02 May Interview with Umar Lee
Umar Lee is a convert to Islam from the Washington D.C. Area. The following interview appears on Umar’s blog and will also appear in the Muslim Link, a Washington D.C. area Muslim newspaper. I told Umar that I would allow him to respond and have the last word. As such, he has inserted a few of his own comments. They are in bold. Below is the interview as it appears on Umar’s Blog:
Umar: Joel, Thanks for the interview. The questions are below following my opening statement.
I have not read your book so I am not going to make any judgments on it. It has created some interest and in your blog you seem to be dedicated to hyping the threat that Islam and Muslims pose. Of course, as an American-Muslim, this is disturbing to me. The average everyday Muslim has to carry the weight of these sorts of anti-Muslim campaigns on their shoulders in their daily lives. The Muslim child in school has to sit in a classroom being shunned by fellow students and maybe even treated poorly by their teachers, the Muslim job-seeker gets passed over for a job, the Muslim business-owner loses business because of their religion, etc. . You may say that this is not your intention, and that you would not encourage such ill-treatment of Muslims, but the practical effect of what you and others like you do creates a climate that leads to discrimination against Muslims.
Below are a few questions I would like to ask you.
You point to 23 who have left the ԨorrorsԠof growing up Muslim. Yet, right here in America, there are many hundreds of thousands including me who grew-up in the church and have left for Islam (Praise be to God). I for one grew-up in the Baptist Church and was baptized at the age of 11 after being Ԣorn againԮ However, I left the church due to my inability to accept the trinity, the divinity of a man, and other teachings along with the social realities of Christianity in America particularly as it related to race, war, and poverty. People like me openly left Christianity and were blessed to be guided to Islam; but many millions more have not converted they have simply left the church and we see today that Christianity is far from the dominant culture in American life and is little more than a sub-culture with little effect on the popular culture. So, my question for you is, why have the hundreds of thousands like me left Christianity for Islam, and why have millions more left Christianity for secularism?
First of all, thank you Umar very much for the opportunity to do this interview. I hope that through discussing Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out, many Muslims will join the fight for human rights and human freedoms even if it means taking the very difficult position of challenging many of the tenants of their own religion.
YouӶe certainly begun with quite a loaded and accusatory intro. Certainly such a beginning will do nothing to build bridges of understanding or promote your cause. For now, I will do my best to ignore any overly assumptive or accusatory questions.
I do need to clarify one issue before beginning however. Criticism of Islam is certainly not ԍuslim-HatredԠanymore than criticizing Communism is Russian Hatred or criticizing American foreign policy would equal American hatred. ( UL: I agree 100%, but I hear hate in the voices and tone of many towards Muslims and if you do not accept this go to the message boards of Little Green Footballs or Jihadwatch and tell me how much Christian ԬoveԠyou see). And Iӭ not sure how you could make such a roundly illogical leap. To criticize Islam and its various evil practices and teachings most certainly should not be misinterpreted to mean that I in any way hate Muslims. A Proverb of Solomon teaches us that, ԗounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.Ԡ(Proverbs 27:6) In other words, because I genuinely care about and love Muslims, I am obligated to speak the truth to you about that which is destroying your soul and your community. It is those who only speak flattery that you should be leery of.
