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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Boko Haram, the Arab 'Spring', and the radical Islamic Revival

This past week, as I read the grim news of Christmas killings in Nigeria, there came back to me the words of Shaikh Khalid Yasin, an African-American convert to Islam and globe trotting preacher, who visited Australia back in 2003.  The context was an interview on ABC radio with John Cleary.  Cleary asked Yasin about what sharia meant to him, and in response Yasin waxed lyrical about the Nigerian experience:
"If we look at the evolution of the Sharia experiment in Nigeria for instance. It’s just a wonderful, phenomenal experience. It has brought about some sweeping changes, balances, within the society, regulations in terms of moral practices and so many things."
Cleary referred to the case of Amina Lawal (a Nigerian Muslim who was sentenced to be stoned to death for getting pregnant out of wedlock) and asked the following question:
"Let’s talk about that Nigeria for example for a moment, because you’ve got a country there which has a large Christian population and a large Muslim population; how do you reconcile that? Do you think that the Sharia should prevail and Christians can live under the ambit of the Sharia, or do you think there should be a secular state which allows room for both Muslims and Christians to practice under their own religious codes?"
To which Yasin responded:
"Well let me ... take that question into a broader historical spectrum, and let’s look at it in that light. What did the Sharia provide for the Christians who are living in Spain, what did the Sharia provide for the Muslims who were living in Turkey, I mean historically. What did the Sharia provide for Muslims living in the Islamic state in Medina? What did the Sharia provide? Always dignity, protection, and the religious rights? Co-mingling, respect of their properties? So historically, Islam has always shown tolerance, dignity, protection for the non-Muslims living in the Muslim state. So from a historical perspective, I say that the Nigerian experiment is one where they are trying to get back to that model..."
Here is the nub of the matter. Yasin is appealing to Muslims' dream of a benevolent, tolerant Islam from a golden past era when non-Muslims were afforded 'dignity, protection', 'tolerance', and 'religious rights' under Islamic rule, which is to say, after Muslim conquest.  (In fact he is referring to the sharia system of dhimmitude, in which non-Muslims as conquered people are granted the right to practice their faith as long so they submit to  discriminatory laws laid down in a dhimma  or pact of surrender.  It is on this basis that sharia law affords the right to non-Muslims to keep their heads in an Islamic state.)  Yasin opines that Nigerian Muslims are 'trying to get back to that model'.

Which brings us to the recent horrific murders of Christian worhippers across Nigeria on Christmas day.  Of course such events give the lie to the claim that Islam 'always' provides dignity and protection.  In reality the increasing violence against Christians in Nigeria (and in many other states around the world) is a direct product of the very same global sharia revival which Yasin was so enthusiastic about.  The reality is that Christians are being killed in Nigeria because of the sharia revival, not in spite of it.

The perpetrators of these atrocities in Nigeria are known colloquially as Boko Haram.  Their official Arabic name is rather longer.  It means 'A Group of People of the Sunna (the example and teaching of Muhammad) for Da'wa (proclamation or Islamization) and Jihad'.  The Boko Haram nick-name for the group refers to their objection to the Latin alphabet, which has become dominant in Nigerian education, including for writing Hausa:  the Hausa word boko (from English book) refers to the Latin alphabet.  It can also refer more generally to non-religious education.  The Arabic word haram means a 'forbidden' or 'prohibited' practice according to Islam.  So the phrase boko haram could mean 'secular learning is prohibited for Muslims'.

This nick-name reflects a desire to Islamicize the indoctrination of young Muslims.  The will of  Boko Haram is to exclude all values and information which are not in conformity with pure Islam, symoblized by the use of Arabic script and the Arabic language.

The world is in the middle of a global sharia revival.  From Auckland to London, in recent decades Muslims have becoming more religiously observant.  Hopes for establishing Islamic political governance are rising.  The sharia movement has been gaining strength everywhere.

What the Islamic movement has achieved in the past half-century would have seemed inconceivable only 30 years ago. One of the most visible symbols of this achievement is the veiling of women.  Raymond Ibrahim recently contrasted the present-day Muslim enthusiasm for veiling women, shared of course by Khalid Yasin (see here, here and here) with the contempt once shown for this idea by Gamal Abdel Nasser.  In 1953 the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader told Nasser that they wanted to enforce the hijab, to which Nasser commented that the leader's very own daughter was refusing to wear the thing:
Graduating Class, Cairo University 1978
"Sir, I know you have a daughter in college—and she doesn't wear a headscarf or anything! [laughter] Why don't you make her wear the headscarf? [laughter] So you can't make one girl, your own daughter, wear it, and yet you want me to go and make ten million women wear it?!" [burst of laughter and applause]
To which Raymond Ibraham wryly remarked, "Half a century later and none of this is a laughing matter."  He also reproduced a cartoon (above right), in which the Muslim Brotherhood is overseeing the transformation of women's rights as a result of the misnamed 'Arabic Spring'.

It is truly remarkable how much the Muslim revivalists have achieved, especially since the 1980s.  Contrast the veiling of women in the graduating class of Cairo University in 2004 with the unveiled graduates of the class of 1978.
Graduating Class, Cairo University 2004

The global Islamic movement is no new phenomenon.  This is a loaf that has been rising for a very long time.  The revival has been underway for the best part of a century, and in full swing for the past 40 years.  In every place around the world, the engine which has driven its progress is spiritual formation, which is to say, religious education.  Wherever Muslim presidents have permitted Muslim revivalists free access to a nation's young people, there has been a steady rise in radicalism, resulting in religious violence and the deterioration in the human rights environment for women and non-Muslims alike.  A good example is Pakistan, where millions of young men are indoctrinated each year in the sharia-revival curriculum through the Islamic madrassah system, which has expanded 200-fold over the past 60 years, partly due to direct government assistance.  In Pakistan this manifestation of the 'boko haram' principle has been the official policy of the government, as, instead of promoting secular education, it has put its young into the hands of religious radicals.  This intense effort has generated countless recruits ready for jihad, and growing misery for non-Muslim Pakistanis, who can only watch helplessly as their nation drifts far from its constitutional origins as a secular state.

What is important to grasp is that devotion to the example and teaching of Muhammad and to the Qur'an is never greater than in the curriculum of the Islamic movement revivalists.  When Boko Haram signals adherence to the Sunna of Muhammad in their official name, they are undoubtedly entirely sincere.   It is revivalist Islam which provides the fertile seed bed for dreams of restoring Islamic political power, and consequently for dawa and jihad, two primary instruments in the sharia revival tool kit.

This is why Abul A'la Mawdudi, in a series of compelling sermons preached  in 1938, taught that the fundamental basics of Islamic religious observance provide the foundation for political dominance of the world by Muslims:
"The Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving and Pilgrimage [i.e. the core fundamentals of Islamic spiritual observance] at their deepest level provide preparation and training for the assumption of just power. Just as governments train their armies, police forces and civil services before employing them to do their job, so does Islam, the Din given by Allah.  It first trains all those who volunteer for service to God before allowing them to undertake Jihad and establish God's rule on earth." (Let Us be Muslims).
Maududi's sermons, delivered seventy years ago to poor farmers in the Punjab, were destined to become a classic of the radical Muslim revivalReprinted countless thousands of times, they lay out in compelling terms a program for the assumption of power through religious renewal, leading up to and including jihad.

