Archive for May, 2010

The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, Khaled Abou El Fadl (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).

Hailed as the “first attempt” (p. 105) to systematically spell out the difference between moderate and extremist Muslims, this work is receiving raving reviews. One reason given for the conflicted and dysfunctional state of Muslims today is that Islam lacks a final authority. Consequently, self-proclaimed “experts” say anything they want and get away with it. And, since Wahhabis, bankrolled by Saudi oil, are mostly responsible for terrorism, the “silent majority” must wage a counter-jihad to rescue the soul of Islam from a “militant and fanatic minority.”

Khaled Abou El Fadl has the credentials to speak for a “pluralistic, tolerant and non-violent Islam.” Surviving torture in Egypt for his views, he fled to the United States, but faces ongoing death threats for criticizing “puritans” and their literalist interpretations. As a UCLA professor and scholar who studied in the Middle East, Yale, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, he is a respected jurist of both Islamic and western law.

Fadl concludes by reiterating that Islam stands on two foundational truths: mercy and moderation. If the silent Muslim majority therefore decides that the faith defended in The Great Theft does not match what is heard every Friday in the mosque, they must come forward. Their response will determine the nature and role of Islam in the 21st century. Whatever the outcome, the author is to be applauded for his courageous attempts to nudge Muslims toward moderation.

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Roy Oksnevad, director of Muslim Ministries at the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, gave the following response to my previous post reviewing Peter Hammond’s book, Slavery, Terrorism and Islam.

I would like to affirm Warren Larson’s very eloquent assessment and reaction to Hammond’s book. Though I have not read Peter Hammond’s book, Slavery, Terrorism, and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat, I have read many books similar to this same thesis. Currently I am studying Islam and modernity for work towards my doctorate. There is a growing body of what I call “Fear Literature” that is often perpetrated from the Conservative Right and in particular the Christian Conservative Right. It tends to center on acts of violence. The main thesis is that violence and other atrocities must have a theological root cause. This literature is fear-based with the perspective of desiring to preserve our present society from an “evil” takeover. This is an over simplification. Here is what I have found: The process of industrialization, modernization, and globalization has occurred irrespective of the influence of religion.
Muslims wrestling with modernity are confronted with issues that do not have historical Islamic solutions. The crisis within Islam created through modernization has resulted in a variety of responses. On the one hand, the response can be further entrenchment in an uncritical and dogmatic reliance on religious traditions which they believe to be holistic, complete and immutable. On the other hand, secularists chose to live in the modern world with a type of disconnect between belief and the practical reality of living. In order to better understand the Muslim response to these global forces, it would be expedient to try to categorize some of the major types of responses in light of the major issues of conflict between Islam and modernity.
Ahmad delineates four impacts of modernism. First is secularization of the state, its political, economic and social institutions. Divine guidance was made irrelevant in light of secularism. Second the new pattern of Western dominance through political rule, institutional changes and dependence upon the West. Third is the bifurcation of education into two parallel mainstreams of secular and modern education and religious and traditional education. Fourth is the crisis of leadership. “Traditional leadership of the Muslim society was systematically destroyed.” There is a strong dissatisfaction with the experiments with secularism and secular ideologies of nationalism, capitalism and socialism. The major response has been the rediscovery of Islam as an all-embracing system of life.

Sadaalah delineates four different responses to modernization within Islam: secularism, traditionalism, modernism and fundamentalism. Saeed and Saeed make a nuanced difference naming five main trends: Islamists, Puritans, Traditionalists, Ijtihadis and Secularists.

Bennett uses the following four main trends in describing Muslims: Progressive, Neo-traditionalist, Traditionalist, and Radical Revisionist. It is my contention that the Christian community or Church needs to keep its priority on presenting Christ in the midst of turmoil. The Church is to be compelled by the Love of Christ (II Cor. 5:14). In fact the love of Christ (I John 4:18) should be stronger than our present fear. Books such as Hammonds focus on the bad in Islam. I doubt that it has any feel for the struggle that Islam is currently facing. The sad thing is that Muslims have no answer to the current crisis. The Church does!

When I speak in churches and I am asked about the dark side of Islam, I talk about the current political situation in which Jesus found himself. The Romans had perfected human torture to a fine art form. The government was very corrupt necessitating Jesus’ parents to flee as refugees to Egypt and to move out of the area of Jerusalem for self-protection. The religious leaders were corrupt and had lost the true vision of their faith. Yet, Jesus’ message was not to feed the fears, apprehensions, and tensions under which the occupied peoples lived. He preached the gospel. We the Church need to do the same. Warren’s article raises a great concern that we as Christians need to share Christ and not just fear our fears.

Khurshid Ahmad, 1983. “The nature of Islamic resurgence.” In Voices of Resurgent Islam. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York, N.Y.: Oxford university press, 218-229.
Sherin Sadaalah, 2004. “Islamic orientations and education.” In Educational strategies among Muslims in the context of globalization: Some national case studies, edited by Daun, Holger and Walford, Geoffrey, 27-61. Netherlands: Brill.
Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed, 2004. Freedom of religion, apostasy and Islam. Burlington, VT.: Ashgate Publishing Company.
Bennett, Clinton. 2005. Muslims and modernity: An introduction to the issues and debates. New York, NY: Continuum.

