The Atheist Muslim

8 07 2017

The Atheist Muslim book“The left is wrong on Islam. The right is wrong on Muslims.”

This tweet by Ali Rizvi, author of the new book The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason, was followed up by an interview with Vox that was one of the most honest, objective, insightful discussions of modern Islam I’ve read in a long time. I’d love for you to read the whole interview!

Rizvi was born in Pakistan and raised in a “moderate to liberal Muslim family.” He now works as a doctor and author in Canada. He is a liberal who is critical of liberals; a Muslim who is critical of Islamic ideology; an honest intellectual that represents a large population of modern Muslims seldom heard.

In the interview, Rizvi discusses the difference between Islamic ideology and Muslim people living in an Islamic culture. He addresses Trump and the Travel Ban, ISIS and terrorism, the search for Muslim identity, and what a reformation within Islam might look like.

Now back to his tweet: “The left is wrong on Islam. The right is wrong on Muslims.” Rizvi explains—

“On the left, people were saying that if you have any criticism against Islam, then you were a bigot against all Muslims. On the right, it was like, there are a lot of problematic things in Islamic scripture, so everyone who is Muslim must be banned, or profiled, or demonized. Both sides weren’t making that distinction between challenging ideas, which has historically moved societies forward, and demonizing human beings, which only rips societies apart.”

Have you noticed this in your interactions about Islam or Muslims? I sure have. Actually, I’ve noticed it in conversations about Christians or homosexuals as well. Liberals tend to label any critical analysis of ideas as intolerant, while conservatives sterotyped or demonized people because of their association with such ideas. (Although when I talk with atheists about Christians, there’s somewhat of an ironic role reversal.)

Have you ever heard the term, “Islamophobo-phobia”? Rizvi continues—

“Several white Western liberals have confided to me that they agree with what I say, but won’t say it themselves because they’re afraid they’ll be labeled bigots or Islamophobes. I call that ‘Islamophobo-phobia,’ the fear of being called Islamophobic. It’s a great way to shut down the conversation and silence people with colonial or white guilt.”

One of the strengths of this interview, and no doubt the book, is that Rizvi enlightens us as to the ongoing conversation millions of Muslims around the world are having about these issues right now. They are wrestling with their own identity, culture, ideology, faith and the future of Islam. Rizvi concludes the interview like this—

“Today, this conversation and this movement is happening within the Muslim world. It doesn’t just include the hijab-wearing women and bearded men you see on your TV. It includes the beer-drinking Muslim colleague you work with; it includes the Muslim girl at college who had doubts about her religion’s views on women; it includes agnostics, atheists, and free thinkers like me who want the freedom to change our minds without literally having to lose our heads. There are many voices in this conversation, and you don’t have to choose. Just let it happen.”

What can we do? Be a sympathetic listener to your Muslim friend as he or she processes their own faith journey. Ask sincere questions without making assumptions or generalizations. And share your own journey of questioning within your own religion.

For those of you whose curiosity is piqued to read the interview, I’d love to read your comments!





My Voice, Your Voice, His Voice

3 10 2016

It’s always a good feeling to be interviewed—whether on television or by a child doing homework for AWANA—it’s affirming to know that someone wants to hear what I have to say, that my voice is being heard.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about 99% of the issues in our world. I love to listen to what others are saying, and do my best to hear God’s voice amidst the chatter. But there are a few issues that I care deeply about, to which I’ve given my life.

So if you’d like to hear my thoughts about any of the following topics (and much more!), in a moment I’ll direct you to three new places to connect with me!

  • What inspired you to write about ISIS?
  • Is ISIS coming to America?
  • Are jihad attacks more likely to come from refugees, illegal immigrants, or US citizens?
  • Is Islam a peaceful religion, or are its true followers those who promote violence?
  • What could healing Abraham’s broken family look like today?
  • What authors or books have influenced you?
  • What’s your favorite book of all time?
  • What’s your response to this current presidential election?

You can find recent interviews I’ve done at the following websites:

http://mybookplace.net/jim-baton/

https://anita-thoughtsonchristianity.blogspot.co.id/

Also, if you drop by your local Christian bookstore and pick up the November issue (already on shelves today) of Today’s Christian Living magazine, you’ll find my award-winning article, “Christmas with a Killer.”

I take the responsibility of my platform to speak very seriously. If you have a blog, Facebook page, magazine, newsletter, church or small group, and you’d like me to write something for you on the topics of Islam, peacemaking, writing, or prayer, please contact me!

