Leaving One’s Culture for Jesus, or Bringing Jesus into One’s Culture?

23 07 2017

Going to hellDoes following Jesus mean someone should leave his culture behind, or should he instead bring Jesus into his culture? I pondered this question while reading this week the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi writes about an experience in his youth, when he had friends from various Hindu sects, Jains, Muslims, but not Christians: “I developed a sort of dislike for it [Christianity]. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.” (p.31)

Living in a Muslim-majority nation, sometimes we see the exact same situation (substituting pork for beef) and the exact same reaction—a Muslim converts to Christianity and changes his diet, his dress, and begins denigrating his family’s religion and culture—which leads to his entire community disliking Christianity even more. Is this what Jesus meant by following him?

One of Gandhi’s most famous quotes is, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” Can you blame him? If Christians preached that following Christ meant beef, beer, hats and condemning everyone different from them, how is that “Good News” to a Hindu?

What if Gandhi had been allowed to just meet the Christ of the Gospels and had chosen to follow Jesus within his culture—maintaining the same diet, dress and respect for those around him? In his process of following, would not Christ be able to transform any area that needed change? Shouldn’t Jesus be Good News to everyone, even Hindus?

Do we Christians unwittingly posture ourselves today the same way they did in Gandhi’s day? Do we expect Muslims to take off their head coverings to follow Jesus? Do we refuse to associate with groups at the office over what they consume (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.)? Are we perceived as the most condemning people of other’s beliefs or culture, quick to explain why other people (besides us) are going to hell?

What would it look like to change our approach to only bring Good News and let Jesus take care of transforming whatever he thinks needs work? Could Jesus hold his own in a Hindu or Muslim community? Could he find a place in a Liberal media office, in a gun-rights group, at a homosexual wedding or in Hollywood? Could it be that people in general are pre-conditioned to fall in love with Jesus, “the desire of all nations” (Hag. 2:7), if we could just introduce him and get ourselves out of the way?

And if Gandhi and the world are right, that the most condemning people are Christians, how is this following Jesus when the Bible claims Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17)?

Let’s face it—Christians do not have a superior dress, superior diet, or superior culture—and the way we act sometimes, we should in no way claim to have a superior religion! The Good News that we do have is Jesus. And he’s Good News for everybody.

What do you think?

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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!





The Jihad of Jesus

11 04 2016

The Jihad of Jesus book cover   I remember well the Q&A session in one of the many interfaith events we’ve organized over the years. An angry Christian stood up and declared, “As long as the word jihad exists, there will never be peace between our two religions!” The room was deathly silent, demanding the right response given in the right spirit.

From the platform, one of the speakers, the Orthodox Christian Bambang Noorsena, looked at his dear Muslim friend and presenter next to him, and said, “Let me answer this question.

“The term jihad is a perfectly wonderful term found not only in the Al Qur’an, but also in the Bible.” The audience was shocked. Bambang then quoted a verse from his Arabic New Testament about our “struggle” in the faith. I can’t recall which verse he quoted, since there are more than 10 mentions of jihad in the New Testament, but it might have been one of these:

“I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight [jihad] we’re in.” I Timothy 1:18, The Message

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish [jihad] against the Devil and all his angels.” Ephesians 6:12 The Message

“I have fought the good fight [jihad], I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

There is a “holy struggle” we all engage in—not against people who are different than we are—but against worldly values, temptations to our flesh and the devil. In Indonesia, we’ve actually published a book called True Jihad which shows from the Al Qur’an that jihad today should only be fought against the world, the flesh and the devil! There are many Muslims who believe and practice this positive understanding of jihad.

But the best book I’ve ever read on the topic is Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus. His book allows us to look in the mirror as both Christians and Muslims at how our “holy wars” have gotten away from God’s desire for us to struggle with faith, hope and love. Then he shares the struggle we should all be on.

>>For Muslims, it’s struggling to live out the Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (“In the name of God, the most Merciful, Most Compassionate”). This declaration of who God is begins every chapter but one in the Al Qur’an, and is recited countless times a day by the faithful. One Muslim told Dave he strives to interpret every passage of the Al Qur’an “consistent with the grace and compassion of God.” What if in every relationship, Muslims reflected God’s character of mercy and love?

>>For Christians, it’s struggling to follow Jesus—to love God, neighbor and enemy as Jesus first loved us. What if Christians put all other religious activities second to that? Dave presents a beautiful quote from Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s work Ma’an ‘ala-l-Tariq: Muhammad wa–i-Masih (p.52): “Christ was himself the message. He was the supreme example he left. He was the love which knows no hatred, the peace which knows no restlessness, the salvation which knows no perishing. And when we (Christians and Muslims—together) realize all these things on this earth, we shall then comprehend the return of the Christ.”

My early candidate for Book of the Year—you can find it at Amazon or even hear Dave share his amazing stories of peacemaking at www.jihadofjesus.com,

Buy at Amazon: The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice





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.