Friday, December 16, 2005

The Nineveh-Damascus Express

What's a blog for, if not to post one's rambles. So in reply to Youssef's comment on "A Fable," here (slightly modified for clarity) is what I had to say :

Greetings Youssef --

Be at peace. I meant neither of us, in this bit of fluff I've tossed to the wind. I think I've indicated that this site [BLOATED MONSTER] is primarily satire, with intersticed musings of a more serious character. Both of us, I'm sure, understand the uselessness of quibbling. I try to take a lighter tone, or a more oblique approach -- which is almost universally open to misunderstanding, but there it is.

I respect your earnestness and civility, and I trust that in the appropriate forum, I share it. Considering the ground of our introduction -- religion -- that there may be misunderstandings or sensitivities is to be expected. My faith teaches the obligation only to present what we call the Word -- there is no obligation to convert. I know there are passages in your own scripture that are analogous. The incivility comes in the urge not to converse, or convert, but to conquer. Such an urge is universal to human nature, but not all religions teach it. Here is where we must differ. As I have said -- meaning no offense, but meaning it with absolute sincerity -- the commandment of Jihad is clear, and what am I to do with that?

I am the unbeliever against whom the Prophet is commanded to "make war," and whose "home shall be Hell" (Sura 9:73). Moslems are told to "fight the infidels who dwell around you, and deal rigorously with them" (9:124). "Do not yield to unbelievers, but strive against them in a strenuous Jihad" (25:54). "Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your persons" (9:41). "Fight against (the idolaters) until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme" (2:189, 8:40). "Fighting is obligatory for you, and you dislike it. But you may dislike a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you" (2:212). Allah "has promised all (Moslems) a good reward, but far richer is the recompense of those who fight for Him; rank of His own bestowal, forgiveness and mercy" (4:97). Only the blind, the lame and the sick are exempt (48:17).

I could go on. I would no more attempt to teach you your faith than you would teach me mine. We know what we believe. And quibbles about translation aside (koine Greek is no one's native tongue, and I have little Latin and no Classical Arabic), there is a Christian exegetical principle, that a doctrine is established not on a single verse, but by the witness of two or three: there must be scores of Koran verses that teach Jihad. I am, by definition, an enemy of Islam -- not by my terms ... I would not have it so -- but by its own. This is the opposite of what the historic Christian faith teaches: who will not receive the Word, we do not slay them, or oppress them, or conquer them -- we shake the dust from our feet and move on. (By "historic Christian faith" I do not mean the Roman Catholic state in history -- it was a secular power in religious garb; I mean only what may be drawn from the clear words of the Bible. This is a complex subject, which I won't go into. Enough to say that I see not one whit of difference between the Caliphate and the Papacy.)

Clearest, and most troubling, is the commandment: "When you meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks; at length when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them), thereafter is the time either for generosity or for ransom until the war lays down its burdens" (47:4). I take this on its own terms. The beheaders in the news are not heretics. I think they understand correctly the meaning of the Surahs. I don't find beheading itself offensive, as a form of execution -- it's just different than what the Western mind is used to, in this century. No, what is offensive is that the edict is against me -- against those, against all, whose faith is not Islam.

There is a moderate element in Islam, that preaches peace. I think authentic Islam preaches the peace after the conquest, though. Moderate Moslems, I believe, have to explain away, rather than accept, the martial origins and urges and commandments of the Koran. Again, I would not teach you your own faith, but my opinion is informed from a vast body of commentary from classical and modern Islamic scholars. Just as I disagree with cultists who pervert the Gospel, so may you disagree with those Islamists in the news. But they are "cultists" not because they twist the Koran: I think they get it right. If I were Moslem, I'd be a Jihadist. I don't see a difference between Moslem and Jihadist, except that the former may be disobedient to the commandments of Allah, to conquer.

As you are a cultured and peaceful and gracious man, you would disavow the excesses of bloodshed we all know about. For my part, I could not adhere to a faith that mandates it, as I believe Islam does. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, but he comes back with a sword. However symbolical that may be, it has a literal truth. We must always allow that complexity is not the same as contradiction. So, Jesus is a "Jihadist," too -- but not now ... rather in the Last Days, and not for Mohammed or Allah, but for Himself.

And so there it is. Again, it comes down to the imponderable of election. You have made an informed choice, and are Moslem. I have made an informed choice, and am Christian. I honestly doubt that you've had the chance to hear the Gosple in a meaningful way, but it's not for me to tell you the details of your life. Because we are men of probity, we wage our campaigns with words. But in every case, I will condemn those who commit violence in the name of Jesus. If you do the same, in the name of your faith, then we are in agreement on this point, as well.

I think I'll pray for you, to be saved. I was not born Christian. I considered Islam, as a young man. But somebody must have been praying for me. I'll do the same for you.

Pax --


Youssef has posted his own comments to my first missive,, I guess it's a dead link for some reason -- try here. I'll post my response here (by which I mean here). Getting serious, aren't we. But roads run two ways, and destinations are just hubs. So when I think of seething Paul, breathing fumes of rage against the Christians, I remember that Damascus turned out to be a place of salvation. He could have turned back, or trudged on into the Bactrian wilds. He could have traded in spices or opiates. He could have fled to the ends of the earth, like grudging Jonah, who'd rather have perished than preach salvation to his enemies.

Or maybe we can only try to flee. The point is, we do seem to have a destiny, even in the face of free will. Nothing to be resolved here -- I try not to argue with reality. It's just this: beyond God's justice, is his mercy, and beyond his mercy is his grace. We have no say, in justice and mercy. They are God's to apply as he wills. But, paradoxically, we have a say in grace, in unmerited favor. So pray for the lost, and change their destiny.

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