Arab World, October 2010 Dear friends In this St Francis Magazine (October 2010) we focus on women in the Arab

World, to counter the idea that if we want to reach the Arabs, we have to do this via the heads of the households, i.e. the men. We are glad with some new writers. If you want to express your own views of how to best present the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Arab World, feel free to offer your article to us. Beside these articles on women, we also publish an exegesis of Acts 15, an article on Christ and Caesar in the Muslim World, an article about a Saudi man who became an unbeliever, and even a letter to Pope Benedict XVI! Enjoy reading at www.stfrancismagazine.info. With Christian greetings Rev Dr John Stringer St Francis Magazine editor@stfrancismagazine.info  

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BELIEVING WIVES IN MUSLIM ARAB HOUSEHOLDS
By Prisca Smythe1 1 Introduction T is an American born-and-bred woman who met her Gulf Arab husband while he was studying in the USA. Coming from a divorced home and with an abusive step-mother, T describes her desire to marry her husband as escape from her family. Although her father was a minister, she admits that she was far from the Lord when she married. She feels that she was “always a Christian”, but came to understand the gospel fully about 5 years ago, about 8 years after marriage. At the time of signing the marriage papers in the Gulf country where they live, T mumbled the Shahada after the court judge, although she resented it. T’s husband has always known that she was a Christian, but has frequently lashed out at her, accusing her of her faith. She had gone to church in the past, but gave it up when it created too much tension in the household. They have two sons, aged 11 and 9, who are being educated in one of the best local schools, including daily Islamic education. For several years, T took her sons to a nearby AWANA (Christian) program. Her husband tolerated that they were going out, but did not understand (and did not ask) where. She prays with the boys on the way to school, and reads Bible stories to them at bedtime, as these are times that her husband is not present. B is a British woman who met her Gulf Arab husband while he was studying in the UK. As a child, she suffered the loss of her

                                                                                                               
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Prisca Smythe (not her real name) has served in the Middle East for five years. She is active in women's discipleship and raising teenagers.

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mother at age 9, and abuse at the hands of her brother. Although her father objected strongly, she and her husband were married in the UK and lived there for 4 years before moving to his family’s home in the Gulf. While her husband was away with the military, B and her 3 children were isolated in a single room, sometimes locked in away from food or bathroom facilities. Her mother-inlaw would refuse food B cooked, and rewash laundry that B washed, claiming that it was unclean. The marriage was characterized by alcohol abuse, physical violence, and unfaithfulness. Now, years later, B is in her own home but still has to ask her husband’s permission every time she wants to go out, and she must always be accompanied. Six young adult children range from 26 to 16 years. About 5 years ago, B came to understand and receive the gospel, and now tries to live a godly life and tell her children about Jesus. They have all embraced Islam and were educated in the local school system. Her children often encourage B to convert to Islam so she can receive the national health benefits. 2 Minstry implications These two case studies highlight some of the issues that arise in ministry to a unique group: the believing wives of local Muslims. I have been blessed to minister to a handful of women in this situation. These wives have access to witness to their own families that no one else has. Of course, individual families vary, but there are common themes to be aware of and to prepare to address in ministry. I will briefly discuss six themes, as well as some ministry implications. 2.1 Personal Belief and Healing in Christ The first issue is personal salvation. Each of the women I work with has gone through the process of learning more about Christianity because she claimed to be Christian. In so doing, each
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came to saving faith. Women living in Muslim households are often under pressure to convert to Islam; sometimes the pressure of family members and sometimes for government benefits. The children may join in trying to convert their mother, probably because they are urged to do so in their school training. Also, as the cases indicate, many women in this situation have experienced abuse in their past and need to work through the forgiveness and healing that Christ gives. This is true in increased proportion for those who become believers out of a Muslim background. Many women express regret or guilt for the choices they made, especially regarding marriage. They also comment on how much the behavior of their husbands changed upon returning from the West to live in an Arab country Discipleship must begin with an awareness that the gospel may not be understood or received yet. Even if it is, the basic tenets bear repeating, with their various implications for the maturing life. Believing wives must be encouraged in their faith and eternal reward, and in the truth of the gospel. Apologetics for the Biblical account can strengthen their certainty and determination. As past abuse comes up in conversation, expressing the love and acceptance of Christ, discussing the sovereignty of God, the theology of pain and suffering, and some practicalities of forgiveness and healing, are pertinent. Many discussions may be necessary. It is helpful to build in the women a sense of God’s sovereignty and good plan as they process their poor life choices. Several of them have grown in their acceptance of their life, and their desire to see their adopted country come to know Christ. 2.2 Identity In the Muslim world, to be a “Christian” simply means that one came from the West, or from a family or culture associated with the Christian religion. It does not imply personal belief. Many believing wives carried the label “Christian” long before they had

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the understanding or commitment that we associate with knowing Christ. Nonetheless, they often struggle with the intolerance of the community and, where it is prudent, the desire to hide their identity. They may feel that they get better care at the local hospital if they cover their heads, or that the other mothers at school will not speak to them if they are known to be Christian. When meeting extended family, a woman entering the room traditionally greets everyone else, walking in order around the circle, but the uncovered sister-in-law is often skipped over. It is difficult when even her children talk about what “we believe” or “we do” that excludes their own mother. The discipler must help these women work through what it means in their context to confess Jesus before men (Mt 10:32), and help them develop a solid identity as a follower of Christ, with all of its glorious benefits (Eph 1). In addition, it is important to develop access to a community of believers who accept her fully, and to whom she belongs deeply. 2.3 Access to fellowship, corporate worship, and training Wives of Gulf Muslims have greater or lesser freedom to drive and to meet with friends during weekdays. However, rarely can they go to church on a Friday which is usually felt to be a family day, or in the evening which might raise suspicion with their husbands. Alternative structures need to be developed to provide for these women. One problem is that the format naturally tends toward the “women’s Bible study”, which lacks extended worship, interaction with and teaching from godly men, and the practice of the sacraments. Also, the meetings tend to be small, and do not reflect the variety in the body of Christ. The commitment to meet with these women is demanding, with a large ratio of disciplers needed. Also, their schedules tend to be so flexible that there is a lot of rescheduling of meetings.

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2.4 Marital issues These include abuse and intimidation (which is all too common, culturally), infidelity or multiple wives, and the very different cultural expectations of gender roles. In addition are the usual problems that arise with marriage between a believing and an unbelieving spouse. The attitudes of husbands to the gospel range from overtly hostile to veiled hostility, to tolerant, to respectful, usually with plenty of fluctuation in each individual. The option of a wife to leave her husband is often rejected because, under Islamic law, the children belong to the father and the mother would give up all rights to them if she left the marriage. The latter is a very strong factor, as most of the women I minister to have stayed in their marriage for the sake of the children. Discipleship issues include dealing with abuse and depression, forgiveness, and trust balanced with wisdom. A common theme we discuss is the 1 Peter 3 passage on the wife of a disobedient husband, as well as the possible influence of a believing spouse in 1 Cor 7. We also frequently discuss ways to answer doctrinal questions when there are glimpses of openness in their husbands. We emphasize the witness in the home of a life transformed by Christ. 2.5 Children According to Islamic law, the children belong to the father and take the religion of the father. Thus, children in these households are labeled “Muslim”, and take Islamic education throughout their school years. They are clearly instructed by teachers that they are Muslim, and are required to fast, pray, and otherwise behave as Muslims. Their school exams include Arabic and Islamic education which they must pass to move to the next grade. The type of Christian training that the children get depends on how tolerant the father is, and how motivated the mother is. One mother I know brings her child to church programs regularly, with the
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father’s consent. Another mother does her Christian training in secret from her husband. Another mother has waited for her children to become 8-10 years old before even discussing spiritual matters so that they will be able to keep the secret from their father and the extended family. I found this a heartbreaking loss of the early years, but needed to let this mother find solutions appropriate to her own situation. One family had arguments about the children’s training in which the father demanded that his son sleep with a Quran under his pillow. Discipleship includes modeling training for children (regular discipline as well as spiritual teaching), and keeping mothers motivated and mindful of training their children. This is one area that easily gets “choked out” by the busyness of life, especially when the mother does not have church structures to help, and must be persistent in isolation. Providing materials, such as a children’s Bible and movies may help, since the mother may not be able to be seen at a Bible Society Store. 2.6 Persistence The women I work with are often tempted to give up and leave the marriage and the country. They live with consistent spiritual hostility, and often personal hostility and abuse. They often say they would have left long ago if not for the children. They can become discouraged with their difficulties. When they grow in spiritual boldness they may incite increased hostility. Studies on the end times in Daniel, Revelation and Matthew have been very encouraging, as we have been reminded how the story ends in our victory. Studies on spiritual warfare have helped put difficulties in perspective and shed light on why they are facing problems and how to address them. Studies of the persecuted but growing church in Acts have provided encouragement in the power of God and enabling of the Holy Spirit to build His kingdom.

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3 The Importance of Prayer It should go without saying, but prayer is crucial to the success of ministry to these women. During periods when I am diligent to be praying regularly for them, it is remarkable how much change is evident in the husbands and children. On the other hand, when I am less disciplined to pray, there is much less progress spiritually and personally, even though ministry time and activities are essentially the same. Prayer is easy to overlook in the busyness of scheduling time to meet and time to prepare. However, persistence in prayer, or lack of it, will make or break the impact of ministry. 4 Conclusion As we minister in Gulf-Arab-Muslim society, an often-forgotten segment is the believing wives that may live in these households. As we strengthen them spiritually, we increase their capacity to minister and witness to an otherwise unreached group: their own husbands and children, and extended family of in-laws. Perhaps their children, labeled “Muslim” from birth, will become the core of an indigenous church, having grown up in the local culture, but with the godly influence of their mothers.

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SUFISM AND THE GOSPEL: APPROACHES TO SUFI WOMEN THROUGH THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS CHRIST
By Sophia Kim1 1 Introduction Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, addresses the spiritual side of Islam. Sufism is known as the “spirit of Islam.” Orthodox Islam does not allow any channel of inspiration and revelation since the death of its prophet Muhammad, and hence tends to focus on the implementation of the law. Sufism can be said to inspire spiritual vitality into this otherwise legalistic religion. Sufism is most visible at the shrines where Sufi saints are buried. These saints are considered intermediaries between man and God, so people visit their shrines to make prayer requests for their needs. Although the theology of orthodox Islam does not allow any intermediary between God and men, this does not reflect the way that many Muslims live out their faith. Not only Sufis visit shrines, but even those who do not call themselves Sufis. This is because Sufism’s practical approach to life has made it popular at a grass roots level. Folk Islam sprouted on the sand of Sufism with its characteristics of tolerance and spiritual experiences, a response to the felt needs that people express through their superstitions and their desire for an experiential religious life. In this respect, it is understandable that the boundary between Sufism and folk Islam is not clear. The orthodoxy of Sufism has been controversial and the goal of Sufism, gaining a close relationship with God and receiving special knowledge from God, does not fit with orthodox Islam.

                                                                                                               
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Sophia Kim has been a missionary with Interserve in the Arab World during the past decade. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 777

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Nevertheless, Sufism is popular in the Islamic world. The Sufis are not a sect and can belong to any sect or group, except those that strongly condemn visiting shrines such as Wahabis and Ahmadis. However, it is worth noting that even in countries like Algeria and Pakistan, whose governments are strongly opposed to visiting shrines and veneration of the saints, many people continue to be attracted to such places. In this article, we will consider how we can share the Gospel with the women who visit shrines and tombs of the saints. The shrines are very often crowded with women. We will consider the reason they visit these places, from the social, spiritual, psychological and practical aspects. Then we will find the people in the Bible who came to Jesus expressing the same needs as those expressed by women who visit shrines. This examination will help us to pursue paths of living encounter in approaching women, as we can learn from the examples of Jesus Christ. 2 The social needs of the Muslim women In many aspects, the situation of women in the Islamic world is similar to that of the women in the Bible. Jesus' teaching and encounters with women were counter-cultural in many ways. When he said that if the wife is faithful in marriage the husband should not divorce her, the disciples said that if this were so it would be better not to marry (Mat 19:9-10). Jesus had compassion for the dead young man who was the only son of a widow, and raised him to life again because he knew well the hard life of the widow who did not have a son (Luke 7:12-14). The stories of the Old Testament also show us the struggle for women. Ruth could be bothered by men when she went out to the fields to pick up the leftover grain, but Boaz said to her not to worry because he had already told the men in the field not to touch her (Ruth 2:9). A male heir, a male protector, was important for any women in the communities of the Bible.
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Many Muslim women face these same difficulties in the malecentred society of the Islamic world. The woman is under the protection of her father (or brother) before she marries, and after getting married she belongs to and is under the protection of the husband. If the husband dies early, then the son protects the mother and female siblings. Some movies from strict Islamic countries like Afghanistan and Iran tell terrible stories of the limitations of a woman’s life without the husband; indeed she can be in real danger. I know some women who divorced and found that their lives were very different according to whether they had a son or not. If a woman divorces and does not have a son, a second marriage is considered her best way to continue living. Women I met in the shrines said that those who come to the shrines all have heartaches, troubles or problems. To see a woman weeping at the shrine is not strange. Other women at the shrine comfort her, patting her on the shoulder. Sometimes they weep with her without knowing the reason. They share the sorrow and understand that there are times when the weight of life for a woman is unbearable. We can share Jesus with these women, introducing them to the one who accepted the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She came to Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak because she could not ask openly for healing. The ruler who came just before her asked Jesus to put his hand on his dying daughter in public. The woman, who could not be compared with the ruler in social status, filled with the shame of her situation and need, found help in Jesus. He stopped on the way to the ruler’s house, responded to her need and gave her that good news that her faith had healed her. She could go in peace and would be freed from her suffering, pain and shame (Mark 5:25-34). Jesus loved women and showed them respect. These women were second-class citizens in their male-centered society. He treated them as God’s precious creatures. For Jesus, women were not
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less important than the men. He showed himself first to Mary after the Resurrection, meeting her as she cried outside the empty tomb (John 20:16-17). When a sinful woman poured perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair, the men around judged and condemned her but Jesus did not. He said “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Luke 7:36-50; Mat 26:6-13) 3 Spiritual needs Muhammad veneration is popular in the Muslim world. Vivienne Stacey, who worked in the Muslim world for more than forty years, says that while It is nothing new, “in the last twenty years or so there has been a revival of Muhammad veneration.” Muslims seek to focus on unity, and Muhammad veneration and love for him have become that focus of unity for many Muslims.2 “I love Muhammad” is written on the walls or at the entrance of houses. If you live in the Muslim world you can understand what Javednama Iqbal wrote in his epic poem when he said that, “You can deny God but you cannot deny Muhammad.” You can argue about God, but if you say something negative about the prophet Muhammad you will find yourself in an awkward situation. Some Muslim theologians acknowledge that Muhammad was a man, and that he made mistakes during his lifetime. However, for many Muslims Muhammad is considered such a holy man that they cannot believe he could make mistakes. If someone were to mention his mistakes and weaknesses, many people would take great offense.

                                                                                                               
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Vivienne Stacey, ‘Women in Islam’, in St. Francis Magazine No 4 Vol. III (March 2008), p. 21.

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Muhammad veneration is particularly common among the Sufis and this has been very influential on Muslim Society. Sufis regard the saints very highly because they believe that they are close to God and have that special knowledge of the Divine. They claim that this knowledge is distinct from the knowledge that is acquired through study. One of the characteristics of the saints is their spiritual genealogy that they say is traced back to the Prophet Muhammad, the channel of spiritual power. This is because people believe that blessing, baraka, is endowed by heredity, and spiritual power is transmitted by spiritual genealogy. Therefore, many people visit the saints’ tomb believing that the saints are intermediaries between them and God. As the closest beings to God, and those who are the especially blessed ones, the saints can plead with God on the petitioner’s behalf. As Christians look to Jesus as the Savior and the Intercessor, many Muslims look to the saints, and Muhammad is the model of the saints. This belief about the saints is also seen in the practices of those who visit the shrines. They take off their shoes before entering into the holy place, and they go around the coffin kissing, reciting Quranic verses and making their personal requests. The reason they go around the coffin is to pray from all directions to the dead saint. The head part of the coffin is raised and specially decorated, so everyone knows where the head of the dead saint is. However, the visitors want to pray from every angle in case he/she cannot hear. How can Jesus meet this need for an intercessor? We know the One who became the intercessor between God and sinners; we know how he willingly hears our requests, and are promised he intercedes for us. These women seeking help at the shrines need Jesus. If we remember that sainthood is the main theology of Sufism, we know that the goal and purpose of Sufism, in fact, can be a good pointer to Jesus Christ.
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4 The psychological needs People visit the shrines not only to solve their problems but also to get comfort and take rest. Once a woman shared the hardships of her life. Her husband had lost his job two years previously, and since then she had visited the shrine whenever she had a day off. For her, the shrine was a place to recharge and renew herself so that she could endure the hardships of life. Many women save money to travel to the famous shrines that are often a long way away from where they live. They want to get comfort to face insecure futures. The shrines become a place of release from all the difficulties of life, a place for taking a rest and receiving comfort beside the tomb of their beloved saint. People have special affection for the saints. They believe the saints can understand them, that they pity them because they also lived in this world and suffered and experienced the same hardships. The Creator is so different and so far from His creatures that human beings cannot have a personal relationship with God. Saints, however, are close to God and at the same time close to people. This enables them to act as intermediaries with the Creator God. The saints are believed to be ready to help whenever the petitioners ask, and will answer their requests favorably. For this reason people want to express their love toward the saint. I have seen those who sell flowers and perfumes on the street near a big shrine; they say that the flowers are for the saint. This is evident when you see the fence inside the shrine decorated with many flowers. We know Immanuel, God with us, who understands and pities us because he also lived in this world. He suffered too, experiencing many of the same hardships that we have in this world. When God descended on Mount Sinai in fire and spoke with Moses the Israelites trembled with fear, staying at a distance and asking Moses not to let God speak to them directly. They worried that they might die. The Lord heard the people and understood
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their fear (Deu 5:24-28). Then the Lord sent Jesus, being in very nature God, and he dwelled among people teaching them about God, showing them who God is. People gathered around Jesus and listened to him. Therefore, we can share with women this Jesus who has compassion on people suffering from the hardships of life. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) 5 The practical needs The main purpose of visiting shrines is to solve current problems or difficulties. I have met several women in the shrines: one of them had a severe headache; one was scheduled for an operation in a few days’ time; and another had exams coming up soon. There were also people who were suffering from illness, loss of a job or barrenness. There is a box in front of the fence of the coffin. In that box people place a piece of paper on which their wish is written, or they give money as a gift to the saint. Even though the box is there, people prefer to put their requests inside the fence, because then they are closer to the saint. They put papers, money, scarf, clothes, even underwear, and many other gifts inside for the saint. If someone cannot visit the shrine in person, maybe due to illness, someone else will visit instead and put that person’s possession beside the coffin. They expect healing for the person, this way. Sometime, those who reach the age of marriage put their underwear beside the coffin. The ardent needs of the visitors are clearly evident at the shrines. The objects around the shrines are also believed to have special powers, and are used as a means for healing: people will drink from the spring around the shrine; eat the fruit of the trees nearby; and also use the leaves of those trees. A husband who visited

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picked some fruit from the yard around the shrine and gave it to his wife who was due to have an operation soon. People normally visit more than one shrine. They believe that the more blessings one accumulates the better it is; also, they cannot be certain which shrine will be more effective. One of the very practical needs faced by Muslim women who visit shrines is their fear of evil, or their superstitions. They are very afraid of the evil eye, or envy eye. They use blue stones, hand shaped ornaments, or baby shoes. Sometimes they wear shirts or socks inside out to be protected from the evil eye. If someone puts salt or some water outside of the door this is also for protection. I saw one pharmacist burn five pieces of incense (because they think five is a special number for protection) and put them in different places in the pharmacy to keep away the evil eye. We know many people came to Jesus to solve their practical needs, and many of them were saved as they encountered Jesus meeting their needs. One woman, a Greek who was born in Syrian Phoenicia, begged Jesus to heal her daughter who was demon possessed. Jesus heard this foreign woman’s plea and drove the demon out. The Samaritan woman who met Jesus by the well asked him to give her that special water that means one never thirsts. Although she did not understand the spiritual meaning at first, she became a believer and was given eternal life after all. Women who had been healed from various diseases and freed from evil spirits supported Jesus and his disciples. One of them was Mary Magdalene who had been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2-3). We know that if they pray in the name of Jesus for practical needs and if they seek him, they can meet the Lord who can answer their prayer and lead them into eternal life. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace
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of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) 6 Conclusion We have considered the social, spiritual, psychological and practical needs of Muslim women, and have seen what they are looking for in visiting the shrines. They need an intercessor who is close to God and at the same time close to themselves; they yearn for relationship with a merciful being who understands them and has compassion on them; and lastly, they need a powerful being who can help meet their practical needs. We can conclude that the one they really need is Jesus Christ: he died for sinners because he loved them; he was in this world and died to save human beings, and by that became the intercessor between God and man; he is merciful and compassionate because that is the nature of God, and he too suffered the hardships of life like any human being. Therefore Jesus willingly hears from them. Jesus is in very nature God, and therefore His name is powerful. He is the only one who can help those who visit the shrines with their many needs. Vivienne Stacey suggests ways we should share the Good News with those who venerate Muhammad, the model of the saints: “So much of what we say of Jesus they transfer to Muhammad. One important emphasis is to stress the suffering of Jesus for us. Whatever one says of his glory and majesty might be transferred in the mind of the hearer, but what is said of his sufferings will not be transferred. When his sufferings are understood, his glory will be understood (Hebrews 2:9).”3 Jesus Christ is the only one who carried sufferings, the result of the sin, for mankind.

