A Muslim Reformer

6 04 2017

In my last post I urged for Muslim voices to speak out for reformation and justice. Today I want to give you an example of one such reformer.

Mustafa Akyol is currently a senior fellow at the Freedom Project at Wellesley College. His new book The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims follows some of the traditional Muslim views of Jesus, but shows a refreshing open-mindedness to learn from the Messiah.

(As a side note, this has been one of my biggest frustrations with Muslim teachers–most of them are so busy talking about what Jesus isn’t that they have no room in their hearts for acknowledging what he is. Akyol takes a more generous approach.)

I’m not endorsing Akyol’s beliefs as my own. But I’m thrilled to see a Muslim scholar trying to honestly interact with Jesus and see what he has to contribute to Muslims. Efforts like this reflect Akyol’s rejection of Qur’anic literalistic interpretations, Salafi extremist interpretations, and all forms of intolerance and violence within Islam; rather, he calls his own religion to embrace that the “Caliphate” is within them, much as Jesus argued the Kingdom of God is within us.  He both argues and backs it up with his life, that “A renaissance of Islam will take place only when we become more open-minded.”

I’ve often argued that instead of criticizing extremist Muslims, we’ll make more progress by befriending and supporting moderate, open-minded Muslims who can be a voice to their own people. And let us not forget to learn from them too, and be a voice to the extremists within our own religion as well.

I’d love for you to read this fascinating interview with Akyol and tell me what you think!





Are Christians Persecuted more than Muslims?

1 04 2017

Indonesian church burned by angry extremists (www.newson6.com)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks so, calling Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world.” Other Western leaders have made similar statements. But I began to wonder, is it true? So the research began…

The first thing I discovered is that in terms of how many nations persecute those of another religion, Christianity and Islam are neck-and-neck. In measuring both government harassment and social harassment over the last ten years, Christianity and Islam are ranked #1 and #2 every year, frequently changing places, but averaging persecution in about 80 nations of the world. In terms of where they are persecuted, it seems to be a tie.

The major difference I found is in how, or to what extent, they are persecuted. While it may be difficult to get mosque permits in the US just as it is difficult to get church permits in Indonesia, there are other more severe forms of persecution studied that show clearly Christians are suffering more greatly overall than Muslims. These variances are catalogued as “Low, High, Very High” or sometimes “Extreme.” Muslim majority nations have numerous cases of long prison sentences or angry mobs beating someone to death because they questioned a religious teacher, shared any thoughts deemed “anti-Islamic,” or converted from Islam to Christianity, whereas it’s very rare to hear of such cases in Christian majority nations.

For example, in Brian Grim’s insightful TED talk, he notes that the disparity between High or Very High Government Favoritism in the Middle East and N. Africa is 95%, while the rest of the world is only 12 %. Similarly, Sectarian or Communal Violence in the Middle East and N. Africa is 50%, while the rest of the world is only 11%. These regions of High or Very High persecution are almost all Muslim majority nations persecuting their minorities, including smaller Muslim groups but especially Christians. And when the government favors one religion to the detriment of other religions, it tends to result in a higher rate of social hostilities. In many cases, heinous crimes against minorities even go unpunished.

In every list I found of the worst offenders of religious persecution, Muslim-majority nations dominated the list.

  • US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in their 2016 report listed 17 nations of highest concern and 11 of those are Muslim majority, with a 12th nation, Nigeria, devastated by the Islamic extremists Boko Haram. The only Christian majority nation on the list, Central African Republic, has been torn apart by civil war. Of the 10 nations of high concern, 6 are Muslim majority, none are Christian majority.
  • The Pew Forum’s 2014 report showed that the Middle East and North Africa are roughly three times more religiously restricted by governments, and experience roughly five times more social hostility than the Christian majority nations. Combining these two features of persecution and applying it just to the world’s twenty-five largest nations, Pew Forum ranks the large nations with greatest religious persecution as follows: Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey—again, 4 of 5 are Muslim majority.
  • Open Doors 2017 World Watch List claims that persecution of Christians has, for the third straight year, reached a record high. They count 215 million Christians that suffered high, very high or extreme persecution last year. Of the Top Ten nations with Extreme persecution, all except North Korea are Muslim majority nations.

This is a difficult subject to talk about with my Muslim friends, mainly because much of the media in the West, and many Christians, have concluded that the problem is Islam, that religious persecution and violence is an essential part of the Islamic faith. Most of my Muslim friends do not actively persecute those of other religions, and they would claim persecution and violence are not a part of their faith. So who is right?

I would like to make an appeal to both sides—

  • To my CHRISTIAN friends: Unless you want to claim as part of the Christian faith the KKK, the Serbian Christian genocide of Bosnian Muslims, the Christian-majority Central African Republic’s slaughter of minority Muslim groups, and a host of other historic examples when evil men used religion as an excuse for violence, please don’t assume that your Muslim co-workers and neighbors will support violence in the name of Islam either. Ask about their feelings—they may be more horrified than you are. In fact, they may personally know victims of Islamic extremist violence. Please remember that Muslims are also victims of horrific persecution at times, such as the massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar. And please speak up for justice for the minorities around you.
  • To my MUSLIM friends: If you live in a Muslim majority nation, it’s time to stand up and demand justice for your minorities. Keeping silent or claiming ignorance of what others do in the name of Islam does not reflect the character of the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate. One of the reasons that extremist groups thrive is that they’re freely allowed to preach their poisonous ideologies. Meanwhile, governments show favoritism to one religion over others. And the majority of peace-loving Muslims turn a blind eye. If you don’t want your religion criticized by others, do something to change this situation.

