The War on Christians in the Middle East

From the Spectator:

At least 36 people [ed now 49] have died in Egypt after blasts targeted Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday. Today’s attack is just the latest strike in the war on Christians in the Middle East. As Jonathan Sacks observed: ‘until recently, Christians represented 20 percent of the population of the Middle East; today, 4 percent’. In 2013, John L. Allen Jr. wrote for The Spectator on the global persecution of churchgoers — the unreported catastrophe of our time. Unfortunately, the article still holds true today.

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The spread of the world's Muslim population

As of 2010, there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, making Islam the world’s second-largest religious tradition after Christianity.
Although many people, especially in the United States, may associate Islam with countries in the Middle East or North Africa, nearly two-thirds (62%) of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Pew Research Center analysis.
More Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined) than in the entire Middle East-North Africa region (317 million).
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Taking ISIS seriously as a movement

Scott Atran understands movements.

In a penetrating essay Atran argues that,

[we have not grasped the] revolutionary character of radical Arab Sunni revivalism. Its revival is a dynamic, countercultural movement of world-historic proportions spearheaded by ISIS.… In less than two years, it has created a dominion over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres and millions of people. And it possesses the largest and most diverse volunteer fighting force since the Second World War.

ISIS has a plan.

[It is] a purposeful plan of violence that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-anointed Caliph, outlined in his call for ‘volcanoes of jihad’: to create a globe-spanning jihadi archipelago that will eventually unite to destroy the present world and create a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner. A key tactic in this strategy is to inspire sympathisers abroad to violence: do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.

Atran and his team conducted dozens of interviews and behavioural experiments with youth in Paris, London and Barcelona, as well as with captured ISIS fighters in Iraq and members of Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s affliate in Syria).

His conclusion? ISIS has “a profoundly alluring mission to change and save the world."

Atran understands ISIS as a movement.

Ultimately the West’s greatest challenge in facing the threat of ISIS is not military hardware but a lack of meaning and purpose.

Iran — the country with the fastest growing church in the world

Iran before and after

Iran before and after

At the time of the Islamic revolution in 1979, there were around 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands – some say more than one million.

Carey Lodge reports:

Christians in Iran face relentless persecution. Ranked ninth on Open Doors' list of countries where it's most dangerous to be a Christian, open churches are forbidden and converting from Islam – the state religion – is punishable by death for men, and life imprisonment for women. Last year more than 100 Christians were arrested or imprisoned and allegations of torture have emerged.

And yet, the church in Iran is thriving.

In 2015, Operation World named Iran as having the fastest growing evangelical population in the world, with an estimated annual growth of 19.6 per cent. According to Mark Howard of Elam Ministries, an organisation founded by Iranian church leaders with the purpose of expanding the church in Iran, more Iranians have become Christians in the last two decades than in the previous 13 centuries combined.


Jesus, the Jesus of the Qur'an and the Jesus of Islam

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler — Hoffman

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler — Hoffman

Gabriel Reynolds, professor of Islamic studies and theology at the University of Notre Dame explains the difference between Jesus, the Jesus of the Qur’an and the Jesus of Islam.

Many Christians and other non-Muslims who want to understand the Christ of Islam turn to the Qur’an, yet the Qur’an won’t tell them much about Jesus. It mentions his miraculous birth. It refers to miracles such as raising the dead and bringing a clay bird to life. It speaks of his disciples, although it does not give them names.

Otherwise the Qur’an has precious little to say about Jesus’ life. There is nothing in the Qur’an, for example, of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, his confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees, his entry into Jerusalem, or the Last Supper.

As for his death, the Qur’an relates laconically that the Jews “did not crucify or kill Jesus” and in a following verse that “God raised him up to Himself.” Whether Jesus was killed by someone else and then rose again, or whether he escaped death entirely, is left for the reader to ponder. The Jesus of the Qur’an, in other words, is a figure shrouded in mystery.

Muslim scholars, however, have not left him that way. Instead they record a great variety of stories about Jesus, some of which describe episodes the Qur’an never mentions and others of which offer definitive explanations for things the Qur’an leaves ambiguous.

This history of storytelling, more than the Qur’an itself, shapes the common Islamic understanding of Jesus today, by which Jesus is a prophet who emphasized the spiritual life above all, who valued austerity, and who taught his disciples always to think about the fate of their souls on the Day of Judgment. Any serious appreciation of the Christ of Islam—and in particular of how Muslims think about Jesus today—must involve this history of storytelling. The Christ of Islam, in other words, is not simply the Christ of the Qur’an.