                                                                                                               
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Vivienne Stacey, ‘Women in Islam’, in St. Francis Magazine No 4 Vol. III (March 2008), p. 23. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 785

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NEGOTIATING THE STATUS OF MUSLIM WOMEN
By Melanie McNeil1 1 Introduction ‘Do Muslim women really need saving’? For more than two years I have been haunted by this provocative title to an article by Palestinian-American scholar Lila Abu-Lughud. Abu-Lughud was examining political and military interventions, in countries like Afghanistan, that have been made on the basis of ‘saving women’ from the tyranny of laws that denigrate and legislate against equality in their status. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian feminist and scholar, has stated it rather cynically as white men saving brown women from brown men. Other scholars, like the Egyptian Leila Ahmad, refer to the emphasis on rescuing Muslim women as ‘colonial feminism’. Does this have any relevance to Christian ministry among women whose lives are shaped by their belief in Islam, or the organization of their community or society according to Muslim laws? Let me rephrase the question. From what do Muslim women need saving? How do we define our mandate in the task of mission among Muslim women today? The answer seems obvious: Muslim women need a relationship with Jesus Christ that comes through forgiveness of sin because of his death and resurrection. But I want to press the question here again: from what do Muslim women need saving?. I have become increasingly concerned about the use of generic images of ‘the Muslim woman’ - a veiled, shrouded, unidentifiable female - in building the work of mission among Muslim women. Scanning recent issues of magazines published by a number of mission agencies working in the Arab

                                                                                                               
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Melanie McNeil is a long-term partner with Interserve in the Muslim World and she has a leadership position in the organization. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 786

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world, there was only one image used to promote, describe, and capture work among Muslim women - this generic image of the veiled and shrouded female. So, I want to address the issue of ministry among Muslim women by looking at the changing status of women in Muslim countries as the context for ministry. In doing so I want to argue for ministries that are specifically directed to address the whole of women’s lives, that are willing to embrace the social context and needs, the physical deprivations and the spiritual isolation and burden. The Lausanne report on reconciliation speaks to this: ‘Too often we in the Christian community rush into action and “solutions” without lamenting, without truthfully coming to grips with the depth of pain and brokenness – personal, social and spiritual – in which the church is called to bear witness to Christ’ (2004:7). And I would add one more reason why I believe it is imperative that we engage with the status of women in the Muslim world as a context for ministry: there is a philosophy of ministry among Muslims that emphasizes a contextualization of ministry that marginalizes women. This, I would argue, perpetuates discrimination and denies them the right to change and to be agents of change in their families, communities and societies. I believe this emphasis on total contextualization, one that says we must first reach the men in a community in order to reach the whole community has failed to understand the dynamics of the social context and status of women. I wish to address these issues by examining three areas: firstly the status of Muslim women, and some of the areas where there are changes in women’s status; secondly some of the work being done to address issues of the status of women; and thirdly I wish to offer some suggestions concerning ministry among Muslim women in this changing context.

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2 The status of Muslim women Women’s status in Muslim countries is mediated by multiple factors: the underlying legacies inherited as part of their complex position as ‘women’ in the political and economic environment of the post-colonial world; the place they are assigned by a religious culture that defines and controls them; and the social discourse that enunciates the norms of their community. Women have been burdened both as bearers of cultural authenticity and central figures in the construction of national identity. They are often marginalised in the areas of physical, social, and intellectual development and, as a result, suffer health problems and low educational achievements, and are unable to reach their potential and fulfil their aspirations. When women’s access to basic services is denied, they become locked into the cumulative cycle of deprivation, powerlessness, insecurity and misery, with long-term repercussions. The 2004 United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) report, ‘Progress of Arab Women’, notes many challenges to reconciling women’s status: “prevailing gender attitudes that continue to exert pressure on all women, regardless of their age, education or access to the public sphere. Furthermore, although in some countries there have been impressive changes on the legal front, customary treatment of women frustrates formal steps towards full and equal citizenship. Women also continue to face gender inequality in their own homes. Women who are called upon to support their families in times of crisis are often left to do so without any opportunity for employment or social security protection. Inclusiveness, participation, and security are aspects of women’s well-being that are not just absent, but are also unrecognized as legitimate needs.” (UNIFEM 2004:2-3). Let us consider just three indicators on the status of women: education and health, poverty and violence against women. Yemen ranks extremely low on the Human Development Index. AcSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 788

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cording to a 2000 report more than 63% of girls never attend school and, of those who attend, a large number leave at the age of 10 (WNC, 2000, Report on the Status of Women in Yemen Five Years after Beijing 1995). United Nations statistics show that more than 75 million women in the Middle East and North Africa cannot read or write, and countries where a high percentage of the population lives in rural areas have the lowest literacy rates among women. But, there has been progress. The literacy rate among women has risen from 16.6 percent in 1970 to 52.5 percent in 2000. An emphasis on functional literacy programmes for women has shown success. In one Yemeni Governorate the use of themes like agricultural production, maternal and child health, environmental management, political participation and women’s rights has formed the core of literacy programmes with significant success. Nearly 5,300 women and girls, through the establishment of 80 village level, self-financing women’s literacy associations, have been reached. There are a number of factors that affect women’s health: lack of access to medical facilities, limited access to female practitioners, invisibility in statistical data, the impact of poverty on their access to nutrition, and outside control of their reproductive rights. It is estimated that about 13,000 women die of complications in childbirth each year in the MENA region, with three out of five deaths occurring in just four countries, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen. About half of the 10 million women who give birth in the MENA region each year experience some form of complication, with more than 1 million of them suffering from serious injuries that could lead to long term illness. Millions more experience other reproductive health problems that harm not just women but also children and families. About 1 billion people (one in six) in the world live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of these are women. More than 800 million go hungry each
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day, two-thirds are women. Using an international poverty line of $1 per capita a day, poverty in the MENA region was calculated at 2.8 percent of the total population in 2000. This is the lowest incidence of extreme poverty among all the regions of the world and compares favorably with East Asia and the Latin America regions where there are also a significant number of middle income countries. The relative position of MENA drops to second lowest if we use a poverty line of $2 per capita per day. By this measure, around 24.4 percent of the population is calculated to be in poverty. Low income, low participation rate in the economy, social customs and traditions that limit women’s participation, low education levels, early marriages, lack of availability of loans and credit for women, high rates of fertility and early pregnancy all contribute to women’s poverty in MENA. In a study on domestic violence, conducted in one area of Cairo, it was found that ‘30 percent of the women questioned admitted to being subjected to domestic violence on a daily basis, 34 percent on a weekly basis, 15 percent on a monthly basis and 21 percent occasionally” (Benninger-Budel 2001:19). Most women suffered without telling anyone, and more than 87 percent did not report the matter to the police. While this should not be viewed as representative of Egyptian society as a whole, it is indicative of the widespread violence that crosses all barriers, and the lack of options presented to women for either legal redress or social change. Legal practice affects women’s access to justice. Multiple bodies of law govern their lives and impact efforts to provide protection and legal redress. These include: the rules of legal texts, the rules of judicial interpretation and, more significantly, the unwritten rules that govern different communities and sections of society and have an equal or even greater impact on the lives and freedoms of women and girls. Studies have shown that there are a number of prevailing social norms that influence views on gender violence: viewing women as property that can be used and
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abused at the ‘owners’ pleasure; treating women as less than equal in terms of capacity, confining them to the care of others whatever their age; expecting women to conform to myths and social expectations such as the silent, submissive female; not considering domestic violence to be violence; placing little value on women’s lives so that their murder is considered of minimal consequence; holding women responsible for their own deaths because of immoral behaviour, whether proven or not; locating “honour” in the bodies of women; making moral judgments about women’s character in order to justify crimes against them; treating sex crimes as an outcome of lust rather than a brutal crime of violence.’ Women remain vulnerable, despite changes, because social, economic, family, legal, and religious factors continue to be used to control, marginalise and disempower them. 3 Current efforts to address the status of women There is a range of initiatives that address the status of women. Local grassroots projects, national initiatives debating the status of women, engagement with and through international networks, the use of international instruments and conventions such as the Declaration on Human Rights and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, new scholarship on Muslim women, and re-interpreting the Qur’an to support equality and rights for women are just some of the ways some Muslim women are working for change in the status of women. These are a few examples. The Alliance of Arab Women (AAW) in Egypt “works with a network of NGOs and other organizations to provide women with basic human security through influencing policies and legislations and providing relevant services and programs within the frame work of human rights.” Another group is the Centre for Arab Women Training and Research (CAWTAR), which was established as an independent Regional
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Institution to promote gender equality in the Arab World through research, training, networking and advocacy. International groups such as the solidarity network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), provide support for local initiatives by drawing on its broad network to publicise and pressure for change. It engages to challenge the use of laws deemed ‘Muslim’ that subjugate and brutalise women. Acting concurrent to these formal groups are many small self-help groups seeking to alleviate the plight of women at a basic practical level: starting schools and literacy centres, refuges for women escaping violence and cooperatives providing economic assistance. Each of these initiatives represents efforts to bring change in the position of women and provide a route for them to become engaged in change at the structural level. Running in parallel to these initiatives has been the highprofile and controversial work of Muslim feminist scholars, women like Nawaal al-Sadawi, Fatima Mernissi, Lila Abu-Lughod, Leila Ahmad and Margot Badran, to name just a few. While they hold divergent positions concerning women, the use of the Qur’an and the agenda for interaction with the state, they hold in common an attempt to develop a dynamic for change for women that is rooted in the local historical, cultural and religious context. Their attempts move away from both reification of the past and an unquestioning embrace of modernity. Another group of Muslim women working for change is those who are tackling it from a theological and interpretative framework. These women are investing the Qur’an with new interpretations that they assert reflect the intent of the message for today’s world. Amina Wadud (2006), known for her actions in leading prayers at a mosque in the United States, has written a book on women’s reform in Islam entitled ‘Inside the Gender Jihad”. In this she identifies what she calls a ‘gender fundamentalist’ approach to the Qur’an that permits exploitation by men. She sugSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 792

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gests that a ‘Qur’anic worldview’ unveils alternate paths for women and the gender challenges that they confront in the Muslim world. Asma Barlas (2004) has set out to ‘unread’ the patriarchal interpretations of the Qur’an in her book ‘Believing Women in Islam’. She argues that there are multiple ways of rendering the text so that it does not permit discrimination against women. Their work must be seen within the context of Muslim women across the world searching for a way to restructure their position and precipitate change that will bring dignity and hope to the lives of women living under Islam everywhere. The world of Muslim women in Arab countries is undergoing significant and rapid social change. Global pressures, failed dreams of nations in the post-colonial world and initiatives in areas like health and education are some of the pressures that create a potential for change. 4 The changing status of women as a context for ministry 4.1 Women: holders of tradition and agents of change Our ministry to Muslim women today must engage with the issues of oppression that define their lives. Whether because of social status, the status of gender relations, or their status under Islam, women in the Middle East and North Africa face many barriers that marginalise and exclude them, leaving them vulnerable to oppression and abuse. The wholistic transformational mandate of mission is to reach out with compassion, naming and challenging the structures that perpetuate oppression and abuse, and providing the opportunity for change. We want to see lives and communities transformed through encounter with Jesus Christ. There is another reason I believe we need to be proactive in our ministry to women: I believe that women are both the holders of tradition in Islam and at the same time engaged in some of the

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most innovative thinking and challenge to interpretations of the texts of the religion. Women usually have less contact with the outside world and less contact with dynamics of change and so are the upholders and teachers of tradition in religion. Men leave the confines of tradition through their interactions with the world outside through employment, media etc. Women remain confined and limited in their interactions and become the ones who pass on traditions to their children and maintain the order of tradition in the community. At the same time, women scholars are demanding a new interpretation of the texts of Islam and are engaging in some of the most innovative interpretations. They are significant agents of change in the tension within Islam between orthodoxy and modernity, their advocacy pushing for a redefinition of the status of women within Islam. I believe there is a need for those of us who engage in mission to Muslim women to engage with this dynamic of change – through dialogue with women advocating change that helps expand the borders of their thinking and discussion, and with women who are marginalised by traditions they uphold – through engaging with the felt needs of their marginalisation. I want to suggest four areas for engagement with the changing status of women in the Middle East and North Africa: 4.2 Capacity building There are real needs faced by women in the countries of this region, where international donors and local NGOs are seeking to supplement the state’s capacity to provide basic services. Some of these areas could include health and educational services, working conditions, and economic conditions for women. I believe there is a role not only to start our own work, which needs to build capacity in the sectors that most affect women’s lives, but also to build capacity into existing programmes in order to maxi-

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mise the potential of available resources, opening the opportunity for women to seek change. 4.3 Preventative measures Measures that aim to avert deprivation and prevent women from becoming trapped in cycles of suffering, loss and marginalisation, engage with issues that mediate the status of women. Preventative measures will draw women into the centre by recognising them and their needs, and addressing these practically. One major factor here is tackling complex economic needs that are detrimental to women’s health and education, and have been shown to be determinants in violence against women. 4.4 Protective measures Social safety nets and direct assistance programs that address and alleviate the consequences of economic and social trauma and crisis are needed. Women need alternatives that offer protection when they determine to make choices for change. However, we cannot set up all of these services alone. I am advocating engagement with those networks that are seeking to provide services, where we can add value to the basic services and bring a whole and transformational service. 4.5 Transformative measures Measures that change the structural position of women in society, thus providing them with true security, must be engaged in, both in the gospel that transforms lives and communities, and in allowing the truth to challenge structures that perpetuate marginalisation, discrimination and deprivation. The gospel changes more than our status with God; it challenges and transforms every area of our lives.

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5 Conclusion These measures require a cooperative effort that should include women who are working for change in their own communities as well as engagement with state and social institutions. The Lausanne Report on Reconciliation noted the need to work in cooperation with state institutions that have the capacity and power to foster transformation, while not relying on them: “Certain legal, governmental and national efforts can bring a cessation of hostilities and public pursuit of truth and just practices that the church alone cannot bring and for which the church should advocate. Christian partnership can even elevate their outcomes in profound ways [...] Yet involvement with governmental efforts should not become the primary end or determinative sphere of the church’s reconciling mission …The church must never compromise its identity or prophetic voice” (2004:17). Transformation and reconciliation are signs of God’s presence, of His kingdom made visible in genuine love for one another and for enemies. As communities of God’s people working together for the sake of the Kingdom, we are able to make a contribution in the public arena. We can offer a sense of the fundamental values of human life, discerning, unmasking and resisting forms of oppression, offering a framework for hope and a vision for life. These will allow people to cope with their otherness while promoting a culture of peace and justice, freedom and love, and forgiveness and reconciliation. The transformation God seeks to bring is captured by the word shalom, meaning wholeness, wellbeing and the flourishing of people. It encompasses all areas of human life: the spiritual, physical, cognitive, emotional, social, societal and economic. It pursues mercy, truth, justice and peacefulness through conversion, the transformation of both lives and communities through encounter with Jesus Christ.

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ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO REACHING WOMEN: ENGAGING WITH MUSLIM WOMEN REFORMERS
By Melanie McNeil1 1 Introduction Women in Islam are both the holders of the keys of tradition and leaders at the cutting edge of the call for change from within Islam. While the public face of Islam is dominated by the male voice, it is the women who continue to train up their children in the traditions of Islam. Untainted by exposure to the outside world in many cases, they preserve the core values and practices that shape the forms of Islam. Women are also burdened to carry responsibility for the preservation of tradition in the community. In the post-colonial world, with the failure of many post-colonial governments, a new wave of nationalism has emerged in which women are defined as the markers of cultural authenticity. In a study on South Asia, Partha Chatterjee shows how nationalist ideologies separate culture into two spheres, ‘the material and the spiritual’2. The material sphere is described as the arena of science and technology, of rational forms of economic organization and modern methods of statecraft. The spiritual sphere is the area of culture and tradition, the place of self-articulation that must be protected and maintained untainted by the encroachment of outside powers.

                                                                                                               
11

Melanie McNeil is a long-term partner with Interserve in the Muslim World and she has a leadership position in the organization. 2 P. Chatterjee, ‘The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question’, in K Sangari and S Vaid (eds), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History (New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rugers University Press, 1990), p. 237. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 797

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The world is a treacherous terrain of the pursuit of material interests, where practical considerations reign supreme … typically the domain of the male. The home in its essence must remain unaffected by the profane activities of the material world – and woman is its representative.3

While everyone talks about the edicts proclaimed by the men who are the voice of Islam, it seems the central role of women in preserving tradition is largely under-estimated. At the same time, women are at the forefront of the call for change in Islam. Many call for reform within Islam, challenging interpretations of the Qur’an that they view as patriarchal and ask for new renderings of the texts to embrace a more gender inclusive faith. Others call for change at the political and educational levels, arguing real reform will only achieve equal treatment when laws that are based on archaic interpretations of Shari’a are done away with. A smaller voice argues that no good can come out of Islam and call for radical reforms that will build secular societies that are based on egalitarian principles and laws inspired by equal rights for all humans. These women want reform that is not just a reaction to the West, and the influences of secularism and the post-enlightenment age on their societies. Scholars like Amina Wadud speak of change ‘within the larger framework of modern thought and practice for greater justice within an indigenous Islamic worldview.’4 I argue in this paper that there is a need for Christian women to engage with these Muslim women who are calling for change in Islam. While I understand that these women are a minority voice within Islam, they are nonetheless pioneers in opening dialogue and debate that challenges the popular voices within Islam. They are creating a space for rethinking accepted norms as they push

                                                                                                               
3 4

Ibid., pp. 238-239 A. Wadud (ed), Inside the Gender Jihad (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2006), p. 10. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 798

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the boundaries of normative interpretation and pursue alternate renderings of the sacred. Engaging these women in dialogue, using the space they have created for new and creative thinking, and pushing their boundaries for radical change open up new possibilities for ministry to Muslim women. In the voices of these women we find not only a desire for change, but a pursuit of justice that resonates with the compassionate heart of our Father God in reaching out to those who live without him. I will pursue my thesis by looking at the works of two women: Amina Wadud and Irshad Manji. There are many other women who live each day at the forefront of work for change within Islam, and Ida Lichter has gathered many of their stories in her book, Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression5. I examine the work of these two women, looking at the debates they are engaged in and asking in what areas we can come alongside them in conversation and debate. I will conclude with suggestions to stimulate discussion and research in Christian mission among Muslim women today. 2 Amina Wadud Amina Wadud achieved international fame when she led a congregation of men and women in prayers in March, 2005. This controversial act has seen debates, questions, challenges, abuse and support for her actions. How should a woman like Wadud be described? In his forward to her book, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam, Khaled Abou El Fadl6 says Wadud is not easily described as a feminist, progressive, liberal or Islamist, that labels do not easily fit7. Wadud’s criticism is not just of Is-

                                                                                                               
5

A. Lichter, Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression (New York, Prometheus Books, 2009). 6 Professor of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence at UCLA School of Law 7 K. Abou-el-Fadl, ‘Introduction’, in A. Wadud (ed), Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2006), p. viii. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 799

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lam, but also of others who, she considers, have sold out the agenda for change to compromise and easy answers. Her own journey to reform has focused on finding greater access to God as al-Wadud, the ‘Loving God of Justice’8. Her search within Islam has been based on the ideal that divine justice is possible here on earth. Wadud tackles her quest through the issues of gender justice and women’s empowerment: “The increased participation of women in these activities indicates a movement toward a critical mass building a variegated movement of gender empowerment, mainstreaming, and reform, including consciousness-raising, increased levels of education, promotion and protection of the rights of girls and women, movements to protect and eradicate violence against women, affirmations of women’s bodily integrity, policy reforms, political empowerment and representation, religious authority, and personal spiritual wholeness.”9 This agenda addresses significant issues for women living under Muslim rule, and one that could resonate with the agenda of women of faith who have a heart for Muslim women. A convert to Islam, Wadud is the daughter of a black American Methodist Pastor, and she acknowledges how her upbringing in love and faith has influenced her belief that there is no contradiction between subjective historical experience and transcendence of faith. She grew up at the time of the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and this has shaped her consciousness on justice, so she now describes herself as “a believing Muslim who works for justice on the basis of my faith. I consider myself a pro-faith, pro-feminist Muslim woman.”10 She describes Islam as offering her “an escape from the overwhelming phenomenon of double oppression as an African-American woman.”11

                                                                                                               
8 9

Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, p. 2. Ibid., p. 3. 10 Ibid., p. 4. 11 Ibid., p. 59. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 800

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Wadud admits that these were somewhat romantic notions bred by her desire to escape the oppressions encountered as a young poor, black woman, and by her lack of knowledge about realities in the world of Islam. With rare honesty, Wadud admits that after more than thirty years as a black Muslim woman, she has never experienced the honour of that ideal that first attracted her to Islam. The underlying thesis to Wadud’s work is: “to demonstrate part of how to transform Islam through its own egalitarian tendencies, principles, articulations, and implications into a dynamic system with practices that fulfill its goals of justice, by first admitting that concepts of Islam and concepts of justice have always been relative to actual historical and cultural situations.”12 She advocates that women apply their experiences to interpreting the key source texts of Islam, contending that this is one way to bring about transformation within the intellectual traditions and the practical implementation of those traditions. Wadud rejects human rights and other discourses of change outside of Islam. She says: “my contribution remains faithful to the imperative that Muslim women appropriate Islamic primary sources, especially the Qur’an.”13 This critical engagement with the sources of Islam is Wadud’s attempt to wrestle back from feminism the ground for change, and provide an alternative way for Muslim women. “The gender jihad is a struggle to establish gender justice in Muslim thought and praxis. At its simplest level, gender justice is gender mainstreaming – the inclusion of women in all aspects of Muslim practice performance, policy construction, and in both political and religious leadership.”14

