The Birth Narratives of Jesus in the New Testament – Part 1

Have you ever read the birth narratives about Jesus in the New Testament? They are generally a lot later than people know them to be (in terms of manuscript dating). Generally only Papyrus 4 is said to be earlier than Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the 4th century CE, but it is still generally dated from the late 2nd century to the early 4th century CE. That is roughly between 150 to 300 years after Jesus’ time on earth. Regardless of these facts, the narratives themselves are difficult to follow and understand, they are often in direct contradiction to each other and have almost no overlap. There are important textual variants present in both groups of passages, but this is not meant to be an article focused on textual criticism. Our goal is to read these narratives and then to point out any difficulties we see with them.
Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Luke 2:1-22 (ESV)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

The narrative in Matthew tells us that it took a special sign from God, a star, in order for the wise men to find Joseph, Mary and Jesus. There is no mention of these wise men in the narrative which Luke gives us. Do note, I’m not saying “Matthew” or “Luke” as in reference to historical persons, but as for simple titles to refer to their various stories as presented in the New Testament. Interestingly in Matthew, these wise men first go to Jerusalem to inquire about the location of the Messiah, yet when they reached Jerusalem all the chief priests and scribes of the people (Matthew 2:3-6) were already aware that the Messiah was to be found in Bethlehem. At the outset this first piece of information presents us with the problem of the wise men being not so wise, if all the chief priests and scribes already knew this information (which is a quote from the Old Testament), then how is it possible that the only people to visit baby Jesus are the very people who don’t know how to find him?

What makes this worse is that all of Jerusalem was troubled alongside Herod regarding the news of the birth of the Messiah. If that is the case, then most people in Jerusalem would have known this information, so it was not only all the chief priests and all the scribes, but also most of the people who knew where to find the Messiah. Yet, Herod tasks the wise men to find the Messiah, yet if he already knew they were in Bethlehem and wanted to kill the Messiah, why not send Roman soldiers? Instead, it seems to appear that the authors of Matthew found it sensible to write that the wise men were to go to Herod and ask him information that was widely and publicly circulated, then they were to go to Bethlehem and find him, then they would travel from Bethlehem back to Jerusalem to inform Herod. Such a circumstance allows for only one conclusion, that the authors of Matthew had to provide a window of time for Joseph, Mary and Jesus to fear for their safety and flee out of Bethlehem.

Yet, if we look at the narrative in Luke 2:7, Mary gives birth to Jesus. In Luke 2:8-20, an angel appears to native shepherds who reside near Bethlehem and gives them the news about the Messiah. These shepherds and the angels, along with their conversation is totally absent from Matthew’s version. Luke 2:17-18 then says:

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

The Shepherds then announce the news of the angels and the news directly about Jesus. There is no warning about their safety, no concern about Herod wanting the Messiah to be killed, the shepherds made the news “known” and specifically that “all” who heard the news, wondered about it. Had they been concerned about the Messiah’s safety, why would they make the story “known”? The narratives here have very little overlap, indeed there is no fleeing to Egypt as Matthew recounts, but in the story of Luke, Jesus and his family venture into Jerusalem where Joseph and Mary are to present Jesus in the Temple, as Luke 2:22 says.

There is a simple explanation to all this. If Herod wanted to kill the Messiah, and he knew the Messiah had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem for presentation before the Lord, then why not have the soldiers present within and throughout Jerusalem, wait at the Temple in secret and then kill every boy who is brought forth?

If one were to read the story of Matthew in isolation, it would be a suspenseful drama, filled with prophecies, fear, intrigue, mystery, violence and a great escape!

If one were to read the story of Luke in isolation, it would be filled with no suspense, no fear, no violence and no great escape, but rather it would appear to be a happy story without any worrying, anxiety or concern.

As Christmas comes closer, we will compare and contrast the various stories, try to make sense of them and even try to solve the contradictions without compromising on the text themselves. If it is possible to find an alternative version which perfectly harmonizes these two narratives, I would love to read it. Unfortunately, I’ve read from Tatian’s to modern authors such as Dr. Licona in an effort to find atleast one version that manages to combine these two narratives without having need to omit or add one element or another. What curious problems do you see in these narratives?

Part 2 will be out soon…

and God knows best.

