Travel bans

The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.

Gert Wilders by TIM

A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,

“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”

What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:

In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.

“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.

“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”

However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”

Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/03/dutch-look-at-legal-options-to-stop-turkish-referendum-rally/

It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.

More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.

It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,

“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland” 

Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!

The Rohingya

In January this year, following a visit to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Human rights envoy to Myanmar said,

“There are more than a million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar deprived of some of their most fundamental rights. This is a million too many.”

She met privately with Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw to discuss the future of the Rohingya.

These people have rightly attracted the attention of the International community. They are abandoned and rejected, and many have tried to escape by boat to nearby States. In Myanmar, they are seen as a “self-defined” an unregistered Islamic community with a militant past, at a time of growing anti-Muslim prejudice. The Rakhine province, isolated by a range of mountains from the rest of Burma, was independent before it was annexed in 1785, and the only text from before the late 20th Century to mention the Rohingya by name dates to just 14 years after this annexation. Rakhine was then a stronghold of Buddhism, with a celebrated Statue of the Buddha, the Mahamuni image, which was later transported to Mandalay. Maybe there is a sense that the State has been sidelined and this is shared by both the Buddhist and Islamic communities. Today, certainly, Rakhine Buddhists say they feel vulnerable.

Aung San Suu Kye on the TODAY programme 24th October 2013

What appears to be a simple humanitarian issue shown in the 2013 Meiktila campaign, the deaths and destroyed homes that followed, the atrocities in Mandalay in 2014, the rise of 969 and in the grotesque camps of Sittwe, and an appalling example of State brutality is by no means straightforward. It is compounded by support for Aung San Suu Kyi who seems to follow an agenda in this instance that is comparable to the Nationalist agenda of her father. In a shocking interview with Mishal Husain that she gave to the BBC’s Today programme in October 2013, she justifies the exclusion of the Rohingya community in terms of the war on terror (what she calls “worldwide perception”) and allegedly commented afterwards, “no one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”. Her comments on and off record seem to suggest that (a) Aung San Suu Kyi is herself prejudiced and (b) that if she wanted to do something to help the community, she could. Significantly, however, she does not deny the rights of the Rohingya to live legitimately in Myanmar. She simply denies that muslims have been subject to a form of ethnic cleansing and goes on to say that

“Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subject to violence.”

In that interview, she suggests that the violence suffered by the Rohingya is about adjusting to the demands of becoming “a genuine democratic society.” Yet at the same time, she makes no offer to award the Rohingya any citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s views are actually supported academically by people like Christian Fink, an anthropologist who admits that the Rohingya have been denied citizenship, but also notes the “Buddhist Rakhine population’s fears of a Muslim takeover.” (“Living silence”). This is no reason to deny healthcare, education and citizenship. It also does not address the historical record that the Rohingya voted in the first Constituent Assembly Elections of an independent Burma in 1947. If they were accepted then, it does not really make sense that they are excluded now.

aung san suu kyi by tim.jpgMuch was expected of Aung San Suu Kyi and in 2015, the Dalai Lama observed, “It’s very sad. I mentioned about this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated. But in spite of that I feel she can do something.” The Pope has joined criticisms observing that the Rohingya are targeted “simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith.”

Official Silence and Actual threats

Since this interview, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to take action, and remained silent about the Rohingya, whose plight has simply got worse. This has involved a rise in hate-speech, travel controls, population control, signed by the then President Thein Sein, to restrict the number of children as well as a migration, now thwarted on rickety boats to Thailand and Malaysia. The few refugees who today make it through, are left in no doubt about their country of origin. whiteboards declare them to be from Burma. In October 2016, Benedict Rogers notes that 2000 Rohingyan villagers were held in fields by the army.

This is what John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, said:

“Right now, it is routine for Burmese politicians, Burmese people in all walks of life, to say extremely reactionary and hateful things about the Rohingya population of Burma. Nobody is standing up and saying, ‘No, this is not what democracy is, what modern pluralistic societies are like. Aung San Suu Kyi could have been that person, and she failed to do that.”

The militant monks

The Rohingya face the rising popularity of demagogue monks, among them Ashin Wirathu, Ashin Wimala, and Ashin Parmoukkha who stretch the pacific image of Buddhist monasticism to breaking-point, though arguably it is nothing new (cf U. Ottoma also from Rakhine). They also face political discrimination from a topsy-turvy understanding of law, like Section 295 designed to prevent inter-religious conflict, now used to silence any criticism of Buddhist Nationalism. A new law purporting to be for the Protection of Race and Religion forbids conversion and inter-marriage.

Anti-Muslim propaganda, as well as Rakhine Buddhist fears threaten even greater violence that may entrench community divisions and deepen hostility. This may well explain Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence as, after 50- years of military rule, Myanmar is finally moving towards democracy. While the local population is broadly behind the Democracy movement, it does not seem sympathetic to efforts by the international community to solve the Rohingya problem. The muslim population of Myanmar, of which the Rohingya is now the majority, makes up only 4% of the whole population. In 2015, following the rescue of 1000 refugees off the coast of Ayeyarwady Region, protestors led by monks, demanded the expulsion of what they called the “bengalis”. Initial slogans critical of the UNHCR were removed but slogans demanding that “INGO/NGO respect the truth” remained. The truth they wanted to assert is that the Rohingyas have no right to be in Myanmar at all.

The Union Citizenship Act of 1948

This act, following an earlier act the previous year, and coming just a few years after a serious massacre of the Rohingya by “the Rakhine Maghs”, restricted citizenship to any person “from ancestors who for two generation at least all made any of the terriories included within the Union of Burma their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any such territories.” (Section 11 iv) Following this, many Rohingyas were formally registered, given identity cards (NRCs) and allowed to vote. (under section 30 of the 1950 Burma Population Registration Rules states that no foreigner may be thus registered). One wonders, incidentally, how long a foreigner needs to be resident before he or she qualifies for citizenship, of course! This is what MA Gaffer, a member of Parliament, said at the time,

“Though Rohingyas resemble a little with the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), their literature, names and tittles, dresses, languages, customs and cultures are as difference as the sky and the earth. Therefore to regard Rohingyas as Chittagonians is a grevious hurt to Rohingyas and a matter of tragedy and a great blow to Rohingya and far from actual history.”

“Although Rohingya’s culture, tradition, history and civilization are not inferior to that of other indigenous races of Burma, Rohingyas are always victims of persecutions, specially, the immigration used to arrest them. In June 1959, 76 Rohingyas were rounded and arrested in Akyab and Mayu districts by the  immigration and were sent to Rangoon by steamer for ultimate dispatch to Gawdu-thoung in Pyapon District.”

“…Section 4(2) of the Union Citizenship Act. also pointed out that those persons whose ancestors had made Burma for two generation as their home and who and whose parents were born in Burma were also citizens of the Union. It had been observed by the court that in Union of Burma there were races who could not speak the Burmese language and who nevertheless were citizens of the Union of Burma.”

In the early 1950s, Government officials, including the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and the Defence Minister U Ba Swe confirmed the identity and rights of the Rohingya. This is what UBa Swe said in November 1959,

“The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like the Shan, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhaine. They have lived in Myanmar Naing Ngan for ages, accordingly to historical facts. They are of the Islamic faith. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of the Union.”

Confusion over 1973 census

There are two approaches to the historical evidence: the first is to establish the origin of the Rohingya peoples and the second is to establish the use of the name “rohingya” itself. the two issues, however, are often (deliberately?) confused by people on both sides of the debate. Certainly, the modern term is a political construct while the weight of evidence suggests that the Rohingya have been in Myanmar for about seven centuries, though there is some confusion about nomenclature.

In the 1973 census, though, they were recognised along with 142 other ethnic groups. This put into law the statement by the Prime Minister in 1960 on Sept 25 that the Rohingya of Arakan were one of the ethnic races of Burma.

However, this was later delisted, admitting only the Kamen to the number of recognised Muslim groups. While this effectively made the Rohingya “foreigners” in Arakan, local Government records at the time do not note an increase in the number of registered aliens. Indeed, in 1972 there are 1192 foreigners recorded by the Arakan Divisional security and administration committee, while in 1975-6, there are 1037 people recorded in the three monthly report by the Arakan State people’s council. No adjustment is allowed for the thousands of Rohingya excluded in the delisting.

1982 Citizenship law

The Rohingya appear today to be utterly displaced, rejected both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.

“There is after all, very little in common – except common religion – between the Rohingya of Arakan and the Indian Muslims of Rangoon or Burmese Muslim of the Shwebo district. These are different groups that do not identify with each other, do not share the same goal and aspiration.” Moshe Yegar, The Muslim of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group  p. 111

But I believe the Political key to their future lies in the repeal of a fairly recent 1982 Citizenship law which defined citizens as Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and other ethnic groups settled within Myanmar before 1823. At the same time, this law accepts the Rakhine historians’ claim that the Rohingya were slaves settled in Myanmar after the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1824 and therefore foreigners. (It is this law that effectively brands the Rohingya as foreign, non-indigenous and/or “illegal immigrants” without cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar) But even so, aliens should be given proper human rights.

