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Is Islam Strong Enough to Handle Freedom?
Are We?

[COMMENT:  This is one of the best articles on how to deal with Islam I have read. 

No, Islam is not strong enough to handle freedom.  Christianity is (i.e., Christ is), but the vast majority of Christians are not. 

We in the West do not know (yet) how to put together freedom with our faith.  We tend to fall pell-mell into the power struggle of paganism and secularism, or into the nonsense of pseudo-pluralism (see http://theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Pl/Cnst/00Const.htm#Pluralism). 

But I think we have a shot at learning our lessons during this century.  See The Theology of Civil Government on the meaning of the level playing field in Biblical Government. 

We must learn how to challenge the Muslims on the issue of courage and open discussion, just as Rankin suggests below.  And we must first learn about real courage ourselves in that respect.  How many Christians are willing to stand up on public and discuss truthfully and gracefully whether Jesus is or is not Lord over all things?  Can you name half a dozen in America? 

I do have questions about Rankin's assumptions concerning the history of Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael.  There were no Muslims until ca. AD 650.  So then what does the below history really mean -- as described by Rankin?  Is this war between the brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, described below about Arabs or about Muslims?  Is Islam really a way for Arabs to claim their rights over against Isaac and his progeny?  Or is this perhaps a demonic way of creating havoc against Biblical religion?  I think it is the latter case, but that there may be many Muslims who can be rescued out of this terrible religion. 

At some point, cultures, just like persons, must take responsibility for their own lives.  Yes,  like persons, they must acknowledge the evils done to them, but they must stop using those past evils as excuses for their own present bad conditions.  They must forgive their enemies, past and present, and get on with life.  They must stop blaming the descendents of those ancient perpetrators for their present condition, and get on with life. 

On the other hand, yes, as Rankin suggests, those on the "winning" side (i.e., Isaac's progeny) must also acknowledge the evil deeds done earlier by their people.  But one can carry that on forever.  How much apology, how much ceding of land, how much reparations will be "enough"?  How much will be "enough" to convince the later generations of Arabs that the Jews have properly repented, if that is the right word? 

We see the exact same issue in the slavery debate.  I think there is in fact no possible way to adjudicate such issues legally.  This is a moral and spiritual issue, not a political issue. 

This kind of situation is tailor-made for the manipulator and charlatan who wishes to whip up dissent among a people whose ancestors were once mistreated.  And, whose ancestors have not been mistreated?   

Discerning the difference between shame and guilt based cultures might be important in dealing with these issues. 

I believe that Rankin answers these issues below about as well as they can be answered.  I would emphasize only that Christianity, the West, and America must not get into appeasement.   We must engage Islam on the level of debate about freedom -- Is Islam (and are Christians/Jews) strong enough to allow freedom, which is essential to honest debate?  But we must be ready militarily also to defend ourselves if attacked.  That means adequate control of our borders, not the sleazy subterfuge and treason we get currently from our government.  We must operate on all fronts out of strength, not out of weakness or appeasement.  It means a discipline about what it means to be an American.  (See Ordered Freedom Amendmen)

Christians and Jews are the only people, I think, who have the background in place for launching this kind of inner jihad.  This is exactly what honest evangelism is all about, honest discussion between religions in the public arena -- engagement on a level playing field between all parties.  This is what the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written to provide.  It means that we must all become truth-seekers, and stop being "position-defenders".  Let the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves. 

Is Islam capable of doing that?  It is up to Judeo-Christians to put Muslims to the test by doing it, risking it ourselves. 


See also Islam Talking Points -- How to deal with Islam and Islam Library     E. Fox]

By John C. Rankin (7/29/06)

In order to honor the Arab and Muslim soul, we need to grasp the reality of “inner jihad” and then make the challenge, “Is Islam strong enough to handle freedom?” But we cannot do so with integrity unless we first ask ourselves – Jews, Christians and all others – “Are we strong enough to handle freedom?”

We need first to understand how the world’s greatest social evils are rooted in “the chosen absence of the biological father,” whether physical or emotional in nature. This reality of broken aspirations permeates the full spectrum of human life and history.

