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 Ṭalib, 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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (6): The Use of the Qur’an to Silence Debate


In Muhammad’s early years in Mecca, he engages often in debate with the polytheists. But instead of reasoned arguments being sought in both directions, Muhammad shuts down the questions at given junctures by appealing to the Qur’an.

The Qur’an is not a written document at this time. Rather it is the words Muhammad claims are given directly from Allah in the moment or earlier, oftentimes in a trance, and through the angel Jibril. He recites them as the unchallengeable oracles of Allah, and accordingly, debate is over when the Qur’an is quoted – no more questions allowed.

For example, a pagan storyteller named Al-Nadr b. al-Harith (with Persian allusions) compares himself to how Muhammad teaches in the assembly: “Muhammad cannot tell a better story than I[,] and his talk is only of old fables which he has copied as I have.”

Muhammad then brings some verses of the Qur’an, as they “come down” from Allah, promising “a painful punishment” for Al-Nadr’s refusal to believe in Muhammad. Immediately thereafter, Muhammad interacts with him again “and the apostle spoke to him until he silenced him,” and then reads a portion of the Quran to Al-Nadr, promising him that he and his gods are the “fuel of hell.”

In another example, a polytheist named Ubayy b. Khalaf questions Muhammad on the possibility of the resurrection, about the power of Allah to “revivify” rotted bones. Muhammad answers by mere assertion, with no explanations or interest in dialogue, and promises that Allah will send Ubayy to hell.
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The rabbinic teaching ethic, which Jesus embodies, is rooted in teaching students how to ask hard questions so as to engage in honest discussion and debate, especially about the nature of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The quoting of Scripture is used to further this sharing of questions, and not to shut them down. Jesus goes out of his way in seeking hard questions, especially from his sworn enemies during Passover Week. And the language of hell is not aimed against the refusal to state a prescribed belief, but it is ethical in the nature of “men [who] loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (5): The Conversion of 'Umar, the Second Bodyguard


Another early convert is ‘Umar, “he being a strong, stubborn man whose protégés none dare attack.” He physically fights against the Quraysh tribe (from whom Muhammad comes) in their control the Ka’ba at the heart of the sanctuary in Mecca – so that the Muslims can pray there too. The Ka’ba is the enclosure for a sacred stone, and the sanctuary is the center for the 360 gods of various Arab tribes. ‘Umar thus becomes Muhammad’s second bodyguard.

Interestingly, as some of the Quraysh then fight “Umar over his conversion to Islam, a Qurayshi shaykh, Al-‘As b. Wa’il Sahmi, defends ‘Umar’s religious freedom to leave polytheism – even as Sahmi never converts himself. Then ‘Umar immediately seeks out Abu Jahl to advertise his conversion to his face, and Abu Jahl “slammed the door in my face and said, ‘[Allah] damn you, and damn what you have brought.’ ” ‘Umar is spoiling for a fight with the polytheists, and this aggression is honored by Muhammad. Thus, religious liberty is received by ‘Umar for himself, but not honored by him toward others, he who later becomes the second caliph in Islam.
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Such violence has no place in the Gospel, and the main challenge Jesus gives to the religious elitists who oppose him is their hypocrisy – requiring of others what they do not require of themselves.

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