Islam vs Us: Seeing it Differently

A lot of people have been writing about Islam lately, trying -- and mostly failing -- to understand why 19 healthy, middle-class, and otherwise normal men would go on a suicide mission to kill thousands of people in a single day, thousands of people who had no more harmful intentions than to live their own lives and let live. There are some things these analysts are not saying, but I think they need to be said. This is going to make you uncomfortable. If I'm wrong, please show me from Scripture.

Let me start by affirming that I believe in moral absolutes. EVIL happened on 9/11. But try to step back with me and see it from God's perspective, and not just as a rape victim.

We Christians are engaged in holy war -- jihad, if you will -- that did not begin on 9/11. The hijackers and Osama bin Laden (OBL) are not the Enemy, they are prisoners of war (POWs). They have been brainwashed by the Enemy of our souls into doing evil and wicked things to innocent people, but they are still human beings for whom Christ died, and we hope and pray (as I hope you do too) that they will come to know the Truth in Whom is eternal life, so that we can greet them as brothers in Heaven. OK, maybe it's a little late for the 19 hijackers, but that is our wish as Christians for every person on this planet, no matter how great their crimes. God wishes it, and if you want to be in Heaven too, you had better be prepared to be friends with all the other people God has invited to His party, and who choose to come to it on His terms. That is of course the only way any of us will get in. God invites all of us, but we must come on His revealed terms or not at all.

Prompted by all the contradictory things people are saying about Islam, I did a little reading. The Qur'an (Koran) is not a big book, and I read large contexts around the parts people are quoting. It's easy to take things out of context, so that they look worse than the original author intended. I've been wanting for many years to study Arabic, but good intentions being what they are, it has not happened yet. So I read it in translation. The Islamic Student Association at USC has posted three different translations (along with a transliteration of the Arabic text) on the internet, and despite their caveats, there is a unified sense that comes out of the three translations.

A little explanation is in order. 1500 years ago both Christian and Jewish missionaries were evangelizing the pagans in Arabia. There were a number of translations of the Bible into different languages floating around, and anybody who could read more than one language could see that they were not *exactly* alike. Translation is like that: no two languages are identical, so when you translate a text, there are different ways to say the same thing, and different translators will choose among these different ways, and the main point comes across pretty well, but the nuances may get shifted or lost. We can see that for ourselves in the different English language translations of the Bible available to us today, and you can also see it in the three translations of the Qur'an. Not many Americans are fluent in more than one language, but if you are, you know how that happens.

I guess Mohammed was appalled by all the variations in "God's Word" floating around, so one of the specifics of Islam is that the Qur'an was dictated in Arabic, and it is God's word only in the original Arabic, AND NOT IN TRANSLATION. We believe that the Bible is God's Word, even in translation, and that is why many Christians devote their entire lives to translating it into other languages. By good Muslim theology, I did not really read the Qur'an, because I only read it in translation. This is an important distinction, and I will come back to it.

There is a sense in which all three translations of the Qur'an agree, and we can take that sense as capturing reasonably accurately what the Arabic says. These are, after all, translations by respected and faithful Muslim believers.

There in all three translations, the Qur'an has these violent descriptions of what should be done to the infidels and evildoers. But if you read the larger context, the people you should do these violent things to are the people who are attacking the community, either violently in war, or else by engaging in anti-social criminal behavior like stealing, rape, and murder. Allah (Arabic for "God") is gracious and merciful, and does not authorize such violence against law-abiding citizens, nor even against other peaceful countries; infidels in those other countries should be given the opportunity to hear the word of Allah and repent. When you recognize that the very name "Islam" is derived from the Arabic word "salam" meaning peace or wholeness (the same idea is in the Hebrew cognate word "shalom"), you have to realize that bombing the World Trade Center (WTC) and killing thousands of inocent, non-combatant civilians (including some Muslims) was contrary to the Qur'an.