                                                                                                               
12 13

Ibid., p. 2. Ibid., p. 7. 14 Ibid., p. 10. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 801

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Identifying variant interpretations of basic words, and yet their use to define, confine and stifle quests for reform, Wadud shows that Islam has many facets. It can be a cultural identity, a philosophy, a closed system, a politically organized system, or maybe whatever Muslims do. She shows how male privilege has assumed responsibility for definitions of what Islam is and this, she says, profoundly impacts women’s ability to work for reform. ‘One of the most intimidating strategies used to deter women from working openly on reforms within an Islamic framework is the powerful force of techniques that accuse others of denying or going against “Islam.”’15. Wadud wishes to move away from the fatalistic overtones within Islam, calling for a redefinition of Islam to mean ‘engaged surrender’, rather than submission. She argues that human volition has to exist within Islam to fully explain the power of God and the choice to be his followers. She places responsibility back on individuals to act in accordance with the way they understand God’s will. Her emphasis is on the choice of the individual to surrender to God. This is a major shift in interpreting the Qur’an, and there appears to be a syncretistic redefinition of meanings, using concepts that are shaped by her Christian upbringing. Women’s studies programmes, and in particular Muslim women’s study programmes in academia, have led Wadud to conclude that theoretical work at this level has enormous potential to lead to reform. “My perspective grew out of experiences as a Muslim woman scholar and out of full awareness of the potential contribution that theoretical work on gender has in actual practices and reform in the lives of Muslim women world wide.”16 Both Islamic studies and gender studies, with a particular referen-

                                                                                                               
15 16

Ibid., p. 21. Ibid., p. 57. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 802

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ce to Muslim women studies, can be engaged to serve the reform agenda, according to Wadud. Wadud takes Islam to task for the false picture it presents of women’s honour, and its role in releasing women from oppression. She is no less vocal in tackling Muslim women for supporting this notion of their honour in Islam, when very often their actual experience is far different. Whether it is that they are unwilling to challenge this image of virtue and respect, or that they lack the knowledge and skills to do it, women tend to shrug off their abuse as ‘men not practicing real Islam.’17 This fails to deal with the underlying issues that suppress women and marginalize them within their own community, something Wadud says Muslims must face up to. Literature for Muslim women’s studies has haphazardly grown, according to Wadud, and she makes the case for properly establishing the area of Muslim women’s studies18. Specifics must emerge from a larger framework of Islamic studies, and collaboration between specialists in different fields will grow a true engagement with the complexities of growing knowledge in this area. “I hope that Muslim and non-Muslim women and men academics who are working on these crossroads continue to orchestrate forums, conferences, and networks with a variety of motivating causes.”19 The gender issue is one of the most critical issues facing Islam and Muslims according to Wadud. “Where key Islamic issues might be seen as democracy, sustainable development, human rights, and globalization of the economy, all of these issues intersect in some strategic way with gender issues. In fact it is the mismanagement of the element of gender and the vital significance of women’s varied yet often unacknowledged skills and contri-

                                                                                                               
17 18

Ibid., p. 60. Ibid., pp. 73-74. 19 Ibid., p. 79. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 803

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butions that the earlier efforts at constructing sustained development met some of their greatest failings”20. Being pro-faith and pro-feminism, Wadud seeks to wrestle back the initiative for gender jihad, and demands that Muslims and non-Muslims alike deal with the challenging issues of women’s marginalization, discrimination and abuse. Wadud does not stop at the theoretisation of academia. She advocates the translation of ideas into practice, acknowledging “it is far easier to articulate the abstract idea than it is to bring it into practice.”21 Central to her work in this area is her conclusion that “alternative interpretation of the Qur’an from a female-inclusive perspective is instrumental in reform movements for women and men in modern Muslim societies, but only to the extent that that perspective is not continually reduced to being secondary or subsidiary to the normative male social and epistemological privilege.”22 She goes further in calling for actions that are proactive, and not just reactive, arguing that reactive responses are not strong indicators of reformation. While raising concerns about the male reformist agenda that fights for justice through a singular focus on the rights of men, Wadud raises issues of the family, asserting that male reformers’ “failure to listen to, understand, or incorporate the selfexpressions of the diversity of Muslim women renders them deaf to the intense ways these women need assistance in the name of reformed Islam and the agency they could contribute in constructing reforms beyond the double jeopardy.”23 She spells out some of the things she takes issue with: “they offer little or no direct contribution to the discourse and practice of the family, nor to the eradication of poverty with its negative gender consequen-

                                                                                                               
20 21

Ibid., p. 79. Ibid., p. 87. 22 Ibid., p. 88. 23 Ibid., p. 127. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 804

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ces. Neither have they participated in, recognized, or allowed entry into their discourses the words and experiences of the ones who demonstrate the critical failure of elitist reform discourses in the first place – poor mothers.”24 She is concerned that reform is not just theological or philosophical discussion, but that changes in these areas embrace the full range of real needs that mediate women’s lives: “no elitist progressive discourse has focused strategically and pragmatically on the reforms needed in order to construct legal, political, and ethical systems that provide access to sources of financial, moral, and psychological support [for women].”25 Wadud wants reforms that face the reality of family life, single parent families, and the changed realities of the family today. Central to Wadud’s work has been her call for a femaleinclusive perspective on interpreting the Qur’an, something she has rigorously pursued in both her academic and faith life. However, she has also been confronted with the fact that all of this has to be rooted in praxis, that there needs to be “a more radical synthesis of strategies and struggles.”26 Even with this conclusion, she maintains a view that the Qur’anic text is the central means for transformation, although she acknowledges the need for a radical shift in intellectual tradition within Islam for this to happen. “To my own disappointment I had naively believed that progressive male thinkers and activists would actually be principal catalysts in helping to transform Muslim women’s identity.”27 Wadud says it is tempting to fight for gender justice from a human rights perspective, but she does not want to leave interpretation of the source texts of Islam to those she describes as ‘neoconservative extremists,’ or male reformers who she says are hy-

                                                                                                               
24 25

Ibid., p. 126. Ibid., p. 150. 26 Ibid., p. 188. 27 Ibid., p. 190. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 805

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pocritical non-performers in their embrace of equality. In an earlier book, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, Wadud lays out her alternative reading and offers her thesis for understanding this source text. She acknowledges that there are verses in the text of the Qur’an that she cannot reconcile, and pleads for something the scholar Khaled Abou Fadl has called a ‘conscientious pause.’ By this she means she chooses to respond out of the relationship she has with God and the understandings she has developed of who he is and how he deals with mankind. It is an appeal to look at the ‘spirit of the whole text’ and not focus on verses that, she feels, are at odds with the whole. In her conclusion Wadud says: “I have little confidence that Muslims gaining more political power to control the world would really make a better life for all the oppressed and exploited people of the world … One reason for my lack of confidence is simply that the agendas expressed by Muslim political and intellectual elites are primarily top-down operations … this removal from the masses, in all their diversity, speaks little toward my hope of the common human well-being.”28 We need new voices and new agendas she says. It is this recognition that opens the door for engagement that explores significant issues that render women second-class citizens within their tradition; it offers alternate readings and a more profound message of hope, and takes the challenges and questions Wadud is raising and brings to bear a new set of answers for exploration. For this there is a need for Christian academics in Islam and theology, and for practitioners with understanding at the grassroots who can bring to bear stories of hope and change. Wadud says: “I want to live and to share the

                                                                                                               
28

Ibid., p. 259. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 806

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experience of life with all who care to put down the weapons of jihad, and take up the tools of wholesome reconstruction”29 3 Irshad Manji Irshad Manji, born in 1968, fled with her family from the terror of the Idi Amin regime and settled in Canada in 1979. She describes herself as a ‘Muslim Refusenik’, meaning she refuses to simply accept the interpretations of Islam that do not allow personal freedom and that make religion an abusive dogma. From a young age, Manji questioned and challenged practices of Islam that, she says, make it a robotic response to unchallenged presuppositions about the supremacy of certain beliefs and expressions of the faith. She has gone on to write the book The Trouble with Islam Today: a Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, produced a documentary Faith Without Fear, and is now the Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University. The Moral Courage Project aims to develop leaders who will challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship. This is part of Manji’s over-riding agenda, and her aim to bring reform within Islam. In setting out her thesis, Manji laments the state of play within Islam. She says: “Through our self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis, and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?”30 Manji has looked for answers to critical questions about attitudes within Islam that cry foul play from Christians, Jews and the West in the general. She asserts that this obsession with blaming the other mitigates against

                                                                                                               
29 30

Ibid., p. 262. I. Manji, The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s call for Reform in Her Faith (New York, St Martin’s Press, 2003), p. 3. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 807

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Muslims confronting the real problems within. She believes faith to be a relationship between the individual and their God that is intelligent, thought-through, cares for all of humanity and responds to issues of justice. Confronting the refusal of Muslims to question their religion in order to live out a consistent faith, she challenges them saying: ‘Most of us Muslims aren’t Muslims because we think about it, but rather because we’re born that way. It’s “who we are.”’31 This is not a position Manji can accept, because she contends that it means people accept archaic interpretations of religion as though God were some beast who had no compassion for mankind. How did Manji get to this position? She is honest that there have been times in her journey when she has almost given up on Islam. What has stopped her has been a desire to be honest in exploring her faith outside of the restrictions of legalism. She says of herself: ‘I loved God … I started to decentralize my faith, cultivating a personal relationship with God rather than assuming it had to be mediated through a congregation ... I realized that what began as a guide to godliness [the rituals of prayer] had become rote, compelling me to replace my prayer “routine” with something more self-aware: candid, unstructured conversations with my Creator throughout the day. It may sound flaky but at least those words were my own.’32 While her journey to this spiritual understanding has been shaped by a difficult relationship with a father who appears to have been abusive, the impact of being a gay woman in Islam, and a deeply enquiring mind, Manji’s quest for authentic faith has opened within her a willingness to see the good in the other and explore common heritage. It also sees a profoundly honest exploration of the problem, with probing answers that challenge people of all faiths. She does not set out to

                                                                                                               
31 32

Ibid., p. 16. Ibid., pp. 16-18. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 808

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challenge other faiths, but her quest for integrity in responding to issues of faith demands no less of those who would challenge her or join hands with her. Manji’s study of the three monotheistic faiths has led her to the conclusion that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God, and therefore, she asserts, they need to respect and learn from each other. Islam is the product of an intermingling of histories, she says, as she acknowledges the outside influences that come together to shape Islam. She challenges the premise that before Islam there was only darkness, pointing to the way Islam has been informed and shaped by Judaism and Christianity. Manji does have a fatalistic understanding of God. She contends that Islam has to accept her as a lesbian because that is the way God created her. If it were not to be, he would have created her differently. Such an understanding reflects the roots of her spiritual heritage that have never been questioned or challenged. One of the impressive aspects of Manji’s journey is her desire to be challenged and held accountable by others, even though there have been many abusive and degrading responses to her work. “The more opportunities I’ve seized to be in the spotlight, getting noisy about this social problem or that social trend, the more I’ve needed outsiders to keep me on my toes about why I bother associating with a faith that beats at the center of so much international turmoil and individual torment.”33 It is this openness for dialogue and critical thinking that encourages engagement with Manji. She calls for responses, for questions, for discovering together what reformation could look like. Manji starts with a call for a new interpretation of the Qur’an, stating Muslims can no longer just recite without thinking or understanding. She is, however, the first to admit she is not clear on what reformed Islam will look like, and extends the invitation to

                                                                                                               
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Ibid., p. 23. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 809

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others to join in the journey of discovery. She argues that Muslims who want to be different, who do not just want to imitate the past, must create conversations in the mainstream of Islam. Too often Muslims don’t acknowledge the problems within Islam; rather, she says, they ‘reflexively romanticize Islam.’34 Innovation and ijtihad, which went hand in hand in the golden age of Islam, must be recaptured for reformation. Calling for Muslims to face the fact that their ills begin with them, and are not to be attributed to outsiders, particularly to the West, she points to ijtihad as the way to begin the journey forward. It marked out the golden age when Islam flourished apart from war, and it must be the starting point for reform within Islam. She argues that Islam as it is mediated by the rulers, the faceless Sheikhs who make the decrees about what is and isn’t Islamic, is tribal. Until that separation between Islam and tribalism can be made, reform will not happen. Quoting Dr. Eyad Saraj, a Palestinian, she writes: “I know we have a lot of psychopathology. It’s a maledominated society, there is not role for women, there is no freedom of expression, there is a heavy atmosphere of intimidation … This is a tribal structure in which dissent is seen as treason. We have not yet developed a state of citizenry, within all the Arab countries, in which people are equal before the law. This is serious.”35 She goes on to challenge Muslims: “Why would religion be so hard to extricate from local customs – tribal customs – if there wasn’t something profoundly tribal about Islam to begin with? … What must be stripped from Islam is its desert tribalism, which takes the act of closing ranks to a crushing level.”36 Manji sets out her agenda for change. “The road forward, it seems to me, must try to tackle three challenges at the same time: first, to revitalize Muslim economies by engaging the talents of

                                                                                                               
34 35

Ibid., p. 49. Ibid., p. 137. 36 Ibid., p. 138. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 810

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women; second, to give the desert a run for its money by unleashing varied interpretations of Islam; and third, to work with the West, not against it.”37 But she does not stop there. She further explores practical factors that could enhance the process of change. Her creative thesis here is that commerce is an essential bridge-builder for change. It has been a bridge for cooperation and understanding between people of the three monotheistic religions in the past, and she believes it could break down barriers in today’s world too. However she goes further, in what is an informative picture outlining possibilities. Citing Zainab Salbi, the head of a global advocacy group who responded to the question of what can be done to help women suffering in Islam: ‘I had an Afghan woman who said that with $100 she could start an incomegenerating business… Help her learn to read and write so she does not sign papers to abdicate custody of her children. Help her know her rights, so she can tell her husband or the [tribal] chief: “No, you cannot do that to me”. Help her lead her own fight!’38 Manji goes on to quote Salbi as proposing “that women in the West invest in the business acumen of women in the Muslim world. When women have money that they’ve earned themselves, she suggested, they’re more likely to begin the crucial task of questioning their lot.”39 Manji invites the rest of the world to join in this push for reformation. “Supporting female entrepreneurs would be goal number one of Operation Ijtihad, a campaign to jump-start change in Islam … Unshackling the Muslim world is an ambitious effort that will require an array of allies, Westerners among them … the stakes demand a cross cultural vision.”40 ‘[M]ost Americans need to learn that they have an enlightened self-interest in “being the-

                                                                                                               
37 38

Ibid., p. 157. Ibid., p. 159. 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid., p. 160. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 811

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re” for democracy-minded Muslims before the next crisis breaks.’41 Manji asks whether enough non-Muslims are challenging Muslims in the West to act for change. This invitation to join the journey for change is one Christians should hear and respond to. Manji challenges non-Muslims for their self-censorship and provides a shared agenda for change. She says: “There’s more than one way to exploit Islam. Some Muslims exploit it as a sword, and they’re goons for doing so. But just as many – or more – Muslims exploit Islam as a shield, and that’s destructive too. It protects Muslims from self-enquiry and non-Muslims from guilt.”42 She says we are being tranquilized by the political correctness of multiculturalism that means we try to keep everybody happy instead of allowing each other to ask those questions that challenge and call for real answers. She calls on non-Muslims to risk asking questions in public. “Non-Muslims do the world no favours by pushing the moral mute button as soon as Muslims start speaking.”43 “It is up to us in the West to drop reactionary charges of racism against the whistleblowers of Islam and lead the charge for change.”44 Manji’s invitation to join the movement for reformation is one Christians should respond to with equal openness, not with narrow preaching thrusts. Manji has opened a space for dialogue, for discovery, for engagement that is searching for honest answers to real questions. This is an unprecedented opportunity to join in a journey and influence both the questions and the answers. Through her blogspot, webpage, Facebook and MySpace pages, there is a place for helping open the space for change, asking though-provoking questions, and providing alternative answers of integrity. It will require critical thinkers and change agents, peop-

                                                                                                               
41 42

Ibid., p. 128. Ibid., p. 190. 43 Ibid., p. 193. 44 Ibid., p. 198. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 812

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le who are on a journey of living provocatively so that their lives are committed to genuine wholistic transformation. 4 Engaging for reform and transformation 4.1 Call to engage No attempt has been made to critique the work of Wadud or Manji in this paper; rather, what I have attempted to do is show their work and the areas that their journey for change opens up for engagement. Both Wadud and Manji represent a new generation of Muslim women, those who no longer accept definitions and interpretations that marginalise women and lead to their ongoing abuse within their own communities. It is true that they do not represent the core beliefs and positions of the majority of Muslims, or Muslim women. They both break with tradition, bring radical alternative voices to bear on defining traditions, call for reform that is opposed by those who appear to hold the power within Islam, and suffer the consequences of their radical approach. At the same time, they are a voice that is visible, cutting at the heart of orthodox belief, ushering in a new generation of young Muslims with alternate ideologies and opening a space for the unspoken to be spoken, for alternatives to be explored. Those who seek to see Muslim lives and communities transformed through encounter with Jesus Christ find opportunities for journeying with these women into a new space for dialogue and encounter. And, as on the Emmaus road, there will be new possibilities for explaining the truth, starting with the questions they are raising. This paper is a call to engage in the space that these women are opening up for dialogue that promotes alternative renderings of the sacred. Rather than only taking our hammer and chisel to the mountain at some point where no one has yet begun to try to break through, I am advocating that we also need to engage with reformers like Wadud and Manji, and the opportunity they provi-

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de to enter the space that is already opening up, to work with them, beside them, to open that space up in greater ways, and allow many others to enter in. The journey for reform can be taken to new levels and become one of transformation. We will consider some of the areas where Wadud and Manji’s agenda for change resonates with the agenda of transformational kingdom values. These are areas where Christians can bring the missional heart of God to bear for reform, kingdom reform and transformation. 4.2 Justice and social issues Empowerment, consciousness raising, education, rights, violence against women, poverty, support structures, policy reforms, political empowerment, religious authority and personal spiritual relationship are all areas that both Wadud and Manji identify for reform. These critical areas of discrimination, brutalization, and marginalization for women need a new dynamic if women are to reach a place where they can make choices for change, including kingdom change. The stories of Jesus’ encounters with women demonstrate compassion, mercy, justice, healing, deliverance, challenge to systems of abuse and discrimination, and a way to life and freedom. Engaging with women’s organisations that are already working in these areas to build capacity and take the agenda for change to a new level should be part of Christian women’s agenda in ministry to Muslim women. Manji makes a deliberate point, in her agenda for reform, that economic progress for women is key to reform and change. In research conducted in South Asia, women activists identified independent economic resources as a key factor in enabling women to make choices for change.45 Dependence on family and the community limit the space in which women can consider and pur-

                                                                                                               
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C. Hine, Untying the Hard Knot of Her Subjugation: Women Activists Negotiating Change in Pakistan (Unpublished Thesis, 2010). St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 814

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sue alternatives. Exploring the needs, resourcing women’s enterprises, and building their capacity as communities of women working together for their economic welfare, need to be included in the agenda for change. Women have limited capacity to make kingdom choices when they lack viable alternatives for life, and those of us committed to these women need to consider how we work with them to create the capacity for change. There needs to be an investment of resources through micro-enterprise loans, skill training, mentoring support and trust in women’s ability, and Christians should both join hands with those who are already investing in this area, and bring in new resources. 4.3 New interpretations of Islam While it may be contentious to think that Christian women can engage with Muslim women who are developing new interpretations of the source texts of Islam, there are possibilities at both the academic and faith levels to engage in robust dialogue. Amina Wadud, while now a Professor of Islam, has taught religious studies for many years. She acknowledges her own faith influences her teaching, but she is forced to examine religion using phenomenological methods in the classroom. This moves away from the confessional focus of theological studies. Christians need to embrace the opportunities created in academia, rather than retire the academic pursuits of truth to those of other faiths or no faith. Christian women have unique opportunities in the academic area to participate in creative new thinking around issues of faith, as Muslim women like Wadud and Manji pursue non-orthodox agendas. Manji speaks of the crisis that there is in Islam, unashamedly opening dialogue about this crisis and therefore paving the way for critical thinking and encounters to find an adequate response to this crisis. Muslim women reformers believe that they do not deny God when they point to alternative renderings of the texts. Their ex-

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posé on the divine as one who is personal, involved in his world, and compassionate towards the weak and marginalized gives a starting point for drawing women towards the truth of encounter with Jesus Christ. This calls for great integrity of faith and life. Manji is particularly vocal in her call for integrity in matters of faith, and this is a challenge Christian women need to embrace as they reach out to Muslim women. It calls for an understanding of the transformational nature of encounter with God in Christ Jesus, one that says every aspect of life is touched and transformed in relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a challenge for today’s mission agenda with its focus on narrow definitions of church planting. As Muslim women reformers open up the debate within Islam and call for a new ijtihad, there is a place for bringing in alternate renderings that point to the early influences of Jewish and Christian traditions, to take concepts back to their root meanings in the other monotheistic faith traditions. This requires women who have studied the texts, who are theologically literate and who can apply the full counsel of God to life. Wadud suggests women need to be able to bring their life experiences to interpreting the texts and this is an excellent starting point for dialoguing on God and his ways, as is her conviction that gender justice is not a system but a relationship with God. 4.4 Desire for change Encapsulated in the call of Muslim women reformers like Amina Wadud and Irshad Manji is the desire for change. The status quo is no longer a viable position, and what seem to be emerging from their work, and that of other women like them, are the nascent seeds of discontent that will not easily be quieted. There is disillusionment with their male colleagues who talk reform but actually give little support to an agenda for change that will lead to a significant shift in women’s lives. Contained within this is a lar-

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gely unspoken question about whether reformed Islam can lead to an improved life. This discontent should not be ignored. It is indicative of shifting sands in Muslim women’s embrace of their faith and calls forth a compassion to journey with them to that point where they can find wholeness, acceptance and life in its fullness. Both Wadud and Manji acknowledge that there is little evidence from their work of substantive change, even though the driving force in their lives is the desire for change. The energy that they bring to their demand for change needs to be nurtured so that critical thinking within Islam is encouraged, and the door for change opened without restraint. Nurturing the desire for change by journeying with Muslim women reformers is a task that needs attention. Helping build a picture of what change can look like, bringing new resources and thinking to the table, pushing the boundaries to expose new possibilities: all of these things open possibilities for creatively engaging towards transformation. 4.5 Accepting the invitation to do it together. Irshad Manji is openly inviting the West to join the journey for change. She says she wants to work with the West and not against it; that Muslims needs to work with the West and not against it, recognizing that the freedoms enshrined in the West must be guarded, guaranteed, and nurtured to life in Muslim communities. This invitation is one which Christians can and should respond to. Manji’s intellectual rigor and pursuit of integrity in life and faith will challenge, but it should strengthen honesty in encounter and integrity about our life and faith. Accepting the invitation to join the journey will require intellectual, theological and life-faith literacy, and a genuine compassion and love that will embrace these women and their individual and communal journeys for change. Manji is clearly reaching out her hand to bring others on board, and this invitation needs a response.