An Example of Tahrif (Corruption) in the Bible

Muslims are often told that the corruption of the Bible as Muslims believe in, cannot be demonstrated. Simple examples of taḥrīf (corruption; technically: to move something from its place) are generally dismissed as copyist errors which do not affect the overall meaning of the message, though it does need to be pointed out that at some point there will be enough small changes that they aggregate into meaningful differences. If it was the case that many small changes were ineffectual in the validity of scripture (its meaning and authority) then either it is the case that the scripture itself is so vague and impactless that changes don’t matter on a macro scale or it is the case that the changes do eventually matter because the sanctity and preservation of scripture matters.

The Qur’ān makes a few claims regarding the taḥrīf of the Bible:

“Do you ˹believers still˺ expect them to be true to you, though a group of them would hear the word of Allah then knowingly corrupt it after understanding it?” – 2:75 (trans. by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

“But they broke their covenant, so We condemned them and hardened their hearts. They distorted the words of the Scripture and neglected a portion of what they had been commanded to uphold. You ˹O Prophet˺ will always find deceit on their part, except for a few. But pardon them and bear with them. Indeed, Allah loves the good-doers.” – 5:13 (trans. by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

Prof. Adam Gacek writes in his Vademecum (pp. 31-32) regarding the definition of the word taḥrīf:

2. distortion, error, usually involving either transposition of letters within a word, e.g. علم/ عمل or شقر /شرق , or mispronunciation, e.,g. طغرا /طرة (MU, X, 57; MQ, 641: al-taḥrīf bi-al ziyādah aw bi-al-naqṣ); falsification (of a text), comp. al-qalb al makānī, taṣḥīf.”

Regarding “al-taḥrīf bi-al ziyādah aw bi-al-naqṣ”, this means a change by means of increasing or by decreasing (letters, words, passages, etc).

Let’s now proceed by looking at an example of a simple change of one word in which it was swapped with a word of the opposite meaning. At first we will look at a Jewish translation (CJB; emphasis mines), then at Christian translations (ESV, NIV; emphasis mines).

Now it would come about when the cycle of the feasting days would be over, that Job would send and summon them, and offer up burnt-offerings early in the morning burnt- offerings according to the number of all of them, for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts.” So would Job do all the days. – Job 1:5 (CJB).

“And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed[a] God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. – Job 1:5 (ESV).

Now the Hebrew text (MST – Masoretic Text):

וַיְהִ֡י כִּ֣י הִקִּיפוּ֩ יְמֵ֨י הַמִּשְׁתֶּה֜ וַיִּשְׁלַ֧ח אִיּ֣וֹב וַֽיְקַדְּשֵׁ֗ם וְהִשְׁכִּ֣ים בַּבֹּקֶר֘ וְהֶֽעֱלָ֣ה עֹלוֹת֘ מִסְפַּ֣ר כֻּלָּם֒ כִּ֤י אָמַ֣ר אִיּ֔וֹב אוּלַי֙ חָטְא֣וּ בָנַ֔י וּבֵֽרְכ֥וּ אֱלֹהִ֖ים בִּלְבָבָ֑ם כָּ֛כָה יַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אִיּ֖וֹב כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים:

The word used in the English is “blasphemed”, the word used in Hebrew is H1288 or the word for “blessed”. “Blasphemed” and “blessed” are words with the opposite meaning, so what happened here? The CJB offers little explanation (at least the digital version I checked), but the ESV rightly has a footnote there:

Job 1:5 The Hebrew word bless is used euphemistically for curse in 1:5, 11; 2:5, 9

As this footnote explains, this issue has arisen in multiple places within the text of Job, at a count of at least four (4) times. They do offer one explanation, the word bless is used euphemistically to mean curse. Yet, is this true? Not exactly, the NET in Translation Note #30 says (emphasis mines):

The Hebrew verb is בָּרַךְ (barakh), which means “to bless.” Here is a case where the writer or a scribe has substituted the word “curse” with the word “bless” to avoid having the expression “curse God.

For similar euphemisms in the ancient world, see K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, 166. It is therefore difficult to know exactly what Job feared they might have done. The opposite of “bless” would be “curse,” which normally would convey disowning or removing from blessing. Some commentators try to offer a definition of “curse” from the root in the text, and noting that “curse” is too strong, come to something like “renounce.”

