Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Free Press in Kuwait? What?

An interesting article in the Kuwait Times online, headlined: 'Kuwait has freest press in Arab World'. Kuwait congratulates itself with a strange 'victory'.

Well, yes, it topped the list of freedom of the press in the Arab world, according to an annual survey of independent media in 195 countries and territories. The survey said the country was one of the very few to enjoy such freedom not only of the press, but also of broadcast and internet media. According to the annual survey report of the US-based Freedom House, a non-governmental media watchdog, Kuwait was one of only a 'handful of countries to rank highest in print, broadcast, and internet media freedom'.

This is funny journalism... 'Kuwait was one of only a handful'? Indeed, in the context of the Arab World. The Freedom of the Press 2008 survey rates countries as free, partly free, or not free across three categories: the legal environment in which media outlets operate; political influence on reporting and access to information; and economic pressures on content and the dissemination of news.

Countries were scored on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing total government control over mass media, and zero indicating perfect freedom. The survey said Kuwait came first in the Arab work, and put Israel as the top in the Middle East and North Africa regions as a whole. Kuwait scored 54 points, Lebanon 55 points, and Egypt 59 points. It said 15 countries in the two regions, or about 76 percent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa, were considered not free.

Aha... so Kuwait is in the range of Lebanon and Egypt. Well, we all know what 'freedom of the press' in those countries means. Putting bloggers in prison, arresting journalists, closing tv-stations. Congratulation Kuwait! You are just a few percent ahead of those countries! 'Partly free' is how Freedom House qualifies these countries.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Islam in flux - female religious leaders in Morocco

Islam is not what it used to be. Morocco is training female spiritual leaders, in order to develop a more liberal form of Islam. The Telegraph published a long article about this matter. Interesting presupposition: are women indeed better at developing a more liberal form of Islam? I wonder. In the Muslim world, if not everywhere, women are the guardians of the family values and they whisper Islam in the ears of their kids. Are they not the one's who taught the present generation how to interpret Islam?

The education that Morocco offers seems to be popular. For 50 places in the training institute in Rabat, 400 women applied. They are not trained to be imams, Allah forbid, but they are called murshidaat, female guides. This term resonates with sufism, which is a more liberal brand of Islam indeed.

The initiative is part of a wave of liberal reforms begun by King Muhammad VI in 2004. 'This is a rare experiment in the Muslim world,' Muhammad Mahfudh, the centre's director, says. The murshidaat will help women with religious questions, with their education and give support in schools and prisons. The long-term hope is that by working face-to-face with the community, they will help foster a more moderate Islam. Insha Allah.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Threats against Christians in Egypt

This is the weekend when the Coptic-Orthdodox and other Churches in Egypt celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem, as the beginning of Holy Week. Not all Muslims appreciate the Christian's liberty to celebrate their feasts! The following email has been received by some Christian leaders in Egypt.

We “The followers of Mohamed” faction declare the following.

Since our beloved prophet was insulted repeatedly by the pigs of Denmark and other nations we decided to punish all Christian establishments in Egypt.
We will not allow them to raise their voices in our Islamic nation of Egypt any more; their crosses will not be raised in our land and their rituals will not be practiced.
We are going to destroy the crosses of the infidels, the cross worshipers.
We are asking all Muslims to stay away from the Churches during their coming feast [Eastern Easter is Sunday 27 April] in order to not by mistake listen to them.
We are not going to kill or spill their blood, but we are going to obey the Allah’s command in punishing the infidels.
Our prophet asked us to accept Christians. That is, because the Christians in his time believed in Jesus the prophet of Allah, unlike the infidels of today who believe in Jesus as God.
Any Muslim who is going to protect or defend them, will be considered an infidel like them and will be treated in the same way.
May Allah give us the victory over the infidels.

The faction of the followers of Mohamed

I have not heard the argument that Muhammad accepted Christians because they only saw Jesus as a prophet, while they nowadays believe Him to be Son of God. Interesting how they deal with the diverse views that are held in the Qur'an itself. Anyway, more important for now, is to pray for our brothers and sisters in Egypt; we who live in relative peace should uphold these churches in our prayers!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an

While pondering over the manner in which the Qur'an came into existence, I came across some articles on the web that give some good insights. This article lists some non-Arabic words that entered into the supposedly 'pure' Arabic revelation, it shows some grammatical mistakes in the Qur'an, and also there is a difference between earlier versions of the Qur'an and our present copy. This is another good article about the same issues. For Muslims who are not used to any form of textual criticism, this is of course haraam to say. What the heck, I prefer truth over lies.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Qur'an: An Arabic Revelation?

