Review: “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World”

In the West, Islam is popularly depicted as a religion rooted in hate and violence, as a belief system inherently antagonistic towards other religions — particularly Christianity — and as synonymous with terrorism and totalitarian theocratic rule.

But there is another face of Islam, a face that garners little attention on the evening news and is virtually ignored by those who traffic in — and profit from — divisive fear mongering. This is an Islam practiced by millions around the world, an Islam defined not by violence but by respect, an Islam that remains true to its founder’s revelation.

In The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (Angelico Press), John Andrew Morrow sets out to offer concrete textual reasons, from the Prophet Mohammed himself, for an understanding of Islam that moves beyond stereotypes and reasserts the truly inclusive foundations of Islamic belief.

Morrow presents six covenants written by Muhammad to Christian communities and argues that these letters and treaties, which proclaim and define peaceful and mutually respectful relationships with Christians, have the potential to serve as a foundational source of Islamic belief and practice, on equal footing with the Koran and the hadiths.

Bringing modern historical scholarship and textual criticism to bear in his study of these rare and largely forgotten documents, Morrow refutes the notion that Muslims and Christians necessarily stand at odds with one another, instead offering “a compelling case that the original intent of Muhammad was not to create a strictly Muslim state, but rather a confederation of the People of the Book,” (xii) and presents persuasive reasons for believing that “tolerance of Christians who are at peace with Muslims forms an intrinsic part of the Islamic tradition.” (108)

Morrow opens his book with a detailed but accessible biography of Muhammad, focusing in particular on the Prophet’s formative interactions with Jews and Christians, interactions that were characterized by mutual respect. This respect didn’t stem from watered-down syncretism, but rather from a robust adherence to core beliefs and an honest acknowledgement of the similarities and the differences between the Abrahamic faiths. This tolerance was “… undoubtedly founded on the recognition that theological matters that went beyond the most fundamental tenets of monotheism … were best discussed among scholars, theologians and esoterics, in line with the wise and balanced Islamic separation between the Outer and the Inner, between that which must be accepted by all Muslims and that which will necessarily be understood only by the few.” (59)

It is against this historical backdrop that Morrow presents the six covenants, devoting a chapter to each and offering commentary and critical evaluation of these “controversial and highly disputed document[s].” (65) His discussion is even-handed, though at times overly sympathetic. Morrow interacts with textual difficulties adroitly, but invariably casts his lots in favor of authenticity, even when at times evidence supporting such a conclusion is entirely lacking. For Morrow, the spirit of Islamic belief is able to bridge such evidential gaps. Fortunately, Morrow doesn’t allow this tendency to trump the evidence itself, and he readily acknowledges shortcomings in the textual traditions.

The middle section of the book consists of the texts themselves: Arabic transcriptions, photographic reproductions of extant manuscripts and a variety of corresponding English translations. I appreciate the inclusion of actual source documents, but as a lay-person, they meant little to me — I assume that scholars will find them useful.

In the final section of the book, Morrow discusses the specific challenges facing our understanding of these texts, including the records of witnesses associated with the various covenants, the transmission of the documents themselves and the broader contextual implication of the covenants. He concludes with suggestions for areas of further study in this nascent field. The book closes with an extensive appendix, detailed bibliography, maps, photos and a detailed index.

Thoughtful, accessible and scholarly, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World offers important evidence for understanding Islam as a religion founded on ideals of respect and tolerance, ideals that, if evinced today in the way that Muhammad originally intended, have the potential to redefine modern religious and cultural interactions.

More information about the covenants themselves can be found online at The Covenants Initiative , which also features an online petition for Muslims to sign declaring the binding nature of the covenants. More details about the book can be found on the Patheos Book Club page.

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with a means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury); but say, “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; and our God and your God is One, and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” Qur’an 29:46


Dan WilkinsonDan Wilkinson

Dan is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats. He blogs at CoolingTwilight.com.

  • Matt

    Fascinating! You always do exceptionally good book reviews, Dan. I know what I’ll be reading next.

    • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

      Thanks Matt!

  • http://www.wineskinsmusic.com/ W. Keith Moore

    Really good article Dan! I have a few Muslim friends who would concur. The other day I heard something on AFR that challenges your overall argument. Please speak to this, I want to know your take. The person on the radio said that the first half of the Quran is peaceful toward Christians and Jews. But he said the second half is more about “Killing the infidel Christians and Jews”. He said that Mohammed’s peaceful ideas changed. He pointed out that the radical Islamist follow the second half of the book. Does this have any validity? Thanks.

    • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

      Keith, why would you trust AFR over and against real life practicing Muslims? There certainly ARE passages in the Quran that can be used to justify violence, but of course there are similar texts in the Bible as well. How we interpret and put into practice any specific text depends on a variety of factors, including tradition and context. I’m not an expert on the Quran (or Islam or Mohammed), so I can’t answer your question directly, but when push comes to shove, I’m going to defer to the opinions of the vast majority of Muslim scholars, as well as the majority of practicing Muslims regarding the peaceful nature of Islam, rather than a “Christian” who claims to understand Islam better than most Muslims. I can rattle off a list of Bible verses advocating genocide, slavery, violence, theocracy, the subjugation of women and on and on. But does that mean that Christianity is a religion of hate and violence? Some would say yes, it obviously is! But the Christianity that I believe in and try to live out is about peace and love. Why are so many people unwilling to concede that Muslims may have a similar understanding of their faith?

