Justice for Religious Minorities

7 08 2019
micheile-henderson-03NMNUqHPdE-unsplash

  Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

 

 

How should the majority religion treat those of minority religions in their land?

My experience in both my home nation of the United States and my residence nation of Indonesia is that those of minority religions are often treated unjustly:

  • It is difficult to get permits to build houses of worship
  • Minority houses of worship are often protested, and sometimes vandalized or forcibly closed
  • It is more difficult to rent a home or get a job
  • Anyone leaving the majority religion to join a minority religion may be persecuted
  • The government is quick to address perceived threats from the minorities, but sometimes overlooks both threats and actual violence from the majority faith

In other nations which are less pluralistic, such as certain places in the Middle East, discrimination against the religious minorities is even more apparent, and at times, deadly.

If only there was a standard of conduct towards religious minorities that all nations and communities could agree on…one in which the majority religion agrees to protect the minorities’ homes, their houses of worship, their jobs, their legal status, their freedom of worship, their freedom to choose their own religion, their right to be conscientious objectors in time of war, their freedom from any compulsion by the majority…but what national or community leaders would dare teach their majority constituents such a standard? Would your pastor or mayor speak out in support of this? Would your imam or ayatollah bravely take a stand?

There is one religious leader who has courageously stated and enforced such a code, and it might surprise you who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the Prophet Muhammad.

One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world was built at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, St. Catherine’s Monastery. The monks claim that Muhammad visited them several times and maintained friendly relations. Muhammad wrote a letter to them now known as the Ashtiname, or Covenant of Muhammad, and this document has become the basis for much modern-day peacemaking discussion, especially by Muslim religious leaders, and even cited in a controversial case in Pakistan defending a Christian on trial! Here’s what one translation of the letter says:

“This is a message from Muhammad, son of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation of (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

In all my years living in Indonesia, oh how I have longed for a Muslim leader to start a speech like Muhammad’s letter above: “Christians, we are with you!” Muhammad’s Ashtiname—a Persian word meaning “Book of Peace”—is the standard Muslim majority nations and local communities should aspire to in how they treat religious minorities.

The standard for Christian majority nations and local communities comes from Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself…love your enemies…do to others as you would have them do to you…by welcoming the stranger, you welcome me.” (Matthew 22:39; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:31; Matthew 25:34-45) In other words, “Muslims, we are with you!”

If you live in a community where you are in the religious majority, I appeal to you to consider the religious minorities in your midst and care for them with the high standards set by Muhammad and by Jesus

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World Refugee Day–Faith over Fear

19 06 2019

Praying With RefugeesA bomb threat at the hotel where we were supposed to teach English caused us to cancel our classes one day. Thankfully, there was no bomb, and we could carry on teaching English here in Indonesia.

That’s the closest I’ve come to a bomb.

I’ve never watched missiles fall from the sky and wipe out my city.

I’ve never watched my apartment building crumble in a cloud of smoke, and wonder where I could go to be safe.

I’ve never lost track of family members—not knowing if they were killed in the mass destruction, or lying wounded somewhere, or taken to a refugee camp with no way of contacting them.

I’ve never been forced to leave everything I know and flee to a foreign land, giving up my dreams of the life I wanted for the new goal of just staying alive.

I’ve never been a refugee.

June 20th is World Refugee Day. It’s a time to take our eyes off ourselves for a moment, and consider our hurting “neighbors.”

Last year on June 20th, the United Nations reported that 2017 had record numbers of refugees around the world, 68.5 million people. That’s a new person displaced every two seconds.

