Tag Archives: Islam

Cross Examination (3) – Are Muslims Better Followers of Jesus than Christians?

The first to speak sounds right – until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

This is the second part of a series examining some of the common claims Muslims make about Christianity. I am using a video I was referred to. This video is by a famous Muslim apologist named Zakaria Naik. He is supposed to be a doctor and an expert on the differences between Christianity and Islam. So far I have found his understanding of Christianity to be sadly lacking. Either he is being deliberately deceptive or he knows far less than he thinks he does.

Let me explain. First off, Naik makes the challenge for someone to quote from the Bible where Jesus makes a claim to be God. He says that if anyone can point to one, he will accept Christianity and leave Islam. I pointed to an abundance of scriptures in CE #1.

Second, Naik says that Christians claim to follow the teachings of Paul not Jesus when they say Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I showed that this is patently false. Time and again Jesus shows that He knew of His coming death and resurrection. Even more, Jesus Himself talked many times of the redemptive necessity of His coming sacrifice. See for yourself in CE #2.

Let us now continue on with the video:

Starting at four minutes in, Zakaria Naik makes his third claim that Christians are not following the teachings of Jesus like Muslims do. He mentions things like eating pork and drinking wine and points to multiple scriptures:

Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit
Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
Leviticus 11:7-8 – The pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
Deuteronomy 14:8 – The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.
Isaiah 65:2-5 – All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imagination, a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat; who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’ Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.
Luke 2:21 – On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Muslims are all circumcised but apparently most Christians aren’t.)

Naik then drops his accusatory bomb at about 4:50. I quote “If Christian means, ‘a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ’ (pbuh) I am proud to say, ‘we Muslims are more Christian than the Christians themselves.’ ”

Can somebody please say double standard? Naik just made a claim that Christians are following the teachings of Paul, not the teachings of Jesus. Not one minute further in, he goes and does the exact same thing Himself. Are Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in prohibiting pork quoting Jesus? Is Isaiah? Did Jesus write about alcohol in Proverb 20:1 or was that Solomon? What about Ephesians 5:18? Did Jesus write that or was it… wait for it… PAUL!?! For shame!

To be fair, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day but that was something His parents did to Him, not His own teachings. Outside of mythology, we do not have any true words from Jesus until He is twelve years old and even that is merely a brief conversation (from which we can learn much)

So, about wine and pork, what did Jesus actually really say? Well, first of all his very first recorded miracle was turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. I am curious, if Jesus forbids it, why on earth would His very first miracle be putting such a great temptation (in abundant quantities) before them?

What about pork? Jesus doesn’t mention the food in particular but He does make a very strong statement about the concept in general:
Mark 7:18-23 – “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Here is a fundamental statement Jesus is making that will be reiterated by Paul and other writers later on. What you do is far, far more important than what you eat or drink. Naik’s claim isn’t just false, it demonstrates that he entirely misses the point in focusing on foods rather than on lifestyle.

Now that we have that taken care of, the question still remains, what are the teachings of Jesus and who is following them better? Since I want to at least make an attempt to keep this short I will focus in on Jesus’ most famous sermon rather than going through everything He taught in the 80+ chapters the gospels write about Him. You can find this sermon in Matthew 5-7.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… the merciful… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted… Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Quran says, “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.” (8:39)
“Whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).” (2:194)

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Jesus says, “ For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

The Quran itself calls the Bible the “Books of God”, a “sign”, “light”, “guidance”, and a “mercy”. It commands us to follow it. (5:71, 7:156-157, etc) However common Muslim doctrine is that the Bible has been corrupted and changed and so it is no longer reliable. In making this claim are not Muslims calling Jesus a liar?

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Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

There are 36 references to enemy (عَدُوٌّ) in the Quran. Any guess as to how many of those are in reference to loving, forgiving, or praying for them? No. The quran teaches to be on your guard against your enemies, do not slow up in pursuing to the death your enemies, and ultimately kill them all. (4:101-104, 8:12-15, etc)

—–

Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

Do Muslims pray in private or do they gather together to all pray in one place? Do Muslims pray in their native language or are they commanded to all pray in Arabic?

