Monday, June 22, 2009

A Deadly Misunderstanding- Book Review

A friend recommended the book A Deadly Misunderstanding A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide by Mark D. Siljander. Frankly, it's not a book I was really looking forward to reading. First of all, I have no problem with Islam. It's my belief that fundamentalist Muslims have hijacked their faith, just like fundamentalist Christians have hijacked ours in the past. Secondly, I'm not real big on reading political or historical books. But, given the tensions between Islam and Christianity and between the Middle East and the West, I thought it might be worth taking a few days to read the book. I'm really glad I did. If you think Islam and Christianity are totally incompatible, if you think Islam is a perversion of true religion, if you think that there is no hope for peace between the Muslim and Christian world, I dare you to visit the website and I dare you to read the book.

One of the things that makes this book fascinating is it was written by a former, evangelical fundamentalist. Mark Siljander was one of those guys who was not only out to convert the entire world to Christianity, he thought Islam was a false religion and that Allah is a different God than the God Christians serve. The lesson here, is that if Mark Siljander can be converted to see that Islam and Christianity are not polar opposites, anyone can.

The beginning of Mr. Siljander's journey to the reconciliation of Islam and Christianity came when someone questioned what he thought was his commandment to "convert" the world to Christianity. He just knew that was somewhere in the Bible and he set out to find it. Without giving away too much of the book, when he began to study the original language (Aramaic), he realized that the word that has often been translated as "convert" was really more like the word for "peace" or reconciliation with God. As so often happens, a poor translation can lead to not only a small error but a major error with implications that literally can lead to wars. What if Christians found out that their holy book doesn't tell them to convert all people to Christianity but to invite them to live at peace with God?

Next, Mr. Siljander began looking at the Koran. If Christians, who are so dedicated to their Bibles and read them faithfully can misinterpret them so badly, was it possible that Muslims were being led by a few fanatic leaders to do the same thing? We all are familiar with some of the passages of the Koran that are used by both its detractors (Christians and Jews) and self-appointed leaders like Bin Ladin to convince people that Islam is a religion of violence. An example is:

Slay the pagans wherever ye find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (sura 9:5)

Wow. What could be clearer you might say? Obviously, these are a violent people and if Muhammad (peace be upon him) wrote this, he must be a false prophet. There's more. Check out these two passages.

Now go and smite the Amalekites, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both men and women, young people and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses.

You shall defeat them; then you shall utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant (peace treaty) with them, nor show mercy to them.

Would you be surprised to learn that these passages are not from the Koran but from our own Bible? The first is 1 Samual 15:3. The second is Deuteronomy 7:2. At this point, most Christians will start to defend the Bible. "Well, there have to take it in its historical and cultural context." "Sure, there are violent passages in the Old Testament. But, the Israelites were being persecuted by ungodly neighbors". We makes excuses (or give reasons, depending on your perspective) for violence in the Bible. But, when Siljander tallied up such verses in the Bible versus such verses in the Koran would you be surprised to learn that the Bible was three to five times more violent than the Koran? Would you be interested to know that Muhammad had signed a peace treaty with his neighbors and the "pagans" (referred to in these verses) then went back on the treaty and were massacring the Muslims? Would you be interested in reading the part of the sura that is usually left out when people are using it to either condone violence by Muslims or condemn Islam as a violent religion?

But when the forbidden (sacred) months are past, slay the pagans wherever ye find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem. But, if they repent and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them [let them go on their way]. For All is is oft-forgiving, most merciful.
According to Siljander, he had been flat wrong when he believed the Bible told him to convert all non-Christians to Christianity. And, Muslims who believe their Koran tells them to kill all "infidels" (infidels does not include Christians and Jews, BTW) are flat wrong, too. Siljander addresses the idea many Christians have that Allah and God are different gods. Many thinking that Allah is an invention by Muhammad. Most Christians would be shocked to learn that the word Jesus (Yeshua actually) would have used for God is Alaha. Yes, Alaha is Aramaic for God. Now which is closer to the words we use today? Jesus (Yeshua) called God "Alaha". This about it. Which name is closer to the word Jesus used? Allah, as the Muslims refer to the Supreme Being; or God, the word we use?

