Sunday, August 26, 2007

COMMENT: The missionary position ...



It's amazing how Christian missionaries who have spent substantial periods working in Muslim countries often come away with a greater degree of empathy and understanding for the shared heritage of the great Abrahamic faiths.

In Sydney, the Columban Mission Society runs an excellent Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations. Fr Patrick McInerney from the Centre spent many years as a missionary in a Columban mission in Lahore, Pakistan, and speaks fluent Urdu and Punjabi. He is active in interfaith work, and appeared as an expert witness on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in the controversial religious vilification case involving the Catch The Fire Ministries and the Islamic Council of Victoria.

In the Netherlands, another long-time missionary has thought of a novel idea to improve relations between Christians and Muslims. Bishop Tiny Muskens of Breda has proposed that Dutch Catholics address their prayers to Allah.

Someone like me has prayed to Allah yang maha kuasa (Almighty God) for eight years in Indonesia and other priests for 20 or 30 years. In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can't we start doing that together?


Bishop Muskens' words were reported on the Catholic News website on 15 August 2007. The website's report also noted that ...

In the Arab world God is called Allah. The long history of Christianity in the Arab world led to the development of a rich Christian-Islamic theological vocabulary, which makes God a normal equivalent to Allah. Both Muslims and Christians use the word in the Middle East.


Bishop Muskens worked in Indonesia as a missionary some 30 years ago. He predicts that within 100 years, Dutch churches would be using the name "Allah" to address God anyway. It's hard to tell whether his comment on this regard reflects the paranoid views of far-Right fruitcakes who claim Europe will become "Eurabia" or whether he just hopes Muslims and Christians will come to the realisation that they are both worshipping the same God.

The Bishop's comments follow a call by Geert Wilders, Dutch far-Right politician and former colleague of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that the Qur'an should be banned.

The Bishop's call hasn't been welcomed in quarters hostile to anything resembling Islam. One academic lawyer poked fun at the Bishop's name before making these remarks:

Muskens makes it sound as if the problems in Muslim–Catholic relations were merely silly arguments about semantics that distract from the truly important things on which we all agree. In fact, there is a serious, substantive problem dominating Christian–Muslim relations at the moment, the same problem that dominates Muslim–Jewish, Muslim–Buddhist, Muslim–Hindu, and Muslim–Orthodox relations, and that problem is that Muslim fanatics keep murdering innocents of all faiths, including their own, in terror attacks.


Using Robert Miller's reasoning, Muslims should cease all dialogue with Jews. After all, there are Jewish fanatics who keep murdering innocent Palestinians of various faiths. I guess Hindus and Muslims in South Asia should stop talking given that Hindu fanatics (be they BJP-linked religious extremists or the Tamil Tigers) continue to murder Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics and other groups.

And the whole world should stop talking to the United States, which seems to be ruled by a cabal of far-Right Republicans backed by evangelical Christians that love spreading freedom and democracy by invading countries and killing lots of people.

I'm so glad we don't live in a world ruled by this kind of logic. Because if we did, only God/Allah/G-d/Bhagwan could help us!

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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14 comments:

Blogger said...

In the name of interfaith dialogue, I'd like to see someone suggest - and be taken seriously - that the Mufti of Australia address the deity as Hashem.

Why is it that all such interfaith dialogue is Westerners bowing to other faiths and never the opposite?

Oh, and name a single Jewish youth that has murdered a Palestinian in the last 12 months...

If you believe that Israeli soldiers target Palestinian civilians, then that is a war crime, not murder. But since you mentioned Jewish "fanatics" I assume you're attempting a parallel with Muslim fanatics who actually do murder Jews - and Christians, and 'heretical' Muslims in the Palestinian Authority...

Hashem said...

blogger, are you suggesting that Islam is not a Western faith? Are you suggesting Judaism and Christianity are necessarily Western faiths? And why are you so sensitive about Israel?

You ask which Jewish fanatics have murdered Palestinians. You obviously don't watch the news. The IDF has murdered numerous Palestinian civilians in the West Bank in the past few days.

Then again, I guess you don't regard Palestinians as human. Maybe that's because you presume that G-d is as racist as you are.

Blogger said...

Hashem,

Regarding the IDF killing Palestinian civilians, I made my point clear, both explicitly and implictly, but I'll be happy to fully spell it out.

There is no doubt that the IDF has, and will again, kill Palestinian civilians. Civilian deaths are an unfortunate consequence of urban warfare, regardless of which army or in which urban setting the warfare is taking place.

Whether or not one believes the IDF targets the civilians, as you apparently do, or kills them accidentally, as I believe, is not actually the point here.

Why? Because Yusuf wrote that "Jewish fanatics" were killing Palestinian civilians in the same context (and paragraph) as fanatics from the Muslim faith, as well as other faiths, were killing civilians around the world. His intent was clear - he was suggesting that just as many Jews (and others) have been killed in the name of Allah, that many Palestinians have been killed in the name of God/Hashem/pick the name you want.