The key to understanding the seemingly sudden sweeping victories of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East is the long, slow process of Islamic instruction and guidance — of da'wa — at which the Muslim Brotherhood's footsoldiers have worked hard and sacrificially for decades.  Again and again the doctrinal gurus of this spiritual revival have stressed the need for patience and taking a long-term view.

In October 2002 the Arabic-language quarterly Al-Manar Al-Jadid Magazine (published under the auspices of the Ann Arbor-based Islamic Assembly of North America) included a biographical essay by Muhammad ‘Abduh on the achievements of Abdul-Hamid ibn Badis, who was active in Algeria in the period leading up to WWII.  The essay bore the title ‘The Understanding of Abdul-Hameed Ibn Baadis of the Phases of Da‘wah’.  Ibn Badis was praised for his skilful, long-term vision for establishing political Islam in Algeria.  He was especially admired for deceiving the French when he assured the colonial government that the Agerian Islamic movement's goals were apolitical:
"We are Algerian Muslim people in the colonial province of the French Republic. So because we are Muslims we act for the preservation of the  traditions of our religion. And indeed, a government who is ignoring the people’s religion cannot manage it properly. We are not intending by this to mix religion and politics into all of our matters … And because we are a colony, we seek to fasten the bonds of friendship between us and the French nation. And we call on France to adhere to its three foundational Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood."
Ibn Badis' program was a painstaking one, extending for decades, which began with religious education, a strategy which Muhammad 'Abduh described as 'his plan ... to encircle [colonialism] and to destroy [it] … step by step (see here for an archived English translation, posted in 2003 by a Muslim group in Melbourne, Australia). 

Boko Haram's objection to secular education is entirely consistent with the pre-WW II example of Ibn Badis, or the pre-WW II guidance of Mawdudi:  religious formation in the principles of Islam provides the necessary foundation for establishing political Islam, up to and including an Islamic state.  This is why, when Anwar Sadat allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to focus on charitable works and spiritual formation of the population, he was handing the future of Egypt over to them.

The most disturbing thing about all this — the Islamic movement's sweeping successes in education, and persecutions unleashed by the rise of devotion to the sharia across nations like Pakistan and Nigeria — is the phenomenon of denial.

On the one hand radical Muslims conceal the truth about the dhimma as an intended outcome of the Islamic revival, insisting that the dominance of non-Muslims by Muslims, by force, is synonymous with 'dignity', 'tolerance' and 'protection' for all.  Jihad, the God-given means to achieve this utopia, is supposedly a struggle for justice, a noble effort to remove oppression.

On the other hand, so many Western leaders and journalists seem determined, heads firmly planted in the sand, to ignore the religious character of the violence plaguing Nigeria and so many other places where the global Islamic Movement has taken root.  It is misleading to call such attacks 'senseless', or to remark that they 'initially appear to be terrorist acts', as the White House Press Secretary's statement said on December 26.  Equally irrelevant is the UK foreign office's remark that the attacks, which included suicide bombings in which jihadis deliberately sacrificed their lives, were 'cowardly', or the New York Time's suggestion that attacks on churches are a 'new, religion-tinged front'.  (Again, read Raymond Ibrahim's level-headed analysis which explains that Boko Haram's attacks have always targeted Christians).

Such rhetoric conceals the fact that the Nigerian attacks on Christians derive credibility and inspiration from a religious curriculum which demonizes non-Muslims.  This curriculum appeals to passages taken from the Qur'an and the example and teaching of Muhammad to demand that it is a religious duty for Muslims wage war against infidels (that is, to kill them) to establish Islam, and that dawa and jihad go together hand in glove as the preferred Islamic method for establishing the glories of Islamic rule.  This is supposed to usher in an Islamic Utopia for which non-Muslims could only be grateful.  This Utopia is what the sharia will 'provide' for Christians, as Khalid Yasin put it.

These bloody attacks were not senseless.  They had a purpose.  They were intended to intimidate Christians in Nigeria into making political concessions to radical Islam.  Above all they are intended to pave the way for Muslims to establish the dominance of the sharia as a political and legal force in that land. The sub-text of the attacks is 'Give us power, and you will be safe': 'protected', to use Khalid Yasin's words.   This intention is not a new idea: it is a very old one.  It was Muhammad himself who used to say to non-Muslims: aslim taslim 'Submit and you will be safe'.  This use of terror is an idea acquired through religious instruction.

Of course not all Muslims adhere to such beliefs. There are other interpretations of Islam.  A great many Muslims even detest at least some of the beliefs outlined here, and are appalled that anyone could link murderous acts to their personal faith.  But such beliefs do exist, and what is more important, they do matter in today's world.  They make a difference. For this the evidence is overwhelming.

It must also be admitted that not all the motives of those who go for jihad are religious.  But the driving force, the compass that guides the sharia revivalist ship, is entirely its doctrinal base.  It is faith nurtured in the very bosom of Islam itself which lays the groundwork for these horrendous attacks.  It is real-life Muslims, who aspire to go on the Hajj to Mecca, pray five times and day, and recite the Qur'an in pious devotion — it is men such as this who cherish hopes of political ascendancy for Islam.  These are the hands which are ready to act to hasten the day.  And it is men such as these who pass on these ideals to the young.

These are bad, deadly ideas, which as they take hold, mete our despair and destruction, not only to non-Muslims and women, but also to Muslims.  The sooner Western elites wake up and find a language for talking about all this, and gain the courage to accept that they do not have to sacrifice their own humanity along the way, that facing up to what is true does not mean one has become a hater or a bigot, the sooner rational policies can be put in place to respond to the manifold challenges posed by the world-wide sharia revival.

The question is not whether the radical Islamic revival is in full swing, but what can be done about it.  But not much will be done until the thing is acknowledged for what it is.  And until that happens there will be no will to resist, and no intellectual capacity to seek out and weigh up possible solutions. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

MyPeace on Australian TV and "Islamic Values" is an Australian dawah (i.e. missionary) website.  It is designed to invite people to convert to Islam.  Disingenuously it states that it exists to "address the many misconceptions about Islam".

MyPeace is unashamed in declaring the superiority of its beliefs.  For example characterizes Christian beliefs as 'blasphemous', 'distorted' and 'extreme'.  It also speaks of the Islamic Christ, who when he returns will, by military force destroy all other religions, and usher in a utopia of Muhammadan sharia law across the earth.  Furthermore, 'only Muslims today actually follow Jesus and his true teachings. Their way of life is much more in tune with the way of life Jesus practiced than any of the modern day “Christians."'  In order words, Islam is the true Christianity.

This is an example of how MyPeace 'addresses misconceptions' about Islam.

MyPeace grabbed national attention with a series of billboards in Sydney earlier this year.

This week it is about to launch a TV ad campaign.  The ad can be viewed here.

The text of the ad is:
"To save one life is as though you have saved all of humanity". [Sura 5:32]
"Show kindness to your parents, just as they cherished you in childhood." [Sura 17:23-24]
"Give in charity of the good things you earn"
"Even a smile is charity"

"Explore the real values of Islam at"
The text is read by a man with a broad Australian accent over scenes of:
  • a lifesaver saving a young boy in the Australian surf, 
  • an elderly (unveiled) woman who has a shawl put around her shoulders to warm her, and 
  • someone giving charity to a destitute young man.
Islam is based upon the Quran and the teachings and actions of Muhammad.  The ad neatly reflects this.  Australians should be more aware of both the Quran and Muhammad's life and witness.