There's more. Siljander talks about the commonly misunderstood word "Jihad", about Jesus (known as Isa to Muslims) in the Koran. He educates Christians that Muslims believe in the virgin birth, in the second coming, in Jesus as God's "Word" and arguably in Jesus's divinity and sonship (even though they would not put it in those terms. I have a couple of Muslim friends and I was quite surprised to learn the high regard to which they hold Jesus. There are only a couple of very slight differences between the way Christians view Jesus and the way Muslims view Jesus and a couple of those are a matter of semantics. For example, Muslims believe that Jesus was born of Mary without "knowing a man". But, they do not believe that God "begat" Jesus because begetting is a carnal act. They believe Jesus (Isa) was conceived by the spirit of God. So, one of the major differences between Christians and Muslims comes down to the word "begat", a King James, word, BTW, not the word in the original Greek or Aramaic. Jesus is given a prominent role in the Koran, a fact that would probably surprise most Christians.

Perhaps most importantly though, Siljander put his theory to the test. People look at the teachings of Jesus and label them "foolish" saying they won't work in the "real world". It's one thing to take all of this in academically, it's another to see if it makes a difference in people's lives. Siljander has travelled the world meeting with Muslim leaders sharing his new view of Jesus and of Islam and what we hold in common with some amazing real world results in getting prisoners freed and in gettting cooperation from governments with which it seemed we had no hope of reaching. He also relates a story of a mixed couple- Christian and Muslim who were having a really difficult time deciding how to raise their children and stay true to their respective faiths. He was able to offer them a solution that respected both of their faiths and traditions.

It's fascinating reading this book as we change administrations and tactics in the "war on terror". The book was written in 2006 when Bush was in office. After reading Obama's "The Audacity of Hope", I knew this would be the approach he would take if he were elected. And, I am so glad to see it playing out. I used to cringe every time I heard the phrase "war on terror". In my mind, this has never been a "war" in the traditional sense of the word. We are not up against nations or even armies, we are up against an ideology. You do not defeat an ideology with guns and missiles, you defeat it with idea. Every time we label Islam as a false religion or agree that "jihad" means to martyr oneself we are actually fueling the fire. The way to defeat Bin Ladin and his cronies is to destroy their false portrayal of Islam. The way to defeat Islamafacism is to appeal to what we have in common with Islam- the pursuit of peace, justice and "shalem" (peace with God). We did not win the Cold War with guns and missiles. We won the Cold War because "the Russians love their children, too" (as Sting hoped for in his song). We can win this war with Islamafacism because Muslims love Allah (or Alaha in Aramic or God in English), too.

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Don said...

Nice review...Looks like one an old educator of history would be interested in.

Darren said...

I'll have to put this one down on my library list. Regarding what you say Brian, about the verses in the Bible though, its sad but true. I guess there are two schools of thought with Christian Universalism. One is that the Bible is innerant and the word of God, but it has been poorly translated in parts and supports the concept of Universalism (Thomas Talbott "Inescapable Love of God"). Another school of thought is that the Bible is not 100% the word of God, and contains errors (Gulley/Mulholland "If Grace is True"). They state this because of exactly these sort of verses you identify here (and some of the many hellfire verses they feel cannot be explained away). I'm torn myself and confused which school to believe (because if even part of it is innacurate, it seems that "all bets are off" in terms of whats true and isn't in there), but i tend to agree that the Bible is not innerant because of these O.T. verses. It just seems completely antithetical to everything I believe about Jesus/God.

I remember an evangelical friend of mine went to Turkey on a missions trip, and they were giving out Bibles and trying to convert Muslims over there. I told my friend that he should look up Deut 13:6-10. It's God commanding the jews to kill anyone who tries to convert them. Show them no mercy. I asked him what he would say if one of those Turks opened the Bible he just gave them to that Duet 13 and then asked him "Your God is telling people to kill others for trying to tell them about another religion. Do you REALLY want me to follow and obey your Bible?". He didn't have an answer to that one.

Anonymous said...

I dont want to completely dismiss the thoughts you have presented here because I believe some of them have value. And I want to show love in my response.

But I find it hard to take in when I read about things like this.

Simply for me, the bottom line if Jesus isn't given His rightful place as the Risen Saviour, the Son of God, then it matters little what you believe.

"Jesus is given a prominent role in the Koran, a fact that would probably surprise most Christians."
I have no doubt this would surprise many Christians, but it makes no difference because if Isa does not get His rightful role, then His prominence is of no value.

Jennifer/Jaimie said...

Oh, don't forget that Allah is the Arabic word for God.

Unknown said...

"What if Christians found out that their holy book doesn't tell them to convert all people to Christianity but to invite them to live at peace with God?"

Do you think people can be at peace with God without Jesus?