What went wrong? Very simple. Muslims do not know what the Qur'an teaches. They read it (in 6th-century Arabic) and memorize it (in 6th-century Arabic), but they do not understand 6th-century Arabic any more than we understand 6th-century Anglo-Saxon. Just in the 400 years since the King James Bible was published, more than 4000 different words in it have changed meaning. The original message is often lost on modern Americans and other English-speaking readers. Even people raised in the church and hearing it explained from the pulpit every week have trouble understanding Elizabethan English. How much more the Arabic three times older? Language changes. OBL probably speaks (modern) Arabic fluently, but most of his followers were from other countries, where Arabic is only the trade language, not what the children speak in their homes. OBL and his followers do not know what the Qur'an teaches, because they cannot read it in their own language. Even if they could, they are taught that this translated version is not the true words of Allah, and therefore not binding.

The Christian church had the same problem in the middle ages, when the only Bible available was in Latin, the trade language at that time, which was not understood by the common people. And the same kinds of atrocities happened. The Crusaders did not have airplanes full of jet fuel to plow into infidel skyscrapers, but they did the best they could. Like the WTC bombers, they thought they were doing the will of God, and they could not read the Word of God in their heart language to know that it was not true. We have the Bible in our heart language, and today we know it does not teach that kind of mayhem. The Bible is being translated into languages all over the world -- and I'm blessed to have a small part in making that happen -- so that the People of the Book will know the Way of Peace brought to them by the Prince of Peace. It's happening. Even Christian terrorists (yes, we are unfortunate to have a few of them today) don't bomb innocent bystander civilians, because they can read the Word of God, which like the Qur'an, forbids it.

If you read the Qur'an straight through, it reads like a repetitious, preachy sermon. It is instructions on how to live a pious life, and how to respond to crime, stuff that any leader of a religious government would want their people to follow. Did I say "government"? Yes, Islamic law is taught in the Qur'an. It is the "constitution" for those governments that have adopted Islamic law.

The Taliban and the Saudi family and the other Islamic governments are the established governments in their countries. That makes them God's servants and "instruments of God's righteousness" in their respective countries. God said so. Consider that 1st-century Rome was far more cruel than the Taliban ever was. Even Hitler in his day was God's established government. That in no way condones the evil that evil leaders bring on their people from such positions of power, and they must answer to a just and holy God for their cruelty and atrocities -- but they are nonetheless instruments of God's righteousness for the people of their countries. Hitler did many good things for the German people; he also did many bad things to them, and God judged him for that. Hitler is no more. The same is true (so far) of the Taliban; perhaps they too will suffer the same inglorious end as a just reward for their failings. Until then, they are the authority established by God in their countries for administering God's justice. God said so, in our own Bible. Read it yourself, all the English translations accurately capture the sense of the original Greek text.

What about OBL exporting terrorism to the USA and elsewhere? Does the Bible have anything to say about that? I think so. The Bible has something relevant to every situation we face in life, and the terror we face in the USA today is no exception.

The America we live in today is not all that different from the Israel and Judah just before they were taken into captivity. Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar were the OBL of their day, every bit as cruel and evil as OBL is today. But they were God's servants, executing God's wrath for the sins of the people. They were very wicked in doing so, and God judged them in their time, because God is a God of justice. OBL has announced his holy war against the USA for our wickedness, AND HE IS RIGHT. As a nation, the USA has turned away from God and filled the land with the blood of innocent children (Molech worship, also known as abortion) and idolatry (of money and entertainment). OBL is right in condemning us for that. Does that make the thousands of people who died on 9/11 more wicked than the rest of us who did not die? Not at all! Jesus said so, when a skyscraper collapsed in his day. "But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." The very words of Jesus. Read them yourself, in your own language.

Not all the Jews in Jerusalem were idolaters, but Nebuchadnezzar took them all away, the righteous with the idolaters, into captivity, or killed them. Sin is like that: the innocent suffer, sometimes more than the wicked. When Sennacherib came up against Jerusalem, God heard the prayers of the government leaders and turned Sennacherib away. When Nebuchadnezzar came, the government was too corrupt to pray, and Jerusalem was destroyed. Is OBL more like Sennacherib than Nebuchadnezzar to us? I don't know. "But unless you repent..." The teaching still applies. There was a turning toward God in America the days after 9/11. How has it held up? Look around you. Church attendance was way up on September 16; what about last week, has it fallen off to the same as Sept.9? It has here. Repent. Change your lifestyle. Do it now.