—–

Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

If the lifestyle and words of another prophet do not match up with the life and teachings of Jesus, does He not warn us to be on our guard against them?

—–

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

I agree with Zakaria Naik that there are many who claim to be Christians who are not actually following the teachings of Jesus. We all, Christians and Muslims and everyone else, fall so far short of our own standards let alone the standards Jesus puts forth. The question is, are we even making an effort to follow Him or are we simply justifying our failures while still performing our outward duties? Whether it is prophesying, driving out demons, and performing miracles, or if it is living up to the five pillars, it is not enough. Whether it is going to a church or attending a mosque, it is not enough. The true test is not in the appearance but in the heart. Like Jesus said back in Mark, it isn’t what is on the outside but what is in the heart that matters. Let us stop with the comparison game and look inward. Am I truly trying to follow after Jesus? Are you?

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Cross Examination (2) – What Did Jesus Say About His Death?

The first to speak sounds right – until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

This is the second part of a series examining some of the common claims Muslims make about Christianity. I am using a video I was referred to as a starting point and the first claim made in this video between 1:45 and 2:20 is that Jesus himself never made any claims toward divinity. Jesus actually many times made it very clear that He knew and claimed to be God. Feel free to jump back to CE#1 to take an in depth look at these many claims. Once you have done so, lets continue on:

In this video around 3:20-3:30 this Muslim scholar says that Jesus Christ dying for our sins is not something Jesus taught but rather a doctrine of Paul.

I will jump in, in one second, to look at what Jesus Himself said about His death, but before I do, I want to make it clear that the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not just something Paul made up. In the Quran, there are a few random quotes by or illusions to Jesus. These are the words of a man who never knew Jesus and had a very limited and warped understanding of Christianity writing a good six hundred years after Jesus’ life. From an historical standpoint they are extremely unreliable.

In contrast, the Bible has four different biographies of Jesus. Three of these were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, John) and one by an historian who carefully recorded the testimonies of eyewitnesses (Luke). All of these were written within a few decades of the events they describe and for three of them if not all four, there were still plenty of others around who had seen and heard Jesus for themselves and so if their writings were not accurate they would never have survived. They are all incredibly reliable.

The thing that strikes me the most from these four gospels is how much of their writing focuses in on the final days of Jesus life. He had lived more than thirty years and had a public teaching ministry at least three years long but a very significant portion of what all four gospels write is about the death and resurrection of Christ. Clearly these writers (only one that could be said to be heavily influenced by Paul) all made Jesus death and resurrection the focal point of their story. Matthew gives 8 of his 28 chapters to Jesus final week.  Mark gives 6 of 16. Luke, the one who lived and learned from Paul, gave the smallest portion. He only devotes 6 of 24 chapters to this doctrine the Muslim scholar calls Pauline. Finally, John 10 of his 21 chapters to Jesus passion week. With decades of life to select from, all four gospel writers, contemporaries of Jesus, wrote between 25% to almost half of their biographies on the events surrounding Jesus death and resurrection. They obviously felt it was the single most important thing they could say. This was not just some doctrine made up by Paul.

But I have spent more time on that than I planned. It is time to get back to what Jesus said about His death. First of all, there are three times where Jesus clearly and unambiguously predicted His death:

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. (Mark 8:31)

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” (Mark 9:31)

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans.  They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34, each of these has parallels in Matthew and Luke)

He also refers to it secondhand when speaking on other matters:

Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem! (Luke 13:32-33)

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

He weaves His death and resurrection into some of His parables:

The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’ “But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:6-8)

In addition to those found in the first three gospels, there is an abundance of predictive prophesies or prior references  in the gospel of John. Here’s a link that includes all that I found…
John 2:19-22, 3:14,  7:6-8, 7:33-34, 8:20-21, 8:28, 10:11, 10:15, 12:5-7, 12:23, 12:32-34, 13:31-32, 15:24-25, 16:16-17

Clearly, Jesus knew that He was going to die. He knew also that He would rise again. He said, “It is for this reason that I have come.” He also made it clear that He was doing so for others and that it was a good thing. (John 3:14-16, John 15:13 among many others)

He said that His death would bring others life. (John 12:24)

He refers to His death as a coming judgment through which Satan will be dethroned. (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11)

He said His life would be given as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)

In the upper room, hours before His crucifixion Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53. (Luke 22:37) I am going to quote that at length to demonstrate exactly what Jesus was going to happen and why:

He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

It was this portion of scripture that Jesus was quoting right before His imprisonment, trial, and execution. It is abundantly clear that throughout Jesus’ life and ministry He knew that He would ultimately die as a sacrifice for our sins. Anyone who is willing to look at even a cursory glance through the most reliable accounts of Jesus life would see this is crystal clear.

