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Monday, July 2, 2012

DEFENDING THE QUR'AN [Response to 2003 Newsweek article]

Copyright 2003 Newsweek

Newsweek
July 28, 2003, International Edition
SECTION: RELIGION; Pg. 48
LENGTH: 752 words
HEADLINE: Challenging the Qur'an
BYLINE: By Stefan Theil

HIGHLIGHT:A German scholar contends that the Islamic text has been mistranscribed and promises raisins, not virgins

BODY:

In a note of encouragement to his fellow hijackers, September 11 ringleader Muhammad Atta cheered their impending "marriage in Paradise" to the 72 wide-eyed virgins the Qur'an promises to the departed faithful. Palestinian newspapers have been known to describe the death of a suicide bomber as a "wedding to the black-eyed in eternal Paradise." But if a German expert on Middle Eastern languages is correct, these hopes of sexual reward in the afterlife are based on a terrible misunderstanding. Arguing that today's version of the Qur'an has been mistranscribed from the original text, scholar Christoph Luxenberg says that what are described as "houris" with "swelling breasts" refer to nothing more than "white raisins" and "juicy fruits."

Luxenberg--a pseudonym--is one of a small but growing group of scholars, most of them working in non-Muslim countries, studying the language and history of the Qur'an. When his new book is published this fall, it's likely to be the most far-reaching scholarly commentary on the Qur'an's early genesis, taking this infant discipline far into uncharted--and highly controversial--territory. That's because Islamic orthodoxy considers the holy book to be the verbatim revelation of Allah, speaking to his prophet, Muhammad, through the Angel Gabriel, in Arabic. Therefore, critical study of God's undiluted word has been off-limits in much of the Islamic world. (For the same reason, translations of the Qur'an are never considered authentic.) Islamic scholars who have dared ignore this taboo have often found themselves labeled heretics and targeted with death threats and violence. Luxenberg, a professor of Semitic languages at one of Germany's leading universities, has chosen to remain anonymous because he fears a fatwa by enraged Islamic extremists.

Luxenberg's chief hypothesis is that the original language of the Qur'an was not Arabic but something closer to Aramaic. He says the copy of the Qur'an used today is a mis-transcription of the original text from Muhammad's time, which according to Islamic tradition was destroyed by the third caliph, Osman, in the seventh century. But Arabic did not turn up as a written language until 150 years after Muhammad's death, and most learned Arabs at that time spoke a version of Aramaic. Rereading the Paradise passage in Aramaic, the mysterious houris turn into raisins and fruit--much more common components of the Paradise myth.

The forthcoming book contains plenty of other bombshells. It claims that the Qur'an's commandment for women to cover themselves is based on a similar misreading; in Sura 24, the verse that calls for women to "snap their scarves over their bags" becomes in Aramaic "snap their belts around their waists." Even more explosive are readings that strengthen scholars' views that the Qur'an had Christian origins. Sura 33 calls Muhammad the "seal of the prophets," taken to mean the final and ultimate prophet of God. But an Aramaic reading, says Luxenberg, turns Muhammad into a "witness of the prophets"--i.e., someone who bears witness to the established Judeo-Christian texts. The Qur'an, in Arabic, talks about the "revelation" of Allah, but in Aramaic that term turns into "teaching" of the ancient Scriptures. The original Qur'an, Luxenberg contends, was in fact a Christian liturgical document--before an expanding Arab empire turned Muhammad's teachings into the basis for its new religion long after the Prophet's death.

Such interpretations will undoubtedly draw the ire of many Muslims--and not just extremists. After all, revisionist scholars have been persecuted for much less; in 2001, Egypt's
Constitutional Court confirmed the "apostasy" of former University of Cairo scholar Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, for considering the Qur'an a document written by humans.

Still, Luxenberg may be ushering in a whole new era of Qur'anic study. "Luxenberg's findings are very relevant and convincing," says Mondher Sfar, a Tunisian specialist on the historic origins of the Qur'an in exile in Paris. "They make possible a new interpretation of the Qur'an." In the West, questioning the literal veracity of the Bible was a crucial step in breaking the church's grip on power--and in developing a modern, secular society. That experience, as much as the questioning itself, is no doubt what concerns conservative Muslims as they struggle over the meaning and influence of Islam in the 21st century. But if Luxenberg's work is any indication, the questioning is just getting underway.

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          To: http://www.muslimwriters.org/ / Editor
          Re:    July 28, 2003 Int’l Edition “Newsweek” Article
by Stefan Theil titled: “Challenging the Qur’an”

Response by: Jonathan M.A. Ghaffar (2,882 words)
                         E-mail: JonathanMAG@Gmail.com

          Newsweek writer Stefan Theil begins his article “Challenging the Qur’an” with a reference to Sept.11 ringleader Muhammad Atta exhorting his fellow terrorists and future martyrs with the (supposedly) Qur’anic promise of 72 virgins in Paradise -- this as a lead-in to a piece on the purported crumbling bedrock of validity to the Qur’an’s 1400-year claim of being God’s perfect and complete Divinely-revealed Holy Scripture in Arabic. One wonders if Newsweek will now preface every future piece on scholarly investigations of ancient Christian texts with an insightful recap of David Koresh’s or Jim Jones’ Biblical exhortations to their followers, as if either the Muslim or Christian ringleaders cited are in any way representative of the true teachings of their respective faiths. Most Christians would, naturally, become indignant, offended and even angry when such allusions are ascribed to them and the teachings of Jesus (peace be on him). Should it be surprising when Muslims react similarly when such associations are made with regard to Islam, its teachings or its Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him)?
Then we come to rest of the article… My initial take on reading such a tabloid-esque, factually emaciated, essentially source-less piece of Islam-bashing in “Newsweek” was one of disappointment. Where was the probing, journalistic inquisitiveness as to the veracity of the claims made by the pseudonymous German scholar Christoph Luxenberg? Analyzing the true merit of the charges made by “Mr. Luxenberg” -- an unknown person with unlisted evidence and sources -- becomes an exercise in deductive reasoning. Since I’m sure Mr. Luxenberg wants us to buy his forthcoming book to examine his claims and the evidence for them in detail, all we can do at this point is try to fathom his motivation for making them. This, actually, is not too difficult, once we view the whole “debate on the origin of the Qur’an” in the light of the one “group” who has the most reasons and interest in discrediting the Qur’an: the politically conservative, fundamentalist Christian rightwing – in this country, typified by a nebulous mixture of TV evangelists, think-tank “experts” and the public-at-large. Let’s examine the points raised by “Mr. Luxenberg”…

