Author Archives: Ijaz Ahmad

The Birth Narratives of Jesus in the New Testament – Part 2

Last week, we took a cursory look at the birth narratives (of Jesus, otherwise known as the infancy narratives) in the New Testament. Not everything is as it seems though. I had published that article as an introduction to the subject, today however we will look at a story (infancy narrative) present only in the gospel attributed to Matthew.
Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] 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.

If you read closely, within the first verse we are told that wise men come to visit baby Jesus. Next to the phrase “wise men” we find a citation, citation “[a]”. What does this citation read?

Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16

So who were the Magi (image taken from my debate slides, direct link to Strong’s Concordance here)?

Magi Meaning in Strong's Lexicon

Depending on the translation you read, these wise men came either to worship him or to pay homage to him. Let’s accept the Christian claim that these black magic practitioners (hereafter I refer to them as ‘black magicians’) came to worship Jesus. What then? They decide not to return to Herod and tell him where Jesus is located. You might think to yourself then, well if they decided not to harm Jesus then they must be good black magic sorcerers. Yet, can there be one who uses black magic for good? The use of black magic is in and of itself a form of pagan worship, to the point that the God of the Bible expressly calls for the removal of such people from Israel in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (emphasis mines):

There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.

Isaiah 47:12-15 says (emphasis mines):

“Keep on, then, with your magic spells
and with your many sorceries,
which you have labored at since childhood.
Perhaps you will succeed,
perhaps you will cause terror.
13 All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!
Let your astrologers come forward,
those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
let them save you from what is coming upon you.
14 Surely they are like stubble;
the fire will burn them up.
They cannot even save themselves
from the power of the flame.
These are not coals for warmth;
this is not a fire to sit by.
15 That is all they are to you—
these you have dealt with
and labored with since childhood.
All of them go on in their error;
there is not one that can save you.

Right, so it’s not a few generic wise people from the East, but a few black magicians, a few sorcerers, a few diviners. That changes the immediate context of the story. Why would these people be coming to see Jesus? We are not given a reason, though it can be surmised that they did so to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh. All of which, including the Magi, play no role in the story thereafter. What is perhaps most concerning is if this story is accurate, a lot of important questions arise. Why would Mary or Joseph allow black magicians/ sorcerers to come near their infant child? Did Mary or Joseph join these people in worship? The story is silent on these issues, but the visit of these black magicians does play a central role in how Jesus is perceived among his own people within the New Testament narratives.

If the infancy narratives in the Gospels are true, then the later reactions of Mary the mother of Jesus do not truly make sense, but ironically the actions of the Jews of Jesus’ day (as the New Testament presents them) do seem to be reasonable. To set the stage, Jesus has healed people and is also doing exorcisms (driving out evil spirits), some people complain about what Jesus is doing, they complain to his family members:

Mark 3:21-31

Roughly ten passages later we learn that the family members who said, “he is out of his mind,” also includes his mother Mary. Yet, if the infancy narratives as presented in the New Testament are true, then Mary no doubt had to know that Jesus was God and would be doing miracles. That her immediate reaction is to refer to him as being “out of his mind” does not seem in the least bit reasonable. What then did the Jews of that time within that same story (after the words of his family) say? We read from Mark 3:22 the following:

Mark 3:22

The Jews were not referring to him as a demonic agent for the fun of it, it is quite clear that from the New Testament’s narrative that throughout Jesus’ time, there was an association with him and demons/ black magic and things of this nature which had been readily condemned in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) in very harsh terms (as mentioned, in part, above).

This brings us back to the Magi. They were following a star which had apparently risen at the time of Jesus’ birth and they followed it to the place where the infant Jesus was located (Matthew 2:9):

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.

There are a few things to consider here. There is no consensus in Christian scholarship regarding the time frame of the visit of the black magicians. There are generally two main options:

  • It could be within weeks of Jesus’ birth
  • Up to two years after Jesus’ birth

It cannot be two years after Jesus’ birth as that would mean the star was in the sky for two years. Considering that King Herod was actively hunting for Jesus, in order to execute him (Matthew 2:13) and that he was consulting astrologists/ black magicians (Matthew 2:7), then how is it possible that no one in those two years accounts for this star in the sky? More so, it is not any kind of star, but one which was different enough that they could tell when it was over a person or not. So it would mean all the astrologists in the ancient world, missed a special star over a possible two year period (using the meaning of the word παιδιον, at least one Christian apologist argued to me that the visit could have been up to 7 years after the birth of Jesus, that makes the issue worse, not better).