Let’s work together to stop all types of persecution against all types of people, and work towards a just and true peace.





Award for A WAY OUT OF HELL

18 03 2017

I’m thrilled to share that A Way Out Of Hell has won the 2017 Illumination Award for Christian fiction!

I hope this award encourages more readers to try the book, and to consider the ISIS threat in the light of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and peacemaking.

You can order it from Amazon here.

Let’s continue to pray and work for peace!





Fighting God’s Enemies

6 03 2017

  Religion can bring out the best or the worst in mankind. It brings out the best, for example, when we follow the Great Commandment to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves; or as similarly commanded in Islam, habluminallah, habluminannas.

Religion brings out the worst in mankind when we decide that we need to fight those people that we believe are God’s enemies—as though God is incapable of dealing with them Himself!

By bombing an abortion clinic, vandalizing a mosque, gunning down people in a gay night club, or honor-killing a family member who chooses to change her religion, we have left the most basic teachings of our faith in order to “help” God bring judgment against those we disapprove of.

In spite of all our efforts at peacemaking, such tragedies still happen—such as the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh in Malaysia.

On February 13, in broad daylight, three black SUVs forced Mr. Koh’s white sedan to the side of the road and masked men abducted him, while five other vehicles operated by masked men kept traffic away from the kidnapping. But while the police were slow to respond,  CCTV footage from a nearby building appeared on social media recording the entire event.

The Koh family offered a reward for any information about Raymond, but for the last three weeks there has been only silence—no ransom demands or news of any kind. The Koh family is not rich enough for this abduction to be financially motivated. The only logical conclusion is that it was religiously motivated.

This is not how the Prophet Muhammad treated Christian pastors! By referring to the Ashtiname of Muhammad, or the Charter of Medina (and its modern parallel The Marrakesh Declaration), it’s clear that Muslims were commanded by their Prophet to not only establish religious freedom for minorities, but even to protect them.

A survey of how Jesus treated those of other religions leads us to a similar path of peace. When dealing with non-Jews such as Romans, Syrians, Canaanites and Samaritans, this is what Jesus DID: healed, delivered, told them to share their miracle stories, revealed himself as Messiah and King, praised them for their faith, praised them for exhibiting the righteousness God wants, and announced they’d feast in heaven with the earlier prophets. This is what Jesus DIDN’T do: follow his own culture’s prejudicial norms, condemn, rebuke, warn of judgment or hell, argue theology or debate, quote the Scriptures, explain the Gospel unless they asked, or ask them to change anything. He certainly didn’t condone any violence against them, teaching his followers by his own self-sacrifice to overcome evil with good.

The greatest barrier to peace today is not any particular religion—it is misguided religious followers that pursue hatred and violence in the name of God. [This is what my novel A VIOLENT LIGHT is all about!]

Please pray with me for the speedy release of Pastor Raymond Koh, and for his captors to return to the most basic tenets of their faith—habluminallah, habluminannas.





If Kindness Came First

11 02 2017

pexels-photo-969612:00 AM. A deserted stretch of Texas highway. My five younger siblings and I stand amidst the tumbleweeds watching our widowed mother pray over our broken-down car.

Finally, we spot some headlights approaching. We desperately wave our fourteen hands. A red sports car slows, and pulls over behind us. Praise God, we’re saved!

Out of the car climb two of the biggest black men I have ever seen. Media stories about highway robberies bombard my mind. I’m the oldest male—what would I be willing to do to protect my mother, younger sisters and toddler brother?

“You guys need some help?” one of them asks.

After trying unsuccessfully to start our car, those two put their bulging muscles to good use, pushing our car a mile down the freeway to an exit ramp where we roll safely into a gas station adjacent to a motel. Then they walk the (extra) mile back to their car.

Twenty-five years later, that extraordinary act of kindness to strangers still causes me shivers of sheer wonder. It was one of those God-encounters that chipped away at prejudice in my heart, and led me down the peacemaking path I’m on today.

Thomas Cahill reminds us of a similar story where the hero turns out to be someone the audience would never have expected—the Good Samaritan:

“As we stand now at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications—if we had followed in the humble footsteps of the heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else’s wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the Levite—the world we inhabit would be a very different one.” (from Desire of the Everlasting Hills, New York: Doubleday, 1999. p.185)

In the midst of our theological debating, our crusading for justice, and our pursuit of the next great Christian conference, we’re in danger of provoking our culture to close their ears to our message, which sounds like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” because their eyes don’t see our acts of love (I Corinthians 13).