Moreover, if the law were quite as clear as it appears, I do not understand why the Myanmar government repatriated so many refugees from the 1992 Rohingya exodus.

The 2 groups

The issue is complicated by the existence of two lists of ethnic groups that underpin the 1982 Citizenship law, one of 101 groups, that is pre-colonial, and a later one that includes 135 specific groups. Neither list mentions the Rohingya. It seems that any legal advance must involve a review of these lists and a recognition that the strict definitions of the past need to be loosened today. In other words, a solution to the Rohingya problem should involve change throughout the country. Some observers question whether it is even right to talk about “national races”.

Defining a group

It is certainly not clear how any of these groups were ever actually defined- is this by self-awareness, language, political affiliation, or some sort of (dare I say?) colour-coding? There is a fundamental, legal and philosophical question that underpins this: Is ethnic identity something we choose for ourselves or something that is imposed on us? Identity is often contested; it is actually fairly fluid and becomes more so as one group is exposed, intermarries and interacts with another.

This is what a British writer in 1945 records,

“The Musulman Arakanese generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly…To look at, they are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen. They resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women and more particularly the young girls, have distinctive Arab touch about them.. .As a race they have been here over two hundred years.” Anthony lrwin, Burmese Outpost (London: Collins, 1945) p.22.

Just to draw an uncomfortable parallel here- The concept of Jewishness may have seemed clear to the Nazis, but it would not be a definition shared by the average Jewish beth din. In other words, identity is by no means a clear-cut issue.

A solution today?

International Observers today tend to favour the government granting full citizenship and rights to the Rohingya community, but this solution also overlooks the growing tension on the ground. A solution “from above” or from outside the country itself would be unlikely to sort out the tension between the communities, and given the jigsaw of differing ethnic groups that make-up modern-day Myanmar, a solution that is rejected by the Buddhist majority threatens to tear apart this newly emerging Nation.

De facto recognition from 1961-1964

In this historic process of ethnic categorization, the Rohingya has been a largely illiterate group, now denied basic education, that falls by the way. Nevertheless, there is a collective understanding among the Rohingya that they have lived together in the North of Rakhine state for many generations.

Indeed, from 1961-1964, under the “Mayu Frontier Administration” (MFA)there appears to have been some sort of de facto recognition of the community which was governed as a separate province from the rest of Rakhine by the Burmese army. Rohingya language programmes were broadcast on the radio from May 1961-March 1965.

The name “Rohingya”

There are four distinct etymologies that I can find.

The first is that the name Rohingya appears to be an indian form of Rakhine. Bluntly, the term Rohingya could mean simply the people who live in Rakhine. The second, that it derives from the terms Rohai and Roshangee which denote Muslim peoples in old Arakan. It could be a version of the word “Roshanga”, used in Bengali literature in the Chittagong region. Thirdly, it is suggested that it is a corruption of the arabic term Rahim (blessing) or Raham Borri, meaning the Land of God’s blessing.

The fourth etymology is most interesting because it suggests the word derives from the Magh language and refers to the Pathan General Wali Khan and General Sandi Khan who helped to restore Narameikhia to the throne of Longgeret, setting up the Maruk-u-Dynasty in 1433. Narameikhia had formerly been in exile in Bengal.

It is clear that from the 1950s, the Rohingya has emerged as a political and military unit (the RLP and from 1974, the RPF led by Muhammad Jafar Habib and the RSO, disbanded in 1998) with an aim to defining a homeland within Myanmar. The community represents today the “largest Muslim community in Burma” (Andrew Selth 2003). The Rohingya appears to have defined itself in the 1950s but that does not rule out a clear historical record of the community in Myanmar that goes back much further. Three issues are linked: the legal status of the group, the humanitarian crisis and human rights’ violations. The Buddhist Rakhine community have, for the last 30 years contested the legitimacy of the group and it is not immediately clear from the modern debate whether there is a culturally distinct muslim identity but the same debate also confirms the view that the Buddhist majority is the aggressor and the Muslim minority the victim.

“A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” by Francis Buchanan 1799

History is about perception and, in this case, there are 3 competing historical narratives, from Arakan, Burma and the Rohingya.

The documented history of the Rohingya -“the people that call themselves Rohingya” as David Steinberg (OUP) in 2009 classifies them- begins with an 18th Century reference which is worth examining. That single instance seems to establish both the existence of the community in Myanmar as well as its own claims to a unique and geographical identity. The 18th Century source, admittedly Colonial, specifically deals with the dialect employed by the Rohingya. In the text, Hamilton says that this is one of the dialects of the Burma empire “spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.”

Claims to earlier communities from 8th Century

There is an argument that the Rohingya community today is the remnant of a much older Bengali settlement that might even predate the arrival of the Buddhist communities. DGE Hall writes, “The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as 10~ century AD. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near Akyab.”(M.S. Coilis and San Shwe Bu, “Arakan’s Place in the Civilization of the Bay,” Journal of the Burrma Research Society, 50th Anniversary’ Publication, No. 2, Rangoon, 1960, p.486. Hall, D.G.E., A History of South East Asia. (London: Macmillan, 1958) pp328, 389.) and there is a record of Muslim trading in the area  going back to the reign of King Mahatyaing Chandra (780-810). Shipwrecked muslim sailors are said to have settled in villages in Arakan by decree of the Arakanese king. (Sir Arthur P. Phayre, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XII, Part I, 1844, p.36. SLORC Government, Thathana Yong War Hmn Zay Poh. Rangoon, 1997, pp. 65-70. M.A. Rahim, Social & Cultural History of Bengal, Vol. I, Karachi, 1963, p.37. U Kyi, B.A. (History Distinction), Myanmar Jazawin Thi Hmet Bweya Apyapya, pp 156-157. The Glass Palace Choronicle, Vol. 2, p. 186.) Ceratinly, tehre is evidence of a large number of captives taken back to Arakan after the rebellion in Chittagong in 1246. As Bengal became Muslim in 1203, it is reasonable to assume that these captives were predominantly Muslim.

The kings of Arakan acquired Muslim titles from their association with Bengal. A stone inscription from 1442 speaks of Muslim kings of Arakan. It is certainly not clear that these were Muslim kings as is sometimes claimed.

19th Century observations of a distinct Muslim group in Rakhine

A protestant missionary, JC Fink who omits the term Rohingya but can hardly be describing another community says, “They were not Mughs converted to the Mahomedan faith, but bona fide Musulmans whose ancestors had been imported into the province from Bengal… Many still retain the language and habits of their forefathers;”

In 1834-1844, another Missionary, Cormstock records “within a few years past, many BengaleeMusselmans have immigrated to Arakan, to get higher wages and better living, than they could procure in Chittagong” (Notes on Arakan) and Charles Paton estimates the size of the Rohiongya population in Rakhine to have been about 1/3 of the total population. The Reverend Comstock puts it at a more moderate 10%. By 1869, when a more reliable census was conducted, it appears to be 5% rising to 30% in 1912. In James Baxter’s report on Indian Immigration in 1941, he estimates that 1/5 of the Rakhine population was of Indian origin. Much changed the following year when Burma was invaded by the Japanese.

It seems that a report published in The Scotsman, and reprinted on the same day in the Hindustan Standard in 1949 established the current attitude in Myanmar to the Rohingya. It reads:

“the great majority of Arakan Moslems are said to be really Pakistanis from Chittagong, even if they have been settled here for a generation. Of the 130,000 Moslems here, 80,000 are still Pakistani citizens.”

While a number of authors have confidently asserted like Andrew Selth, that “most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries” (Burma’s Muslims:Terrorists or terrorised?”), there seems little further evidence to confirm this claim. Until the 1990s, in Myanmar, the same group that is identified in the 18th Century and is possibly enlarged by Colonial movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries is routinely been referred to by non-muslims in Burma/Myanmar as “Bengalis” or, during the Colonial time, as “Chittagonians”. In modern Burma, there are a range of often derogatory terms used to describe any Muslims, from “kalar” and “mus” and “Bengali”. To further confuse the issue, it is indisputable that a number of migrations from Bangladesh have swelled the Rohingyan numbers considerably, after 1971 and then again in the early 1990s.

Human Rights watch 1993 refers to “Burmese refugees from Arakan”; an account in 1995 by Martin Smith notes a distinction between

“those who have traditionally described themselves as ‘Arakanese Muslims’ as a religious group within the Arakanese people- and those Muslim nationalists, largely concentrated in the north, who prefer to call themselves ‘Rohingyas’.” (The muslim Rohingyas of Burma 1995)

In contrast, it is also well-documented that the Rohingya are not recognised as such in Burma/Myranmar. So, “the muslim Rohingya in Arakan State are not recognised as an ethnic group by the SPDC but rather are labelled as ‘illegal immigrants'” (Mikael Gravers 2007). Indeed, recent reports from Al Jezeera suggest that if Rohingya are prepared to accept that they are immigrants and have not lived for generations in the State, then they might stand a chance of getting residence permits. I fear this is simply a ruse to get Rohingya to confirm their status as aliens and to abandon their claims to a homeland.