      • http://www.wineskinsmusic.com/ W. Keith Moore

        Thanks Dan. And no bro, I don’t trust AFR! I like to listen to see what they are saying. And your answer is a good apologetic. That’s what I was looking for. I felt that very thing the day I heard it. Peace.

    • Richard Bath

      There is an interesting history of Qur’anic interpretation on this. The earlier “Meccan” suras of the Qur’an lack the overt antagonism towards Jews and Christians of the later “Medinan” Suras (i.e. 2, 5, 8, & 9). However traditional Islamic interpretation says that the later Suras abrogate or supersede the earlier ones and are thus more authoritative on matters of inter-religious relationships. Particular note should be taken of what the Tafsirs (or commentaries) say regarding the rules of abrogation.

      Last century several prominent Islamic scholars challenged this particular rule (most notably Mahmoud Mohammad Taha of Sudan). However, in 1985 in what was one of the most significant events in recent Islamic history, he was publicly hanged in Khartoum. In many ways this event also symbolized the death of progressive Islam in most of the Muslim world.

      • http://www.wineskinsmusic.com/ W. Keith Moore

        Thanks Richard. Good insight. It’s complicated; as is everything. Peace.

  • DelDave

    I don’t get it: How could Dan Wilkinson write a positive review of a book whose entire argument is based on documents that Wilkinson himself in his review acknowledges to be forgeries “entirely lacking” in evidence of authenticity? Wouldn’t it be more accurate for a reviewer to say that Morrow wrote a book that draws dangerously misleading conclusions that militate against Islam’s actual bloody history, and it does so because it is based on forged documents?

    • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

      Hi DelDav. I should have been more clear. There are six separate covenants, and the quality of textual support varies with each. I’ve updated the post to try and better reflect that fact: “even when at times evidence supporting such a conclusion is entirely lacking.” There’s also a big difference between lacking evidence favoring authenticity and having evidence that they are forgeries. I don’t think Morrow ever intentionally misleads, he’s honest and open about the textual difficulties facing some of the documents.

      • DelDave

        Yes, but you yourself noted Morrow’s wishful-thinking approach to his topic. The fact that he included spurious texts at all calls the credibility of the entire book into question, because the same bias that decided to include those texts effects everything else in the book. To illustrate the point: You say that these texts have been “largely forgotten.” Well, if this is true, then Muslims obviously don’t pay much attention to them. WHY?
        The obvious reason is that Islamic scholars consider them either spurious or contextual rather than precedent-setting. And if Islamic scholars don’t pay much attention to them, then why should we? We as non-Muslims can’t tell Muslims how to interpret their religion, and if Muslims interpret their religion violently, then that’s the version of Islam we must deal with.
        Also, what good do the “peaceful” Muslims do for us if their religion tells them to never fight as our allies against brother Muslims? What we get is attacks by jihadists, followed by the disavowal of the attacks by “peaceful” Muslims, who nonetheless do very little to come to our aid.
        Morrow’s bias causes him to hold up these 6 texts as being significant and view “peaceful” Muslims as adherents to Islam’s true nature, as if this is supposed to make us feel guilty for noticing that Muslim countries are among the most repressive, corrupt, and poverty-stricken in the world, and that Jihadists are wreaking havoc and defacto genocides around the world.
        Wouldn’t it be more productive for us to look into the heart of Islam’s holy texts to find out what motivates the jihadists, and then ask ourselves whether their interpretations of those texts are valid from an Islamic viewpoint (instead of a Christian viewpoint)? Because if their interpretation is theologically valid, we have no basis for saying that jihadi Islam is not legitimate Islam. Who are we Christians to tell Muslims how to interpret their religion?

        • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

          Does the fact that the Bible includes 2 Peter and 2 Timothy call the entire credibility of the Christian canon into question? If a scholar treats those texts as authentic Petrine and Pauline epistles, should we entirely discount their understanding of Christianity?

          • DelDave

            You’re talking apples vs. oranges. To tell the difference, look at how the theologians and religious scholars interpret the texts in question, look at the role of those verses in history, and look at how members of the two faiths interpret those verses today.
            The argument you’re making reminds me of those who like to point out acts of violence driven by interpretations of Christianity such as the bombing of abortion clinics. The argument sounds good until you realize that, in the entire history of the world, a grand total of about 8 people have been killed by anti-abortion radicals. To equate the actions of a few loonies with what is mainstream Islamic thought in much of the world is absurd. It’s also absurd to point to historical times of Christian aggression, because those historical facts actually reveal how Christianity can be reformed. Meanwhile, Islam is proving every day that it can’t reform, and we endanger ourselves with wishful thinking that it can reform, on the basis of spurious or near-forgotten documents that Muslims pay no attention to.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Comparing religious texts of questionable authorship isn’t apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing…McIntosh with Honey Crisp. But you’re right that these issues are a matter of interpretation. And if there are Muslims who interpret these and other Islamic texts as an impetus for peace and tolerance, then I’m certainly not going to argue with that understanding.

