Muslim and American?

For several months now, a provocative question-and-answer (Q&A) essay has been circulating on the Internet and by e-mail.  The essay asks the question “Can a good Muslim be a good American?” and then emphatically answers “NO!”

A few days ago, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) offered its position on each of the points raised in the essay.  ABTS was established in 1960 by American Southern Baptists for the training of Christian workers throughout the Arab world.  What follows is the original Q&A essay, with ABTS’ comments inserted after each point.

I have injected some minor changes here and there to facilitate reading this “dialog” between the anonymous Q&A author and the seminary.  ABTS has reviewed those edits and this is offered for your consideration with their blessings.

Q&A’s opening question:  Can a good Muslim be a good American?

Q&A’s answer #1:  Theologically, no, because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia.

 ABTS:  As indicated by the name of Muhammad’s father “Abdallah,” Allah is the Arabic name for God probably used by Arab Christians long before Islam.  Most likely its root is the Syriac word “Allaha” which was used by Syriac Christians since the second century.

ABTS:  With this in mind, if “Allah” comes from the name of the moon god of Arabia, then it may be argued that “Elohim” is the plural version of “El,” a Semitic pagan head divinity; and that “Theos” is the generic name of any Greek Divinity; and that virtually every other appellation of God in European languages, such as “Dieu,” “God,” “Gott” and others were adopted into Christianity from pagan religions and rites of the regions that adopted the Christian religion.

Q&A’s answer #2:  Religiously, no.  Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256).

ABTS:  Looked at from this angle, it can be argued that neither does Judaism accept the legitimacy of Christianity or Islam.  Nor does Christianity accept the legitimacy of Islam while it restricts itself to a specific interpretation of Judaism that may be described as Christo-centric.   A historical reflection can lead to the argument that Islam’s institution of Dhimmi status guarantees more religious tolerance for minorities than Christianity did in the Medieval period.

Q&A’s answer #3:  Scripturally, no.  Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran).

ABTS:  Often times we miss the point and tend to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Perhaps we need to carefully look at the purpose behind the five pillars, which includes:  1) Proclamation of God’s oneness; 2) Prayer; 3) Fasting; 4) Pilgrimage; and 4) Almsgiving.  Probably we Christians can take heed from this and strengthen our own commitment to our Lord.

Q&A’s answer #4:  Geographically, no.  Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

ABTS:  Here again, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4).  How many of us Christians tend to worship that which is in contradiction with the Word of God and the Spirit of the Christian message?  Arab Christians may argue here that certain non-Arab Christians allow politics – an allegiance that is not to God – to over-rule the Spirit of God’s Word, jeopardizing God’s work in our part of the world.

Q&A’s answer #5:  Socially, no.  Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

ABTS:  Friends, we accuse Jehovah Witness of using isolated verses from the Bible to argue their case.  The “herewith and hereby” finality of these declarations indicates that whoever put together these statements does not have a thorough knowledge of the Koran which is evident in highlighting isolated verses of the Medinan sections of the Koran.  A careful review of the Koran will reveal full statements that are very positive towards Christians and Jews.  The Koran does not – in any verse – forbid Muslims from “making friends” with them.  To the contrary, the Koran recommends that those who hear Muhammad’s message and don’t believe it should go and ask Christians and Jews to confirm that his message is along the same line.

Q&A’s answer #6:  Politically, no.  Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan.

ABTS:  The Imams of Islam call for allegiance to God above any political power, which is equally true in the Bible.  The difference however is that Islam is willing to take up arms to defend and promote that stance.  But a primary principle of the “JIHAD” is that every means of peaceful struggle should be used before any resort to force.

ABTS:  Apparently some of us are focusing on the glass half empty and as such may be leading the world to the brink of disaster and destruction.  Christians are called to be people of peace and conflict resolution.  Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

ABTS:  As Christians we are responsible for every word we speak – and as such we are responsible too to attain a holistic view of a situation before coming up with a verdict.  An in-depth search into the factors that lead Islam to carry arms may be quite illuminating.   This is one frustrating aspect for us Christian Arabs particularly as we see some of our own non-Arab sisters and brothers in Christ diverting from the Spirit of Christianity and such values as justice and mercy, treading instead in uninformed paths that are political in origin and merely serve to negatively influence the spreading of the Gospel in our part of the world.

Q&A’s answer #7:  Domestically, no, because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).

ABTS:  Here again, it must be clarified that a Muslim is not “instructed” to marry four women but rather is “permitted” to do so on condition that he treats each of them equally and fairly.  This reflects medieval tribal norms that were current in Arabia at the time of the rise of Islam.  It does not justify these teachings, but at least places them in context.  On the other hand, the more “spiritual” Muslims of today will not favor polygamy, and certainly scourging one’s wife is viewed as barbaric by educated Muslims.  The problem is not religious.  It is cultural and depends on people’s level of education.

ABTS:  Perhaps this warrants a reflection on one’s own non-Muslim society and the increasing number of divorces and remarriages, not to mention the tolerance for sexual immorality and adultery that is widespread in non-Muslim societies.  How do we think that Muslims view these aspects of Western cultures?  The same applies for domestic violence – particularly in North America.   

Q&A’s answer #8:  Intellectually, no, because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

ABTS:  Perhaps we need to advise the writer of these statements to check their facts first including the degree to which current US Politics are a reflection or an application of Biblical principles.  For instance, what is the point of having “In God we trust” on the U.S. Dollar bill, but then ignore principles of justice and mercy?   

ABTS:  Then again, the Muslim belief that the Bible is corrupt is a matter of practice not doctrine, and consequently it is a matter of discussion at the level of dialogue.  It is highly advisable that such conclusions should not be drawn without a thorough knowledge of Islam and its history.  They are as disturbing to Muslims as Christians are disturbed when non-Christians make cliché statements about Christianity.

Q&A’s answer #9:  Philosophically, no, because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist.  Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

ABTS:  Once more we kindly recommend a thorough and in-depth study of the on-the-ground realities including North American support to dictatorial Islamic regimes in various countries and regions of the world.  One anticipated outcome is a reflection on how overly abused and misused is the term “democracy” in our day today.  Perhaps, the concept of democracy needs to be revisited to highlight the striking variance between the concept itself and its application.

Q&A’s answer #10:  Spiritually, no, because when we declare “one nation under God,” the Christian’s God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran’s 99 excellent names.

ABTS:  Here again, a more in-depth study of the Koran (Qur’an) reveals the presence of such synonyms as “Rahman,” “RahIm,” and “Wadud” which mean respectively merciful, compassionate and loving.  Moreover, Muslims have an understanding of God as a “Kind God.”   

Q&A’s conclusion:  Therefore after much study and deliberation…. perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country.  They obviously cannot be both “good” Muslims and good Americans.  Call it what you wish…it’s still the truth!

ABTS:  In reality, the afore-mentioned statements reveal that not much in-depth study has been made.  We are Arab Christians who live in a majority culture and amongst our team are people who have done thorough studies and earned doctorate degrees in the field of Islamics.  Moreover our Institute of Middle East Studies holds annual Middle East Conferences with the objective of creating a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.  May I kindly take this opportunity to invite the “writer” and others who are interested in gaining a better understanding of our context to attend these events?  Our next conference is scheduled to be held at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary during the period June 18 – 23, 2007.

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