A number of Burmese writers beginning with KhinMaung Saw have written a good deal to establish that there is not a reliable record of the term “Rohingya” in use before 1950. Indeed, the name itself is missing from the 1951 “charter of the Constitutional Demands of the Arakani Muslims”. But this is by no means a secure way to establish or deny an identity. Even the fact that there have been official acknowledgments of Rohingya rights at various times over the last 70 years should be enough to guarantee those rights today. More than that, a group and individuals confirming residence in the country for so many years should not be denied rights.

 

Recommendation

About a month ago, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson visited Myanmar, following up a visit by David Cameron in 2012. Although the military retain control over key ministries, and new laws about foreign relatives prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from taking up her rightful position as President, but even as Foreign Secretary, she is the effective leader of the country. There remains a significant exodus from Rakhine, with 66000 fleeing to Bangladesh because of a military crackdown since October. 65000 are registered as living in camps. There are stories emerging of brutality, arson, rape, murder and infanticide. This is unacceptable. But while condemning the violence, we must also condemn the “delisting” of the Rohingya and demand that they are given proper recognition. It is their lack of citizenship and questions about their identity that has encouraged such brutality. What is clear from even a quick review of the history of the Rohingya is that they have had rights to citizenship in the past and there are no reasons for the current Myanmar government to refuse these same rights today. Rather than silence or petulance about who interviews her, Aung San Suu Kyi should be giving proper leadership on this issue. She needs to ensure that ships offering humanitarian help are routinely supported, that a political solution is found, and that proper education and representation is provided to the Rohingya peoples and their Buddhist neighbours. This is an opportunity to empower the State of Rakhine as much as it is a demand that Myanmar observe international norms and demonstrate that prejudice and discrimination have no place in modern democracy.

Some other references

Aye, Sumon and Aung Ye Maung Maung. “Myanmar Arrests Hundreds After Mandalay Violence.” Voice of America, July 7, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-arrests-hundreds-after-mandalay-violence/1952483.html.

VOA News. “Myanmar Police Break Up Buddhist Mob.” Voice of America, July 2, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-police-break-up-buddhist-mob/1949083.html.

Reuters. “Myanmar Buddhists Threaten to Kill Muslims.” Voice of America, July 4, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-buddhists-threaten-to-kill-muslims/1950712.html.

http://www.dvb.no/analysis/the-r-word-and-its-ramifications-burma-myanmar-rohingya/43271

The fact that a colonial power does not acknowledge the identity of a particular group or calls it something else should not be the basis on which the same group is treated in post-colonial times. Nor indeed has it always been in Myanmar. While local prejudice may have been on-going, it is only relatively recently that this has been compounded by National “delisting” and institutionalised Islamophobia.

 the designation “Rohingya” was completely unknown to the British who administered Arakan from 1826 to 1948. It is not to be found in any of the eight censuses compiled between 1872 and 1941. Nor does it appear in any gazetteers, reports or other official documents, nor yet in private reminiscences and correspondence. This total absence of any British record has readily been acknowledged by the Muslim politician U Kyaw Min, who was only released from prison in January 2012 and has a brilliant pedigree as a fighter for freedom and democracy, a former member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament during the dark days of the military regime, and currently chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party.

But U Kyaw Min went on to say: “Then what about some present-day Rakhine state ethnic peoples: Mramagyi and Dai-net who are also not found in British censuses?” The implication is that the British did not really know what was going on…” DEREK TONKIN 17th Aug 2014

Richard Hering (TV Journalist who has worked with indiginous people- “Plunder for Profit: the UK and Brazilian mahogany trade”) writes:

Colonial records can be a dubious source for establishing the history of an ethnic group, for all kinds of reasons. For instance, the favouring of one cooperative group over another may result in the mis-characterisation of the latter for political reasons, as happened in Kenya. The Belgian empire in Rwanda classified two inter-related and -married groups as Hutu or Tutsi based on their appearance, again for reasons of control, with genocidal consequences later. Often names are simply misunderstood or mis-translated, for instance the group known as the Kayapo in the eastern Amazon do not call themselves that name – it’s actually a rude name given them by other groups (“those who look like monkeys”). Also many indigenous peoples have in recent decades started to use again older names so as to revive or preserve their identity, or have taken an ancient name which does not have a strict continuous lineage, nor even necessarily an unimpeachable historical source, in order to argue for their rights as a people.

It is important also to see also this rebuttal of Tonkin: http://www.newmandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rebuttal-to-Tonkin-long.pdf

The ethnogenesis of the Rohingya which I have tried to sketch out in this article does not make it a more “artificial” or “invented” ethnicity than any other, but it does not fit easily in the all too narrow concept of “national races” as is currently understood in Burma: ethnic groups which were already formed as we know them now in pre-colonial times. Others, perhaps the Kachin or the Chin, would also fail the test, because the test itself stems from a misunderstanding of ethnicity and group formation, but it is the political context that has determined that the Rohingya, and the Rohingya alone, should fail it. Their mere existence as a people is a serious challenge to the weak mainstream historical narrative imposed by the military regime.

https://islamicommentary.org/2013/10/matthew-walton-a-primer-on-the-roots-of-buddhistmuslim-conflict-in-myanmar-and-a-way-forward/

Jesus or ‘Isa?

Jesus is mentioned in the Koran 154 times in 19 stories, more than the Prophet himself. Mary or Miriam, his mother, dedicated to God from childhood and serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, is actually mentioned more in the Koran than in the Bible -she is spoken of 100 times. Of course, the Muslim narrative differs from the Christian while both maintain their sometimes conflicting  accounts are wholly correct.

In Islam, Jesus is the messenger of God and his servant, as is Mohammad. He is a sign (ayat) and a mercy from God.  Jesus’ principle message to both religions is one of truth- do not do one thing and be another, do not pretend to be religious with a great show of reverence when you are not inside. Honest humanity is exactly like honest architecture: when Pugin rages against the Georgian theatrics of Bath, he is saying the same thing: the facade should honestly reflect what is going on inside.

For Islam, Jesus/’Isa is “the son of Mary” (I count 22 times and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran), as he is also described in Mark 6:3: οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας, ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆ καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ Σίμωνος; καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ. Of course, in Mark’s account, while it can be understood to be a reference to the Virgin birth, it might also suggest the locals were suspicious of Jesus’ true paternity, and the Talmud elaborates on this elsewhere. ‘Isa is also called the “word of God” Kalimat Minhu and “the spirit of God”. ‘Isa is an icon and an example of humility and poverty, owning nothing and giving up the world, an important message to a society dominated by consumption and obsessed with wealth. ‘Isa had three things- a robe, a bowl and a comb. He subsequently gave away the comb and the bowl- what do I need these for when others could use them?

‘Isa is the prophet of the end times, returning as the Messiah (Al Masih): this was foretold by the angels. He is described as Messiah 11 times in the Koran.

إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ

Differences and the Nativity

(Al Emran 45) The Koranic story differs from the Christian story in the absence of a stable, a manger and Joseph, but so much of the Christian infancy narrative is fairly loose, with contradictions between Matthew and Luke, a complete lack of any infancy narrative in John and Mark and some very picturesque details added from the Protoevangelium of James, (later reworked in Armenian and Syriac) to form the christmas crib scene popularised by St Francis of Assisi in 1223 and painted by everyone from Giotto onwards. The ox and the ass are also in icons of the nativity, together with a midwife who arrives a bit too late, but helps to bathe the baby. There is also the legend of Aphroditianus and the “Revelation of the magi” where the various visitors see the Christ-child in different forms, as a throned king, a warrior and a martyr. In the Revelation, there are 12 magi, one of whom comes from Shir or China. In the Arabic Infancy narrative, the magi take back with them the swaddling cloths which have mystical powers akin to the shroud of Turin and now on display in either Dubrovnik Cathedral or as the “Windel Jesu” in Aachen Cathedral. One tradition in the late middle ages sees the swaddling clothes made from Joseph’s underpants, rather coyly represented in a 1400 painting, now in Antwerp, by Joseph Malouel as a stocking.

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The site of the nativity is celebrated in the ruins of the church of the Kathisma of the theotokos, about 3 miles outside Bethlehem. This follows exactly the narrative of the Protoevangelium of James where even before the Holy family get to Bethlehem, Mary asks to get off the donkey and Joseph locates a cave in the middle of the desert. In the centre of the church is a rock where Mary rests before giving birth.

While celebrating the Virgin-birth, Islam does not say that this also means Jesus is divine. this is where the two traditions start to divide and indeed where the controversy arose a few weeks’ ago in Glasgow. Again, while calling Jesus “Word of God” Islam is not attributing Divinity to him.