Point One: The Qur’an was mistranscribed from its original, pseudo-Aramaic language into Arabic, with the original text then destroyed by Islam’s 3rd Caliph, Osman (Uthman), presumably to hide the evidence of its Christian source and validation of Biblical teachings. Ironically, the Arabic Qur’an that all Muslims have been reading for the past 14 centuries regularly validates the truth inherent in the Bible, only with the caveat that both the Jews and Christians either discarded, changed and/or ‘mistranscribed’ many of the pure Divine teachings they were originally given for their own worldly, selfish purposes. Because of this tampering with, and corruption of, the Bible – something no credible Biblical scholar denies – it became unreliable, full of doubts and contradictions evident in any translation you choose to look at. The Qur’an states clearly that its purpose is to complete and fulfill the earlier scriptures, to restore God’s Divine Message and bring mankind to the final level of its spiritual development – complete and fulfilling union with God.
Mr. Luxenberg charges that the Qur’an was ‘mistranscribed.’ To the non-Muslim reader whose only understanding of the preservation of a religious text may be with the practice of Church scribes copying scriptural texts by hand, this charge may seem to have some weight. After all, examination of Biblical texts ranging across several centuries demonstrates the fairly common habit of Church scholars first annotating passages with explanations and clarifications of meaning by writing in the margins of the text, and then having copyists later incorporate these margin notes directly into the body of the text as they did the transcription for a new edition.
The principle difference between the Christian texts and the Qur’anic text is that, apart from memorization of Biblical texts by monks for purposes of liturgical chanting, Christians never committed their entire Holy Book to memory. The Qur’an, however, was always memorized first as a matter of course – something fairly common and easy-to-do for even the average Arab. Also, at the time of each revelation, Muhammad (pbuh) had his followers who could write, transcribe the revelation and read it back to him to verify it was identical with what he’d received. The Qur’an was thus recorded in up to seven dialects of Arabic, depending on who was doing the transcribing, with the Quraish dialect being the one Muhammad spoke, the one his chief scribe Zaid bin Thabit spoke, thereby becoming the preferred one at the time of the initial collection of the Qur’an in Book form shortly after Muhammad’s death in 632 A.D. The Islamic traditions clearly detail this collection of the Qur’an in written Arabic not Aramaic or Syriac as it was called, as well as confirming that the Qur’an was revealed over 23 years, and that the completion of its revelation to Muhammad (pbuh) occurred nearly two years before his death, and that by the end of his life, not only Muhammad but literally thousands upon thousands of his devout followers had memorized the entire Qur’an in Arabic.
Mr. Luxenberg can claim that “learned Arabs” spoke a form of Aramaic now extinct which was the original language of the Qur’an, but this conflicts with the fact that thousands of Muhammad’s followers, all living amongst him, learned and recited the same Arabic revelation of the Qur’an which speakers of Arabic today have essentially no trouble reading or understanding in spoken form.
Mr. Luxenberg claims the 3rd Caliph, Osman, translated the Aramaic version of the Qur’an into Arabic, implying he took out or changed what he didn’t like, and the result is the Qur’an we have today. Osman then destroyed the Aramaic version. (This begs the obvious question: if the original Aramaic version was destroyed, what is Mr. Luxenberg using as a source text? The article states that it’s Luxenberg’s hypothesis that an original Aramaic version existed. Is he then translating the Arabic text we now have into Aramaic and presenting what he gets as the “proof” for his hypothesis?) If Osman had, in fact, destroyed the recognized version of Muhammad’s revelation from God, why was there not an outraged revolt by the entire Muslim community, tens of thousands of whom would have memorized and been reciting the Aramaic version and would have certainly never tolerated anyone changing what they all considered the direct revealed Word of God as received by the Holy Prophet!
But let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that it did happen as Mr. Luxenberg seems to posit. Osman would somehow have to placate and/or silence every hostile Muslim critic and then convince these same critics to now memorize his new Arabic version. Surely, someone would have recorded for posterity their coercion and would have written down the Aramaic version of the Qur’an and preserved it in secret for future generations. Remember – tens of thousands had it in their memories, so writing it back down would be a fairly easy procedure for a literate scribe. But there isn’t a single copy of the Qur’an in Aramaic, nor any Muslim who recites it in Aramaic.
And speaking of Aramaic, the Eastern Orthodox, or Syriac, Christian Church has an Aramaic Bible called the Peshitta which most Christians in the West have probably never seen, read or even heard of. It was only translated into English during the first quarter of the 20th century. You would think English-speaking Christians would want to read their own Holy Book translated directly from the language Jesus (pbuh) spoke, rather than accepting second, third or even fourth-hand translations through Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Instead, Mr. Luxenberg spends his energies trying to discredit the Arabic Qur’an by saying Muslims stole it from Aramaic Biblical texts Christians don’t even read themselves.
Point Two: Luxenberg states that Arabic did not turn up as a written language until 150 years after Muhammad's death. Curious. One wonders how Osman could have had the Qur’an rewritten in Arabic about 20 years after the Prophet’s death (two examples of which still exist today) if the written language wasn’t due to “turn up” for another 130 years.
While I haven’t seen Luxenberg’s book to see if he shows examples of the Aramaic of the 7th century AD, I have seen what Biblical Aramaic looks like, in examples spanning several centuries starting from the 1st century AD, and it demonstrates a very gradual evolution in style. He claims the Aramaic of the original Qur’an was a variant form of Arabic. But while Arabic, in whatever style or script you examine it, is essentially like cursive English -- mostly connected letters forming words and even multiple words -- Aramaic, as shown in examples in Llamas’ English translation of the Peshitta (circa. mid-1930s), more closely resembles Hebrew with its single, non-connected letters composed of short strokes and dots. This does not mean that Aramaic was not the basis for written Arabic (the evidence clearly shows that it was) but the only Arabic-looking style of Aramaic is Nabatean Aramaic, making it the only credible candidate for the source of written Arabic, if for no other reason than Aramaic was the Lingua Franca of that whole region until it was replaced by Arabic after the advent and rapid spread of Islam from the 7th century onward. What needs to be remembered is that Arabic was not a written language for most of its pre-Islamic history because the Arabs were, for the most part, non-literate traders and nomads. This does not mean that their later adoption and reinterpretation of a related language’s alphabet (Nabatean Aramaic) meant that the Aramaic meanings of words replaced their Arabic meanings any more than the adoption by Slavic language speakers of Russia’s Cyrillic alphabet changed the meanings of Slavic words into Russian. 
Point three: the examples cited by Luxenberg of mistranslations – at least the ones listed in the Newsweek article – all deal with verses that make Islam and Muslims appear sex-crazed, misogynistic or philosophically subservient and indebted to the Bible. The very nature of this selection of verses seems to tell a lot about Luxenberg’s agenda. For instance, the first subject in the article is about the supposed 72 black-eyed “houris” or virgins awaiting future Islamic martyrs in Paradise. According to Luxenberg, the word ‘houris’ should really be ‘white raisins.’ Can you imagine a Muslim soldier at the time of Muhammad getting all revved up over 72 raisins? Even if the actual meaning of ‘houri’ was sexual in nature -- which it isn’t -- I can’t see any sane guy choosing to hang out in Paradise with a bunch of raisins over a bunch of beautiful women. Certainly not as an incentive to go die in battle.
In all seriousness, I’ve checked every single Qur’anic reference to Jihad and martyrdom and the rewards to be gained thereby, and there’s not a single reference to 72 ‘houris’ as a reward or 72 of anything for that matter. It does say on numerous occasions that the Believers in Paradise will be given ‘dark-eyed companions of equal age, perpetually chaste and righteous.’ Perpetually chaste is not the same as perpetually chased. I know it’s easy to confuse the two when you hear them, but only the first definition applies to ‘houris’ and it means there won’t be any hanky-hanky going on in the Hereafter.
It’s interesting to note that in almost all references to the rewards that Believers will get in the next life, (1) the word ‘believer’ is used, either singular or plural, which is gender-neutral; and (2) the words describing their promised companions are usually ‘pure mates’ or ‘pure spouses’ – in either case, the Arabic word for ‘mate/spouse’ is not ‘houri’ but ‘azwaj’ which, again, is gender-neutral. Just because Osama bin Laden and similarly ignorant Muslims say something is in the Qur’an, doesn’t mean it really is. Suicide, for instance, as well as terrorism or fomenting violent civil unrest, is expressly forbidden in the Qur’an.
In the next example cited in the article, Luxenberg’s book “claims the Qur'an's commandment for women to cover themselves is based on a similar misreading; in Sura 24, the verse that calls for women to "snap their scarves over their bags" becomes in Aramaic "snap their belts around their waists."…”
First off, the English translation of the Arabic is not only atrocious, but it’s just one fragment of a verse that talks on the subject at length. Here’s a good English translation…