Regarding your comments about discrimination that Muslims may face in the U.S., let me say this: IӶe learned a long time ago that wherever you go, there are good people and there are bad people. However, I think you will agree that America is one of the most welcoming and tolerant nations in the world, and as a result, discrimination against Muslims in the United States is negligible. ( UL: I agree America has historically been welcoming to immigrants but you have to agree there is a huge anti-immigrant tide at this moment and much of it has to do with not wanting more Muslims coming here). But of course, if we are to compare the treatment of Muslims in the U.S. with the general treatment of Christians in virtually every Muslim dominated country in the world, there really can be no comparison. Americans clearly possess the moral high ground here. I could sight to you daily examples of Christians being murdered simply for being Christians throughout the Muslim world today. ( UL: Article on Palestinian Christians) You will find no such news in the U.S. regarding Muslims. This is not the kind of people that Americans are. However, if some Muslims do experience occasional suspicion and fear, would you be more apt to blame individuals like myself for criticizing Islam and standing for human rights or would you be more apt to blame your fellow Muslims such as the 9-11 bombers, the London Tube bombers, Osama Bin Laden, Hasan Nasrallah, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for such suspicions? Because I can assure you that it is these that have done the Muslims community far more damage than any critic of Islam ever could. As for the emphasis of my blog, and my other writings, if you had actually read them, you would see that despite the warnings that I very rightfully express concerning Islam, I take great pains to emphasize that as Christians, we are to treat Muslims (whether they are more radical or more liberal) with as much love and Christ-likeness as possible. I just finished a weekend of seminars in Maryland and Virginia. One of the attendees just posted this comment on my blog:
Thank you so much for coming to Salisbury, Maryland. As I drove away, I realized that I did not harbor that hatred for Muslims that I came there with. I had looked at every Muslim with the thought that each one was a terrorist and I have found a new love for my Muslim brothers and sisters! I thank you for the work that you do to educate those of us who are not familiar with Islam. May God continue to bless you and your familyż/em>
Now, my question to you Umar is this; when was the last time that you left the Masjid and were moved by a deep and growing love for Christians or Americans or Buddhists or any non-Muslims due to the message that you heard? (UL. As I am an American, my family is American, and as Imam Siraj Wahhaj once stated Ԡhow can I hate America? Everyone I love is an AmericanԠso I leave the masjid all the time with this feeling) So I most certainly do not apologize for warning people about the threat that Islam represents to the non-Muslim world, nor do I have to apologize for preaching that we as Christians love Muslims despite the many evils of the religion that they follow and are blinded by.
Now, finally to your question regarding why some people leave Christianity. You have already partially answered your own question of course, with your own personal account of leaving Christianity. But to more fully answer your question, I would have to simply refer to the words of Jesus the Messiah who said,
Ԕhis is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.Ԡ(John 3:19-21) ( UL: see this link for a counterpoint)
When you say that you have 23 who left Islam and I have not read the book there are some questions about these people I would like to ask. Were these 23 people devout practicing Muslims? Did they ever truly believe? Were they well-versed in the sciences and theology of Islam or did they simply have Muslim names and grew-up in Muslim lands? Or were these just 23 people who always had a very loose relationship with religion and who may have been upset at some of the cultural practices in their societies practiced by Muslims that are not necessarily rooted in Islam? From my perspective I know of many people I grew up with in devout Catholic and Protestant homes who were once true believers who left the church and these are people I see as having left Christianity. Those who just have Christian names and family roots in the church who do not identify themselves as Christians I do not see as having left Christianity because they were never a part of it.
Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out represents a great variety of stories. Some of those who left Islam were indeed very devout Muslims. Others were less religious. Most grew up in Muslim nations and were educated in Islam from childhood. Having personally been involved in Christian-Muslim interfaith dialogue for many years, I have seen people from every strata leave Islam. Please do not deceive yourself into believing that no truly devout Muslims ever leave Islam. ( UL: It does happen, and may Allah protect us from this evil, but it is rare and many times more rare than those who leave the church). It happens all the time. And the same can certainly be said for Christianity. But there are many distinctions between Christian versus Muslim converts that should be highlighted. Of course, the most obvious issue is the fact that when a Christian leaves his faith, he or she never has to worry about being murdered for apostasy. ( UL: This has not been historically the case and is only the case now because Christianity as a faith is weak and the governments of Christian lands are ruled by secularism) Yet among Muslims this is a universal concern, particularly when one does not live in a Western nation. As you likely well know, death for apostasy is clearly affirmed by Muhammad: ԗhoever changes his religion (leaves Islam) kill him,Ԡ(Sahih Bukhari) as well as by all four Sunni Madhabs, and the Shiӡ. The reason that I helped to compile Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out is to bring attention to these types of human rights violations. And I call on you and every Muslim of conscience to join with me in renouncing this inhuman and evil Islamic practice.