The question is not: Did Jesus believe His death would be a ransom for our sins?

The real question is: Do you believe Jesus death can be a ransom for your sins?

Cross Examination (1) – Did Jesus claim to be God?

The first to speak in court sounds right until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

Every now and then I am referred to videos like the one shown below. These are videos where Christians (or Muslim plants pretending to be Christian) ask a simple question and then a Muslim Scholar will get an extended time to show that “Christian” why they are completely wrong. For argument’s sake I am going to put aside all my reasonable skepticism at the claim and assume that “Dr Matthew” who “works” at Creation.com (formerly Answers in Genesis) really is who he claims. Let’s watch:

Dr Matthew says: “Being an American doctor, I came here because I am very much interested in peace and as you mentioned, peace is both internal and external. Now personally, when I and millions of other people have found how to be convicted of our sin and having repenting of it that… and having accepting and believed that Jesus Christ the sinless man paid the full price for my sins, He took my shame and guilt on the cross and died for me. Because of it I have peace and that peace is something that passes understanding. I want to know, would you like to take away that peace which I have, which is a peace that passes understanding? Can you answer that? Thank you.”

The speaker then makes a challenge for Doctor Matthew to point out a single unambiguous verse where Jesus claims he is God.

OK. John 8:58 “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Here Jesus uses the very same name for Himself (I AM) that God gave to Moses when Moses at the burning bush asked God what his name was.  The Jews, as soon as they heard this immediately picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy. They unambiguously knew exactly what he was saying.

Two chapters later, they tried to kill him again when Jesus said unambiguously, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30)  Others might try to rationalize and explain this away but the Jews at that time wanted to kill him because they said, “You, a mere man, claim to be God.”

There are also the seven I AM statements in John where Jesus takes on divine prerogatives and which are in essence Jesus saying, “I am God, and this is what God is like”
I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
I am the Door (John 10:9)
I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) note also Psalm 23:1 – YHWH is my Shepherd…
I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
I am the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6)
I am the Vine (John 15:1)

And then of course, when Jesus was on trial right before His crucifixion the High Priest says, “Tell us plainly. Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand[i] and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64)

This here was a very clear, unambiguous reference to Daniel:
As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14) 

The High Priest and all his cronies knew this scripture and ended the trial immediately. They knew that Jesus had just claimed all authority and power and that He claimed they had a responsibility to worship Him. Since this was something they were not willing to do, they crucified Him instead.

But that is not the end of the story. Three days later Jesus rose from the grave. He had appeared to some of the disciples but not yet to Thomas who had his doubts. When Thomas finally sees him, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus does not rebuke him for this but rather blesses those who would believe without having to see.

Thomas is not the only disciple who lived and ate and learned from Jesus for years to call Jesus God. John does it (John 1:1-2,14) Peter did it while Jesus was alive (Luke 9:20) and after the resurrection (2 Peter 1:1). Of course Paul calls him God many times (Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13-15, etc) The author of Hebrews quotes God the Father as calling Jesus God (Hebrews 1:8)

Lets wrap this up with one more quote from Jesus Himself. In case there remains any doubt, Jesus Himself said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

So to sum this up:
Did God the Father believe Jesus was God? Yes.
Did Jesus the Son believe He was God? Yes.
Did the apostles believe He was God? Yes.
Did the early church followers believe He was God? Yes.
Do I believe He is God? Yes.
Do you?

An Open Letter To CAIR

These aren’t my words. I agree with most, but not all of this address given by Rev Laura Everett at the Boston rally against the Muslim Ban yesterday. So I will share it, comment a little, and then ask what you think. Do you agree or disagree?