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Once again Front Page Magazine, with its hopes of spreading Islamaphobia, has published an excerpt from Peter Hammond’s book, Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat. There is undoubtedly some truth in the book. The demographics seem fairly accurate but overall the thesis is false: As Muslims grow in a country they become more and more belligerent, more and more intolerant, and more and more aggressive. It is true that Muslims have taken over areas. For example in North Africa (once Christian), but they took over primarily because of the laxity and sinfulness of Christians. In my view, the greatest danger today is not violent Islam; it is weak Christianity. As to Islam not being a religion because it’s a hundred percent system of life, this doesn’t ring true either; in fact, most faiths are concerned about what their followers do throughout the week–not just on worship day. Judaism, for example, was all inclusive. Does this make it a cult? Christianity, as we know it in the West, is not, and most of us are mighty thankful for the separation of church and state. As for Islamization starting when there are sufficient Muslims in the country to agitate, this has not been the Pakistani experience, where they waited a thousand years, despite the fact Islam had the majority for hundreds of years. Islamization began in the mid-70s, when General Zia ul Haqq started the process in a desperate attempt to hang on to power. That in turn helped pave the way for current conditions. But there were other contributing factors, including American support of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. After being trained in Pakistan to kill communist infidels, it is difficult to de-train them not to kill infidel Americans. Moreover, most Pakistanis today are not in favor of the violence and brutality generated by Islamists. That is also true of Afghanistan. Hammond’s statement that Muslims remain passive “around or under 2% in any given country” also breaks down under scrutiny. Muslims, though less than fifteen percent of the population in India, can be aggressive and vocal. It was not always so. During the Mughal Empire, when Muslims were in leadership, they were relatively peaceful, and tolerant. Another example is Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, where Muslims have traditionally been tolerant. In other places where Muslims are few in number they can be demanding, as we see in some European countries today. Neither are Muslims characteristically lawless and unruly. The truth is most Muslims in the world want to live normal lives; they want to get their children through school; they want to get on in life, but radical Islamists are on the war path and giving them a bad name. It is not so much what Islam IS but what Islam IS NOT. It is not able to change the human heart; it is not able to change society from within. Yes, what happened in Fort Hood was evidently done by a devout Muslim, though I’m not sure how devout the hi-jackers were. Does it really matter? “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). People will use and misuse philosophies or religions to implement their evil desires. When an ethnic Korean indiscriminately kills dozens of students at Virginia Tech, are we to declare all Koreans evil? The paranoia spread by a book like this is not helpful to evangelicals. It does not help Christians recognize that Muslims need the Lord and can be saved. In this dark hour, Muslims are coming to faith because of the Islam they see. God is using the wrath of man to praise him.
Adapted from Dr. Peter Hammond’s book: Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat. Islam is not a religion, nor is it a cult. In its fullest form, it is a complete, total, 100% system of life. Islam has religious, legal, political, economic, social, and military components. The religious component is a beard for all of the other components. Islamization begins when there are sufficient Muslims in a country to agitate for their religious privileges. When politically correct, tolerant, and culturally diverse societies agree to Muslim demands for their religious privileges, some of the other components tend to creep in as well.

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The New York Times cannot decide exactly when Faisal Shahzad became a terrorist. Was he recruited by a terrorist group, or radicalized after losing his job and home? The sequence of events may not matter. What does matter is that only Christ can change the heart, but unfortunately, the church is not reaching out to Muslims with the Good News.
A former missionary colleague in Pakistan, who faithfully witnesses to Muslims in NYC, had this to say:
… I am sad that apparently no believer was reaching out to him and his young family. I was amazed as I watched a TV interview with some of his former immediate neighbors, that none of them [neighbors] … Imagine! After living in America for 15 years and marrying an American citizen, he apparently had no American friends! I would doubt that anyone outside of his family members knew or even cared that he had lost his job, that his home of only three years was in foreclosure and that his life-long dream of enjoying the good life in America was turning into a nightmare.
The Pew Forum (2004) says over 50 percent of white evangelicals who attend church at least once weekly have an unfavorable view of Islam. One problem is that fear, suspicion and mistrust of Muslims prevents any meaningful evangelical-Muslim interaction in US. It is also true that Americans are simply too busy; hence the only ones who actually do meet with Muslims are generally former missionaries, now living in the US.
Someone has calculated how long it would take two missionaries to visit 180,000 Muslims, door to door, if they faithfully go out every evening? The answer: 185 years for each of them! NYC has many more Muslims than that, so if we leave the job up to former missionaries, it will never get done. The church is obligated to reach them!

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Click here to read a speech by Brigitte Gabriel at the Intelligence Summit in Washington, DC. Excerpts of the speech were published in Front Page Magazine with the title Because they Hate. This article was forwarded to someone at CIU, who passed it around with these words: “… [This is a] must read for all of us … we need to develop a strong program on Islamics here at CIU.” I said: “I appreciate the concern, agree that we need a strong program in this area, and do not question good intentions, but wonder if it will help us understand Islam or reach out to Muslims. From what appears to be mounting evidence that American evangelicals are being conditioned to hate and mistrust their Muslim neighbors, I believe it could have the opposite effect. My purpose in responding therefore is to ask if the author’s bias, inflammatory language and selective use of history can help shape an evangelical mindset toward Muslims.” I have responded paragraph by paragraph.