It seems that you follow a brand of Christianity that is familiar to me as someone who grew-up in the 1980ӳ under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. This is a Christianity that is heavily-mixed with a hyper-patriotism that is more than willing to support any war or military action. It presents the image of Americans somehow being a ԣhosen peopleԠabove all of the rest of Godӳ creation with the right to drop bombs on others any time She sees fit and the church should support this. Is there a war in American history you have not supported? When you look today at the camouflaged Bibles of American soldiers in Iraq and their pro-war chaplains and the Christian rhetoric that has been given as a justification for the war could you not say that it is militant Evangelical Christianity that presents more of a violent threat today than Islam?
Over the years I have learned not to stereotype people without first getting to know them. It is always best to get to know an individual before making the kind of assumptions and accusations that you seem to make so casually. You have greatly misunderstood me. I most certainly do not see Americans as being Godӳ chosen people in any way shape or form. In fact when I teach at my seminars and conferences, I always make efforts to deconstruct the American-centric mentality that too many Americans subscribe to. Instead I emphasize the Biblical worldview which is thoroughly Jerusalem, Israel and Middle Eastern centric. And of course, as a Christian, I believe that God created all people in his image. So whether we are speaking about a Somalian, an Afghani, an Eskimo, an Iraqi, or an unborn American child, God values all human life equally.
Regarding war, let me say this: Every war is evil. Period. Unfortunately, some wars are necessary and even justified in a world where evil and aggressive people such as Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups are determined to attack others. ( UL: America was never attacked by Iraq nor was America under any threat from Iraq). As a Christian, I clearly believe that God gave the mandate to governments to protect its people. I am not a student of American History or American wars and thus cannot comment on whether or not there is a war in American history that I do not support. Alternately I would ask you if there was any war, battle or raid that Muhammad waged that you feel was unjustified? How do you personally feel about the beheading of 700-900 Jewish men from the village of the Banu Qurayza? Do you support this slaughter? Is there a war that was executed by any of the four Ԓightly Guided CaliphsԠthat you think were unjustified? ( UL: No, there is not, these were the growing pains of establishing the True Religion of God and were carried out in a just manner under ethical guideline second to none at the time. For the record, with regards to America, there are past wars I would have supported and others, like the one in Iraq, that I do not)
Your question as to whether ԭilitant Evangelical ChristianityԠrepresents a greater threat than Islam is simply perverted. And I think you know this. The notion that any Christian support for their government in protecting its citizens represents a threat to the world is simply preposterous. Particularly if one is speaking about America, the only non-imperialistic super-power that has ever existed. (UL: See this book). Let me ask you this Umar, is Afghanistan better off today than it was under the Taliban? ( UL: No) What about Bosnia? (UL: Complicated) How about Europe after World War II? (UL: Yes, I will agree on this one.) And who do the Afghanis or the Bosnians have to thank for this? The United States. But my question to you is this: As an American, did you support these wars? What do you feel would have been the proper response to the attacks on 9-11? If you were President, what would be your strategy be for fighting against Al-Qaeda? ( UL: Afghanistan was logical but carried out in an unwise manner. I would have went after those who were actually responsible instead of running off to Iraq and opening gulags for Muslims and burning the Constitution right here in this land)
I must also note that your questions smack of hypocrisy in light of the fact that the Islamic Umma under the Caliphate in its various manifestations for over 1300 years was one thing and one thing only: Imperialistic. As your rophetԠhas said, ԉ have been ordered (by Allah) to fight the people until they proclaim, Ҏone has the right to be worshipped but Allah.Ҕ Sahih Buhkari Book 52:196, Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Surah 2:193
When you look at the Christian base of the anti-Muslim hysteria and those promoting hatred in the name of the Ԭove of JesusԠit is hard to escape these facts. Many of these same Christians (or their parents) a generation or two ago were pro Jim Crow segregationists, today continue to have poor relations with the African-American community, and even before that spread the Gospel through the gun to Native Americans and others. Now, these same people (for example in the Southern Baptist Church I grew-up in) who have always been so full of hate towards blacks and others while wearing their patriotism on their sleeves have found a new enemy to hate in Muslims. How do you explain the new bloodlust towards Muslims from these people as being anything other than just a part of this historical pattern?