In both Islam and Orthodoxy, choosing to do what is right, Mary is seen as the perfect model of what our life can be. In this, Orthodoxy avoids the pitfalls of Augustinian original sin and therefore of the “Immaculate conception” and shares with Islam in presenting Mary as a role-model not only for women but for everyone. She is a symbol of purity, obedience and dignity. In Islam, Mary is alone, giving birth to ‘Isa under a date-tree in the desert and as in the biblical narrative, she suffers gossip because of the scandal of giving birth without an identifiable father.

Miracles

There are miracles attributed to ‘Isa that do not appear in the canonical Gospels, but they are certainly found in the Apocryphal texts, that he talked from his cradle, that he brought clay birds to life, cured the blind, lepers and that he raised the dead- in the case of the Koran, one of the sons of Noah. One of the big debates that tends to pop up is completely mistaken- that the miracles point to Jesus’ divinity. In fact, throughout the New Testament, Jesus routinely attributes the miraculous to God- as indeed the early teaching in Acts 2:22 attests: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you…”

Crucifixion

Where things really start to get complex is in the death of Jesus. For the Christian, this takes place on a cross at the age of 33. For the Muslim, it takes place in serenity surrounded by angels at the age of 120. The Koran even acknowledges the Christian claim (4: 157) and explains that this was a deception. Some accounts talk about a replacement for Christ, a rescue operation that leads Judas to be arrested and killed rather than Jesus.

In this, Islam is paralleled by the 3rd Century Gospel of Basilides and the Apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas:

“God, who had decreed the issue, reserved Judas for the cross, in order that he might suffer that horrible death to which he had sold another. He did not suffer Judas to die under the scourges, notwithstanding that the soldiers scourged him so grievously that his body rained blood.

“So they led him to Mount Calvary, where they used to hang malefactors, and there they crucified him naked, for the greater ignominy. Judas truly did nothing else but cry out: God, why have you forsaken me, seeing the malefactor has escaped and I die unjustly? Truly I say that the voice, the face, and the person of Judas were so like to Jesus, that his disciples and believers entirely believed that he was Jesus; wherefore some departed from the doctrine of Jesus, believing that Jesus had been a false prophet, and that by the art of magic he had done the miracles which he did: for Jesus had said that he should not die till near the end of the world; for that at that time he should be taken away from the world.”

But the Gospel of Barnabas was probably a 16th century forgery.

The crucifixion story is not very reliable

Pauline Theology (beginning in 1 Cor 15) is dominated by the crucifixion, so the Islamic account appears to challenge the core belief in Christianity. I was listening to someone talking about the crucifixion event the other day, however, and was astonished by his claim that the account of the crucifixion is one of the most accurate testimonies to an actual execution in the ancient world. Well, yes and no. What the New Testament account does is to spin the story with enough graphic detail that the vital legal questions remain unasked and unanswered. It seems to me that it is not at all clear why Jesus merited a death sentence under Roman law at all. There is a hint that the apostles were armed in the Garden of Gethsemane and if Jerusalem were under lock-down, then maybe a case can be made against them, but not really against Jesus. There is no evidence that he was armed. Beyond that, while there might just be a case for the Jewish authorities to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy, again there is no good reason in the narrative why that does not happen and why instead Jesus is handed over to the Roman authorities.

Despite this, and perhaps most importantly in a defence of the historical reliability of the Gospel testimony, it is improbable that the crucifixion event would ever have been invented. Why would any group want to glorify a sadistic and shameful execution especially when the incarnation narrative, which was already emerging, provided quiet sufficient evidence of an intervention in history by God?

If we move to the Reformation and the emphasis placed by the reformers on the Atonement, then the crucifixion swings even more mightily centre-stage. More than that, the ever-present image of Jesus as a shepherd merges into an image of Jesus both as Paschal lamb and as scapegoat – one event, the crucifixion combining the festivals of both Passover and Yom Kippur.

The Gnostics

Just as there have been Christians who have questioned the Virgin Birth (the Bishop of York, for instance in the not-so-distant past), so too, quite demonstrably, there have been Christians throughout history who have questioned the reality of the crucifixion or the centrality of that event. It is not such a shocking claim.

Islam is certainly not alone in denying that the crucifixion was real. The Gnostics had already done this. Here is the relevant paragraph from the Nag Hammadi scriptures-

It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance.

Modern literature

The idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion is brilliantly done in the Kazenzakis book, “The Last Temptation” and in the film – I remember the scene where St Paul confronts Jesus and says he invented Christ, “I don’t care whether you’re Jesus or not. The resurrected Jesus will save the world…I created the truth out of what people needed. If I have to crucify you to save the world then I’ll crucify you and if I have to resurrect you, then I’ll do that too, whether you like it or not…. My Jesus is much more important and more powerful.”

The same story of survival, incidentally, is also told in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln) and its sequel, “The Messaianic legacy”, even “the Passover plot” by Hugh Schonfield (a Glasgow academic and one of the original Dead sea scrolls’ academics, slightly given to the sensational and less glamorous than Geza Vermes but who authored a very competent reworking of the gospels  “The Authentic New Testament”) -it lies behind the dreadful “Da Vinci Code” stuff. It is implicit in the Philip Pullman novella “The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ” which in turn, I think, is a fantasy based on the idea, already suggested by Leonardo’s twin Jesus painted in the Last supper, that Thomas, the twin (Didymus)  was the brother of Jesus and took his place on the cross, a theological version of the 2006 film “The Prestige” with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. I was asked to look at the Pullmann book a couple of years’ ago to see what could be done to turn it into a film. A tough call but in the end, Pullmann got cold feet and pulled out of the project.

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And finally there is  the AntiChrist, المسيح الدجّال Dajjal, the one-eyed opposite to everything ever preached by Jesus. This cyclopedic travesty of goodness will rule with brute force, atheism and deceit. Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus will descend and defeat the anti-Christ. What Islam does that Christianity does not is to provide specifics- ‘Isa returns in eastern Damascus to confront injustice, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels, and his hair dripping with oil. When he tosses his head, the beads of oil will fly off like pearls. He will destroy the cross and kill the pig. When the Dajjal sees ‘Isa, he will dissolve “like salt in water”.

The Koran in Church

I have been meaning to write something about the reading of Surah 19 in a Scottish Cathedral on 17th January. This led to the resignation of one of the Queen’s 33 Honorary chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, who wanted to conduct his own campaign against the Cathedral and against the priest who had arranged the event. For Gavin Ashenden, what happened was blasphemous.

A number of issues have been raised- that the priest who made the arrangements, the Cathedral Provost, Kelvin Holdsworth, is gay, that the Koran was read by a woman and a Shi’ite and so on. All largely irrelevant, and actually when all is considered, things to be grateful about rather than to condemn. So the real focus is the text of Surah 19, which the sensationalist press and the rev Ashenden, claimed “denies the divinity of Christ”. It does not. Here is a photograph of Madinah Javed reciting the Surah. At the bottiomof the blog is a video recorded in the Cathedral of her recitation. It is, in itself, rather beautiful.

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This is what Rev Ashenden wrote to “The Times”:

“Quite apart from the wide distress (some would say blasphemy) caused by denigrating Jesus in Christian worship, apologies may be due to the Christians suffering dreadful persecution at the hands of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“To have the core of a faith for which they have suffered deeply treated so casually by senior Western clergy such as the Provost of Glasgow is unlikely to have a positive outcome.

“There are other and considerably better ways to build “bridges of understanding”.”

There is nothing new in reading the Koran in a Scottish Cathedral. It has been done before, in front of the Moderator of the Church of scotland, in front of Archbishop Winning. And the passage chosen had been read before in Churches in Scotland on a number of occasions. It celebrates the belief in Islam in the Virgin birth, and is also just one instance when Mary is celebrated in the Koran. Mary, after all, is mentioned far more in the Koran than in the Christian Bible and Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Koran.

In his blog, the Chaplain writes about “Kelvin Holdsworth’s lack of awareness, and his carelessness” which may well be cause for alarm and he also highlights the issue that caused him distress. Towards the end of the Surah are three verses which question the idea that God should have a son, the Christian claim, specifically 19.91 and 19.92:screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-09-50-36

In the reports circulating on Twitter, the chaplain insists that the Surah specifically denies the Divinity of Christ, which frankly is not the case. It is a passage that may be taken to defend such a denial, but the text itself does not do that. It deals with the lives of Zakariyya. Maryam, Jesus, Yahya (John), Abraham, Ishmael, and Enoch (Idris). It reproduces the Christian message of “glad tidings”, so it is a good companion piece to the New Testament, though it also adds “warnings”. There are warnings about who might intercede to God and as this passage traditionally was to have been recited to a neighbouring Christian King, Negus, it is likely that the passage implicitly challenges the orthodox belief in the intercession of the Theotokos, but it is implicit, not explicit and many anglicans absolutely reject this belief anyway. The only explicit statement that might worry a Christian congregation is the statement above that God should not be thought to have a son.

Reciting the Surah traditionally confers great blessings.

