Reclaiming martyrdom

Libyan martyrs
courtesy of the Catholic Exchange

It’s inevitable that the meanings of words evolve according to how society uses them – what’s interesting is what this says about society’s preoccupations. The sexual revolution changed the definition of ‘gay’;  our cynical postmodern weariness is changing the meaning of ‘virtue’, and so on. So it is with ‘martyr’. What is a martyr these days? A passive-agressive completer of menial tasks or a religious fanatic, bent on paradise, happy to blow themselves up and their enemies with them.

This is a fair enough definition – of Islamic ‘martyrdom’. Islam teaches believers to slay and be slain, that jihad – fighting in Allah’s cause -is the greatest of deeds, and that dying this way is so good you’ll want to come back to life just to do it all over again:

Qur’an 9:111—Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain.

Sahih al-Bukhari 2785—Narrated Abu Hurairah: A man came to Allah’s Messenger and said, “Guide me to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” He replied, “I do not find such a deed.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 2797—Narrated Abu Hurairah: The Prophet said, . . . “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is! I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then come back to life and then get martyred, and then come back to life again and then get martyred and then come back to life again and then get martyred.”

But because of our society’s woeful religious illiteracy, most people think that’s how Christians who are serious about their faith end up too: fanatics who slaughter people in the name of God. Twisted? Yes. But how did we end up in this situation? Why has the concept of Christian martyrdom been so successfully erased from public consciousness? Maybe because in the West, apart from some notable exceptions we don’t want to die for Christ anymore. We want full churches (who cares if they don’t teach the Bible), paid clergy in jobs for life, inclusive communities, uplifting meetings and guitar-led worship. What would Ridley and Latimer make of it all? Most of us – Biblically conservative Christians included – daren’t pipe up on social media in defence of Biblical truth, let alone go to the stake for it.

Then you hear stories from other parts of the world that bring us to our knees in  awe of the power of Christ in people’s lives and weeping in repentance for our own lukewarm love for our Saviour. Here is one, courtesy of Barnabas Fund from a couple of days ago:

“Pastor Stephen was asleep at home with his wife and two daughters in Darfur, Sudan, when six masked Islamists burst in, during the early hours of 2 March. They asked why he had continued to preach about Jesus, after they had warned him several times to stop. Stephen had a powerful evangelistic ministry and the day before had led 56 Muslims to Christ. Stephen‘s answer to the Islamists was simply to tell them about the Lord. The attackers tied up the family and chopped off their limbs until they died. Stephen, the last to die, sang “Hallelujah Hosanna” throughout it all. At their funeral, the powerful preaching caused another 214 people to give their lives to Christ. Praise God for the faithfulness of Stephen and his family and pray for all who have become Christians because of him, that they may glorify God by their lives and – if need be – their deaths.”

Martyrdom in Christianity is about laying down your life for the sake of Christ. It has nothing to do with ‘slaying others.’ You don’t do it for a better reward, but as a gift to the One who has given us more than we can ever possibly give Him back. Because of Pastor Stephen and his family’s faithfulness to the end, hundreds of people will now live eternally with Jesus.So let’s stop calling Islamic martyrdom ‘martyrdom,’ when it is a parody of martyrdom. Let’s call it what it is – jihad-inspired violence and terror.

One day, if we’re in Christ, we’ll meet Pastor Stephen face-to-face – and Latimer and Ridley and Cranmer and Stephen and the Apostle Paul and countless other brave Christian martyrs. What will we talk about? What we learnt at our last women’s conference? Whether Matt Redman was right to re-work “It is well with my soul?” Whether we were Calvinists or Armenians?

We pray for our Christian family in these countries, of course. But we pray too – God change us. Shake us out of our timidity and complacency with tears of repentance. May we never read these accounts, shrug our shoulders and carry on as before. And who knows what the consequence might be of a church that said- and meant – “to live is Christ, to die is gain?” (Phillipians 1:21)

Hugh Latimer was onto something with his (alleged) last words before going up in flames:  “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Are we worthy torch-bearers of this flame today? Or are we slowly extinguishing it one compromise at a time?

