When Believers Go Bad: One Muslims Answer To Religious Hate Crimes
Dr. David Liepert
After the horrible shootings in the Sikh Temple in suburban Milwaukee, I was struck that Wade Page talked about a “Racial Holy War”, highlighting that he felt his hate was religiously sanctioned. And looking around our world, although it’s frightening just how pervasive that feeling has become, it was even more frightening to me as a Muslim to realize that America’s initial response wasn’t as much to condemn religiously based violent slaughter as it was to correct his mistake confusing Sikhs for Muslims.
So what can I, as a Muslim do about it? Heaven knows al-Qaeda’s no better. And so far we don’t know much about Page’s religion: so far all we can say is he wasn’t Muslim, because if he were it would have led the news. But it doesn’t matter. Every religion there is has been used by some to justify hatred, something that’s well documented in Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great”, a book I very much enjoyed reading despite the controversial title. Because I thought he asked a very important question.
If God’s so Good, then what makes some believers so very bad?
Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I thought I knew what the answer was. I was pretty sure humankind was divided into eternal winners and eternal losers based on their religions, that I knew where the lines were drawn, and that they were drawn the same in this life and the next. But the more people I met who weren’t like me, and the more different religions I studied, the more I questioned whether I knew everything there was to know about getting to Heaven.
I ended up in Islam not because I rejected Jesus or anything that the Bible actually said, but because I learned how much religious marketing and populist interpretation had influenced what Christianity eventually became. I left it to explore my ongoing relationship with our shared Creator and ended up Muslim, despite the fact that I know the same thing has happened to Islam as well.
However, I’ve stayed here because despite Islamist and Islamophobic claims to the contrary, Islam itself explicitly condemns that “Winner Take All” approach to religion. In fact, the Quran says quite clearly in An-Nisa 4: 123-124,
Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides The Lord God, any protector or helper. If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them.
And in Al-Baqarah 2:145-148 God further explains,
Even if thou wert to bring to the people of the Book all the Signs (together), they would not follow thy direction; nor wilt thou follow their direction; nor indeed will they follow each other’s direction. If thou after the knowledge hath reached thee, Wert to follow their desires,-then thou wouldst indeed be in the wrong.
The Truth is from thy Lord; so be not at all in doubt. To each faith is a goal to which The Lord God turns them; then strive ye all together (as in a race) Towards all that is good. Where-so-ever ye are, The Lord God will bring you Together. For The Lord God Hath power over all things.
Seems simple enough, so what’s gone wrong? And how do we fix it? Well for starters, I think the single best thing Muslims can do for everyone, including Palestinians living under the Israeli Occupation is admit that the Jewish claim to the Holy Land is even stronger in the Holy Quran than it is in the Holy Bible.
Because the problem’s not with our religions: Instead, it’s with what we’ve done to them. Populist marketing, politics and self interest have warped all our faiths, and the best examples of how that process has victimized believers of every stripe lies in the way we interpret God’s Words to Abraham’s children about the Holy Land.
In the Quran, there is little doubt that God intends Israel to belong to the Children of Israel. It commands the people of Moses in Al-Maidah 5:21,
O my people, enter the Holy Land which The Lord God has assigned to you and do not turn back [from fighting in The Lord God’s cause] and [thus] become losers.
But that translation, which is consistent throughout virtually every English version of the Quran, and which is also consistent with the way Arabic scholars present the meaning of the verse to other Arabic speakers, is an excellent example of how far Islam has strayed from the Quran’s original intent. Because KatabAllahu, the word translated as “assigned”, actually means something much closer to “Ordained by God Most High”: a much stronger association than “assigned” would otherwise imply.
So if the land’s eternally ordained to their stewardship, how can anyone claim the Quran isn’t OK with both Judaism and the Jews? In fact, rather than condemning them, it confirms God’s covenant relationship with the Jewish people repeatedly, and only condemns those who aren’t living up to their end of the bargain just like many Old Testament prophets, like Jeremiah. Repeatedly.
And those bargains include the Covenant of Circumcision, which grants them the lands of Canaan. None of those Covenants are abrogated in the Quran, and nowhere does it or Muhammad even imply that Muslims were intended to replace the Jews within them. In fact, since Muhammad wasn’t circumcised on his 8th day—and since him no Muslim has been either—we couldn’t. An 8th day circumcision is what that Covenant explicitly requires.
However that Covenant is actually one that Judaism’s not living up to, and an example of how that religion’s been subverted as well. Because there’s a precondition that makes Jewish sovereignty in Israel good news for everyone, Palestinians included. As Genesis 18 explains, to make it all come out right for everyone, God requires that Israel govern the land righteously, according to God’s principles of equality and justice for all his descendents, regardless of their religion.
Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.
So justice is a prerequisite, and there’s no mention of one religion reigning supreme anywhere in there either: Abraham wanted what’s best for ALL his children, Jew and non-Jew alike. In fact the word translated as “nation” and “nations” is goy and goyim, which today’s Jewish people generally think means “non-Jew”.