Sura 24, verse 31: And say to the believing women that they
                              restrain their looks and guard their chastity,
                              and that they display not their beauty or their
                              embellishment except that which is apparent
 thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings
                              over their bosoms, and that they display not
 their beauty or their embellishment save to
 their husbands, or to their fathers, or to…

It continues listing the various family relations it’s OK for a woman to be around “and let her hair down with,” so to speak. But clearly, the verse goes on at length about the type of modesty expected of a God-fearing Muslim woman. Men, too, in the preceding verse, are given similar instructions on guarding their chastity and acting modestly, but since most men don’t have ‘bosoms’ or luxuriously long Herbal Essence hair-do’s, there’s not much of a need for them to cover themselves with a scarf.
          The final examples in the article deal with the threat Christianity feels from the rapid spread of Islam, especially in the West. It is these examples that most clearly demonstrate the agenda that seems to motivate Luxenberg’s scholarship, as well as the general approach that many Christian evangelists and scholars are taking in their attempt to represent Islam in an unflattering light. Notice the verses deemed to be ‘mistranslated’ and therefore incorrect all have something to do with the veracity of the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This hardly seems like a random accident.
          In the article, it states:
          “Even more explosive are readings that strengthen scholars' views that the Qur'an had Christian origins. Sura 33 calls Muhammad the "seal of the prophets," taken to mean the final and ultimate prophet of God. But an Aramaic reading, says Luxenberg, turns Muhammad into a "witness of the prophets"--i.e., someone who bears witness to the established Judeo-Christian texts. The Qur'an, in Arabic, talks about the "revelation" of Allah, but in Aramaic that term turns into "teaching" of the ancient Scriptures. The original Qur'an, Luxenberg contends, was in fact a Christian liturgical document--before an expanding Arab empire turned Muhammad's teachings into the basis for its new religion long after the Prophet's death.”

         
One almost need not comment, so obvious is the bias against Islam, the mission of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the message of the Qur’an. But the comment about Islam as a religion being created ‘long after the Prophet’s death’ as a result of the expanding Islamic empire coming in contact with Christianity flies in the face of all recorded historical evidences – many of them Western. If Christianity is, ultimately, the basis for all Islamic rituals and doctrines and ‘revelations’ from God, why is it that Islam as a religious culture differs so markedly from that of Christianity?

