by Sadat bin Anwar, MDI Canada
The annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference in Toronto, Canada is the second largest Muslim gathering in North America after the annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference in Chicago, U.S. Due to its stellar speaker line-up and the organizers and attendees being made up of mostly young (ie. under-40s) professionals and students, RIS is arguably the new flagship Muslim convention in North America. As a result, it has begun to attract attention from Islam’s opponents. Last month (December 2012), the conference attracted, for the first time in my memory, a group of evangelical Christians outside of the Metro Convention Centre. I am reproducing below some of the pages from a “calender” that was being distributed free of charge to the Muslim attendees. The majority of the recipients took the calenders happily, expecting them to be Islamically-themed. See the cover image below and you might understand why.
The title of the calender states, in Arabic, “In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.” I am not sure whether the publishers of this tract/booklet (which is basically what it is, as we will see) actually consider “Allah” to be a legitimate name or word for “God” in a Semitic language, or whether it is just one of those Paul-like “compromises” that they felt was necessary for the greater good– ie. hoodwinking Muslims into being “saved”. Paul, the prophet of Christianity, famously stated: “I am made all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22), in a passage in which he is explaining why he follows Jewish ritual observances while in the presence of Jews, but not at other times. Could the publisher(s) of this “calender” have the same deceptive strategy in mind? Who is/are the publisher(s) of this calender anyhow? Even the answer to this question is not given without the ingredient of deception. See below and I will explain further.
At the end of the December page (above), we are left only with some words of praise for “Allah”, plus the website address which is presumably of the person(s) who printed this tract: “thegreatdawah.com”. When I visited this site for the first time about a month ago, it offered a link to the Answering Islam website of Jochen Katz, however that link appears to have been removed now, which suggests that perhaps thegreatdawah.com is not in affiliation with Jochen Katz’s site after all. At the present moment, thegreatdawah.com only offers reproduced images from the distributed “calender” and nothing more– a rather redundant thing to do, I think.
Anyhow, what offended me the most was not that some Christians flattered the RIS conference and its attendees by standing outside of the convention centre in the middle of a Canadian winter, during the Christmas holidays, for three cold mornings in a row. Not at all. After all, they could have shown up with a pig’s head on a pole, which is more the style of American evangelicals who turn up to preach Christian “love” at the Dearborn Arab Festival in Detroit (I hope I didn’t give anyone any ideas there!). Rather what offended me was how the publisher of this tract insulted the intelligence of the Muslims. Notice how, on the December page, there is zero mention of Christianity, Jesus, the Bible, etc. Presumably, the dumb Muslim recipient would have kept this calender up on his fridge for the whole (or remaining) month of December, not suspecting a thing. The same may apply to January, since it only contains statements in apparent support of the Qur’an’s message. Heck, even a hadith is thrown in for good measure.
February is the month in which the naive Muslim might raise an eyebrow. It is the first month in which a bit of shirk-ish terminology is introduced to the Muslim. It’s sort of like the “snowball effect” of a growing Christology in the Christian gospels, except it’s in a calender format and it grows over the period of twelve instalments instead of four. In February, reproduced below, we are gradually introduced to the language of God as “father”. But it starts with “father”– that is, with a small “f”– and only hints at Trinitarian language near the end, where it is spelled “Father” with a capital “F”. Even then, is it capitalized because the word “Father” occurs at the beginning of a sentence, or because we are supposed to be addressing “God the Father”? In other words, is “Father” capitalized for grammatical reasons or for theological reasons? And was this calender originally penned in Koine Greek, by any chance? February, just like the weather of February, is ambiguous and unpredictable.
Notice the local Toronto phone number given at the bottom of the calender page for February. Don’t get excited; it’s just another wild goose chase. No one ever picks up the phone. Believe me or not, but I still give credit to the author for not being even more deceptive than he has been so far. At least he didn’t say his name is “Reza” and that he’s the son of a great and influential Muslim scholar from Iran who was well-known and respected by everyone in his city (but who of course must remain anonymous for the sake of safety). Then again, maybe that script has been used one too many times. In any event, a phone number is given, but with no contact name. The phone number, however, is even more useless than the website, since nobody picks up. I am beginning to think that this fellow’s goal was not to convert Muslims, but rather just to frustrate them and waste their time.
Have you also noticed by now that this is not much of a calender? Out of “Islamic calender”, not even one of these words is true; it is neither Islamic, nor is it much of a user-friendly calender. One actually has to struggle to see the months’ names on the pages, since the printed dates are in such a small font. This plays into my “If you can’t beat them, frustrate them” theory of the publication.
