Tuesday, January 6, 2015

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (13): Pattern Establishes Itself


At this point in Ibn Ishaq’s narrative, a building pattern is in place – a) Islam intrinsically mocks pagan gods from the outset, b) pagans and Jews mock Islam in response, c) Muhammad gives directives for violent responses, and d) military war follows.

Ibn Ishaq attributes the first hundred verses of Sura 2 in the Qur’an to “rabbis and hypocrites,” a Sura that covers language in invitation to Islam, a statement of freedom from religious compulsion (2:256), but also an initial call to jihad or holy war in 2:190: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you.”

Jesus: The pattern of the Gospel is to bless those who curse us, and to turn the other cheek to mockery, thus cutting off cycles of revenge, violence and warfare. Its definition of freedom is proactive, and not contradicted by a “holy war” for temporal political power.

Monday, December 22, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (12): Hatred of the Jews


The Arab peoples of Muhammad’s day love poetic verse, and compete in it often. In the ratcheting conflicts with non-Muslims that Muhammad catalyzes, one poet is “suspected of hypocrisy and love of the Jews.” A lead Muslim poet, Hassan, says of him:

Who will tell al-Dahhak that his veins
Were unable to be glorified in Islam?
Do you love the Jews of al-Hijaz and their religion,
You liver-hearted ass, and not love Muhammad?
Their religion will never march with ours
As long as men roam the open desert.

Some rabbis also assemble at the mosque and laugh and scoff at Islam among themselves. Muhammad orders them to be ejected, and this happens with violence, where a Muslim grabs a rabbi “by his robe, slapped his face, and dragged him forcibly out of the mosque, saying, ‘Faugh! You dirty hypocrite! Keep out of the apostle’s mosque, you hypocrite!’ ” Another Muslim seizes a rabbi by his long beard “and dragged him violently out of the mosque. Then clenching his fists he punched him in the chest and knocked him down, Zayd crying the meanwhile, ‘You have torn my skin off!’ ‘[Allah] rid of you, you hypocrite,’ he answered, ‘[Allah] has a worse punishment than that in store for you, so don’t come near the apostle’s mosque again!’ ”

Jesus: The cursing and mocking of others is foreign to the Gospel. When Jesus pronounces seven woes against his enemies, it is only after they silence themselves in public debate, unable to rationalize their plans to kill him. In the opposite of ejecting scoffers, Jesus welcomes them, fulfilling the Hebrew Bible’s vision of Mount Zion as a “light to the Gentiles,” and as the “Court of the Gentiles” in the temple of his day evidences. And then on the cross he submits to the humiliation of those who mock him there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (11): The Question of Hypocrisy and Annoying Questions


Following Muhammad's one-way treaty with the Jews, opposition arises. As well, the polytheists “obstinately clung to their heathen religion.” They are “compelled to pretend to accept [Islam] to save their lives. But in secret ways they were hypocrites whose inclination was towards the Jews because they considered the apostle a liar and strove [jihad] against Islam.”

Commenting on Ibn Ishaq here, the translator Alfred Guillaume notes that “Muslims look with a tolerant eye on a man who conceals his belief [in Islam] through force majeure, but to pretend to be a Muslim is a crime.” This antecedes the doctrine of taqiyya, where deceit is permissible, if necessary, in the advance of Islam.

Hypocrisy is thus permitted for Muslims, but is a crime for non-Muslims. Ibn Ishaq then notes that “it was the Jewish rabbis who use to annoy the apostle with questions and introduce confusion, so as to confound the truth with falsity. The Quran used to come down in reference to these questions of theirs.”

Jesus: Concealing faith in Jesus is not an option for his disciples – no hypocrisy or strategic deception is possible. As he says: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” And as well: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (10): Muhammad's One-Way Treaty with the Jews in Medina


When Muhammad and his companions, numbering at this point about 900, flee to the largely Jewish towns in Medina, they receive him and give him religious, political and economic liberty as refugees. He then makes a treaty with them that is designed to protect Islam, but not to protect non-Muslims. It is essentially dictated by, and in service to Muhammad’s military presence.