If we listen to the children of divorce, we can trace most pain back to what is, or is at least perceived as such a chosen absence. If we listen to women forced through an abortion by the chauvinism of irresponsible men, we can trace most of the pain back to such a chosen absence. If we listen to men and women struggling with issues of homosexual identity, we can trace most of the pain back to such a chosen absence. If we look at the poverty in the inner cities of the United States, we can note how at least seventy percent of black children grow up in the pain of such a chosen absence. If we look at polygamous cultures where sons do not have the chosen full presence of their fathers – in the midst of the sibling rivalries due to the positioning struggles of rival wives – then we can understand Osama bin Laden.

Historically, the pain of such a chosen absence most deeply affects the Arab and Muslim soul tracing back to Hagar and Ishmael. It defines the seething anger underlying the current Middle East time bomb. But as the political classes scramble to douse the long-ignited fuse, are they willing to embrace historical reality? Or will ambassadorial niceties trump once again, while the fuse burns ever closer to a point of no return?

Middle East dynamics can only be understood in knowing the bitter roots that go back some 4,000 years. And this means a look at biblical history – a subject not often welcome among the political classes in the West. But in the Muslim world, the Qur’an and its view of the Bible are central and inseparable from politics. Thus, we in the West face a great incommensurability. Can we, will we overcome the fear of welcoming biblical history to the discussion?

Whether or not someone accepts how the Bible understands itself, a look into its story line describes the reality of Middle Eastern conflict. You can judge for yourself the accuracy of such a perspective.

Abraham is the father to both the Arabs and the Jews; his son Ishmael is the father of the Arabs, his son Isaac is the father of the Jews, and Christians are spiritual descendants of Jewish history and assumptions. The nature of the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac is thus definitive.

In Genesis 16, Abram’s wife Sarai (before their names were changed to Abraham and Sarah) sought to address her barrenness by suggesting that Abraham sleep with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. Her intent was to “build a family through her,” which is to say, the first recorded surrogate motherhood. Sarah was not even giving Hagar the pagan status of a concubine, who, while having no legal standing in the family, at least could raise her own child. Sarah planned to take the child from Hagar at birth and claim him for her own.

Abraham agreed to the idea, and when Hagar knew she was pregnant, and understood Sarah’s designs, she despised her. Sarah despised Hagar in return, blamed the matter on Abraham, and began to mistreat Hagar. This war between the women led to the war between the sons when Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah thirteen years later. Ishmael was biologically the first-born, and resented the fact that Isaac was to be honored legally as the first-born.

Now Abraham wanted to be a present father to his son Ishmael, and loved him dearly. But Sarah prevented him, and in order to keep his marriage intact, Abraham could not publicly embrace Ishmael. His relational absence from Ishmael’s life was not his desired choice, but it was the fruit of a choice he foolishly made. It was a chosen yet unchosen absence – with devastating effects on Ishmael and world history. The war between the women has produced a war between the sons, a war between the Arabs and Jews and hence, a war between the nations.

From Ishmael’s perspective as a young boy, he grew up not knowing why his father Abraham was relationally absent in his life. There was his father, the patriarch of a large nomadic community, wealthy and with a status parallel to that of regional kings. Abraham was powerful, therefore his absence must be chosen, so a little boy would grow to reason. All that young Ishmael desired was the honor of being known and treated as his father’s son. But the war on Sarah’s part prevented it.

Thus, Ishmael grew up enmeshed in shame, written into his soul from before his birth. Shame happens when we suffer for no fault of our own. Indeed, as the Arab peoples have descended from Ishmael (directly by bloodline and/or more indirectly in cultural terms), their corporate psyche has been shaped by the burden of shame, and only true honor can overcome it. This reality of the shame versus honor conflict in the Arab soul is clear to this day. When Islam arose out of Arabia nearly 1400 years ago, this sense of shame has continued to influence Islam as it expanded into non-Arab cultures. As Bernard Lewis shows, the loss of cultural dominance from the high days of the Ottoman Empire percolates everywhere in Islam’s midst, and with a deep sense of shame. And the need to regain such dominance is seen as necessary to regain a sense of honor.