Islamic Paradise

Islamic Paradise

Hatun and Daniel investigate what Islamic Paradise looks like, including some delightful ahadith:

Tirmidhi 3:20:1663: the Messenger of Allah said: “There are six things with Allah for the martyr. He is forgiven with the first flow of blood (he suffers), he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment in the grave, secured from the greatest terror, the crown of dignity is placed upon his head – and its gems are better than the world and what is in it – he is married to seventy two wives along Al-Huril-‘Ayn of Paradise, and he may intercede (save) for seventy of his close relatives.” (from hell) (Hasan)

Ibn Majah 5:37:4337: the Messenger of Allah said: “There is no one whom Allah will admit to Paradise but Allah will marry him to seventy-two wives, two from houris (heavenly wives) and seventy from his inheritance from the people of Hell, all of whom will have desirable front passages and he will have a male member that never becomes flaccid (i.e., soft and limp).” (a promise of a private part that is hard while having sex with 70 women from hell)

Rev 22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

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Should Christians bless Ramadan?

Should Christians bless Ramadan?

The Archbishop of Canterbury wished Muslims a blessed time of prayer and fasting this Ramadan. But Ramadan is also a time of remembering and preparing for jihad! Daniel and Lizzie discuss.

Bukhari 4276:

The Prophet left Medina (for Mecca) in the company of ten-thousand (Muslim warriors) in (the month of) Ramadan, and that was eight and a half years after his migration to Medina. He and the Muslims who were with him, proceeded on their way to Mecca. He was fasting and they were fasting, but when they reached a place called Al-Kadid which was a place of water between ‘Usfan and Kudaid, he broke his fast and so did they. (Az-Zuhri said, “One should take the last action of Allah’s Messenger and leave his early action (while taking a verdict.”)

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Jihad of Jesus?

Jihad of Jesus

In 2015 author and Greenbelt speaker Dave Andrews wrote a book called “The Jihad of Jesus: the Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice.” It came to our attention partly because of the provocative title (credit to Dave for making us think) and because in a few weeks  Jihad of Jesus is going on tour – you can find details here.

The blurb goes:

In the light of an open-hearted compassionate spirituality, we can reclaim the word “jihad” from extremists who have (mis)appropriated it as a call to “holy war” and reframe it, in truly Qur’anic terms, as a “sacred nonviolent struggle for justice” and we can reconsider Jesus, as he is in the Gospels, not as a poster boy for Christians fighting crusades against Muslims, but as “a strong-but-gentle Messianic figure” who can bring Christians and Muslims together.

Mr Andrews is getting to the heart of a very relevant issue: what is the correct interpretation of jihad?  Can we conclude confidently that jihad is actually “sacred nonviolent struggle for justice” if we interpret it in “truly Qur’anic terms”?

Muslims don’t interpret the Qur’an according to their personal preference, but according to how the Qur’an tells them to. They follow  the principle of abrogation, as shown in Sura 2:106:

We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?

In other words, verses revealed later have greater divine authority than earlier verses.  As a rule of thumb, Meccan verses are revealed earlier than  Medinan verses, so carry less spiritual weight.

Some people cite Sura 109:6 – a Meccan verse – as a proof text that Islam in fact teaches non-violence:

For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.

At first glance this statement seems to say ‘live and let live’: but the tafsir  of Ibn Kathir  gives a less friendly interpretation. Muhammad is distancing himself from the idolatry of the Quraysh tribe. What he means is – I will stand by my religion; you can keep your disbelief.  At the time Muhammad didn’t use force against the Meccans as the Muslims were heavily outnumbered. But even then, Muhammad’s end goal was the subjugation of non-believers. Look at his invitation to the Quraysh, from Islamic tradition:

“I summon them to utter a saying [the Islamic shahada] through which the Arabs will submit to them and they will rule over the non-Arabs.” (At-Tabari, vol VI, p.95.)