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I greet you in peace. My name is Rev Laura Everett, and I serve as the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a statewide network of thousands of Christian individuals, congregations, and denominations convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that divides us.

If you are a Muslim here because you are concerned about your rights, and the rights of others, please raise your hand.

 

If you are a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Sikh, a Mormon, a Baha’i, a humanist, a person whose deep values compel you to stand with our Muslim neighbors, please raise your hand. Keep your hands up.

 

My Muslim neighbors, look around. You are not alone. You are surrounded by people of many faiths and shared values who stane with you this day, and in the days to come.

I come to you today with the prayers, well wishes, and solidarity of so many who grieve this executive order and the violence it compounds. For every person here, there are many more across this state who share our commitments.

 

I come to you today not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith. I believe, and strive to life by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my heart and in my bones, I am a Christian.

Here me say this: There is nothing Christian about a ban on Muslims. There is nothing Christian about refusing refugees.

There is nothing Christian about denying safe harbor to those fleeing violence. Nothing.

You’ve heard it, the efforts to wrap this Executive Order in the guise of Christianity. Resist it. Disprove it. Unmask it.

There is nothing Christian about refusing refugees.

Pope Francis said yesterday, “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of your help.”

Because our tradition is clear. Deuteronomy 10:19 commands, “You shall also love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” God’s people have always been refugees.

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The story of Jesus’ birth is the story of refugees. Refugees invite our increased compassion, not our hardened hearts.

Jesus was born, not in a time of peace, but in a time of fear and political instability. Mary and Joseph were migrants, forced to travel because the Emperor Augustus required all people to be registered. The Holy Family was later forced to flee the violence of their homeland. (Luke 2, Matthew 2)

So for Christians, Our Savior was a migrant. Jesus Christ was a refugee.

I want you to hear me promise you this: If, God forbid, our newly elected officials decide to force Muslims to register, then I will register as a Muslim. My colleague Jeremy Burton at Jewish Community Relations Council has vowed the same. If, God forbid, our elected officials decided to force a registry of Muslims, as a Jew Jeremy Burton will register first and I will register next. Our American tradition of religious liberty is not just for some, but for all. A threat against you is a threat to us all.

I also promise you this: we will do our own work in the Church. We know that there are other Christians who misunderstand or misrepresent Muslims. We will continue to work to educate ourselves.

As Christians, we vow to follow Jesus in standing with the vulnerable. The Christians across Massachusets want you to know that you are valued, loved, and essential members of the community. We are tempted towards despair, but we believe in a life stronger than death and a love stronger than fear.

Please accept our sorrow in your suffering, our solidarity in your struggle, and our friendship in faith.

I’d like to bless us:

Holy One, we know You by many names.

Bless us. Make us faithful, and make us brave. Amen.

OK, back to me (BJ) for a few comments. 1) I would not register as a Muslim. I am a Christian, I am proud of that fact and I would never consider representing myself as anything else. While I would refuse to register as anything at all, and while I would actively, 1960’s style protest any attempt at government registration, I would not classifying myself as anything but what I am. 2) I think she is misrepresenting what Islam actually teaches when she talks about educating the church. There is a huge gap between what the Quran teaches and what most most Muslims practise. This is a good thing because most Muslims are taught and raised to be good, honest, loving, decent people. However, the Quran is not a good book and those who follow it are the ones who end up being the radical extremists we rightly fear. This is why the Arabic speaking world tends to have far more extremists than Muslim cultures in other places. They actually understand what they are taught to recite.
3) I am not a fan of her short prayer at the end. It is not one God known by many names. The God of Judeo-Christianity is vastly different than the god of Islam. Part of respecting people of other cultures and faiths is to not just recognize our similarities but also acknowledge and respect our differences. 4) I understand that this was the prepared speech but what she actually said in Boston was shorter. The reason for that was because she was pressed for time and also she had to use the people’s mic because the sound system wasn’t adequate for the size of the crowd at the rally.

