February 5, 2017
Reprinted with permission from the personal blog of Mateen Elass, Random thoughts from an Arab, Reformed theologion
By Mateen Elass
News of the recent heinous attack on a Muslim house of worship in Quebec City, Canada, was reported around the world. The perpetrator has been arrested and charged with five counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder. As yet, nothing about Alexandre Bissonnette’s motives has been released to the public. It’s a bit surprising that he has not been charged with any terrorism-related crimes at this point, but there is much to which the public is not privy for now. What we do know is that hundreds of lives are now shrouded with grief and anger over this hateful attack. Our prayers are important — may God grant the families and friends of the victims comfort and peace.
Unfortunately, this attack is not the only violence against worshipers in the month of January. About two weeks ago, in a largely Muslim community, another house of worship was attacked during evening prayers, this time by a mob of about 90. They broke into the building, cornered roughly half the worshipers who had not been able to escape and locked them in the hall. After beating them with clubs and sticks, they separated the men and the women, tying up the men and raping fifteen women. Some of the assailants stayed outside to catch any escapees, so as to beat the males and rape the females. After sating their hatred toward the worshipers, the mob capped off the evening by destroying much of the property inside the house of prayer.
The prayer leader was a particular target of the mob, but he escaped with eight others and hasn’t been heard from since. That silence suggests that he was later tracked down by the attackers and either kidnapped or executed.
What motivated this mob to cause so much pain and destruction to the lives of innocent people? We have a pretty good idea since they were “breathing threats and murder” against the objects of their terror.
In case you don’t already know, this attack occurred in Eastern Uganda. The mob was composed of Muslim men, the house of worship was the Katira Church in Budaka District, and the victims were members of that church gathered in prayer around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 15th. The attackers apparently wanted revenge, believing that the pastor was behind the conversion of a number of Muslims to the Christian faith. Some were shouting, “Away with the pastor!” “Away with the pastor who is converting our Muslims to Christianity!” They also wanted to humiliate their enemies, engaging in the rape of helpless women while the bound and beaten men looked on, powerless to rescue them. The attackers finally fled when police arrived two hours after the violence began. A few days later, leaflets surfaced with further accusations against the pastor linked to warnings of future reprisals. There is no indication to date that any arrests have been made by the authorities.uganda-pastor
The next day, members of the church gathered and planned to destroy the village mosque in retaliation, and to show that “they were not cowards.” But another local pastor convinced them that Christ called them to adopt an attitude of forgiveness, and so they relented.
If you hadn’t heard this story in the news, I’m not surprised. The media don’t seem particularly interested in accounts of Muslim attacks on Christians, perhaps because there are so many of them and it has come to be expected. On the other hand, if a Muslim is attacked by a Westerner (whether Christian or secular) or a mosque is assaulted in some way, that garners major media attention. Recently in Victoria, TX, a small mosque burned down, and news of the tragedy spread widely. Authorities are investigating, and rightly so, whether this was an accident or an act of arson. In the meantime, a GoFundMe page created to help rebuild this mosque has raised $1,085,357 in five days. What a wonderful sign of generosity! But did you know that in the last 13 years over 900 churches in Nigeria have been destroyed by Boko Haram and other Muslim extremists? News hasn’t spread much about this, and no GoFundMe pages have raised any money.
You may remember that Boko Haram did make the news back in 2014 when they kidnapped some 276 girls from a predominantly Christian school and planned to use them for ransom, for marriage or for sex slavery. The fact that these girls were primarily Christian and were being forced to convert to Islam was not all that important in the eyes of the American media. But what got our attention was that they were helpless pawns in the hands of barbaric killers. Many of our politicians and actors show their support for a short time for the release of these girls. You may remember the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. michelle-obama-bring-back-our-girls-jpgellen-deThat was about 1000 days ago. Presently, 219 of the original 276 are still unaccounted for, and our political and Hollywood promises have faded into the woodwork. We Americans have such short attention spans. When a cause is no longer popular, we kick it to the curb unceremoniously so we can march at the forefront of the next cresting crusade.