Moving on, March and April are sort of like the Gospel of Mark, whereas the previous two months were more like the hypothesized “Q Source”. You can see some Christian terminology and themes beginning to appear here and there, but we’re still a very far cry away from the deity of Jesus. It’s sort of like a Unitarian Christian speaking. This itself begs the question of whether the “calender” had one author, or whether there were multiple authors, each one with his own Christology. I will let you decide. March and April are reproduced below.
In May, the imagery itself shifts from an Islamic one to a more “Christian” one. The picture is that of what appears to be a kidnapped ram, although the imagery is still being linked back to a Qur’anic ayah about sacrifice. This month basically continues with the themes of sin, sacrifice, and redemption. It is also the first month (almost halfway through the year!) that we actually see the words “Jesus” and “Christ” occurring, although they appear separately from each other, not together as “Jesus Christ”; that might just sound too Christian at this point. Also, it is still pretty “Markan” in flavour– nothing yet about the divinity of Christ. See below.
June, exactly mid-year, is when the tract comes out of its theological hibernation, and presents the Christian program for redemption clearly. Muslims must pray to Jesus (or is it through Jesus?; there is arguably still some Unitarian wiggle room here), whose name is interestingly explained as meaning “Allah saves”. We are now given a biblical verse, in which Jesus says “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”– although the source of the quote is not identified. The dumb Muslim, it is supposed, will probably just digest it as some spurious hadith that he has never heard before and roll with it. Still, even mid-way through the year, Jesus is only described as “close to Allah”, and not Allah Himself. And I thought I took a long time to get to the point! Below is the June page:
I will spare you the rest of the months. In case you’re curious, it is only in the month of September that the divinity of Jesus is mentioned, and even then it is only hinted at. The tract quotes Surah 5:110 of the Qur’an, in which Jesus gives life to a clay bird “by Allah’s permission“. The author rather predictably misses the point and asks, “Is this an implied admission by the Quran about the divine nature of Jesus?” At this point, I guess the Muslim is supposed to be rhapsodically nodding his head in agreement. I don’t blame the Christian author for using what he could find, though. Using the synoptic gospels to try to prove Jesus’ divinity is an equally daunting task; one may as well try it with the Qur’an. In both cases, it is what we would call “grasping at straws”.
I find it interesting that it is the very same group of people (evangelical, born-again Christians) who accuse Muslims of taqiyyah (as they understand it) and deception, who employ this method the most themselves. Muslims across various parts of the world have tonnes of these types of stories to share.
The Qur’an 2:11-12 states:
And when it is said to them, `Do not cause mischief in the earth’, they reply by saying, `We are actually the peace-makers.’ No, they are actually the mischief-makers, but they do not realize it.
On a political level, I have always found the above verse to be very fitting for American foreign policy in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South America. On the religious level, however, I have always found this verse most applicable to the proselytizing methods employed by evangelical Christians. Indeed, it is the same group that accuses Muslims of “lying” and “deception” that most employs deceptive tactics themselves. This tract, for example, is presented in the form of an Islamic calender, yet it is neither Islamic nor is it even much of a calender! It is actually an exercise in deception, from January right all the way until December.
In a way, the redundant website and the obsolete phone number provided in the tract are symbolic and indicative of Christianity itself. Christian theology, with its focus on Jesus as God, is itself a “wrong number”. When you dial the wrong number, there is no one to answer your call or to return it. It is a belief held in vain, accompanied by prayers and petitions that may be well-meaning but which are misaddressed, like letters mailed to the wrong place. If Christians truly wish to return to the teachings of Jesus, they should “phone” or connect with the One that Jesus himself connected with in the Lord’s Prayer, and that is God Himself. That is the right “address” and the right “phone number” to connect with.
The final image in the “calender”, in the December section, ends with a Qur’anic verse that I could not have found more fitting and appropriate. Sometimes, God makes people testify against themselves. What do you think?
If the printers and distributors of this false and misleading “calender” believe that it will impress or convert anyone, they are truly lost in their own web of delusion and they have fooled no one but themselves, even though they may not realize it. The money spent on these tracts would have been better spent on hot coffee for all the attendees.
What are your thoughts on such Christian tracts? Should they be used as a means of reaching or influencing Muslims? Or are they cheap stunts that are likely to be counter-productive and influence people negatively towards Christianity? Please share your comments.