A Crooked Take on the “Straight Path”

Responding to a Muslim participating in the opening worship service at the PCUSA General Assembly in June 2016.

 

The claim that Mr. Said is a nice man, and therefore would never seek the conversion of non-Muslims, is a non sequitur. Indeed, a nice person who truly believed that Islam was the sole pathway to heaven would do everything in his power to lead non-Muslims to submit to Allah… I have nothing against Mr. Said seeking to convert non-Muslims to Islam — it’s what I would expect of a devout Muslim who has the courage of his convictions….My problem was not with Mr. Said, but with the GA leadership and their wrong-headed thinking which caused them to invite an anti-gospel proponent to lead a Christian assembly to worship the Trinitarian God (whom Mr. Said as a good Muslim rejects).

My last two blogs apparently caused a bit of a ripple in the world of liberal PCUSA leaders. I learned on July 1 that General Presbyter Mike Cole, executive of the New Covenant Presbytery (whom I have met in the past and found to be a congenial fellow), recently sent an email missive out to presbytery members in response to the stir caused by the worship leadership of a Muslim at the PCUSA General Assembly (GA), and by my interpretation of the import of that Muslim man’s prayer. Likewise, a group of theological liberals in a Facebook group pilloried my comments, complaining that I wasn’t being accurate or fair.

Apparently, my words cannot be trusted for the following reasons:

  • I am no longer a PCUSA minister, having committed the unforgivable sin of pastoring a church that decided to leave the PCUSA for a new denomination (ECO) during my tenure there, and having had my ordination credentials transferred from the PCUSA as well.
  • I am no longer even a pastor at that church, having left it in obedience to God’s new call on my life and ministry. Mr. Cole describes it this way: “His ministry is the conversion of Muslims and he regularly blogs on the evils of Islam.”
  • My perspective cannot be trusted because of my “background.”
  • The clause “lead us to the straight path,” which Mr. Said prayed in Arabic as the opening recitation from the Fatiha, does not mean what I think it does but is capable of a wide range of meanings.
  • Mr. Said would never pray to Allah for the conversion of Presbyterians (or any non-Muslims) because many of the GA commissioners personally met him and he is a nice man. Indeed, Mr. Said is “Exhibit A” of a moderate Muslim whose participation in the GA interfaith service demonstrates his denunciation of violence and terrorism, and opposition of radical Islam. How deplorable that someone like me would speak ill of a Muslim wanting to be part of the solution to terrorism rather than part of the problem.
  • Muslims really love Jews and Christians, because according to one Muslim scholar Mike Cole consulted, “The Quran refers to both religions as good and worthy of following.”
  • The scholar further declared with no apparent irony, “Islam orders us to respect other faiths. We believe that everyone is entitled to choose their faith and belief system.”
  • The clear intention of the Muslim’s prayer was to “…affirm Presbyterians in faith and stand with us for peace and justice and against violence.” My blogs by contrast were shameful, demonstrated by the fact that I would “…choose to twist the intent to be something nefarious and devious.”

The first three claims are ad hominem attacks leveled against me as an untrustworthy source because of who I am. It’s always the sign of weak argumentation to attack the messenger rather than the message. Truth stands or falls on the basis of its own merits, not on the merits of the speaker. Balaam’s ass did not have much pedigree to recommend itself as a divine messenger, but Balaam would have ignored it to his own peril (see Numbers 22:21-34). What Mike Cole says about me is true, though slanted. I served as a PCUSA minister from 1982-2000, then as an EPC minister from 2000-2007, and then again as a PCUSA minister from 2007-2013. Since 2015 I have been working in a mission to the Muslim world, seeking to introduce Muslims to Jesus Christ and to warn the larger world of the dangers of Islam as a system of beliefs and behaviors that point away from salvation in Christ and toward eternal destruction. I would hope that Mike Cole, as a fellow Christian, would wholeheartedly applaud that endeavor.

The claim that my background disqualifies my comments as “biased” leaves me almost speechless. It’s true that I was born to a Muslim father, was raised in Saudi Arabia, still have many Muslim relatives, have studied Islam for close to 40 years and have written two books and many articles/blogs dealing with Islam, and am coming from the perspective of having left Islam almost 40 years ago to become a follower of Jesus Christ. That such a background should somehow leave me less qualified than theological liberals who may have read a chapter on Islam in a world religions class, or than a Muslim “scholar” who has a vested interest in presenting the “kind face of Islam” to a skeptical American audience, would be a laughable thought if it weren’t so sad. But such is the way with ad hominem arguments.

The crux of the attack on my views is that I misrepresented Mr. Said’s intentions in his Arabic recitation of Surat al Fatiha, and his subsequent English prayer, particularly the verses (6-7) which read, “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored, not [the path] of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.” In his English prayer, Mr. Said repeated the petition, “Guide us to the straight path,” then further clarified its meaning, “the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.”

I observed that in Islam “the straight path” is a synonym for Islam, and that Mr. Said’s prayers were a petition to Allah that his listeners be guided to Islam and away from Christianity, or Presbyterianism to be more precise. But my liberal Presbyterian colleagues clamored that “straight path” is capable of multiple meanings, and my interpretation was wrong. Certainly it is true that “straight path” can mean many things, but in context it has one primary meaning. For example, when I hear the statement, “I pledge allegiance to the flag,” one could rightly say to me, “Well, ‘the flag’ can mean many different things.” After all, there are over 195 sovereign states in the world, each with its own flag. There are also other political and business groups which have their own flags. There are also companies such as Black Flag Insecticides, which use the term as an identifier. So, when I hear the words of the pledge of allegiance, I guess I can’t be sure who or what the pledger is swearing allegiance to….until I hear the subsequent words “of the United States of America….” In reality, the initial words of the pledge of allegiance are so well-known that the natural assumption is that the speaker is a patriotic American citizen. It would be shocking to discover these words being used to pledge allegiance to something else. Such is the case with the phrase, “Guide us to the straight path…” within the Qur’an specifically, and Islam generally.  The following words in the Fatiha clarify which path the petitioner wants to be guided to: “The path of those Allah favors, as opposed to the paths of those who have earned his wrath, and of those who have gone astray.” Whom does Allah favor? The Qur’an’s answer: those who submit to him and who affirm Muhammad as Allah’s final and perfect messenger. Who are such people? Muslims. Who are those who incur Allah’s wrath, and those who have gone astray? Well, in general they are all non-Muslims, but traditionally within Islam these categories have been used to single out Jews and Christians respectively. Just so you know I am not making this up, here is some Quranic commentary on vv 6-7 by Ibn Kathir, one of Sunni Islam’s most highly revered classical commentators:

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