In Islam there is no concept of the incarnation of God as a human being for the purpose of his murder / suicide for the vicarious expiation of the sins of all mankind.

In Christianity there is no idea of the supreme, abiding, indivisible Oneness of God, no annual pilgrimage to a central shrine that Christians face in prayer fives times a day, no annual month-long daylight fast for spiritual purification and reunification with God, no dress code or social ordinances that shape Western Christian-populated societies for the protection of the moral fabric of society, no prohibitions against the destructive vices of gambling and drinking.

If this is Luxenberg’s idea of an improvement on the Qur’an and its teachings, I’ll stick with the Arabic version of Islam. He can keep the Aramaic version. I have a strong hunch that all those people throughout the ages since the advent of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who became Muslim and left Christianity, Judaism or some other religion because it wasn’t working for them, wouldn’t have changed their minds if Luxenberg’s supposed “long-lost Aramaic Qur’an” had turned up 1400 years ago, anymore than Muslims will today, and for probably the very same reasons outlined above. Islam needs reformation, there is no doubt, and that reformation is taking place. Sadly, the West seems completely blind to it and unwilling to help it along. It seems intent on crushing it like something feared and hated.

And it’s a sure bet that more accusations and claims made in books like Luxenberg’s will continue – focusing solely on the types of controversial or theologically challenging verses dealt with in Luxenberg’s book -- all those verses which directly represent a threat to the primacy of Biblical doctrines or the hegemony of the nations that purport themselves to be Judeo-Christian. In their fear and mistrust, they only shut out the true healing power of the Love of God which is clear, ever-present and waiting to redeem them in the Holy Qur’an and the true example of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). All Praise belongs to God alone, the Lord of all the worlds.

[ Archived at http://www.muslimwriters.org/ - Aug. 2003 ]

JESUS vs SANTA [ Letter to the Editor ]

Regarding Mr. James Logan’s “Events overlooked” Dec. 30th letter decrying the front-page story on a Muslim convention held in Chino over Christmas weekend. . . Another contributor has already chronicled the front-page Christmas-related coverage from past years, so my point is two-fold. One: a newspaper’s job is to report the news – not just the stories some people may want to read on the pages they might prefer to read them on. And last I checked, the Daily Bulletin was not a “Christian” paper but a “news” paper. I salute them for reporting Inland Valley-related news with timely impartiality.  

Point two: Jesus (peace be upon him) was not even born on Dec. 25th anyway – that honor belongs to the Roman sun god Sol Invictus (along with dozens of other pagan gods) whom Christianity replaced with Jesus as the “son” God, setting his birthday on Dec. 25th to appease the Greeks and Romans once Pauline Christianity supplanted their beliefs to become the official state religion in the early 4th century AD under Constantine. (Look it up at www.POCM.info.)

For proof from the Bible, go to the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 2 verse 8, where it says that Jesus (pbuh) was born at the time when shepherds stay outside with their flocks at night, which is up to late August or September, after which time it gets too cold. The Holy Quran corroborates this in a different way in verses 24-27 of chapter 19, “Maryam,” which details how Mary gave birth to Jesus by the trunk of a date-palm tree, and how she was told by an angel to shake the palm tree to make fresh, ripe dates fall down for her to eat. Dates ripen twice a year in Judea, one time being from late August to September. Not in December. 

Perhaps if Christians spent more time telling their kids about Jesus instead of lying to them about a fat white guy in a red suit whose flying reindeer pull a sleigh full of presents for every Christian kid on the planet (which he delivers all in one night) then maybe -- just maybe – their kids might actually associate Christmas with Jesus in some meaningful, spiritual way instead of waiting impatiently for the fat white guy to show up with their stuff.

Is it any wonder that when children are old enough to realize they’ve been lied to about one part of the Christmas “story” they are less and less inclined to believe in the other, religious part? And let’s face it, in the miracles dept., Jesus did all his crowd-wowing 2,000 years ago. But Santa? He’s a perennial, on the job year after year -- and truly “god-like” because he knows when you’re asleep or awake and if you’ve been naughty or nice. Plus, he’s got that never-empty bag of toys going for him. And for the coup de grace, you can see Santa in the flesh and even talk to him in any mall from after Thanksgiving right up until Christmas eve. Why, even NORAD tracks his progress on the big delivery night, fielding tens of thousands of calls from sleepless kids – and you know you can always trust the government to tell you the truth, right?

You would think this kind of idolatrous brainwashing that increasingly replaces Jesus with Santa for the sole purpose of stoking the fires of Christmas consumerism would be more than enough to motivate Christians to do something to save their own holiday from spiritual extinction, but no. To put icing on the cake, this year some churches, under pressure from their congregations, decided to not have Sunday worship services because it would conflict with the “family time” of parishioners opening presents on Christmas Day. Yes, that’s right. Santa trumps Jesus once again. Some churches were closed on the one day reserved for celebrating the birth of Jesus because it got in the way of the birthday party for Jesus.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr. Logan for reminding readers that Ahmadi Muslims are the ones who believe the Second Coming of Jesus has already occurred – that, more than a century ago, he came like a thief in the night. To learn more, contact the Baitul Hameed Mosque at 909-627-2252 or go online to www.alislam.org or www.TheChinoMosque.org for more information. And the next time Christmas rolls around and you are feeling a bit underwhelmed by all the crass commercialism and absence of true spirituality in your holiday season, or if your church is closed on Jesus’ big day, don’t worry. The Ahmadiyya mosque in Chino on Ramona Ave. is open seven days a week, with five congregational prayers daily. Seekers of truth and lovers of God are always welcome.
[ Original long version before it was edited. ]
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Irresponsible

Created: 01/19/2012
Re: "Jesus vs. Santa," Jan. 12

A Muslim writes a letter to the editor of a newspaper pointing out errors in the beliefs and practices of Christians, makes a broad generalization connecting the traditions of Santa Claus to Christian parents, and accuses them of brainwashing and practicing idolatry on a path to spiritual extinction. And the newspaper is irresponsible enough to print it.