          • DelDave

            I agree about not arguing with Muslims who say that Islamic texts are an impetus for peace and tolerance, but they’re not the Muslims who concern us. The reason why is that we, as “misguided infidels,” have no say in the Islamic dialogue about the nature of Islam, particularly among the jihadists who concern us, and who view us with contempt. All we can do is sit on the sidelines of that debate, which the jihadists could very well win.
            Also, while we be may be forced to sit on the sidelines of that debate, we cannot sit on the sidelines regarding jihadists of any stripe, whether violent or “moderate,” such as Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore it’s important for us to focus on what drives the jihadists ideologically, try to understand where jihadists and the peaceful Muslims you cite diverge, and draw our own conclusions.
            As you can probably tell, I have a lot of interest in this topic and have been studying it for a while, and unfortunately I find that the jihadists are much more true to both the letter and the spirit of Islam’s “holy” texts, which I have read extensively, including four entire compilations of hadiths and two interpretations of Sharia.
            My point here is that, while I certainly wouldn’t want to turn peaceful Muslims against their peaceful interpretation of Islam, I also wouldn’t want to bet the house on a group of people whom I believe would lose a theological debate with a jihadist scholar.
            To hang our hopes on the texts cited in this book, two of which I read years ago, is delusional, which is self-evident from the fact that Morrow included two obvious forgeries.
            Lives are at stake. Do you really want to endorse a message that Islam is peaceful when a straightforward reading of Islam’s “holy” texts, history, and current events all say otherwise?
            Do you really think that a believing Muslim would take a bullet to protect your life if jihadists were to attack? What would be the scriptural basis for your belief? On the other hand, I can show you plenty of Islamic scriptural quotes that command otherwise.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            You paint with broad strokes that confirm the opening paragraph of my post. As I allude to there, one can understand Islam and its relationship with the world at large in multiple ways. You ably describe one such understanding. But others, including Morrow, have a different one.

          • DelDave

            Dan, I appreciate the way you’re pursuing this dialogue to it’s logical conclusion, and your posting may have brought us to it: Morrow does indeed present an alternative understanding of Islam, but unfortunately it is an imaginary one. It is based in part on forged texts, which an intelligent author would have omitted if they were not necessary for his thesis because their forged status tends to weaken the argument rather than strengthen it.
            The Islam Morrow presents is also imaginary because Morrow is not a Muslim; what he’s doing is trying to project western values of tolerance onto Islam so that Westerners will see something in Islam that makes them think they can comprehend it and no longer be alarmed by it’s threats.
            This book would have been much more convincing if it had been written by a Muslim, preferably a Muslim with a substantial following of other Muslims. Unfortunately, Islamic scholars don’t write books like this (if you know otherwise, prove me wrong. I’ll be glad you did), and the reason why is obvious to anyone who’s studied Islamic scripture: The notions of Morrow’s Islam are foreign to authentic Islamic thinking, particularly after “the closing of the door of Ijtihad.”
            There’s another important point which I failed to mention in the previous post: The 6 covenants presented presume that the Christians are living within the context of an Islamic state. That is, the tolerance described is only accorded to Christians who accept Muslim overlordship. This is because Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. are all considered to be in a state of war with Muslims unless they submit to Islamic authority and pay the jizya tax.
            The realization of this point leads us to the final absurdity of Morrow’s book: He appears to be subtly proposing that the non-Muslims of the West submit to Islamic authority and accept the “tolerance” that the 6 covenants he cites offer. If this is true, that would be like asking us all to lay our heads out on a guillotine and trust the guy holding the rope’s promise that he won’t drop the blade. How’s that promise working out in the Middle East right now?
            If Morrow DIDN’T intend to say that we should all submit to Islamic authority, then he misled us all by implying that the terms of the covenants he presents somehow apply to us. THEY DON’T — obviously, because we who have not accepted Islamic authority haven’t signed onto the covenants.
            So what do you think: Is Morrow proposing that we submit to Islamic authority, or is he misleading us by implying that the 6 covenants apply to us?
            Which is it?

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Morrow doesn’t think there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the documents are forged. That’s his scholarly and personal opinion. Morrow is a Muslim, and many Muslim scholars endorse his work.

            As for other books by Muslim scholars advocating a moderate form of Islam, try The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity by Seyyed Hossein Nasr or Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

            Finally, I didn’t read anything in this book that would lead me to believe that Morrow is proposing that we submit to Islamic authority. He argues that the Covenants are binding upon Muslims in their interactions with Christians, not that Christians must submit to Islamic rule.

            You obviously have a lot of passion about this issue and I’m unlikely to say anything that will change your mind. Which leaves me wondering: do you see any room for irenic dialogue between Muslims and Christians? Is there any way to move forward towards peaceful coexistence? Or, from your perspective, is Islam such an inherently violent and toxic belief system that the conflict and bloodshed will continue until one side completely subjugates or destroys the other?

          • DelDave

            I apologize for confusing John Andrew Morrow with John Morrow, a peace activist who it turns out passed away in 2009.