In the year 2000, a radically dissenting view of the language of the Qur’ân and Classical Arabic was propounded by Christoph Luxenberg. (For reasons of his or her security, this scholar used a pseudonym.) Most of his theses were not wholly original, but he argued them more radically than his predecessors in Western Islamic and Arabic linguistic circles. Luxenberg emphasized that Syriac was the lingua franca for the whole Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula before the Arabs imposed their language gradually after the seventh century. When the Qur’ân came into being, Arabic was not a commonly written language yet. The educated Arabs that could read and write at all were mostly Christians who were used to writing religious texts in Syriac. Luxenberg argued that it is inconceivable that those who were involved in the writing of the Qur’ân did not naturally integrate elements from their Christian and Syriac background in its language.(1)

As Mekka was an early Aramaic settlement, the language spoken in that city was a mixture of Syriac and Arabic at the time of the writing of the Qur’ân, according to Luxenberg.(2) He argued that the earliest versions of the Qur’ân were written in that mixture of languages in a sort of Syriac-Arabic shorthand that consisted of six symbols, without vowels and diacritical marks to differentiate between the letters. The present ‘authorized version’ of the Qur’ân developed during the few centuries after the inception of Islam, as the process of creating and deciding about diacritical points and some other symbols to stipulate pronunciation took time. According to Luxenberg, the grammarians made many mistakes in this process, as they were no longer aware of the original Syriac impact on the language of the Qur’ân. They assumed the text was written in the Classical Arabic that had developed in the eighth and ninth century. In order to uphold this historical construction, Luxenberg had to assume that the oral tradition of Qur’ânic pronunciation and explanation during the first few centuries of Islam was ‘purely legendary’.(3)

The most respected Muslim exegete of the Qur’ân during the tenth century, Ja‘far Muhammad bin Jarîr al-Tabarî, admitted in his exegesis (tafsîr) that many verses and parts of the Qur’ân were hard to explain. Luxenberg focused in his book on those parts of the Qur’ân that were considered philologically problematic by al-Tabarî. In those cases, Luxenberg endeavored to explain the text by first considering other Arabic punctuation, and if that did not work, he assumed a Syriac background. By doing so, he was often able to propose a more contextually consistent and understandable reading of the text. He also argued that the grammatical deviations from Classical Arabic in the Qur’ân could be explained as correct applications of Syriac grammar.(4)

The Arabic word Qur’ân itself stems from the Syriac Qeryânâ, Luxenberg argued. That word was used in the Syriac churches of pre-Islamic and early-Islamic times to designate the Lectionary of Bible texts used in the liturgy.(5) Traditionally, most Arab scholars related the word Qur’ân to the Arabic verb qara’a (to recite). It is difficult to conceive how Qur’ân n might have developed grammatically from that verb.(6)

Luxenberg explained how the Qur’ânic chapter al-Kawthar (Abundance) was based on parts of the Syriac liturgy that reflected 1 Peter 5:8-9 from the New Testament, and how the chapter al-‘Alaq (Blood Clot) had the character of the introduction in the Syriac liturgy to the celebration of holy communion. He translated the last verse of al-‘Alaq as ‘celebrate (your) worship (more often) and participate in Holy Communion’.(7) In an interview, Luxenberg summarized his view of the Qur’ân:

In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been used in sacred Christian services. In the second place, one may see in the Koran the beginning of a preaching directed toward transmitting the belief in the Sacred Scriptures to the pagans of Makkah, in the Arabic language. […] At the beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic society.(8)

It was predictable that Luxenberg would be vilified by Muslim scholars as he radically disturbed the traditional Islamic view of the Qur’ân, Arabic language and early Islamic history. Western scholarship has also been very guarded if not downright negative in its initial response. In 2004 the German Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin held an academic conference focusing on Luxenberg's thesis and an international working group was formed to continue the discussion. Many of the conference discussions were critical of Luxenberg, and blamed him for serious methodological flaws and sensationalist generalizations.(9) However, even his critics agreed that his work has at least had the merit of showing that Qur’ânic scholars have not so far accorded the literature of Syriac Christianity the attention it deserves as an important resource for reconstructing the Qur’ânic milieu, and no Western scholar studying the Qur’ân, Islam, Arabic language and history can circumvent Luxenberg’s suggested new direction in studying the Qur’ân and its context.

(1) Christoph Luxenberg, Die Syro-Aramaeische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache (Berlin, 2004, first edition 2000), pp. 9-11.
(2) Ibid., pp. 334-7.
(3) Ibid., p. 341.
(4) Ibid., p. 238.
(5) Ibid., pp. 81, 111.
(6) Another suggestion is that the word is related to qarâ’in (comparisons). The Arabic linguist Muhammad ‘Ali bin ‘Ali bin Muhammad al-Tahûnî (died 1157) said that the word Qur’ân was in fact a proper name. That indicates the difficulty to relate the word to any Arabic root. See al- al-Tahûnî’s encyclopedia Kashf Islahât al-Fanûn Vol. III (Beirut, 1998), p. 381.
(7) Luxenberg, Die Syro-Aramaeische Lesart des Koran, pp. 310, 330-1. Translation of Luxenberg’s German: ‘Verrichte (vielmehr) (deinen) Gottesdienst und nimm an der Abend-mahlliturgie teil’.
(8) Alfred Hackensberger, ‘Der Fuchs und die süssen Trauben des Paradieses’ [The Fox and the Sweet Grapes of Paradise], in Süddeutsche Zeitung (24 February 2004).
(9) Luxenberg’s views were hotly debated, for instance, by a congress in Berlin from 21-25 January 2004, on ‘Historical soundings and methodical reflections to the development of the Qur’an - ways to the reconstruction of the pre-canonical Qur’an’. For a description of the attitudes toward Luxenberg’s thesis, see Michael Marx and Nicolai Sinai, ‘Historische Sondierungen und methodische Reflexionen zur Korangenese - Wege zur Rekonstruktion des vorkanonischen Koran’ (Berlin, 25 February 2004), found on (20 February 2006).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pat Robertson on Islam: Religion or Ideology?