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Christians have influenced both Wadud and Manji. Wadud’s upbringing as the daughter of a Methodist preacher, a man she describes as having a deep faith, love and commitment, and Manji’s encounters as a young girl who was sent to a church child care facility where she was allowed and encouraged to ask questions, are informative in their quest for change. There are foundational understandings that can be revisited and built on. But Manji takes her call to work together one step further. She has a challenge for the West, one that Christians should hear and respond to. She calls for those in the West, and let us read Christian into this, not to push the mute button in the name of political correctness. We must challenge articulations of Islam and rights that are corroding the foundations of faith and freedom upon which our lives are built. Her call asks that we challenge Muslims in the West to join and act for change as well. Christian workers have a responsibility to help the church in the West wake up to the potential for ushering in reform across the Muslim world. This can be seeded by their faithful commitment to speaking for truth within their own contexts, compassion for the stranger, and joining hands with those who want to work for change. 4.6 The desire to know God The reforms that women like Wadud and Manji call for reflect their desire to know God, something both of them articulate in their work. Formal, sterile religion is not acceptable. Their desire for reform reminds us that deep within the heart there is a desire for relationship with God, and this can only be met in a living encounter with God. Responding to the deepest heart-cry will bring us into relationships that enable us to live and speak of the living water that can well up from within, the one place where there is satisfaction of the deepest desires of man’s heart. This call for knowing God is a call for creativity, for responding to these ex-

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pressed needs with the compassionate heart of the Father, for loving confrontation and joy in journeying together. 5 Conclusion The critical potential of engaging with Muslim women reformers has largely been unexplored by Christian women working among Muslim women. I believe it offers another way for us to engage with what God is already doing among women. Calls for reform by these women are an opportunity to enter a space for change that is being created and open it further through dialogue and service. There is a stirring of discontent that has creative potential and I am calling for us to consider how we can join this journey to change, so that it becomes truly transformational change.

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Bibliography K. Abou-el-Fadl, K., ‘Introduction’, in A. Wadud (ed), Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2006) P. Chatterjee, ‘The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question’, in K. Sangari and S. Vaid, Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History (New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rugers University Press, 1990) C. Hine, Untying the Hard Knot of Her Subjugation: Women Activists Negotiating Change in Pakistan (Unpublished Thesis, 2010) A. Lichter, Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression (New York, Prometheus Books, 2009) I. Manji, The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s call for Reform in Her Faith (New York, St Martin’s Press, 2003) A. Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2006)

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DISCIPLING MBB WOMEN
by Edith Lee1 1 Introduction A couple of decades ago, when I started working in the Muslim world, I longed for and prayed that I would one day have the privilege of discipling MBB women. Year upon year passed, and I got to the point that in my heart of hearts I believed that in my lifetime, like many before me, I would not see this. In my first 14 years I had only met one woman MBB even after living in two different Muslim countries. Plowing ground for that long can be very disheartening. Then about eight years ago I met a couple of Muslim women who had come to faith. One of those women I helped disciple for a season. Through much prayer over the following years five of her six children came to faith as well as a cousin, but this has been in the midst of severe antagonism from her husband and extended family. I have had the privilege of discipling one of her daughters and her cousin, as well as another woman who came from the same background. But birth is messy and none of their growth has been a straight line graph upwards. As I write this some are walking on with God, and some are not. By the time you read this it is entirely possible, if not probable, that those whose walk with God is going well now will become wobbly and vice versa. In this article I will attempt to share some of the lessons I have learned through the privilege of walking beside my sisters in Christ who have come to know our Lord. The topics I will address in part are: time involvement; abuse – past and present; marriage problems; family persecution; and growth and falling away

                                                                                                               
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Edith Lee is a long-term partner with Interserve in the Muslim World. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 821

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cycles. In this short space, I will not do any of them full justice and there are other topics that also need to be addressed. One goal of writing this article is to spark some communal thoughts and conversations about discipling MBB women. 2 Time Involvement: Why Did Jesus Have Only a Few Disciples? At the beginning of my time in my adopted country in the Arab World, I felt like I had too much time on my hands. (That may seem a strange thing to say, but it was true.) In the previous country and city I had been in, there had been a fair amount of unrest, and since I enjoy solving problems and caring for people, I had kept rather busy. I mentioned my frustrations to my supervisor and she wisely said, “Sometimes we need to make sure our lives are not too full so that we are available when God brings new people we are to be involved with.” Being an extrovert by nature, this waiting time was hard for me. I didn’t always wait patiently, I can assure you, but this time of seemingly “non-busyness” prepared me for the future. As I look at Jesus’ life, He had one major goal to reach – and that was to get to Jerusalem to die. A lot of the rest of His life events were built around interruptions. Throughout his ministry he was constantly being interrupted – by the needs of the crowds, or his disciples – and he had time to give them. That I find is essential. Unlike Jesus, I am a “list-keeper” and I feel fulfilled when I am able to check things off my lists. Interruptions get in the way of my list keeping! Yet, one of the most important things about discipling Muslims is being available – often at any time of day or night. Interruptions are the norm in discipleship. You become their close friend, and they then feel the freedom to come to you. Sometimes that has meant phone calls at 10 pm or later, the only safe time for my MBB friends to call me without a family memSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 822

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other times the phone calls come while we are stuck in neverending traffic jams as we have our headsets on. My life is rather predictable with work, church, and other activities, but I find that often my Muslim friends’ lives can be very unpredictable. Often crises spring up in their families. During times like this, they can be caught up so much with the internal affairs of their extended family that getting together with them can be difficult at best. Sometimes they desire lots of input from you, while at other times things get so difficult and they can be so angry at God that they don’t want to see me or my coworker. As a Westerner, discipleship for years meant going to a Bible Study on a certain night of the week. Nowadays, we have even gotten more distant in our Western churches, and we get together once a week and watch a DVD and that is considered discipling. As I look at Jesus’ life, he did not say, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you a DVD on Wednesday night!” That was not what discipleship looked like. Because the Western church has, I believe, narrowed considerably the word “discipleship”, I choose to use the word “mentoring”. Jesus mentored the twelve men as well as the group of women that followed him. He showed them what ministry looked like, by being willing to be interrupted, and then asked them to do the same and come back and tell Him how it went. Are we willing to invest the time with our MBB sisters (and brothers) that this Jesus-type of discipleship/mentoring will take? Are we willing to have our lives interrupted on a regular basis? Are we willing to let our disciples walk away from us and Jesus, in the same way that Peter did, and wait for them to return? Are we available for the ups and downs this will take on our time? I think one of the reasons Jesus had only a few disciples was because doing discipleship discipleship His way takes a lot of time.

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3 Emotional Baggage: How Abuse of Women Affects Discipleship Each one of the women I have had the privilege of discipling has had a lot of emotional and physical abuse, and the majority have also experienced recurrent sexual abuse. Also each one has been in negative, destructive relationships with men. I have had the enormous privilege not to have experienced this in my own life, but it has often left me at a disadvantage in assisting my friends in this area. I have worked alongside another worker who has struggled and been healed in this area, but even she has not experienced these types of difficulties to the breadth or depth that our MBB friends have. We have needed to listen carefully both to our friends and to God, to know when and how to empathize, when and how to challenge them to heal, and when and how to help them move on. Bitterness and anger are very real for them. And yet the shame of it all in this culture makes it difficult to speak out against the perpetrators. Unfortunately many of these negative experiences have come from family members – fathers, brothers, husbands, step-brothers, etc. All of these women are very committed to their families, so there often is this love-hate relationship going on. One woman I know runs her father’s business, takes care of both parents’ failing health, is in the process of remodeling the whole family home, takes care of numerous rental properties the family owns, and to add to all this her brothers don’t feel the same obligation to assist the family. Her father gets exceedingly angry with her on a regular basis, calling her all sorts of names. In the midst of this, because she is so committed to her family both from her heart as well as for the family honor, she goes through periods of intense frustration and anger followed by periods of incredible caring. She has never learned a way to deal effectively with the confusion she feels beSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 824

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cause of this hurt mixed with incredible loyalty to her family. My co-discipler and I have spent many hours with her, and the others we work with who have similar stories. They are all on a very slow journey of healing that often feels like three steps forward and two steps back. Westerners often deal with their sin only at the cross. Very often in our churches we hear preaching about Jesus dying for our sin, but rarely do we hear that Jesus has taken our shame on the cross too. There are many stories of Jesus healing people’s shame. The woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8:42b-48 is just one example of a woman coming to Jesus not because of her sin, but because of her shame. For myself, God has taught me how I as a Westerner need to learn that I too have shame from my past that needs to be laid at the cross. The last two years I have spent working through that shame that I have experienced for over 40 years. I had buried my own shame so deep, that I didn’t even know I struggled with it. Thankfully God is willing to heal me even after all these years. I believe that if we are going to be effective in working with Muslims we need to allow God to come and heal our own shame first, and it is probable that all of us have some. If I haven’t been freed from my own shame, what can I say to those for whom this is a large part of their thinking and feeling? One of the women I have been discipling was clearly drawn to Jesus because of the shame she felt. I believe this is much more common than we care to admit and, until we do admit it, we are ministering only half the Gospel to Muslims, and possibly the half they need to hear first is the half that we are omitting. 4 Marriage Problems Because many of my Muslim background women friends have experienced something of the above, there are many problems in marriages. (Before I start, though, I do want to note, that not all
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marriages in the Muslim world are poor. I have good, close friends where both husband and wife love and respect their spouse dearly.) But, if you bring a lot of emotional baggage into a marriage and have no healing, it is difficult to impossible to have a solid marriage without the grace of God. For those who are married, often only one spouse has come to Jesus. It is our constant prayer that an entire family would come to know Jesus, but that doesn’t happen often. Often, if the marriage has had problems in the past, the coming to Jesus for one of the spouses is just another reason to cause division between them. Mentoring the woman in how to love her spouse, when this has not been the basis of the relationship in the past, is a major part of the discipleship process. It can take years to learn how unconditional love needs to be the basis of the relationship, and is more likely to be caught than taught. I believe that this is often one of the first things that we need to teach the women (and for that matter men) who have come to faith – that is, how to have a loving marriage relationship. For many people from Muslim backgrounds this is quite a foreign concept. Intimacy with their spouse for many women is at most a distant hope, but certainly not a present reality. I Cor 7 is Paul’s well-known chapter on marriage relationships, as well as what to do if one is single. One of the most difficult verses in that chapter seems to be verse 14 because it’s difficult to comprehend how in God’s economy the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse. But I believe that teaching the believing wife how to give unconditional love to her unbelieving husband is probably the most influential way of bringing the whole family to Jesus. And the more whole families we see come to Jesus, the stronger the nascent indigenous church in the countries we work in will be. Without whole families coming to know Jesus, the church is only one generation away from extinction.
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For those MBBs who are not married, the difficult question of who to marry and how to develop that relationship in a godly way is incredibly difficult. The cause of one of my friends asking to be prayed for, which ended up in her following Jesus, was because she was told by her female relatives that someone had put a curse on her and that was why she was not married at the ripe old age of 25. She is still unmarried now, five years later. The dilemma has worsened now, because she longs for her future husband to know Jesus, too, but he also needs to be acceptable to her parents and her brothers, none of whom yet know Jesus. He must be from an acceptable family, an acceptable economic status, and have an acceptable job to pass the “family test”. On top of that she desires him to at least be open to her following Jesus. Men like that aren’t easily found. She has found someone who “almost” fits the bill, but there are drawbacks. My coworker and I have discussed the whole question of whether under Scripture it is OK for her to marry someone who is not a believer. Many other Christians would use the Scripture in 2 Cor 6:14 about not being unequally yoked to say that under no circumstances should a believer be married to an unbeliever. As I look at that verse interestingly Paul is not writing about the specific context of marriage but rather is speaking more broadly. I know many will differ with me, but if Paul’s main purpose in that verse is to talk about the marriage context, why did he not write it in I Cor 7? My coworker and I have shown our friend the passages, and explained the huge difficulties of getting married to someone who is not a believer, but have also said that if she decides to get married to someone who has not yet come to faith, we would be there for her. We have not had to walk in her shoes. We have not lived under the pressure she has of getting married. In fact, she would be happy to be single, if that was an acceptable option for her family, but it is not. It is in issues like this that we can only point
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our friends to Jesus and the Scriptures, teach them to exegete them for themselves, and let the Holy Spirit teach them the way in which to walk. 5 Persecution by the Family Quite a number of Muslim countries have incorporated Shari’a law either in part or in full. This includes the death penalty for anyone who commits apostasy from Islam. But it is rare that the governments need to enforce that. Why? Because the families do the job for them. One recent example: there was a woman who was very open about her faith in one of the strictest Shari’a compliant countries. Her brother killed her because of it. The government knew what had happened and chose to not do or say anything. It is the families who have made it hard for my friends to have a Bible in the house, to go out to any Christian-related event, or an event that takes place in a known Christian venue etc, and this is in spite of the fact that sometimes the family has no problem with their children going to a party where alcohol may be provided, or other activities occur which are not allowed in Islam. Many believe that state-sponsored persecution is the worst kind but, throughout the Muslim world, family persecution can be even more devastating. In a culture where the respect and honor of the family is paramount, family persecution is a reality for those who disobey their family’s wishes, especially for a woman who must stay within the family structure. We who disciple these women must help them learn how to deal with this from the beginning. In fact, before they even make a step of faith, we need to be honest with them about the cost they may have to pay to follow Jesus: a cost of which we who are sharing with them usually have no personal experience. It is critical that we teach them the paradoxes of Scripture about both honoring their parents (Jesus and Paul both reaffirm this commandment) and yet honoring also what JesSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 828

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us says in Mat 10:32-39. Here Jesus states that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. He goes on to quote Micah saying ‘For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”’ This is a very real, painful reality for our sisters in the Lord and I will be the first to admit that most times all I can do is sit and listen to their hurt. I have not met all of my friends’ families yet, but I try to ask them to get me connected as early on in the relationship as possible. Then when their family calls and asks where they are, they can honestly mention my name and, hopefully, I have become a safe person for their daughters or wives to know and visit. Thankfully, where we have lacked as disciplers, on a number of occasions God has given some of our friends divine appointments with others of like background. For one friend this happened on a plane trip where she helped an African MBB with his child. That chance coincidence led to an internet correspondence between his family and her; they were able to share the cost of following Jesus in a way that neither my co-worker nor I have ever had to experience. We had talked about it with her, but they had lived it. For months prior to that meeting neither my co-worker nor I had had any contact with our friend. She did not answer our phone calls, emails or texts. We didn’t know if she had totally fallen away from Jesus or what. Being left in the dark was very hard for us, and we honestly didn’t trust in God’s sovereignty as much as we ought. Thankfully, God loves them more than we do and, where we lack, He makes up for it by assistance with others who have more experience.

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6 Growth and Falling Away Cycles Jesus talked about the seed falling on different types of soil. Of the MBB women that I know, the soil they have around them is filled with thorns. I have seen them walk joyously with Jesus then fall away, then walk on with Jesus, then fall away, and the cycle continues. The sandy desert ground and lack of rain doesn’t keep that soil well-fertilized. When my phone calls, text messages or emails are left unanswered for sometimes months at a time, I know something is not right, but I don’t know what. I search my own heart, wondering if somehow I have offended them but, if so, I don’t know how. Or has the persecution become so difficult that they can’t reply? By me trying to contact them am I putting them more at risk? Or are they angry at God and because I have walked with them and led them on their journey with God, then when they hear my voice or see I have called does that make them angrier? Are they involved in sin and can’t face me? Or are they just too busy? All of these reasons have happened with almost all of my MBB friends at one time or another. I have had to consistently go back and remember how patient the Lord has been with me over the years and, because of that, I have had to learn to consistently give grace and patience to my MBB sisters. 7 Summary I need to challenge myself to keep growing in the abovementioned areas. Am I willing to keep my schedule free and flexible enough so that I can be there when God “interrupts” me to bring Muslim background friends, whether present or future, across my path? Have I dealt with my own shame fully enough, that when I listen to my friends’ stories of shame and abuse I can truly empathise and not simply sympathise? Have I allowed our Lord to cover my own shame, and am I able and willing to work through the process with them as they gain freedom from their

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own shame? Can I stand with my sisters as they struggle with incredibly difficult marriage situations, or not finding a suitable partner? What is the right way to support my sisters when their families persecute them? Can I help them look at the Scriptures for themselves and listen to the Holy Spirit about how to act in godly ways when the trials and tribulations come? Will I continue to be patient in my love for them even when the soil they are growing in is filled with thorns? Most of all, will I intercede for them daily, so they would come closer to Jesus? As stated earlier, I hope this article will start a conversation about discipling MBB women, talking about these and other topics. As we share together I pray we would all grow to be more effective disciplers. It is my firm belief that we need to be reaching more women, and doing it more effectively so that the seeds of growth that some of us are having the joy of watching would grow and flourish and not die in the desert sands. If you have comments, contact editor@stfrancismagazine.info

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A LETTER TO POPE BENEDICT XVI ON CATHOLIC WITNESS TO MUSLIMS  
To Benedict, elder and bishop of the church sojourning in Rome, khaliifat amiir al rusul; From Abu Daoud, husband, father, missionary, teacher;
Blessed be God who in these last days has sent his anointed one in the power of his Spirit to announce the good news of his kingdom.

I have worked now for years in the area of Christian witness to Muslims, both in the Middle East and in the West. I submit to you for your consideration these small steps which, with God’s blessing, will bring in multitudes of new faithful to the Church, and God will be glorified in his Son. The first reform I suggest is regarding Holy Scripture. One of the most recurrent themes in conversion narratives of Muslims is the reading of the Bible. Yet how many hundreds of thousands of emigrants live throughout the West without access to the bible in their own language? What if parishes in areas with significant immigrant populations were told they had to have bibles available in those languages--perhaps Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Pashto, Turkish, or something else? What if each sleepy Catholic parish became a de facto source of distribution of Scripture? I am not talking about proselytism, or even evangelism. Just a coherent policy that would advise the local parish priest or administrator that a) his bishop and the bishop of Rome would make sure he always had bibles available in the languages of the local immigrant community, and that b) that the bibles in question would not have to be paid for by the parish. Even in most fundamentalist Islamic countries if a person asks for a bible, it is not considered to be antagoSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 832

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nistic to Islam to give him one. On the contrary, to not give the enquirer a bible, or at least a portion of it, strikes me as an egregious lack of hospitality and generosity. Yet how many thousands across Europe would quietly and privately repair to the local parish to request the bible or New Testament in their own language? With a sensitive pastoral response--an invitation to return with any questions, or perhaps a recommendation to start with Matthew or 1 John, or maybe both--the harvest truly is great. And other than postage and some contacts with various bible societies around the globe, there is no need for an expensive and timeintensive evangelistic program. The second reform I am recommending in relation to Catholic witness to Muslims is in relation to dreams and visions. A key reason listed in the conversion narratives of Muslims is a dream or vision. Often this is of Messiah himself, but other times of an angel or saint like John the Baptist or the Blessed Virgin. What if each diocese were instructed, as they are with exorcists today, to discern among their clergy (or laity?) an individual (or several) with the charism of interpreting dreams and visions? If we think this is not a genuine ability imparted from God we need only recall the stories of Joseph and Daniel, both of whom had this gift, and both of whom glorified God in the presence of pagans through it. A small publicity campaign--small ads in local publications read by immigrants, notices at the church doors--letting people know that, if they have had dreams or visions which they cannot explain, that someone with experience in that field is ready and willing to talk with them. Again, the method is passive. Some initial work would have to be done, as dioceses would need to discern God's guidance regarding local Catholics who have the charism of interpretation, but after that, and a very minimal monthly expenditure for ads, we can realistically expect at least a few thousand new Catholic Christians who have come from an Islamic background. To drive this point home, let me tell you
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about a Muslima in a Middle-Eastern country who had a dream of the Virgin. She, at no small cost to her own security, sought out a local Roman Catholic priest and told him of the dream. He wept as he listened to her, but his final answer was that this was God's way of telling her to be a more devout Muslima. Is this a legitimate interpretation? Was this decision not led by fear of persecution rather than a genuine apostolic faith? But we do not have a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind. The third reform I recommend is this: each bishop must discern how new disciples coming from Islam should be baptized. Here there is no panacea. Each diocese is different and the question of baptism must be handled in a wise but apostolic manner. In the Middle East (where I have lived for several years) the general practice among Catholics is to refer Muslims who inquire about baptism to evangelicals, or simply tell them (as above) that they must find their salvation in Islam through greater self effort. Of course Muslims requesting baptism are adults, and thus are (ideally) baptized by the local bishop. Catholic bishops in the Muslim world have shown a very strong tendency towards favoring the security of their material goods (schools, clinics, churches) over the sporadic and risky requests posed to them by the Muslim seeking to know Christ, or for that matter the ex-Muslim who does know Christ and is seeking the sacrament of initiation into the church which the bishop oversees. The complications are, well, complicated. But we are called to be shrewd and wise by our Master. If the bishop needs to be able to deny that he has baptized a new Christian, then let him specify an old, retired priest or monk to do this. Or a very old and devout lay person perhaps. Or a visiting cleric whose expulsion from the country will not be harmful. Or something. But let there be a policy of some sort. In the West, the policy most worthy of emulation is your own: unapologetic, public, and bold. There are many secret disciples of Christ out there, even in the West. Some feel at home in the vaSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 834

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rious evangelical congregations which, much more than Catholic congregations, accept them as brethren. But I strongly suspect that there are many who find in the hierarchy and liturgy of the Latin Church a much stronger attraction than they find in the spontaneous devotion (and sometimes emotionalism) of evangelical Christianity. In the West, let them be baptized by the head pastor of their local church--their bishop. But let there be a policy. Let there be a custom. Let there be a tradition--written or unwritten, publicized or not. And again, this is not theoretical. I know well a new disciple of Christ who has been seeking baptism for some time. He has suffered for his faith more than most Christians ever will, and he knows the Scripture better too--having read the entire book several times. Yet the local Latin priest in his home city eventually chased him away and said he would call the police if he showed up again. Why? He was from a prominent Muslim family. The priest was correct in suspecting that persecution of the tiny Christian community (of all churches and denominations) would ensue, but what if there had been a quietly-communicated policy in place? What if the believer had been discretely told to visit a certain person in a certain town? All of this, to be sure, after his devotion to and comprehension of the Good News had been certified. As it stands right now, this young man was recently baptized by an evangelical pastor/elder. He was turned away from the church where he first sought fellowship. Is the fault his? With a sensitive policy in place (and here there was absolutely no possibility of the local bishop baptizing him--he controls far too many institutions and properties to make that worthwhile) this young man could have been a new, vibrant Catholic Christian. But he is not, and will never be. He is not in communion with you because of your brother bishop, and if he were to visit your church, St John Lateran in Rome, he would not be permitted to take communion from you.