Anyways, what are your thoughts? Where do you agree with her thoughts? How do you disagree? What are your views on the ban? I know this is an incredibly divisive issue but would love to offer up this space where those of divergent viewpoints can express them that we might learn from each other without all the rhetoric and vitriol that abounds in the twitter and facebook world at the moment.

So if you are still reading, stop. Scroll down. Start writing. It’s your turn.

 

 

 

 

Here We Are Again

I am sitting here on my keyboard just hours away from the most recent terrorist attack in Turkey. Just outside a courthouse in Izmir, a car bomb went off killing two and injuring several more. That is what we know for sure at this point. There are two things that seem whento be widely speculated.  The first is that these attackers actually planned something larger but had to launch their attack early when discovery seemed immanent. The second is that this was an attack carried out by PKK freedom fighters, not ISIS.

Normally, I would take that second accusation with a grain of salt. The knee jerk reaction is always to blame PKK first and then start digging into facts later. That is just the way the government works around here. But when the dust is settled and what truth that can’t be covered up is revealed, it almost always pans out that any attack with a high list of victims carried out in civilian areas is ISIS but any attack with a smaller number of casualties targeting a police or government institution is PKK [or some offshoot]. ISIS’ stated goal is to spread Islam. PKK’s stated goal is to gain independence. So this time around, I think the government might actually be telling the truth. Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

when1My heart breaks for Izmir and the victims of this second national tragedy to strike Turkey in a year that is not yet a week old. My heart also breaks for the countless victims caught in the crossfire of the multiple simultaneous conflicts that are ravaging my home of Southeast Turkey as well as Syria and northern Iraq. When will it end?

That question has been plaguing me a lot lately. Just to look at one small aspect of this regional mess, what would a positive outcome for Syria look like? Right now Bashar Assad looks to be closing in on winning this multi year long, multi sided war that has displaced more than ten million of his own citizens both internally and internationally. The odds of him completely winning out and his opponents actually putting their guns down is almost 0 but lets say it happens. Is that a good solution? when2There are very good reasons that so many of his own people rose up against him in the first place. Outside of some ultra right wing crackpots who believe the entire Arab Spring was planned and orchestrated by Obama and his cronies, most people realize that it was the outcome of social inequity, injustice, and an angry oppressed minority throughout the region finally saying enough is enough. Assad does not deserve the title of leader. He is a bully, a criminal, a murderer, an egotist. He does not deserve a seat in the global community of leaders no matter how much Russia and Iran want to prop him up. So even if he does regain full control, the people of Syria are no better off than when this all started.

Now lets say there are some major reversals and he does end up being driven from power. What then? Right now most of the various rebel factions have formed a coalition recognizing it is necessary for their survival. How long will this coalition last after he is gone? You can measure that length of time in seconds. Some of these groups are fairly moderate but others are just as bad as ISIS. They are far worse than some of the Muslim groups that have taken advantage of the Arab Spring to rise to power in other parts of the world. (I’m looking at you, Muslim ‘brotherhood’) As difficult as it is to imagine, some of these groups in control could be far, far worse than the current regime.

So let us bend belief a little further and say the moderates do end up rising from the ashes and gain control. Let us stretch credulity and imagine that good people actually want to establish a good government out of the ashes. How many decades will that take? How many of the rising generation have already become part of the scarred victimized fertile field from which terrorists find such easy recruitment? How quickly will the international eye look elsewhere, deny their culpability in this, and leave that new government to its own devices with no money, no infrastructure, and no way to build a stable society?

when3This is just one facet of the many problems tearing apart this area. What of the refugees? How many will return? Who will pay for that? Where where those whose homes have been completely be destroyed live in the interim? How will they all be fed? What to do with the many who have no desire to go back? How much hurt and bitterness remains between once friendly neighbors who have taken up opposite sides in this conflict? What about the tens of thousands who have been injured beyond the ability to care for themselves and live productive normal lives? What do you do with all those citizen soldiers who committed war crimes on the threat of their own death?

Every day my first prayer is for a just peace for this region. What does that even look like? when4I can’t imagine what that will look like. Now I am not one to simplistically blame Islam for the troubles in this region. The issues are far more social, and economic, and political and even if you remove all culpability of that religion in this situation, you cannot deny that Islam is powerless to help bring a solution. A religion based on vengeance and retribution has nothing to offer Syria. What they need is someone who will teach people to turn the other cheek. What they need is someone who will bring forgiveness and reconciliation. The only hope for Syria is Jesus.