Your may recall (if you read the media fine print) that in the week after the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations were put down on Aug. 14, 2013, forty-two churches were destroyed or attacked throughout the country. Many more have been destroyed since (most recently St. Peter’s Cathedral in Cairo was decimated by a bomb attack, killing 25 and injuring another 49).Facts such as these barely scratch the surface of what is happening around the world concerning religious savagery.
It should come as no surprise that followers of Jesus Christ are by far the largest target worldwide for violent persecution. One of the major sources for that is the Muslim community. Hiding from or ignoring that fact will not make it go away. If the leaders of the Muslim world are not willing to confront this ugly truth in their own religion, then the rest of the world will need to so as to protect itself.coptic-nun
The end of 2016 saw the attainment of a dubious milestone in world affairs: since the 9/11 al-Qaeda strike on America, there have been over 30,000 documented deadly Muslim terrorist attacks around the world (as of today that number stands at 30,227). A liberal estimate of terrorist attacks committed in the name of all the other major religions combined over the same period might approach 100. What is it about the religion of Islam that leads so many of its adherents (comparatively speaking) to believe that violence in the cause of Allah is mandated against all infidels? Unfortunately, jihadi teaching is firmly rooted in the Qur’an, in the Hadith traditions and in the Sira (biography) of Muhammad, who is the model par excellence for how all observant Muslims are supposed to live. It is not radical, or extremist, or twisted Islam which calls for violence against those who will not lie down like sheep before its supremacist claims — it is orthodox Islam that prescribes violence, even terror, as weapons to advance the cause of Islam until it controls the world.
We in the secular West must work hard to police ourselves so as to rein in the hatred and desire for retaliation against Muslims that many feel upon seeing or experiencing jihadi terror unleashed in our midst. Attacks on Muslims and mosques should never happen in a society which believes in the freedom of religion and the vision of our society as a true melting pot. Even more for Christians, we must demonstrate proactive love and the capacity to think the best of others, as well as to forgive when wronged. But we must not be under any illusion as to what the religion of Islam stands for, whether the Muslims we know embrace it fully or not, and we must prepare accordingly. Muhammad’s Islam, enshrined in Shari’a, is no friend of Western democracy.
* * * *
About Mateen Allas
Mateen was the second of four children born to a Syrian Muslim who had married an American while studying at the University of Wisconsin. Some years after Mateen’s birth, the family moved to Saudi Arabia where his father worked as an oil company executive. During his early teens Mateen began a search for God, largely through reading. For six years he focused on eastern mysticism and meditation including a stay at an ashram in India. Yet his nagging questions, Who is God? How can I know him? remained unanswered.
God guided Mateen toward an answer to those questions by bringing him into contact with genuine Christians. They repeatedly pointed him to Christ and challenged him, “Read the four gospels of the New Testament. Get to know Jesus.” He took up the challenge. After days of reading, study, and prayer, at the age of twenty Mateen became a follower of Christ. As is common in Middle Eastern families, he soon paid a high cost for his newfound faith: isolation from his father for more than a decade.
By the end of his college years, Mateen sensed God’s call to Christian ministry. After completing a B.A. at Stanford University he graduated from Fuller Seminary, earning M.Div. and M.A. degrees in Biblical Studies and Theology. After several years of pastoral work he returned to school earning a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Durham University in England, studying under the world-renowned NT scholar James D. G. Dunn.
Mateen’s prior ministries include an associate position for a small-town Presbyterian church in Wyoming, solo pastor of a young suburban church in Arizona, and Minister of Adult Education at First Presbyterian of Colorado Springs, a church at that time of more than five thousand people. He then served as senior pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Illinois for seven years prior to completing his pastoral work as senior pastor of First Presbyterian, Edmond, OK, from 2007 to 2015.
In the fall of 2015, Mateen took up a new calling with Voice of the Truth in Colorado Springs, a ministry dedicated to reaching the Arabic-speaking peoples with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mateen’s particular work is with churches and Christian groups eager to learn about Islam, its claims and challenges, and how to share the gospel winsomely and effectively with Muslims. He is eager to respond to opportunities for teaching and training Christians in these timely matters.