Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Omar's Story-- The Tale of a Shiite Christian

Omar Alrikabi is one of my students who has had a difficult journey living in the U.S. and has experienced a good deal of racism within and outside the Church since he is of Iraqii Shiite descent and is also a born again Christian, and Asbury seminary student in training for ministry. Here is a thumbnail sketch of his story, in his own words.

BW3
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Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son inimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.”
Matthew 11(The Message)

My entire life has been a quest for identity. A journey for an intimate father/son relationship.

Growing up I never really liked my name very much. Omar. For a little kid in Texas, a foreign sounding, deeply ethnic name was a nuisance. It stood out too much. It made a scene. In classrooms full of Mikes and Peters and Amys and Stephanies… Omar felt like the person who wore jeans to a wedding while everyone else was in suits. Very out of place. I always wanted to be a David.

But my name is Omar. Omar Hamid Al-Rikabi. Literally translated it means “First Born Son of Hamid of the Rikab Tribe.” My father is from Iraq. Once the customs officer in Cairo would not accept my declaration that I was an American citizen.
“Where is your father from?”
“Iraq.”
Then I was stamped into the country. Not much has changed since the days of Abraham. It does not matter what you declare, or even where you were born. You are whatever your father is. So I am considered an Iraqi. I’m even eligible to vote in Iraqi elections.

But I grew up in Texas, where my mom is from. And yes, she is a Christian. And yes, my father is a Muslim. I have been raised by Shiites and Southern Methodists. Over the years, as different Middle Eastern despots and terrorist groups made headlines, my name was the butt of many jokes, stupid questions and varied translations. Then of course there were the nicknames that went along with such an Arab background: Dune-coon. Camel jockey. Sand nigger.

Of course, I always played along. After all, it was my friends who called me these names. It wasn’t like they were burning crosses in my front yard. I figured if I played along and poked fun at myself, it would show that I was just like them, and that would give me identity.

My parents had an agreement. My dad could name us if my mom could raise us in the church. But my mom quit going after a while. She got tired of all the anti-Arab, end-times Sunday school lessons. You see, there has always been a low-grade racism towards Arabs and Muslims in the church, at least in the Bible Belt.

After September 11th, things really picked up. I never really noticed it until that following Sunday when I heard it in the hallway at church: “Well, what would you expect from the descendants of Ishmael.”

What was I to expect when Texas and Iraq literally collided on the world stage right as I entered seminary. How do I reckon with cousins in the Republican Guard and close friends in the Army Rangers? Who is the real enemy?

I got emails from church members, wanting to know why I didn’t support the war because, as a Christian, I should be supporting Israel and that is God’s side, and that is the winning side. On more than one occasion friends I had made at Asbury would later tell me they hated Arabs until the got to know me better.

I met my wife here. Her last name is Horowitz. Imagine the long pause on the other end of the phone when I told my father that one (and by the way, he loves her). But I had to endure her father telling me he was a Jew by birth, but was now a Christian… but that he wanted to make sure that since I was an Arab I would not take his daughter away from him to Iraq and abuse her.

So what does all of this have to do with my spiritual formation? Everything. Just as many Christians in America believe wrongly about Arabs, I have lived most of my life believing lies about myself: I am just Omar. Nothing special. Loved but not liked. Wasted potential. Worst of sinners.

But my name and my background have helped me to see something. Omar. First born son. That means a lot in the Bible. The first-born son is the heir to all the father has. And I am joined with Christ. I am an heir with Christ in all that the Father has. My name is a living, literal gospel reality. I am not just Omar. I am not an ass. I am an heir.

Once at the Abbey of Gethsemani the Lord spoke to me in the most intimate way I have ever known, and said, “You are important to me.” It was like the words of the Father over the Son at His baptism, and in baptism is where we all must find our identity as sons and daughters of God.

If we believe what we say we do about curses being generational, then imagine an entire race of people who’s patriarch was the first born son, loved by his father, but then one day with no explanation he is sent into the desert to die.

On the cross we are reconciled to the Father. If our identity is found in baptism, then our vocation is found the Eucharist: “This is my body, broken for you.” I have come to believe that bad theology, unchecked patriotism, and the idol of national security has led many in the church to abdicate the cruciform calling of Christ to guns and politicians.