Greater

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Today is election day here in Turkey. Strike that. It’s actually re-election day since a few months back should have been election day. Problem is, the powers that be didn’t much like the outcome of that first election. They proved too intransigent to allow for a smooth transition of power and a new coalition government since they wouldn’t be in control. So now Turkey gets to try again. Needless to say, things are a wee bit tense around here. There isn’t so much fear that another bombing like what happened in Ankara a couple weekends back as there is surprise that more hasn’t already occurred.

With all that tension and all that is riding on these elections, I have heard friends, both Muslim and Christian say things along the lines of “This could be the most important day in the history of Turkey.” While I understand that today is extremely important, it would have to be quite huge to top such days as October 29, 1923, when the Republic was founded, May 29, 1453, when the Turks took Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire, the day Constantine decided to move the capital of Rome eastward to Byzantium, or the day Paul landed near Antalya to begin his first missionary journey. Though I may be wrong, I personally believe things like the burning of Smyrna (the lowpoint of the Armenian Genocide) was and more recently Gezi Park two years back will probably considered a bigger day than today.

Why would I think that? Because elections usually are far less influential than we give them credit for being. It wasn’t an election that brought Hitler to power, it was a movement. Elections played a part but they were a product of what was happening, not the cause. In the same way, these elections seem to me to be more of a product of what is happening already in Turkey and, perhaps, a catalyst for what is to come.

For those reading this back in America, you also have elections coming right around the corner as well. Granted, the elections this Tuesday are barely a blip on the radar and already the focus is on those coming a year from now as candidates line themselves up more than a year in advance, wasting time and resources, to try and sit on America’s throne. There are greater things to focus on.

I have often said and thought things along the lines of “All politicians are the same. Voting democrat or Republican (AKP, CHP, or HDP) is a choice between tweedledee or tweedledum.” In a sense, this is a reflection of my view that politicians are more often a product of the flows of history than the causes. On the flip side, I take strong umbridge when others use similar arguments in the religious sphere. I have Muslim friends who, I think they are trying to be nice, will say things along the lines of “We have Muhammad, the Jews have Moses, you have Jesus. They are all great prophets who should be respected and followed.” I have heard similar statements from Buddhists and Hindi who would add the Buddha to the list.

For the sake of argument, lets just say that Muhammed was a prophet. I don’t believe it but for the moment, I will concede the point. Lets say that Muhammed and Buddha were great prophets who truly changed the course of history as did Moses and Abraham. The thing is, Jesus isn’t just different in impact, he is different in kind. Even if we were to say that Muhammed and Buddha, like Abraham and Moses and David were faithful servants in God’s house, Jesus is greater. He is the Son over God’s house.

Lets just say that those who are elected here in Turkey, or there in America, or wherever you happen to be reading this from, are God’s faithful servants. That is what we should be hoping and praying and voting towards. But no matter how good and godly they might be, Jesus, as God, is greater. His impact and influence is greater. He isn’t just a product riding the currents of history. He is its cause and destination.

In The Shadow Of The Mosque

The numbers I wanted to get before putting this post up here I couldn’t. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I spent hours digging through trying to get the information. Those I tried asking who might have had the information either ignored me or claimed ignorance. The reality of it is, the information just does not seem to be public. I did, however, come across some other numbers that intrigued me. But I will get to that in a second.

If I were to make a list of the best and most iconic sights to see in Istanbul, one and two on that list would unquestionably be the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The three that would round out the top five, in reverse order, would be the Topkapi Palace, the Galata Tower, and the Suleymaniye Mosque. These last two are complementary. They both dominate the Istanbul skyline seen from the other. They are also probably the two most photographed buildings in the city.