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Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

James Kushiner and Patrick Reardon reflection on whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

A Matter of Identity

… for modern students of religion—generally speaking—monotheism involves a fundamentally mathematical thesis, “There is one God,” as distinct from “more or fewer" than one God; start counting gods, and when you get to one, stop counting. Consequently, all those who believe in one God must logically believe in the same God.

This approach to monotheism is what allows our contemporaries to speak of "the monotheistic religions." Their thesis is simple: "Since there is only one God, all those who believe in one God believe in the same God. Their differences are those of development and/or expression."

This thesis is not only simple; it is simply absurd. Biblical monotheism is not about mathematics; it is about God's identity: Who is this one God? Who he is, is the essential question. We may cite a noted authority on the point, "If the Lord is God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).

Elijah knew, of course, that Baal belonged to a pantheon, but this consideration was not to the point. Baal was not a false god because he had relatives; he was a false god because he was not "the Lord, our God—Adonai Eloheinu." Elijah's monotheism was not a matter of counting but of identifying. The question was not, How many gods? but Who is God?

And this is the reason the confession of Jesus never became, in the eyes of the Church, a challenge to biblical monotheism. In the Christian faith, Jesus is divine because he pertains to—is included in—the identity of God. Gradually this truth became perfectly clear to certain fishermen, an improbable tax collector, and some women of their company. Their conviction on the point was a big and difficult step, but it wasn't complicated.

Impossible Identification

What does seem complicated to many today, even to some Christians, is the question of whether Muslims and Christians adhere to the same God. Quite a number of our contemporaries simply assume that the God of "the Abrahamic faiths" must be somehow "shared" by all. This identification is far from obvious.

First and foremost, if we have in mind what Islam and Christianity formally hold as articles of faith, then this identification is difficult to sustain. Islam explicitly teaches—as a fundamental thesis—that Allah has no son. The Christian faith explicitly teaches that we only know the One True God through "the Only Begotten, himself being God (Theos ho on) in the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18). When a Muslim looks at Jesus Christ, he is supposed to see a prophet, second only to Mohammed.

And the Jesus of the Koran was not crucified. When a Christian looks upon Jesus Christ, he sees the revelation of the glory of the only true God in the Crucified Christ. We worship Jesus Christ as God. Islam does not. We assert that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, than that of Jesus Christ. There is no other salvation except through his Cross; there is no mediator between God and man other than Jesus Christ.

Individual Intimations

It seems important to recognize, however, that the incompatibility of the Islamic doctrine of God with the Christian revelation of God in Christ does not imply that a specific individual Muslim can never be on the path to the same God as confessed by the Christian. Paul preached to the Athenians that God had determined that all men "should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him" (Acts 17:27). This implies that there is some possibility of men experiencing intimations—personal revelations of the one true God. Scripture records the experiences of gentiles receiving revelations from God—see the gentile centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. The mysterious figure of Melchizedek, priest of "God Most High" without benefit of the revelation to Abraham, is cited as a foreshadowing of Christ the High Priest.

In modern times, there are numerous reliable reports and testimonies of Muslims converting to faith in Christ because of dreams, visions, and revelations of Christ. What can we say of their experience of God and relationship to Christ beforehand? Not much, surely; whatever light from God they experienced and were faithful to, at some point it blazed forth and revealed the full identity of Christ to them. It may even come to them as a revealing of what they have already begun to know in some measure.

While we rightly judge between Islam and the Christian faith, we are less equipped or licensed to judge individuals. Many consciences, we suspect, may be honestly desiring or seeking something that only Christ can give. But one thing would seem reasonable to hold: any Muslim who believes that Christians must be subjugated and convert to Islam cannot be worshiping the same God as the Christians. Such a god demands that Christians contradict the confession of the Apostle Thomas, and deny that Jesus is Lord and God.

Further, our God does not coerce, and Jesus, the Son of God, did not coerce his own followers, but allowed them to see with their own eyes, touch with their own hands, and experience in their own burning hearts that he has the words and power of eternal life. The doubt of Thomas was not erased by logic, but by a personal invitation to place his hands in the marks of the nails. For in the end, there is no true worship of God without "Christ and him crucified." •

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What motivates ISIS supporters — religion or politics?

The Atlantic examines the assumptions that underpin both sides of the debate.

In his Atlantic article on “What ISIS Really Wants” last March, Graeme Wood insisted that “the Islamic state is Islamic. Very Islamic.”

Wood’s detractors have been similarly emphatic, arguing that ISIS is a perversion of the Islamic faith. For Wood’s critics, secular politics, far more than religion or religious ideology, is the key to understanding the existence and appeal of jihadist violence.

In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando massacre in June, the same arguments resurfaced.

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