For it is not the descendants of Ishmael who are the problem, it is the descendants of Adam and Eve. Remember, the word ADAM in the creation story is translated “humanity” and that it is the work of the Cross-to redeem all of humanity.

If indeed these three major religions are the sons of Abraham, then I think God is looking at us the way my parents did when I fought with my brother, saying, “Yeah, but you should know better.”

My father gave me a name. Whatever struggles I wrestle with in who I am through birth, I must always return to who I am through Baptism. Jesus set for me an example, and whenever I fret over the evils men do, I must return to my vocation in the Eucharist.

So you see, COEXIST is not a pluralistic idea for me, it is a way of life… it weaves through the entire fabric of my family. It is the calling of Christ for me. And in truth, it is a calling for all of us, for in the end God’s people are not called to wave flags as a sign of victory, but to bear the Cross as a sign of reconciliation.



Omar Alrikabi

33 comments:

Chong Choe said...

Thanks for sharing Omar's story.

I think all of us are foreigners in a strange land. But some of us, by circumstances beyond our choosing, have been given the opportunity to know firsthand what it means to be a foreigner.

Ben Witherington said...

You are right Chong. What is especially disturbing about this story is racism disguised as Christian piety, when in fact in Christ "there is no Jew or Gentile...."

Ben

Glen Woods said...

Thank you so much for sharing Omar's story. Please convey to him my gratitude for allowing us a glimpse into his journey. I believe this deserves wider publication because it cuts to the heart of prevalent attitudes, especially in the USA church.

Sandalstraps said...

Thank you for sharing Omar's story. Please send him my love. I've never met him, but having read his story, I do know him, and love him.

Ben Witherington said...

You are welcome, and you are quite right. The whole story of Omar needs to be told, and so I am hoping a publisher will pick it up soon. It is disturbing in many ways. A theology that doesn't recognize that God is no respecter of persons and loves every race and tongue and people and nation, is a bad theology indeed.

Blessings,

Ben

Joshua Brainard said...

Hi Dr. W. I just wanted you to know that things went decently with my brother's girlfriend. She is from a traditional Japanese family and claimed not to be all too concerned about what happens after death. She met a lot of my comments with apathy, but she didn't seem to miss that the evidence is pretty good. She said there is probably a 50/50 chance Jesus rose from the dead. I thought that was kind of funny, and I left her an article to examine further. I think it was probably more encouraging to my brother as an observer. Thats good though, he really needs it. Thanks for your help. -Joshua

Bill Barnwell said...

I don't know on how many occassions I've heard statements from Christians, even some who are normally solid, that we should, "nuke the entire Middle East." Most of them are not entirely serious about this but it is safe to say that Arabs are not on the Top Ten list of the average American or Evangelical Christian. There certainly are many problems with contemporary Arab culture but the attitude of most conservative Evangelicals towards the Middle East is that Israel is always right and the Arab nations are always wrong. Not only that, according to the likes of John Hagee and Jerry Falwell, even the slightest criticism of secular Israel is "anti-Semitism." The fascination with Israel from most conservative Evangelicals is based on their eschatology, but many of them don't know or don't care that the dispensational system teaches that 2/3 of Jews are going to bear the brunt of God's rage and be killed after all the Christians are "raptured" before the "7 year tribulation." Also, any critic of Israel will be "cursed" according to God's statement to Abraham that "I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you (in the singular, by the way)."

There's all sorts of other problems with this theology but my point is not just to bash Israel (for they are right in many circumstances and they are a reliable ally in many ways) or dispensationalists, but only to point out that a lot of the hostility towards Arabs from a Christian standpoint is rooted in faulty theological assumptions coupled with a hyper-nationalism which borders on state worship in the most fanatic quarters of the frothing at the mouth corner of militant evangelicalism.