This is patently faith. I challenged Yusuf to name a Palestinian killed by a Jew in the name of God (which is different from a religious Jew who commits murder, which has happened - though, clearly, the handful of examples pales in comparison with the tally of Jewish deaths at the hands of politically motivated Palestinian murderers...)

The IDF, for whatever crimes you allege it has committed, is not a religious army. It does not act in the name of God, but in the name of Israel, which is a secular state.

Your suggestion that I don't regard Palestinians as human is insulting. I came to this argument with a biased, though rational question. There is no need to raise our voices, however virtual those voices may be. Answer my challenges and I'll answer yours, without feeling the need to imply insults.

Do I not consider Islam a Western faith? No, I don't. Islam was a faith born and developed in the Orient. This is not to say that I don't believe Muslims cannot live faithful lives in the West - please don't take me out of context.

Christianity - at least, the Catholic and Protestant variations thereof - is a Western faith. Indeed, Western civilisation pretty much developed in parallel to that of Catholic and, later, Protestant Christianity.

Modern Judaism seems an interesting mix, and I don't know enough about it to comment authoratively. As far as I know, many rabbis that have influenced modern Judaism (particularly the Ashkenazi branch of it) were, themselves, influenced by the West. On saying that, perhaps the most influential rabbi of all (Rambam) was born into an Islamic empire...

Why am I so sensitive about Israel? I'm afraid our relationship isn't warm enough for me to extend my personal motivations to you. I ask you, though, why does this matter? Yusuf wrote something; I challenged it. I'm waiting for an answer.

Irfan Yusuf said...

Blogger, do you define a fanatic merely as someone who kills civilians in the name of God? What about someone who kills and assaults in the name of statehood?

If you want to learn about Jewish settlers who regularly attack and assault Palestinians, you might want to ask the Mayor of Beit Lahm (Bethlehem) who is currently touring Australia.

These incidents are not regularly reported in Australian media. However, they can be read about in both Israeli and Palestinian media.

Further, you surely must know about Israeli 'Ayatollahs' who regularly issue fatwas supporting the mass expulsion and/or genocide of Palestinians. Does the name Mordechai Eliyahu ring any bells?

If you refuse to talk to Muslims in Australia because Muslims in another part of the world kill civilians (mainly Muslim), you clearly are only interested in conflict and not peace. That is your choice.

Israeli troops and settlers can kill and assault and loot and destroy as much as they want. This will not stop me from having good relations with my Jewish friends and neighbours and colleagues. If you lack the social maturity to take this approach, you might want to get some help.

Blogger said...

Irfan,

I appreciate the reply, but think you may have accidentally misrepresented me. I can't see any place in which I suggested, or even hinted, that I don't talk to Muslims, in Australia or elsewhere, because the world contains Muslims that kill in the name of Allah.

(Although it must be said I once refused to talk with a Fatah party official because of his party's refusal to reject al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, which is part of Fatah).

Although my circle of friends here in Australia doesn't contain Muslims (nor does it contain Buddhists or Hindus), it's not out of any ideological or religious choice, it's just the way the cookie has crumbled. It doesn't, I might add, contain any Jews. On saying all of that, one of my best friends is a Palestinian Muslim who works for OCHA, in Jerusalem.

I know well that many Jewish settlers regularly attack Palestinians, and I believe that Israel's failure to adequately jail these people is a black mark against that state. On saying that, Israel doesn't name schools, summer camps or football stadiums after these people. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, has many documented cases of naming such events and locations after suicide and other terrorists. This is a black(er) mark against that government.

Likewise, I condemn utterly any Israeli Jew (or non-Israeli Jew, for that matter) who issue statements calling for the mass expulsion of Palestinians, regardless of whether this expulsion would take place for religious or nationalist purposes.

Again, though, there are as many statement issued from the Palestinian Authority with similar sentiments regarding the region's Jews.

Regarding my use of the term fanatics; I used it in the same context as yourself. In the same paragraph as Muslim fanatics killing in the name of Allah, and other religious fanatics killing in the name of their god, you mentioned Jewish fanattics. The implication was clear; you believe there are Jewish fanatics who are killing Palestinians in the name of God. My challenge remains; name a single such case in the last 12 months.

Irfan, despite our obvious differences, I appreciate your willingness to allow my comments to be posted. I don't mean to sound patronising - there are many bloggers out there on similar ideological ground as yourself that won't allow comments they disagree to pass the moderating stage.

OK, rant over. I might briefly add that despite said differences, I generally agree with much of what you write. :)

Blogger said...

Finally, if you're going to meet with the Bethlehem mayor, I'd suggest you ask him why he's happy to sit on the same council as members of terrorist groups.

Anonymous said...

After all, there are Jewish fanatics who keep murdering innocent Palestinians of various faiths.

How many, Irfan?