In the interests of 'addressing misconceptions' about Islam, I offer the full text of Sura 5:32-34, which is the first passage from which the TV advertisement quotes:
For this reason [i.e. Cain killing Abel] did We prescribe to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men; and certainly Our apostles came to them with clear arguments, but even after that many of them certainly act extravagantly in the land.

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement. 
Except those who repent before you have them in your power; so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Sura 5:32-34)
This cheery text includes a quote, somewhat altered, but still unmistakeable (in bold above) from the Talmud:
"Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a)
There is multiple irony in MyPeace's advertisement.  First the 'life-saver' verse  is in fact a Jewish text.  Second this verse is followed by and conjoined to a verse which calls for apprehending, killing, crucifying, and chopping off fingers and limbs of those who oppose Allah and Muhammad 'in the land'.

In reality verse 32 aims its message against Jews (and perhaps also Christians), of whom it is said that Allah's 'apostles came to them with clear arguments'.  What  should happen to such as these who 'make mischief in the land'? (v.32).  The answer is found in the next verse: those who behave badly 'in the land'  should be killed, mutilated or crucified.  Well, except for those who convert to Islam (i.e. those who 'repent' see Ibn Kathir on verse 34):  it is acceptable to let those who convert keep their fingers, arms, legs, lives and liberty.

Ibn Kathir goes on to report the view that this verse is in fact a warning against taking the life of a Muslim (but not of non-Muslims, because their lives are not protected in Islam like the lives of Muslims):
He who allows himself to shed the blood of a Muslim, is like he who allows shedding the blood of all people. He who forbids shedding the blood of one Muslim, is like he who forbids shedding the blood of all people
This is not a Nice Verse.

MyPeace is to be commended for bringing such an interesting and important passage to the attention of the Australian public.  But they did not go far enough: let them present the whole passage to ordinary Australians, together with the interpretations of great Muslim scholars  (such as Ibn Kathir) so that popular misconceptions about Islam can be eradicated in Australia.

Or else, if MyPeace's goal is just to give a positive spin to Islam, they might like to reconsider leading with another verse, and stay clear of Sura 5:32.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Muslim Persecution of Christians: September, 2011 by Raymond Ibrahim

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Australian Parliament Calls for an End to Coptic Persecution in Egypt

Today, the House of Representatives honoured Australia’s commitment to religious freedom with a clear endorsement of a historic private member’s bill addressing the ongoing persecution of the Coptic Christians of Egypt.

On 19 September, Mr Craig Kelly MP, Liberal Federal Member for Hughes moved the following:

That this House:

(1) recognises that Coptic Christians in Egypt are suffering ongoing and increasing persecution;

(2) condemns the recent attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt;

(3) expresses its sympathy for Coptic Christians who have been victims of recent attacks in Egypt; and

(4) calls on the Government to:

(a)   issue a public statement condemning the ongoing attacks against the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt;

(b) make immediate representations to the United Nations to end the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt; and

(c) strongly urge the Egyptian Government to provide equal rights and protection for all Egyptian citizens regardless of race or religion.

Speaking to his private member’s bill, Mr Kelly noted that Egypt “is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented transition, the success of which hinges on full respect for the rule of law and compliance with international human rights standards including freedom of religion”.

At 10:00am today, Mr Kelly’s motion was passed by all members of the House.

With approximately 30 Coptic Christians observing proceedings from the Gallery, Mr Kelly acknowledged the presence of His Grace Bishop Suriel, Rev. Father Johnathan Isaac, Rev. Father Gabriel Yassa and former Sutherland Shire Councillor Magdi Mikhail.

In his statement to the House, following the passing of his motion, Mr Kelly referred to the brutal military violence against Coptic Christian demonstrators on 9 October 2011, which left at least 24 dead and at least 270 injured.  He stated the motion just passed could not have been more timely.  He was right.

Mr Kelly urged members of the House to view videos demonstrating armoured military vehicles ploughing into unarmed Christian protestors, “although graphic and horrific.. to understand the gravity of the situation.”

In an emotional recount of a young Christian woman’s testimony, the House heard of how Miss Vivian Magi, tried to protect her dead fiancé’s body from soldiers after he was run-over an armoured vehicle.  She told Egyptian TV:

“His body was in the middle of the wheels. His legs were torn. His head hit the pavement, breaking his skull.  Soldiers gathered around us and started to beat him up.  I begged them to leave him.. Then a soldier with a red cap came, shouting, cursing and hitting me with a stick then tried to beat him up. I threw my body on him (her fiance) … and the soldier said to me: ‘You infidel, why are you here?’”

Mr Kelly condemned the violence of the military, the very body that was meant to be protecting its civilians. He said that on that fateful day, the army had committed “mass murder” in Cairo. He also referred to the role that Egyptian State television played by instigating the violence, calling on so-called “honest Egyptians” to rush to the defence of the military who were under the attack of Coptic protestors, when in reality, it was the Copts who were being gunned down and beaten.

He spoke to the role of the international community, stating:

“Now is not the time for silence or appeasement from the international community, for as the Copts go so may go the entire Middle East. If a Christian minority cannot live in a country with a Muslim majority population without suffering persecution and institutionalised discrimination our future looks bleak.

…The moderate voices in Egypt must be put on notice in the strongest terms to root out any anti-Christian element in the army and to give equal rights to all Coptic Christians and to ensure their protection.”

The Australian Coptic Movement (ACM) thanks Mr Kelly for voicing the concerns of Australian Coptic Christians and for bringing the plight of the persecuted Christian minority of Egypt to the attention of the Australian Government.  After attending a protest held by the ACM earlier this year, Mr Kelly did more than appreciate the extent of ongoing persecution that the Coptic Christians have suffered for decades.  He did more than just offer words of sympathy.  It is because of his tireless efforts that the result of today’s vote in that Chamber went the way it did.

The ACM also thanks each member of the House of Representatives today for doing the right thing by passing the motion.

The House of Representative’s endorsement of Mr Kelly’s motion sends a clear message to the Egyptian caretaker Government and indeed the world, that Australia does not and will not stand by in silence, whilst innocent Christians are being persecuted for their faith.