Be sure to read the speech first.

1. Gabriel’s introduction (2nd paragraph), fails to mention that the 1975-1996 war in Lebanon was not just a religious war. There were many issues involved, including ethnicity, culture and political factions, not to mention Israeli occupation in Southern Lebanon, and the 1982 massacre in Beirut under the direction of Ariel Sharon. I do not feel she is fair and accurate in her interpretation of Middle Eastern history.

2. In the third paragraph the author states they hated us “because we are defined in their eyes by one simple word: ‘infidels.’ Again, this is simplistic and not the whole truth. Gabriel sounds like a radical Christian from Lebanon and not a true believer. From the difficult experience of living through years of civil war in the Middle East she comes across as someone who could be as vicious as her enemies. She appears to be from a nominal Christian family who grew up in the midst of hatred and animosity and reflects similar attitudes. I wonder if she wants to live as Christ lived, love as Christ loved, and forgive as Christ forgave.

3. In the third paragraph she says “Muslims killed children in Israel, Christians in Lebanon … expelled almost 900,000 Jews from Muslim lands …” It might help to mention that Israel destroyed about one hundred Palestinian villages, driving the inhabitants into refugee camps, where most have remained for decades—without employment, without hope and without a future. Finally, in the same paragraph, the author accuses Muslims of killing Hindus, but fails to mention that Hindu atrocities were just as bad–if not worse. In Freedom at Midnight, authors Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre state that in 1947, Muslims were hot-blooded but Hindus were cold-blooded. Again, Gabriel fails to present a fair and balanced view of the past and appears to be prejudiced against Muslims.

4. In the sixth paragraph, Gabriel says we must “stand up and identify the real enemy: Islam …” I would suggest she speak of “Islamism” and not place all Muslims in the same category. It helps no one to label Islam as our “enemy,” and without recognizing the diversity within Islam, she concludes this to be “authentic Islam.” How can she be so sure? Yes, the violent Muslim reactions over Danish cartoons were shocking, extreme and an illegitimate use of power. However, I do not believe it was cowardice when the American press chose not to follow the European example. It was a sign of maturity. Given what appears to be an increase of racism in Europe, I believe publishing cartoons that ridiculed Muhammad were– at least in part–motivated by hatred and spite against Muslim immigrants. I agree with Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Freedom House Center for Religious freedom, that freedom of religion means we honor and respect one another’s religious sentiments. What the secular West may define as freedom could hinder good Muslim-Christian relations.

5. In the seventh paragraph, Gabriel says our enemy (Islam) is like a “tapestry of snakes.” How will such vitriol help the world to be a better place? And how can it help to inform the State Department? Is this the kind of inflammatory language anyone should use?

6. Paragraph eight talks about the “ugly face of the enemy,” and I agree that one face of Islam is ugly, but having lived and worked among Muslims for many years, I feel it’s not the only face. Islam is not monolithic, and though most Muslims may not dare to speak out against what they see is vicious and wrong, other faces do exist. Perhaps the author has not seen them because she has not looked for them. She mentions a Palestinian mother who has great joy because her three sons have given their lives in martyrdom but shows no sympathy for the Palestinian people who have suffered decades of anguish. This is not to deny the terrible suffering Jews have endured but to call for even-handedness. She fails to mention it was democracy that brought Hamas to power in Palestine as it was democracy that brought extremists to power in Algeria. And it is possible that democracy could sweep the extremist Muslim Brotherhood to victory in Egypt–if given a chance. After years of living and working in a Muslim context, I wonder if democracy is always the path to a just and peaceful society. A benevolent dictator can sometimes do a better job of maintaining security and keeping things under control.

7. In the last paragraph, Gabriel suggests that Americans must make this into a much bigger war “… for the sake our children and our country.” Really? Do the American people want more war? It seems that many Americans are not willing to sacrifice more soldiers on foreign battlefields and are wondering how they will pay for present wars. Finally, near the end of her article, she says there has been a “torrent of hateful invective” from Muslims, but how is her speech different?

In conclusion, it is true that Americans are suffering. However the question we began with was what should be the evangelical response? Are we the only ones who have suffered? What does the Bible say about suffering? How did Jesus respond to suffering? And since our Lord willingly embraced the cross–in contrast to Muhammad who fought for a crown–how should we respond (I Peter 2:20-25) even though Islamists follow their leader? What did Paul say about suffering? And what advice would Corrie Ten Boon give to American evangelicals now who face Islamists? We say “In God we trust.” However, it is possible we put too much trust in our political power, our democracy, our cultural values, our education, and our military. Are we to respond like the secular world and fight fire with fire? From Bridgette Gabriel’s article, perhaps the only lesson for evangelicals is how not to respond to the hatred and extremism we see all around us.

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