Sunday, September 4, 2016

Post 46—Christian Genocide by ISIS

It is generally recognized in the media that Christians are having a hard time of it in pretty well all Muslim-dominated countries, whether in Asia, Africa or Europe. I have drawn attention to this in several posts in both this blog as well as in another blog I operate under the name “My World—My Neighbour,” the latest being number 124.
Now that claim may smell like Islamophobia to some, but that derisive term is over-used to cover almost anything that is less than laudatory with respect to Islam.  It means “fear of Islam,” which is a far cry from disagreement with Islam. I have high respect for orthodox Islam and for its adherents, but I disagree with them. If you want to know what exactly that translates into, I refer you to my series Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations on my website  < >. Even Muslims have praised me for the spirit pervading that series. Disagreement? Yes.  Phobia? No, not one bit. So, let’s not have that misnomer stand in the way of the rest of this post. 
Today I discuss not mere Muslim persecution of Christians, but genocide. According to one edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it means “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group,” with the last one, I take it, including religious groups.  It is much more specific than the more general term “persecution.” While the latter is common place throughout the Muslim world, genocide is more local and currently widely applied especially to ISIS, who are widely recognized to consciously and officially be practicing Christian genocide.
You need details of this recognition?  Carl Anderson, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author, together with  Archbishop Bashar Warda, a Chaldean Catholic Archbishop in Iraq (A&W), wrote an article, “ISIS perpetrates genocide against Christians” (Vancouver Sun, Aug. 5, 2016, p. A11) that is fully worth a serious read. They write:
Based on overwhelming evidence, Christians have been included in genocide designations by the European Parliament, the US State Department, the US Congress, parliaments and officials of a number of European governments, as well as the Iraqi cabinet and the Kurdish Regional Government.    
In addition, according to Barnabas Aid, certain members of the British House of Lords urged their Prime Minister some months ago that, “jihadist attacks on  Christians and other religions in the Middle East should be classified as genocide.”  In other words, the UK Government hesitated to join the authorities in the paragraph above. And they are not the only ones. The same Barnabas report states that “The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has said that she ‘stands ready’ to begin a genocide enquiry but needs an order from the UN Security Council.”  So, the UN also hesitates. Given its membership, that should be no surprise to anyone.
But coming closer to home, our own Canadian Government also has rejected the call to declare a genocide on the part of ISIS.  A&W advocate that Canada should take leadership on the question of genocide by ISIS, but it is following the lead of the UN. The argument against the genocide issue turns on a definition of a tax Islam calls “jizya”, a tax Christians and others have historically paid to Muslim rulers for protection instead of the traditional “convert or die” ultimatum. However, according to A&W, ISIS has widened the definition of this protection so that it includes even “kidnapping, rape and confiscation,” all actions from which that tax is supposed to protect them. In fact, a former ISIS leader “publicly revoked any special treatment of Christians years ago.”  Its official magazine, Dabiq, has threatened to “conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.” 
The result of all this violence? A&W tell us that the number of Christians in Iraq “has plummeted by nearly 90 percent, Syria’s by almost 70 per cent. “In the land where it first took root, Christianity could be stamped out entirely—within our lifetime.”  Such threats and actions hardly represent the preferential treatment Jizya is supposed to offer, as A&W put it.
And so I strongly support the call of A&W and the campaign being waged by Barnabas Aid for both Canada and the UN to become realistic. A&W urge, “It is time for both Canada and the UN to join the international consensus, supported by a majority of the Canadian people at a rate of two to one in our recent K of C-Leger poll.” As a Canadian I will be extremely embarrassed if our Government were to renege on this life-and-death issue for thousands of people. If there is no change at this front, I will definitely campaign against the Federal Government on basis of this offensive indifference during any future election. I will help arouse the Christian community against them in my writings. It is one more spike in the coffin of death with which the politicians of almost all parties are saddling our country, the others being easy abortion and easy assisted suicide along with the more general ones of poverty and injustice.
Though I am always wary of one-issue politics, the matter of life and death trumps all other issues in importance along with poverty and injustice.  Come to think of it, when you lump these “few” issues together, you’re really talking a pretty wide umbrella of issues that can hardly be considered “single-issue” stuff. I am aware this could leave me a political orphan without a party to vote for. I may be left to vote for the least of all evils, a position that an increasing number of Canadian Christians find themselves in.