Can you imagine the repercussions if a Christian wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper (and it was printed) pointing out the errors in the beliefs and practices of Muslims, making broad generalizations about Muslims, and accused them of lifestyle practices that are contrary to their religion. Of course a responsible newspaper would not print it. The Daily Bulletin should not have printed the letter.

I don't recommend anyone writing letters criticizing the religion of others or accusing them of not being true to their religion. If you do, though, lay off the "fat white guy in the red suit." He is not a religion. Read the most famous newspaper editorial of all time, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

MARK GIBBONEY
Rancho Cucamonga
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My Jan. 20th Daily Bulletin response Letter (as yet – and will probably remain -- unpublished):

As the author of the Jan. 12th "Jesus vs. Santa" letter, I am amazed at how people can make statements about my words which are not supported by my words at all. I do not attack the doctrinal beliefs or religious practices of Christians. No Bible or church doctrine prescribes giving presents on Jesus' supposed birthday. "Christmas" comes from the words "Christ's Mass" -- a devoutly religious observance by the Catholic Church honoring the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him) where no presents are handed out.

The point (#2) I raise that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25th is provably true -- I even cite the New Testament (Luke 2:8) as evidence. I in no way demean Christianity, Christians or honoring Jesus' birthday. It is those who perpetuate Santa-itis who do that. My point was (I thought) pretty straight-forward: it is Christian parents who tell their kids Santa is a real person, so it is fair to hold them accountable for the later consequences of lying to their kids about him.

As for someone criticizing Muslim beliefs and practices, first you would have to show a similar pagan corruption of Islamic beliefs and practices so you could decry them. This would mean you have to study Islamic beliefs (go to www.alislam.org to start) which is fine with me. You won't find any Islamic version of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny connected to the two holidays (Eids) in Islam; the one after Ramadhan and the one after the Hajj or Pilgrimage. And speaking of the Easter Bunny, it seems most Christians don't have a problem with the Easter Bunny, either, yet it's the same thing as Santa -- a pagan belief (in this case, the Norse fertility Goddess Euster) corrupting another Christian holiday (i.e., Holy Day).

The writer of the letter "Irresponsible" ends with the admonishment to “leave the fat white guy in the red suit out of it. He's not a religion." I totally agree. I'm not the one who puts Santa alongside Jesus every Christmas. (And they chastise me and the Daily Bulletin for pointing it out.) And so far, not one letter from a Christian addressing the points I actually make and their veracity. Why is that? You can shoot the messenger but that doesn’t change the facts of the message.

FREEDOM WITHOUT JUSTICE ISN'T FREEDOM

America celebrates its Independence Day on July 4th while Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day on August 14th. This nearness of the Independence Days of America and Pakistan is the only thing that can be said to define the relationship of the U.S. to Pakistan as “close.” In all other respects, we are as far apart as night and day.

America deserves due credit because its Constitution and amendments grant its citizens rights and freedoms and the means to secure and protect them. And while the realization of these rights and freedoms by different groups and classes took many decades to achieve, the fact remains that the freedom America represents is the shining light that draws people to our shores from all over the globe. America as an ideal is the place where people are Americans first and nationalities or religions second.

It is this very dream of inclusiveness in the American Dream that must be made a reality for all. The Africans brought to America as slaves were eventually freed not only by the efforts of good-hearted people but by the promise imbued in the words of Thomas Jefferson -- Founding Father, slave-owner and author of the Declaration of Independence -- who wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is these words that ultimately gave birth to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights -- freedoms that would be in the governing charters of all Muslim nations were they truly following the dictates of justice set forth in the Holy Quran.

One Muslim country, Pakistan, started off on the right path towards justice when, on August 14th, 1947, its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, stated the fundamental right of all Pakistanis to enjoy religious liberty free from state control. In his inaugural speech, Jinnah proclaimed that all citizens of Pakistan -- be they Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu or Sikh -- were free to go to their mosques, churches, synagogues or temples. The state would not interfere in the religious matters or faith choice of any citizen of Pakistan. However, when Jinnah passed away suddenly soon after, the dream of religious freedom died with him. The Mullahs of that era lost no time in strong-arming the national assembly into defining Pakistan as an Islamic and not a secular state.

Sixty-four years later, all religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of the bigotry, persecution and violence of the mainstream Sunni Mullahs and their congregations. This is because Pakistan’s Constitution and penal codes, rather than protecting people’s religious rights, liberty and lives as envisioned by Jinnah, instead sanction their death by way of the draconian blasphemy laws that criminalize the free exercise of religion and religious expression – all in the name of respecting Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Since 1984, anyone in Pakistan can be fined, jailed or even put to death by the state simply for being accused of blasphemy against Islam or the Prophet Muhammad by word or deed. No proof is required because to produce it would be to recommit the alleged offense. Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Shia Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are the chief victims of these infamous blasphemy laws, which are employed regularly to dispossess one’s neighbors and business rivals of their homes, livelihoods and even their lives. It is a spiritual cancer that has raged unchecked for three decades, claiming thousands of innocent lives.

The instigators and beneficiaries of this cancer are the Mullahs, the religious clerics and fanatical rabble-rousers the Holy Prophet Muhammad warned Muslims about 1,400 years ago, calling them “the worst creatures under heaven.” But do Pakistani Muslims listen to and act upon the dire prediction of the founder of their religion and rid themselves of this plague of Mullahism? On the contrary, the vast majority of Pakistanis either cower in fear of the Mullahs or jubilantly support the hate-mongering incitements of these same Mullahs. (To demonstrate this one need only consider the paltry 362 Pakistanis who turned out to condemn the Jan. 4th, 2011 assassination of Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer by his own bodyguard, compared with the 62,000 Pakistanis who turned out a few days later to cheer and show their support for Taseer’s unrepentant confessed murderer, showering him with rose petals as he went to court for his arraignment.)