There are eleven factors that sum up this treaty: 1) Muhammad is the one who writes the treaty – no input from others; 2) he establishes the Jews “in their religion and property,” but this is true only insofar as the Jews accept Muhammad’s unilateral terms; 3) this means that the Jews are required to “submit,” which is to say, from the outset, Islam is declared superior to Judaism, and thus, this is not truly a compact between equals; 4) there are “reciprocal” obligations, but they are not defined reciprocally; 5) the definition of the umma (community or brotherhood) excludes unbelievers and polytheists (even those polytheists living in Medina alongside the Jews before Muhammad arrives); 6) Muhammad defines who is included and who is excluded from this umma, with Jews listed both as “believers” in obligation, but separately as Jews, able to obey the treaty, but not be fully included as equals; 7) this exclusiveness means war against all outsiders, a “fighting [jihad] in the way of Allah,” and where Jews too must avenge their own sons who might break treaty; 8) the treaty is in sole service to the military advance of Islam; 9) it thus requires of the Jews, and any of their allies, obedience to Muhammad as the sole interpreter of religion and arbiter in any and all disputes; 10) the Jews may make no treaties or associations with those outside this umma; and 11) it requires a tacit profession that Muhammad is the true prophet, “the apostle of Allah.”

Jesus: As the mediator of the new covenant, Jesus never gives one-way dicta, but fulfills all covenantal law back to creation, where he lives the laws he expects of others. He always puts others ahead of himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (9): Muhammad Co-Opts Religious Liberty


In four significant phases, Muhammad is de facto protected in his early and vulnerable Meccan years by the religious, political and economic liberty given him by non-Muslims.

First, his uncle and polytheist Abu į¹¬alib, protects him over and over from his enemies. Second, as already noted, ‘Umar is protected by a Qurayshi polytheist and shaykh, Al-‘As b. Wa’il Sahmi, at the outset in the Meccan sanctuary. This is strategic for Muhammad’s confidence in moving forward, as it is his lifelong goal to bring the Ka’ba and Mecca under Islamic dominance. Third, under the duress of initial opposition, many of the early Muslims flee to Abyssinia, where the Christian Negus (king) gives them protection. And fourth, as we will note momentarily, the Jews in Medina give him protection from his enemies as he flees Mecca.

But, as we will also see, Muhammad never reciprocates any of the liberties he is given.

Jesus: The freedom to choose yes or no to Jesus fulfills the biblical order of creation and the Law of Moses, and is never manipulated. In the Golden Rule taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the equanimity and justice of Jesus can be seen as he says, “Treat others as you would have them treat you” (my translation) and as well, “Give, and it will be given to you.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (8): Jibril Kills Those Whom Muhammad Curses


In five sequential instances where Muhammad curses his enemies, Jibril cripples one and kills the other four in response. This mighty angel shows up in some visible fashion (in the storyline) and engages in the minutiae where he 1) throws a leaf in one man’s face to make him blind, 2) points at another man so that he dies of dropsy, 3) points at the next man so that an old scar opens up and he dies, 4) points at yet another man so that a thorn in his foot kills him, and 5) points to a final man whose head immediately fills with pus, killing him.

Jesus: As he seeks to tempt Jesus, the devil quotes Psalm 91 out of context: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” The devil’s purpose is to get Jesus to act presumptuously in using angelic power for his own self-aggrandizement. Jesus refuses this temptation and as well, Jesus teaches us to bless and not curse our enemies.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (7): The Night Journey to Jerusalem



A central aspect to the claims of Muhammad is his story about making a “night journey” to Jerusalem, flying there and back in one night on a “half mule, half donkey, with wings on its side.” This is another internal story for which there are no eye-witnesses. Ibn Ishaq records how many of his companions express doubt about the story, calling it an “absurdity” given how it takes two months for a round trip to Syria (then the province for Jerusalem). Some companions of Muhammad thus give up their faith in him. The importance of the story lies in two important claims. First, Muhammad says he meets with Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and acts as their imam in prayer. This is used to ratify his superiority to them, and that of Islam over Judaism and Christianity. Second, here Muhammad is told by Jibril not to drink wine, which thus becomes a law in Islam.

Jesus: Apart from traveling to Egypt as an infant with Joseph and Mary, Jesus lives his whole life between Galilee and Jerusalem, in the Roman occupied Judah, the remnant nation of ancient Israel. He makes no claims about his earthly ministry that cannot be tested and verified, nor to carve out important doctrines in such an unreachable sphere.