And whatever platform God has given you, I hope you are developing the message He wants you to speak into your sphere of influence. Your voice needs to be heard! It’s time for us to believe that His voice can speak through your voice and my voice.





The Battle for our Children

26 08 2016

021 (2)A lovely young woman (we’ll call her “Star”) wearing a head covering came into our office recently to apply for the position of Peace Generation Coordinator that we had advertised. She already had a master’s degree and seemed to be from a family of some wealth, so I was surprised to hear how she spent her free time.

Star is a member of a social-change-focused group called “the Gus Durians” after Indonesia’s former president Gus Dur. As a bit of background, Gus Dur once was probably the most famous Muslim cleric in the nation, and a constant voice for righteousness against a corrupt and abusive government, when an ugly dispute between various parties in the parliament resulted in his name being put forward as a “neutral” choice for president. He wasn’t really equipped to be a politician, and after calling the squabbling legislators “a bunch of kindergartners” he was impeached.

However, Gus Dur is not remembered for that brief political implosion, but for his years of championing human rights and especially minority rights. For example, every year he took flak from his Muslim colleagues for attending Christmas services at a Christian church, in solidarity with this religious minority.

The Gus Durians have carried on his legacy after his death. Star and her small group have actively sought out every minority group they could find in our city to ascertain their needs and offer help and support in whatever way they could. They approached Christians, Buddhists, Ahmadiyah (a Muslim fringe group often persecuted as a “cult”), Communists, LGBT (homosexual activity is illegal in Indonesia), street kids, etc.

It’s the street kids’ story that I want to write about. My wife works with street kids, elementary school dropouts, beggars, trash-pickers, and other poor kids. On the recent Idul Fitri holiday, she served lunch to 80 of them in our home! But there are others working with street kids too.

Star discovered a half-way house for street kids in the high-crime district of our city. She and her friend sat with the leader to ask about his ministry. Then he began asking about their group, and when she mentioned searching for the LGBT community, he edged forward intensely, pressing them about where the homosexuals gather. At first they were taken aback and evaded his questions. As they probed deeper, they uncovered that this leader of the street kids’ ministry was also a member of FPI, the “Islamic Defenders Front,” that had attacked churches, burned down Ahmadiyah mosques, forcibly closed night clubs, and wanted to destroy the LGBT community as well! They felt fortunate they hadn’t given out any more information and got out of there as fast as they could!

All this to say…the battle between peacemaking and terrorism begins with our children. Our Peace Generation curriculum has already taught thousands of kids the values of peace, but we’re not the only voice in our city. Others are teaching the values of prejudice, hate and violence.

It’s too late if we wait until they grow up and join ISIS, then put a bounty on their heads and kill them. We need to act NOW to raise the children of our world to know that God loves them, and that He wants us to love all the other children of the world too. We must do all we can to raise a young generation—Christian, Muslim and other—with a new set of values of peace.





ISIS–Coming to a City Near You

23 01 2016

Jkt bombing   This week I finished the rewrites to my sequel to SOMEONE HAS TO DIE. In this new thriller, ISIS attacks Indonesia, and one of the heroes from the first novel, the ex-terrorist Abdullah, accepts the challenge to take down the ISIS cell—non-violently. The working title for this book is A WAY OUT OF HELL, and I hope to have it published by this summer. Watch this site!

My writing couldn’t have been more prescient. Last week a group claiming affiliation with ISIS launched an attack on central Jakarta, using guns, grenades and bombs, starting with a suicide bombing in a Starbucks and ending with a gun battle in the streets. At least seven were killed, including all five attackers.

This attack mirrors exactly the modus operandi I present in my book. In the Middle East, ISIS is focused on territory. To have a world-leader caliph, he must have territory to govern. But in Paris, Jakarta, and perhaps other cities around the world, ISIS-sympathetic groups can’t realistically be looking to take over territory—so what are they up to?

Such groups believe that producing chaos and fear can lead to destabilized governments, opening the door for dramatic governmental shifts that can be used to their advantage. Indonesia is a prime target for such an approach. For years there have been several organizations and even political parties promoting an Islamic government, though the general populace supports pluralism. But with a traditionally weak central government, were enough instability and fear to rock the country, people might turn to a strong leader from the Muslim radicals who could negotiate an end to the conflict by giving in to demands for a stricter application of Syariah Law (such as has already happened in the province of Aceh). This in turn could pave the way for the nation’s leaders to pledge allegiance to the caliph.