The Australian Coptic Movement
Sydney, Australia

More on the Recent Massacre of Copts in Cairo

In my last blog post I emphasized the role of the Egyptian military in killing Copts last Sunday.  However it seems that most of the killings may have been done by gangs of Muslim men who took to the streets.  In my previous post I had noted that one of the men's bodies in the morgue had had his throat cut, a mark of a religious ritual slaying which pointed to the activity of religious civilians rather than to soldiers.  An important eyewitness account by Reva Bhalla throws light on what was happening:
As I neared the crowd, scores of mostly young Muslim men pushed their way past me carrying large wooden sticks and whatever rudimentary weapons they could fashion out of household kitchen items. Walking in groups of three or more with a confident swagger, they told everyone along the way that Copts were killing Muslims and soldiers and called on others to take revenge. The reality at this point did not matter; the mere perception that Copts were killing soldiers and Muslims was all that was needed for Muslim mobs to rally. While this was happening, state media was broadcasting messages portraying the Copts as the main perpetrators.
The crowd in Maspero was only about 1,500 people by my estimation, but a growing Muslim mob was pushing it deeper into downtown toward Tahrir Square. From where I and several other observers were standing, many of the Muslim rioters at first seemed able to pass through the military barricade to confront the Copts without much trouble. After some time had passed and the army reinforcements arrived, the military started playing a more active role in trying to contain the clashes, with some footage showing an armored vehicle plowing through the crowd. Some rioters claimed that Salafists from a nearby district had arrived and were chanting, “Islamiyyah, Islamiyyah,” while others parroted state media claims about “foreign elements” being mixed in with the demonstrators. As the night wore on, the scene of the riots split into roughly three sections: the Muslims on one side, the military in the middle and the Copts on the other.
This was not the best environment for a woman, especially one without an Egyptian ID card. A member of the security forces put a gun to the chest of a young, Egyptian-born female reporter, accusing her of being a foreign spy, before a group of young men came between her and her assailant, pulling her back and insisting she was Egyptian. The Muslim mob badly beat at least two young Coptic women in the crowd, after which throngs of young Coptic men gathered to take revenge. 
 A Copt alone on the wrong side of the army barricade became an immediate target, and I watched as scores of Muslim men carried one Coptic man after another into dark alleyways. These men likely contributed most to the final civilian death count. Cars with crosses hanging from their rearview mirrors were attacked with incendiary devices, their windows smashed.
In the light of this testimony, it is deeply shocking that Egyptian government officials and state media were so quick to stoke anti-Christian enmity (for example by putting out a subsequently discredited report that soldiers were being killed by Christians).  This gives more than enough cause for Western governments to call upon Egypt's rulers to protect Egypt's Christians and not sacrifice them to the mob.

A perfect example of a very shabby response to these events is the press release put out by the Whitehouse:
The President is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces. The United States expresses our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and stands with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time. Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt. As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom. We also note Prime Minister Sharaf's call for an investigation and appeal to all parties to refrain from violence. These tragic events should not stand in the way of timely elections and a continued transition to democracy that is peaceful, just and inclusive.
For security forces were not killed - this was part of the misinformation put out by Egyptian authorities which incited the killings of Copts.  Shockingly President Obama has given official credence to the very reports which have caused innocent people to have their throats cut in dark allies. 

Samuel Tadros' bitter complaint seems more than justified:
Perhaps I ought to join the president in his concern and call for restraint: I call upon the security forces to refrain from killing Christians, and upon Christians to refrain from dying.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Double-Bind Upon the Copts: dhimmitude in action

Over the weekend, violence on Cairo's streets resulting in the deaths of dozens of Copts and the wounding of hundreds more.  The killings occurred when the Egyptian military dispersed a protest against a recent incident of church destruction in Elmarinab village, in Aswan province.  Videos, including footage shown on Egyptian television, protray military vehicles deliberately running over bystanders (here and here), and another taken in a morgue shows a man whose throat had been cut.

The church destruction took place on 30 September when a mob of thousands of Muslim men went on a rampage after attending Friday prayers at local mosques in the village.  Father Salib of St George's church said that his church was destroyed, along with some homes and other property belonging to local Copts, after a local Imam told Muslims to 'take matters into their own hands' (see here).  The trigger for the attack was officially approved renovation work on the church building, which had become so dilapidated that it had been declared unsafe (see here).  Reports indicated that the military looked on while the destruction was taking place.  Afterwards Egyptian media reports denied the incident: for example the Governor of Aswan provide went on state television to deny that the building had been a church.

Why would restoring a church have caused Muslims to be enraged?
Why would church renovations be a topic for a Friday sermon in a mosque?
Why would Egyptian military stand by and do nothing?  Or run over protestors?
Why was the attack denied and covered over by the media?

The answers are theological:  they involve Islamic political theology.

For many secular western people, the word 'theology' carries little meaning.  The term could be better rendered as 'ideology', but one which is based upon spiritual presuppositions and beliefs. 

These days many critics of Islam are stating that Islam is not a 'religion' at all, but an 'ideology'.  There are 184,000 hits on Google for the phrase "Islam is an ideology".  See for example Geert Wilders explaining that Islam is 'not just another religion' but is 'an ideology'.

It is not necessary to turn to Islam's critics to hear this view.  An article posted by Muslim students on the Student Association website of Northern Illinois University is entitled 'Islam is an ideology'.  It explains that Islam requires that all legislation must be god-given, which means laws are to be based upon the Qur'an and the life of Muhammad (the Sunnah):  "Islam forbids for any legislation to be taken other than that contained in the Qur'an and Sunnah".  Moreover  the very practice of Islam itself requires that the state must be Islamic, for 'our worship of Allah is incomplete' without the full application of the five pillars of Islam, and each pillar "remains suspended in part while the Islamic state is not existent, as they depend upon the state for their full implementation."

What this is saying is that Islam demands that the state - indeed any state - must be regulated according to sharia law, and unless and until Islam dominates in the public sphere, Muslims will not have true freedom to practice their religion.  The Northern Illinois State University article also counts it a failure of Christians and Jews, that they have submitted to other authorities besides God (for example in a democracy, where the people have power to determine the government):  such submission is idolatry (shirk) "the very mistake that the Christians and the Jews have made until the present day."

I do not agree with those who say that Islam is not a religion.  It is a religion.  But both Geert Wilders and the Muslim Student Association of Northern Illinois University are also correct.  Islam classically demands a political realization, and specifically one in which Islam rules over all other religions, ideologies and competing political visions.  Islam is not unique in having a political vision or speaking to politics - most varieties of Christianity and Judaism have a lot to say about politics - but it is unique in demanding that it alone must rule the political sphere.

Today, the root of massive human rights abuses being suffered by the Copts is entirely theological.  Their difficulties are grounded in an Islamic vision for society which affords a clearly defined place for non-Muslims and specifically including Christians.  Not all Muslims are seeking to implement this vision, but many are, and there is no coherent alternative vision being offered to Muslims in Egypt today.

The Islamic political vision, which is the root of the Copts's sufferings, demands that non-Muslims accept a place defined for them by Sharia law.  This is the status of the dhimmi, who is permitted to live in an Islamic stated under terms of surrender as laid out in the dhimma pact.  These terms are a well-established part of Islamic law, and can be found laid out in countless legal text books (see for example here, Ibn Kathir's commentary on Sura 9:29).

The pact of surrender of non-Muslims is understood in Islamic law to include a series of conditions, which conquered Christians (such as the Copts) have endorsed.  For example, the Pact of Umar, established after conquest with the Christians of Syria, stated:  
"These are the conditions that we set against ourselves and followers of our religion in return for safety and protection. If we break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion."
 These conditions include:
"We made a condition on ourselves that we will neither erect in our areas a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk, nor restore any place of worship that needs restoration."
The 'crime' of the Copts in Aswan province was simply that they wished to repair their church.  This is opposed by the (theological) logic of the dhimma pact, which states that non-Muslims are not allowed to repair places of worship, on pain of being treated as 'people of defiance and rebellion', from whom 'safety and protection' has been withdrawn.  In other words, such a person can be killed and their belongings plundered (because they are entitled to no protection under Islamic law).