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The variety of belief accepted in the Anglican communion today is remarkable. Indeed, it is only recently in 1984, that the Archbishop of York, Dr David Jenkins, denied the Virgin birth. This is a passage from the Koran that, in contrast, celebrates both parthenogenesis and the role of Mary in the Christian narrative!

I applaud the Provost, therefore, in promoting interfaith, and particularly during the service of Epiphany. This is the time when the magi visited Jesus- when people of different faiths and backgrounds came to the home of the infant child and brought him gifts. In the Orthodox tradition, it is also a celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

Following the Chaplain’s intervention (he was not at the service, and maybe the term “bullying” would be more appropriate), the Archbishop of Glasgow has apologised for any distress caused. I really cannot see that there was any reason at all to apologise. We need to promote ties with Islam, welcome strangers, rejoice in mutual kindness and celebrate what we hold in common if we are to challenge extremism.

The Provost is no stranger to controversy. Here he is discussing gay marriage on “Songs of Praise”:

Mr Versi’s revisions

I have written before about the work of Miqdaad Versi and I note that his actions are now reported to be more targeted and disciplined. He now also writes for the Guardian.

It is not that I want people to search for errors, but I would like journalists to be held to a standard of decency that sets the tone for any future or current debate. I went back and reread what I wrote earlier- mostly it was a groan about the gathering campaign of Mr Trump who tomorrow is inaugurated as 45th President of the US. Rather like Brexit, this is something we must now accept as reality. We cannot wring our hands and protest that we did not vote for this, want it, or indeed that we do not recognise the outcome. It is our job to make the best of a given result. That is the reality of politics.

More than that, the Trump Presidency has an impact well-beyond the borders of the US and he has a direct effect on many people therefore who were never given an opportunity to vote for him in the first place. The much-hyped concept of 51% voting for such and such is irrelevant actually. The only relevant fact is the reality we face, and we move forward in the knowledge that that is the reality we must address.

In contrast to the worried views of the “Spiked on line” people, and particularly the rather petulant Tom Slater (who thinks Versi is trying to “ring-fence Islam from criticism”), I think it is the quiet and careful actions of people like Mr Versi that will tone down the more extreme rhetoric that was used by Trump and his followers during the US election campaign. Let’s hope Trump’s more extreme remarks were the product of ignorance. Ignorance, as Plato says, can always lead to knowledge and knowledge is “the Good”.

To his credit, Mr Trump has mellowed of late and is clearly seeking and taking advice. Like Mr Reagan, Trump shows all the signs of being a good delegator, something we over here need to learn. Maybe it is time for a big businessman to take on the establishment. I loved the Peter Brooke’s cartoon a few days ago in the Times that celebrated Trump while also recording the end of the Barnum and Bailey/Ringling brothers’ circus. In fact, I increasingly love Peter Brookes! His observation demands scrutiny and his drawing alone merits some study. He has been on a bit of a roll recently while Riddell, in the Observer, whose work I think is a natural successor to Tenniel, has been a bit “same-y”.

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Mrs May and Sharia

I was quite irritated this evening to find an old hostile report by Nick Gutteridge in the Express re-peddled on the web about Mrs May’s general comments regarding Sharia law. Clearly, the Express was trying to stir up some sort of Islamaphobia and it is wrong.

It describes Sharia law as “drawn from the Koran and various fatwas”, and suggests about 100 such lawcourts are active in the UK today. The use of the word “fatwa”is designed to provoke fear, because for the readers of the Express, the word “fatwa” means only one thing. It is what happened to the man who wrote “the Satanic Verses” Salman Rushdie. And, I wonder how many readers of the Express have ever bothered to read “the Satanic Verses”?

The Express has a long history, founded by Pearson and passed to Beaverbrook during the 1st World war-  in the past was the paper of choice for many. Today, it lurks in the gutter with the Star and the Sun and, of course, is known to have supported the baser elements of UKIP. But when it was first launched in 1900, it was revolutionary in cutting advertising from its front pages. It was the news that was wanted and that’s what the Express provided. Bravo!

Lord Beaverbrook admittedly thought of it as little more than a broadsheet for promoting propaganda, often for the Government- so it enthusiastically embraced Appeasement in the run up to 1939.

Still, I am also very fond of Rupert Bear and Giles both of which were launched by the paper and Andrew Marr was a former columnist.

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By the 1960s, it had taken on a slightly aggressive stance and the Duke of Edinburgh was apparently quoted calling it “a bloody awful newspaper. It is full of lies, scandal and imagination. It is a vicious paper”. It has done the same thing more recently, launching a crusade against East Europeans- “Britain is full and fed up. Today join your Daily Express Crusade to stop new flood of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants”. Horrible!

Anyway, this is how the Express quoted Theresa May,

“Many British people of different faiths follow religious codes and practices, and benefit a great deal from the guidance they offer.

“A number of women have reportedly been victims of what appear to be discriminatory decisions taken by Sharia councils, and that is a significant concern.

“There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.

“Professor Siddiqui, supported by a panel with a strong balance of academic, religious and legal expertise, will help us better understand whether and the extent to which Sharia law is being misused or exploited and make recommendations to the Government on how to address this.”

Now to Sharia law:

Feirstly, Sharia is derived from the Koran and the Hadiths. Not from Fatwas as the Express claims. There are a variety of schools of interpretation – Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Jarafi and Hanbali. It stretches from specific rules instituted by the Prophet to Urf, or customs which may well be in conflict with primary texts and open to debate. Urf is what we would regard as “common law”.

We already have a limited use of Sharia, as we have a limited use of catholic canon law in the UK, particularly with reference to divorce or annulment, but the religious ruling does not and cannot replace the civil act.

Theresa May is talking about the positive influence of Religion on the lives of many people in the UK and across the world. The express is whipping up Islamophobia by referring to the appalling treatment of women in certain societies- certainly not imposed by the Koran, but possibly covered by local customs, Urf. The Express should be  careful in what it says.

I think we should be positive about Sharia, while respecting its limited use within our society. Of course, we cannot allow people to abuse others under the excuse of following some interpretations of Sharia and I doubt most imams would advocate this.

Theresa May is right of course!

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Horrid news today that a 13 year old girl was stopped by a teacher in her school and asked whether she was carrying a bomb. Simply because she was wearing a hijab. While this shows a degree of insensitivity and stupidity, it also demonstrates just how successfully Donald Trump is stirring up a wave of Islamophobia in the US, as if the efforts of Daesh/ISIS are not enough!

It is only a month or so since Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for taking a home-made clock to a show and tell session at his school. That led not only to an apology and to a call from the whitehouse and Mrs Clinton who met Ahmed, but also to an offer to be schooled in Doha and what I gather is a sizeable demand for compensation.

You know when you are doing wrong- when children are harmed. Here we have just two instances where children have been deeply upset by stupid teachers. The rise of racism and idiocy needs to be stopped before more children are hurt.

None of this aggression is necessary. Trump’s latest pronouncements come very close to the language of hate that would see him under arrest in the UK – certainly, calls for him to be denied entry to Britain should be taken seriously.

In the North east, the word “Trumping” is a euphemism for flatulence which I suppose rather sums up the man and his message. But flatulence can be unpleasant and the time has come to open the windows.

Jihad and the threat of terror

There is a lot of nonsense talked about Islamic Terrorism, the most irritating is the confusion over the use of the word “fundamentalist”. All Islam is “fundamentalist” because Islam insists on the literal meaning of the words of scripture, the Koran. That said, in fact, there remains room for balancing one statement against another, but the 19th Century criticism that dominates Biblical scholarship is completely foreign to Islam- source criticism and form criticism, the idea that a story may be mythological, or not literally true. This is not a part of Islam. It is so much a part of Christianity that sometimes we impose our methods of interpretation and our expectations wrongly on one another.

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Jesus:

As 300 years separate the active ministry of Jesus from the establishment of the canon of Christian Scriptures, there is alot of room for embellishment and textural variants. In the case of Islam, there is very little time between the institution of the Religion and the writing and dissemination of the Koran. The text of the Koran remains broadly what it was, and there is a tradition in Islam of resisting translation, and translation for all its advantages and disadvantages is something that Christianity embraced right at the beginning. So Jesus spoke in Aramaic and his words are printed in Greek, and in the UK at least, best remembered in an english translation fro the 16th Century littered with acknowledged errors.

Jihad:

The Jihad is a fight, not a war- the word (al-Harb) literally means “struggle”. Because of its use in modern terrorism, the word and the concept is often misunderstood. It can mean the “Great struggle”, the personal effort to conquer sin, or the “lesser struggle”, the Holy War or military Jihad. But even in this secondary meaning, the rules are very clear: Holy war must be declared by a proper authority, must not harm children, women or the sick and all peace offers from the enemy must be accepted. The Jihad should not be against Jews or Christians who are “people of the book” and must be protected and respected. At the end of a campaign, the Prophet told his followers, “This day we have returned from the minor jihad to the major jihad.” In other words, now the military campaign is over, we must get back to the proper business of fighting sin, battling our own personal daemons. That is the more important struggle and the real jihad.