You'll hardly ever hear of the plight and struggles of Christian Arabs in the Middle East, especially Palestinian Christians. The Hagee Crowd is more concerned about "standing up for Israel" than they are about their Christian brothers and sisters in Arab lands. Also, not too politically correct to mention is that Christians in Iraq seem to be worse off now than they were before the coalition invasion. Pointing this out just gets one accused of loving Saddam, supporting tyranny, hating Jews, and a bunch of other nonsense.

I say all this as one who is a theologically and politically conservative Evangelical, but today according to many Evangelicals, "conservative" means worshipping the War State, wrapped in the flag hyper nationalism, and a flat out disliking of Arabs coupled with an ignoring of the plight of Arab Christians.

On to Iran...

Matt said...

The scary thing is that I used to believe some of the garbage that he's been accused with (descendants of Ishmael, etc.) but I'm glad he chose to share some of his story. God help us to remember stuff like this before we open our mouths to say some stupid things....

Shane said...

Thanks for this story. I had the great privilege of seeing a young man named Omair choose to follow Christ. He was raised by Pakistani parents who were Sunni. When we met for the first time, I braced for a huge debate, and I marshalled all my great arguments for belief in the resurrection. When I nervously began our conversation by asking him, "Omair, how can I help you?" -he replied, "Well, I've read the gospels and I believe Jesus is the Son of God. What do I do now?" So much for my great arguments! I guess Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had some better ones.
Anyway, he was disowned by his family and taken in by some members of our church. He has since led three other people to Christ. But it has been difficult at times for him to deal with the lack of understanding of the Muslim world by Christians.
I would have been opposed to the Iraq War if I had never known Omair, but becoming so close to him has only heightened my sensitivity to the "the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim" mindset of alleged Christians. I just read the other day that the city of Mosul which has been the scene of so much violence in the Iraq War is near the site ancient Nineveh. I think a lot of Christians have more in common with Jonah than Jesus.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks to all of you for sharing. This is an issue that will not go away. It is as serious a matter as sexism in the church, but perhaps more virulent because our culture gives permission to feel this way about 'Arabs' who are equated with terrorists.

Blessings,

Ben

Josh said...

A very insightful and heart-filled story. I am guessing that part of the problem Omar points out is the example and leadership that leaders in the Church are showing. Leaders, no matter what denomination they are, need to stand up for the central Christian values that Jesus taught - love God and love your neighbour (including those you might believe to be your enemies). Leaders should first challenge their own assumptions about other cultures, and secondly the underlying bad theologies that give rise to racism in sections of the Church at large.

Traditionalist1611 said...

Excuse me, but the Scriptures do say that the descendants of Ishmael would be like wild donkeys whose hands would be against everyone and would live in hostility against everyone. The koran itself says that muslims are descendants of Ishmael. Yeah, there's some Christian Arabs and they are descendants of Abraham by faith, but the rest fit the above description. So what is the problem here? How is this interpretation wrong?

Omar said...

First of all, thanks to all you who have been commenting.

You have hit on probably my least favorite verse in the Bible, basically because it has been misused to lead the bad theology I’ve been writing about.

There are three problems with this interpretation:

First, if we take it as literally as you have, it still doesn’t say anything about marginalizing, giving second class status to, or killing Ishmael’s descendants simply because they “can’t get along.” So why have we read, “kill our enemies” into a text that doesn’t say so? And what problems does that interpretation have in light of the calling of Jesus to love our enemies?

Second, there are many scholars (including our good host Ben Witherington) who believe there is no historical evidence that Arabs or Muslims are really descendants of Ishmael. If this is true, then the entire interpretation and argument are moot. However, I can’t go here and won’t, because I am dealing with an entire side of my history that believes this, and that is the context I must work in.

Finally, you must look at the trajectory of the story of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The reason this interpretation is so dangerous is because it does not allow for the redemptive work of the Cross to work in this situation, while allowing it everywhere else. We ALWAYS must look at the cannon as showing us what happened because of the fall and how God is redeeming the creation intent. Let me give you some examples:
> Tower of Babel incident is result of the fall, but is redeemed at Pentecost.
> War is used to further Kingdom agenda after the fall in OT, but after the Cross “the weapons of our warfare are NO LONGER of this world.”
> Before the fall we have “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife.” After the fall you have even the heroes of the OT with multiple wives and concubines. But after the Cross?... we are back to “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife.”