For some pious Muslims in Egypt today, the act of repairing a church is a flagrant provocation, a breach of the peace, which amounts to a deliberate revocation of one's rights to exist in the land.  This becomes a legitimate topic for sermons in the mosque, as the faithful are urged to use their hands to uphold the honor of Islam.  It is seen as no injustice, and even a duty, to destroy the church and even the lives of Christians who have the temerity to repair their churches.  Likewise those who go to the streets to protest church destruction are also rebels who have forfeited their rights to 'safety and protection'.

It is this theological worldview which motivates both the church destruction, and the killing of protestors by members of the military chanting 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is greater). 

Such ideas are not new.  They are as old as Islam itself.  However for obvious reasons - the sheer offensiveness of Islam's ideological treatment of non-Muslims - the dhimma  is concealed and its provisions denied.

On the one hand the dhimma is denied by many in the West.  Emblematic of this denial was President Obama's claim in his Cairo Speech in June 2009 that "throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality".  Western denial explains the reluctance of Western media to give coverage to the present-day sufferings of the Copts, for to look too closely at the pattern of these afflictions will bring into the light of day the underlying cause, which is the dhimma.  If the dhimma must be denied, then its manifestations must be denied as well.  To do otherwise is just too threatening for comfortable Western leaders and opinion makers.  The consequences of openly acknowledging the existence and persistence of the dhimma system are just too overwhelming.
On the other hand, some Muslims who to varying degrees share the dhimma worldview have proved themselves to be masters of misdirection and concealment.   For example, although St George's church had official documents approving its renovation, the Governor of the Aswan Province went on air to state that the building was a "guest home" and not a church, and the fault of the Copts was that they built it 13 meters high instead of 9 meters.  In response Father Salib of St George's said that the Governor had signed the approval for the renovations himself in 2010.  The Governor's comments are most revealing. He is in fact appealing to the dhimma worldview, because restrictions on the height of buildings are part of the dhimma pact:  non-Muslim buildings are required in Islamic law to be lower than Muslim buildings.  (Even in Melbourne, Australia, Muslims have been known to protest when they considered plans for a Christian Community Centre to be too high.)  The Governor was in fact defending the destruction of the church with reference to dhimma criteria: how dare those Christians build their church so high! How understandable that local youths wanted to tear it down!

Also when the Governor spoke of 'reconciliation' meetings between the Muslims and Christians in Elmarinab, he was indulging in a common piece of deceptive terminology for what has often turned out to be standover tactics designed to compel Christians - under threat of violence, kidnapping or destruction to their possessions - to accept that none of the attackers will be prosecuted.  Here another feature of the dhimma legal system comes into play, namely that non-Muslim testimony against Muslims is invalid in a court of law, so Christians have no effective way of bearing testimony to what Muslims have done to them.  The Governor's account must be accepted over that of the Christians because he is a Muslim and they are not.  This asymetrical view of the worth of human testimony encourages systemic abuses against the truth.

There are many other ways in which the manifestations of the dhimma are denied and concealed in Egypt.  Initial Egyptian media reports of the October 9 demonstration reported the killing of soldiers by protestors, and not the dozens of Copts who were killed.  There were also reports that the military attacked a television station to prevent it from reporting on the killings (see here).  Such local 'filtering' of abuses functions to confuse and dull the minds of the Western media observers.  So Western media reflects the bias of the dhimma worldview. 

It must also be acknowledged that Egyptian Muslims who act from a dhimmitude mindset vary a great deal in the degree of their commitment to the dhimma, and in the degree to which they will support an explicit revival of the dhimma.  Some Egyptian Muslim leaders have been unashamed in making public calls for full reinstatement of the dhimma system, including the disciminatory jizya tax, but many other Muslims simply subscribe to the worldview of dhimmitude because they absorbed it as part of their mother's milk.  It just seems normal not to prosecute Muslims who attack Christians and burn their churches.  It just seems normal to disbelieve Christian testimony.  It just seems normal to rejoice that a Christian girl, kidnapped, raped and coerced into marrying a Muslim, has converted to Islam, and is now under his guardianship and cut off from her family.  Such prejudice is just normal.

 Meanwhile the Copts are in a double bind.  If they protest against the abuses brought upon their heads by the dhimma system, they are treated as rebels, and the value of their blood and possessions discounted accordingly:  the more they protest, the less right they have under Islamic law even to exist.  On the other hand, the more they acquiesce, the more voracious and emboldened their persecutors will become.  This is  what happened in Elmarinab:  after the Christians made major concessions, their radical Muslim neighbors just demanded further concessions.

At the same time, Western praise for the "Arab Spring", and the recent waves of protest across the Middle East is giving the Copts hope that the world just might pay attention to their plight.  They are no strangers to suffering and martyrdom - endurance of persecution has run in their veins for two thousand years - but yet they are hoping the world has the moral integrity to pay attention.  They take to the streets out of the conviction that, although it should cost them their lives, they must speak out and be heard.

In this light, I do commend the Australian Coptic Community, under the leadership of Bishop Suriel, for their courageous stand, in calling on the Australian government to expel the Egyptian diplomats (see here):
Bishop Suriel, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Australia, is demanding the expulsion of  the Egyptian Ambassador, and two Egyptian Consul Generals.  In a Statement issued today, Bishop Suriel notes:
 “Their presence in Australia is of no meaning to the Coptic community in Australia, in light of the events which have occurred in Egypt, and their subsequent failure to act in a capacity which represents the interests of both the Coptic and Muslim dynamic of the community. They have failed to take a proactive approach to advocate for the rights of the Coptic people in Egypt or to speak out against the atrocities and intense persecution the Coptic people in Egypt are facing.”
The international community will be held accountable if they do not act swiftly on the brutal attacks towards Egypt’s Coptic Christians who are suffering under a modern day form of apartheid where institutionalised discrimination and deadly attacks have a become a way of life for Egypt’s 15 million Copts.
Such a response would be timely and appropriate to the desperate injustices faced by Christians in Egypt today.

Egypt: Destroying Churches, one at a time

by Raymond Ibrahim
Hudson New York
October 10, 2011

What clearer sign that Egypt is turning rabidly Islamist than the fact that hardly a few weeks go by without a church being destroyed, or without protesting Christians being attacked and slaughtered by the military?

The latest chaos in Egypt—where the military opened fire on unarmed Christians and repeatedly ran armored vehicles over them, killing dozens—originates in Edfu, a onetime tourist destination renowned for its pharaonic antiquities, but now known as the latest region to see a church destroyed by a Muslim mob.

This church attack is itself eye-opening as to the situation in Egypt.

Read further at:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Do We Worship the Same God? A Review by Mark Durie of Miroslav Volf's "Allah".

