17 January 2011
Dear Mr. Awad:
Hopefully you will remember at least a little of the conversation that you and I had after the Advocates for Peace Roundtable at St. Stephen's UMC last night. My two companions and I were, without much doubt, the only ones on the premises who were not 90-100% in agreement with you and the other panelists (none of whom, interestingly, were Christians). I appreciate the opportunity not only to ask a question openly but also to approach you afterwards with disagreement. I fully understand the constraints on your time that cut short our face-to-face conversation (as I too am married with young children) and I also thank you for giving me your card with your contact information. Perhaps the busy life you lead will not permit you much time to interact with me, but on the other hand, perhaps circumstances will allow it.
I would like to mention three serious concerns I had with the way you spoke and engaged the audience last night. First, let me remind you of my public question to you during the Q&A, which had to do with your failure to make the honest and helpful distinction between two phrases. You used "anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred" numerous times during your remarks. This appellation is unhelpful because, as I pointed out, "bigotry" is not an accurate descriptor of those who have taken time to study the issues at hand, including the relevant literature such as the Qur'an, biographies of Mohammed, and the Hadith. Further, as I also mentioned, many people, including myself, oppose Islam qua position and system of thought and belief, not Muslims qua people whom we happen to dislike for some arbitrary reason. Certainly "anti-Muslim bigots" (such as those who advocate 'nuking the Middle East' and are halfway serious) exist, but it is simply unfair and dishonest to lump all those who, for example, support SQ755 for specific and informed reasons into the same group with true anti-Muslim bigots. Further, it diminishes the meaning of anti-Muslim bigotry when those who are neither anti-Muslim nor bigots are included under that label.
The preceding fleshes out the thinking behind my question. Part of your answer concerned me greatly, as you said in effect that you use the term "anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred" without qualification because it produces a better effect in your audiences. This is simply an admission that you do not blush at using open and obvious propaganda tactics to further your cause and reel in your audiences (such as the deeply biased liberals who represented the majority of the audience at the Roundtable), establishing common cause with them against the Big Bad Aggressive Well-Funded Warmongering Right Wing. I noticed that the lefties were eating it up, hanging on your every word. I tip my hat to your understanding of your audience, but firing up your supporters with tacit admissions of dishonesty is hardly commendable.
Second, I was confused by your unwillingness to interact honestly with Islamic teaching about the advancement of Islam by violence. You may recall that, as I drew my Muhsin Khan copy of the Qur'an out of my bag, we were interrupted and were thus unable to continue the discussion on this topic, but you had challenged me to demonstrate Qur'anic commands toward violence against unbelievers. My next question was in fact going to be that which I tweeted to you later that evening. Pardon the brief primer on the Qur'anic doctrine of abrogation, but your failure to mention the wide and varied Qur'anic teaching on violent jihad can only mean that you are either ignorant of the Qur'an or were unwilling to deal with the topic honestly both in public and in the private face-to-face we were having. At this time, I choose the more charitable interpretation of your behavior: that you are ignorant of it. Surah 2:106, among others such as 2:109, 9:1 and 4:15 (cf. 24:2), teaches that Allah sometimes abrogates certain ayas with better ones, later in the life of Mohammed. Obviously, then, for anyone to understand Islam today, we would have to have some idea of the order in which these Surahs were revealed. Dr Muhsin Khan, the translator of my copy of the Qur'an from Islamic University in Medina, believed that Surah 9 was among the latest Surahs, as do all of the other sources I've been able to find, such as sunnipath.com. This means either that Surah 9 contains contradictory passages to other passages in the Qur'an that advise peace and tolerance, or that Surah 9 abrogates earlier verses. If the former, the honest reader will conclude that Islam is false. If the latter, your approach to the question - that of completely ignoring ayas such as 9:29, "Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" - is without any excuse other than sheer ignorance. Many more ayas could be produced to substantiate this point. What excuse do you have for your failure to interact with these texts in an environment where not only is this the very topic at hand, but you were asked specifically about it?
Third and finally, in our conversation, I told you that, as a biblical Christian, my position is that, for example, worshiping Allah is sinful. You may recall that I said it while explaining to you that which should be fairly obvious - disagreement on truth is not equivalent to "Islamophobia" or a desire to execute violent actions against someone with whom one disagrees. You told me that my expression of my position, which disagrees with yours, means that "we can't work together", and the surrounding context of the discussion implied that we can't be neighbors either, nor friends. Your rationale behind this was basically "if you think I'm doing something wrong or that I hold a false position, then you're judging me". Though I have little doubt that such thinking is a frail holdover from public school education and your stint with the ACLU, it is an almost laughable claim. You are a Muslim. Few others in attendance were Muslims. You will not agree on everything, as should be obvious. Thus, the only meaning this could possibly have is that you choose not to want to be a neighbor or friend to me because I think your religion is false. For my part, unless you perform repeated and unrepentant acts of unlawful and/or immoral behavior against me or others, I not only accept you and others with whom I disagree as neighbors and friends, but I actually desire it. Jesus commanded me to love my neighbor, and because of Him I am happy (not merely reluctant or constrained) to obey. What will be the outcome of this, for you? Will you explicitly choose to exclude me and those who are like-minded with me because we believe your religion to be false, or will you demonstrate true tolerance and grace, which you took great pleasure in professing openly in front of over 100 people last night, in accepting those who want to be friends and neighbors, despite disagreement?
Peace to you,