Though I drift in this post from the specific issue of genocide of Christians to more general politics, what I want you to take away from it is first of all the genocide issue. That’s my issue for today.  It is more than an “issue” for thousands of Christians in the Middle East; for them it is indeed literally an issue of life and death that goes far beyond mere politics. We need to press the Government of Canada to recognize and declare ISIS genocide of Middle Eastern Christians and others of various persuasions. Does the pretty face of our current PM mask an attitude of indifference to the lot of the most vulnerable and, thus, of an underlying cruelty? I leave the answer to you.                  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Post 45--Muslim Persecution of Christians

Post 44 of this blog talks about whether Muslims want peace or terrorism. I quoted Canadian Muslims who are fiercely opposed to violence and terrorism. I also wrote about some who want both!  Yes, as strange as it seems, terrorists who claim to be Muslims resort to violence as the only way to peace.  They base their definition of peace on a very literal, unhistorical and fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an.
Most Muslims reject that interpretation as well as the attitudes and actions that result from it. One of its results is the death of thousands of Muslims at the hands of those militant “Muslims” throughout the regions where militancy has a hold, especially those claimed by ISIS in the “Middle East” and Boko Haram in the north-east of Nigeria and neighbouring countries. Probably more Muslims are killed than Christians and others. Most of the global Muslim community strongly resist and resent any suggestions that Islam and the Muslim community are violent or approve of terrorism. They wonder why Westerners associate Muslims with violence and terrorism. Why, Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, they will argue up and down. Those militants do not represent Islam.
Well, that may be true, but that does not take Muslims off the hook. There is another form of violence that may not be described as “terrorist” but is violent none the less. I am talking about persecution. Persecution of other religions is rife within the Muslim community, even within the most liberal or secular Muslim countries. 
There are various Christian organizations that monitor situations of such persecution. One of them has been introduced to you in the past and I’m going to resort to them again: Barnabas Aid.  Their international headquarters is in the UK, while they have regional offices in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Northern Ireland & Republic of Ireland, Singapore and the USA.  They publish both a bi-monthly magazine and a prayer bulletin.  I am going to simply quote a few random reports of theirs from the May/June 2016 prayer bulletin.
My stories will zero in on ordinary Muslims, their governments and their agencies in Muslim-majority countries. There are many other fronts where there is serious persecution, but I hope to address them sometime in the near future. These could include reports of ISIS atrocities that will be addressed one day under the rubric of “genocide.” There is also persecution of Christians at the hands of Muslim minority communities in the West. Then there are Hindu persecution of Christians, Chinese persecution, Buddhist persecution,Secular persecution in the West, etc., etc.  One of the most puzzling forms of persecution is that of Christians by Muslims in Christian-majority countries, mostly in Africa! I reserve all of that for future blogs. In all of this, I am aware that there are also situations where Muslims are persecuted. Perhaps that subject will be treated as well in due time.
But for today, persecution of Christians by ordinary Muslims in Muslim-majority countries:
May 1—“Iraqi Christians in Baghdad have recently lost their homes, businesses, cultural sites and church buildings when they were seized by Iranian-backed militias, forcing the owners to leave.” “They are being targeted in a type of ethnic cleansing designed to rid the Iraqi capital of all Christians.”
May 16—“A Pakistani Christian was beaten to death by police in January 2016, after having been stripped naked and hung up until his shoulders were dislocated. Liaquat Masih had worked as a driver for 18 years for a Muslim politician when he was accused by his employer’s wife of stealing jewelry. The police also beat Gull Khatab, a former employee of the politician, to try to pressure him into accusing Liaqat, but Gull refused. When local Christians staged a peaceful protest the following day outside the police station at which it all happened, police used batons against them, injuring six women and four men.”
May 18—“Tahira (21) and her sister Reema (20), both Christians, were kidnapped by Muslims towards the end of last year, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry their kidnappers in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Tahira has managed to escape but dares not return to her family, who are now in grave danger because the kidnappers have filed a police complaint against them. The police typically take the side of the Muslim husbands in such cases. Pray that Reema may also find a way to escape and that both sisters may find a hope and future in a culture where their reputations are now ruined and they and their relatives are in danger of physical attack by the Muslim family or arrest by the police.”
May 19—“There are estimated to be around 700 cases like Tahira and Reema (see above) every year in Pakistan. Pray for the courageous Christian lawyers…who put their own lives at risk to give legal assistance to the victims and their families. As the Lord to grant them favour as they argue their cases before the authorities and to protect them from the many enemies they make as they speak up in defense of poor and vulnerable believers.”    
June 6—A fifth-century underground cave church has been discovered in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, a place where some of the earliest Christians lived (Acts 2:9; 1 Peter 1:1 in New Testament).  As Christians in Turkey today face pressures of many kinds, particularly with regard to their buildings, and are made to feel unwanted in their own country, pray that this tangible reminder of their historic roots may bring them encouragement and hope. Pray that the Muslim population (99% according to government figures) will recognize that Christians are not foreigners or traitors, but have a rightful place in society.  
June 7—A church building in Bursa, Turkey, dating from the 1880s, is currently used by four different denominations. When the Christians made a routine application to renew their permission to use the building, they were refused and ordered to leave the premises by February 26.  When this became known, local residents and the Turkish media reacted in support of the Christians—a very unusual occurrence in Turkey, where the Muslim majority and media are generally negative towards Christians. Perhaps even more surprising was the response of the Turkish authorities on February 23 withdrawing the eviction order.            