Now, while the text of the Koran is a solid and authentic text, the hadiths are not and some hadiths are judged to be more important than others. In the same way, some opinions of Islamic jurists are considered more important than others. Imran Shafi’i believed that Sura 9.5 and 9.29 permit a war against non-muslims until they repent and accept Islam. The corresponding Hadith sums this up-  Here we are: “I have been ordered to fight the people until they declare that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, establish prayers, and pay zakat. If they perform all that, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by Islamic laws. Then their accounts will be done by Allah.” Fairly scary. But these verses must be seen in the context of 9.6 which proposes an alternative that non-muslims, living in an Islamic community, and therefore receiving the protection of that community, might not convert to Islam but might pay a tax instead, as compensation: “and if anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection then grant him protection…” (9:6) The next verses stress the importance of keeping the promises made to non-muslims and respecting the treaties established. Moreover, when we look at this verse from the hadith in more detail, the first sentence should be clarified because it says “I have been ordered to fight the people until they declare that there is no God but Allah”. The word fight (saws) used here is significant. It does not use the word “kill”- it is about defence against someone who is attacking the religion; it does not sanction execution, and is at a far remove from the savagery of ISIL.

In other words, while scary verses might be worrying, reading the whole Sura puts them in context. The Prophet never forced conversion and nor did his immediate successors.

terrorism:

Since the Iranian Revolution, there has been a rise in Islamic-sponsored terrorism. This may in part be coincidental. There are a number of purely secular organisations that have adopted suicide as a weapon of choice- the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who used suicide bombs in their war against Sri Lanka and who famously were behind the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi; the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kuridstan), the Kurdish party in Turkey though it only seems to have used the suicide option 15 times; and the pro-Syrian rebels in lebanon in the 1980s. These groups had embraced a variety of political ideologies and the works of Mao, Lenin and Guevara are significant.

But it is in Iran where the real problem lies because the Ayatollah Khomenei returned from exile in Paris, fuelled by a passion to interpret the Koran according to the political ideologies he had discovered in Paris. This led to the death of 13 year old Hossein Fahmideh in 1981, the first Suicide bomber in modern times to be hailed as a Shahid, martyr. Posters appeared throughout Iran of the boy shown together with Khomenei and the Ayatollah said that Hossein had “the keys to the kingdom”. There is nothing at all in the Koran to suggest that a suicide bomber gains automatic entry to Paradise, and indeed there is alot of very specific information to say that a suicide victim is automatically excluded from Paradise.

Today, there are ideologies that mix politics and religion- so the Muslim Brotherhood looks to the works of Sayyid Qutb, or Hasan al-Banna and Palestine to Abdullah Yusuf ‘Azzam, a man who significantly influenced bin Laden. It is not possible to divorce modern Islamic terrorism from religion, but it is certainly not true to say that Islam supports or even condones this activity. My understanding is that islam is in a process of change, embracing the challenges of the modern world. One of these is that texts can be open to a variety of interpretations, something that Islam had tried for a long time to prevent. One of these interpretations, for instance would be Wahabiyism, and another are the terrorist dictats imposed on Islam by Ayatollah Khomeini. I am sure, in time, other interpretations of Islam will emerge, many more favourable to Western values, and I am also sure that, in time, the terrorists will fail both in their overall mission and in their interpretation or hijacking of one of the world’s great faiths.

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Suicide in Islam:

The body is sacred to Allah and it is God’s will alone that dictates when we live and when we die. There is, in contrast to the scriptures of both Christianity and Judaism, a clear statement against suicide in the Koran:

“And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you.”

— Qur’an, Sura 4, (An Nisa)
This cannot be clearer, and more to the point, is unparalleled in the Bible no matter what the later Church may have to say against suicide. Islam takes a stand on suicide that goes back to the original and fundamental text of the religion. It is there in the Koran itself: Do not kill yourself.

Suicide, moreover, is regarded as murder in Islam. There is even debate about whether the funeral prayers (janazah) can be said over the body. The image presented of the afterlife is not so different to that envisaged by Dante (canto XIII). There, the suicides occupy a circle of violence and they are denied even the dignity of human form, growing into trees and tormented by the Harpies who fly through the forest and “rend the branches off the trees”. At judgement day, the suicides alone will never be reunited with the body they once abandoned. “Wrong it is,” says Dante, “for a man to have again what he once cast off.” Instead, their bodies will be draped over the trees, to be forever a sign of what they failed to treat properly.

