Friday, September 19, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Lfe of Muhammad: (4) The Conversion of Hamza, the First Bodyguard

One of the earliest converts is Hamza, known as “the strongest man of Quraysh [the tribe that governs Mecca], and the most unyielding.” He reacts at one juncture to some insults and curses given to Muhammad by polytheist and Meccan leader Abu Jahl. So Hamza takes his bow and strikes him with a “violent blow.” Hamza thus becomes Muhammad’s bodyguard.

As Ibn Ishaq relays the story, Hamza is honored by Allah for his rage in protecting Muhammad against insult. In a sequential story, Abu Jahl tries to kill Muhammad with a stone, [the angel] Jibril appears as a camel’s stallion with bared teeth, and Abu Jahl’s hand withers on the stone and he flees in terror. When Hamza later dies in battle, Muhammad is in deep agony.

There are no bodyguards for Jesus and no violence permitted among his disciples. Jesus does not use the power of twelve legions of holy angels at his disposal to prevent his death, and he rebukes Peter for drawing the sword in such an attempt. At an earlier juncture, when a crowd seeks to throw Jesus off a cliff, “he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” In other words, his intrinsic spiritual authority supersedes the need for human bodyguards or same such.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad: (3) Insult, Initial Violence and the First Bloodsheed

Muhammad immediately meets great resistance, as he preaches against the polytheism that is embraced by the Arab tribes who congregate in Mecca. When he and a few followers are praying in a glen outside Mecca, “a band of polytheists came upon them while they were praying[,] and rudely interrupted them. They blamed them for what they were doing until it came to blows, and it was on that occasion that Sa‘d smote a polytheist with the jawbone of a camel and wounded him. This was the first blood to be shed in Islam.”

Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib protects him, but never converts to Islam.

The ethics Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are opposite to such violence, highlighted in turning the other cheek to insults (not being affected by them), the love of enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Jesus dies on the cross for the salvation of his enemies, and thus advances the kingdom of the Gospel not by assaulting his opponents, but in absorbing their assaults.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad: (2) Muhammad's Calling and the Fear of the Demonic

Muhammad’s calling happens through internal witness alone – no other human being experiences it with him, none can testify to the source of the voice, nor of the presence of an angel.

He receives this calling at age forty when Allah “sent him in compassion to mankind, ‘as an evangelist to all men.’ ” A universal mission is in place.

As a man who loves solitude, Muhammad is once in a mountain cave overlooking Mecca. There the angel Jibril appears to him in dream and tells him to read a coverlet of brocade with writing on it.

Jibril “said ‘Read!’ I said, ‘What shall I read?’ He pressed me with it so tightly that I thought it was death; then he let me go and said, ‘Read!’ I said, ‘What shall I read?’ He pressed me with it again so that I thought it was death; then he let me go and said, ‘Read!’ I said, ‘What shall I read?’ He pressed me with it a third time so that I thought it was death and said ‘Read!’ I said, ‘What then shall I read?’ – and this I said only to deliver myself from him, lest he should do the same thing again. He said:

“ ‘Read in the name of the Lord who created,
Who created man of blood coagulated.
Read! Thy Lord is the most beneficent,
Who taught by the pen,
Taught that which they knew not unto men.’

“So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart.’ ”

The image is one of the mighty angel Jibril, pressing deathly hard against his very breath, and putting him into a corner apart from which he has no option but to submit. Muhammad is disturbed with the dream, and flees the cave, saying: “Woe is me poet or possessed … I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest.”

But then he testifies to a vision of Jibril “in the form of a man with feet astride the horizon,” calling him “the apostle” of Allah. He maintains uncertainty, and tells his wife Khadija and cousin Waraqa b. Naufal about it. Khadija assures him that he is to be “the prophet of the people,” and “O son of my uncle, rejoice and be of good heart, by [Allah] he is an angel and not a satan.”

The question continues to haunt Islam – why does Muhammad consider the possibility that the angelic message is demonic in origin?

The calling of Jesus is public with many eyewitnesses as the angels reveal themselves to Joseph and Mary and the shepherds, and the Holy Spirit speaks through a prophet and a prophetess in public. The idea of “angelic” coercion is foreign. His calling is affirmed among those being baptized by John, and later with the disciples as the Father speaks from heaven for all to hear: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” And immediately after his baptism, Jesus confronts and refuses the devil’s temptations.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Forty Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad: (1) Anti-Jewish Theme

[In this series, I am covering forty vignettes from the life of Muhammad. The source is Ibn Ishaq’s Sira, the most ancient, extant and historically reliable biography of Muhammad – the person whom Muslims are called to imitate. In the process I will also give succinct profiles of Jesus from the four gospels. For those who pursue religious, political and economic liberty for all people equally, it is a question of whether we choose to follow Jesus or Muhammad.]

1. Anti-Jewish Theme

When Muhammad is a boy, under the guardianship of his uncle, Abu Talib, they meet a Christian monk named Bahira. The monk recognizes “the seal of prophethood between [Muhammad’s] shoulders” and says to Abu Talib: “Take your nephew back to his country and guard him carefully against the Jews for by Allah! if they see him and know about him what I know, they will do him evil; a great future lies before this nephew of yours, so take him home quickly.”