Stopping ISIS in the Middle East is extremely complicated; but stopping ISIS from destabilizing nations with strong pluralistic majorities is less complicated and very possible. As I mentioned in my last post, I disagree with the president of France’s “merciless” approach. If we put all suspected terrorists in jail, what happens? At least one report from Jakarta stated that all five attackers had spent time in jail. Prison is the #1 recruiting post for new radicals or “rededicated” radicals. And for each “martyr” killed in jihad, ten more are inspired to rise up in their place.

There is a better way, a non-violent way to stop the cycle of violence and death. Keep reading this blog and I’ll explain more in the weeks to come.

I welcome your comments on how to deal with ISIS as well. Let’s continually pray for peace.





The Right Response to Paris

22 11 2015
photo from usatoday.com

                        photo from usatoday.com

It’s been an interesting couple weeks, with Islam dominating the news. The horrific attacks in Paris stirred up a tremendous amount of sympathy, fear, and not always constructive reactions around the world. France’s president promised a “ruthless” response, and subsequent raids across France and bombings in the Middle East were evidence of his sincerity.

Meanwhile, many cities and nations questioned the wisdom of welcoming Muslim refugees inside their borders, turning them away to go…where exactly??

An altogether different response arrived in my email inbox this week—an Islamophobic letter warning me that “We Now Have a Muslim Government,” citing erroneously that leaders such as John Brennan, head of the CIA, and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett were Muslims. The letter also falsely claimed President Obama is a “closet Muslim” and sounded this gloomy assessment of our future:

Obama and his minions are systematically destroying our nation, supporting radical Muslim groups worldwide, opening our southern border, and turning a blind eye to the genocide being perpetrated on Christians all over Africa and the Middle East. The more damage Obama does, the more arrogant he’s become! Our nation and our government has been infiltrated by people who want to destroy us.

These wild accusations of a conspiracy theorist couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you receive any similar bogus emails, please tell the sender to check his facts and instead of spreading fear, try becoming part of the solution.

So…the world’s responses are ruthless revenge, heartless rejection, or delusional fear. Surely there is a better option for us?

Lately I’ve been working on editing my manuscript for the sequel to my first novel, SOMEONE HAS TO DIE, hopefully to be published in summer 2016. In my new book, I’ll address the issue of ISIS and what a more godly, effective, transformational response could look like.

But while you wait for your summer reading, a group of leading Muslims around the world have got a jump on me by authoring an open letter to the self-appointed “Caliph” or leader of ISIS, Al Baghdadi. This 28-page letter presents beautifully how far from orthodox Islam ISIS has strayed. I especially recommend you check out the page explaining jihad and the page on the treatment of Christians (“People of the Book”) if you want to discover how the leading Muslims of our world truly feel about these issues. You can read the letter and who signed it here: http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/

The tragic loss of life in Paris should produce a righteous anger in our hearts. However, neither ruthless revenge nor finger-pointing fear will solve the problem or bring healing to our world. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Islam is not our enemy. Hatred, prejudice, violence and fear are our enemies.

And since these are common enemies to all mankind, let us join together as humans to overcome those evils with good.





Responding to ISIS

3 03 2015
ISIS slave market

ISIS slave market

ISIS continues to dominate the news headlines, from this week’s cover of Time magazine to the brutal images we see nearly every week on the national news. The closer we feel to the victims, the more personal our grief and the more urgently we want to respond.

If you are Japanese, the beheading of journalist Kenji Goto must have horrified you. If you are Catholic, the kidnapping of Iraqi nuns and orphans must have been awful to imagine. If you are a Shiite Muslim, the destruction of mosques and mass murder of your Shiite brothers and sisters must deeply wound your soul. If you are a woman, the kidnapping, torture, enslavement and rape of young women must break your hearts. And if you’re a Christian, the grisly scene of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded on a Libya beach last month must have brought a desperate cry of prayer to your lips.