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In Islam, here is the comparable punishment: “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.” (Bukhari, Janaiz 84)
“Whoever throws himself down from a mountain and kills himself will be in the Fire of Hell, throwing himself down therein for ever and ever. Whoever takes poison and kills himself, his poison will be in his hand and he will be sipping it in the Fire of Hell for ever and ever. Whoever kills himself with a piece of iron, that piece of iron will be in his hand and he will be stabbing himself in the stomach with it in the Fire of Hell, for ever and ever.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5442; Muslim, 109.
and again,
“Whoever kills himself with something in this world will be punished with it on the Day of Resurrection.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5700; Muslim, 110.
The Sixth Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq says, “Whoever kills himself, intentionally, he will be in the fire of hell for eternity.” 
Much more telling, however, is the story of a man who killed himself: “Among those who came before you there was a man who was wounded and he panicked, so he took a knife and cut his hand with it, and the blood did not stop flowing until he died. Allaah said: ‘My slave hastened to bring about his demise; I have forbidden Paradise to him.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3276; Muslim, 113. This is a serious issue: the man had been wounded in battle, death was inevitable but by killing himself, he commits a sin that puts him beyond sympathy. Surely, this is similar to the suicide-bomber who knowingly kills himself! 
In this case, the Prophet refused to attend the man’s funeral, though as a Muslim he was buried according to the proper custom. There is not in Islam the idea that existed in Christianity that a suicide should be put in unconsecrated land.
This seems to me a very touching story. The suicide victim deserves a proper burial and our prayers, but is denied the formal trappings of the funeral service. Often, today, an Imam will not attend.
islamic page 1
Martyrdom:
The english word “martyr” comes from the greek for “witness”. It is already therefore an ambiguous word. The problem comes when suicide is specifically redefined as it was by Ayatollah Khomeini as  “martyrdom” in part of his wider vision of Islamic Government “Hukumat-i Islami”, a Shia inspired vision of a state spreading from Iran, through Iraq and to Lebanon.
We must get back, first, to the idea of martyrdom itself-
Here is a hadith in praise of martyrdom,
The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from God (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in God’s Cause).” (Sahih Bukhari, 4:52:53)
and from the Koran itself,
“Do not consider those killed [while engaging] in God’s cause dead. Rather, they live with their Lord, who sustains them!” (3.169)
There are various other claims made about the martyr- that he or she does not feel the pain of death, (Fada’il al-Jihad, 26:1663), that his sins are forgiven and he enters Paradise. There, he can intercede for his friends and family. Powerful stuff.
But then, Christianity says much the same! Tertullian is credited with the phrases, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” He did not quite say this but you have to check the text fro the correct wording ( Tertulliani Apologeticus Adversus Gentes pro Christianis*) Revelations 2:10 promises a “Crown of life” to the martyr. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelations 20:4 guarantees them a 1000 year reign with Christ. The account of the martyrdom of St Polycarp is an early story which suggests Polycarp was given Divine assistance to face his death. A voice is heard telling him to “man up” – “Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man” and when he was burnt, a holy smell of incense was given off. His reward was a direct passage to Heaven (The Myth of Persecution Candida Moss 2013).
There is even a hint that martyrdom might be a career choice in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” and this was certainly exploited in the early Church though I fancy that the real aim of the admonitions in Matthew is to be prepared to suffer, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”(Matthew 5:11).
The writings of Origen are a testimony to the vitality of the Church in persecution. This is what he writes,
What greater joy there can be than the act of martyrdom? A great multitude is assembled to watch the last hours of the martyr. And let each of us remember how many times we have been in danger of an ordinary death, and then let us ask ourselves whether we have not been preserved for something better, for the baptism in blood which washes away our sins and allows us to take our place at the heavenly altar together with all the companions of our warfare.”
With St Ignatios of Antioch, Origin is particularly remembered for his desire to be martyred. Instead, he castrated himself. Not quite the same thing. St Clement advises caution and recognises that, though the true Christian does not fear death, nevertheless, he must not be in a rush asking for his death. That would bot be a martyrdom but committing a kind of suicide, against God. he complains about people with a martyr-cult being like the Indian ascetics who throw themselves in fire. For St. Clement, martyrdom is a daily experience, a good witness to Christ by words and work and by all man’s life. Does this not seem very similar to Mohammed’s statement about the “Greater Jihad”? 
Once Christianity stopped being illegal under Constantine, it was harder to be a martyr, of course.
Now, what does all this tell us? That Christianity and Islam share a common interest in the idea of Martyrdom, that fanaticism lies just round the corner and that the real challenge is to wage a daily struggle against sin. And I should add that Christianity might have drawn inspiration from the martyrs in 1 and 2 Maccabees or even the death of Cato the Younger who wanted to make a point in the most dramatic fashion possible, would not even accept a pardon.
 clement_of_alexandria
The shift from suicide to martyr:
There are stories about the early martyrs of Islam, for instance Hamza, Muhammad’s father-in-law and Husayn, Muhammad’s grandson and in later years, the concept of martrydom was extended beyond battle and execution to embrace also those who died fasting, and to those who died more ordinary or painful deaths. “The martyrs are five: the one who dies of the plague; the one who dies of stomach trouble; the one who drowns; the one who is crushed by a falling wall; and the martyr who dies for the sake of Allaah.” Again, actual death is not necessary for martyrdom: “He who asks Allah for martyrdom, Allah will raise him to the high status of the martyrs, even if he dies on his bed.” 
A similar process, incidentally, also takes place in Christianity though there the concept of monasticism and penance tends to replace that of martyrdom per se. Pope Gregory 1 speaks of “three modes of martyrdom, designated by the colors, red, blue (or green), and white”, that is torture and death, monastic or eremitic asceticism and “Blue (or green) martyrdom which involves the denial of desires, as through fasting and penitent labours without necessarily implying monasticism.”
St Clement of Alexandria thinks that provoking the enemy risks a form of suicide and in his Commentary on John, advises Christians to run away and to avoid confrontation with the authorities if at all possible, certainly if this can be done without recanting or denying the faith. He regards this as a form of Charity because this stops the enemy from committing the far graver crime of murder!
The broadening of the definition of martyr had started very early in both Islam and Christianity with a move towards asceticism. I would identify the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the true author of modern suicide bombing. In that sense, he is responsible for interpreting the texts of Islam so they favour suicide. That makes him an “interpreter of Islamic texts”, a long way from a “fundamentalist!” However, there is some evidence that the suicide bomber has an earlier history in  conflict in the Philippines (1500 onwards, but particularly in 19th Century) with the MORO MUSLIMS who attacked with mag-sabil and Parang- sabil. The Spanish called these suicide attacks “juramentado”. So, Khomeini could be said to be simply reviving something. Yet it is a revival he made his own and popularised.
In 1995, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, the Spiritual leader of Hamas, and later Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar, said that any suicide bomber who had received the blessing of a cleric, should be considered a “shahid”.
The suicide vest is not new either. This seems to have been developed by the Chinese in their fight against the japanese (1931-45) especially effective in the Battle fo Shanghai. Of course the Japanese used suicide pilots (kamikaze) in World war 2 and also kaiten submarines during the Pacific War. There is some evidence that the Germans used suicide weapons in the later stages of the War in the  West (Bachem Ba 349, Fliegende Panzerfaust, Zepplin Rapper etc…)
In 1983 a suicide bomb by Hezbollah against the West was detonated in Beirut.- apart from the bomber, 63 people were killed. The Suicide was not in the original reports but it seems to me, despite claims about a so-called P2OG secret plan, that there is no doubt that this was an early suicide bomb.
By describing a suicide bomber as a martyr, the terrorist suddently achieves the status of a saint: and here is one of the most worrying things about the cult of the “shahid” is the embellishment that has taken place –  specifically that the martyr will have access to God, can intercede for his family and the community, so he or she is a “get out of gaol free” card for all local miscreants. there is a specific hadith that refers to this: “The martyr can intercede for seventy members of his family.” (Sunan Abî Dâwûd in the Book of Jihâd) and commentators project this both forwards and backwards in time: “The members of his family include his forefathers, his progeny, his wives, and others.” Moreover, Al-Manâwî says, “It is possible that the intent of mentioning the number seventy is simply to indicate a large number.
Suddenly, it becomes clear why anyone might encourage a small child to die – if that means that poor child can sort out the salvation of his older sister who has gone astray and of his father who has fallen foul of alcohol and so on. This is a detergent with a particular and pernicious strength.
Apart from the ideology of Khomeinei, there are two other factors that are important in the modern rise of the Terrorist Jihad. There is a particular Ideology that underpins the modern Jihad. The term jahiliya describes the age of ignorance that came before Islam. This is part of what Khomenei would have seen as a world oppressive to Islam, a world dominated by non-Muslim Superpowers. Today, there are people who have claimed that this Jahillya represents the modern West. In this respect, the idea that Christians and Jews are protected (albeit at the cost of paying taxes) is no longer guaranteed because they are felt to have gone astray and left the “original religions”.The second factor is the success of the first Aghanistan war against Russia. In Join the Caravan, Abdullah Azzam offers the following slogan, “Jihad and the rifle alone. No negotiations, no conferences, no dialogue.” The success of the Mujahadeen against the USSR is made all the worse because it leaves behind an illiterate population that is picked up in Waziristan by extremist wahabist-clerics, imported at the request of General Zia, preaching a radical form of Islam. Such a population is easily brainwashed, treating women as third-class citizens, rejecting television and so on. This is the origin of the Taliban. Human trafficking, public executions, the desecration of Buddhist monuments, and the exploitation (and tax) of opium all followed. 
 Zia_ul-Haq
Conclusion:
Again, some of the work on distinguishing real and false martyrdom has already been done by the Catholic Church which invests a good deal of time into the Canonization process and aims to be legally accurate in the way it describes its various saints. The early years of Christianity saw a number of “false” martyrs and of people who had been condemned but for one reason or another, survived and attained the status of “living saints” conferring indulgences on the gullible crowds that turned to them for help. Even today, there has been discussion about whether those who have been killed might be martyrs. We might think these discussions are obscure and academic, but it is these discussions, frankly, that need to take place in Islam, and without such discussions there will continue to be a popular confusion about the concept of “shahid”/martyr.
Three principles emerge very clearly: 1) a martyr does not kill himself or herself. So the Buddhist monks in Vietnam who douse themselves in petrol are not martyrs, nor are people on hunger strike (Bobby Sands, for example and Terence McSweeney whose bishop refused him communion and last rites because he was on hunger strike); in addition, he or she does not seek death, though accepts it when it comes. (St Thomas More, Maximillian Kolbe and so on). 2) a martyr suffers violence and does not inflict it, and 3) Finally, a distinction must be made between martyrs who die for a cause and heroes or victims who are killed in the line of duty, die to save others or are victims of murder. Martyrdom involves a specific defence of the faith. This may not be a perfect way to approach the subject but it is a point of reference and I think it can be adapted to other faiths beyond Christianity.
Certainly, these “rules” would make it clear that the suicide-bomber is not and can never be a “martyr”.
To confront Islamic terror, we must recognise that Islam is developing and will certainly develop its own language, in time, to deal with this aberration. Perhaps, we must be careful not to impose Western standards or ideologies or indeed assumptions that we might or can challenge the veracity of the sacred texts, which will serve only to inflame the crisis. We need to create the environment where a proper understanding of a tolerant and mature Islam can emerge as the primary form of the Religion. This might be critical of Western values as indeed are many Christian and Jewish writers. But criticism is not a death-threat, and criticism can be healthy.
More than that, there is lots we can and already have learnt from Islam. Our Western Renaissance is dependent on the collection of Indian and Greek texts translated by Islamic scholars, and we have a debt to Islam also for the great progress made in medicine and astronomy before the 19th century. I have no doubt that today we can learn more, but we have to pull back from this mad confrontation.
*

This, by the way is what Tertullian actually wrote- “But do your worst, and rack your inventions for tortures for Christians. It is all to no purpose; you dobut attract the world, and make it fall the more in love with our religion; the more you mow us down,the thicker we rise; the Christian blood you spill is like the seed you sow, it springs from the earthagain, and fructifies the more.”

photios again

modern view

The role of Photios in sorting out St Paul!

Here is an icon of Photios, sometimes called Photius in the West and Saint Photios the Great in Orthodoxy

.photios icon

3 files about Homosexuality in the Bible: links below

We have just finished a new educational film about the 6 texts used in the Bible to condemn homosexuality.Because it is only 40 minutes long (it is divided into 3 parts on youtube) Below are parts 1 and 2:

Part 1:

Part 2:

I am afraid there are a number of glosses that i have made and which I will try to correct here over a number of blogs. I am aware that I have not really done justice (slight pun) to the text by Photios that is the lynch-pin of the main argument in the film. The issue I am discussing here occurs in the third part on youtube and the link to that part is here.

Part 3:

What Photios says

I have provided the Greek text of what Photios writes on the film, though it is on-screen fleetingly-

so here it is again:

photios on romans flat

Photios was very interested in the way Greek changes over the years from the various forms of Ancient /Attic Greek used by Homer to the Greek of the Septuagint and then the koine used in the New Testament. Photios was familiar on a day-by-day basis with the Byzantine Greek of the Imperial court and the Church but there was probably yet another more colloquial version of that in the streets of “the city”, H Polis.