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These are three small reforms which I submit to you. The financial cost is minimal. The evangelistic benefits are great. The harvest of souls is eternal. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel. “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” May God give us, his slaves, to drink of this water. On the feast of the martyr saint Piaton, year of our Lord 2010, or the 22nd day of Shawwal, 1431 AH.

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ACTS 15: THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL REVISITED
By Salaam Corniche1 1 Introduction At page 44 out of the 89 pages of the Greek text of the book of Acts we come to Acts 15. Thus it has been called the ‘turningpoint,’ the 'centrepiece,’ the ‘watershed’ and the ‘central hinge’ on which the book of Acts turns.2 With such a pivotal position, correct understanding of the passage at hand becomes critical. Yet, as Ernst Haenchen has pointed out, “This chapter has been the subject of passionate debate among scholars. Nearly every one of them has hacked his own way through the jungle of problems, and often it was done in a thoroughly violent fashion."3 Another commentator reflects and states, “This chapter has raised more problems than any other in the book of Acts.”4 And yet another, “No chapter in the New Testament is more difficult for the exegete than Acts 15.”5

                                                                                                               
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The author is a theologian and a career missionary in the Muslim world. Ben Witherington III notes, "It is no exaggeration to say that Acts 15 is the most crucial chapter in the whole book" in The Acts of the Apostles: A Social Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 439. 3 Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), p. 455, cited by Alex T. M. Cheung, “A Narrative Analysis of Acts 14:27-15:35: Literary Shaping in Luke's Account of the Jerusalem Council” in Westminster Theological Journal, 55 no 1 (Spr 1993), p. 138. 4 Royce Dickinson, Jr. “The theology of the Jerusalem conference: Acts 15:135”, in Restoration Quarterly, 32 no 2 (1990), p. 65, citing George H. C. Macgregor, The Acts of the Apostles, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 9 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), p. 195. 5 David B. Whitlock, “An Exposition of Acts 15:1-29”, Review & Expositor, 92 no 3 (Sum 1995), p 375 citing Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts, The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1955), p. 153. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 837

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Compounded with the challenges of a simple understanding of the passage in its grammatical-historical context, is the fact that the passage has been seized upon by no less than four movements as a proof text. Dispensationalists see this as pivotal text to prove the relationship of Israel and the church.6 Those who insist on a “Spirit-led” [and at times a rationale for anti-tradition, anti-intellectual and anti-organizational behavior] community interpretation of the Scripture see the passage as their champion.7 Those who look for models of conflict resolution and problem solving in the church have found their passage.8 Last, but not least in present day influence is the contextualization movement which has found its text and has seized among others, on the verse, ‘Don’t make things difficult [often re-read—make things easy] for the Gentiles.'9 Those who wish to push for radical contextualization see this passage as giving legitimacy to any innova-

                                                                                                               
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Dickinson, Jr., “The theology of the Jerusalem conference: Acts 15:1-35”, p. 82, tells us that “The original Scofield Reference Bible considered Acts 15:1618 as ‘the most important passage in the N.T.’ in support of dispensationalism.” 7 Timothy Wiarda, “The Jerusalem Council and the Theological Task”, in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46 no 2 (Je 2003), pp. 236-239. See also David Peterson‘s “Additional Note: The Meaning and Application of the Council Narrative” in The Acts of the Apostles” (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2009), pp. 442-446. 8 E.g. Paul Hay, “The Jerusalem council: a model for conflict resolution?” in Didaskalia 2 No 1 (October 1990), pp. 23-32.; Dalton Reimer, “Phases in Problem Solving: A Biblical Model for the Christian Community”, in Direction 19 No 2 (Fall 1990), pp. 3-17. 9 David K. Strong, “The Jerusalem Council: some implications for contextualization: Acts 15:1-35”, in Mission in Acts, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), pp. 196-208. Kevin Higgins, “Acts 15 and Insider movements among Muslims: questions, process, and conclusions”, in International Journal of Frontier Missions 24 No 1 (January-March 2007), pp. 29-40. Wiarda, “The Jerusalem Council and the Theological Task”, pp. 233-36 also gives a good survey of the literature regarding contextualization. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 838

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tions that have been criticized, just as Peter's Gentile mission was criticized and then found legitimate. This paper will examine the passage in detail and attempt to focus on “the necessary things” (v. 28).10 In doing so we will analyze whether the contextualization movement especially in ministry to Muslims has gone too far, or not perhaps not far enough, with this passage. We will keep in mind, as well, a hypothetical question that Dudley Woodberry posed, namely:
... would …the Jerusalem Council endorse Muslims being free to follow Jesus while retaining, to the extent that this commitment allows, Muslim identity and practices, as these Jerusalem leaders endorsed Jews being free to follow Jesus while retaining, to the extent that that commitment allowed, Judaic identity and practices?11

Themes of the unity of the church in the book of Acts, the sovereignty of God in salvation and conditions of membership in the people of God will form the main grid of analysis. Finally, by carefully considering the nature of the Judaizers of the passage, we will ask if the same exist today in a 21st century package. 2 Acts 15 in context From the very wide perspective, Acts 15 is a demonstration of growing pains in the early church due to the realization of the OT promises that the Gentiles were to share in the promises to Israel (cf. Gen 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Isa 49:6; 55:5-7; Zeph 3:9-10; Zech 8:22). This theme was sung about by Simeon in Luke 2:29-32 and re-occurs in the book of Acts, especially in Peter's Pentecost

                                                                                                               
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We are well aware of the scholarly debates concerning the relationship of Acts 15 and Galatians, the meaning of the prohibitions, the various Jewish positions on the requirement of proselytes to be circumcised and the use of the Old Testament allusions by James. 11 J. Dudley Woodberry, “To the Muslim I Became a Muslim?” (Don McClure Lectures, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 2008), p. 6. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 839

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(2:14-36) sermon and his message to the household of Cornelius (10:34-43). This raised vital questions in the minds of Jewish and Gentile background Christians such as, “What does it take to become part of and to remain united in the people of God?” as well as, “Who is this Jesus?” In short the question that was being asked was, “What must one do to be saved?” As the gospel moves out in ever widening concentric circles (as per Acts 1:8), the fledgling church has to come to terms with the challenge of the new realities of Gentile believers. They who are mostly of pagan backgrounds are added in ever increasing numbers to a formerly almost homogenous Jewish background church. Issues of purity and unity are vital realities.12 As Paul Achtemeier observes, “It was only a matter of time…. before the law-free gospel of the Gentile mission and the legal requirements of Jewish Christianity came into conflict.”13 It is this cycle of growing pains and mostly amicable solutions that forms a unifying theme, or as Barrett, says, “the pattern of the whole book:”14 difficulties arise--- it appears that the advance of the gospel is curtailed--- solutions are found, and the gospel continues its advance. Some examples might be the collection for the marginalized widows in Acts 6, the association with “unclean Gentiles” (Acts 10), violent opposition against Paul in Ephesus

                                                                                                               
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The challenge as Wilfred Knox observed would be that "there would be far more Gentiles than the Church could hope to absorb without a grave danger to her standard of morality" in The Acts of the Apostles, (Cambridge, The University Press, 1948), pp. 44-45, cited by Veselin Kesich, “Apostolic council at Jerusalem”, in St Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly Vol 6 No 3 (1962), p. 110. 13 Paul J. Achtemeier, “An elusive unity: Paul, Acts, and the early church”, in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 No 1 (January 1986), p. 23. This may be an oversimplification which unnecessarily pits law against gospel, but the point is the inevitable clash. 14 Charles Kingsley Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles Vol. 2: Introduction and Commentary on Acts XV-XXVIII (London: T & T Clark International, 2004), pp. 709-10. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 840

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(Acts 19), and the disruption by “certain men” that led to the Jerusalem Council. In the scope of the writings of Luke, it has been observed that the theme of salvation starts and closes Luke-Acts. From the announcement of a Saviour embodying salvation in the infancy narratives (Luke 1:47; 2:11, 30; 3:6), to the apostolic proclamation (Acts 5:31; 13:23), to the closing verses of Acts 28 (v. 28) Luke frequently uses this term. In Acts 15 he refers to the process of salvation as well, using the terms “be saved” (vv.1,11), “conversion” (v.2), “hear the word of the gospel and believe” (v.7) and “turning to God” (v.19).15 This chapter as well falls in the middle of a book which some have seen as being unified by the theme of witness, starting at Acts 1:8 in Jerusalem, and ending with Paul doing such in Rome in Acts 28.16 Similarly others see the book as a story of the advance of God’s kingdom, mentioned in Acts 1, and being the subject of Paul’s witness in Acts 28. Also found within this passage are several themes which unify the book of Acts. Some include: 1. The Spirit’s direction of the mission to the Gentiles (1:4-8; 2:1-21; 8:39; 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 13:2; 15:28; 28:25-28) 2. Jesus as Lord as the sole Mediator of salvation (2; 5:14; 9:42; 10:34-43; 11:20-21; 15:11; 16:30-31; 18:8; 20:21). 3. God’s grace in enabling faith and turning in the process of salvation (3:19; 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18; 26:20; and 28:27). 4. Unity in the church. (See below)

                                                                                                               
15

David J Bosch, Transforming Mission (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY. 1992), p. 104ff. He states in p. 104: “There can be no doubt that ‘salvation,’ as well as its attendant ideas of repentance and forgiveness of sins, are central to Luke's two-volume work." 16 See the introduction to the book of Acts by John Polhill in the ESV Study Bible notes, Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008), p. 2076. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 841

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As we zoom in for a closer look we see that the passage is wedged between two descriptions of the gospel going out to Gentiles in the first (Acts 13:1-14:26) and second (Acts 15:36-18:22) missionary journeys of Paul.17 Throughout the passage [which some suggest starts at Acts 14.27] are descriptions of the “mighty acts of God” describing the reach of the gospel. Notable are Peter's references to the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 and Paul and Barnabas' reports on their interactions with other Gentiles. Internal to the passage are descriptions of the controversy centered at Antioch (vv. 1-5) which begins the story. It ends with a restoration of the community’s unity, also at Antioch (vv. 3035).18 Within those bookmarks which focus on unity challenged and unity restored, we observe the processes of debate (vv.6-21) and decision (vv. 22-29) with Jerusalem as center-stage.19 The discussion consists of two parts. The introduction in vv. 6-7a is followed by Peter's speech (vv. 7b-11) which, after a short obser-

                                                                                                               
17

Cheung ( p. 139 fn 13) suggests strong parallels between the first and second missionary journeys and cites: “The role of the Holy Spirit in the beginning of each journey (13:1-3; cf. 16:6-10); the confrontation with magic soon afterwards (13:6-11; 16:16-18); the similarity of the speeches in Lystra (14:15) and Athens (17:24) after Paul was forced to flee due to Jewish opposition elsewhere in both cases; Paul's statements that he was turning to Gentiles because of the Jews' unbelief and opposition (13:45-46; 18:5-6); and the Jews’ 'jealousy in inciting the crowds against Paul (13:50; 14:2; 17:5, 13).”   18 Reimer (p. 8) calls this “community tension” at the beginning and “community action” at the end. 19 Richard observes: "Not only do all post-crucifixion events occur in or around the holy city, but also every impetus, embassy, or ideational thrust—regardless how reluctant or questionable—arises from or is related to Jerusalem. Officially and unofficially, theologically and spatially, Jerusalem is critical for an understanding of Acts 15." E. Richard, “The Divine Purpose: The Jews and the Gentile Mission (Acts 15)”, in C.H.Talbert Ed), Luke-Acts: New Perspectives from the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar (New York, Crossroad, 1984), p. 190, cited by Cheung, p. 145. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 842

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vation about Paul and Barnabas’ work (v. 12), is followed by James’ address (vv. 13-21). This process is no para-church event, however. Apostles and elders are mentioned five times in the story and the church is referred to as the “whole assembly” (pán tò pléthos)20 in v. 12 (c.f v. 30) and "the whole church" (hólē tē ekklēsía) verse 22 (c.f. v. 4). Thus we can infer that other members of the congregation were present as well. The decision handed down is not good advice or a warm suggestion, but has the nuance of a binding decree.21 This is re-enforced by the fact that v. 22 reads, “Then the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, resolved…” As Robert Tannehill observes, this “refers to an official decision, taken collegially.”22 The synopsis of the decision is referred to as a decree (Gk. ta dogmata ) in Acts 16:4 from which we derive the English word dogmatic, inferring something that is sure. The nature of the decree also presupposed that the recipient churches would submit to its authority in a spirit of respect and submission. This does make one wonder if the current wave of frequently, free-thinking, freewheeling, self-appointed missiologists would have had trouble in the context of Acts 15 to come under the binding authority of the Jerusalem decree.

                                                                                                               
20

pléthos (24 times in Luke-Acts out of 31 in NT used mostly for a ‘large number’) BAGD = in the usage of cultic communities as a [technical term] for the whole body of their members, fellowship, community, congregation cf Luke 1:10; 19:37, Acts 4:32; 6:2, 5. EDNT notes that this word is used for uniformity or unanimity of disposition, citing (Luke 1:10; Acts 6:5; 15:12). 21 Witherington (p. 469) notes, ‘The language here is that of a formal decree—“it seemed good to us .”'—and should not be taken as the expression of a mere opinion. Indeed, the invoking of the Holy Spirit means that the words have divine sanction and so should be readily obeyed…’ 22 Robert C. Tannehill, The Acts of the Apostles. The narrative unity of LukeActs: a literary interpretation (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 1994), p. 192. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 843

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The collegial and God-mandated nature of the decision is stressed by the preamble of the document which reads, “Thus it seemed good to us (v.25)… and the Holy Spirit (v.28).” As we will see, Luke is purposefully setting up a contrast between the collegial nature of the church unified by the Holy Spirit of King Jesus its ruler, and the discordant nature of the Judaizers who resemble the surrounding cities. 3 Unity as a key to the context of Acts 15 The recent study by Alan J. Thompson, One Lord, One People:, The Unity of the Church in Acts in Its Literary Setting is very helpful in understanding this larger setting of the passage.23 Thompson shows that Luke-Acts is a defense of Jesus as the ultimate Ruler (=Lord/Master/Conqueror Gk. kúrios). He demonstrates that Luke sets up a purposeful contrast between the disorder/confusion and chaos under the local governments in Acts, and that of the peace and harmony which reigns among the people of God - the church—in submission to his Lordship and his government as the true King. As well, Luke sets up a contrast between the law-abiding nature of the true people of God, and the frequent anarchy/lawlessness of the people outside of the church.24 With that in mind, Thompson helps us to examine Acts 15 from the motif of harmony and unity versus disorder and chaos.

                                                                                                               
23 Alan J. Thompson, One Lord, One People: The Unity of the Church in Acts in Its Literary Setting. Library of New Testament Studies 359 (London: T & T Clark, 2008). For a précis of such see also his “The Unity of the Church in Acts in its Literary Setting”, in Tyndale Bulletin 58 No1 (2007), pp. 155-159, and his longer work, “Unity in Acts: Idealization or Reality”, in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51 (2008), pp. 523–42. 24 Note for instance the cities of Iconium, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Jerusalem (e.g., Acts 14:4; 17:5, 8; 19:23, 29, 32, 40; 20:1; 21:30-31,34). Luke employs words such as “divided,” “disturbance,” “rioting,” and “dissension.” St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 844

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The most well known passages in the book of Acts regarding unity are those that relate the sharing of possessions in 2:43-47 and 4:32-35. It should be noted that in the first passage we read of the “simplicity of heart” (2:46) and in the second of the believers being of “one heart and one soul” (4:32). These are only the beginning of a global theme. Additionally Luke portrays the early church as praying together (1:14; 2:42; 4:24), being together (Acts 1:15; 2:1, 44, 47; 5:12), holding everything in common (Acts 2:44) and finding honorable ways to overcome discordant situations. The conflict with the Hebraic and Hellenists widows (6:1-7) had results that “pleased the whole group (6.5). Questions about Gentiles and circumcision (10:1-11:18) resulted in the church “having no further objections and praising God”. This is not to say that he has over-idealized the situation, as he does not hide the discord that was evidenced between Paul and Barnabas (15:36-41), or the discord when Ananias and Sapphira conspired against the Holy Spirit and by default the church, ironically “with one mind” (5:9).25 A key word describing unity [10x] in the book of Acts is homothumadón. It has been rendered variously as “of one accord;” “of one mind and purpose;” “shared commitment;” or “united action, stemming from united concern.”26 It is used to both describe harmony among believers (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 15:25; cf. 12:20) and the “united opposition” to the Christian community (5:1-11; 7:57; 18:12; and 19:29). The result of the former is peace, joy and grace while the result of the later is division, strife

                                                                                                               
25 26

See also 19:30-31; 21:1-14 H.W. Heidland defines it as ‘the inner unity of a group of people engaged in an externally similar action’ in Gerhard Friedrich (ed), The Theological dictionary of the New Testament Vol 5 (electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976)), p. 185.

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and the provocation of riots (e.g. 14:4; 17:5–8; 19:23, 29, 32, 40). In the context of Acts 15, the word is used to describe the unanimity of the assembled church in coming to a decision as to whether Gentiles should be circumcised in order to be saved, and under what conditions they should adhere to the laws of Moses. Thus it is translated in verse 25 as: “having become one mind” (ASB); “being assembled with one accord” (KJV); “we have decided unanimously” (RSV) and “we have met together and have all agreed” (EV). Another key word that Luke likes to use to describe unity is (pás) or “all.” In chapter 15 we observe that great joy was brought to “all the believers” when they heard about the conversion of the Gentiles via Paul and Barnabas (v. 3). The believers in the church in Jerusalem were likewise, “all” eager to hear about it (v.12). Earlier in 1:14 “all” the believers are portrayed as being devoted to prayer; they are “all” filled with the Holy Spirit (2:1,4), and “all” were pleased with the results of the solution for the Hellenist widows (6:5). Not only was there unity within the assembled church, there was also a unity in its thinking over time. James, the moderator of the Jerusalem Council, states (v. 15) that, “The words of the prophets are in agreement with” [Gk: symphōnousin—to voice together with, be in symphony with, to harmonize with] the outreach to the Gentiles. He cites Amos 9:11–12 as the Old Testament grounds to justify Peter, Paul, and Barnabas’ work. This serves to dismiss charges of missionary novelty or careless innovation. 4 The Judaizers examined We will now examine four verses from chapter 15 that demonstrate the activity of the Judaizers. In effect the Jerusalem Council charges them with “throwing people’s minds into confusion” (v.24), “causing dissension” (v.1, 2), “harassing the Gentiles” (v.
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19) and “testing God” (v.15). Interspersed with these verses we will further examine the themes of unity, the sovereignty of God, and the central issue of the passage:
Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions. (Acts 15:24, ESV)

5 An illustration Imagine that you had received a news report about your village of birth. The news read, “Some of our own village people turned on the rest of the town, plundered it with their words, and then they leveled its reputation to the ground. The hearts of all of us were thrown into turmoil.” Needless to say you would be greatly angered at this act of betrayal and, likely, worried about the consequences for your family and friends. Some kind of reaction would be said to be normal, actually expected. This is the same sentiment as that expressed by the introduction of the circular letter of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem addressed “To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia” (v.23). Verse 24 describes the activity of the Judaizers who had come from Judea [likely a polite way of saying Jerusalem] to Antioch with their own agenda.27 The early church and its unity were built by the Holy Spirit, mutual submission to the resurrected Christ, and on the teaching of the apostles. In contrast to this building up - encapsulated by the words “and they were strengthened” (Acts 14:22; 15:32, 41; 18:23) - these freelancers had no

                                                                                                               
27

Jim Lowther observes that the letter “employs the common Hellenistic opening salutation… [cf Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jas 1:1 for use of the word chairein]… the body of the letter itself is reminiscent of Hellenistic decrees promulgating the decisions of councils and assemblies of provincial cities.” See his “Analysis of Acts 15:1-35”, Seminar Paper New Testament Critical Methodology NT771, (Fort Worth, Texas, Southwestern Baptists Theological Seminary, 1997), p. 61.