In closing this post, I think it only fair to tell you that this very day my wife and I were brunch guests at the home of a Turkish Muslim family who are our friends and who are the most cultured, gentle and kind people you can imagine. It almost seems ungrateful to publish this report today. I apologize to them, but the truth must be told. By no means all Turkish Muslims fit that description when it comes to Christians, but the percentage is too high, high enough to dub such events as “common place,” while resistance to them is considered “unusual” and “surprising.”  The end result after centuries of Muslim domination of these early Christian regions is a greatly reduced Christian community. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Post 44--Muslims and Peace

NOTICE: I also operate a blog called MyWorld--My Neighbour. That's a more general blog than this one. I publish more posts on that one. From here on, all the posts of this blog also appear on that one. That's more than useless repetition. That blog attracts a different kind of reader.  End of notice.
Some of my Christian friends try to make me feel guilty and may even consider me a traitor when I say or write anything positive about Muslims or Islam, especially if it is about Muslims and peace. For Muslims, that’s one of the major aspects of their religion and life. That’s what their religion is all about they claim time and again. Of course, peace can mean and does mean different things to different people, different religion and to different ideologies. During the Cold War, both West and East claimed to be promoting peace, while their goals were diametrically opposite to each other. Everyone claims to be for peace, Christians, Muslims, Secularists and all the rest.
It is also true that some Muslims practice terrorism in the pursuit of “peace,”  but this has been true for the West and for Christians as well. I only make this claim without substantiating right now, for that is not the major point of this particular post. I would like to say that this was true of Westerners, including its Christians, only in the past, but the wars and incursions the West has waged over the past few decades in the Middle East under the Bush regimes and in which Obama is still caught can only be described as terrorist, even if they have government sanctions, even international sanctions. Only a few days ago a British report states those wars were not necessary and had no good reasons!  Ach, let me get back to my intended subject for the day.
Muslims and peace.  Muslims against terrorism.  (Before continuing, let me credit Bethany Linsay of Vancouver Sun [VS] for the substance of the rest of this article—July 6, 2016, A10.) That’s the spirit in which BC Muslims are celebrating Ramadan, their annual period of fasting. Ahmed Yousef, President of the Islamic Society of Ridge Meadows makes no bones about it. Ramadan 2016 has been marred by an unusual amount of terrorism and violence by groups such as ISIL and others. In fact, in Yousef’s memory, this has been the bloodiest Ramadan ever. A truck bomb killed 250 people in Baghdad; dozens were killed at the Istanbul airport; 20 hostages were slain in Bangladesh; suicide bombings hit Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi; four met their death in Medina, one of the holiest of all Muslim cities. Yousef calls the perpetrators of all this violence “TB: terrorists and beheaders.”  They are, he says with a voice rising with anger, “a disease, a plague that is taking hold throughout the entire universe. They have no affiliation of any kind to anything.”