You could count them on the chubby fingers of one hand. Moreover, none of them have had soccer teams named after them and were thrown in prison by the Israeli justice system which abhors their actions.

To compare them with the number of Palestinian terrorists and the adoration they enjoy, is completely naive and dishonest.

Hashem said...

I think the problem with those who object to Muskens' proposal is that they presume Christianity is a Western European religion. They forget that Jesus Christ did not speak English or Dutch or Spanish. He spoke Aramaic, a dialect of Arabic. Further, he was born in Bethlehem, a West Bank town through which Israel is currently building a barrier.

Had Jesus been alive today, so-called Christians would have profiled him as a terrorist. He would have trouble going through airport security. Allegedly Christian passengers on the plane might complain and have him removed. Why?

Because Jesus was and is a Middle Eastern person of Middle Eastern appearance who practised a Middle Eastern religion. The sooner idiotic European and Americans get this into their heads, the better for all of us.

If there is one good reason to call God "Allah", it is that this is the name Christians in Bethlehem give to God. They don't call God "Dieu" or "God" or "Lord". They call God "Allah".

If that isn't good enough reason to call God "Allah", I don't know what is

shihs said...

"You could count them on the chubby fingers of one hand."

Is this a civilised debate or a personal attack? If you wanna behave like that, go to Tim Blair's blog where idiots like you belong.

I'm not a huge fan of the palestinian authority either. But irfan is 100 times more sensible and civilised in his views than you 'winner-takes-all' zionazis are. You wouldn't survive in israel because most people there would think you were mad.

Blogger said...

Hashem,

If Jesus had have been alive today, he wouldn't be stopped at airports. Not all people of Middle Eastern descent are stopped at airports; Arabs are. Call it profiling, call it racist, call it whatever you want, but Jews of Middle Eastern descent haven't been involved in international terrorism and thus aren't seen as a security risk.

Jesus was a Jew. He was born in a Jewish village. And he didn't call God Allah, because Allah is Arabic, not Aramaic. The Aramaic word for God is Ela - much closer to the Hebrew el. (In fact, the 'a' at the end of an Aramaic word indicates the definite article. Thus, in Hebrew el means god (a generic god) and in Aramaic, Ela means God (i.e. the God). In the same way, mother in high Hebrew is eem, and in modern Hebrew is eema; the word was taken from Aramaic).

In prayer, Jesus called God Elohim or Adonai, because in prayer he would have spoken Hebrew. Aramaic was the 'street language,' not the religious language.

I'm all for calling God Allah if I speak to Him in Arabic. If I speak to God in French, I'll call him Dieu and so on and so forth.

Either way, by your logic, we should refer to Jesus as Yeshua, which is his name before it's Latinisation...

Yusuf Smith said...

Aramaic is not a dialect of Arabic. It's a Semitic language, related to Arabic, but not a dialect of it. And it was a literary language, not a "street language", even if it was not the religious language.

Anonymous said...

Blogger,

When the state of Israel was established in 1948, all the Jewish terrorist groups joined forces to create the IDF. Thus, IDF's origins are stained with terror and their tactics haven't changed much over the past 59 years.

You go on making this fuss about terrorists who happen to be Muslim. But you turn a blind eye to the fact that Jewish terrorists have gone on to become Israeli Prime Ministers. Menachem Begin led the King David Hotel bombings and Ariel Sharon led the Chatila and Sabra massacres. Both went on to lead government.

You also turn a blind eye to the Kahanist movement and its affiliates. Your posts have a tone that terror is only committed by Muslims.

An Israeli Government bulldozer killed Rachel Corrie, a peace activist who was trying to save a Palestinian house from being demolished.

Isn't that state sponsored terrorism? By a state that proudly flies the defining sign of Judaism on it national flag?

Blogger said...

Yusuf, I stand corrected on the Aramaic issue - thanks for that.

Anonymous, the King David Hotel was the British headquarters. This made it a legitimate target. That the British chose to place their headquarters in a civilian site is hardly the fault of the Jews.

Ariel Sharon did not lead the Sabra and Chatilla massacres. He allowed a Christian milita to enter the camp. He was found guilty of not predicting a massacre could have taken place. There has never been any suggestion he took part in or directed the massacre. At least not by people who have looked at the facts.

I don't turn a blind eye to the Kahanist movement. The movement is illegal in Israel, as it should be. Terrorist or criminal activities of the members are prosecuted. Indeed, membership of the organisation is illegal. Is it illegal to be a member of a terrorist organisation in the Palestinian Authority, I wonder?

The driver of the bulldozer could not see Rachel Corrie. She died because she was too dumb to get out of the way. When you think of these bulldozers, don't think of ones we see at construction sites around the world. Where the glass usually sits is bulletproof steel, with only slits to see - to protect the driver from bullets. If Corrie didn't realise this, it bespeaks stupidity. As tragic as her death was, I'd suggest Darwinism had a lot to play in it.

qweaq said...
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