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problem tearing down (anaskeuazō) and weakening what had been established.28 The same word is used in Greek rhetoric to describe 'destructive arguments.’ Another Greek author, Thucydides, relates that the Spartan hero Brasidas captured the city of Lecythus, and then pulled it down and dismantled it.29 Thus translators render this action in v. 24b as “troubling your minds” (NIV); “unsettling your souls” (NASB); “subverting your souls” (ASV); “perverting your minds from the truth” (Owen30 ) and “perverting your souls” (Lake and Cadbury). Unlike the softened language of the NIV and NASB, the original is put in strong and graphic language. A tornado has struck. Destruction is everywhere. This resultant confusion due to the destruction had been caused by those who “troubled you with words” is a translation of the word tarassō. This is not a mosquito bite from which one can be emotionally detached, but more like a scorpion sting. The word describes something that causes emotional turmoil.31 BAGD renders it “to cause inward turmoil, stir up, disturb, unsettle, throw into confusion.” It is opposite to words that denote peace, harmony and unity. In light of Thompson’s work and the data from the book of Acts this is a serious charge.

                                                                                                               
28 Lake and Cadbury describe the word (anaskeuazō) as a “graphic image of armies plundering and wasting a town, reversing what has been done, tearing down what has been built, or cancelling what has been agreed upon”, in “Translation and Commentary of the Acts of the Apostles”, in F. J. F. Jackson and K. Lake (eds), The Beginnings of Christianity Vol. IV (London: Macmillan & Co., 1933), p. 180. 29 Marvin R. Vincent, Word studies in the New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 2002) 1:526 citing (4:116). 30 John J. Owen and Augustus Hahn, The Acts of the Apostles: in the original Greek, according to the text of Augustus Hahn; with notes and a lexicon for the use of schools, colleges, and theological seminaries. (London: John Cassell, 1854), p. 139. 31 tarassō c.f. Gal 1:7; 5:10 also in the context of false teachers. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 848

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Between the two word pictures, Luke is using language to strongly condemn the actions of the Judaizers. But he does not finish there. With his customary understatement and use of irony, Luke says that the Judaizers were using “words” for their destructive campaign. Likely, two comparisons are being made. The first and most direct comparison would be to verse 32 where words were used for another effect. There we read that two authorized representatives of the Jerusalem church with the names Judas and Silas, ‘said much [literally: “many words”] to encourage and strengthen the brothers.’ Secondly, there is a likely contrast with Luke’s frequent use of “the Word.” Prior to Acts 15, the word was proclaimed with boldness (4.31); spread and continued to increase in various areas (6.7; 12:24; 13:49); was preached where those scattered by persecution went (8;4); was accepted in Samaria, received and honored by Gentiles (8.14, 11:1; 13:48); was testified and proclaimed by the apostles (8.25; 15;34); was proclaimed in synagogues (13:15) and preached in Perga (14:25). In short, the gospel is going out, with power and in ever widening concentric circles from Jerusalem and beyond. It was enough to cause the consternation of the Judaizers and they responded to “the Word” with “words.”32 Then, the Judaizing envoys are referred to in a generic fashion, namely “certain men.”33 Perhaps this is out of politeness, but it may also be in strong contrast to the fact that all of the other envoys such as Judas and Silas mentioned in the chapter are given names. Luke describes the Judaizers as “having come out from

                                                                                                               
32

For other uses of the “Word” as a précis for the gospel we observe the following uses: ‘hearing the word’ (cf. Rom. 10:14–17; Acts 2:37; 13:7, 44; 19:10), ‘the word of the Lord’ (1 Thess. 1:8; 2 Thess. 3:1), ‘the word of God’ (1 Thess. 2:13), ‘the word of Christ’ (Col. 3:16), and ‘the word of life’ (Phil. 2:16). 33 These have also been identified with the "false brethren" of Gal 2:4. They may have been numbered among the men "from James" of Gal 2:12. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 849

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us.” That is to say, they had been associated with the Jerusalem church in some fashion, and now had struck out on their own. Darrell Bock states that they “clearly are zealots when it comes to keeping the law,” yet it is misinformed zeal.34 Later, Paul warns the Ephesian elders that the false teachers would have their source within the church (Acts 20.30). The same is true of the message of I John where it is said that “they went out from us” (1 John 2:19). This autonomous agenda is underlined by the fact that their marching orders are their own, and outside of the authority of the Jerusalem church. Thus they are described as those “who had received no direct orders.” Compare this with Paul and Barnabas who are sent by the church of Antioch (v.3) to go to Jerusalem and enroute they are the “cause of great joy” in Phoenicia and Samaria. Their arrival (v.4) is welcomed by the church and (in particular) the apostles and the elders. It goes without saying that while Judaizers seem to push their way in and cause destruction, the authorized envoys bring joy and peace. These and the following verses serve to highlight potentially destructive behavior springing up from those said to be within the church. We will observe that as much as there was a motivation that started off with some validity, it was pushed to an extreme. Some of the danger signs that will be noted include: 1. Lack of submission to the wider authority of the church 2. Use of words—likely persuasive speech to subvert believers 3. Lack of appreciation of apostolic tradition and a challenge to apostolic authority 4. A legalistic bent that in effect subverts the gospel.

                                                                                                               
34 Darrell L Bock, Acts [Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament series] (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Acad. 2007), p. 495. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 850

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6 Exegesis Acts 15 6.1 Acts 15:1
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (ESV)

In verse 1 the persistence of the Judaizers is shown by a verb tense which can be translated, “they began to teach and kept it up”35 Others have observed that the verb tense suggests that the trouble began once the teaching started.36 There is no doubt that they were totally convinced of the rightness of their mission. In fact, they could marshal OT support for the precedent of circumcision being a visible sign of separating oneself from the pagans and joining oneself to the people of God. As Howard Marshall stated,
One can sympathize with their position; after all, what evidence was there that the law, which represented the will of God for his covenant people, had been repealed?37

However, eventually the effects of these freelancers became obvious.

                                                                                                               
35

A. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol V c1932, Vol VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (Ac 15:1). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems. (1997) refers to the tense as inchoative imperfect active. 36 For example, B. M. Newman & Eugene Nida state, “Started teaching is a verb tense which indicates action in progress, with emphasis upon the initiation of the action”, “A handbook on the Acts of the Apostles”, in A translator's handbook on the Acts of the Apostles (1972), p. 288. 37 I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An introduction and commentary [Tyndale New Testament Commentaries] Vol 5 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 257. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 851

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6.2 Acts 15:2
And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. (ESV)

Luke uses two literary devices to show the seriousness of what is happening. He uses a doublet which sounds like a rhyme (stáseōs kai zētéseōs) to capture the hearing of his audience. Then he uses one of his favorite figures of speech called a 'litotes.'38 To say that something is huge, he uses an understatement such as “there was no little…..” Thus he says there was no small “tension and debate”; “dissension and debate” (NASB); “discord and questioning” (Marshall Interlinear); “sharp dispute and controversy” (Moffat) and “sharp dispute and debate” (NIV). 6.2.1 Disagreement The term “tension” (stáseōs) refers to a serious lack of agreement where division of opinion runs deep.39 Margaret Diffenderfer observes that it can refer to “anything that divides or separates often with great hostility.”40 Elsewhere Luke uses this same word as a riot or revolt, such as was observed at Ephesus (Acts 19:40, cf Luke 23:19, 25, Acts 23:7, 10; 24:5.).41 The contrast between this discord and the peace resulting from healthy submission to authority structures is evident in verse 33, which reads, “After they [Judas and Silas] had spent some time there, they were sent away from the brothers in peace to those who had sent them out.”

                                                                                                               
38 39

Cf. Acts 12:18; 14.:28; 17:4,12; 19.23,24; 20:12; 21:39; 27:20. Bock, Acts, p. 495. Cf. BAGD: lack of agreement respecting policy, strife, discord, disunion. 40 Margaret Ruth Diffenderfer, “Conditions of membership in the people of God: A study based on Acts 15 and other relevant passages in Acts” (University of Durham (Diss. PhD: 1986) , p. 10 fn 19. 41 Bock, Acts, pp. 494-95.   St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 852

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The second word (zētéseōs ) has a less pejorative meaning, and can signify an investigation (Acts 25: 20; possibly 1 Tim 6: 4; 2 Tim 2: 23; Tit 3: 9) or the speech and counter speech associated with an investigation into a matter on which there is a difference of opinion.42 This is likely the sense of the noun (suzetesis) in verse 7 where the assembled church carefully examines the source of the conflict. Joseph Fitzmeyer translates verse 2 as, “Because this created dissension and no small controversy between them and Paul and Barnabas….”43 This could imply that there was a simple clash on equal terms, which could implicate Paul and Barnabas as the cause of the dissension. Culy and Parsons note, however, that this tension and debate is due to the fact that the “apostles…took exception to the teaching of the Judaizers.”44 In a word we have a very strong reaction against a known wrongful situation. Likely, Paul and Barnabas received a reputation as ‘wicked men’ in the self-righteous Judaizer press. Clearly the unity of the church is being challenged. As we observed with Thompson, this would be much larger than a case of clashing personalities. It would reflect on the governance of the Head of the church. This quest for unity had its antecedents both in Jewish history and Graeco-Roman culture. 6.2.2 Unity in the Hebrew Testament Thompson observes that the book of Chronicles takes great pains to demonstrate the ‘unanimous participation of “all Israel” in the

                                                                                                               
42

Diffenderfer, “Conditions of membership in the people of God: A study based on Acts 15 and other relevant passages in Acts, p. 10 fn 19. BAGD: engagement in a controversial discussion, discussion, debate, argument 43 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles. [Anchor Bible Commentary] (Yale University Press, 1998), p. 24. 44 Martin M Culy and Mikeal Carl Parsons, The Acts of the Apostles: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2003), p. 286. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 853

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kingship of David and Solomon.’45 He cites examples such as the fact that all of Israel is of “one mind” to exalt David to kingship (1 Chr 12:38); the entire Israelite assembly is present and in agreement to bring back the ark to Jerusalem (13:1–4); and all of Israel is in agreement that Solomon should succeed David as king (29:21–24). There are evidences as well of the people of Israel wanting to show unified submission to the law. This is shown in the Pentateuch and Ezra-Nehemiah with a recurrent theme encapsulated by the words, “and all the people….” … answered with one voice (Ex 24:3) … shall say ‘Amen’ (Deu 27) … gathered themselves (Neh 8:1) … were attentive [to the words of the law] (Neh 8:3) … stood up [to hear the words of the law] (Neh 8:5) … said ‘Amen’ [to the words of the law] (Neh 8:6) … wept [when they heard the words of the law] (Neh 8:90) The prophetic books, as well, look forward to a day when a messianic ruler will unify the people of God (e.g., Ezek 34:5–23; 37:15–28; Isa 11:10–13; Zech 2:11; 3:10). In Acts 2, especially, we see this realized as Christ is described as the ascended and reigning King, who pours out his Spirit and is forming a people for himself. 6.2.3 Unity in the Graeco-Roman world From the Graeco-Roman perspective the success of the Roman Empire is due to their constitution which, according to Polybius, inspires harmony in the people so that they want to fight against anything that causes disorder (Historiae 6.11–18). Similarly Plato encourages citizens to "honour with all their heart those laws which render the State as unified as possible" (Laws 739d). Addi-

                                                                                                               
45

Thompson, p. 31. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 854

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tionally, Herodotus, for example, attributes successful military conquests to the unity created by the victorious ruler, and attributes defeat to discord (e.g., Histories 5.3). These backgrounds serve to demonstrate that the honor of King Jesus - his constitution, his rulership and claim to being the Messiah - is on the line. 6.3 Acts15:19
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God. (ESV)

On the surface these words of James appear only to be addressed to the Jerusalem church and not to the Judaizers. It is the contention of this author that he is addressing both, and in light of the vexations shown by the Judaizers in vv 1, 5, and 24 he is likely directing his comment to them. In light of the serious charges of challenges to unity and honor, the suggestion that the gist of Acts 15 can be boiled down to the phrase “why make it difficult for the Gentiles” (v. 19) borders on triviality and insult.46 One reporter on the Common Ground Bamako conference asked, “….in cases were Muslims are high identity and high practice, should we not be saying with James, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God (Acts 15:19)?” In light of an “instant everything, with ease” ethos in much of Western culture, one can see that this could be changed even by well-meaning missionaries to read, “How can

                                                                                                               
46

H. P-H. in his report on the Bamako Common Ground Consultation of October 20-25, 2008. Timothy Tennant in his clear explanation why Acts 15 should not be used to justify C-5 explains the IM rationale: ‘The application which is made by C-5 advocates is that asking a Muslim to separate from their Muslim identity is creating an unnecessary and “difficult” barrier. Indeed, to insist that a Muslim become a “Christian” is to follow the old proselyte model.’ “Followers of Jesus (Isa) in Islamic Mosques”, in IJFM Vol 23 No 3 (Fall 2006), p. 105 – see www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/23_3_PDFs/Tennent.pdf. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 855

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we make it easy for Muslims to come into the kingdom of God?” What happened to Acts 14:22 where entry into the kingdom of God “through many tribulations” is promised to the disciples? Forgotten is the fact that this statement comes from the same James who draws a clear line in the sand and says “friendship with the world is enmity towards God” (James 4:4) and calls those of double mind, “adulterers.” He is not just another consultant; he is a “pillar” of the Jerusalem church. His statement is not just his personal opinion, it is an authoritative judgment, and can be rendered, “It is my determinative judgment that we should stop annoying those who turn to God from among the nations [i.e. Gentiles]…47 The LXX is instructive in understanding the word (parenochleō) rendered variously in this passage as: “we should not trouble” (ESV); “not cause extra difficulty” (NET); “not bother” (NCV); “we should not make it difficult” (NIV, NLT); “against inflicting unexpected annoyance” (Weymouth). In Judges 14.7 the action of Delilah’s incessant pestering of Samson uses the same word. Similarly Lake and Cadbury have observed that this word should be rendered “stop annoying” or “stop harassing” the Gentiles.48 Finally, the theme of “turning to God” which is a Hebraic way to express repentance and salvation has its counterpart in “turning away” from idols or another religion (cf Acts 14.15, 1 Thess 1:9).49 Paul defends his ‘modus operandi’ to Agrippa by telling him that he declares…“also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their re-

                                                                                                               
47

Compare Witherington, (p. 467) where he renders James’s words “I myself judge/rule.” 48 Lake and Cadbury, p. 177. 49 See also Jay Smith’s rebuttal to the erroneous contention raised at the Atlanta 2009 Common Ground meetings that conversion does not involve turning away from another religion. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 856

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pentance” (Acts 26:20). Later we will see this same theme of “turning away from” in the list of prohibitions. Rather than some ‘carte blanche’ for lowering the bar as IM is trying to make this verse state, it actually could be an incrimination of their behavior which is seen by some BMBs as harassment.50 As in this passage, this provocation which can engender discord in the Body of Christ serves to undermine the “laws of the state” of King Jesus. Besides the charges of “throwing people’s minds into confusion,” “causing dissension” and “harassing the Gentiles,” even though described as “some from the sect of the Pharisees who were believers,” Peter adds one more charge, namely that of “testing God.” His speech, complemented by the reports of Paul and Barnabas and that of James, shows a thorough God-centeredness. A brief tabulation in Acts 15 will illustrate this: 1. God decides that the Gentiles should receive the Gospel via Peter (v.7 cf. 10:34-43) 2. God gives the Holy Spirit to whomever he will as a testimony (v.8. cf, 10: 44-47) 3. God knows the human heart (v.8) 4. God makes no distinction between “them and us” (v.9) 5. God purifies Gentile and Jewish hearts (v.9) 6. God extends grace in Christ and enables a response of faith (v.11), also translated, 'But through the grace of the Lord Jesus, we believe (in order) to be saved, and so do they.' 51 7. God did signs and wonders (v.12 also verse 4) 8. God “visits” (v.14). This word links back to the rest of Luke-Acts where God takes the initiative to save by sending Jesus the Messiah (Luke 1:68, 78; 7:16; cf. 19:44). This

                                                                                                               
50 51

BMB = Believer of Muslim Background John Nolland, “A fresh look at Acts 15:10”, in New Testament Studies, 27 No 1 (October 1980), p. 113. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 857

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9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

stands in the OT tradition of God's visitation to helpless Israel at the time of the exodus (Exod. 3:16; 4:31). God takes a people (laós —a term formerly reserved for ethnic Israel) for his own name (v.14 cf Exodus 6:7) God will return (v.16) God will restore - "the tabernacle of David which is fallen down" (v.16 cf. Luke 1:32-33, 69; 2:10-11; Acts 2:30-36; 13:22-23, 32-34) God will rebuild (v.16) God does things which have been known from of old (vv.18-19) 52

The conclusion we can draw from this list is that the apostles witness to the God who speaks and acts in history, and it is His work. Lowther aptly summarizes the three interventions by Peter, Paul and Barnabas, and James respectively as three acts of God. They are:
….what God appeared to be doing at the present time through Paul and Barnabas, what God had done in the past memory of the life of the congregation through Peter's experience with Cornelius, and what God has purposed to do on earth through his people as it is expressed in His word.53

Lowther is also careful, while trying not to make a theology out of the anecdotal evidences of the reports by Peter and Paul and Barnabas. He shows that the reports of what God had been doing had scriptural precedents and this is especially demonstrated by James’s speech. This stands in contrast to the conclusion made by a frequent spokesman for IM, John Travis, namely that

                                                                                                               
52

Richard Longenecker suggests that by employing Amos 9-12 James skillfully shifts the discussion from “a proselyte model to an eschatological one". New Testament Social Ethics for Today (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1984), p. 38. 53 Lowther, p. 65. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 858

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because anecdotal evidence was first appealed to at the Jerusalem Council, then appeals to the same by IM are automatically legitimate.54 Additionally, he puts forward a supposedly iron-clad statement justifying IM that no one should contest: “God is doing something new.”55 In his mind it is case closed. But is it? 6.4 Acts 15:15
Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? (ESV)

Thus the charge that Peter brings forward, by his question to the Judaizers, “Why do you test God,” is all the more poignant. Peter is referring first of all to his recent experience where he realized that he could not “withstand God” (11:17) and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira who “tested the Holy Spirit” (5: 9). It also borrows from the Old Testament where the people of Israel in effect questioned the presence - therefore the capability and wisdom of God - and thus provoked him and incurred his punishment.56 Ex 17:7 reads, ‘And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”’ Diffenderfer elaborates:

                                                                                                               
54

He says, “It is highly instructive to note that as they came together to decide a theological matter (is circumcision required?), they did not first go the Scriptures; rather they went first to case studies of what God had been doing among the Gentiles.” John Travis, Phil Parshall, Herbert Hoefer, and Rebecca Lewis, “Four Responses to Timothy C. Tennent’s Followers of Jesus (Isa) in Islamic Mosques”, in IJFM Vol 23 No 3 (July 2006), p. 124. See www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/23_3_PDFs/fourresponsestotennent.pdf 55 John Travis, “God is Doing Something New”, in http://www.lausanne.org/global-conversation/god-is-doing-something-new.html, 2010/07/28 56 Dickinson (p. 69) suggests that to test God “seems to mean acting against the declared will of God, and so tempting him to inflict punishment.” St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 859

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What the Jewish Christians were doing is summed up quite damningly by peirázō; as a questioning of God’s judgment to ascertain whether he really intended to make his will operative, as a doubting of the clarity of God’s will, thereby encouraging action against that will and, in return, courting divine punishment.57

In a word, Peter suggests that since God had already made it abundantly clear as to his approval of Gentiles on His terms, due to His plan, capability and wisdom; to interfere with such, would actually constitute a statement of defiance and provocation. Through Emmanuel, God demonstrated that he was “with them” and had made the final and definitive statement regarding association with Gentiles and their purification. This does raise a question about some of the methods employed by IM. For example, in the list of prohibitions that the Jerusalem Council furnished, they made it abundantly clear that a sharp separation was to be made with the old religion of the formerly pagan Gentiles. This had Old Testament precedents and was a way to ensure unity and purity in the people of God. One can not help but wonder, when some IM advocates play fast and lose with mosque attendance and other Islamic practices, if they are not in effect tempting God. He has clearly revealed His will; would this not also be a similar act of defiance to that with the Judaizers were charged?58 7 Defining the central issue …“Unless” (v.1) …. “you must” (v.5) … They were working from the formula, ‘if you do “X”…then God will do “Y”’. Put

                                                                                                               
57

Diffenderfer, p. 93. Cf. Ex 17: 2; Num 14:22-23; Isa 7:12; Pss 77(78):18, 56; 94(95):8-11; Wis 1: 2; 1 Cor 10: 9; Heb 3: 9. 58 Lake and Cadbury illustrate by saying, ‘God has sufficiently declared his will by giving the Spirit to the Gentiles, and to refuse natural conclusions to be drawn from this fact is to “tempt God”’. p. 173.