This situation has left BC’s Muslims “feeling sad and frightened.”  “It depresses us Muslims, it takes the wind out of our sails.” I’ve looked into the eyes of some of our Muslims “and it’s taken away their spirit,” he says. Yes, those terrorists hit everyone, “Christians, Yazidis, soccer fans, police officers and even members of their own organizations, but Muslims…are the most frequent target.” (Boer comment: The same seems to be true of the Boko Haram [BH] crowd in Nigeria.)  He goes on, “For people who think that these idiots have anything to do with Islam, please consider the fact that most of their victims have been Muslims…. They are thugs, they are criminals, they are mentally unstable individuals who continue to commit these horrid acts under the name of one of the most peaceful and most loving religions that there is out there.” Yousef “feels compelled to speak out and condemns all violence committed in the name of Islam, calling it a responsibility of his faith.”  So far Yousef.
A Vancouver Muslim outreach worker with the Muslim Association of Canada, Tarek Ramadan, says, “Those are trained groups who actually hate (fellow) Muslims or even… claim to be Muslims and to love Allah, but hate what He has brought. They (are) hypocrites who get their stomachs filled with cash, from who knows where, to do these acts in the name of whatever.”  “He’s tired of outspoken politicians and members of the media mixing up terrorist groups and ordinary Muslims.”  Tarek “blames anti-Islam rhetoric from public figures for a reported rise in Islamophobic incidents across Canada that prompted the National Council of Canadian Muslims to launch a campaign against hate crimes this week.” So far, Lindsay’s contribution to this article, with thanks.
The real distortion and perversion in all of this is that ISIL and BH tell themselves they are committing all this heartless violence in the name of peace! Since mainstream Islam has become so heretical and so secular and does not listen to good Islamic reason, there is no alternative to violent methods to force them to return to the fundamentals of the faith. Even they claim to favour peace and are working towards its establishment!  I have heard/read it said quite often that while millions of Muslims agree with the fundamental aims of these terrorists, they reject the methods they follow towards reaching it. I am quite sure that is the case. They want to arrive at their salama in a peaceful, that is, non-violent way, that is physically non-violent way.

Whether that is the case with Yousef or Tarek  Ramadan, only they would know. I am sure they want peace; I just don’t know how they define it and what form they would like to see it take on ultimately and what their approved method of achieving it might be. Yousef is president of his local society. I take it that means he represents their general orientation. The family picture in the VS seems to indicate his is an average Canadian family with nothing to particularly identify them as Muslim. Whether that is a hopeful sign, I do not know. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Post 43-- Neo-Calvinism and Islam

This is a post with a difference. Well, actually every  post is unique, but this one is "more unique" than any other so far on this blog, the only one of its kind. It is an announcement of a conference that lies very close to my heart.  I am one of those Neo-Calvinists and I have published almost profusely as a Neo-Calvinist on Islam in Nigeria. So, I cannot resist the temptation to share this info with you. I only wish I had found out about it in time. I might have foregone our trip to The Netherlands I have told you about in the last two posts and used that travel budget to get me to Istanbul. Alas!  Money gone!