“Do we worship the same God?”  This has become a hotly contested and divisive question, posed in these troubled days by many Christians about Muslims and Islam.  Influential theologian Miroslav Volf, who is Henry B. Wright professor of Systematic Theology at Yale, offers an answer in his latest book, Allah: a Christian response (HarperOne 2010).  Volf’s influence is considerable, and this book deserves careful consideration.
Three influences and one agenda
Volf comes to this question with three formative influences, and an agenda. 
His first influence is a long-standing engagement with the theology of reconciliation and conflict resolution, out of which he wrote his acclaimed Exclusion and Embrace.  This engagement was shaped by growing up as a Pentecostal Croatian Christian in communist Yugoslavia, and through reflection on the Yugoslav wars of 1990-1995.
Volf’s second formative influence is his intensive dialogue with Muslims in recent years, particularly through the Common Word[1] initiative. 
Volf’s third influence is his admired father, to whom his book is dedicated, and who taught Volf from his earliest years that Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same God.
The agenda Volf pursues is one of political theology.  He asks, “Can religious exclusivists, adherents of different religions, [i.e. most Muslims and Christians] live comfortably with one another under the same political roof?” (p.220).  Volf’s answer to this question is ‘yes’:  on the basis of a shared belief in the one God.
The ‘Commonalities Approach’
To fully appreciate Volf’s argument – and its limitations – we must take careful note of his ‘commonalities approach’.  His rules of engagement with the other are: 1. “Concentrate on what is common,” and 2. “Keep an eye out for what is decisively different.”  (p.91)
At the heart of Allah are a handful of claims about God which Volf contends are shared by ‘normative’ Islam, and ‘normative’ Christianity (p.123).  He argues from these shared convictions to propose a political solution for how the two religions can live together in peace.
Volf’s six core beliefs of monotheism are: (1) There is only one God. (2) God created everything that is not God. (3) God is radically different from everything that is not God.  (4) God is good. (5) God commands us to love God. And (6) God commands us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
The first four beliefs, Volf says, establish his claim that, when people say God (or Allah), they refer to the same object, while the final two reinforce this claim (p.110).
Volf also distinguishes between referring to and worshipping God, and proposes that ‘To the extent that Christians and Muslims strive to love God and neighbor, they worship the same true God.’ (p.124).  The Allah of whom the Qur’an speaks, Volf argues, is the God of the Bible, and this one God ‘requires Muslims and Christians to obey strikingly similar commands as an expression of their worship.’ (p.124)
Volf is an advocate of religious freedom, and argues that common belief in the one God requires both Muslims and Christians to support the impartiality of the state toward all religions (p.238), and specifically to embrace freedom of religion, without interference by the state, including the freedom to leave or change one’s religion. (p.234).  This conclusion rests crucially on Volf’s claim that Muslims and Christians both accept God’s command to love one’s neighbour.
Packed with Interesting Perspectives
A ‘hot and spicy’ dish, as Volf calls it, Allah is jam-packed full of interesting ideas and perspectives. Volf’s reflections on what Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther had to say about Islam are rich (chapters 2-3), as is his discussion of the Trinity in chapter 7, in which he argues that what Muslims deny when they reject the Trinity is also denied by orthodox Christianity, and ‘Christians affirm what Muslims affirm’ about God’s oneness (p.143). 
Another engaging feature of Allah is Volf’s capacity to point out that Christianity has had a history of perpetrating the very abuses which some present-day Christians attribute to the God of Islam, such as persecution of apostates, or the use of warfare to impose religious observance.
Blind Spots: Warfare against Unbelievers
Volf’s statements about Islam betray large blind spots, in part because he relies too uncritically on the testimony of his dialogue partners.  This problem is particularly acute in his discussions of warfare against unbelievers, which is an important issue for peaceful coexistence.
Martyrdom Operations
For example, in a brief discussion of martyrdom operations, Volf cites the Amman letter to Pope Benedict[2] as his evidence that ‘normative’ Islam condemns what he calls ‘suicide terrorism’ (p.112).  Yet there is no reference to or discussion of suicide terrorism in the Amman letter.
One of the points Volf makes is that Islam rejects suicide.  Yet he seems to be unaware that among the Amman’s letter’s signatories are several who have endorsed what they refer to as martyrdom operations (i.e. suicide bombings).  These scholars do not consider these operations to be acts of suicide:
  Shaikh Ali Jumu’ah, Grand Mufti of Egypt and Amman letter signatory has stated, “The one who carries out Fedaii [martyrdom] operations against the Zionists and blows himself up is, without a doubt, a Shahid [martyr] because he is defending his homeland against the occupying enemy who is supported by superpowers such as the U.S. and Britain."[3]
  The second signatory to the Amman letter, Professor al-Buti, has said martyrdom operations are completely legitimate if the motive is to spite the enemy.[4]
  Another signatory, Shaykh Ahmad Al-Khalili, Grand Mufti of Oman, has stated, “We are quite sure that the Jews are in their way to extinction, this is the promise of Allah ... Suicide is human boredom of life and his intention to kill himself, those Palestinian mujahideen are not bored with life and their intention was not to kill themselves: instead, they wanted to spite their enemy."[5]
The truth is that a great many leading Muslim scholars endorse ‘martyrdom operations’,[6] while rejecting the view that these are acts of ‘suicide’ on the grounds that if the intention of the bomber is to attack a legitimate enemy, blowing himself up is not an act of suicide at all.
Aggressive Jihad
A more serious blind spot shows when Volf alleges that the use of military force to extend Islam is ‘rejected by all leading Muslim scholars today’ (p.210), again citing the Amman Letter. 
However, nothing in the Amman letter rejects aggressive jihad.  What this letter rejects is killing people simply for the sake of their faith, and the use of force to compel conversion.  It does not reject the use of warfare to extend the political dominance of Islam over unbelievers.
As Haykal’s magisterial 1993 survey of jihad in Islam shows, many leading scholars, both past and present, endorse jihad to make Islam dominant in the world.[7]  That the purpose of military jihad is to extend Islam is supported by the consensus view of classical scholars, including the Shafi’i jurist al-Ghazali, of whom Volf states ‘he is in many ways the most representative Muslim thinker you’ll find, from any period’ (p.169).
Aggressive jihad is also supported by many Saudi scholars, such as Shaykh Muhammad al-Munajid, who has said, “Undoubtedly taking the initiative in fighting has a great effect in spreading Islam and bringing people into the religion of Allaah in crowds."[8]
Even among the signatories of the Amman and Common Word letters can be found advocates for aggressive jihad.  For example, M. Taqi Uthmani, one of the leading Muslim jurists in the world today, and signatory to both these letters, has taught that “Aggressive Jehad is lawful even today... Its justification cannot be veiled …  we should venerate ... this expansionism with complete self-confidence”.[9]
Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa, a prominent Egyptian cleric, is another prominent scholar who signed the Common Word letter.[10]  He has pointed out that the word for Islamic conquests in Arabic is futūh ‘openings’.  Al-Awwa explained that the purpose of conquest in Islam is ‘to clear the way between Muslims and the invitation to Allah without the obstruction of the [non-Muslim] rulers’.  In other words, conquest opens up a land to Islam by removing political obstacles to the Islamic mission.[11]
The Killing of ‘Innocents’
At some points Volf seems almost gullible.  He recites the oft-repeated claim that Islam forbids ‘the killing of innocents’, whereas in fact what sharia jurisprudence forbids is the killing of those whose lives Islamic law does not allow to be taken.  The classical view is that the blood of disbelievers not living under a dhimma pact is halal (i.e. it is permitted to kill them). 
