Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Thursday, October 31, 2013
The way that Americans use the term secularism is typically very different from the way that Europeans or Turks use it.
1. The American view of secularism is characterized by the principle of "separation." The government is protected from being ruled by religious institutions and religious institutions are protected from government interference.
2. The European (and Turkish) view of secularism is characterized by the government control of religious life. The state defines and makes determinations about religion, presumably for the perceived benefit of the public and for the protection of the state.
The American view, which is usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is one of the unique contributions of America to the world. It ensures that religious expression can flourish without being a threat to, or being threatened by, the government. Together with the principle of religious freedom, this separates ethnicity and citizenship from religious identity. This makes it possible for people of any religious belief to count themselves citizens, and even more significantly, it makes it possible for people of any ethnicity to be free with regard to religious belief without feeling constrained by their ethnic identity. In Turkey, for example, there is a general conviction that being Muslim is part of what it means to be Turkish. And the Turkish state religious system is built on that identification. This is no different from the Ottoman system that preceded it.
This defense of separation shouldn't bother Christians who want to honor America's Christian heritage. As Lamin Sanneh would say, the American system is a tree with Christian roots, but the fruit is available to everyone. We should continue to sow into the roots and insist on protecting the principle that the fruit of religious freedom be available to everyone.
Sometimes American Christians downplay or disparage secularism and the principle of separation in their zeal to defend Christian truth. But the role of the state is necessarily different from the role of the church. Should Christians campaign for other religious beliefs to be illegal? Should citizens be legally required to confess faith in Christ? Should church attendance and Bible reading be enforced by the government? Thankfully I don't think I know any Christians who believe those things.
Historically, European countries have adopted the second kind of secularism. The Roman Empire gave this tradition of defining and controlling religion to the West. The Enlightenment reinforced this view with its conviction that the role of religion in society would fade as education in the sciences increased. Aftet its revolution France built a system on those assumptions, and Turkey followed suit. However, the Enlightment assumption proved false and religion has continued to be as signifant as it ever was.
Turkish citizens are born with an assigned religious identity. If they are born to ethnically Turkish parents their identity card reads "Islam." Public schools teach "religion" classes, but only Islam is allowed to be taught. Imams (religious leaders) in Turkish mosques are all employed by the government.
There are now 4,500 Turkish Christians in Turkey. They are just as Turkish as their Muslim neighbors and they are just as loyal to their country as citizens. But because of this tradition of government control of religion and the principle of identifying ethnicity with religious belief, the very existence of Turkish Christianity represents a reconfiguration of Turkish identity.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
4) Cultural Authenticity
5) A Recognizable Voice
Despite an increased level of exposure, however, the church is still looking for its public voice. Often the church seems to be merely reacting to tragedies and conspiracies without having a forward looking vision for the future of the nation that it can cast in the public square.
And the church continues to struggle for a greater degree of official recognition. In a nation as dependent on official bureacracy and as security conscious as Turkey, this kind of recognition can be the deciding factor in the question of the church's survival.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The infection of evil is usurped by the strategy of God to grow the seeds of the kingdom among us.
The lawyers representing the families of the martyrs have been receiving death threats since the beginning of the trial. The head attorney is an atheist. And yet he continues to risk his life to defend us. Martyrdom is unjust.
After the murders hundreds of people told me how sorry they were that such a thing had happened. Most of them wanted to assure me that Turkey was really a safe place, that it was unthinkable to kill people for religion.
And still so many of our neighbors stopped talking to us. In a terrific irony, the neighbors were afraid of us. We were dangerous. Martyrdom is scandalous.
The murders were quickly politicized, in much the same way that Jesus’ death was politicized. No one wanted to take responsibility for what happened. The authorities sought to cover-up the resurrection. Conspiracy theories were invented and spread...
The local media instantly began casting suspicion on the martyrs. The murderers were only a footnote.
Martyrdom is scandalous. But it pays more than they can imagine.
Jesus of course tells us in Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Necati, Ugur and Tilmann are well-compensated. And it looks like I might be racking up quite a stash up there as well.