The entire trajectory of God’s work in humanity goes through the Cross so that every tongue, tribe and nation can gather around the throne. And “on earth as it is in heaven,” means we do everything we can to live that reality NOW on earth. This means, that through the work of the Cross, the blood covers even this interpretation, and EVERYONE is called to relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.

Until we repent of treating Arabs and Muslims as second-class citizens in the Kingdom, we will continue to grieve the Spirit and be a hindrance to the salvation work of God in humanity.

Michael Martin said...

I think the problem is partially due to media stereotypes. All African Americans are gang bangers; Mexicans are illegal aliens ; all Asians are mathmeticians; White Males are racist and stupid, and Arabs are terrorist.

The current clash of western and islamic culture is no help in an already scewed and dangerous world. Islamo Fascism is a credible threat, but so is western civilization's embrace of secularism and relativism. We caanot overcome Islam or Humanism with war (even though we may have to fight).

I have no faith in politicians, and see no point in being a political apologist; I do not know if the war in Iraq is right or wrong, but I know if we do not preach and live the gospel, and love the world with Christ,we are in for dark times.

Josh said...

Traditionalist1611 said...

Excuse me, but the Scriptures do say that the descendants of Ishmael would be like wild donkeys whose hands would be against everyone and would live in hostility against everyone. The koran itself says that muslims are descendants of Ishmael. Yeah, there's some Christian Arabs and they are descendants of Abraham by faith, but the rest fit the above description. So what is the problem here? How is this interpretation wrong?



Everyone hey, absolutely everyone? And all non-Christian Arabs - Jewish ones as well?

But seriously my friend, I'm sure the passage you are referring to (Genesis 16:12) reflects the prevailing attitudes of ancient peoples, like the Hebrews, towards the Arab tribes (who were at some point identified with Ishmael - Ben might have some more idea about that). To my knowledge the Arab tribes were often at war with each other, and in the ancient world were seen as stubborn, prideful and full of intractable honour. The verse you mentioned almost seems to see this as a positive thing:

Genesis 16: 11-12:

"Then the angel of Yahweh said to her:
Now you have conceived and will bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for Yahweh has heard your cries of distriss. A wild donkey of a man he will be, his hand against every man, and every man's hand against him, living his life in defiance of all his kinsmen.

(NJB Translation)

In otherwords, a great man, one who creates enemies but is able to stand up to them and cow them (in an ancient tribal context this means you are cool). This hardly justifies seeing all non-Christian Arabs as being enemies of all, of 'everyone' as you say (as if ancient tribal Hebrew people would have a concept of everyone beyond their neck of the woods anyway).

I would suggest then, that, in all likelihood, the reference in question is to intercine tribal warfare in Arabia - between various Arabian tribes, at various times in ancient middle-eastern history (as in whenever the stories that form this passage in Genesis were being produced). Since this is a reference to localised conflict I don't think that you could point to a lot of evidence to suggest that the Arabs are the enemies of the rest of humanity - particularly Jews and Christians.
Besides there is nothing in history that remotely shows that the Arabs have been in constant warfare with Jews and 'everyone' as you have suggested - perhaps you are thinking of Arab Jewish tribes who made alliances and fought in battle and conflict like most of other tribes in that region?

Traditionalist1611 said...

Again, I think there is a difference between Christian Arabs who are descendants of Abraham (by faith!)and the violent, inhumane monsters making up Islam who are the descendants of Ishmael (and don't tell me only a few are terrorists, most people in the Middle East either support or are indifferent to the terrorists making them no better than accomplices and public polls tell us just that!). It's not a racial thing, it's a faith thing and whether someone wants to line up behind Christ or the god of the Koran. I guess most on this blog will settle for accepting that the plain meaning of that Genesis text doesn't mean what it really says.

God bless Christians of ALL backgrounds and God bless the Jewish people!!!

Josh said...

It seems that there is little point in taking this further my stubborn, intractable friend - are you sure your name is not Ishmael?

Traditionalist1611 said...

How is engaging the Scriptures and looking for a correct interpretation "stubborn"?

see-through faith said...