God’s heart for refugees cannot be ignored. In the Bible, when a neighboring nation like Moab (modern-day west Jordan, but at the time an enemy to Israel) was attacked and had to flee their homes as refugees, God let us in on his emotions in Isaiah 15-16: “Oh, how I grieve for Moab! Refugees stream to Zoar…” The Moabites beg Judah, “Give the refugees from Moab sanctuary with you. Be a safe place for those on the run from the killing fields.” And God responds, “I’ll join the weeping. I’ll weep right along with Jazer, weep for the Sibmah vineyards. And yes, Heshbon and Elealeh, I’ll mingle my tears with your tears!” (Message translation)

Jesus himself was a refugee. His family fled Herod’s killing spree for the safety of Egypt. Aren’t we all glad Egypt took Jesus in, and didn’t turn him back at the border?

Taking in a refugee family can be a scary step of faith. Just ask Wolfgang and Chantal Massing, who were hesitant at first to disrupt their comfortable lives, but their faith in Christ prevailed. They invited a Syrian refugee family into their home and their hearts.

I love Chantal’s challenge to all of us: “Trusting more than fearing has got to be learned.”

On June 20th, what can we do to celebrate World Refugee Day?

  • Pray for refugee families, for peace in their homelands, for just immigration laws that welcome the hurting and the stranger.
  • If you know a refugee family, reach out to love them today.
  • Check to see if there are organizations in your city that help refugees, and ask them how you can get involved. Chantal started by donating items—she wound up with a gorgeous Syrian baby who called her “Grandma.”
  • Contact your government officials in support of legislation that helps refugees (ask me for more information if you’re interested).

My family has been blessed living in Indonesia by a wonderful Muslim family that took us in to live with them our first 3 months here, helping us to figure out how to do life in a whole new world. They became like a second family for us. Where would we be today without them?

Their kindness is exactly what Jesus expects of his followers when he charges us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)





Isra Mi’raj and Your Supernatural Encounter

2 04 2019

HeavenHappy Isra Mi’raj to all my Muslim friends today!

For those Muslims who live as minorities, I pray for a peaceful day of celebrations. My heart was broken with all of yours by the tragic shootings in Christchurch, NZ. I’m thankful for the gracious response of the Anglican Christians who demonstrated the true heart of Christ by opening their doors for Muslims to come and pray while their mosque was closed, and the hundreds of volunteers who are providing food, transportation, free legal advice, and other demonstrations of practical love.

For my many Muslim friends who live as the majority in nations such as Indonesia where I live, I hope you’ll be ready to come alongside your suffering minorities with a similarly generous, peace-loving heart.

For my Christian friends who don’t know what the Isra Mi’raj holiday is about, it commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s supernatural journey in one night to visit both Jerusalem and heaven. It includes a symbolic purification of his heart by Gabriel, meeting several of the most famous prophets in heaven such as Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and meeting God.

Can ordinary seekers of God ask for supernatural encounters, such as meeting a prophet, or visiting heaven? Or are such encounters reserved only for the most holy?

I personally have never met a prophet face-to-face or been taken up to see heaven, but I know many people who have. A quiet housewife I’ve known for years suddenly encountered Jesus walking into her kitchen. Two junior high girls in our church were caught up into heaven for several hours and described to my pastor amazing things they would have had no other way of knowing. There’s an entire book of the Bible called “Revelation” that tells how Jesus’ close friend John visited heaven, and was told about the future of humanity. There are literally thousands of documented cases of ordinary people having supernatural experiences like these.

A 20-year-old Indonesian girl who was living with us saw a crowd on the street and stopped to find a young man having an epileptic-type seizure. She drew near and prayed for healing. The man stopped shaking and jumped up, asking, “Where did he go?”

“Who?” our friend answered.

“The man dressed in white. The man who touched me and healed me.”

No one in the crowd, including our friend, had seen this supernatural being, but the epileptic man saw him and received a healing touch. A supernatural encounter such as this might be only a prayer away.

Would you like to visit heaven? Talk directly to Jesus? Why not take this holiday of Isra Mi’raj as an opportunity to ask God for a supernatural encounter. Jesus taught us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

If you have already had such an encounter, or if you pray this prayer and receive one, please tell me about it in the comments section below!