The social consequences of Ishmael’s shame are summed up as Genesis 16:12 says of him:

“He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”

In contrast, Isaac did not grow up in such shame, being honored as the heir to Abraham’s lineage. Indeed, his name means “he laughs” – a freedom produced by honor given. But he also had an honest sense of guilt, the knowledge of what it means to suffer due to faults we know are our own. The power to look at our own guilt needs a measure of freedom from shame as a prerequisite. And the only way to overcome guilt is through acknowledgment of our faults and the embrace of forgiveness.

Here we face the great disjunctive between Islam and the post-Christian portion of the West – the heirs to shame without honor on the one hand; and the heirs to guilt without forgiveness on the other.

How do we respond? How do we show true honor, and not an ersatz substitute? It is ultimately a theological question – and here Islam knows that most of the West is suffering from a self-imposed weakness. We fear mixing theology and politics, and do not know how to integrate the two subjects in a healthy civic context.

We need to honor the Arab and Muslim soul at a deep level, at a level that is both honest and surprising at the same time.

On the one hand, we need to eschew the folly of a merely political thinking that “dialogue” will cut it. It is viewed by Islam as a sign of weakness to be taken advantage of. The Qur’an and the Hadith have no tradition for dialogue with dissenters; no tradition for welcoming questions concerning core Muslim beliefs from insiders, not to mention outsiders.

In contrast, the rabbinic nature of loving hard questions concerning core biblical beliefs is the central pedagogical tool in Jewish faith, and is also seen with great clarity in the teaching style of Jesus.

On the other hand, to engage Islam at the level of a merely military response to “outward jihad” will not cut it. We become hated “Crusaders,” and the Muslim world feels more justified yet and accuses us of hypocrisy in the goal to make us feel guilty. They can thus engage in outward jihad without a sense of guilt as they destroy the innocent lives of Jews, Christians and “infidels.”

The way to honor the Arab and Muslim soul is to challenge Muslims directly at the level of inner jihad, to debate them head-on concerning truth claims. To engage Muslims at the level of inner jihad is a profound sign of respect of a mutual humanity, if approached honestly.

Jihad is an Arabic word for “struggle,” and it can be applied in a range of contexts in struggling to be faithful to the Qur’an. The most well known form is the outward or military jihad, which is how Islam grew from the outset. This distinction between “outward” and “inner jihad” reflects my own terms, and they serve my best understanding of a distinction Islam knows well.

Since Islam has always claimed intellectual, cultural, theological and political superiority, part of inner jihad is the expectation that all possible questions are answered in Islam. The irony is that such an inner jihad is only allowed to find the answers in what is given to Muslims up front, not in what they can learn by a freedom to challenge Islam.

What would happen if a devout and well-educated Muslim were challenged: “Is Islam strong enough to handle any given issue?” The answer would be yes. But what about the specific question: “Is Islam strong enough to handle freedom?”

The shari’a law of Islam does not allow Muslims to convert, upon penalty of death. Yet when Islam has historically had the power to enforce shari’a, it has demanded the submission of all peoples to its religion, whether by forced conversion, paying a regular tax, or being enslaved. It gives no freedom of dissent. Thus, I believe this is the one question that can penetrate the Islamic veil of resistance to questions. The human soul yearns for freedom, and Muslim peoples are no different – we all share a common humanity.

In the opening pages of Genesis, the language of freedom is the metaphor of an unlimited menu of good choices, and later the nation of Israel began as a community of choice – no one was forced to become an Israelite. The Christian church began under the fire of Roman persecution, and honored this history of freedom. Only when the church became legal under Constantine in the fourth century, did it then begin to merge with the state under Theodosius and Justinian, and pollute the biblical heritage by coercing both Jews and pagans into becoming “Christian.” In fact, this so weakened both church and state, that the Byzantium part of Christendom was too weak to fight the initial spread of Islam with any energy.

From its origins in the seventh century A.D., and until the end of the 17th century, Islam was a religion spread by the sword for the purpose of demanding submission to Allah. Muslim armies conquered Syria, Palestine, Persia, Mesopotamia, Afghanistan, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, Anatolia, Constantinople, Russia, much of Eastern Europe, invaded France and Italy, sacked Ostia and Rome, and reached as far as the gates of Vienna. So the nature of Islam has never considered that strength means the ability to allow freedom for non-Muslims.