To add insult to injury in this deadly theater of the morally insane, the majority of Pakistan’s Mullahs routinely tell the people that all their problems are caused by America. In reality, all their problems are, ultimately, caused by the Mullahs themselves. And though Pakistan is labeled a ‘democracy,’ there is no democracy, no justice and no civil rights or equal protection under the law. The rule of law is held captive by the clenched fists of the Mullahs who, with their venomous calls for hatred and murder, are leading themselves and their congregations to hell from virtually every mosque in Pakistan.

This is why the only way to effect real, substantive spiritual change and true justice in the lives of the persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan is to rid the country of Mullahism. The first and most effective step towards that end is to excise all blasphemy laws and punishments from the Pakistan Constitution and penal codes. The next step is to stringently enforce the “rule of law” and provide equal protection under the law for all Pakistanis, regardless of race or religion. This will effectively hold the Mullahs and their minions accountable for the evils they commit in the name of Islam – evils that are in complete violation of true Islamic law.

As long as the Mullahs hold sway over the military, president, prime minister and national assembly, and as long as the Mullahs are given free license by the laws and Constitution of Pakistan to foment injustice and murder, there will be no freedoms and no justice. Ideally, there should be total separation of state and mosque in Pakistan, with the Mullahs being removed completely from the political equation that only condemns Pakistan to certain chaos and eventual death as a nation.

When the Constitution of Pakistan begins to resemble the Constitution of the United States, then and only then will our two countries begin to have a relationship that can be said to be “close” – one based on mutual respect, human rights and true religious freedom. Then and only then will the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, rest easy in his grave and be proud of Pakistan: the “Land of the Pure.”

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[ Ghosted with Imam Shamshad A. Nasir – ran in New India Times July 14th, 2011 under the headline: "Freedom isn't Freedom without Justice" and at AhmadiyyaTimes.com at this link: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2011/07/freedom-isnt-freedom-without-justice.html ]

9-11: AFFECTS AND EFFECTS 10 YEARS LATER

The epic tragedy that struck America on September 11th, 2001 scarred the very heart and soul of our nation and its people. For many that scar will never heal, and for many millions more the anger and questions that arose demanded answers and action. Who did this? And why? And is this what the religion of Islam really teaches?

Some claim the Muslim world celebrated the events of 9-11, but this is patently false. Muslims in America and the world over were overwhelmingly horrified and devastated by 9-11. Millions of Muslims proclaimed their sorrow and grief over the attacks and their sympathy for the victims. Not only was an unspeakably evil act perpetrated against innocent people of all races and religions who died on that day, but the religion of 1.4 billion people was instantly maligned and declared the founding force behind the attacks.

It has been a decade since that awful day, and its tenth anniversary brings on the inevitable questions: How did the attacks change you, impact you? How has the aftermath of 9-11 affected you? Mostly, the questions are always about “affects” instead of what they should be about: “effects.”

What have you done since 9-11 to make the world understand the true nature of Islam and Muslims? Have you tried to be a good example of a Muslim? Judging from the news, you wouldn’t think there were any at all, but it’s to be expected that the disproportionately tiny fraction of so-called “Muslims” who subscribe to the Al-Qaida and Taliban interpretation of Islam will get the lion’s share of the media attention, while the moderate, non-violent, peace-loving Muslims who comprise the vast majority of Muslims – these people will get almost no media coverage whatsoever.

In many ways, the slandering and scapegoating of Islam and Muslims has only gotten worse since then. On July 22nd when Anders Breivik set off a bomb in downtown Oslo, Norway, killing eight people, it was widely speculated to be the work of Al-Qaida. How ironic then for mass murderer Breivik (who professed “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”) to defend that bombing and his later killing of 69 more people on the tiny island of Utoya by citing (in his 1,500-page manifesto) alarmist passages from such anti-Islam luminaries as Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller. All in support of his one-man crusade against multi-culturalism in general and what he perceived specifically as the Islamic threat to Christian values and identity in Europe and other Western countries -- the same threat being dinned into the Western consciousness by the likes of Pipes, Spencer and Geller, who of course take no responsibility for the acts of a cold, calculating killer fed on a regular diet of their Islamophobic screeds.

As a member and missionary for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – I have been directly engaged in striving in the true Jihad to bring to as many people as possible the real, peaceful message of Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). And, in light of the increased negative perception of Islam, where over 50% of Americans see it as a violent, hate-filled religion, this is no easy task.

What is a blessing in disguise is that overwhelmingly negative attention on a subject often has the reverse effect: people begin to question the mountain of one-sided, abusive rhetoric and ask themselves, is it possible for what they say to be really true? Common sense, and the fact that blanket statements should always be warning signs of propaganda and inherent falsehood, has created a counter-response in many people’s hearts and minds that draws them to investigate for themselves the charges and claims made against the religion of Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Based on their own research, they decide for themselves what they deem to be true or false concerning Islam.

For Muslims, this open-mindedness is heartening and a cause for hope. Hundred of thousands of formerly biased or uninformed people convert to Islam every year – despite the onslaught of negative opinion and media coverage – and it isn’t because they are being forced to. They are choosing to convert to Islam because of the vitality and life-affirming qualities it imparts to its followers who genuinely seek peace in the love of God and in their lives.

This is not say that radical Islam – largely funded by Saudi oil wealth which has entrenched fanatical, intolerant and highly-politicized Wahhabi-Salafi doctrines across much of the Muslim world – is not a virulent and dangerous cancer within the body of Islam. It most certainly is. But the solution is not the destruction of the body, but the re-education of the head back to the original, pure understanding of the teachings of Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This is the work being done 24-hours a day, 365 days a year by missionaries and members of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Now in 200 countries, with tens of millions of followers and a 24-hour multi-language satellite TV network whose signal reaches every continent, the true peaceful message of Islam is being delivered to every corner of the Earth – a promise given in a revelation by God to the founder of Ahmadiyyat well over a century ago.