St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision

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another way, it could read, “Do this and you shall live.” It was this formula that provoked the strong reaction of Paul and Barnabas initially, as over and over again they had learned that the gospel of grace had another formula, namely, ‘Because God in Christ did “Y”…therefore you can do “X”.’ Peter and James pick up on the same and by emphasizing God’s initiative in salvation, show that the Judaizers are in effect trying to render the work of Christ null and void with their “Christ plus” message. The members of the Jerusalem Council, with their love for the unity of the church, recognize their debt to the “root of Judaism” on which the church is grafted, and take great pains to find solutions that will ultimately honor the King of His church. In order to do that, they engage in the process of debate to define what is really at stake. We have suggested that the assault on the unity of the church and by default the honor of its Head is the central issue of Acts 15. As we briefly examine what a few commentators have observed as the central theme of the chapter we will note two broad themes, namely; soteriology [how is one saved?] and ecclesiology [how is one incorporated into a larger body of believers and enjoy table fellowship?]. a. To defend or to overturn the suggestion that Gentiles “must become Jewish proselytes; [as] there is to be no such thing as a truly Gentile Christian.”59 b. To address a “genuine fear that the new Gentile converts would revert back to an immoral lifestyle”60 c. To formulate the answer to the question. “What must be proclaimed as necessary for salvation to the Gentiles?”61

                                                                                                               
59 60

Proctor, p. 470. Whitlock, p. 376. 61 Dickinson, pp. 67, 80. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 861

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or “How are the Gentiles to be saved?” …and not the question, “Can they be saved?” d. Similarly, “Were Gentiles to be admitted into the Christian fellowship upon the basis of faith alone, or must they be circumcised and follow the demands of the Law of Moses in order to become legitimate Christian disciples?”62 e. “The major work of the Council had to do with the vindication of Gentile freedom, while a secondary matter was concerned with the expression of that freedom in regard to the scruples of others”63 f. To answer the soteriological question “whether circumcision is a necessary condition of salvation” (v. 1) and to ask the ecclesiological question “whether circumcision is a necessary condition for Christian fellowship in a congregation whose membership also includes repentant Jews.” (v. 5), i.e. being, rather than becoming a member of the covenant community.64 g. To respond to the question of “the nature of Christian salvation—are circumcision and adherence to Jewish laws and customs requirements for Gentiles who desire to con-

                                                                                                               
62

Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida: A Handbook on the Acts of the Apostles. New York: United Bible Societies, 993], c1972 (UBS Handbook Series; Helps for Translators), p. 287. 63 Tremper Longman and David E. Garland. Luke-Acts. [The expositor's Bible commentary] 10 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2007), n.p. (electronic edition) cf. M. Luther, "On the Councils and the Churches", in Works of Martin Luther, 6 Vols., tr. C.M. Jacobs [Philadelphia: Holman, 1915-32], esp. 5:150-54, 188, 193-95). 64 Robert W Wall, “The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-21) in Canonical Context” in From biblical criticism to biblical faith (Macon, Ga: Mercer Univ Pr, 2007), p. 98. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 862

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vert to Christianity.”65 Negatively put, the question then could be “whether converted Gentiles are redeemed if they remain uncircumcised and do not keep the law.”66 h. “The key issue of the Council was not whether Gentiles could be redeemed but whether Gentiles could be redeemed if they continued living as distinctly Gentile.”67 i. The question: "Must a non-Jew, in order to be more fully accepted as a follower of the Messiah/Christ Jesus, become a written Torah-observing Jew?”68 Similarly: “At the core of this discussion was whether Gentiles should be treated as proselytes were in Judaism, with expectation that they be circumcised and observe other legal practices.”69 As well: “Can Gentiles be part of the covenant community (i.e. be saved) without circumcision…and can Gentiles live among Jews without becoming proselytes?”70 j. “Once the church decided that Gentiles could enter without being circumcised, the issue became how lawsensitive Jewish believers and Gentiles could coexist.”71 Similarly: “The issue here is not about the Gentiles' salvation but whether Gentiles and Jews can commingle wit-

                                                                                                               
65

Julius Scott "Parties in the Church of Jerusalem as Seen in the Book of Acts", in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 18 (1975), p. 222. 66 Hubertus Waltherus Maria van de. Sandt, “An explanation of Acts 15:6-21 in the light of Deuteronomy 4:29-35 (LXX)”, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, No 46 (1992), p. 73. 67 Michael A. Braun, “James' use of Amos at the Jerusalem council: steps toward a possible solution of the textual and theological problems (Acts 15)”, in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 20 No 2 (1977), p. 118. 68 John T. Greene, “Paul's hermeneutic versus its competitors”, in Journal of Religious Thought, 42 No 1 (Spring-Summer 1985), p. 11. 69 Bock, p. 37. 70 Talbert, p. 129. 71 Bock, p. 37. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 863

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k.

l.

m.

n. o.

hout the Jews being defiled by association with Gentiles, who are by nature unclean…This is a social, not a soteriological question .”72 “Acts 15 finalizes the manner in which Gentiles are to enter and remain within the fellowship of believers. The question explicitly raised in the text is that of the requirements for salvation. However, the issue of the basic nature and identity of the believing community is also at stake.”73 To answer the question, ‘What makes the new community, composed of Gentiles along with Jews, the people of God in fellowship with the historic people of God, Israel? What marks do the Gentiles take on in addition to faith in Jesus to render them “Israel” along with their Jewish counterparts?…The issue is one of inclusion and identity.’74 “It is not just a question whether Gentile converts must conform to the Jewish law in order to enjoy the privileges of Christian fellowship but more critically a question of the terms in which the Christian message of salvation was to be stated and presented to the world.”75 To answer the question, “What was to be done with converts from raw paganism?”76 Although the presenting question was, “What are the terms through which a Gentile may gain access to the

                                                                                                               
72 73

Parsons, p. 210. Mark A. Seifrid, “Jesus and the Law in Acts”, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament No 30 (1987), p. 44. 74 V. G. Shillington, Introduction to Luke-Acts. T & T Clark approaches to biblical studies (London: T & T Clark, 2007), p. 66. 75 Diffenderfer, p. 10. 76 F. F. Bruce, A Mind for What Matters: Collected Essays of F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1990), p. 160. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 864

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church?” the real question at stake was, “How can we preserve the unity in the church?”77 8 The council’s response As we examine the various opinions above, we see three broad themes that can be put in the form of a question with two subquestions. This question is: What constitutes the identity of a church now composed of Gentile and Jewish background believers and how do they live in true unity? The subquestions are: How does the Jewish root of the church come into play? How does the Gentile pagan background come into play? To combine these various threads of discussion, we turn to Margaret Diffenderfer’s helpful work “Conditions of membership in the people of God”. She examines the Old Testament roots of the concept of the people of God and examines both its entry [i.e. salvation] and continuing membership [i.e. fellowship] requirements. Underlying these assertions, of course, is a presupposition that there are not two “peoples of God” but one. This is an important key to understanding Acts 15, and overturns some dispensational thinking that there are two distinct peoples of God. As God’s holy and chosen nation (Exodus 19:6), the men of Israel were instructed to take on the distinguishing mark of circumcision to respond to His gracious selection. As a people separated unto God, they were to take great pains not to be led astray from their pure devotion to YHWH, and this included a conscious separation from those who did not have the mark of circumcision. Pagans were referred to as “uncircumcised” and to be tempted to follow their gods was tantamount to spiritual

                                                                                                               
77

Timothy C. Tennent, Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 2010), pp. 498-99. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 865

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adultery. Thus strict rules were put in place as well for those Gentiles who wanted to join Jewish communities. This explains the great pains that God had to take to show Peter that people were now made acceptable to Him by the cleansing of the work of Jesus and a resultant confidence in that work. Yet, the reality of the potential of apostasy due to pagan influence lived vividly in the Jewish mind. They knew that Exodus 34: 11-16 stated in clear terms that the road to ruin started by eating the sacrifices to idols and marrying non-Israelite women. Thus God gave clear instructions to remove any vestiges of the idolatrous practices that were in the Promised Land. The subsequent history of Israel however was replete with failings in this regard, and exile had resulted. By the time of Christ, it was an accepted teaching among the Jews that defilement by idolatrous practices linked with sexual misconduct and not non-kosher food was the main source of Gentile impurity. Thus they were to avoid at all costs “pollutions of idols” or as F.F. Bruce renders it, “pollutions resulting due to contact with idol worship.”78 Thus, the decree of the Council (especially v. 29) took pains to anticipate this possibility and, for the sake of unity, to serve as a prevention against the breaking of the covenant by the people going after foreign gods. Thus as John Proctor observed,
The decree sets out, as the main condition of Christian fellowship, that converts from pagan backgrounds must separate themselves entirely from pagan worship; the touchstone of this involvement is eating from the sacrificial carcass.79

                                                                                                               
78

F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: W. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p. 342. 79 Proctor, p. 473. This view is repeated by Charles Savelle who states that Gentiles were asked “to refrain from activities that even resembled pagan worship, thereby avoiding even the appearance of evil” in “A reexamination of the prohibitions in Acts 15”, in Bibliotheca sacra, 161 no 644 (O-D 2004), p. 465. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 866

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In light of the clear teaching of scripture with regards to the scruples of others, the detachment of pagans from their former religion for the sake of table fellowship and the prevention of apostasy, the turning of Gentiles to God and away from their former idolatry, with some wonderment, then, one reads the conclusion that Higgins comes to in his exposition of Acts 15.
I do, however, believe that authentic Jesus movements within Islam will bring transformation (and indeed reform) in the light of God’s Word and Spirit as applied from the inside.80

One can not help but wonder if this is a recipe for discord, rather than unity in the Body of Christ. The Council gave relief on two fronts; it released the Gentiles from the burden of circumcision and the need to become Torahbelieving Jews in order to be fully accepted in the Body of Christ: it gave relief to the Jews who saw the eating of certain foods and sexual immorality as the summation of pagan life, and which were the sure road to ruin as their history has shown. In some way it imposed a “law” of liberty on the Jewish background believers and a “law” of circumspection and separation on the Gentile background believers. The Council thus freed both Jewish and Gentile background believers to enjoy unrestricted table fellowship: it gave the Gentiles full assurance that their act of repenting, believing and being baptized would ensure full membership in the people of God: their Jewish brothers and sisters would have assurance that the Gentiles would not cause them to drift from their new-found faith in Jesus the Messiah. The unity which was under severe threat has now changed into a completely different spirit. Unanimity of purpose exist, and the Antioch church bursts into “exhulant joy” (v. 31) when they hear the decree which was both a word of consolation and a word of

                                                                                                               
80

Higgins, p. 38. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 867

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exhortation to them. The honor of King Jesus, ruler of the best governed people, has in effect been vindicated. As such the decree might be said to be “simultaneously feasible socially, defensible jurisprudentially... maintainable ethically, and mandated theologically.”81 9 Conclusions As much as Acts 15 has been seized on by the radical contextualization movement as a convenient proof-text for “making things less than difficult” for persons of other religious backgrounds under the guise of unity, it fails dismally. Acts 15 is a church document. It affirms the church, its traditions, its unity including mutual submission, and its authority structures. Can one say this is the same of documents emanating from IM? Acts 15, in the context of the quest for true unity, actually sets up high standards of entry into the people of God, and high standards for maintaining table fellowship in the people of God. Can this also be said of IM?82 Acts 15 places the honor of the Head of the Church front and center. It does so by rooting out whatever might be discordant and anticipating any slippery slope that might engender apostasy. It realizes that true unity in the church is one of the best advertisements for the Excellencies of its Head of State. Can this be said of IM? Acts 15, as John Stott observed, was “a victory of truth in confirming the gospel of grace, and a victory of love in preserving the

                                                                                                               
81

Diffenderfer, p. 206, citing R. Loewe, “Potentialities and Limitations of Universalism in the Halakhah", in R. Loewe (ed), Studies in Rationalism, Judaism & Universalism. In Memory of Leon Roth (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), p. 117. 82 Compare Higgins (p. 36) who asks the hypothetical question, “What would the theological minimums be in a Muslim insider movement context?” St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 868

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fellowship by sensitive concessions to conscientious Jewish scruples’. Does IM have sensitive concessions to the scruples of the root, i.e. the historic church, in which MBB’s are now being engrafted?83 Or might it be said that it demands sensitive concessions only to the scruples of the shoot which is being grafted into the historic church? For further reflection In light of the exegesis of Acts 15 in its cultural and Biblical contexts, might it be possible that the hypothetical question posed by Dudley Woodberry has missed the point of the passage? Recall he asked:
...Would …the Jerusalem Council endorse Muslims being free to follow Jesus while retaining, to the extent that this commitment allows, Muslim identity and practices, as these Jerusalem leaders endorsed Jews being free to follow Jesus while retaining, to the extent that that commitment allowed, Judaic identity and practices?

                                                                                                               
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John R. W. Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World: The Message of Acts. ( Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 257. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 869

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CHRIST AND CAESAR ... AND ISLAM
By Bill Rhea1 A number of scholars have recently launched a project to reinterpret the New Testament—in particular Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus—in light of their Roman imperial context. This ‘political turn’ in New Testament studies is now one of the major issues in the field, as significant as the ‘third quest for the historical Jesus’ or the ‘new perspective on Paul.’ To date, however, the conclusions of political interpreters have largely been applied to ecclesiology and contemporary political action, and then almost exclusively to the support of liberal-progressive causes. Wherever the chips may fall in ecclesiology and ethics, there remains the larger issue that the political turn has yet to be applied in the field of missiology. Research in this area and new and critical discussion of the issue have not found pride of place in the academy. As such, this essay will not seek to definitively outline a model of political missiology. This essay seeks merely to pose the question: If the political turn is good biblical scholarship, how might it be applied to the theological sub-field of missiology? Yet despite the general nature, we will look at one particular target of mission: the civilization of Islam. The reasons for focusing on Islam will become apparent below. For the moment, we will outline the political turn as it has developed in contemporary scholarship. Beginning with Adolf Deissmann, many New Testament scholars have discerned counter or even anti-imperial meanings throughout the letters of Paul, and have followed with political

                                                                                                               
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Bill Rhea holds a B.A. in political studies from Messiah College and is pursuing a masters degree at Concordia Seminary, an institution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He spent the winter and spring of 2010 on pilgrimage through the Mediterranean Middle East and southern Europe. St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 870

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readings of Matthew, Mark, Q, Luke-Acts, and especially Revelation. Today, scholars as diverse as John Dominic Crossan, Neil Elliott, N.T. Wright, Dieter Georgi, and especially Richard Horsley have subscribed to the political turn in one way or another. Others, in particular Seyoon Kim in his book Christ and Caesar, have attempted to moderate the radicalism of these interpretations. Nevertheless, the old (western) picture of Christianity as a religion rising up in the private sphere, largely unrelated to the public sphere of the Roman imperial system and the Greek polis, has been laid aside. The western liberal understandings of ‘private religion’ and ‘public politics’ cannot be imposed on the world of the first century (nor the twenty-first). Religion in the empire was profoundly public; and socioeconomic and sociopolitical structures entered into the very fabric of home and hearth. The Roman emperor ruled not only as imperator or princeps but also as pontifex maximus. The appellative Augustus, applied first to Octavian Caesar and then to the whole of the Julio-Claudian line, denoted veneration and connoted a quasi-divine status; the Greek translation, Sebastios, brought the implication of divine worship into the foreground of semantic meaning. As is now well known, a cult of emperor worship spread throughout the Roman world, especially in the Hellenistic east where shrines were erected to the Julio-Claudian emperors at local instigation. In the Roman west, which had no tradition of ruler worship (as the Hellenists had under the Ptolomies, Seleucids and others), the imperial cult was often imposed from above; the east developed an imperial cultus on the local level both due to popular acclaim and to magistrates eager to ingratiate themselves with the Caesars. Consequently, the imperial cult developed more rapidly in the lands through which Paul would later sojourn. First Thessalonians, one of Paul’s earliest extant letters, draws heavily on this imperial environment. The language of Paul in 1
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Thessalonians closely parallels the official political terminology employed by the empire. Let us first observe the word ‘gospel,’ from the Greek euangelion or ‘good news.’ As a term, euangelion may mean any number of positive announcements; however, as an inscription at Priene and numerous textual references show, euangelion had a specific political meaning in the first century: the good news of Caesar’s birthday, or a new Caesar’s ascension, or the victory of Caesar in battle. The gospel of the Roman Empire was the gospel of Roman Empire. Naturally, the birth or ascension or victory of a Caesar was good news indeed. After all, the first century C.E. looked back in fear on the civil wars and thuggish warlordism of the first century B.C.E. The victory of Octavian Caesar at Actium over Mark Antony ended nearly a century of internal conflict. The peoples of the empire, including those of the Greek east who erected shrines of imperial worship, had good reason to celebrate the ascension of Caesar Augustus as good news. And, it seems, Paul uses this expressly political turn to highlight the superior quality of the good news of the crucifixion—political torture-execution as a traitor to Caesar—of Jesus Christ. Another key term used by Paul is ‘Son of God.’ This term has an even more express political meaning for, unlike euangelion which may mean any number of glad tidings, huios theou, ‘son of a god’ or ‘Son of God,’ is a specific term of honor for the Roman emperor. Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, his adoptive son Octavian had his apotheosis declared, making Gaius Julius a god and Octavian, de facto, the son of a god. It then became tradition for the deification of emperors to be declared upon their deaths, making huios theou a standard term of divine honor for the reigning imperator. Paul could not have missed the parallel. Similarly, the phrase ‘lord and savior’ can be found throughout the epigraphic and textual record as a title of the Caesars. Kyrios kai soter, a phrase that appears both as a unit and as separate titles
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for Jesus throughout Paul, was a recognizable title for Caesar. When Paul calls Jesus of Nazareth ‘Lord,’ ‘Savior,’ and ‘Son of God,’ and proclaims his ‘gospel,’ he is using terms that were fundamentally Roman political terms for the emperor. They represented the emperor in all his facets of power, which in turn bespoke the wider political ideology—and political theology—of Roman imperial rule. Before continuing, it must be noted that while many of the aforementioned scholars have emphasized that these terms contrast sharply with their Greco-Roman context, it is equally true that the titles lord, savior, and son of (a) god are equally biblical and Jewish in origin. Lord, in Greek kyrios, a common translation of the Hebrew Yahweh and adonai, has equally specific political meanings in terms of the kingship of Yahweh over creation; Yahweh or the Messiah (and often both) are depicted as a savior throughout the prophets; and Son of God draws on a whole history of biblical and intertestamental references. Recent Pauline scholarship has been steadily uncovering the Jewish milieu and roots of Paul’s thought. It would be a mistake, then, to suppose that Paul drew these terms primarily from his Roman context in order to illustrate an anti-imperial theology, which just so happened to coincide with Jewish language. It is far more likely that Paul drew on his own Jewish tradition, rooted in the law and the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, and used the rhetoric of the kingdom of God therein to illuminate a counter-imperial theology. The difference here is between a model of early Christianity as an anti-imperial movement of subversion and an early church setting up alternate communities that viewed the empire as flawed and insufficient, but with no intention of working for the overthrow of civilization. Any overthrow of Roman civilization would come with the overthrow of all civilization at the Second Advent of Christ.