            While John Andrew Morrow is free to think whatever he wants about those texts’ authenticity, you yourself said that evidence of their authenticity was “entirely lacking.” The fact that Morrow wishes those documents to be authentic and treats them as if they were authentic does not in fact make them authentic. However, it may make Morrow delusional.

            If he treats obvious forgeries as if they were genuine, do you think this would really help him win over Islamic scholars who believe differently from him?

            Moreover, you say that the covenants Morrow cites are only binding upon Muslims in their interactions with Christians, but this is not true. Go back and look at those covenants again (which is easy to do because you provide the link to the book’s website). You’ll find that they presume that the Christians are living under the authority of an Islamic government, and that this political submission to Islam is the Christian side of the covenant.

            REALLY. Go back and see for yourself. Therefore, the covenants only apply to Christians living within an Islamic polity. In fact, if you assume otherwise, the wording of the covenants make no sense.

            As far as me and my passion is concerned, it only comes from being in close proximity to the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers. I’m willing to be persuaded that Islam is peaceful, but it has my full attention and I keep an ear out for weasel words.

            As to whether there is a way to move forward to peaceful coexistence, that’s not for you or me to say. We may want to live in peace, but we are under attack, because Islamic ideology calls on Muslims to wage jihad against the unbelievers until they either convert to Islam or accept Muslim overlordship and pay the jizya.

            I have seen debates before between peaceful Muslims and more literalist ones, and the peaceful Muslims don’t hold up well. If they can’t win the intellectual debate within the Ummah, then how can we expect them to lead the way toward a revolution of peaceful Islam that turns the jihadists into lovers of peace?

            Instead of engaging in wishful thinking, why don’t we propose that John Andrew Morrow have a theological debate with literalist Islamic scholar and see how well his logic and reason holds up under cross examination? If Morrow hasn’t engaged in this kind of debate and isn’t available for one, how about looking at the debates that are available on the web? After a quick search, I was able to find this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSKg7DvlNic
            Plenty of others are available. How about posting some debates that should help separate fact from wishful thinking.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Rarely have I seen any meaningful progress on complex and contentious issues come from formal debates — more often than not they’re more about rhetorical acumen instead of irenic dialogue.

            Not to belabor the point, but I clarified my statement about a lack of evidence to read “even when at times evidence supporting such a conclusion is entirely lacking.” As I said before, the textual evidence behind each individual document varies, and a lack of evidence still doesn’t mean it’s a forgery, it simply means we can’t (or shouldn’t) declare it definitely authentic. And I still think Morrow was honest about these challenges.

            In the end, it seems to me that we’re at an impasse. You think Islam is inherently dangerous; I think only some forms of it are. You think peaceful overtures from Muslims are delusional and essentially meaningless, or else they function as a religious Trojan Horse, trying to smuggle in theocratic oppression in the guise of inclusiveness. I take moderate Muslims at their word and think that their understand of Islam as a religion of peace, compassion, social justice and respect for others has merit.

          • DelDave

            Simple question: Do the covenants cited by the book presume that the Christians being offered the covenant are subjects of an Islamic state? Yes or no.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            My cursory reading of them is no, they don’t necessarily make that presumption.

          • DelDave

            Then my recommendation is that you should read the covenants more thoroughly. If you’re going to review a book like this, you should have read it deeply enough to know what you’re talking about. If you still can’t see the presumptions of Muslim overlordship after a thorough read of the covenants, let me know and I’ll point them out to you.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            I actually took the time to read through them all again when you asked your question. I’m sorry my reading still wasn’t thorough enough for you. Anyone wanting to read the covenants for themselves is free to do so and to form their own conclusions about what they say. They’re available online here: covenantsinitiative.com.

          • L6313

            Sorry to intrude, but I have read the dialogue between you both, and enjoyed the intelligent and passionate debate very much, but I just have to make sure I fully comprehend the outcome of this discussion.

            You both read the same thing, and disagree on the interpretation of the meaning of that thing, you both read.

            If that is the case, it sounds oddly familiar.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Indeed…I feel as if I’ve had this conversation many times before…

          • DelDave

            For example, from The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad to the Christians of Persia, we have:

            “And even as they honor and respect Me, so shall Moslems care for that people as being under our protection, and whensoever any distress or discomfort shall overtake them, Moslems shall hold themselves in duty bound to aid and care for them, for they are a people subject to my Nation, obedient to their word, whose helpers also they are.”

            Did you notice that the Christians are “under our protection”…”for they are a people subject to my Nation”? This means that they are dhimmis, that is “protected” subjects of the Islamic state.

            Apparently you think I’m misinterpreting these words. What is your alternative interpretation, which leads to your conclusion that the Christians referred to in this covenant are NOT subjects of an Islamic state?

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            I’m not going to debate the details of every Covenant with you. Morrow discuss these issues in his book…I suggest you actually read it if you’re so intent on refuting his position.

            Yes, parts of the Covenant with the Christians of Persia addresses Christians living in … would you believe … Persia! And so it has guidelines applicable to Christians living in Muslim countries. But this Covenant also deals with Christians living anywhere: “All pious believers shall deem it their bounden duty to defend believers and to aid them wheresoever they may be, whether far or near, and throughout Christendom shall protect the places where they conduct worship, and those where their monks and priests dwell. Everywhere, in mountains, on the plains, in towns and in waste places, in deserts, and wheresoever they may be, that people shall be protected, both in their faith and in their property, both in the West and in the East, both on sea and land.”