One could conjecture and say that perhaps the star was only visible to the very people that the God of the Bible condemns (as quoted above). This would then mean, that the only people to see this star (which announced the birth of allegedly, God himself) were the one group of people that God has confirmed are in error such that they were to be driven out of Israel (as referenced in Deuteronomy 18:10-12). We never hear about or from the astrologists/ black magicians again, which is peculiar. For if this is from eyewitness testimony, then how did an eyewitness know what the Magi dreamt after having met Jesus in Matthew 2:12?

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

We also know that after this dream, they were not the ones to tell Joseph and Mary about being in immediate danger, but rather an angel of the Lord did so in Matthew 2:13 via a dream:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

This therefore rules out the possibility that the Magi ever returned to tell anyone about their dream, so where exactly did this story come from? As with most things for the New Testament, it is silent on this and these passages only serve to promote doubt about the New Testament’s authenticity and reliability. One can also rule out that the black magicians/ astrologers were there to warn Joseph and Mary about King Herod, as they never did so and it takes an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream to deliver this information. As a side note, multiple Christians have confused astrology and the science of astronomy in response to what I’ve written (and said in my debate), though these were not apologists in a career sense. That they cannot tell the difference between the two is not surprising but it does explain why they did not notice the impact that the Magi had on the infancy narratives of the New Testament.

Part 3 will be out soon…

As an addendum, to explain the significance of as astrology and why the Magi were watching the skies for signs, we read (it is attributed to the Biblical Solomon but there is no data which indicates this is true, just like the New Testament it is likely a work of homonymous/ pseudepigraphic authorship):

The zodiacal astrology, combined here with demonological perspectives, is further attested by the seven constellations that appear through the power of Solomon’s evocation:

(8:1) There came seven spirits bound up together hand and foot, fair of form
and graceful. When I, Solomon, saw them, I was amazed and asked them, “Who
are you?” (2) They replied, “We are heavenly bodies [esmen stoicheia], rulers
of this world of darkness [kosmokratores tou skotous].” (3) The first said, “I am Deception.” The second said, “I am Strife.” The third said, “I am Fate.”
The fourth said, “I am Distress.” The fifth said, “I am Error.” The sixth said, “I am Power.” (4) The seventh said, “I am The Worst. Our stars in heaven look
small, but we are named like gods. We change our position together and we live
together, sometimes in Lydia, sometimes in Olympus, sometimes on the great
mountain.”

Source: Von Stuckrad, Kocku. “Jewish and Christian Astrology in Late Antiquity: A New Approach.” Numen 47, no. 1 (2000): 1-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3270359.


Update: 30th December, 2019

Following the publication of this article, Dr. Ehrman also published a similar article which overlaps with and confirms the arguments I’ve presented here. The following except is taking from this blog post by him, for full access a subscription is needed to his blog:

Here is what I say about it in my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. (This is a college-level textbook: but if you are interested in basic knowledge about everything connected with the New Testament, it would be a great place to start: it includes discussion of every book of the NT and has suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter)

*******************************************************

The story of the visit of the Magi (2:1–12), found only in Matthew, is one of the most interesting tales of the New Testament. Here we are less interested in the historical problems that the story raises (e.g., how can a star stand over a particular house?) than in the point of the story in Matthew’s Gospel. Ancient readers would have recognized the Magi as astrologers from the East (perhaps Assyria) who could read the course of human events from the movements of the stars. These wise men are pagans, of course, whose astral observations have led them to recognize that a spectacular event has transpired on earth, the birth of a child who will be king.

and Allah knows best.

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 can be found here.

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:

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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.