The idea of blaspheming is probably not meant; rather, in their festivities they may have said things that renounced God or their interest in him. Job feared this momentary turning away from God in their festivities, perhaps as they thought their good life was more important than their religion.

This would be less of a problem if the entire story of Job did not rest on the meaning of this one word. In the Bible, Satan challenges God by claiming that the only reason the Patriarch Job is so faithful to God, is only due to the blessings which God had bestowed upon him (wealth, a good family, good health, etc). Satan then suggests to God, that should God take these blessings away from Job that Job will then either curse God (if the translations are right) or that Job will bless God (if the edited Hebrew text is right). In other words, either Satan wins the challenge against God or God wins the challenge against Satan.

Given that Job ends up cursing God and repenting for it, and given the use of the original Hebrew word of “curse” (i.e. the word before the scribes changed it to bless in the Hebrew), this would mean that Satan won the challenge against God.

The Challenge by Satan (Job 1:11 – NIV):

“But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s Admission of Cursing God (Job 42:1-3 – NIV):

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Interestingly, the NIV has no footnote to indicate that the word should be read in its opposite (and therefore in its original) meaning. To further illustrate this point, the Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments says (emphasis mines):

Job 42:3. Who is he that hideth counsel? — What am I, that I should be guilty of such madness? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not — Because my mind was without knowledge, therefore my speech was ignorant and foolish; things which I knew not — I have spoken foolishly and unadvisedly of things far above my reach.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says (emphasis mines):

42:1-6 Job was now sensible of his guilt; he would no longer speak in his own excuse; he abhorred himself as a sinner in heart and life, especially for murmuring against God, and took shame to himself.

In conclusion, this is striking because the Qur’ān teaches:

There are some among them who distort the Book with their tongues to make you think this ˹distortion˺ is from the Book—but it is not what the Book says. They say, “It is from Allah”—but it is not from Allah. And ˹so˺ they attribute lies to Allah knowingly. – 3:78 (trans. by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

and Allah knows best.

New Podcast Episode with Dr. Bart Ehrman

A new podcast headed by an awesome brother from the Mad Mamluks podcast has finally publicly released an episode I’ve been excited for since the moment it was recorded. Please click this link or the image below to access it:

Facebook Post of Episode

Debates, some elements of historiography, and general information about New Testament Textual Criticism are discussed.

and Allah knows best.

Millennials, Religion, and Corporate Marketing

Millennials are traditionally thought of as those born between the years 1980 and 2000. The generation just before that, is known as Generation X and features those born between the years 1960 and 1980. Baby Boomers are said to be born between the years 1940 and the mid-1960’s. One of the hallmarks of the millennial generation is their tendency to be religiously unaffiliated (i.e. they tend to prefer no religion, or are agnostic about God altogether).

According to statistics from the Pew Forum, younger millennials in the US are 36% religiously unaffiliated, while those from Generation X are 23% religiously unaffiliated and of the Baby Boomers only 17% are religiously unaffiliated. Religion is often seen as an archaic relic of the past, that it tends to harm more than the benefit it provides. Yet, if we were to abstract this central form of reasoning, that the reason religion is to be ditched is because it harms more than it benefits, then what about the paradox of millennials being loyal to corporate brands that feature advertising which is considered ethical and ‘feel-good’ while at the same time rejecting traditional religious beliefs, often for the very same reasons.

The irony here is that while millennials may think corporations produce less harm than religious groups, we do need to keep in mind that corporations hold sway over our politics ,our wars and even our religions. One may say that religious wars are significantly worse than any war a corporation may have been involved in, but truthfully let us consider this claim in its entirety. The then US Vice President, Dick Cheney did find himself in controversy given that the company which he was the CEO of before becoming Vice President, (that is to say) Haliburton, profited greatly from the war itself. One Private Military Contractor (PMC) that financially benefited but which also was accused of multiple war crimes, Blackwater, also played a significant role in the Iraq war. Its successor under Erik Price, the founder of Blackwater, is also complicit in crimes against Chinese Muslims. Even the change of government in Libya was associated with corporate interests. Let’s also be sure to mention the fact that companies functioning in Latin America received permission and help to overthrow governments they disliked.