Colwell’s rule

So his greatest work is probably his lexicon, which has helped scholars today to work out how words have changed their meanings and how Greek grammar has evolved. This is particularly important if you want to avoid the nonsense of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who wrongly ascribe at best an Attic grammar to the New Testament and at worst some inexperienced mumbo-jumbo. I met a man today who was sitting by the canal reading a bible. I asked which version and he said “the New World Translation”. I could not get away fast enough! There are endless errors in this Jehovah’s witness text, some simply bizarre- like the use of “torture stake” for “cross” because the Jehovah’s witnesses do not accept that Jesus died on a cross and the refusal to translate any words for hell because they do not believe in hell either. Anyway, the crucial passage is John 1:1 (in every manuscript except Codex L which has ὁ Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος)-

The Greek:

here is the correct version:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος the last phrase of which is in Greek a form of Yoda-speak:

“And God the word he was” or some such “Star wars” jabber.

yoda

But it should be translated: “the word was God” but is translated by the Jehovah’s witnesses as “the word wasa god”. Origin thinks that John omits the article because he refers to Jesus as God and not to the Father and Origin argues, “the true God is Ho Theos” (Commentary on John Book 2, chapter 2) which comes close to the Jehovah’s witness position of denying the Trinity, but not quite. Later scholars absolutely reject this: Bultmann, for example, is incandescent at the thought that the omitted definite article means only or merely “divine”: Denn man kann doch nicht verstehen: er war ein Gott, ein Gottwesen, als ob θεός ein Gattungsbegriff wäre- (he thinks, instead, that the word THEOS has some special grammatical rules of its own) but there is another solution.

Here it is:

In koine greek, though not in Attic greek, there was an increasing temptation to omit the article when a definite noun (a name) precedes the verb or when a noun should be identified as the predicate.

This is often called “Colwell’s rule” and other instances can be found in Mark 15:39 and Matthew 27:42-

βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ ἐστιν.

The rule can be adjusted slightly because the “anthrous” noun, that is a noun without a definite article, can sometimes (as maybe here) simply be a way of establishing importance or prominence. The purpose of this paragraph is not so much to rebutt the Jehovah’s witness but to demonstrate that Greek was at the time when the New Testament was written in a state of flux and that Photios understood this.

In his commentary, therefore, on Romans 2, Photios considers Paul’s use of words very carefully and concludes that Paul was being specific about a particular part of the law/ the Torah.

Tracking down the fragment

Only a fragment of this commentary exists today and is found in a collection of patristic fragments so it is itself a bit obscure. I managed to track down the text but struggled with the translation and called on an old friend in Athens who sent me off to see a man he called Bill who turned out to be the same man who had first “discovered” the text and published a small article on it in the early part of this century. When looking at obscure texts, the chances are that you are dealing with just a handful of people who know about them, translate them and use them. So, I had a fruitful and entertaining correspondence with Professor Bill Berg, the very man responsible for digging up this brilliant little gem. For my part, I was struggling with elements of the paragraph which seemed to me to be deeply anti-semitic and he agreed. So that was that. They are not important to the argument but they suggest that the man who was writing was doing so quickly and with alot of passion. It is not really surprising that this was the man who single-handedly fractured the Church. Many Catholics today dismiss the “filioque” dispute as a linguistic quibble and I remember having a long debate about this over a few weeks in the letters page of the Athens News, but the Greeks and Russians still regard the issues in the filioque as central to their decision to perpetuate the schism. For Photios and the modern Orthodox one of the central issues of the filioque is its origin in the writings of Augustine and this itself taints the theology of Augustine for the Orthodox.certainly. I think this is why there is a slightly different understanding of “original sin” in the East. In the film, I make reference to a number of “Church fathers” among them St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.

Here is St Athanasius:

athanasiussmall

St John Chrysostom who wrote the text used for the Liturgy every sunday in Orthodoxy has also got a reputation for intollerance. This needs more examination, and again may need to be put in context.

gay chrysostomos small

Romans 2: 26-27:

Back to Romans. The verse Photios is considering is Chapter 2. 26-27.

This is what it looks like in Greek:

ἐὰν οὖν ἡ ἀκροβυστία τὰ δικαιώματα τοῦ νόμου φυλάσσῃ, [a]οὐχ ἡ ἀκροβυστία αὐτοῦ εἰς περιτομὴν λογισθήσεται; καὶ κρινεῖ ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία τὸν νόμον τελοῦσα σὲ τὸν διὰ γράμματος καὶ περιτομῆς παραβάτην νόμου.

Ands this is the standard English translation:

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

Photios says about this:

(Photios’ words in brackets here)

“for the Jews, (them) Paul (he) talks about the Torah (the law); for the uncircumcised, he talks about the ‘justices of the law’ not the whole law but only a specific part.”

Photios has not quite gone all the way but it can be demonstrated by statements in, for instance, the beginning of Luke when Luke describes Zacharia and his wife keeping “all the jobs and justices of the law” that there are two different parts to the Torah and that these two parts were acknowledged as such at the time of Christ. Things change when the Temple falls in AD 70- and Judaism redefines itself as rabbinic or Pharisaic Judaism so this may explain why such a distinction gets lost.

traditional2

The Golden Rule is the King’s Law

“The Golden Rule” (to love one another), broadly speaking, is that part of the Torah which is endorsed by Paul as central to the Christian life and is also flagged up by Jesus. Let me explain!! The measure of our relationship with God is to be found in our relationship with one another. This is defined by Christ in the Golden Rule, (Mtt 7:12: Πάντα οὖν ὅσα [a]ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑμῖν οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς· οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται.) but it is also found in Hillel (Shabbat 31a: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn) and is embedded in Lev xix 18.

In the epistle of James, this is called “the Kingly law”:

james 2:8:

Εἰ μέντοι νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν κατὰ τὴν γραφήν Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν, καλῶς ποιεῖτε·

Now, a “kingly law” was regarded in the ancient world as something that took precedence over any other existing laws. An example of this can be found in Pergamum (Deissmann) but the idea is fairly straightforward. If Christ had issued the Golden rule as a “kingly law” then that takes precedence over anything else in the Torah. The Golden rule is to deal well with others. It is not about cultic practice. In other words, the Gentile might well be able to keep the “kingly law” (which sums up the whole Torah anyway) in the knowledge that he can not keep the  Torah itself. This happens at a time when elements of Pharasaic Judaism were perhaps getting out of control. People were indulging in the cultic observances as a way to make up for their failing with one another. David Wood suggests that this is the kernel of Paul’s message- that no amount of cultic obedience can erase offences to the Golden rule. That is paramount and trumps the cultic laws, because the “kingly law” is absolute.

In terms of the two types of law, and here I think the film does an adequate enough job in part 3:

paRT 2 NEW IDEAS FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT

 Homosexuality falls into those laws defined as “cultic”: rather than into those laws that support the “Golden Rule”, what Wood calls “the Justices”. Paul might not like Homosexuality (personally) but he does not think it is something that will damn someone to eternal death, particularly if they are mindful of the Golden Rule. What is damning instead is nastiness, and spite and I suppose writing hateful things in a blog. We must be nice to Jehovah’s witnesses when they knock on the door. Be nice but do not necessarily agree with what they say. Islam!! When I began this study, I fully intended to broaden the film with an episode about Islam, partly because I had heard of a (mostly underground) gay mosque in Paris. There is a big debate in Islam about toleration. I think it comes down to three verses from the Koran which I shall print here: The first is from Sura 5.51 which says that Muslims should not be friends with people of other faiths, specifically Jews and Christians.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ أَوْلِيَاءَ ۘ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُم مِّنكُمْ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

But if this is seen in the light of Surah 5.58, where it judges that “these people” do not take Islam seriously enough –

 وَإِذَا نَادَيْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ اتَّخَذُوهَا هُزُوًا وَلَعِبًا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَّا يَعْقِلُونَ

then, the real position is to be discovered in Surah 60.8:

 عَسَى اللَّهُ أَن يَجْعَلَ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَ الَّذِينَ عَادَيْتُم مِّنْهُم مَّوَدَّةً ۚ وَاللَّهُ قَدِيرٌ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
which urges Muslims to befriend their enemy.
In other words, if you are confident enough about your own identity, it makes sense to befriend others who either reject that identity or who do not share it. The more we talk with our “enemies”, the more we both learn.
Conclusion
Nothing comes from prejudice and hatred.
A Political postscript:
drawing from earlier this year: debate on Question time about the impact of Gay Marriage:
gay marriage
Humanitarian Mosque
It is worth checking out the following link which is about a “humanitarian Mosque” in South Africa catering to gay muslims. My own instinct is that such division should be unnecessary but the fact that this debate is opening in Islam tells us just how progressive the religion has become. At the same time, of course, there is also all the nonsense promoted by ISIS. It is salutary to think that at the same time that the Crusades were being waged in the name of Christ, there was also St Francis of Assisi. Maybe the fact that the latest Pope has taken the name Francis is a reason to hope for more tolerance in a world that has gone a little crazy.
gay-muslims-find-sanctuary-in-south-africas-peoples-mosque-body-image-1432847175