Omar, thank you for writing this. I bless what God is doing in you and your family and that your roots are in God, just where they belong.

see-through faith said...

double post sorry

Omar you wrote

Until we repent of treating Arabs and Muslims as second-class citizens in the Kingdom, we will continue to grieve the Spirit and be a hindrance to the salvation work of God in humanity.

I'd like to add until we repent and stop treating anyone (male, female, jew, Greek, Arab or some Christian denomination) as second-class citizens we will continue to grieve the spririt.

We all have area where we are bigoted. May God forgive us and transform us.

Ben Witherington said...

Well, I figured the fur would start flying eventually over this post. And that is a good thing, because we learn what each other is passionate about, though not always why.

The historical claims of the Koran have to be evaluated in exactly the same way the historical claims of the Bible do--- using proper and critical historical scrutiny. When you do that you begin to be able to distinguish between history and legend or propaganda when it comes to the story of Ishmael.

Blessings,

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

At the very least, Ben, even assuming you're right, can't you see why a lot of us interpret Muslims as descendants of Ishmael based on the fact that their own religous text says so?

Ben Witherington said...

I certainly do understand this Tradionalist, but with knowledge comes responsibility. And that responsibility involves not repeating ideas which one has learned are false.

Blessings,

Ben

Josh said...

Traditionalist said:

How is engaging the Scriptures and looking for a correct interpretation "stubborn"?

My unsubtle joking aside, if you are truly trying to "engage with the scriptures", then I commend you for it. My impression of your posts does not easily lend credence to this claim however. I mean really, if you want to come out and make some of the claims you have been making, you would want to be pretty sure that you are on the right track. You should be explaining to us your in-depth understanding of the socio-historical and linguistic evidence that would back up your claims.

Do you have this understanding? If so, by all means let us know. I would claim to have some level of understanding of these issues myself, but only because I have done a reasonable amount of study into them. What do you consider your level of expertise to be?

Still it is the thought that counts, perhaps you could consider challenging the way that you are interpreting Islam, by going and talking to intelligent and well-reasoned Muslims, who can address the issues that you have with as a group. Perhaps you could even take the step of talking to an Imam - ask him your questions, see how he answers them, can he answer the challenging questions that you have? How does he defend himself against the accusations that you are making, etc...


Dr Witherington:

You said:

The historical claims of the Koran have to be evaluated in exactly the same way the historical claims of the Bible do--- using proper and critical historical scrutiny. When you do that you begin to be able to distinguish between history and legend or propaganda when it comes to the story of Ishmael.


Would it reasonable to suggest that Arabian belief in being the descendents of Ishmael, as set forth in the Qu'ran, would be tied into to either a Jewish presence (and later Christian) or to Jewish converts in the Arabian peninsula?

Ben Witherington said...

It is very hard to know where Mohammed got his ideas from. It is odd for example that Mary gets so much more play than Jesus is the Koran. It appears that he had been in contact with some form of Roman Catholicism, leading to the misunderstanding of Trinitarian theology.

Blessings,

Ben

Josh said...

Roman Catholicism??

To my understanding that would be unlikely, Arabia would have been the purview of the Eastern Sees, which were still united as part of the catholic (Universal Church) - so technically no seperate Roman Catholic Church at this stage of history anyway. The Sees that were not united with the rest of the Church, at this time, would have been the Persian (Church of the East), Coptic, Armenian, Syrian and Ethiopian Bishops and their communities (Oriental Orthodox). I do know of a Church of the East (sometimes misknown as Nestorian) community that was in Arabia at the time of Muhammad, I don't doubt that there were also some of the aforementioned Oriental Orthodox Christians and probably Byzantine Christians as well.

You wouldn't need Roman Catholics to be there to explain the prevalence of Mary in the Qu'ran anyway. All the Christian groups I have mentioned honoured Mary as Theotakas, excluding the Church of the East Christians, who agreed with Nestorius' assessment that Mary should be known only as Christotakas (See my blog for information on these Christians: http://elvenearth.blogspot.com/). Nonetheless Mary was an important representative of the Christian faith for all of these Christians, even the Christotakas ones.