It is therefore still quite strange that the one group less susceptible to fake news (i.e. millennials), is the same group susceptible to corporate marketing which features ethical messaging. Consider that corporations only exist to make money, to make a profit, they don’t exist to generally make our lives better. Religions on the other hand do not exist solely to make money (though the Prosperity Gospel movement is an outlier), though that is not to say that most religions don’t feature money management as an aspect of their teaching in some way (for Muslims it’s Zakaat and Sadaqah, for Christians it’s tithing). The main point which still presents itself though, is that should millennials take a serious look at mainstream religion, they will in one way or the other come to see religions as distinct from corporations. Furthermore, they should see at some level that religion provides benefits that corporations cannot, and should they seriously consider the ways in which both benefit society, there can truly only be one clear winner: religion.

and Allah knows best.

Soccer Stars Banned for Blasphemy

Saudi Arabia? Turkey? Malaysia? Indonesia?

Which Muslim country do you think this headline is from?

The reality is that it’s from Italy, a Western democracy with blasphemy laws still active today that are being used for simply mentioning the word “God”. The law is applied to both Italian and non-Italian players. PEW figures from 2010 put Christianity as the top faith in the country, constituting 83.3% of the population. A more recent figure from WorldAtlas puts this figure for the Christian population at 71.4%. Historically, Roman Catholicism has been the faith of choice for Italians. BBC News put out a lengthy four sentence article detailing the issue, that article can be read here:

Two Italian footballers have been given one-match bans for blasphemy during Serie A matches.

Sassuolo’s Francesco Magnanelli and Parma’s Matteo Scozzarella were shown on television making blasphemous remarks in separate incidents.

There is a strict ban on taking God’s name in vain in Italy, and the nation’s football association has disciplined players heard doing so since 2010.

Udinese midfielder Rolando Mandragora was banned for the offence in 2018.

Well, that was quite exhaustive, wasn’t it? CNN’s article on the subject was much more elaborative, providing lots of details about previous instances of the blasphemy law being used in sports to censor players and coaches. Here are some quotes from the CNN article:

Blasphemy is hugely frowned upon in Italy and the country’s soccer authorities have sought to crack down on it over the past decade.

In August 2018, Rolando Mandragora was banned for one-game in August 2018 after taking God’s name in vain while playing for Udinese against Sampdoria.
Last season, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini was suspended after making blasphemous remarks during his side’s game with SPAL.

Italy’s soccer authorities have come in for criticism for their disciplinary judgments this season, particularly on racism.

Just last month the Italian Football Federeation (FIGC) said Cagliari would not be punished for the racist monkey chants directed towards Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku by its fans, while no punishment has been handed to Hellas Verona for its fans racially abusing AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has urged the FIGC to take a stronger stance against racism.

Another article from The Guardian provides us with more details from a previous incident, where one player was investigated for potentially having said “Dio” or “God”:

Chievo’s coach was not the only one caught out; one of his players, Michele Marcolini, was deemed to have said “God” as he left the field after a red card. After scrutiny of TV footage, however, the league judge, Gianpaolo Tosel, was convinced Marcolini had deployed “a slang expression used in Lombardy and [the region around Venice] with a crude reference to ‘Diaz’ and not ‘Dio'” – although no one on the pitch was called Diaz.

One wonders where the moral outrage has gone regarding blasphemy laws, it seems as if it only becomes a problem when non-Christians use the same rules as Christians, but not when Christianity majority populations use the same rules. Many xenophobes from the Football Lad’s Alliance, Pediga, Britain First, and the Soldiers of Odin have always argued that by including hijabs in sports, religion is being introduced into sports and in an effort to keep sporting activities secular and outside of the influence of religion, hijabis should remove their religious symbol (the headscarf) before participating in sporting events.

Why then, would they not equally oppose religion in Italy, in a Western democracy, negatively influencing the sport and censoring non-Christians due to Christian laws? This only goes to demonstrate that their problem is not with religion, just with a religion that disagrees with their beliefs. Muslims should highlight this double standard. Do any Christian apologists who have an issue with the hijab (a female’s headscarf) in sport not equally have an issue with the blasphemy law in Italy curtailing their ‘freedoms’? If so, I’ve yet to see David Wood or Sam Shamoun rebuke what they refer to as “Romanism” for oppressing non-Catholics.

and God knows best.