Sure enough, the non-violence doesn’t last long. After Muhammad gets stronger politically, Allah permits Muslims to fight in self-defence. Sura 2:190

Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.

Even in these verses, the real objective of fighting is revealed:

Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah . But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.

The last Qur’anic Sura be revealed is Sura 9 in which Muhammad – now in a position of power – is commanded to fight offensive jihad. Here are a couple of examples. Sura 9:73

O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination.

It doesn’t say ‘be harsh against the sin in your life’. It doesn’t say ‘be harsh against the causes of injustice in the world.’  It says ‘ be harsh’ with disbelievers. ‘Disbelievers’ means non-Muslims,  – Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, anyone -simply because they are non-Muslims. Sura 9:29:

Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah [a tax payable by non-Muslims for protection] willingly while they are humbled.

Does this sound like  a ‘sacred, non-violent struggle for justice’?  What is just about making people pay protection money for not sharing your faith?  That is not justice, that is oppression. And how are Muslims to fight? Sura 8:40 (also Medinan) tells us:

And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged.

If justice is the end goal, should it be achieved through terror? Even if this were talking about injustice, would it be right to say ‘terrify the perpetrators of injustice’?  But it doesn’t say that. It says ‘terrify the enemy of Allah.’ Who is the enemy of Allah?  The disbeliever.

The footnote from the Hilali/Khan Qur’an  p.48 says this about jihad:

Al-jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars. …Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty..dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.”

To say the Qur’an really teaches nonviolent jihad is completely untrue.  How can non-violent jihad require ‘steeds of war,’ ‘weaponry’ and ‘terror’? Extremists haven’t appropriated jihad to suit their own agenda: their agenda is shaped entirely by Qur’anic teaching. Is there an element of jihad that involves inner struggle, similar to the Christian’s struggle against sin? Not from these verses, anyway. Even if it were so, you can’t escape the reality that jihad also involves actual fighting, actual violence. The Qur’an agrees on this, the tafsirs agree, the Hadith agree, the four schools of Sharia law agree . And according to his earliest biographer, Muhammad practised violence as well as preached it.

What about Jesus? According to Mr Andrews, we need to

reconsider Jesus, as he is in the Gospels, not as a poster boy for Christians fighting crusades against Muslims, but as “a strong-but-gentle Messianic figure” who can bring Christians and Muslims together.

I’ve never considered Jesus, who chose humiliating execution instead of armed resistance, as a ‘poster boy for Christians fighting crusades against Muslims’. But He is more than a ‘Messianic figure’ – Jesus is the Messiah, God in the flesh, who “will not yield his Glory to another” (Isaiah 42:8) and before whom one day “every knee will bow” (Romans 14:11.) His purpose in life was not to bring Christians and Muslims together, but to reconcile sinners to a holy God through his blood shed for them on the Cross. Our love for Muslims should be considerate, involved, loving, winsome – but also deeply shaped by the truth that no-one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 1:14.) To honour Christ we must be honest with our Muslim friends about their need to renounce Islam, repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who paid for their sins on the Cross. Sin, death and the devil  – this was Jesus struggle. And He won!

Jihad of Jesus is an eye-catching  title, but that said, jihad is a quintessentially Islamic term. To divorce jihad from literal fighting is to deny what the Qur’an teaches. To asssociate it with Jesus, the paragon of non-violent resistance belittles and detracts from the stunning victory He won for us on the Cross.

Having said that, good on Dave Andrews and team for getting out there and being ready to discuss a sensitive topic. The London date is 21st March, venue TBC.

The route to Islamic salvation – part 3

Traffic pile up

In the last two articles we looked at salvation in Christianity; how it is won for us by Jesus on the Cross and how it is accessed by repentance and faith in Him. Now we turn our attention to Islam. Is obtaining paradise the same thing as salvation? How do you even get to paradise? Is it guaranteed?