When Jesus is a Jewish boy, his threat is from King Herod because of his messianic Jewishness. Though in his adulthood he is hated by much of the Jewish religious elite, the problem is that they are not being faithful Jews as they oppose the coming Messiah. Jesus also declares that “salvation is from the Jews” as he comes to fulfill the Law of Moses.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Apostle Paul (Part 2)

When the apostle Paul writes to Philemon, some see a supposed parallel in Roman society. N.T. Wright points out, that over a century prior, the distinguished Pliny the elder writes to a friend named Sabinianus. He makes a plea for a "freedman" who has fled from Sabinianus, a man with whom Sabinianus is angry, one who has done obvious wrong in some capacity and is sorry for it. Pliny counsels Sabinianus to be merciful, but also adds: " ... because I've given him a severe talking-to, and I've warned him clearly that I won't make such a request again (This is because he needed a good fright ...)." A "freedman" is someone who has already gained freedom from slavery but is not a citizen with full rights.

There are two important observations N.T. Wright makes here. First, the literary structure at play is something with which Paul is well familiar, and uses easily. But second, and dynamically, the underlying reality for Paul is the biblical narrative that is radically different than that of the Roman storyline.

Pliny expects the freedman to stay within the social order as it exists, and reinforces it with a strict warning. But Paul radically undermines the Roman social order while not engaging in lawbreaking. First, Onesimus, though a slave, is to be received back by Philemon as much more - he is now a brother in Christ, regardless of what the Roman social order says. Second, Onesimus is to be regarded as Paul's assistant. And third, Paul implicitly but powerfully suggests to Philemon that Onesimus receive his freedom. In Christ, there is a deeper fellowship (koinonia) that transforms social orders for those who grasp its nature. We treat one another - regardless of social standing, race, sex, education etc. - as equals in the sight of Christ Jesus. As members of the Body of Christ, we work together in true unity.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Apostle Paul (Part 1)

I am reading through the 1658 page magnus opus by Anglican scholar Tom (aka N.T.) Wright: "Paul and the Faithfulness of God." For any intrepid reader, if you set a modest pace of 10 pages a day, you will be richly rewarded. Here, in sequential blog posts - in pace with others - I will seek to progress through it with some summary observations.

Tom Wright begins with an overview of the letter to Philemon. Paul lives in a world intersected by Roman rule, Hellenistic culture and Jewish theology, and thus has much to negotiate constantly. Onesimus, as a runaway slave, is liable to the death penalty, that which his master Philemon can require. But Onesimus becomes a Christian in the process, and this changes everything. Paul uses his authority, in Christ, with Philemon, to cut far deeper than the rule of human law, but at the same time without becoming lawless. Namely, the fellowship (koinonia) shared between Christians is so profound and transformative that Paul can appeal to it and Philemon understands.

Paul is cutting through false social and political strata, and as he does elsewhere, in saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. He does not negate true complementarities in human nature and culture, but rather lays the foundation for the abolition of tribal and racial divides, slavery and sexism. The Roman Empire implodes, and within its remnants is the Christian Church with a radically different understanding of political power and only source of stability.


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Original Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn (SAU), 1989-1991 (Part 2)

The Strategy

In these assemblies, we had several points of strategy. First was a visible presence augmented by banners and signs. Second was a peaceful and conversational presence where we sought to engage abortion-rights protestors, police, passersby, “escorts,” guards and others in honest dialogue. Third was worship, including song and prayer in various capacities. And fourth was the eventual development of The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy (see below). It all involved a specific embrace of spiritual warfare, where we were seeking to break the demonic forces present, and to see the Spirit of God touch the hearts and minds of all those involved with Preterm in any capacity, especially the women coming for abortions.

In the first element of our strategy, we had two large banners, each about six feet in width, and three-and-a-half feet in height. One banner was at the front of Preterm, on the sidewalk on Beacon Street, and the other on the side street near the rear entrance and parking lot.

The banners had white block letters against a green background (like a highway sign), and easily visible from quite a distance:


We also had some signs (three by two feet in size) that said the same, with the same colors. Then we had ten (now twelve – #3 and #12 have since been added, with several also slightly edited, 18″ x24″) sets of yellow signs with black letters, that posed rhetorical questions, also designed to be clearly visible against any surrounding. These read:


In the language of the banner, the first six words equal the centerpiece of feminist sympathies: “You have the power to choose ….” And pagan feminist thinking believes the concept of the power to choose is their formulation of an identity in stark opposition to a biblical worldview.

The words “you have the power” strengthens this language of acknowledgment, and in adding “power,” feminist yearnings find resonance. This is further symphonized with the addition of choice – “You have the power to choose ….” These six words are as central to all feminist theories as any summation can make. We know that the abortion choice is largely the result of male chauvinisms, and many feminists and abortion-rights activists are in painful reaction to having been so violated.

When the final four-letter word is added to the phrase, “You have the power to choose life,” the de facto feminist ethic of misinformed choice is revealed. The power of informed choice requires accurate definition of terms, it requires an acknowledgment of reality. When “life” is put in, the object of “pro-choice” is no longer amorphous. It takes on flesh, it becomes real in its consequences. The power to choose? The power to choose what? Are all choices equal (e.g., dualism), or are some good and some evil?

The questions were all designed to be intelligent and thought-provoking, and not accusatory. Over two years worth of Saturdays, we saw as many as 200 women turn away from their abortion appointments. Hundreds of honest discussions occurred with abortion rights activists and others who were there, and many anecdotes elsewhere.