While it is true that the laws of jihad forbid the killing of women and children – these should be enslaved rather than killed – it is permitted for infidel adult males to be put to death, ‘innocent’ or not.  Even killing women and children is allowed as collateral damage.  For example, Volf’s favoured authority al-Ghazali wrote ‘[O]ne must go on jihad at least once a year… one may use a catapult against them when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them.'[12]
An Ungenerous Reading of an Opposing View
On the one hand, Volf gives too generous an interpretation to his dialogue partners, finding rejection of objectionable aspects of sharia where there is none.  On the other hand, he misrepresents a view which is opposed to his own.  In my book Revelation I argued that when comparing the God of the Qur’an and the Bible, one must consider differences, not just similarities.  Volf interacts with this part of Revelation, but misrepresents it, saying:
Durie … maintains that if you don’t have a complete match between descriptions of God in Islam and Christianity, you don’t have identity. To find out whether the God of the Qur’an is a genuine or false God, the procedure should be the same as when trying to figure out whether a banknote is genuine or counterfeit.  If there are any differences from the banknote you know is genuine, then it’s counterfeit’.  (pp.91-92 – Volf’s emphases)
This is a straw man.  In reality I nowhere said that there must be a complete match to have identity, nor that finding any difference establishes that the God of the Bible and the Qur’an are not the same.  I argued that while differences are important, the mere listing of differences is not enough to disprove identity.  Instead one must focus on the deeper, fundamental attributes of God, and I then devoted a series of chapters to discussing deeper differences.
A Crucial Blind Spot:  Love for which Neighbours?
The crux of the matter is Volf’s claim about the love of God.  Absolutely pivotal for Volf’s argument is a hadith (a tradition of Muhammad) which he claims is a command to love ‘all’ neighbors (p.182), including non-Muslims.  Volf appears to have derived this insight this from the Common Word letter, which makes use of an edited version of this tradition.
Because this is such a key point in Allah, I reproduce the exact text of the tradition (in the English translation of Abdul Hamid Siddiqui), including its chapter heading:
§72:  It is arrested on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) observed: one amongst you believes (truly) till one likes for his brother or for his neighbour that which he loves for himself.
§73: It is narrated on the authority of Anas that the Prophet (may peace blessings be upon him) observed: By Him in whose Hand is my life, no, bondsman (truly) believes till he likes for his neighbour, or he (the Holy Prophet) said: for his brother, whatever he likes for himself.
(Sahih Muslim, The Book of Faith (Kitab al-Iman) [13]
The first thing to note about this hadith is that the chapter heading in the very source Volf cites makes clear that the tradition is about loving one’s Muslim neighbour.  The second thing to note is that the preferred reading (listed first) is ‘brother’, understood in Islam to refer to a fellow Muslim.  Also the version of the tradition in the even more revered Sahih al-Bukhari reads: “The Prophet said, "None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself."[14]
It is also striking that Volf is unable to cite a single verse of the Qur’an to support the idea that God commands love for one’s neighbour.  What can be found in the Qur’an are disturbing instructions on how to deal with non-Muslim neighbours, such as Sura 9:123 “O you who believe! Fight [to kill] those who are near to you of the disbelievers, and let them find harshness in you. And know that Allah is with those who fear him.”
Loving God?
Also questionable is the phrase Volf uses to justify his claim that Islam ‘commands us to love God with our whole being’ (p.104).  He cites Allahu wadahu  ‘God alone’, translated rather grandiosely as ‘God, One and Only’. 
However the verse in question, Sura 39:45, literally says: “When God alone is mentioned, the hearts of those who do not believe in the hereafter shrink back with aversion; but when those besides him [i.e. other gods] are mentioned, behold, they rejoice.”  It is hard to read this as a command to ‘love God with our whole being’, for the intent of this verse is simply to condemn those who worship a multiplicity of gods, in the context of future judgment.
It is about More than Love
It is disappointing that Volf goes no further in considering God’s character than ‘God is love’.  Certainly for Christians, the claim that ‘we worship the same God’ demands agreement on this above all, but there are other salient attributes of God in the Bible, which it would have been fruitful to investigate in dialogue with Islam, such as his holiness, his covenantal faithfulness, his divine presence, and his creation of human kind in his image.
Leaps of Logic and Selective use of Evidence
The impression given throughout Allah is of someone who is keen to achieve his stated agenda of establishing a political theology for mutual coexistence. So keen that he is blind to contrary evidence, even when this is readily available, and makes unwarranted logical and rhetorical leaps in reaching for his goal.
For example, Volf cites verses to show that the God of the Qur’an loves (p.101), but then, without explanation, he immediately transforms this into ‘God is good’. These two claims are not the same, and the first is much easier to justify from the Qur’an than the second: ‘The Good’ is not one of the famous 99 names of Allah found in the Qur’an.
Another example is Volf’s claim that the Qur’an’s commands are similar to the Ten Commandments of Moses.  What is problematic is that there are other commands in the Qur’an which contradict the Ten Commandments, specifically in the context of relations with non-Muslims. For example there are verses which command killing disbelievers (e.g. Sura 9:5); a verse which endorses sexual intercourse with (non-Muslim) married captive women (Sura 4:24; see also 4:3, 23:6, 33:50, 70:29-30); verses which encourage Muslims to take booty from disbelievers (e.g. Sura 48:20); a verse and associated hadith which encourage Muslims to disrespect their non-Muslim parents if they are hostile to Islam, Sura 60:8-9; and verses which incite deceiving disbelievers under certain circumstances (e.g. Sura 3:28).
Proof by Contradiction?
Volf’s method does not engage objectively with Islam in a rigorous way, carefully examining the weight of evidence for and against his various positions.  Instead he zeroes in on commonalities to secure his six principles, backs each these up with a verse or two taken in isolation, and then constructs his argument on this foundation, seemingly in splendid isolation from Islamic theology and jurisprudence. 
The weight of evidence is significant.  It is not enough to just point out that something can be found somewhere in the Qur’an.  One should also ask how central this theme is in the whole book. For example, the statement that God is loving is attested only twice (Sura 11:90, Sura 85:14).  Scores of other attributes are far more more central, being mentioned more frequently (such as The Creator or The Omnipotent). The paucity of references to the love of God contrasts with the hundreds of references to God’s love in the Bible, including central descriptions of the character of God, such as God’s revelation of himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6. 
An example of the isolation of Volf’s argument, in the light of Islamic thought, is that, although he advances an argument that the monotheism of ‘normative’ Islam should favor political inclusivism, rather than reinforcing exclusivism (p.246), Volf devotes no space to considering on what grounds Islam bases its unreciprocal treatment of the dhimmis, non-Muslims living in an Islamic society.
The result is that Volf’s conclusions are at odds with normative Islamic beliefs and practices.  This gap is so great – on such topics as freedom of religion, treatment of apostates, and the political status of non-Muslims in an Islamic state – that he virtually mounts a proof-by-contradiction against himself, in which his premises are undermined by his conclusions.
What about Muhammad?
Perhaps the biggest blind spot of all in Allah is Muhammad.  Islam is not only based on the Qur’an – it is also based upon Muhammad himself.  The sharia, as a system for all of life, is constructed, with painstaking care, upon the details of the life of Muhammad, whom the Qur’an itself repeatedly commends as the ‘best example’ to follow.  A problem with this is that Muhammad’s example includes many instances of the ill-treatment and subjugation of non-Muslims, in contrast to many exhortations for Muslims to treat fellow-Muslims with respect. 
If Muhammad did not love his non-Muslim neighbour as himself, and his is the best example for Muslims to follow, how can Islam overlook the moral force of this example? Volf’s assumption that Islam should base its political vision on a few principles about the character of God – some of which are rarely if ever mentioned in the Qur’an – naively ignores this reality.