700 Club's Pat Robertson this week: 'Islam is not a religion, it is a political system ... bent on world domination'.

I hear this so often, that Islam is not a religion but a political system. There is some truth in the statement, but also some untruth. Who decides how to define the word 'religion'? Islam calls itself diin we dunya, and stresses that it is both a system for the true worship of God and a system for organizing society. As Christians, is our view of our religion really that different? Why did Pat Robertson, some years ago, try to become the president of the USA?

Is our Christian faith for the heart only, or do we also have a message for society? I have the impression that if people are so adamant that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology, they actually mean to say that they do not like the political views of Islam and they prefer their own Christian view of society more. Fair enough, I wholly agree with this, but let us not pollute our discussions about Islam by statements that are unfair and untrue.

On 8 April, Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club aired a report featuring an interview with Bernard Lewis, Princeton University professor of Near Eastern studies, which focused on, in CBN correspondent Chris Mitchell's words, "the struggle ... between Islam and Christendom, two worldviews that contend that theirs is the one true faith." Commenting on the report, co-host Pat Robertson said of Islam:
I want to say it again, and again, and again: Islam is not a religion, it is a political system meant on -- bent on world domination, not a religion. It masquerades as a religion, but the religion covers a worldwide attempt to exercise power and to subjugate the world to their way of thinking. They want a caliphate as they had once before; they want all people to be subjected to Sharia and to live under their rules and their domination. It is every bit as insidious as communism, perhaps more so. But to say, 'Well, it's a religion, and you should leave a religion alone,' that's just not the way it works."
During the 12 June 2007 edition of The 700 Club, Robertson stated:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law. Muslims want to take over and we want to impose Sharia on you. And before long, ladies are going to be dressed in burqas and whatever garments they would put on them, and next thing you know, men are going to be allowed to have wife-beating and you'll be beheading adulterers and so on and so forth.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Negotiations for a Church in Saudi Arabia

Panta Rei... The world is in flux. If Saudi Arabia allows churches on its soil, all things are possible! Will the praises of the Tri-une God and the Lord Jesus Christ soon be publicly sung in Islam's holiest land?

Archbishop Paul-Mounged El-Hachem, the papal envoy to some countries on the Arabian peninsula like Kuwait and Qatar, confirms that talks are under way to establish formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, and to eventually allow for Catholic churches to be built there. Pope Benedict XVI is believed to have personally appealed to King Abdullah on the topic during the Saudi monarch's first ever visit to the Vatican in November 2007.

Top Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that a Catholic parish in this key Islamic country would be "a historic achievement" in the push to expand religious freedom and foster a positive interfaith rapport. Under Benedict, the Catholic hierarchy has stepped up calls from its Muslim counterparts for "reciprocity," demanding that the same religious freedom enjoyed by Muslims in the West should be granted to Christian minorities in the Islamic world. They note that Europe's biggest mosque, built with Saudi funds, was opened in 1995 in Rome, just across the river from the Vatican.More in the Guardian of 18 March 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

10 Management Lessons from Muhammad

Yes indeed, our Muslims friends are now following the Western management gurus; we already knew that management by the principles of Jesus leads to success, but I came across the 10 'principles of success' that we can learn from Muhammad who 'has shown us the way of achieving supreme success in this world'. Here you you read it all.

To me it seems that examples like this, signify major shifts in Islamic thinking; 50 years ago, no Muslim would write about the prophet in terms of business success. Is this a westernized version of Islam? Contextualization? Or the 'Christianization of Islam'?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Tunisian Magazine and Evangelism in Tunisia

The Tunisian magazine al-Watan published an article recently in which it describes the evangelism that is aimed at Tunisia by satellite television. Nice to know that 300 million dollars are available for evangelizing North Africa ;-)

The article describes a TV program called Asselema, broadcast on LifeTV and produced by Lighthouse and Arab Vision. This is the first Christian program in Tunisian Arabic, done by some Tunisians including one who lives in that country. No wonder the program is taken note of by people in Tunisia. The article certainly helps evangelism as it gives us some testimonies of Tunisians who found Jesus Christ!

Click here for the translated article.

Your prayers for this program Asselema are appreciated. The producers told me they are planning to soon produce 30 more programs of this program.