Perhaps you are meaning the Melchite Christians, or other groups that would later become Eastern Catholic - but as these groups have their own liturgies and rites consistent with the original Eastern Sees, it would be hard to define these as Roman Catholic.

Joshua

bobbie said...

dear omar - thank you! please start your own blog - your voice is so important to the church. thank you to for not giving up - your courage and determination are light to me!

Jo Anne said...

I too would like for Omar to continue his edification of us through a blog-type media. When we've only been taught a specific theological 'bent', how can we know there's anything different? In our church we have a Christian wife, a Muslim husband and two young adult Christian children. I find them fascinating. The first-born son is the youth leader.

The issue here is the Body of Christ, right? All are equal heirs when we share in the redemption He provides. Concerning non-believers and false religion, I think there might be where the 'rub' lies. The Muslim religion (to Christians) is a false one and their god not the true God. The number one attack on Christianity right now, I think, is the one concerning our perceived intolerance. Islam, within Christianity, can not be accepted on the same plane as our Faith and we remain orthodox. But "in Christ" there is no partiality.

Whether Islam has been hijacked by the 'terrorists', or Islam intends to wipe out Christianity and Western Civilization, or whether the US is right to support Israel's right to exist (I believe it is), these are issues outside of the context of Christian faith and unity.

As I said, I would like to hear more from Omar. In all honesty, it's only been in the last several years that I learned that there were such things as Christian Arabs! Silly me. And Scripture declares that "...You..have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation..." Rev. 5:9

Matt said...

My maiden post here:

Ben Witherington said...

"It is very hard to know where Mohammed got his ideas from. It is odd for example that Mary gets so much more play than Jesus is the Koran. It appears that he had been in contact with some form of Roman Catholicism, leading to the misunderstanding of Trinitarian theology."

Josh then suggested that this was from perhaps one of the Eastern forms of Christian faith (e.g., Nestorian or one of the "Oriental" Orthodox communities) which may have had a presence in the Arabian peninsula at the time.

Actually, from the text of the Qur'an it is clear that Muhammad also had contact with heretical sects (and/or vestiges of heretical sects)as well as popular literature in circulation even among genuine Christians. For example, in verse 49 of Surah Al-Imran (3), Jesus is described as making birds out of dust or clay, and bringing it to life by breathing into it. This story is found not in the canonical Gospels, but we do find it in the second century Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gnostic Thomas Gospel), this was popular pseudopigraphical literature of a sort which was likely in circulation in Arabia.

A fairly thorough treatment of the subject of the sources of various such stories in the Qur'an as found in apochryphal Christian and Jewish as well as Zoroastrian and Pagan sources is found in William St.Clair-Tisdall's The Original Sources of the Qur'an, written a hundred years ago by one of the classic missionary scholars of Islam. Happily, this is available for free online at http://tinyurl.com/lpjru.

Peace in Messiah to all,

Matt

Josh said...

Greetings Matt, congratulations on a very good first post.
You are quite right to mention other sects of Christianity in Arabia at this time (it slipped my mind at the time). My general understanding is that there were some groups who had fled to Arabia to escape orthodox Christianity, following the ascendence of the church in the Roman Empire. They could also explain some of the ideas that the Qu'ran displays about Christianity.

There were also, to my understanding, a variety of Christian texts, such as Thomas, still being used amongst more orthodox Christians, which had or were going out of favour in other parts of Christendom. One has only to go to Ethiopia, which the early Muslims had a fair amount of contact with to see that was the case. The Ethiopian church still has a 35 book New Testament and about 50-60 odd books in their Old Testament (many shared interestingly enough, by the Ethiopian Jews of this region - many of whom are now in Israel). St Thomas was also an important figure in the Church of the East (considered its principal founder), so it is possible that the 'Nestorian' community I mentioned would have been using this text.

Still I think sometimes it is all too easy to get wrapped up in the idea that Muhammad and his followers misunderstood the idea of the Trinity, because of their contact with such groups or texts. In my view though, the Trinity is in fact a confusing concept - not easily understood. Attempts by Christians to explain the concept are usually poor, and personally I must say I prefer the approach of the eastern churches, who usually see the concept of the trinity as an indefinable mystery. I would suggest that Muhammad was almost bound to disagree with an idea of God that is so complex - the Jewish concept of God was much more appealing.