Because Volf turns a blind eye to Muhammad, he also completely underestimates the sharia as the most pressing issue for coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims.
This appears to be the reason why Volf has nothing to say about growing pressure from Muslim groups to establish parallel legal systems in Western nations.[15]  Muslim communities all over the lands of immigration have been asking and even demanding that non-Muslim governments recognise plural legal jurisdictions in order to accommodate the sharia. In our day, as sharia courts are springing up everywhere from London to Sydney, this is one of the most practical challenges to Volf’s vision of a common political roof for Muslims and Christians.  Yet without engaging with the issue of Muhammad and his sharia, Volf can have nothing of importance to say about the real world of religious coexistence.
It has also to be emphasised that sharia implemention is not specifically a Muslim–Christian issue.  The sharia raises much broader human rights issues, which impact severely upon Hindus in Pakistan, Zoroastrians in Iran, Ahmadiyyas in Indonesia, apostates from Islam in just about any nation, and, of course, Muslim women everywhere.  The question is not how Christians and Muslims can live together, but how Islam can coexist with non-Islam.  In the prescient words of William Montgomery Watt in 1993:
There are undoubtedly some Islamic states which treat non-Muslim citizens in ways which can only be described as oppressive …  It is of the utmost importance that Muslim jurists should consider whether such treatment of non-Muslims is in accordance with the Shari’ah or contrary to it.  More generally, does the Shari’ah allow Muslims to live peaceably with non-Muslims in the ‘one world’ … To have an answer to these questions may be a matter of urgency in a few years time.[16]
In reality, what Muhammad, the Qur’an and normative Islam consistently teach – which is nothing to rejoice over – is that Muslims should strive to achieve political dominance over the adherents of other religions, for example Sura 48:28 states “He [Allah] has sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may cause it to triumph over all religion.”  This belief is expounded in countless commentaries, legal textbooks and writings of Muslim scholars, past and present.  It is a core part of normative Islam, which has not been renounced by the Islamic mainstream. It is upon this rock that Volf’s whole thesis founders.
Even-handedness or Tu Quoque Reasoning?
One frustrating aspect of Allah is Volf’s subtle reliance on tu quoque reasoning, which works to deflect attention from core issues.  For example, Volf only mentions the idea of the dhimmi –which is so central for Muslim-Christian coexistence – in a discussion of 16th century Christian religious compulsion (p.225).  His seemingly even-handed presentation underscores Volf’s emphasis that intolerance is a universal human problem, but it conceals a refusal to engage with the Qur’anic basis of theological non-reciprocity in Islam. Thus Volf nowhere engages with Sura 9:29, which is perhaps the most crucial verse for determining the status of Christians in Islamic political theology. 
Beware the Blurb
The reader should also beware of attributing what the cover blurb says to Volf himself.  The cover, prepared by the publisher, states that ‘a person can be both a practicing Muslim and 100 percent Christian without denying core convictions of belief and practice’.  This is an unfortunate misreading, for Volf in fact only says that a person can be 100% Christian while following certain Muslim practices (p.199) such as fasting during Ramadan, or calling Muhammad a ‘prophet’ with what is a non-religious meaning of that word.
It would have been more helpful if Volf had explained why belief in Muhammad as a prophet, in the orthodox Islamic sense, is inconsistent with Christian faith.  Indeed through the whole book, the reader should be careful not to read implications into Volf’s text which he does not actually make explicit, for in the effort to maximize common ground, he sometimes sails very close to the wind, not making explicit the boundaries he will not cross.
Who is Allah really written for?
There is a tension concerning who is the intended audience of Allah.  On the one hand, Volf repeatedly claims that he has written this book for Christians.  However, it is Muslims who most need to be convinced about his proposed common ‘roof’ for coexistence.
Although Volf argues at length that normative Islamic and Christian monotheism should both support principles of religious freedom, most modern Christians do not need to be convinced about these principles as far as their own understanding of God is concerned. On the other hand, if Volf’s claims about the God Muslims believe in are not compelling for Muslims, what difference will it make what Christians think about the God of the Qur’an? 
Volf has announced a party, under a common political roof, of love for God and neighbour.  In a sense, the Christians are already at the party: for them the roof is already in place.  The Muslims, by and large, are not there yet. In Allah, Volf has written a book to persuade Christians that Muslims ought to come to the party, but in the end this will make little difference to whether the party actually takes place.  The important thing is for Muslims to turn up, not for Christians to be convinced that they must.
If Volf is wrong about Islam – and I believe he is – and the whole Christian world were to think like him, the outcome could be that Christians do nothing to counter resurgent Islamic supremacist ideology, all the while being convinced in themselves that ‘normative Islam’ supports principles of equality and freedom.  This could be a recipe for a long steady spiritual decline, leading to political surrender.
For Western Christian eyes only?
Allah is very much pitched at Western Christians. However for Christians who currently live under Islamic dominance, even in countries where some of Volf’s dialogue partners are in a position of leadership, his book could cause great pain and offense, for it denies oxygen to a coherent understanding of the roots of the non-Muslims’ plight in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. To Volf’s claim that belief in a common God of the Bible and the Qur’an should produce conditions for reciprocity and freedom, persecuted Christians will respond with shocked incredulity.  They are all too familiar with the verses of the Qur’an which Muslims use to justify such ill-treatment, and to them Volf’s rhetoric could sound like a form of abuse (i.e. the dhimmi syndrome), in which non-Muslims are only allowed to pursue peace by praising Islam.
Love trumps Truth
Volf’s Allah is a good-hearted attempt to forge an interfaith theology for political coexistence and peace under ‘the same political roof’ (p.220).  Although his edifice is constructed on a profound knowledge of Christianity, warts and all, it relies upon blind spots and wishful thinking about Islam.  Volf takes irenic delight in focusing on what is good and similar in the other.  This is commendable in itself, but his method fails him badly, as he repeatedly overstates what is common and overlooks what is different.  His loving gaze upon Islam is a heuristic failure.
Volf looks upon Allah through Christian eyes, seeing the God of the Bible in the pages of the Qur’an, but is often blind to contrary evidence.  His image of Islam is thus fundamentally skewed. 
This is a form of prejudice, not one born of a hostile fear of the other, but rather of the fear of excluding the other.  This is a fear of being found to be less than Christian.  Unfortunately, in Volf’s method, and – it must be conceded – against his avowed intent (see p.259), love trumps truth.  Caveat lector.

Mark Durie is an Anglican vicar and human rights activist.  He is the author of three books on Islam, including The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude andFreedom (Deror Books 2010).

This review was published first in the July-August edition of Quadrant.

[6] See for example the list of scholars given at:
[7] Al-Jihad wa-l-qital fi al-siyasa al-sharia’iyya ‘Jihad and Fighting according the the Shar‘i Policy’; see overview in David Cook’s Understanding Jihad, pp. 124-127.
[9] Islam and Modernism pp. 138-139.
[10] An image of his signature can be found here: Muhammad Saleem Al Awwa-Egypt.pdf.
[12] Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, p.199.
[14] The word ‘Muslim’ is added by the translator in brackets to make the meaning clear. - 001.002.013.
[15] See for example the submission of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to a national inquiry into multiculturalism:
[16] Review of Bat Ye’or, Les Chrétientés d’Orient entre Jihâd et Dhimmitude. Journal of Semitic Studies, 1993.