Face To Face, In A Dry And Waterless Place....
Last week Time ran a fascinating story : “At Weekly Exorcisms, Egypt’s Muslims and Christians Unite Against the Demons.” It’s about Father Sama`an Ibrahim, a Coptic priest who exorcizes both demons and ajnan (“jinns”) from Christians and Muslims in Cairo’s St. Sama`an the Tanner Monastery church. (Jinn possession is not just an issue for Middle Eastern Muslims, either.) “Time” of course highlights the sensationalistic and (allegedly) ecumenical aspects of Fr. Ibrahim’s ministry. But I find the spiritual and theological dimensions much more noteworthy—particularly in three respects.
Christ exorcizing the Gadarene demoniacs (courtesy of Pravmir).
1. Jesus has (far) more power over demons and jinn than does Muhammad.
This, albeit not in so many words, is the belief of Egyptian Muslims. “The demon that had possessed the elderly Muslim woman was so strong that,” according to one Egyptian, “even an Imam couldn’t get rid of it. So her family opted for a priest.” The woman’s daughter continued: We went to a mosque for healing, but the demons who harm her are more afraid of the Christian priest.” A taxi driver named Mahrous adds that “Christians rarely get possessed, because they are baptized young.” Most tellingly, one possessed Muslim woman “repeatedly interrupts the prayer with caterwauled exhortations that ‘There is no god but Allah” (the first half of the shahadah, Muslim declaration of faith). Why doesn’t that seem to help her? Well, as a Christian I would submit that James 2:19 is relevant: “You believe that God is one? You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Tawhid—belief in the unity of God--alone does not protect one from demons (nor, for that matter, does it effect salvation).
2. Imams, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, put religious allegiance ahead of practical results.
As Fr. Ibrahim exorcizes those in the congregation who need it, a Christian volunteer “grab[s] the hands of two male Muslim onlookers—family members of the possessed—and urges them to join in. They resist stiffly. Though the demons may be more afraid of a Christian priest, they are still afraid of their Imams.” In this regard, the Sunni Muslim clerics of Egypt very much resemble the Jewish ones of the first-century, who despised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6); told the blind man whom He had healed that Jesus was a nobody and a sinner (John 9:1034). At least they aren’t reported as attributing Fr. Ibrahim’s healing exorcisms to Iblis—yet (Matthew 12:22-29).
3. Is this modern-day evidence that alleged divine guidance in Islam is/was actually diabolical?
Several of the sirât or “biographies” of Islam’s founder Muhammad indicated that he feared that he was possessed by a jinn, and/or that he exhibited the characteristics thereof. Granted, Socrates claimed to have a daimon which not just inspired but spoke to him; but Socrates did not found a religion which spread child marriage, wife-beating and jihad across three continents and which claimed that every key teaching of Christianity is wrong. Muhammad’s epigones—those claiming to be the Mahdi—also almost always have invoked some kind of supposed divine guidance. For example, the most successful such leader of the last millennium, Muhammad Ahmad of the Sudan (d, 1885), heard “disembodied voices that addressed him as ‘O Mahdi of God’” and saw visions of “the Prophet of Islam and deceased Sufi shaykhs appear, validating his claim to Mahdihood” (my book Holiest Wars, p. 50, drawing upon, in particular, Muhammad Sa`id al-Qaddal, al-Imam al-Mahdi: Muhammad b. `Abd Allah, 1844-1855; Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1992). Megalomania is certainly necessary, but is it actually sufficient, to account for a personal belief in Allah’s deputization as leader of the world’s second-largest religion? One might well speculate that larger, darker powers are at work in such cases.
By the way: the title of this blogpost comes from U2's song "The Unforgettable Fire."