Does God Regret Making Humans?

Yesterday I had a debate with a Christian apologist on the topic of ‘Noah and the Flood’. In my opening presentation (which can be seen here) I pointed out that the story of Noah begins in Genesis 5 and at the start of Genesis 6, the God of the Bible informs us as to His reasons for the flood. It’s in looking at this reason for the flood that I noticed a curious difference, the story (of God’s regret) is present in Christian English translations of the Bible, in Jewish English translations of the Hebrew Bible, in the Hebrew Masoretic Text but it is absent from the Greek Septuagint. Why is this important?

The Greek Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew (Old) Testament into Greek (another term for the Greek Septuagint is the LXX). At the time of early Christianity, it is the Greek Septuagint that most of the Old Testament quotes in the New Testament come from. In other words, the authors of the New Testament books chose to use the Greek Septuagint over any Hebrew form of the Old Testament. Some modern Christians believe that any form of the Old Testament is the inspired word of God, though the truth is that modern Christians don’t accept the Hebrew Masoretic Text or the Greek Septuagint but rather a combination of the two textual traditions. In other words, neither the Hebrew Masoretic Text by itself, nor the Greek Septuagint by itself can honestly be said by any Christian to be the unaltered, inspired words of God as He revealed them. It is only a hybrid version of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the Greek Septuagint and the Dead Sea scrolls which the modern Christian reads and believes in. This is best summarized in the examples I gave regarding a portion of the Shema Yisrael back in 2017:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Jewish English Translation of Genesis 6:6 (Rabbi AJ Rosenberg):

And the Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart.

Source: https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8171/jewish/Chapter-6.htm

The Christian English Translation of Genesis 6:6 (NIV):

The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

Source: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+6%3A6&version=NIV

At this point, both translations say roughly the same thing, but that is until we take a look at the Greek Septuagint, which the New Testament authors would’ve used. Let’s look at the Lexham Greek Septuagint (H.B. Swete Edition), it says (emphasis mines):

καὶ ἐνεθυμήθη ὁ Θεὸς ὅτι ἐποίησε τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, καὶ διενοήθη

The English translation (as published by Oxford University Press) says (emphasis mines):

then God considered that he had made humankind on the earth, and he thought over it.

Source: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/01-gen-nets.pdf

One translation (by Lancelot Brenton; a later 1987 edition) of the Greek Septuagint at this passage says:

then God laid it to heart that he had made man upon the earth, and he pondered [it] deeply.

The problem being that the word for heart is absent in the Greek altogether (at least in the Septuagint versions I have checked myself). Having said that, at least one commentary, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says about Genesis 6:6 –

It was the dread of any expression being liable to the suspicion of irreverence towards the Almighty, which led to the strange renderings of this verse by the later Jews. Thus, LXX renders “repented” by ἐνεθυμήθη = “considered,” and “grieved” by διενοήθη = “purposed,” while the Targum of Onkelos renders the second clause “and spake by his word to break their strength according to his will,” and Pseudo-Jonathan, “and disputed with his word concerning them.” The object of such paraphrases is to avoid anthropomorphism. The LXX also avoids the expression of repentance as applied to God in Exodus 32:12.

Source: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/genesis/6.htm

Where does this leave us?

It would mean that the earliest Christians (especially the New Testament’s authors) used a form (or version) of the Old Testament that today’s Christians would consider to have been tampered with and corrupted.

and God knows best.

Satan The Humble: A Story

Earlier today I came across a Christian man shouting into the face of a Muslim sister. At first I wasn’t sure what to do, but the sister was accompanied by her husband who was able to manage the situation quite well.

I calmly encouraged the Christian to walk away and to talk with me instead. At first he was a little bit hesitant, but this one interaction led to what was perhaps the strangest conversation I’ve ever had. The Christian man was clearly angry, agitated, and upset. As I was walking with him, we both quickly realised that we were Trinidadian (from the same country) and we spoke a little about our shared heritage. I thought we were making progress until his next sentence:

You’re stupid.

I have to admit that this caught me off guard, but I didn’t insult him in return, they are not our teachers in this regard. This would turn out to be an impactful action that led to a good end, keep it in mind as the story continues. Apparently I was stupid because I’m a Muslim. I’ve been called worse before so this was tame in comparison.