I am hesitant to call the Islamic equivalent of salvation ‘salvation’. Why? Because Allah doesn’t save anyone. Among his 99 names are the Benificent and the Merciful, but not the Rescuer. Allah creates and reveals his will, but Allah doesn’t personally go out of his way for mankind in any way – except for Muhammad whom he grants special rights and privileges, for example when Muhammad is allowed an unlimited number of wives, (Surah 33:50) whereas his followers have to make do with “two or three or four” (Surah 4:3).

When asked the question “how do you get to paradise?” Muslims will usually answer along the lines of “as long as your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you’ll be fine.” The Qur’an also seems to say so on first reading:

“And give glad tidings (O Muhammad) unto those who believe and do good works; that theirs are Gardens underneath which rivers flow; as often as they are regaled with food of the fruit thereof, they say: this is what was given us aforetime; and it is given to them in resemblance. There for them are pure companions; there for ever they abide.” (Surah 2:25,-see also Surah 2:81-2 and Surah 33:55)

But is it as simple as that? Is paradise guaranteed if you clock up enough good deeds? Not according to the hadith which says the opposite – that good deeds are NOT your ticket to paradise:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise.” (i.e., None can enter Paradise through his good deeds.) They (the Prophet’s companions) said, “Not even you, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah bestows His favor and mercy on me.” So be moderate in your religious deeds and do the deeds that are within your ability: and none of you should wish for death, for if he is a good doer, he may increase his good deeds, and if he is an evil doer, he may repent to Allah.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 70, Number 577)

Hence most Muslims will qualify their answer to the question with insh’allah – if Allah wills. Does repentance guarantee his mercy? Allah in the Qur’an takes a dim view of deathbed repentance and says you must renounce evil deeds :

Repentance with Allah is only for those who do evil in ignorance, then turn (to Allah) soon, so these it is to whom Allah turns (mercifully), and Allah is ever Knowing, Wise. And repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says: Surely now I repent; nor (for) those who die while they are unbelievers. These are they for whom We have prepared a painful chastisement. (Surah 4:17-18)

But Muhammad also says renouncing evil deeds aren’t that important, as deathbed repentance is acceptable as long as the person recites the shahada. Bukhari 7:72:717

“…Nobody says: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’ and then later on he dies while believing in that, except that he will enter Paradise.” I said, “Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft? He said. “Even If he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft….Abu ‘Abdullah said, “This is at the time of death or before it if one repents and regrets and says ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’, he will be forgiven his sins.”  

In short, the way to Islamic paradise is very confusing. Good deeds? Allah’s mercy? Repentance? The Shahada? Or is it all pre-destinated anyway? After all “many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell” (7:179). You can live a life full of great deeds, but they won’t help you if Allah has made you for hell.

A common Muslim objection to Christianity is that Jesus didn’t need to die for our sins – why should the innocent die for the guilty? The Qur’an also states that no person will bear the burden of another (Surah 35:18). But again, this is contradicted by Muhammad in the hadith:

“Abu Burda reported on the authority of his father that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit IN HIS STEAD a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire.” Sahih Muslim 37:6666

Jews and Christians are substitutes for Muslims in hell? So much for Allah being consistent, let alone just.

There is one route to Paradise that is exalted in over 100 verses in the Quran – jihad. Here’s one example:

“So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory – we will bestow upon him a great reward.” (Surah 4:74)

And while the Qur’an doesn’t use the word “guarantee”, the hadith does:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

I heard Allah’s Messenger saying, “The example of a Mujahid in Allah’s Cause– and Allah knows better who really strives in His Cause—-is like a person who fasts and prays continuously. Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty.” (Bukhari 2787)

This time last year Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed killed 29 people and injured 47 others at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Cairo. His note to his accomplice read “thank you for the good hospitality and I will meet you in Paradise.” When will our governments and media stop pretending these attacks aren’t theologically motivated?

The saddest thing of all is that Muslims are trusting in a man who himself had no idea about his eternal destiny:

“Say,(O Muhammad) I am not sending something original among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am not but a clear Warner.” (Surah 46:9)

Compare this with Jesus, who was never in any doubt about his identity or purpose, and knew exactly where he came from and where he was going:

“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:13)

Happy Advent everyone.