          • DelDave

            “I’m not going to debate the details of every Covenant with you”? Translation: Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve read these covenants and every one of them makes the same presumption of Christian dhimmitude that “Covenant with the Christians of Persia” does. The meaning is quite clear, so whatever rationale Morrow uses to go beyond what the texts all say is about as valid as his use of the two obvious forgeries.

            Also, I’m surprised that you’re surprised by Christians living in Persia. They had a huge Christian population, primarily of Nestorians, who flourished throughout Asia until the Muslim ruler Timur decided to wipe them out.

            You can read about the Nestorian Church via these two links, as long as these aren’t also facts you don’t want to be confused by:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorianism

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_East

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            It’s because of that sort of presumptuous “translation” that I’m loath to continue this conversation.

            The facts are these:

            1. You think Islam is inherently violent and dangerous.
            2. Many, many Muslims believe in and practice a form of Islam that is centered around peace, compassion, social justice and respect for others.
            3. You think their understanding is either delusional or deliberately deceptive.
            4. I think their understanding is worth hearing out and giving a chance — that it should be welcomed rather than fought against.
            5. You think the covenants are obvious forgeries and that they don’t support the conclusions many Muslim scholars make regarding them.
            6. I think the conclusions of Morrow and others have merit and are worthy of continued academic study.
            7. You have very deeply held convictions regarding these matters and seem unlikely to change your thoughts about any of these issues.
            8. I see little room for productive conversation between us given the facts above.

          • DelDave

            Now you’re just stonewalling and attempting to redirect the conversation away from the facts and toward me. It’s understandable why you would do this; you don’t like what the facts say.

            Because you’re shutting down this conversation, it is indeed over. However, to anyone else who has been following this discussion, please look at the actual source texts, both of these 6 covenants (which by definition ALWAYS must involve a mutual agreement between two parties and cannot be one-sided), and of the Quran and hadiths as well. Draw your own conclusions, and don’t take the word of people like Morrow or Wilkinson for anything.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Of course people should investigate these matters for themselves…I wouldn’t want it any other way. And if they want to better understand the moderate Muslim position, they should actually read what Morrow (or Hossein Nasr or Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf or any of the numerous voices on Patheos Muslim) has to say about these issues.

          • DelDave

            Yeah…just double check to see whether the source texts these guys reference are forgeries or weak hadiths that Muslims on the whole pay no attention to.

            Superficial understandings pave the highway to Hell…just ask the Christians of the Middle East.

            Learning to separate propaganda from fact is a matter of life or death, literally.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Do you ever have anything to say that isn’t inflammatory? I get it. I understand where you’re coming from. You’ve made that explicitly and abundantly clear. You’ve had 12 lengthy comments to air your position. What I find deeply troubling is not the particulars of our disagreement, but the tone of your rhetoric, the sweeping generalizations, the dogmatic assertions, your resolute certainty and your intentional antagonism. Can you understand why I find it challenging to dialogue with you? I know you feel passionately about your position, I know you think your cause is just and true and noble. But it saddens me to see such unmitigated divisiveness repeated again and again. In many ways, I fear such anti-Islamic rhetoric more than I fear Muslim extremism. You asked earlier if I thought that “a believing Muslim would take a bullet to protect your life if jihadists were to attack?” I know Muslims who would do so. I know Muslims who believe and practice peace and love and tolerance and inclusion and who I would trust with my life. And I’ve had many conversations with Muslims that, though we disagree on some issues, are still characterized by respect and humility. But when I talk to you, I’m confronted with the exact opposite tendencies: I hear fear and hate and hubris. I’m sorry if that’s overly blunt, but I’m trying to be honest about why I think further dialogue with you is likely to be highly unproductive.

          • DelDave

            Sir, my latest posting didn’t even refer to you. Why do you take it so personally? As far as I can see, it’s simply because you lost the logical argument, based on facts.

            Moreover, your personal relationships appear to be clouding your thinking. My problem is not with Muslims, among whom are many perfectly nice people. My problem is with Islam as an ideology and the Islamists who truly believe in it. There’s a big difference between a Muslim who only remains a Muslim because he or she knows that apostasy carries the penalty of death and the true-believing Muslim who would be the executioner of such an apostate.

            I don’t know which category your Muslim friends fall into, but it’s starting to sound like you may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

            You know, when you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            I honestly can’t think of a response that proves my point better than what you yourself just said. So…I’ll step out on that note. I wish you well … ma’a salama.

          • DelDave

            Likewise…

          • Philip Beck

            Dude, you’re not half-bad at your own “rhetoric, the sweeping generalizations, the dogmatic assertions, your resolute certainty”. I guess it would be too unpleasant to not ignore what informed people know about islamofacism since high school seniors have been alive. Check out my tee-shirt, and give your kitties a head scratch for me.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Was anything you just said a valuable addition to the conversation?

          • Philip Beck

            Yet, you had to respond. Did you check out my tee-shirt and cuddle your kitties?

            Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service information officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. RIP Gentlemen.