The Prophecy of Zephaniah 3:9

One of the most peculiar verses in the Old Testament is that of Zephaniah 3:9, let’s begin by first looking at two translations of this passage:

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“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder.” – Zephaniah 3:9 (NIV)

“For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language that all of them call in the name of the Lord, to worship Him of one accord.” – Zephaniah 3:9 (Rabbi Rosenberg)

The first translation is one done by the Christian community while the second is from the Jewish community. Both translations say roughly the same thing but there are minute differences which will shape how the verse is meant to be understood. It is therefore important to break up the verse into its constituent parts to help us understand the message it is trying to convey:

9a –
Then I will purify the lips of the peoples (Christian translation)
For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language (Jewish translation)

9b –
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord (Christian translation)
that all of them call in the name of the Lord (Jewish translation)

9c –
and serve him shoulder to shoulder (Christian translation)
to worship Him of one accord (Jewish translation)

Analyzing 9a –

The message being conveyed here seems to be that God will convert or change this ‘pious nation’ such that they adopt a pure language. This immediately rules out the options of Christianity and Judaism as neither faith in the present day rely on one ‘pure’ language as the basis for worshiping God. The Qur’an therefore teaches:

“We know indeed that they say, “It is a man that teaches him.” The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear.” – Qur’an 16:103 (Yusuf Ali)

A point to keep in mind is that all Muslims read the Qur’an in Arabic for Salaah (daily worship).

Analyzing 9b –

Of the major religions of Christianity and Judaism, neither use a single and pure language to call upon the name of God. Rather, if we were to go into any Masjid, anywhere in the world, they would all use the name Allah (the Arabic name of God in Islam). If I were to go to an Arab Christian he may say Yasu’, yet if I went to a European or North American Christian they may call God by the name of Jesus, both of which are not of the same language nor of a language that specifically describes itself as pure and clear. Indeed there is no one language that neither the Christian community nor the Jewish community would agree on presently for which they can use to refer to God together. The Qur’an teaches:

“Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort.” – Qur’an 13:28 (Dr. Khattab)

A point to keep in mind is that the Imam begins the Salaah with the Takbir (Allahu akbar, trans.: God is the greatest).

Analyzing 9c –

This passage is most interesting because of the fact that Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder in Salaah and in Salaah we have one Imam who leads everyone in the prayer:

Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Straighten your rows for I see you from behind my back.” Anas added, “Everyone of us used to put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion and his foot with the foot of his companion.” – Sahih al Bukhari, Book 10, Hadith 199

Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Set the rows in order, stand shoulder to shoulder, close the gaps, be pliant in the hands of your brethren, and do not leave openings for the devil. – Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 2, Hadith 276

Indeed, it is a condition for Salaah to be valid behind the Imam, that one follows the Imam:

Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: The imam is appointed only to be followed; when he says “Allah is most great,” say “Allah is most great” and do not say “Allah is most great” until he says “Allah is most great.” When he bows; bow; and do not bow until he bows. And when he says “Allah listens to him who praise Him,” say “O Allah, our Lord, to Thee be the praise.” – Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 2, Hadith 213

In fact, the word used in Zephaniah 3:9c for worship and serving is the Hebrew equivalent to ‘Ibadah (عبادة) which is the term for worship (prayer) in Arabic. The Hebrew word used in this case is Ibadow (לְעָבְד֖וֹ), Strong’s #5647.

Conclusion

All in all, this passage when analyzed demonstrates for us the truth of Islam with absolute clarity.

and Allah knows best.

Did the Qur’an Copy the Bible’s Violence?

Very often I am presented with two claims.

Claim #1: The Qur’an copied from the Bible
Claim #2: The Qur’an is a manual for violence.

Those who make these claims do not seem to understand that the only possible conclusion in which both these claims can be true is if the Qur’an’s “violent” verses were copied from the Bible. To help those who hate us understand this point, I often ask the question:

Did the Qur’an Copy the Bible’s Violence?

Quite often the answer is no. Yet if the author of the Qur’an did create a religion for the purpose of warfare, genocide and terrorism, and if this author was copying from the Bible then it stands to reason that the Qur’an at the very least should contain some or most of the Bible’s most violent verses. Yet this is not the case. In fact, the most violent verse in the Bible is not matched by any verse of the Qur’an:

“However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.” – Deuteronomy 20:16 (NIV)

It would seem very strange that the author of the Qur’an (assuming it is not God as Christians claim) would create a religion for the purpose of warfare and copy from the Bible, while at the same time avoiding copying any verses which allow for violence. Surely, a religion created for the purpose of warfare which had the Bible available for source material would quote the most violent verse possible to support its ideology, yet we find no equal verse to Deuteronomy 20:16 in the Qur’an, or a verse more violent than it altogether.

On the other hand, the Qur’an echoes a teaching once given to a previous messenger (or messengers) to the Children of Israel:

“That is why We ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever takes a life—unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land—it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.” – Qur’an 5:32 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

and Allah knows best.

 

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