Umar, as I said at the onset, you are doing nothing to build bridges nor are you promoting your cause with such broadly assumptive accusations. Your question is so utterly asinine that it is certainly not worth dignifying with a response. ( UL: Well let me see. Is it not the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, white Pentecostals and others who make up the bulk of this anti-Muslim fervor? And are these not the same groups that in every generation have been full of hate to others?). However, because I am a bridge builder, in order to help you understand how your question sounds, I mirrored it back to you below. Tell me how the following question sounds and if it is at all offensive:
When you look at the Muslim base of the anti-Jewish hysteria and those promoting hatred in the name of the rophet of AllahԠit is hard to escape these facts. Many of these same Muslims (or their parents) a generation or two ago were pro Nazi and pro-Holocaust, ( UL: video on Muslim heros of the holocaust), today continue to have poor relations with the entire non-Muslim world, ( UL: not true) and even before that spread Islam by the sword to Africa, Persia, Iraq, Asia Minor, Spain, and elsewhere. Now, these same people who have always been so full of hate towards Jews and Christians while wearing their Islam on their sleeves have found a new enemy to hate in America and Israel and Thailand and Russia and India and Australia and England and China andŠwell you get the idea. How do you explain the bloodlust of Muslims toward virtually every non-Muslim people in the earth as being anything other than just a part of this ongoing historical pattern? ( UL: There are 6 to 8 million Muslims in America. If Muslims were so full of hate towards America this nation would look like Chechnya.)
Moving to the middle-east I have spent a lot of time in Jerusalem in the past and it I a city I truly love. I notice that on your blog you have something about the aspirations for a Third Temple on the site where Masjid al-Aqsa sits today. There are a lot of Christians who have aspirations for Jews to build a Third Temple although if you talk to Israelis on the street very few outside of the political and religious fringes have any desires for a Third Temple. However, as you well-know, there have been well-documented ties between Evangelical groups in America and militant Jewish groups who have attempted to, or stated they would, blow-up Masjid al-Aqsa. While I was in Jerusalem one time a group of Christians from Colorado were rounded up and arrested for their plans to attack Masjid al-Aqsa and other Muslim targets. I ask you, do you support the physical removal of Masjid al-Aqsa in order to build a Third Temple? And, if you do, how should this be done? If not by an action of the government of Israel, which has shown zero inclination to do so, would you support an act by armed Jewish or outside Christian groups? No matter how you answer this question do you not see this as outside interference into the affairs of the Jewish people and looking at them as pawns in a game rather than a people?
I have also lived in Jerusalem. I agree with you that few Jews other than some of the Orthodox aspire to re-build their Temple. However, once again you have greatly misunderstood Christianity. As a teacher of Biblical Eschatology (End Times) I have yet to meet a Christian who seeks to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. I am aware that in 1969 a South African man from World Wide Church of God cult set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. But of course, he was a cultist and not a Christian in any orthodox sense. I would like to see the proof for this event that you claim regarding the group from Colorado. ( UL: Link here to BBC coverage) I never heard of this and question the veracity of your claim. Also please provide this Էell-documentedԠevidence that many Evangelicals have been tied to radical Orthodox Jews in their attempts to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. ( UL: Excellent book on the Evangelical- Settler ties) .