As Ahmadi Muslims, we ask that our Muslim brothers and sisters look closely at the sad state of their faith and ask themselves, “Do I want my beloved religion of peace to be viewed as the root cause of terrorism when I know it is not?” And “What must I do to change the opinion of so many who are admittedly grossly ignorant of the beliefs and practices of Islam?”

To all peace-loving Muslims who desire spiritual and worldly unity among themselves, that kind of Islam does exist in the world – right now. We invite you to examine the beliefs and works of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The answers you seek are what the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been embodying for the past 122 years: first, enjoying the spiritual unity and blessings of guidance by, and obedience to, a spiritual Khalifa; and second, educating Muslims and non-Muslims alike about the real teachings of Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Ahmadis do this first and foremost by striving to be the best example of true, peaceful and loyal Muslims. We are enjoined not only by our religion but regularly by our spiritual leader, the Khalifa of the Promised Messiah, to demonstrate the love and compassion the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had for all mankind by following God’s commandments in the Holy Quran, such as: “There shall be no coercion to religion;” and “Do not create disorder [terrorism] in the land” and “He who kills one person unjustly it shall be as though he killed all mankind.”

In fact, the real teachings of Islam define true believers as those “who are humble in their prayers;” and “who enjoin good and forbid evil;” and that, when the ignorant assail them, the believers should pass by in quiet dignity and say to their abusers: “Peace.” All of these can hardly be said to describe the actions and philosophy of so-called “Islamic” terrorists.

On the education front, Ahmadi Muslims have, in the last two years, distributed millions of flyers around the country extolling “Muslims for Peace” and “Muslims for Loyalty” and most recently “Muslims for Life” – a nationwide blood drive campaign to commemorate the tragic loss of life on 9-11 by raising 10,000 units of blood to save 30,000 lives here in the US. We invite you to join us in our efforts by visiting MuslimsForPeace.org, MuslimsForLoyalty.org and MuslimsForLife.org to learn how you can help.

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[ Ghosted with Imam Shamshad A. Nasir – ran at AhmadiyyaTimes.com Aug. 25th, 2011 as: "The Ahmadiyya Muslim response to 9-11" at this link: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2011/08/faith-and-loyalty-ahmadiyya-muslim.html ]

WHY THE MURDER OF AHMADIS IN PAKISTAN SHOULD CONCERN AMERICANS

On June 14th, 2011 the Indo-Asian News Service reported that Pakistani terrorists have issued a “Hit-List” of prominent businessmen who are Ahmadi Muslims, saying those who 'misguide' the Muslims would be punished with death.

For the past week, radical Muslims have been distributing pamphlets in the Punjab city of Faisalabad calling for “target killings” of prominent Ahmadis. The pamphlets state that the act of killing an Ahmadi made an individual a “holy warrior” and whoever became one “would also be blessed by the Holy Prophet [Muhammad] on the Day of Judgment.”

Translated from Urdu, one pamphlet in English reads in part:
“O Muslim brothers! There are some people among us who are misguiding us and their punishment is death.” Another pamphlet asked if there was anybody who had the courage to “teach the Ahmadis a lesson.”

A year ago last May 28th, several Pakistani Taliban armed with machine-guns, grenades and suicide vests attacked two Ahmadi Mosques in Lahore during Friday Prayers, killing 86 worshippers and wounding more than 100. One terrorist was captured by the Ahmadis themselves and turned over to the police, but authorities say they no longer have the suspect in custody and have no idea where he is now.

The ongoing tragedy of the persecution and murder of non-violent, peaceful Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere by Islamist fanatics is highlighted by the equally ongoing tragedy of indifference and even tacit support from mainstream Muslims across the globe. This is further exacerbated by the apathy and ignorance of Americans and other Westerners who may not consider it “their problem” but whose sons and daughters in the military are in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq; it is they who will suffer the consequences of this “problem” along with thousands of innocent civilians.

Muslims who are familiar with the situation of Ahmadis may say it’s not right to attack and kill them, but in the same breath many of these same Muslims will declare that Ahmadis are non-Muslims or worse -- heretics deserving to be killed. And as history clearly shows, when any group is marginalized and denied their rights and protection under the law, there is a predictable escalation from intolerance to demonization, followed by vigilantism, mob violence and state-sanctioned persecution and murder. This is exactly what has happened in Pakistan since 1974 when Islamic clerics and their political minions demanded and were given a Constitutional Amendment declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims.

Anti-blasphemy laws promulgated under British rule in the 19th century (originally designed to prevent inter-religious hate-speech and violence) were re-codified in the mid-1980s to make the practice and propagation of Islam by Ahmadis a crime punishable by fines, imprisonment and even death. These revamped Blasphemy laws quickly became the means by which Ahmadis, specifically, along with Shias, Christians, Hindus and others were targeted for persecution and murder by mainstream Sunni Muslims.

It is this government-sanctioned lawlessness and acceptance of hatred, bigotry and intolerance against Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities in Pakistan that encourages Muslim extremists’ violent and deadly attacks. This state of fear and chaos affects all minorities in Pakistan, resulting in the deaths of scores every year.

These deaths usually go unpunished and are often lauded and celebrated by the mainstream society, as was the case when the Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by his own bodyguard in January of 2011. His killer was showered with roses and cheered by massive crowds outside the courthouse where he was arraigned.

This is symptomatic of a deeply-rooted spiritual and moral cancer that is slowly but surely destroying Pakistan from the inside out. Where then in the hearts of these tens of millions of Pakistani Muslims are the basic human qualities of compassion, conscience, decency and justice?