But here's the info anyhow. Perhaps some of you have the dough to fly there and attend. If you do, share your conference experience with me, please. If you wish, you should write it in a style that can be used on this blog and I will publish your report or comments.


                                                        ANOTHER RELIGION? 

                                     Neo-Calvinism and  Islam 


                             Istanbul, Turkey 25-56 August, 2016 

 Theme: At the end of the nineteenth century, military and economic expansion in Africa, the Middle East and Asia brought Europe into contact with Islam. This interaction sparked European political debates on how to deal with different religions and cultures. 

The study of Islam was encouraged within the contexts of missiology and the science of religion, and missionaries were sent to the Arab world. A range of opinions on Islam within emerged within European Christianity, varying from a comparative view to radical rejection, from the need for conversion to the search for dialogue. 

The late nineteenth century was also the context for the development of neo-Calvinism: a movement that attempted to articulate an orthodox Reformed faith in the modern world. Which views of Islam were held amongst neo-Calvinist theologians, missiologists, missionaries and politicians? How did these views work out in the encounter with Islam? 

The conference will focus on the theological, ecclesial, philosophical, political, historical, social and cultural interactions between the two religions: in what ways did they approach each other? On which aspects did they continue to differ, and why? How could their relationship over a century and a half best be described? 

Plenary speakers-- Among others: 
             Prof. George Harinck, Theological University Kampen                    Prof. Kees van der Kooi, VU University Amsterdam 
             Prof. Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary,                               Pasadena 

Call for Papers--The conference organisers welcome proposals for short papers. Proposals (approximately 300 words) should be sent to by April 30th, 2016. Conference papers will be in English. 

Registration-- The conference registration fee is €100, which includes two lunches and drinks. Conference places must be reserved by email ( by May 30th, 2016. 

Location and Accommodation--  Participants are responsible for finding their own accommodation. 

The conference will be held on invitation of the Deputy Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Istanbul at: Palais de Hollande Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Istiklal Caddesi 197, Beyo─člu, Istanbul Turkey 

Host Institutions: 
      Historical Documentation Centre, VU University, Amsterdam         New College, University of Edinburgh 
      Kampen Theological University Archive and Documentation                 Centre, Kampen

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sookhdeo Responds to Criticism

October 27, 2011
Post 39--:

In some previous posts about Islamic banking, you have already been introduced to Patrick Sookhdeo. The nature of his work naturally draws criticism from the more intolerant section of the Muslim community, especially in the UK, where he is based.  I herewith share with you his recent defense of his reputation and his ministry.  It is a well reasoned defense that you should enjoy reading.  Bismillah!

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo responds to critical Guardian article

On September 9 2011, The Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article by Mehdi Hasan, senior political editor of the New Statesman, entitled “How fear of criminalization forces Muslims into silence”. This contained a number of specific and personal criticisms of Barnabas Aid’s International Director, Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo.

This is not the first time in the recent past that this newspaper has published a biased piece highly critical of Dr. Sookhdeo’s work (see also this 2009 blog post by Andrew Brown). But on this occasion he has requested and been given the right of reply, and a shorter and significantly edited version of the article below has been published by The Guardian today. Some points we would have liked to make had to be excluded from that piece for reasons of space or editorial policy, so we are now releasing this fuller version to our supporters.
Allegations such as those in the original article imply that highlighting the causes of anti-Christian hostility and speaking out for the freedom of oppressed Christians in Muslim-majority countries (especially converts from Islam to Christianity) amount to hate speech, and so can be used to discredit our advocacy on behalf of the persecuted Church.

In his recent article, Mehdi Hasan refers to me as a “rightwing ideologue”, a “crude, anti-Islam propagandist” and a “preacher of hate and division”. I want to respond here not only to these specific and personal charges, but also to the social and political claims that he deduces from them.

At the personal level, Mehdi Hasan does not, in fact, provide much of a case for me to answer. The only evidence he cites to support his allegations are the brief references to me in the manifesto of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer, and a few short quotes from my books. But given the wide range of sources quoted by Breivik, his references to my writings are hardly definite proof of right-wing extremism. And I am content for those who have taken the trouble to study those writings in any detail to judge whether I deserve the epithets applied to me in the article.