That said, as a Christian who believes the Bible, I do believe that there will be a Jewish Temple rebuilt on the Temple Mount. Many other Christians disagree. But believing that a Temple may someday be rebuilt and actually taking actions to see it take place are two drastically different things. Christians like myself simply believe that a Jewish Temple will be rebuilt, simply because the Bible says so. But we have zero desire to make that happen nor do we wish to see your Mosques destroyed. In fact the Bible actually states that in the Last-Days, the Jews will share the Temple Mount will non-Jews. John the Apostle in a vision was told this regarding the Last-Days Temple:
“Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles.Ԡ Revelation 11:1-2
Ultimately your question is this: By believing in the Biblical Armageddon, am I thus bringing it to pass? This is a common question that Bible believing Christians like myself are asked. But such questions fail to recognize the basic nature of Christian versus Muslim Apocalyptic belief. Christians believe that Jesus will return to defend his people from outside aggression. Christians believe that Jesus returns to save them. But Christians do not believe in actively pursuing Armageddon. Many Muslims on the other hand, are taught that they will fight in an aggressive apocalyptic war against Jews and the world. I could cite numerous examples of course, but the Hadith of the Gharqad tree comes to mind:
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews. Sahih Muslim Book 041, Number 6985
As you know, this Hadith is preached repeatedly by many Palestinian Imams and throughout the Muslim world. Do you as Muslim denounce this Hadith? ( UL: No, I do not, because as you I accept the theology and teachings of my religion on the end times, but I do not seek to bring them about, nor do I have the full understanding of the meanings of all of these ahadith) Because of evil traditions such as this one, too many Muslims are longing for the day when they can carry out the final Holocaust against Jews. ( UL: there has already been a Shoa which was carried out by Christians many who were devout and this was the culmination of centuries of Christian murder and persecution of Jews. While the slate of Muslims is not clean as it relates to Jews there is no history in Islam of such hatred and murder of Jews and history will show you that Jews historically lived better under Muslim rule than Christian). As Hassan Nasrallah (who according to a poll conducted in early April, is the most admired leader by Muslims) was quoted as saying, ԉf they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.Ԡ(Daily Star, Oct. 23, 2002) ( UL: I have no love for the group calling itself Hezbollah or its leader so his statements mean nothing to me) Umar, is this the kind of religion that you wish to follow? Do you truly believe that God wishes you to kill Jews? I call on you and other Muslims of conscience to openly denounce and inwardly reject this aspect of the Sunna. (UL: This is not the sunnah. This link provides many of the well-documented acts of kindness of the Prophet Muhamamd ( s.a.s.) towards Jews).
But the point of all this is that it is the Muslims who are taught that they will one day be aggressors in a final apocalyptic battle. And as any simple glance of the news will reveal, many Muslims are actively pursuing this end. However, from the Christian perspective, we are to passively wait for Jesus to return. So again, on one side we have active aggressors and on the other side we have those who are passively waiting for their defender to come. You tell me which group represents a threat to the world.
In conclusion Umar, I call on you and every Muslim who reads this to renounce those aspects of Islam that do not support human rights or human freedoms. ( UL: the teachings of Islam are based on the Book of Allah, the One who created both of us, and the Sunnah of His Messenger( s.a.s.) in denoucing them I would be denoucing the one who created me and to whom I shall return) I call on you to reject the aspects of the Sunna that promote violence or hatred or the violation of womenӳ rights or that call for death for apostasy. I call on you to support the brave individuals in Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out who chose to leave Islam. ( UL: I support them and I pray for them and because I care for them as you do I pray they return to Islam). If you truly believe that there should be Ԯo compulsion in Islam,Ԡthen whether you accept their conclusions or not, you must support their decisions to leave Islam behind. As a Christian, I may not agree with many of the opinions expressed by the contributors to the book, but I obviously support their right to believe whatever they wish. And I challenge you allحy brothers and sisters in humanityشo do the same.