If Islam cannot handle freedom, what strength does it ultimately have? When coercion is employed, is this not a forfeiture of an intellectual confidence to win an argument on its own merits? The posing of this core question can upend the balance of worldwide Islam, and such an intellectual turmoil has the greatest power to overcome Islamic outward jihad.

But the posing of this core question to Jews and Christians should be easy to answer. Jews have consistently honored freedom, and since the Reformation, the church in the West has largely returned to it biblical roots in this regard. Religious and political freedom are largely honored for Muslims in the West today.

If the hope of freedom gains access to the Arab and Muslim soul, if the historic shame rooted in Ishmael can be overcome by showing true honor to challenge Muslims at the intellectual level of inner jihad, thereby producing a level playing field to address issues of guilt and forgiveness, at the individual and national levels – then the need for military conflict is greatly lessened. Much of the turmoil in the Middle East is due to Muslim people chafing under dictatorial Muslim political power.

The religious, political and economic liberties of the United States are rooted in the “unalienable rights” given by the “Creator.” To the extent that U.S. citizens are faithful to such an appeal, we celebrate freedom, and desire it for all people equally. But are we in the West always strong enough to handle freedom? Unless we are, we have no ability to challenge Islam. Do we realize how many social cancers in our own midst sap our strength to handle the birthright of freedom? For example, how many political leaders and movements in the West truly celebrate a level playing field for all ideas to be equally heard, especially those of their dissenters? How can freedom fully exist otherwise?

Military wars against outward Islamic jihadists are interminable, as the Middle East continues to give evidence. But if we in the West truly embrace freedom, we need to know our own heritage, and we need to challenge Islam at the level of inner jihad. In so doing, we will enter a huge intellectual and spiritual contest, but its potential for serving stability and peace is far greater than mere politics and war.

For Jews and Christians who want to serve our biblical heritage of religious, political and economic freedom, we need to know how to respond biblically to the outward jihad of worldwide Islam against Israel and the West.

1. We need to understand the radical difference between a shame-based culture and a guilt-based culture.

2. We need to know the difference between outward jihad and inward jihad.

3. To communicate with the shame-based culture of Islam, we need to know how to show honor to Muslims.

4. An invitation to the mere politics of “dialogue” will not work – this is not the territory of jihad, and it is viewed as weakness, whether in the inner or outward capacity. Peace through appeasement leads to greater war.

5. A mere military offensive by the West, seen as an attempt to conquer Islam, is both wrong and will not work – calling to the Muslim mind the stereotype of the Crusades. (This is a distinct issue from national defense and the defense of allies from aggression.)

6. The challenge to debate Islam at the level of inner jihad is a proactive embrace of  religious, political and intellectual turmoil, and it honors the Muslim soul. Either we tackle a controversy on our terms, or we wait for it to tackle us on its terms.

7. The defining questions is: “Is Islam Strong Enough to Handle Freedom?” The  subsequent question of “Are We?” indicates an equanimity – both Islam and the  West are accountable to the same question.

8. Are we in the West courageous enough to tackle this question head on, or are we  too guilt-laden to deal first with our own accountability?

9. In the United States, here is a question to be asked of Muslim citizens and immigrants: “Do Muslims unequivocally affirm the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property for all people equally as given by the Creator?”

10. This process and these questions invite us into one of the most compelling debates facing the 21st century. As Os Guinness has stated, this century will fall or rise on the hinges of how three issues are addressed. Will the West reclaim its  Christian heritage? Will Islam modernize peaceably? What religion will prevail in China? These and other questions interface at many points, but historically, the lighted fuse for all of it leads to Jerusalem.

11. If worldwide Islam can answer these questions in such a way as to embrace freedom for all people equally, then much good has been accomplished.

12. If Islam is not strong enough in its own articulation to handle freedom, then a moment of needed clarity has been achieved; and the universal thirst for freedom in the human soul can be more readily perceived by non-elitist Muslims. This too would accomplish much good.

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Date Posted -  --/--/2000   -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012