He decided that he wanted some coffee so I offered to buy a cup for him and so we began our brief journey to the nearby McCafe. Along the way he asked me why I believed in Islam and why I rejected the ‘truth’ about Christ. I simply let him know that I’ve studied both Islam and Christianity and that I simply find Islam to be more coherent, consistent and considerate than Christianity. He didn’t like this answer, but it was a truthful one. I mentioned that I couldn’t believe in the Bible because of its lack of preservation. He tried to argue that I likely hadn’t read the Bible, so in response I gave a few examples of the surviving New Testament papyri which contained variants affecting his beliefs, specifically that the papyrus containing the earliest text of ‘Doubting’ Thomas’ “my Lord and my God,” was lacunose. He quickly shifted topics to the ‘Qur’ān having 27 versions’. I shut down that argument pretty quickly and he seemed happy to move on from it.

Finally we got the coffee and sat down for an hour long conversation. On multiple occasions he referred to me as “a dumb Muslim”, “a stupid person”, “Satanic/ Satan”, “demonic”, etc. I’m old enough to know that when someone insults you in this way they’re looking for you to validate their perception of us as being angry, hateful people. He was trying to provoke me into confirming his prejudice. Yet, I simply smiled and ignored it. Over time, he stopped the insults. He tried to claim that the Qur’ān stated that Muslims should kill all non-believers, I asked for a reference, he quickly tried to Google an answer but he couldn’t find any verse that made any such claim. One by one his arguments fell apart.

He mentioned that the Qur’ān isn’t in chronological order therefore it can’t be understood, I pointed out that it wasn’t a Greco-Roman bios (like the Gospels), so it didn’t need to be in chronological order, much like the Psalms in the Bible. His next argument was that Muslims want Islam to be the dominant religion, I responded that everyone wants their ideology to be adopted by the masses, nothing is wrong with that. He followed up by saying that only Islam is bad as an ideology because of the violence Muslims commit. I responded by referencing Zechariah, chapters 12 to 14, where forced worship, torture and mass genocide is what happens to non-Christians when his version of Jesus returns, so it would be more rational for me to be afraid of his faith than he should be of mines.

Our conversation was quickly coming to an end, but I had him read for me 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[a]? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”[b]

17 Therefore,

“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”[c]

18 And,

“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”[d]

7 Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

He didn’t want to read these passages out loud, in fact he tried on multiple occasions to avoid discussing it. I stuck to my course and kept returning to these few verses. I remarked at him, look at the derogatory way in which it refers to ‘unbelievers’, look at how it says we’re unclean, that we can’t be touched, that we must be segregated! He didn’t enjoy this at all, his demeanor had changed, he was no longer boisterous. He had lost his gusto. He then tried one last argument, that it’s only Muslims that force their faith on others. Somehow this ended up with him wanting me to touch the cross he was wearing, I made it clear that I didn’t want to touch an idol. So he proceeded to touch me with the cross. I don’t think it hit him, the irony of the situation, until I pointed it out. I had expressed that I didn’t want to touch it and yet he forced it upon me. Once the realisation hit (that he was forcing his beliefs on me), we decided to end the conversation and he promised to be in contact with me.

On our way back to the street, he actually said I was very ‘humble’, that I didn’t shout at him or insult him in return, he confessed that my reactions to him were puzzling. In fact, he specifically mentioned that it’s likely I am Satanic because of how good my behavior was as a non-Christian, especially given the heated situation underwhich we met. As we were about to part ways, he walked up to his Christian buddies from Christ Forgiveness Ministries and made a comment about me, what he said I couldn’t hear but when he returned to me, I was in the company of the sister he initially was shouting at. Surprisingly he came with a smile and said that I was his ‘buddy’ who was very ‘humble’ and pleasant to talk with.

It’s amazing what good adab can do. Da’wah isn’t only about explaining what we as Muslims believe but it’s also about our behavior, mannerisms and etiquette:

“Invite ˹all˺ to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice, and only debate with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord ˹alone˺ knows best who has strayed from His Way and who is ˹rightly˺ guided.” – Qur’ān 16:125 (translation: The Clear Quran, by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

If you would like to support the work we do, please try to help by donating:

https://www.paypal.me/ijazdawah

and Allah knows best.

« Older Entries