The silence of the majority is easily explained: most mainstream Sunni Muslims are either sympathetic to the politics and methods of the Taliban and similar fanatics or they are understandably afraid of meeting the same fate at the hands of such terrorists as do the Ahmadis, Christians and other minorities. (Indonesia is fast becoming a second Pakistan in that regard for exactly the same reasons, as similar acts of murder and injustice are perpetrated almost daily by Islamist radicals against religious minorities in that country; Hindus, Christians and Ahmadi Muslims being the main victims.)

For all those people who don’t think it’s their problem to combat religious extremism in a land halfway around the world, even though its victims may be members of their own religion, I would ask them to step back in time 75 years to Germany in the mid-1930s and replace “Ahmadis” with “Jews,” “Sunnis” with “Christians” and “Taliban” with “Nazis.” Is your level of moral apathy and detachment still the same? One would hope not! A World War costing the lives of more than 60 million people reminds us of the tragic consequences of moral cowardice and judicial inaction.
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[ Ghosted with Imam Shamshad A. Nasir – ran in Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun June 22nd, 2011 and at AhmadiyyaTimes.com: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2011/06/murders-in-pakistan-should-concern.html ]

WHEN THE POLICE ARE THE CRIMINALS

In a civilized society, when someone commits a murder, you call the police -- expecting them to uphold the law and arrest whoever committed the crime. But who do you call when the criminals are the police themselves? In the town of Rabwah, Pakistan, several senior police officers are accused of detaining for 46 days without charges 43-year-old Abdul Qudoos Ahmad, a well-known and respected Ahmadi Muslim schoolteacher. The police are also accused of brutally torturing Mr. Qudoos for at least 10 straight days in an apparent attempt to force him to confess to a murder he did not commit, or else implicate high-ranking officials of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Rabwah. All for the purpose of discrediting the avowedly peace-loving and non-violent Ahmadi Muslims, who founded and built Rabwah in the early 1950s as the headquarters for their Islamic organization in Pakistan.

Mr. Qudoos was the President of the Nusratabad chapter of the Ahmadiyya Community in Rabwah. He is survived by his wife, four children and his parents. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Khalifa (Caliph) of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, devoted his entire April 6th Friday sermon from London to the martyrdom of Abdul Qudoos, citing his steadfastness, love and devotion to God and to the Community. His Holiness said that it is the fruit of all such sacrifices by the community members that today our community is known as the most peace loving, representing the true face of Islam. He said, “the strength, the spread and the success of our Community can never be stopped by our opponents. But our opponents should remember that when the Divine Power is forced to take action then they will not be able to escape His Wrath.”

During the illegal police detention, Mr. Qudoos was not allowed to meet his family, nor he was provided medical treatment or a lawyer, nor was he officially charged with any crime. According to information received from inside sources, cruel and merciless tortures led to multiple organ failure, internal bleeding and other traumatic injuries. When the condition of Mr. Qudoos deteriorated to a near death state, the police released him to his family on March 26th so he wouldn’t die in police custody. His family rushed him to a hospital, but despite the best efforts of doctors who applied emergency treatment, Mr. Qudoos could not recover from his injuries and died March 30th. But before he passed away, he was able to detail the excruciating tortures he was subjected to and why.

The “why” of course is the reason Abdul Qudoos was unlawfully detained and tortured by the police in the first place: he was an Ahmadi Muslim -- a “Qadiani” in the parlance of the policemen accused of causing his death. “Qadiani” is the derogatory term used throughout Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Middle East where Ahmadis are the most persecuted by other Muslims. The name comes from the town of Qadian in Northern India where the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was born in 1835.

Reports of persecution and atrocities against Ahmadis seldom receive any condemnation from the media, and you can forget about any serious investigation by the authorities into criminal acts if Ahmadis are the victims. When the government, via its Constitution and penal codes, mandates the marginalization and second-class citizenship of Ahmadis, allowing banners openly calling for their murder as apostates in Islam, the last thing you are going to see in Pakistan is justice for Ahmadis.

It is a well-known fact that the provincial Punjab government and in particular its law minister have connections with extremist groups and banned organizations who are very much against the Ahmadis and who have been involved in the killings of Ahmadis and Shias, both frequent targets of sectarian hate speech and violence at the hands of Sunnis.

But only Ahmadis are singled-out by name in Pakistan’s Constitution and penal codes, declared “non-Muslims” and forbidden from publicly practicing or preaching Islam. They can be fined and jailed for “posing” as Muslims if they say “Salaam Alaikum,” the standard Islamic greeting of peace, or if they refer to themselves as Muslims, or call their places of worship “mosques.” In fact, if an Ahmadi says or writes anything regarding Islam and especially the Holy Prophet Muhammad that any other Muslim deems objectionable, the Ahmadi can have a case filed against them at any police station charging them with blasphemy. And the accuser never has to provide any evidence, as this would mean repeating the supposedly blasphemous statement and thus being liable for a blasphemy charge as well.

The common result is imprisonment (often indefinitely) where the ultimate punishment can be a judicial sentence of death or an actual sentence of death at the hands of jailers, other prisoners or incensed vigilante mobs. The most famous blasphemy case in Pakistan to date is that of Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was charged with blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad and sentenced to death in November 2010, She denies ever doing this and there is no evidence against her -- only the accusations themselves -- yet still she waits in jail for her death sentence to be carried out, despite international pleas for mercy and a governmental pardon from human rights groups, religious leaders and politicians.

          So who do you turn to for help when the people charged with upholding justice are the ones responsible for injustice, torture and murder? In the case of Abdul Qudoos, where the police, courts, politicians and media in Pakistan either ally themselves with or tremble before the extremist Mullahs, the push for justice will have to come from the conscience and press of the International community. But the deliverance of justice will, ultimately, come from one source: the Court of God. Ahmadi Muslims petition this court with patience and prayer, and await God’s just verdict which we have firm faith will be in the favor of Abdul Qudoos.   

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[ Ghosted with Imam Shamshad A. Nasir -- ran May 14th, 2012 in the San Bernardino Sun and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, and at AhmadiyyaTimes: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2012/05/when-cops-are-criminals.html ]