The American government and the governments of many of the nations of the world have taken upon themselves to destroy OBL and whoever supports his campaign of terror. In so doing, the government leaders are doing the work of God, as "instruments of righteousness" in protecting the people of their countries. This is their God-given duty, and they must do it. We are called by God to support this righteous effort, and especially to pray for these leaders. If God hears our prayers, and if we have work in the Kingdom to do (and are willing to do it), then God will enable us to get on with the work He has given us to do. If we are rebellious, perhaps God will raise up another Godly nation in some other part of the world; as for our house of cards, "great will be the fall thereof."

Let me say a little more about the 9/11 hijackers, and about suicide bombers everywhere. There is talk about profiling, to try to catch them before they do their damage. I think that is a responsible thing for the government to try to do, but it should scare the bejeebers out of you. Who are they looking for? No longer are they content to find misfits and malcontents, people with nothing to lose; the 9/11 bombers were middle-class family men. What terrifies the pagans in America today is that the only distinguishing characteristic of these men was their near-total adherence to their religious teachings. We already noticed that their mission was at odds with their own holy book, but who among us has perfectly Biblical theology? We all try, and we all fall short. That's one of the reasons we continue going to church on Sunday, and are told to read the Bible every day, to make up for the shortcoming. But God requires of us a life of total dedication to His teachings -- yes, even over family and property! That's in Jesus' own teaching, read it yourself. Does that sound like the WTC bombers? A little too close for comfort, I think. What happens if the profiling dragnet starts to suck in God-fearing Christians? Will they come for you and me too?

Every culture honors its martyrs, we no less than the Muslims. Look at the outpouring of support for the firefighters who lost their lives trying to save people in the WTC. In recent years our schools had lost some of this patriotic cheerleading, while every Muslim child is trained to believe in the instant reward accorded to a jihad martyr, but we still honor those who give their own lives to save others. It is the way God made us. The WTC bombers took out an awful lot of civilians in their death, but the bombers were doing the work of Allah as they understood it, and Muslims in many parts of the world cheered. These men (and their supporters) were POWs, doing the work of the Enemy without even realizing it. That's sad. So long as these people are intent on taking out innocent bystanders, the governments they have targeted have the responsibility to neutralize them. I hope and pray their efforts succeed.

Not too long ago, an editorial in one of the para-church magazines I read mentioned an interview with a high government official in Jordan, an Islamic country where it is illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity. He was asked to reconcile this with their stated constitutional freedom of religion. He saw no problem. "Aren't you Christians willing to die for your religion?" Are you? It's not really your religion if you are not willing to die for it. The WTC bombers were willing to die for their religion. We have Christian missionaries dying for their faith in various parts of the world. We have brave Christians in this country dying for their faith (Columbine comes to mind, and it was not the only place where Christians were targeted in school violence). Are you ready to die for your faith? If not, then Jesus himself said you are not worthy of the Kingdom. Read it yourself.

There is a crucial difference between Christians and the OBL crowd, and I hope the profilers notice it. We serve a God of Truth. I do not defend Paul Hill, but at least he did not deny killing the abortionist. Even McVeigh (no Christian, he took out innocent bystanders) did not deny what he had done. But OBL and all the Islamic supporters of international terror are too cowardly to take responsibility for their dastardly deed on 9/11. Maybe they were not all responsible, but some of them were, and the perpetrators are lying about it. True, whoever admits to the deed knows they would share the fate of their victims, but if they were truly doing the work of Allah, they should be proud of it and ready to be admitted into heaven as martyrs. Their cowardice and lies betray their evil motives. In their hearts they know they were wrong. God said that too, in the Bible. "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."

Let us therefore be servants of God in Truth as well as in deed. Insofar as God allows it, I have dedicated the rest of my life to making the Bible available to the remaining 3000+ languages who have no Bible today. If OBL (or some other anti-Christian extremist: we have some of them already in American government today) should win, and if it became illegal to be a Christian here, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Christian martyrs go instantly to Heaven also. More importantly, because we serve the All-Powerful Creator of the universe, so long as we are doing God's work in God's way, we are immortal here on earth. Like the WTC bombers, we have no need to fear. Unlike them, we can read God's Word in our own language, and KNOW we are doing God's work. Are you doing God's work without fear?

Tom Pittman
Itty Bitty Computers

rev.2001 November 9