How should we respond to ISIS? Perhaps God will lead each of us to respond in our own authentic and creative way. Angelina Jolie has responded by posting video interviews with the victims to increase global awareness. Various NGOs and charities are stepping up the relief effort, and you can donate through them—check out these three:

Cradle of Christianity Fund (CCF)  http://www.cradlefund.org/

The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME)  http://frrmeamerica.org/

Samaritan’s Purse  http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/iraq-crisis-response/

The Pope’s response last week was to pray for the victims. But here’s an even more extreme response—check out this 8 minute video posted by an Egyptian evangelical church—their response is to pray for ISIS! The pastor states, “Satan is our enemy, not ISIS.” You’ll see the actual family members of the Coptic Christians who died talk about forgiveness and praying for ISIS soldiers to see the light. Now THAT’S a response that Jesus would be proud of! Watch the video here: http://youtu.be/ElTWcbCrY7g

The 21 Egyptians were true martyrs in the Christian tradition—they died for their faith; unlike other traditions where a martyr could be one who dies while killing others for their faith. They inspire us to follow the Bible’s teaching from Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

For those Muslims reading this post who find that an attractive alternative to vengeance, guess what? The Qur’an offers similar guidance in Surah Fussilat 41:34 “And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” Repel evil with good? Win your enemy to become your friend? Yes, there are many Muslims who abhor how ISIS interprets the Qur’an, because like any religion, individuals choose what verses to base their lives on. Thank God for all those of every religion who choose peace and forgiveness.

For me personally, as an author, you’ll read my response to ISIS in the sequel to my first novel. This week I finished the first half of the first draft. I appreciate your prayers that this book will present a response to ISIS that both glorifies God and makes a difference in how we face this formidable issue.

I’d love to hear YOUR response to ISIS! Tell me what authentic and creative response God is partnering with you to do!





Jihad and Jesus

21 01 2015

Beheading   We are all troubled by the images of terrorist acts in France, or ISIS beheadings in the Middle East. It’s shocking and offensive to us that civilians are often the target. The term jihad may be the most hated word in the world today.

But before we join all the political pundits pointing fingers, let’s remember that the concept of jihad, or “holy war,” didn’t start with Islam. The Bible has several examples of God sending His people to kill others. Joshua and Saul were commanded to lead genocide of whole people groups, including the children. Samson initiated a suicide attack that murdered 3,000 men and women. This week I was reading in II Kings 9-10 about Jehu—this story has a military coup, the beheading of 70 relatives of the king, the mass slaughter of religious leaders of a rival religion in their own house of worship—doesn’t this story sound like something we might read about in the Middle East today? Yet God was behind it: His prophet commanded Jehu to do it. At one point in the story, Jehu says, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord” as he goes on a killing spree. And when he’s done, God commends him!

Today we see the same stories played out on the nightly news, of beheadings and massacres by those “zealous” for the One they worship, believing that He will award their deeds. Many people have compared modern-day Islam to life in the Bible’s Old Testament. Their understanding of God as Creator, sender of the prophets and holy books, and man’s responsibility to follow His law, including giving alms, keeping prescribed fasts, and going on pilgrimage, has extensive parallels. One more similarity is an acceptance of violence done in the name of God.

The coming of Jesus changed everything. The Bible says Jesus is God’s eternal Word that took on flesh (John 1:14). God met man in the person of a Messiah. The Bible also says that looking at Jesus is the best way to understand what God is like, since he’s “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Jesus had enemies—the Jewish religious leaders jealous of his favor with the masses; King Herod, fearful of any political rival; Pilate and the Romans, their occupied territory threatened by popular uprisings. Some of Jesus’ disciples wanted to fight with swords, see Jesus overthrow the Romans and become their new king. But Jesus was bringing a different kind of Kingdom, launched by love and pursuing peace. Even through Jesus’ death on the cross he treated his enemies with compassion, one of his last, dying utterances being this prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). All of Jesus’ teachings about “love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek” he lived consistently to the end.

If looking at Jesus is the best way to understand God, the implications of this are profound. Because of Jesus, if we say we love God, we have to love man. Because of Jesus, when we accept Jesus’ divinity and follow him, even if we thought it was justified to kill in the name of God, we can never kill in the name of Jesus, for it’s the opposite of all Jesus stood for.

The cross started as a symbol of death. During the crusades of the Middle Ages it unfortunately became a symbol of Christian warfare and atrocities. But for those who accept this mystery of God’s Word becoming man, it is the most perfect symbol of love. One beam points up to heaven, representing the love between God and man; the other beam stretches left to right, representing the love between man and man, both of these based on Jesus at the center.

I have many wonderful Muslim friends who absolutely condemn the barbaric acts of ISIS and other jihadists today. They are good people with a sincere faith. I also happen to believe that the Messiah came not just for the Jews, but like the Prophet John said, Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), while another prophet ascribed to Jesus the title, “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). For those who are zealous for God in any religion, I say to you, that following Jesus changes everything.