Happy Isra Mi’raj! Happy supernatural encounters!





Should Pope Francis be more Critical of Islam?

20 01 2018

When Pope Francis stated in his  Evangelii Gaudium (paragraphs 252 and 253) that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence,” he received a backlash from ex-Muslims. They responded with a letter to the Pope signed by 3700 former Muslims requesting that the Pope speak out more harshly against Islam.

Since these petitioners are former Muslims, surely they should understand the faith of their fathers better than we who are Christians, right? Which is why Christian pulpits around the world frequently invite ex-Muslims to explain all that’s wrong with their rejected religion and prove the superiority of Christianity.

However, a recent Christian Today article argues that ex-Muslims may not be the best candidates to explain Islam to us. I want to recommend this article here:

WHY EX-MUSLIMS MAY NOT BE THE BEST GUIDES TO ISLAM

Who would you want to stand up in the mosque to explain Christianity—someone who left the Christian faith to convert to Islam and has nothing good to say about Christianity, or someone for whom Christianity seems to have made a tremendous impact on their life—say, Mother Teresa, Ravi Zacharias, or even you? The fact that someone chose to reject Christianity doesn’t prove it’s oppressive or impotent; the fact that someone left Islam doesn’t prove it’s demonic or evil.

I firmly believe that Christianity has something to offer Muslims—namely, a much fuller and exalted role for Jesus than most Muslims have experienced yet. We Christians experience Jesus as a prophet and teacher, but also as our healer, deliverer, forgiver, savior, and purest expression of God’s love. We never need to put down another religion to make Jesus seem higher—he’s already “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). When we want to explain what God is like, we can point to Jesus.

Treating our Muslim friends with honor is how Jesus would treat them. So well done, Pope Francis! And it’s more likely to earn us the right to point our Muslim friends to the glory of Jesus.





“Baton Packs a Punch”

12 11 2017

photo from standard.co.uk

I was greatly encouraged to read this recent review of my writing on Amazon. The reviewer, Carolyn Klaus, kindly permitted me to post it here on my blog as well. Enjoy!

I just finished A Way Out of Hell. Wow. It is a tightly woven thriller that has haunted me, day and night, since I began reading it aloud to my husband during a long car trip recently. He doesn’t do novels, but has been as engrossed as I. I cannot recommend this book too strongly.

The author captured my interest by the excerpt on the back cover: “The Intelligence agent leaned back in the chair with his hands pressed together, tapping his lips. ‘If ISIS is indeed here, I want you to find their terrorist cell and take it down. And I want you to do this…’ he paused, ‘…non-violently.'” Was such a thing possible? Yes, as a Christian, I had heard Jesus’ commands to “love your enemies” many times. It hadn’t seemed to me a very practical approach to combating terrorism. But then, the evening news wasn’t showing me very much success from other methods.

Both A Way Out of Hell and the first book in this series of three, Someone Has to Die, demonstrate the author’s intimate knowledge of the many cultures of Indonesia—and of human nature. Carefully chosen details paint the characters and their environments with convincing reality. More impressive to me was the deep sympathy with which the author depicts the inner life of each of the characters—from terrorist to prejudiced pastor. I found myself empathizing even with the bad guys.

But this was not just a highly entertaining read. Baton packs a punch. Peacemaking, realistically, is difficult, risky, and costly. It is not for the faint-hearted or for hirelings. But as the Muslim former jihadist hero says, “The only true and lasting change happens when men’s hearts, like my own, are changed. And men’s hearts are never changed by fear, intimidation, control, threats, or violence. All of these only succeed in reproducing themselves in those we want to change. Fear produces hatred, hatred produces threats; threats produce violence; violence produces anger; anger produces more hatred, then more violence, and the cycle never ends. The only way toward true peace is to stop that cycle and start a new one. There is another cycle we can choose…” Baton has shown how this could work in the real world today. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. I hope a lot of others– Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and those without religion– read this and do the same.





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?





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!