William St.Clair-Tisdall's The Original Sources of the Qur'an, is an interesting read, but I find it much too hyperbolic and dismissive of Christians in ancient Arabia as heretics or misguided fools. A common problem in Western church circles, even today, towards the ancient eastern churches.

Thanks again for your interesting post Matt.

Joshua

Matt said...

Hi Josh,

Thanks for your response!

Couple of things:

1. I have a hunch that the key confusion over the Trinity may very well have been the variety of versions of it (including, I would still suggest, truly heretical versions which would have, for example, included Mary) as well as the vehemence with which each group attacked and denounced the others.

2. You mentioned, "William St.Clair-Tisdall's The Original Sources of the Qur'an, is an interesting read, but I find it much too hyperbolic and dismissive of Christians in ancient Arabia as heretics or misguided fools. A common problem in Western church circles, even today, towards the ancient eastern churches."

This is an excellent point which I should have noted, although I am aware of the sad history of missions to eastern Turkey and the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and Iran in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For many years, those who came attempted to focus primarily on reviving the ancient Churches, with the view that these would then reach the Kurds and Turks among them. These local believers found it exceedingly difficult to reach out to those who has often mercilessly persecuted them for centuries. This is explained in considerable detail in Robert Blincoe's brilliant Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from Kurdistan, a History of Mission Work, 1668-1990.

In fact, I would say that it's worth noting that many of the 19th/early 20th century scholars of Islam, like Tisdall, were perhaps too focused on a polemical approach which actually helped produce a backlash against missions to Muslims (e.g., in South Asia this was likely a catalyst for the emergence of the Ahmadiyya movement in Punjab, and a smaller backlash against the relatively more successful mission endeavor in Bengal).

Peace in Messiah/al-Masih,

Matt

Josh said...

Matt, again some excellent points and considerations.

Thanks for the link, I had read some stuff related to this issue, but this looks more complete. I would love for you to give me some of your thoughts on a post I put up recently on the Church of the East:
http://elvenearth.blogspot.com/2006/05/ancient-church-of-east.html

Now, you said:

I have a hunch that the key confusion over the Trinity may very well have been the variety of versions of it (including, I would still suggest, truly heretical versions which would have, for example, included Mary) as well as the vehemence with which each group attacked and denounced the others.

You may know more about this then me, please let me know of any specific groups you know of that would have equated Mary as being part of the Godhead? Without doing further research the only groups I can think of that may have interpreted Mary in this way would not have been specifically Christian. I have come across a Sumerian specialist (Jose Badiny) who has theorised that Chaldean followers of Iranian Mithraism (including Magi), believed in a trinity of Father, Mother, and Son, which seems to have been equated to aspects of the Ultimate Cause. Badiny further theorises that when the message of Jesus was first spread into Persia, many Mithraists came to believe that Jesus was the Son of this trinity - the Saviour and light of the world come to the earthly plane. Since this saviour was believed to have a mother (or if you will, the feminine side of God), it would be quite possible that Mary became associated with this "Queen of Heaven" - probably based on the idea of Ishtar as "Mother of heaven".

Finally, I agree with you about Muslim backlash, though of course there is always the frightful "black sheep" of European colonialism. I take this further in fact, my observations suggest to me that Christianity is paying a heavy price for some of the things done by missionaries, apologists and so-called Christian governments in its name around much of the world. Things such as cultural insensitivity, enforcement and equation of European values with Christianity, and the doozy of them all - "we'll take your land, you can have the Bible", have meant that Christianity has suffered in its reputation.

It has been relieving to see people really start to wake up to these problems and seek to give the Christian message in a more respectful and enlightened way.

Scott said...

Omar -
Thanks for sharing--with tenderness, compassion and sensitivity--what it has been like growing up as an Arab-American.

I had no idea...and now consider myself educated.

And thanks for your solid reflections that root a Christian response to Arabs in something more than a nationalistic ideology.
Salaam.