More needs to be said, however. Mehdi Hasan suggests that Muslims in Britain today are victims of “negative stereotypes” and “demonization”. Yet he is himself prepared to use equally negative stereotypes to demonize those, including myself, who offer an understanding of contemporary Islam that is different from his own. His strategy is a common one: to defend a weakly supported opinion by accusing his opponents of extremism. But although this may give a spurious respectability to his view, it provides no defense against the serious criticisms that may be brought against that view.

I yield to no-one in my abhorrence of anti-Muslim prejudice, bigotry and hatred in all its forms, and I am on record as speaking out forcefully against it. I have also worked hard on a number of occasions for the causes of endangered and oppressed Muslim minorities. Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Hussaini, Director of Abraham House in the UK, has issued a response (read here) to Mehdi Hasan’s article in which he refers to my campaigning to defend Muslims in the Balkans from slaughter by the Serbs, my defense of Muslims suffering violence in India, and the protection by the church that I then led of a London mosque at a time of anti-Muslim hostility. I count Dr. Al-Hussaini, and many other moderate and liberal Muslims, among my close friends.

But there is a crucial difference between anti-Muslim hatred and legitimate criticism of the religion of Islam. Like any other ideology, Islam must be open to being critiqued, and where its political aspects appear to pose a challenge to fundamental Western values, these issues must be discussed openly and responsibly, without the debate being obscured by charges of “Islamophobia”. It must also be possible to comment on the behavior of individual Muslims where this contravenes our society’s basic norms, without being accused of racism or bigotry.

On YouTube videos Mehdi Hasan appears to refer to non-Muslims and atheists in very derogatory terms: “cattle”, "animals", “people of no intelligence” and even kuffar, a grossly offensive term applied by some Muslims to non-Muslims. (Some of his fellow-Shia Muslims even apply it to Sunni Muslims.) Admittedly, the context of these comments is unclear, but if he expects to enjoy the freedom to use such terms, I wonder on what basis he can argue for the silencing of reasoned and courteous voices that challenge certain aspects of contemporary Islam. I wonder, also, whether The Guardian would have published an article by someone who had seemingly called Muslims “cattle” or “of no intelligence”. Indeed, I wonder if that person would not be reported to the appropriate authorities or even to the police.

Mehdi Hasan queries the influence given to me by Western governments. The political and military leaders who have found my insights worthy of attention can speak for themselves. My work with the armed forces has been focused on facilitating understanding of and dialogue with Muslims, and it has taken place in the context of peace and community relations. This should perhaps be enough at least to gain my views a fair hearing, from anyone not invincibly prejudiced against them.

And there is in fact plenty of evidence from both Muslim and secular sources to support those views. Some parts of the Muslim community really are becoming increasingly isolated from other people, creating enclaves where they live largely according to their own rules. Smaller, more radical elements really do advocate – quite openly – a fully Islamic society under the rule of sharia law. As a result, some areas of British society really are being subtly but progressively Islamized. This process is not an invention of a few “anti-Islam propagandists”; it is a well-documented and significant social change that deserves, indeed demands, a fair-minded debate. I suggest that Mehdi Hasan’s unwillingness even to acknowledge its existence raises questions about his own credibility as a commentator.

I close with a personal note. I am a convert from Islam, and all schools of Islamic law prescribe the death penalty for an adult male Muslim who chooses to leave his faith. Having lived under this death sentence for my entire adult life, I am acutely aware of the plight of apostates from Islam in some Muslim-majority contexts, where they are at real risk of violence or even murder. Even as I write, an Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is on death row in Iran, and may be executed any day. If I had no other reason to speak or write about Islam, then giving these vulnerable people a voice in the West, where their suffering is so often ignored, would be reason enough. My unshakable commitment to liberal Western values requires nothing less.
I am surprised that The Guardian newspaper, which claims to recognize fundamental freedoms and presents itself as a paragon of virtue in this respect, appears to be so little concerned with human rights and freedom of conscience when it comes to Christians far away in non-Western contexts. 