  • Chuck Gommer

    I do not doubt the scholarship of Wilkinson…but the “test” of the “proposition” is the reality of what is taking place in the world today!…If there is an “ISLAM, founded on the ideals of respect and tolerance”….where do we see it today in our world? Where do we “hear” the Islamic leaders of the world condeming the violence of the “few”….where do we “see” the leaders calling for respect and tolerance? I would join them them if they made themselves known!

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Everywhere. But peace and reconciliation don’t draw media attention. If you truly desire to find it, it is present on the internet. You need only look.

    • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson
    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      One of my favorite eateries at the mall where I used to work was owned by a Turkish family, who were Muslim. I got to know several of them over the years I worked there. They were lovely, hard working people, treated all their customers with great respect, and served the best food in the mall. Sadly their place closed recently, likely because renting a space at the mall these days is exorbitant, unless you are a franchise.

      The family owns another restaurant near my current job. They make the best philly cheesesteak sandwiches in town, and their place of business is very popular.

      Last year, a gorgeous young woman in a habib, checked out my purchases at the store where I was shopping for Christmas gifts. She had a wonderful smile and a lovely accent. She helped make the end of my shopping experience at that store a highly positive one.

      Years ago, I worked with a couple of Palestinian brothers from Israel, in the country for college. I hope that when they went back home, that the tensions between Jews and Muslims in that country did not affect them adversely. They were a lot of fun. They taught me how to curse in Arabic. I sure wish I remembered those words.

      I have never had a negative experience with any person I have met whose faith is Muslim. I found them, not much different than I, working jobs, having personal goals, possessing senses of humor, sharing stories about family and growing up.

  • Chuck Gommer

    Atalanta…you “evade” my probe. I am not “looking to the media”…I’m looking to persons, perhaps like “you”..I am “flesh and blood”…I am a Human being in serach of the “truth”….I am looking for the “truth tellers in Islam”….I offer myself as a “truth teller” from Christianity!

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Chuck, this is the information and digital age. Respectfully, your use of this medium proves you are capable of the benefits it has to offer. I could Google it for you, but I don’t have time to do that. I do not evade your question, but rather challenge you, the seeker of knowledge and information, to use the tools at your disposal to find that which you seek because it does exist. You not being aware of it does not mean it does not exist.

  • Chuck Gommer

    TO ATALANTA: I am sorry that you do not have time for me and my quest! I thought the question was important to you. I wish you well on your pursuits! I am still in search of a “truth teller” for Islam! I forgive your “condesention” to this old man…you sound very young. May the ancient one…the creator of all that is….bless you with favor and goodness.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Chuck, forgive me. You seem like a lovely man. As a retired minister, I would likely enjoy meeting you for breakfast to discuss theology and the ways of the world and the Divine as I have done with my own retired minister friend. Dan has provided a lovely starting point for resources in response to one of your previous comments. If I gave you links to some other sites, would that be alright with you?

  • Rebecca Trotter

    I belong to a facebook group called “Americans and Muslims can be friends” which has some Americans and A LOT of Muslims from all over the world. One of the things which has been particularly interesting about the group is getting a chance to see how people understand Islam from the inside. Some of it is questionable – there are some Muslim men who are completely fixated on the hijab, which always starts a huge fight. But mostly, it’s people saying things like “even when life is hard, trust Allah because he cares for you”. Or “may Allah bring peace, love and understanding between all peoples”. An appreciation for the humanity of all people, regardless of what they look like, what their status or even what religion they practice is also a prevalant theme. It’s very non-political, tolerant and concerned with the same things all people are concerned with – peace, love, friendship, being a better person, etc.

    It is absurd for someone to think that they can look as an outsider and declare the truth of Islam and its practice based on news reports, certain leaders (who I regularly see mocked by other Muslims) and the acts of terrorists. It is the people who practice Islam whose job it is to define and understand it, not outside observers. From my experiences both online and offline, the negative view of Islam that many Americans have is nothing but ignorance, arrogance and bigotry.

    Can Islam go bad? Yes, and that’s something most Muslims are keenly aware of. (There’s a meme that gets put up regularly by Muslims in this group I belong to which says, “Islam is perfect. I am not. If I do something wrong, blame me, not Islam.”) But all religions can go bad. There are even violent, Buddhist hardliners in central Asia! And it’s not just religion. All ideas can go bad as well. It’s part of being human – we can take anything and use it for evil.

    • DelDave

      Just curious: How do the “non-political, tolerant…people…concerned with peace, love, friendship, being a better person, etc” get around the requirement that apostates from Islam be killed?

      • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

        Annnnd that’s the comment that just got you blocked off this blog. A quick look at your Disqus history across any number blogs shows your … shall we say, passion for degrading Islam. This isn’t the blog for that.

        • Rebecca Trotter

          The reason those are news stories is the same reason that it’s a news story when someone here engages in extreme child abuse. Child abuse, while grossly under reported, makes the news not because it’s just so common. It makes the news because it’s the sort of outrageous story that people gobble up and makes money for the news organization.