It also sounds like God expects that “Good for everyone world” to begin in His Holy Land. And for that to come about, the Covenant requires Tzedakah, “God’s Benevolent Justice for All” to begin there. And that sounds like something best achieved with a totally free, egalitarian, constitutional democracy—at least if they give one vote to everyone—to me.
So why does so much of the evangelical Christian world agree with radical Islamists and Zionists alike that there needs to be a war between Muslims and Jews over Israel? Frankly, it’s because they’ve been interpreting Jewish prophecy without asking any Jews. If they’d done so, any Jew familiar with Daniel’s prophecies would have told them we have at least two hundred years to go.
And according to Jewish, Muslim and Christian prophecy, if you examine them all together, those two hundred years are going to be very different from what many Christians, Muslims and Jews expect. For example, among other things, it will include Muslims who are also Jews (the lost tribes of Khurasan/Afghanistan) marching in and defending Israel, and a second coming where Christ leaves us all with nothing more to fight with each other over. And that’s one thing I know is going to happen, because God’s plan promises peace for us all.
I think much of the current confusion likely derives from the lack of Jewish input regarding the way Christians interpret John’s Revelation. Because in Revelation 12 God’s perfect Israel is described this way:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
And I certainly get how some Christians will think that carries an anti-Muslim message because the woman, whom many Christians consider Mother Mary, is standing, apparently quite disrespectfully, on Islam, symbolized by the moon.
Except the woman actually has nothing to do with Mary, and the moon actually has nothing to do with Islam.
Because this isn’t the first time in the Bible the sun, moon and stars come together. The first time the sun, moon and stars come together in the Old Testament; the time that defines what those symbols actually mean, is in the story of Joseph.
In a dream, before he’s kidnapped by his brothers and sold off to Egypt, he sees 11 stars (his brothers) bowing down to one star (him), in which his father Jacob/Israel (symbolized by the Sun) and mother Rachel (symbolized by the Moon) appear as well.
So that image can’t mean Christianity conquering Islam, because the moon would never be treated so disrespectfully: it symbolizes the woman who with her sister Leah became the Mothers of Israel itself.
But it’s why the moon is her symbol that makes for the inclusive happy ending, because it turns out that it’s because she was a proto-Palestinian! Holy-Land-Living, Monotheistic, non-Jewish Semitic Arabs have actually been part of the Bible’s narrative from the very beginning. Called the Ishmaelites (literally the “people of Ishmael”), or the Midianites (the family Moses married into), their Old Testament symbol was always the moon.
And that also means Israel’s crowning glory can’t be the 12 Jewish sons of Jacob/Israel because according to Orthodox Jewish law, they weren’t even Jewish. Although their daddy was, their mother wasn’t. And that makes Israel’s crowning glory not Jewish Israel alone, but instead Arab/Jewish unity, “clothed” by Israel, and supported by all the world’s Muslims: Islamic Zionism, the way it should be.
And today, we ignore the perception-warping effects of Christian Zionism and the effects of their attempts to bring about the end of the world on American politics at our own peril; literally, because the so-called “happy ending” of many—if not most—Christian Zionists currently requires a version of Armageddon resulting in the eradication of all the world’s Muslims, the death or conversion to Christianity of all the world’s Jews, and a rather painful eternity for the rest of you.
I know that all begs the question, “why did God make us different, if He intends to bring us together? Here’s what the Quran says, in Al-Hujurat 49:13.
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of The Lord God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, The Lord God is All-Knowing and All-Acquainted.
God made us different from each-other so we would have to “know” each-other, and compare ourselves to each-other against God’s standards of “righteousness”. And the word translated as “know” is Lita’arafu, which implies a reciprocal and ongoing relationship, while the word translated as “righteous” is Atqakum, which the Quran says can only be attained by caring for others. That means the ones among us whom God appreciates the most are the ones who care for those we consider “different” among His diverse Creation the best.
You know, given all that I think what we really need to respond to religion’s capacity to promote conflict is the simple realization that among all our different religions we’ve got so many different sects, and among those many different sects we’ve got so many different individual believers who form their own personal accommodations with that sect’s beliefs, doctrines and dogmas, that in fact we’ve actually got over 6 billion different religions, one for every woman, child and man on earth. Faith’s not about religion, it’s about relationships.
Your faith, my faith, all our faiths are personal relationships between us and our God, who Knows us all as individuals, and we all know Him as individuals too.
And God wants us to look out for each other.
So what’s wrong with religion—all our religions—is simple: religion is supposed to be about learning to live in a way that’s right by both God and Creation, and so it’s supposed to be about learning to control ourselves. But all too often we allow others to use it to control us, or we try to use it to control others instead.
When we do that, we make Karl Marx right, when he said religion was the opiate for the masses. He thought in political terms, in terms of oppression and control, and religion used to that purpose is nothing more than a political tool.
But True Faith frees the believer from oppression, because it makes us all equals under the One God who Made us all. And for that reason, one of the signs of True Faith within yourself is that it makes you not just God’s servant, but everyone’s servant, so that it frees everyone else.
What’s missing from all our faiths and religions is the simple realization that God Loves everyone else too.