People will never see Jesus in us apart from kindness. Let us be humble enough to learn from Samaritans—from those of different ethnic or religious backgrounds than us. Some of the kindest people I’ve ever encountered have been Indonesian Muslims and Japanese Buddhists, both of whom revolutionized my concept of showing hospitality to strangers.

Or perhaps we could be humble enough to learn from those Americans we’re not likely to meet in our church, such as talk-show host and stand-up comic Ellen Degeneres, who says, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.”

Let’s have the humility to recognize that there are people who don’t believe the same theology we believe, but are following Jesus’ example of compassion, mercy and kindness better than we do! I think we should honor them (as Jesus did in his story), and get inspired. If Jesus can’t take us to a higher plane of self-less love than the world already demonstrates, what do we really have to offer?

How about we confront the world’s issues of prejudice, violence, racism, sexism, xenophobia and terrorism with a movement of 2 billion Christians showing extreme kindness to everyone? Wouldn’t that rock our world!

As one of the kindest people our generation has ever seen, Mother Teresa, once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

By pushing a stalled car, helping a crime victim, or even telling a joke kindly, thousands of people are already out there making the world a better place. It’s time we joined them.





“Book of the Year” Nomination–Vote for Peace!

4 02 2017

awooh-front-cover   I’m happy to share that my recent thriller on confronting ISIS with the non-violent way of Jesus, A WAY OUT OF HELL, has been nominated for “Book of the Year” award in general fiction!

One of the criteria the judges will look at is votes from readers like you! Much like American Idol, I NEED ALL MY FRIENDS TO GO TO THE CONTEST WEBSITE AND VOTE FOR MY BOOK!

Here’s the website: Book of the Year 2017

It only takes about 1-minute to vote!

1) Enter your Name and Email Address

2) Select your identity as READER

3) Scroll down to find A WAY OUT OF HELL by Jim Baton in the FICTION / GENERAL section and SELECT

4) Scroll to the bottom of the page and fill the small circle if you don’t want to receive promotional emails

5) Click SUBMIT

   Winning an award like this is likely to get the message of peace out to more people.

After you vote, if you would please forward this post to those people you know who love peace and ask for their support, I’d really appreciate it too!

Thank you so much!

 





How Would Jesus Respond to the Travel Ban

2 02 2017

refugees-denied  Since President Trump issued the temporary travel ban against citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations, there has been no end of controversy. Some foreign leaders have criticized it; others have supported it. Likewise, within America, many Christian leaders have joined in protests and petitions, while others have argued its merits.

What concerns me is the spirit behind these protests—are people truly concerned about the fate of refugees from Sudan or Yemen, or are they using this as an excuse to express their rejection of President Trump? Because if they’re truly stirred up by the needs of Muslim refugees, I’d like to know whether they’ve been doing anything constructive to help refugees before Trump came into office.

Through it all, I’ve asked myself over and over again, “How would Jesus respond?” Since I claim to follow Jesus, I want my response to align with his heart.

Jesus was often counter-cultural, never politically correct. But he reserved his few harsh rebukes for hypocritical religious leaders, not for political leaders. His breaking of cultural norms was always done in order to show love to hurting individuals. He healed the sick on the Sabbath; he didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery; he asked for water from a despised Samaritan; he healed the servant of a Roman oppressor; he partied with tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus never joined other Jews who were protesting the government or planning violent attacks against it. The closest he got to a protest was driving the money changers out of God’s temple—again, dealing with his own religion gone wrong.

Does that mean I don’t support protests of government policies? I affirm the right to free speech that Americans hold dear, and I believe that peaceful protests can be an effective way to bring attention to issues of justice. I have joined in peaceful protests before, and will do so again. But I’ve done so not to represent Jesus’ heart of love necessarily, but more to support a community and an ideal that I believe in.

Now back to the original question, how would Jesus respond to the travel ban? In my heart, I am convinced that Jesus would respond by loving people, and no government restrictions or cultural controversies would stop his love.

So how about those of us who follow Jesus? How many of us would take the time to march in protest, or circulate a petition, or gripe on Facebook, in defense of these Muslim nations seemingly treated unjustly, but have never taken the time to get to know the Muslims who live in our own neighborhoods, or whose kids go to school with our kids? Which shows more love—marching alongside angry protestors, or walking alongside the Muslim children in our neighborhood to make sure they get from the bus stop to their homes safely? Shouting slogans against a government policy, or whispering words of comfort to a Muslim student unable to return home to her family during Ramadan? Perhaps some of us are doing both, and I commend you. But if we have time to invest in just one type of response, what would Jesus do?

What about those refugees we refuse to allow into our borders? There are many reputable agencies helping Syrian refugees that need our donations. One of my friends even volunteered at a refugee camp in Jordan for a short time. The travel ban neither eliminates our options to serve refugees, nor our responsibility.

The greatest need of the Muslim refugees is not entry to America. They need food and shelter. They need a chance to work and provide for their families. They need people to come alongside them and help them get back on their feet. They need our prayers, our donations and our love.

As the eyes of the world look toward America’s government and criticize its leadership in this global refugee crisis, what an opportunity for the Christians of America to model a different spirit, laying down our lives to love others. By doing this we will represent our nation well, but more importantly, represent the heart of our Savior well.