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo
October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Islamic Banking (8 ) Attitude Shifts towards Interest

Post 38--:
Both Christians and Muslims should be aware of the widening horizons of the global ummah. Like today’s Islam, it is widely held that pre-Reformation Western Christianity opposed interest and classified it as usury on basis of economic circumstances of the day. Though its secular Calvin-disdaining offspring have taken Calvin's positive attitude towards interest far beyond his so as to almost render their current buccaneering into something totally different, even contemporary Calvinists, including yours truly, accept the concept and necessity as a given without considering it the end of all things business. It would appear that a similar process is taking place among Muslims.

History of Usury-Interest in Western Christianity

The accuracy of the classical myth re. Pre-Reformational views on usury is doubtful: It is not nearly nuanced enough. In his chapter on “Western Europe before Islam,” Henri Pirenne (1862-1935), a Belgian described by his translator Frank D. Halsey as “one of the greatest authorities in the field of medieval history,” explained that “the Church, it is true, constantly forbade clerics, and even laymen, to charge usurious interest. However, both Christian and Jewish merchants commonly lent at interest. In fact, under some regimes it was considered lawful. “Everybody lent money at interest.” Even bishops paid interest. During the Middle Ages, Venetian merchants borrowed money at interest as high as twenty per cent, even though by this time the Church had adopted an ascetic attitude that made her very suspicious of commerce. It would appear that though the official church, the church institute if you will, had become negative towards interest due to an increasing asceticism, the church as organism, the members, used it rather freely.

It is widely understood that it was the reformer John Calvin who helped dissolve the ecclesiastical cloud over interest by initiating a more positive attitude towards the practice on basis of a more liberal, contextual and historical reading of the Old Testament. Over time, it became commonly accepted by all Christians, including those unhappy with the Reformation!

Developments re Interest-Riba in Islam

There is a move in a similar direction among Muslims today. In 2002, the Islamic Theological Research Committee of Egypt's Al-Azhar Institute, “seen by many as the philosophical centre of the dominant Sunni strand of the faith, has voted 21-1 to approve fixed interest rates.” Sheikh Saber Talaab, head of the research committee secretariat, reportedly explained, "So long as we do not go against what is written (in the Koran) or the Sunna (Islamic tradition)….” Besides, it was argued, “The decision was necessary. Religious jurisprudence means change, and it is illogical to remain frozen while the world changes around us.” “We have a clear conscience.” I have argued several times in the course of my series on Christian-Muslim Relations for a more liberal and historical reading of the Qur'an and other main Islamic sources. Well, this change appears to be the result of this more traditional cum liberal reading.

 Fixed versus Historical Interpretation

So, things are not as frozen and fixed as the literalists would have us believe. Before painting all Islamic banking with one broad brush, we must remember that, far from being a monolithic affair, the picture is one of diverse approaches based on dynamic interpretations of Islam and sharia according to local circumstances, meaning that there is room for innovation and change. The writer of the article from which the material in this paragraph is derived wrote about a report on Islamic banking. It “focuses on the role of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), which is based on interpretation of the Koran, and secondarily, on ijma (consensus).” This approach “offers a lot of room for innovation, particularly with regard to Islamic rules that prohibit elements of financial transactions that are important for the banking industry to grow, prosper and connect to the global economy.” We have again stumbled on the issue of a liberal dynamic interpretation of Islam’s basic documents that is a prerequisite for
viable Islamic banking.

With this I close the discussion on Islamic banking. A lot more can and needs to be said—and most of it has already in books, journals and magazines. For a blog, this is sufficient for now. Perhaps more some other time. Get ready for a change of gears.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Islamic Banking (7)—Sookhdeo Continued

Post 37--:Is

Today we continue the enumeration of problems  associated with Islamic banking as listed by Sookhdeo.