3. Care for the Suffering
Hebrews 13:3 tells us to “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” We can write letters to suffering or imprisoned Christians. We can pray for the situation of persecuted people around the world. We can sponsor and financially support the work of the gospel in difficult places, and we can commit to visit or even to live out our lives among those who are suffering.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Monday, September 22, 2008
Understanding Eid al-Adha
Eid al-Adha, is the Islamic festival that coincides with the end of the annual pilgrimage in Mecca and is marked by sacrificing an animal such as a sheep, goat, or bull.
It is the most important festival in Islam, followed by the Eid al-fitr, which marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.
It begins on the tenth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijja on the Muslim calendar and continues for four days.
The basic theological meaning is to identify with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything, including his son, to Allah, and to celebrate God’s deliverance of Abraham by providing a sheep as a substitute.
Hajj: Tracing Abraham’s steps
It is impossible to understand the significance of Eid al-Adha without placing it in its context within the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Hajj, or “pilgrimage” is the fifth pillar of Islam, marking one of the most basic Muslim practices. All Muslims who are financially and physically able are required to make at least one trip to Mecca during their lifetime. While a Muslim may visit Mecca at any time of year, the Hajj is only recognized if it is performed during the assigned days on the Muslim calendar, that is during the second week of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
The rituals of the pilgrimage center around reenacting important episodes from the life of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael. It begins with “tawaf”, circumambulating the Ka’ba seven times. The Ka’ba is said to have been rebuilt by Abraham and consecrated to Allah as a center of pilgrimage. Pilgrims pray for the cleansing of their sins and often try to kiss or touch the Black Stone which is lodged into one corner of the Ka’ba.
Pilgrims then perform “say” a ceremonial running back and forth between two hills in a reenactment of Hagar’s desperate search for water for her son Ishmael after she was shunned by Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The well of Zamzam is said to have appeared under Ishmael’s feet to save them from death. Pilgrims bathe in and drink this water during this ceremony.
Then the actual “pilgrimage” takes place as pilgrims make the trip to Arafat to gather in tents for prayer and conversation from noon until sunset. Prayers are said to be especially effective during this time.
After spending the night under stars at Muzdalifa pilgrims proceed to Mina where the ritual “stoning of Satan” occurs. Pilgrims throw seven rocks at large stone pillars said to represent Satan. This ceremony reenacts Abraham’s stern rejection of the temptation by Satan to refuse to obey God’s command to sacrifice Ishmael.
This ritual is followed by the offering of an animal sacrifice by each pilgrim, identifying with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael and God’s provision of a sheep as a reward for Abraham’s complete faithfulness in Allah. It is on this same day that Eid al-Adha begins and many Muslims around the world participate vicariously in this Hajj ritual by sacrificing an animal themselves.
Muslims believe that if the Hajj has been performed properly, without violating the important regulations regarding ceremonial purity, and with the right intention of approaching God, then all previous sins are absolved. However, a Muslim cannot ever be certain that his Hajj has been accepted in this way.
Sacrifice in Islam: Eid al-Adha
Throughout the Muslim world, the festival of Eid al-Adha begins with morning prayers in the mosque followed by a sermon. This is in accordance with a hadith attributed to Muhammad:
Narrated Al-Bara: I heard the Prophet delivering a Khutba (hutbe) saying, "The first thing to be done on this day (the first day of 'Id-ul-Adha) is to pray; and after returning from the prayer we slaughter our sacrifices (in the name of Allah), and whoever does so, he acted according to our Sunna (traditions) " (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 2, p. 37).
As with the hajj itself, the sacrifice must be performed with the pure intention of approaching God. Sacrificing an animal is not considered to be merely an optional or advantageous ritual, but a religious commandment signifying one’s readiness to surrender everything to Allah.
The Qur’an depicts Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in Sura 37:
“We gave him [Abraham] news of a gentle son. And when he reached the age when he could work with him, his father said to him: ‘My son, I dreamt that I was sacrificing you. Tell me what you think.’ He replied: ‘Father, do as you are bidden. God willing, you shall find me steadfast.’ And when they had both submitted to God, and Abraham had laid down his son prostrate upon his face, We called out to him, saying: ‘Abraham, you have fulfilled your vision.’ Thus do we reward the righteous. That was indeed a bitter test. We ransomed his son with a noble sacrifice and bestowed on him the praise of later generations. ‘Peace be on Abraham!’
