attack Syria, because they know that if Assad falls, Christians will be in danger of extermination; they say as much in their statements and letters to the President. (See Patriarch Kirill's letter to Obama.) 
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew recently stated, These exceptionally extreme and expansive occurrences of violence and persecution against Christians cannot leave the rest of us – who are blessed to leave peacefully and in some sense of security – indifferent and inactive.” 
For a compelling survey and analysis of the “forces of Islamic fanatics,” I heartily recommend Raymond Ibrahim’s new book, Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians. For my review of Mr. Ibrahim’s book, which gives a fairly thorough overview, go here 
Again, I ask your forgiveness, for I sense by your tone that I must have inadvertently offended you in some way. I offer here only the truth about Islam (from its own texts and the historical record), and what I believe should be the Orthodox Christian response to it, which includes sharing the Gospel with Muslims. What Orthodox Christian worthy of the name would not wish to share the Gospel of Life with those hungering and thirsting for it?! 
For these reasons, I trust I am in sync with Fr Daniil Sysoev, Fr Daniel Byantoro, and other faithful and sober Orthodox Christian voices. And because of my sincere desire “that none should perish, but that all may come to a knowledge of the truth,” I hope I shall not go astray.  
I humbly ask your prayers,Yours in Christ,zosimas