With that in mind, I decided it was time for me to head up to Suleymaniye Mosque and snap a few pictures myself. Here you go:

(Click on any of these pictures for full size)

 

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The entire Mosque compound was so beautiful it was almost surreal. While I was up there the sun was descending on its journey through the sky, the temperature was still warm but dropping, and everything was just so peaceful. The quote came to me, “I think if ever a mortal heard the voice of God, it would be in a garden at the cool of the day.” (Frankfort Moore)

Some of the pictures above I did some cropping or editing in an attempt to keep the Mosque from being nothing but a silhouette from the brilliance of the sun behind it. This next picture, however, has not been edited at all. Of all the pictures I feel it comes closest to capturing the surreal quality of the grounds I was walking:

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Of course, there were some other tourists up there as well and most seemed clustered around what was the vantage point of so many Istanbul skyline pictures I have seen. There’s no way I could be here without taking a shot or two of my own:

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As much as I would have liked to stay there forever, eventually I did need to start heading out. There is a couple main entrance/exit ways that most normal people would take when visiting Suleymaniye Mosque. They dump you out on near a busy street full of foot traffic, cars, and other tourists heading along their ways to the north and the south.

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Like I said, normal people would head in and out through these doors. I am not normal. There was a back entrance and I was curious to see what lay in that direction.

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As you can see from the last two of these pictures taken at the back entrance, there was a good deal of supplies and workmen just beyond the walls. This is where I asked myself that question I have not been able to find an answer to. Just how much money each year gets poured into the maintenance and upkeep of such a beautiful, four hundred fifty year old building like this?

Although I was unable to come up with a direct answer, I did find out some interesting information. First of all, both the United States and the European Union give millions of dollars each year towards the repair of old mosques and churches in the Middle East. Far, far more than this is raised through private funding in Western countries and a good deal of controversy is raised over just how much of that funding raised for the purpose of the “upkeep” of mosques ends up getting diverted towards terrorist causes. Conspiracy theories abound. Beyond this, the Turkish government does have a ministry of religious affairs, the Diyanet, that among other things is responsible for the Islamic education of every child in Turkey, has a Directorate of the Hajj, and a Board for the Inspection and Recitation of the Quran. This Diyanet has an annual budget in excess of 1 billion dollars but I could find nothing about how that money is allocated. Transparency and Islam are not words that belong together.

One other thing I did come across which I found fascinating but I am guessing would bore most of you. That was a research paper done about the actual building Mosque. Long story short, this paper itemized the costs of each aspect of the building process and came to the conclusion that it cost 59 million akce or 700,000 Venetian ducats. Great. How much is that?

I wasn’t able to come up with a direct answer for either currency, but I did find two ways to indirectly answer how much a Venetian ducat would have been worth. The Venetian ducat was a common international currency for two reasons: 1) The Venetians were everywhere, trading with everybody. 2) Their currency was about as close to standardized as you could get for that time period. Each gold ducat is said to have been 3.545 grams of gold with a purity of 99.47%. When I checked a few days back, 1 ounce of gold was worth $1170. That means 700,000 ducats was worth 2.9 billion US dollars on the modern market.

There is another way to look at it. Nearly a century later, a future Sultan was strapped for cash. I’m guessing the building of this mosque and, a few decades later, the Blue Mosque probably had a good deal to do with that, but I digress.  To raise money, this Sultan was willing to grant nobility to anyone willing to sponsor one thousand soldiers for one year to be deployed in Crete. How much did that sponsorship cost? 60,000 ducats. By my math, that means you could sponsor about 11,700 troops with 700,000 ducats. So what does that mean to us today? Well, it costs 850,000 USD each year to deploy an American trooper overseas. That means 11,700 troopers would cost roughly 9.9 billion.

So there you have it. Building this immensely beautiful building costs somewhere between 2.9 and 9.9 billion dollars. To give one last point of comparison, the cost on the modern market for the building of the Empire State Building is 380 million and the White House rings in at 71.4 million. The Suleymaniye Mosque was an incredibly expensive undertaking and we can only guess at how much it costs to maintain.

I knew none of this when I was exiting that Mosque a couple weeks back. All I knew was what my eyes could show me. On leaving that building, I circled around it continuing to take pictures. These below were all taken within a block to the west, north, or northeast of the Mosque. They are a brief glimpse into the lives and homes of those that live in its shadow:

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