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This last phrase leads to another key term in understanding Pauline counter-imperial rhetoric: parousia. This term, often used in the New Testament, has its parallel in the arrival of the Roman emperor at a city. Moreover, whether the parousia was a visit of beneficence or judgment depended largely on the apantesis of the city, the official meeting of the emperor by a delegation prior to his arrival at the city. The loyal city would be expected to meet the emperor with an apantesis and open gates. First Thessalonians 4:17 depicts this pattern of parousia and apantesis with the faithful going out to meet the him in the air. The parallel in light of that is the burial of the dead outside ancient cities, who were thus the first to greet the arriving emperor or his envoy. Paul uses this as his controlling image for describing the coming of the Lord; he clearly seems to have thought that theology could be effectively done on the basis of imperial parallels. Parallels may be further sketched, but these are sufficient to understand the controlling context of early Christian theology. Many scholars working in this field—not least among them Horsley and Eliot—have drawn political-ethical conclusions about the nature of early Christianity. Their subsequent characterizations of the Pauline mission as a subversive movement committed to the destruction of the prevailing Roman order in favor of alternatively structured communities may be in excess; yet the data upon which they make these conclusions is not less valid for their mistaken approach. Whatever may be said of early Christian theology and the political relationship of the Christian movements to Rome, this much is clear: first, Paul’s theology, if not anti-imperial or even counter-imperial, drew on the imperial experience; and second, Paul drew on this imperial experience to further his missionary enterprise. How did Paul feel, or come to feel, that this use of imperial language was both appropriate and beneficial to his overarching goal of proclaiming the gospel to the nations, and
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goal of proclaiming the gospel to the nations, and how does that play into our evangelizing task today? It seems that we can only understand Paul’s use of imperial language if Paul believed himself to be in a situation paralleling the imperial experience. To stand in such a situation would mean a strong sense of continuity between the expectations of covenant national renewal and imperial expansion engendered by Jewish apocalypticism and the reworking of this theme in Jesus’ own language regarding the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, the organization of the people of God under the administration of the renewed covenant, is a parallel to the empire of Caesar, even if it does not directly oppose Caesar, as Horsley and others would have us believe. Preaching Christ crucified, and proclaiming the good news of the righteousness of God (more likely his fidelity to the covenant rather than either the Reformation’s imputed righteousness or the political interpreters’s social justice), are particularly ironic given both the Jewish expectations and imperial realities among which Paul worked. For the Jews, a messiah does not get crucified and God has not yet been proven true to his promise of renewal; for the imperial authorities, the cross is specifically an instrument of Roman cosmic and eschatological victory, not the cosmic and eschatological victory of the crucified, and the true loyalty that binds together the reality of the world is the mutual pledge between Caesar and subject. It is a stumbling block to Jewish expectations and sheer absurdity to the subjects of the empire (cf. 1 Cor 1:23). It would be most wrong at this point to suggest that this indicates that the essence of Christianity is paradox, the reversal of expectations, or the irony of veiled victory. We cannot be Bultmannians, for Paul was no Bultmannian. For Paul, it was not paradox, but the paradox of the historical event of the crucified Christ that inaugurated the new covenant and new creation; for Paul, it was
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not the reversal of expectations, but the reversal of the zealotry’s expectations for national victory through military conquest in favor of cosmic victory through the surrender of a particular person to torture-murder on a symbol of political oppression that revealed the loving nature of God; for Paul, it was not the irony of veiled victory, but the reality of that victory that changed everything. And for Paul, the concrete, historical reality of that victory meant using the language not of philosophy, but of empire in order to express his thoughts and proclaim the good news. This rich understanding of Paul’s missiology, standing as it did between the history of God’s covenant project of cosmic renewal and the sociopolitical situation of the day, has profound implications for how the church carries out authentically Pauline—and therefore authentically biblical—missions in the world today. To take but one example: this understanding challenges models of conversation by persuasion or religious altar call-style challenges, however useful in certain individual situations, as the standard model for Christian evangelization. Rather, evangelization, the spread of the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ, is a proclamation not of a religious appeal, but of a cosmic reality. It does not ask whether one would like Jesus to be your Lord; it boldly announces that Jesus is Lord. The challenge of other religions, contrary to the eschatological witness of the people of God to the end of history come in history, may be faced head on. And in history, there has been no greater challenge to the definitive victory of the foolish cross than from that other great imperial ideology, Islam. Traditional religious taxonomies have proffered the ideas that either all religions are essentially manifestations of the same moral impulse, or that religions can be comfortably fitted into the categories ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western.’ A typical Christian variation on the first idea is that all religions are essentially the same, except for Christianity, which is not a religion in the proper sense at
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all. A typical secular humanist or radical atheist modification on the first has been that all religions are essentially the same in that they are universally untrue and harmful. None of these models is particularly helpful for Christian missionaries, nor can they stand up to a thorough analysis of the world’s religions. Christianity and Islam are religious systems like any others. Like other religious systems they are a particular sort of cosmic worldview. Christianity, believers say, is more than a cosmic worldview or a religious system, but it is not less than that. And to discover precisely what Christianity is as an historical and sociological phenomenon, it is helpful to set it against other religious systematics and worldviews, cosmic or particular. The same is true of Islam. Islam is in many ways more similar to the Roman Empire than to Christianity although, in comparing it to the Roman Empire, its shared features with Christianity come into relief like never before. Indeed, comparing Christianity and Islam in light of the Roman Empire shows ways in which Christianity was similar to the Roman worldview that allowed the Roman Empire to remain distinctively Roman, and Christianity to remain distinctively Christian, while one adopted the other, and both in a manner that Islam could never tolerate. Islam is a totalizing ideology, in a way that Christianity is not as a religion, and in ways that the Roman imperial system was not as a worldview. On the one hand, Islam has always had a set of legal and political doctrines derived from the Qur’an and hadith, and enshrined in sunna and sharia, that have not only sought to influence or subvert but to control the public sphere in a way Christianity never imagined. On the other hand, as the world’s most fiercely monotheistic religion, the cultural pluralism of Christianity and the religious pluralism of the Roman Empire have never been on the ideological horizon of Islam.

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Much of this has been discussed extensively in political contexts where the confrontation between western political norms and Islamic radicalism has generated a host of literature on the difference between the Islamic worldview and the western system of sovereign nation-states and constitutional liberalism. The response to this by Christians has often taken the form of treatises on the ethics of war and peace, such as those by George Weigel, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Darrell Cole, and others. These are necessary responses, but the political response of Christians to the challenge of Islam can only be one side of the coin, for the challenge of Islam is that it makes no distinction between theology and politics. When Christians respond as evangelists and missionaries to Islam, then, it must be in awareness of the political-theological realities of Islamic thought. Foremost among these are not the purely theological issues of the oneness of God, or the nature of the Qur’an, or the path to eternal life, or any of the issues that more obviously conflict with the core of Christian theology. To deal with Islam on its own terms means to place the center of the Islamic worldview—and not just the Islamic religious system— squarely in mind. This means, more than anything, understanding that the duality of the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb are as much issues for Christian missionaries as they are for just war theorists or foreign policymakers. In Islam, as readers will well know, the world is fundamentally divided, exceptions and alternative offerings notwithstanding, into the Abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the Abode of War (dar al-harb). The dar al-Islam is the realm of peace or submission wherein Islamic rule reigns; the people of this abode, whether believers in Islam or not, submit to its rule, and thus there is peace. The dar al-harb is opposed to this rule, and thus the submission and peace that it brings, and Muslims must therefore oppose this war against God’s laws through persuasion where able, and by violence where necessary.
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In many ways the dar al-Islam parallels the Imperium Romanum. Indeed, throughout Islamic history there have arisen curious relationships between the Roman legacy and the Islamic empires. For instance, if the dar al-Islam has been established in an area by the submission of the population to sharia law, that area is forever properly part of the dar al-Islam; reversion of that area to the dar al-harb is something like corporate legal apostasy, and such a geographical area is always subject to violent assault to bring it back into the Abode of Islam. This seems to be a direct inheritance from Roman imperial law which viewed lands under Roman law as properly and forever Roman, and if lost to the barbarians outside the realm of submission to Caesar, then subject to attack and recapture. Within this framework one can understand why, conceptually, the political turn offers many resources to be mined by Christian theologians, scholars of comparative religions, and missionaries working in Muslim cultures. The relationship between early Pauline Christianity and early imperial Rome was of gospel and counter-gospel—with claims to social order as well as cosmic claims to divine patronage—a fortiori with Islam. This cannot involve crass transference, however, for there is no equivalent to Caesar in contemporary Islam, and the historic caliphate was but a pale shade of the political authority and religious audacity of the Caesars. A more consonant parallel—and one already explored by Christian missionaries and students of Islam—to the gospel that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not is the gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is the Logos and the Qur’an is not. This is as much a political statement involving claims to authority, ala Paul’s counterclaim against Caesarian lordship, as it is a theological disputation over the transcendence and incarnation of God. The authority of the Logos of God, after all, is a claim about the cosmic source of all political and religious authority.

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A final parallel between Christianity’s confrontation with Rome and her engagement with Islam brings the point home most starkly. The gospel of Caesar was the obliteration of barbaric threats to the empire and the pax Romana that resulted from the crucifixion of rebels; the gospel preached by Paul and the early Christians was the crucifixion—the political torture-murder of brigands and traitors—of Jesus Christ as the definitive victory over sin, death and evil. The Qur’an and Islamic kalam evidence again and again that the crucifixion of God incarnate, or even the Messiah, was as much foolishness to the seventh century world as it was to the first century world—and as much as it remains to the twenty-first century world. The cosmic victory of the crucifixion challenges all models of expansion of the dar al-Islam through militant jihad against the dar al-harb as surely as it challenged pax Romana and its campaigns against the barbarians. Inasmuch as the parallels exist, the first three centuries from Jesus and Paul to Constantine and Eusebius provide the contemporary church with a truly working model for the subversion of imperial ideology to the end of eventual absorption of the empire in question. Christian missionary efforts have long concentrated on the Islamic periphery, since black African Muslims and South Asian Muslims live in cultures exposed to greater religious pluralism and therefore fit models of evangelism hatched in Europe or America. Yet if Christians are going to reach into the Arab hinterland of Islam, the best evangelistic schemes are not drawn from the completely alien culture of the post-Christian North Atlantic. Rather, to be authentically biblical as well as pragmatically savvy, it is best to rethink our strategies—and perhaps our Christianity— in the light of the pre-Christian Mediterranean.

 

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FROM FAITH TO UNBELIEF Mina’l-I’tiqad il’l-Ilhad THE JOURNEY OF A SAUDI INTELLECTUAL
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany1 1 Introduction Over the years, I have been interested in the lives of Muslim reformers. It started in my student days when I took a course in Arabic on “The History of the Arab-Islamic Civilization”. My interest grew after my Arabic-language radio ministry began in 1958, as I needed to remain abreast of the reform movements in the Arab world. That led me to acquire more books dealing with the subject of “Reformation” and “Renewal” in Islam. Not long after the Caliphate moved to Iraq in 750 A.D, the Mu’tazilites appeared on the scene.2 They may be considered as the first reformers in Islam. They lived predominantly in Baghdad and Basra during the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate. Major concepts like “Predestination and Free Will”, “The Attributes of God” and the “Nature of the Qur’anic Revelation” were being scrutinized by Islamic philosophers at the time. The

                                                                                                               
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The Rev Basssam Madany has been a lifelong radio minister for the Arab World with Back to God Hour; since his ‘retirement’ he has continued to be a prolific writer on Islam and the Arab World. 2 W. Montgomery Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 1973), pp. 249-250: “The Mu’tazilites’ outstanding service to Islamic thought was the assimilation of a large number of Greek ideas and methods of arguments … The Greek ideas thus introduced by the Mu’tazilites came to dominate one great wing of Islamic theology, namely, rational or philosophical theology. Since the Mu’tazilites were regarded as heretics, however, by the Sunnites, their ideas and doctrines could not simply be taken over, but exercised an influence indirectly.”

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Mu’tazilites were noteworthy for bringing Greek philosophical thought into these discussions. Initially some Abbasid caliphs even supported Mu’tazilite attempts to correct the teachings of Imam Hanbal, which they claimed were antithetical to the strict monotheism of Islam. Unfortunately for the Mu’tazilites, their movement remained within the confines of elite intellectual circles and, eventually, Imam Hanbal’s views triumphed and became the standard Islamic orthodoxy, especially with respect to the doctrine of the “Uncreatedness of the Qur’an”. Around two hundred years later, Imam al-Ghazzali (d. 1111 A.D.) is credited with “closing the door of Ijtihad”, which brought an end to the theological discussions among Muslim scholars. The door remained closed for several centuries during which juridical and theological subjects were reduced to numbingly repetitious writings of the themes and positions of traditional Sunni Islam. Napoleon’s expedition into Egypt in the early 1800s, and the subsequent British involvement in the affairs of the country, stimulated Arab intellectuals to seriously reflect on the progress that had been taking place in Europe, in contrast with their own Islamic world that was in a state of “Inhitat” (stagnation and decline). Early reformers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (18381897), and his disciple Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), were among the pioneers attempting to reform Islam. In the 20th century, Taha Hussein was considered to be a leading reformer. In spite of being afflicted with blindness, he was able to secure higher education degrees at al-Azhar University in Cairo, and also in France. His critical work on pre-Islamic Arabic literature brought him into conflict with the religious authorities in Egypt who saw his work as a threat to the integrity of the Qur’an. In more recent years, Zaki Naguib Mahmoud has become a powerful reformer of Arab-Islamic culture. He has authored sevSt Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision 882

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eral books dealing with Tajdeed (Renewal) and Tahdeeth (Modernization) of the Arab-Muslim mind. A more radical genre of Muslim writings also began to appear attacking the very idea of a theistic faith. Men like Jalal Sadeq al-Adhm, influenced by radical Western thought, authored “Naqd al-Fiqr al-Deeni” (A Critique of Religious Thought). It was like a bombshell, and brought him into conflict with both religious and government circles in Lebanon during the 1960s. During the 1990s would-be reformers and critics of Islam began using the Internet to propagate their ideas. On certain websites3 both reformers and apostates defended their thoughts with vigor and passion. For example, in 2008, kwtanweer published two articles by a lady journalist from Kuwait that dealt with the topic of “Why Do Our Young People Become Apostates?” “Limadha Yulhidu al-Shabab?”4 With that very limited historical background as an introduction, I bring to your attention an article that appeared on 17 March 2010 in kwtanweer entitled “Mina’l I’tiqaad il’l Ilhad” “From Faith to Unbelief”.5 It relates the journey of a Saudi intellectual from Islam to unbelief. Here are excerpts, followed by my analysis and comments. 2 Excerpts
How wonderful it would be, to have men like Abdallah al-Quseimi! At first, he was noted for his defense of Islam, its beliefs and practices. On the other hand, he also wrote in defense of those who have

                                                                                                               
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Such as www.kwtanweer.com, www.al-awan.org and www.aafaq.org Www.kwtanweer.com/articles/readarticle.php?articleID=1989 5 The URL for “From Faith to Unbelief”, “Mina’l I’tiqaad il’l Ilhad”: www.alawan.org/%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9 %D8%AA%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89.html

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chosen unbelief, thus demonstrating his firm attachment to freedom of religion! In one of his books, al-Quseimi, wrote: “Ours is a scary and backward society. You are afraid lest someone charges you with unbelief; or you may become the source of fear, should you point to other men and say that they have embraced unbelief. Our society grants any hypocrite, ignorant or stupid person, the freedom to accuse others as having departed from the right path! This man [al-Quseimi] did not change his skin the way snakes do theirs, as some religious leaders have charged, when he forsook his Islamic faith and adopted Ilhad, (unbelief). In fact, his journey from faith to unbelief was a long one; several ‘traffic’ signs appeared on the road warning him of difficult and tortuous curves lying ahead. However, he persisted in his journey, and managed to finish it peacefully and resolutely. Al-Quseimi’s journey has baffled many Muslim scholars who tried to find a cause for his “radda” (apostasy). Some claimed it was due to the influence of the devil that targets human beings, and especially Muslim religious scholars. Others attributed his fall to the reading of too many philosophical works! Still others were content to pray for his re-conversion, hoping it would take place before his death. He died in 1996, without having returned to Islam. What surprised many critics was the fact that when he crossed from the side of faith to the other side, he was not going through any radical personal crisis. Al-Quseimi passed away confirmed in his Ilhad. Many people hoped they would find some document he may have left behind, indicating his repentance at the eleventh hour! Sad to say, nothing of the sort was discovered. On the contrary, several people in his own country (Saudi Arabia), now respect his decision to apostatize! One wonders whether the events of 9/11 might have contributed to a revival of interest in al-Quseimi’s life! A daily newspaper, alRiyadh, has begun publishing a series of articles by Saudi intellectuals about this “apostate”. In the first article, he was praised for his

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noble character, as a person who preferred to be called a ‘zindeeq’ (heretic), keeping company with free intellectuals, rather than to live as a hypocrite, among the religious leaders of Saudi Arabia. The article added, “After his passing, very few newspapers published the news of his death. Now, however, his stature is growing; he is being regarded as a modern intellectual on par with some of the wellknown Western intellectuals.” Before al-Quseimi’s Ilhad, he had contributed several works in defence of orthodox Islam. He was well known for responding to critics of the faith. One of his books dealt with “the Wahhabi Revolution”; another dealt with “the Struggle between Islam and Paganism”. He had finished the first two volumes of his magnum opus, with the promise of a third and final volume to follow. However, that was not to take place, since his journey on the path of faith stopped, being replaced by his journey on the new path of Ilhad! How did al-Quseimi change from being a man of religion (Rajol deen) to becoming a propagandist (Dai’ya) for Ilhad? Some have attempted to give a convincing answer. They couldn’t find anything in his gentle personality that would explain the change from obeying to disobeying al-Haq (the Truth) of the Islamic revelation. Neither could they find any external factors that might have played a decisive role in his apostasy. On the other hand, no one has sought to look for a convincing answer by investigating al-Quseimi’s internal religious experience, as if unbelief occurs due to simply external factors. This is a serious error resulting from a misunderstanding of the spirit and essence of Islam. ‘We cannot understand the gradual and quiet change that took place in al-Quseimi’s life, unless we subscribe to the proposition that Islam itself facilitates the transition from religion to unbelief, more so even than most other religions do. [Emphasis mine] The essence of the religious works of al-Quseimi, including the unpublished Volume III, “the Struggle between Islam and Paganism”, revolved around Islam’s rebellion against all attempts to posit a

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likeness or similarity between the Creator and his creatures, as well as all aspects of love, and immanence. In other words, this Islamic penchant for negativity manifests itself in the very first word of the Shahadah: La.6 According to the French intellectual Jacques Attali this transforms Islam into the most abstract of religions7, thus facilitating its faith to turn into Ilhad! Indeed, Islam possesses a unique impulse that makes it the most likely religion to cause unbelief. For several other religions contain the promise of an eschatological salvation at the end of time, as in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. However, in Islam, there is no place or room for a Savior, or for salvation (except in Shi’ite Islam). In lieu of salvation, there is the contrary principle of annihilation, al-Fana’. It is this very principle that led Ibn Jahm8 long ago to the extreme position that in the End, both Heaven and Hell will be annihilated! The centrality of annihilationism in Islamic thought over against the centrality of salvation in most other religions is the point of weakness in Islam. However, it could become its point of strength, if Islam became an open religion, open to the possibility of being liberated from the illusion of immortality, and the delusion of an eternal existence, which is the source of all delusions!

                                                                                                               
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The Islamic creed: “La Ilaha illa’l Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah. No God but Allah, Muhammad is Apostle of Allah” 7 Jacques Attali, Le Sens des Choses, Robert Laffont (Paris 2009), p. 36. Jacques Attali was born in 1943 in Algiers, Algeria. He is a French economist and scholar. From 1981 to 1991, he was an advisor to President François Mitterrand. 8 Ibn Jahm was born in Kufah, Iraq. He was the first major propagator of the createdness of the Qur'ān. He believed that the Speech of God is created, since all attributes that are ascribed to God and which are shared by the creation, are created too. There can be no sharing in name or attribute, according to Jahm, for that would necessitate assimilation, al-Tashbih. He therefore denied each and every attribute mentioned in the scriptures, for fear of anthropomorphism. The only attributes he accepted and described God with were two: creating and power. He based his theology upon the early Greek philosophers.

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3 Analysis Al-Quseimi’s apostasy, according to the author of the article, was probably due to certain Islamic doctrines that referred to God in a totally negative way. In contrast with the Christian doctrine of the transcendence and immanence of God, Islam simply asserts and teaches that man can know the will of God, but cannot know Him as a Person. In fact, the Arabic word for person is shakhs, and it may not be used in reference to God, because it connotes a finite and fallible human being! The way the author of the article summed up the probable reason for al-Quseimi’s defection from the faith he first set out to defend, indicates that he has grasped a very important and fundamental weakness in Islamic theology and anthropology. As he put it, “Islam’s rebellion against all attempts to posit a likeness or similarity between the Creator and the creatures, as well as all aspects of love, and immanence, transforms Islam into the most abstract of religions, thus facilitating its faith to turn into Ilhad!” In Islam, God remains the unknown Supreme Being. He is and remains, bila tashbeeh (he cannot be similar to, or likened, to anyone). Search as you might in the Suras of the Qur’an, you will find nothing that approximates these words of Gen 1:26a, ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” or of Gen 9: 6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (NIV) Added to the traditional Islamic doctrine of God as the “Wholly Other” is the absence of the hope of salvation. The article correctly pointed out that “Islam possesses a unique impulse or motif that makes it the most likely religion to cause unbelief. For several other religions contain the promise of an eschatological salvation, as in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. However, in Islam, there is no place or room for a Savior, or for salvation (except in Shi’ite Islam).” A Muslim, having confessed
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the “Shahadah,” is left with many duties to perform, and evil acts to avoid, in order to gain entrance into Paradise. The discussion about al-Quseimi’s apostasy rightly pointed to a serious deficiency in Islamic theology, thus allowing the Christian missionary to offer, in contrast, the Biblical doctrine of God as a heavenly Father who sent the Messiah on a mission of redemption. It is sad that the author ended his essay by manifesting a strong criticism not only of Islam, but of all theistic religions; and he looked forward “to the possibility of being liberated from the illusion of immortality, and the delusion of an eternal existence, which is the source of all delusions!” His preference for a type of nirvana, i.e. the end of all individual and personal existence, is indeed a shocking denouement of an otherwise very instructive article that attempted to explain the radda of a well-known Saudi intellectual whose journey began in complete faith, but ended in total unbelief!

APPENDIX
For too long, perhaps since the publishing of ”Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions", by Eugene A. Nida, (Harper & Brothers, 1954), missionary theory has been dominated by the discipline of cultural anthropology, rather than by Christian theology. In "Down to Earth: Studies in Christianity and Culture," edited by John R. Stott and Robert Coote, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 1980, the editors wrote (p. viii):
Although different answers are given to these questions, they are basically cultural. The major challenge to the world-wide Christian mission today is whether we are willing to pay the cost of following in the footsteps of our incarnate Lord in order to contextualize the Gospel. Our failure of communication is a failure of contextualization.

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These words constitute an inaccurate assessment for the lack of "results" in missions among Muslims. Stott and Coote did not consider the formidable difficulties encountered when presenting the Gospel to Muslims. Neither did they focus on the inadequacy of the Islamic doctrine of God, as a way for presenting the Christian view of God, as both Creator and Redeemer. This explains why I was very pleased with an article that was posted recently on a Kuwaiti reformist website about a Saudi intellectual's defection from Islam. It pointed to those inherent deficiencies in the Islamic doctrine of God, as well as to the lack of a hope of salvation, as a possible motif for al-Quseimi's “Ilhad” (unbelief).

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