 Why non-Muslims are drawn to Islamic Banking

§       In some countries non-Muslims are drawn to these banks; some, because of good profits; others, because they regard the system “as more ethical, fair, and stable” than the “predatory” Western institutions (pp. 52, 56, 76, 78).

Copies of Western Banks
§       “Contrary to their goals, the tendency is for the emerging Islamic economy to be driven by market forces and to become an integrated subdivision of the Western-dominated global economy.” Some see it as just copies of Western institutions (p. 55).

Creating Artificial Needs and Wants

§       “It is clear that the Islamist movements have artificially generated the need and demand for sharia finance” (p. 79). Boer: If Sookdheo does not object to the ways of Western banks and business in general, why should he object to this feature in Islamic banking? They both do the same thing: Create artificial needs and wants.  The goose and gander kick in once again.

Driven by Politics, not Religion
§       The demand for this system “is not a purely religious phenomenon.”  Sookhdeo holds the “assumption that sharia finance is a politically-driven Islamist invention masked in religious idiom” (p. 79).

Pre-eminence of Divine Directive

§       In spite of the negatives listed above, Sookhdeo admits that to Muslims the sharia connection, “this divine directive,”  “is the preeminent point and the final say in the matter” (p. 53). 

Issues to be Considered by Western Governments

§       The final paragraph in Sookhdeo’s book:  The response of governments and other authorities to this process requires urgent and sustained attention.  Detailed recommendations cannot be provided here, but we suggest that it would at least be prudent for Western governments to exercise more discernment over their…support for sharia finance, at least to the extent of recognizing…its vulnerabilities and in particular its lack of external accountability. At a time of intense debate in Western countries over the proper role of religion in public life, the possibility of sharia finance’s giving to Islam an inappropriate influence over financial and economic policy must also be acknowledged. Political, economic and financial institutions are wise to take note of any possible threat to their own systems, and to provide necessary checks and balances before it takes effect. The provision of rigorous regulatory mechanisms for Islamic practices and products, according to internationally accepted norms, must therefore be a priority (pp. 56-57).  

Summary of Islamic Banking in Various Countries
§       I would urge you to read Appendix 2-4 in Sookhdeo’s book, where he gives a summary of sharia banking in many countries, Muslim, Western and Asian non-Muslim.  It is very enlightening to see how countries react so differently. 
I want you to realize that though his is a very helpful book, it is not an objective book: It is part of Sookhdeo’s anti-Islamist struggle and thus selective in the topics discussed. Do not look for anything positive or supportive. Such a book is legitimate and I do not criticize Soohdeo for it. In fact, I recommend the book highly, especially for Nigeria that is presently trying to give birth to Islamic banking. Much of his critique of the system is derived from Muslims themselves.
But—and this is a criticism--it is also infused throughout with the semi-secularist dualism so common to evangelicals, that shines through all of Sookhdeo’s work and that partially derails it. While he totally condemns Islamic banking, he does not utter a single critique of the secular Western banking system that has only recently cast the world into an unprecedented downward spiral due to its avarice and carelessness. Sorry, not quite true. There is that one exception of one single word: Sookdheo refers to the Western system as “predatory.” Profoundly true. But that’s it.  For the rest, the Western system is implicitly upheld as the standard to which Muslims should conform. Well, that is Evangelicals for you and other Christians afflicted with this semi-secular dualism. It is a serious critique. Missionaries have exported the same worldview into many countries and saddled the church with it. The result is a clumsy and inadequate response on the part of many Christians to Islam.
In spite of that serious critique, Christians, moderate Muslims and governments need to ensure that the budding Islamic banking sector is not in any way tied to militancy and terrorism, whether internally or globally.  Sookhdeo demonstrates very convincingly that much of this sector has such connections. It is the reason some Muslim countries are either cautious or have rejected it altogether.  Any such institution must be shut down immediately with zero tolerance, for if left to operate, it will be like a cancerous worm that will be difficult to eradicate once it has settled in.