And the commandment to sacrifice an animal annually is understood from Surah 22:28, which is referring to the pilgrimage rituals:
“they will come to avail themselves of many a benefit, and to pronounce on the appointed days the name of God over the cattle which He has given them for food. Eat of their flesh, and feed the poor and the unfortunate.”
The sacrifice is to be performed by anyone who is financially able to do so. Guests in someone else’s household are understood to be exempt as are travelers and the poor. The sacrifice is considered an individual act, but if a wife and children are completely dependent on the income of the husband, then they are not required to sacrifice. Similarly, a sheep or goat cannot be shared between men or families as a joint sacrifice, but a larger animal such as an ox, camel, or cow can be shared by up to seven people as having fulfilled the sacrifice requirement of all of them.
While the 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah is the most spiritually profitable day on which to sacrifice the animal, many Muslims believe that it may also be performed on either of the following two days as well.
The animal must be without blemish and smaller animals such as chickens are not acceptable for sacrifice. The sacrifice should be performed with care not to cause unnecessary suffering to the animal, and small children and other animals should are often excluded to prevent them from being traumatized. While the animal is being cut, the name of Allah is pronounced and a ritual prayer is usually recited:
In the name of Allah.
Allah is the greatest.
O Allah, this is indeed from you and for you.
O Allah accept [this] from me.
The meat should be divided into three portions, with one third given to the poor, one third given to friends, family, and neighbors, and one-third reserved to eat. According to some, poorer families may reserve a larger portion for themselves to eat. The hide should also be donated and cannot be sold for profit.
Celebrating Eid al-Adha
The festival often includes visits to family members, beginning with parents and then extended family, friends and neighbors. A trip to distribute meat to friends and family is often an occasion for a social visit as well. The graves of relatives are also visited during this time and mosque visits are often made more frequently.
Special foods, most of which include meat, are prepared during this time, and large family gatherings occur during the evenings of the festival. As with Eid al-fitr, traditional deserts and candy are also given as gifts and included in family celebrations.
Since many businesses are closed during these days, families often take the opportunity to go on vacations or to visit out-of-town family members. In Turkey, during years when the festival falls in summer months, the beaches are full of vacationers, for example.
Sacrifice as a Theological Bridge: Ransoming Ishmael with a lamb
The Qur’anic story of Allah saving Ishmael’s life by substituting a lamb has obvious value as a bridge for sharing the gospel. Just as Allah honored the faith of Abraham by ransoming Ishmael with a sacrificial lamb, Christians believe that Allah ransomed all of humanity with the life of Jesus, who is called the Lamb of Allah, and that by exercising the same kind of faith that Abraham had, that is, a willingness to surrender everything we have to God, we are able to be saved from the death that we otherwise deserved in Hell.
Also, just as Muslims believe that faithful participation in the Hajj results in absolution of all previous sins, Christians believe that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, the substitute lamb of Allah, guarantees that our sins are also forgiven.
In more simple terms, Christians can affirm the value of Abraham’s faith, which is also recorded in the Taurat. It is the kind of faith that is willing to surrender everything to God. And we can identify with the concept of sacrifice because of its Old Testament parallel in Abraham and the system of temple sacrifice as well as its New Testament fulfillment in Jesus.
Of course, Muslims often respond to this kind of presentation by arguing that the sacrifice in Islam is different from the sacrifice in Judaism and that it doesn’t wash away our sins the way that we believe Jesus does. For example, the Qur’an says about the sacrificed animal:
“Their flesh and blood does not reach God: it is your piety that reaches Him.” (Sura 22:37)
Muslims sometimes use this verse to show that it is not the sacrificed animal itself that has any value to God, but the faith of the person performing the sacrifice. In this way, they might argue, a more perfect sacrifice does not have a greater effect, the way that Christians believe Jesus’ sacrifice is effective for providing forgiveness for the sins of the whole world.
Still, the parallel is helpful for Muslims to understand what Christians believe about the sacrifice of Jesus.