          It’s the same thing with people who kill apostates in the name of religion. It’s news precisely because it’s outrageous and people gobble up the outrageous. There are countries which engender this sort of thing, of course. Largely it’s places like Pakistan where the government’s hold on power is tenuous so they are loathe to get into conflicts with citizens. Or they are countries like Saudi Arabia which use religion as a way to maintain totalitarian control over the populace. But most Muslims live in places like Indonesia, Turkey and Algeria where they enjoy a good deal of freedom. Those Muslims, who are by far the majority, take a very dim view of countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the way they practice Islam. In fact, in the group I am in, people talking derisively about Pakistanis and Afghans has been an issue which has lead to complaints about bigotry from Pakistani members. The places where killing of apostates happens are viewed as an embarrassment, much like many Christians view Westboro Baptist church.

          • Dave

            Don’t you think it’s inappropriate to equate a fringe group like the Westboro Baptist Church with entire countries who set the norms for hundreds of millions of people? (Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Gaza Strip at minimum)? If hundreds of millions of people condone the death penalty for apostasy, don’t you think we should be speaking out against it and demanding that Muslims take an official stance on this issue, requiring a “yes” or “no” answer, no weasel words? Shouldn’t we require them to reject the hadiths that demand the death penalty for apostasy? Could you really be a friend to someone who would kill an apostate?

          • Rebecca Trotter

            Not so long ago, the majority of Christians lived in theocracies where supposed witches, homosexuals and heretics were put to death per scripture. I’m going to go way out on a limb and guess you don’t view Christianity as an inherently dangerous religion which requires the faithful to do such things. It’s the same thing with Islam.

          • Rebecca Trotter

            I’ve heard half a dozen different explanations over the years. If you weren’t such a bigot, you might have been able to find some Muslim friends by now and they’d be able to share the explanation they hold with you. There are plenty of Muslim writers and bloggers who have shared their views, including here at patheos. If you were really interested, it’s easy enough to go right to the Muslim community and find answers. I know it’s much more fun to get your information from biased, third hand sources so you can maintain an air of self-righteous alarm. It’s fun, in an immature, self indulgent sort of way. I get it. But it’s lazy and makes you look pretty dumb.

      • Rebecca Trotter

        Just as Christians do when faced with scripture which seems to violate their conscience, they dig deeper, try to find alternate understandings, balance one verse against others or find a reason to explain it away. Just like not every Christian is a Dominionist wack job, not every Muslim is feels the need or desire to embrace the most extreme, hardline interpretation of their faith.

    • Philip Beck

      I believe that Muhammad posed as an apostle of God for his
      own benefit. His whole adult life was filled with lustfulness (12 marriages and
      sex with children, slaves and concubines), rapes, unprovoked warfare, conquests
      and unmerciful slaughters. What Muhammad
      produced for the Qur’an (which I understand to have been compiled several
      decades after his death using verbal accounts from followers) is now a compilation
      of gibberish consisting of evil verses which superseded earlier peaceful
      verses. These verses in Arabic are intended to poetically “tickle”
      the ears of Arab and sympathetic listeners. I understand Islam to be a caustic blend of paganism and manipulated Holy Bible verses. Muhammad, Islam’s lone “prophet”, concocted his religion in order to satiate his lust for power, money and sex. He was the first Islamic terrorist.
      They terrorized in the 7th century just as they terrorize in the 21st century in the name of their religion. In my opinion, if all these barbarous attacks (or only one or two for that matter) had been perpetrated by members of the Southern Baptist Convention, the entire world (with the exception of a majority of the world’s Muslim population of course) would loudly and simultaneously condemn the SBC and every member
      of the SBC for chosing not to put a forceful end to the savagery. As it is, otherwise decent people are allowing the world to be held hostage by
      imams of a 7th century cult.
      But, then again, the folks down at Westboro Baptist Church fortunately give warped legitimacy to the argument that some non-Muslims (let’s say Christians because they’re the “low-hanging fruit most often) are extremists “just like” a “small percentage” of Muslims.

      • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

        Your understanding of Islam is certainly consistent with the beliefs of many Christians about that faith. I can’t offer you a wholesale apologetic for Islam — I’m still a Christian! — but I’d encourage you to take a look at what many Muslims really believe about Mohammed and the Qur’an and their faith as a whole. A great place to start is the Patheos Muslim Portal. They even have a handy Recommended Reading List.

        A large percentage of the world does think that Christianity is violent, hateful, misogynistic, bigoted, racist, and homophobic because of the actions and beliefs of groups like the SBC, the AFA, IFB churches and schools and (as you point out) the Westboro Baptist “Church.” Sadly, many, many Christians are silently complicit in the abuses perpetuated by these organizations. The fact of the matter is that Christianity and Islam have checkered pasts (and presents), extreme elements, difficult texts and questionable interpretations. For me, the way to move forward is to focus on the positives that we share rather than the shortcomings of others.

        • Philip Beck

          Are you equating current-time muslim atrocities with anything recent resulting from “abuses by Christians”? Tell the class what you know that we don’t Dan. Do you have any evidence that Westboro’s congregation is growing beyond their own progeny? These “actions and beliefs” of groups like the SBC, AFA, IFB are resulting in the murders of people where Dan? Help us out, we’ll make an effort to take care of it. Promise.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Is a “Muslim atrocity” the same as “an atrocity committed by a Muslim”? Should Ariel Castro be identified as a Christian kidnapper and rapist? Does a gay person living in Uganda think that Christianity is all about peace and love? Or how about the fact that most of the terrorist activity in the U.S. in recent years has not come from Muslims, but from radical Christianists, white supremacists and far-right militia groups? What about the Christian love coming from adoptive Christian parents? And please, tell me more about how the IFB is innocent of causing any harm in the world.

            But the point here is not to tally up the atrocities that occur on either side and see who comes out ahead. We should acknowledge evil and wrongdoing wherever they occur. What we shouldn’t do is make ignorant, bigoted statements equating Muslims with terrorists and Islam with violence.

          • Philip Beck

            But Dan aren’t you lumping all Christians in with recent atrocities that have taken place in America? Do you personally know Ariel Castro’s heart and soul? Your recollection of “most of the terrorist activity in the U.S.” has enormous flaws Dan, but if you want to make ignorant, bigoted statements, that’s your prerogative, you’re the blog’s host. Conveniently forget Fort Hood already? How about those bumps in the road that took place the morning of September 11, 2001 (not recent enough for you Dan?)?

            Lastly, what’s your issue with the Irish Film Board, the Insurance Fraud Bureau and the Independent Fashion Bloggers? What’s my point? If a google search doesn’t direct me to your version of IFB, then it must not warrant first page attention as my IFB examples do.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            Not only do you apparently not know how to click on hyperlinks, you also seem to have entirely missed my point.

      • Rebecca Trotter

        Clearly you are not the sort of person who is willing to reconsider your opinions, having magically come into possession of all the right ones. So discussing things with you is akin to trying to reason with a know-it-all eleven year old. You must be a lot of fun at family get togethers.

        The fact remains that I know many Muslims, have had Muslims as close friends, socialized with Muslims since childhood, etc. In addition my husband was raised Muslim until his family converted to Christianity when he was 11. I am well aware, that as is the case with all religions including Christianity, Muslims can interpret their text and history to encourage violence, hatred of the other, intolerance and oppression. But my own experience has demonstrated to me that it is easy, normal and common for Muslims to understand their religion in just the opposite way.

        Islam is a younger religion than Christianity and is making many of the same mistakes Christians made in the past. And like us, once it gets pushed to far, such mistakes will increasingly be rejected and abandoned. In a lot of ways, they are just a bit behind us, but given the nature of the world today, they are catching on more quickly than we did.

        But you know everything and have your nice little theories which like all good conspiracy theories embrace whatever fits while ignoring the rest and think that proves something. So enjoy your miserable paranoia. The rest of us will continue working to build relationships and connections which makes humanity better for all of us. It’s you loss.

        • Philip Beck

          Did I attack you with childish rhetoric as you did with your response to me Ms. Trotter? If so, I didn’t mean to. I only sought to set aside the tendency to use moral relevance in discussing a barbaric group of people who are killing in the name of their prophet. When the perpetrator yells allahu akbar while in the act of murdering innocent human beings, what conclusion am I supposed to reach? The word for the week will be “struthious”. Don’t be struthious.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            You’re skating on dangerously thin ice here Philip. Phrases like “a barbaric group of people who are killing in the name of their prophet” don’t do anything in terms of advancing irenic dialogue. I’ve let all your comments stand so far because I think they’re representative of a widespread attitude towards Islam — an understanding that I vehemently disagree with. But please don’t be so struthious as to think that you can continue to push the limits of inflammatory speech. I share the frustration and anger you feel towards those who commit violence in the name of God or Allah or any given deity — but it’s entirely unhelpful to continue to fan the flames of hate. As Rebecca said, some of us choose to work “to build relationships and connections which make humanity better for all of us.” If that’s not something you want to be part of, so be it, but this forum isn’t the place to actively work against such efforts.

          • Philip Beck

            The fact of the matter is you have not “let all my comments stand”. Maybe you can sit back in your office chair as blog host in “Montana” and have a grip on the horror that those hundreds of people had to endure when their annual Boston Marathon exploded beneath them. As a logical person, I categorize a “pressure cooker bomb” as barbaric, and the Islamic punks that built it, delivered it and made it explode, blowing the legs off of innocent Americans, did it on behalf of their prophet Muhammad at the urging of current leaders of their religion. Your moral relativism doesn’t work for the broken bodies resulting from today’s muslim thugs. Go ahead and pick the low-hanging Christian fruit (We’re not likely going to feel compelled to take a knife to your throat– justifying doing so because we think you “blasphemed” our religion.) in your attempt to be “balanced” and irenic. Realists like me see right through you Dan.

          • http://coolingtwilight.com/ Dan Wilkinson

            “Let your comments stand” means I haven’t deleted or banned you … yet. You continue to conflate violent extremism with Islam-in-general in an entirely unhelpful and decidedly inaccurate way. I abhor violence. You can run through the details of every violent act committed by a Muslim in the last fourteen-hundred years and I’ll agree that those were horrible acts. And likewise with violent acts committed by Christians. I’m not sure how you equate that position with moral relativism. Terrorism and murder area wrong regardless of the professed faith of the perpetrators. But what I really wonder is why you put scare quotes around Montana.


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