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23 March 2008


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The Vatican making this high profile is not doing Allam any favors. It is making what is between man's conscience and his deity become a political event.

W. Patrick Lang


At the level at which this "game" is being played, politics and religion are inseparable. Ask the Muslims if that is not so. pl

John Hammer

"Islam is politics or it is nothing" -Ayatollah Khomenei


This reminds me of the recent reporting on Churches in Saudi Arabia:

"It would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian churches recognise the prophet Mohammed."

Babak Makkinejad

My guess is that the vast majority of Muslim people have more immediate concerns than the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity.



Allum's life has been threatened since 2003 when he condemned suicide bombers. I do not see his conversion as making him any less safe.

Col Lang:

Was his conversion an exercise of conscience or simply a surrender of will to his Catholic wife??



The Catholic Church isn't entirely blameless itself. At one point they were so gung ho about excommunicating Catholics who didn't toe the line that they turned the punishment into a joke and had to dial it back a couple of notches.

It should be remembered that 10% of Egyptians are Coptic Christians with legal status as such. The Egyptian legal system has to deal with the emotional minefield of conversion more often than they'd like. Judging when a conversion is "sincere" would try the wisdom of Solomon--there's no way to divide the baby on that question.

W. Patrick Lang


You are not aware of how difficult life is for Copts in Egypt? As for the Roman church, it has been some time since it issued "hunting licenses" for use against lapsed Catholics.


Are you really asking me to judge the man's motives for conversion? Montag has this one right. Is it not necessary in conscience to take the man at his word concerning his faith? It is certainly true that a desire to establish family solidarity polays a role in many conversions from one faith to another. This motivation is not limited to just these two. I find it hard to fault that motivation when it is included in a "basket" of other reasons.


We are not talking about "the vast majority of Muslim people." We are talking about the people who will declare on the subject and countenance people with guns. pl


Col Lang:

My apologies - and I hope you will not judge my motives harshly in putting forth the question. I was asking it somewhat facetiously and did not mean to cast aspersions on the Catholic church. I agree with another commenter who said it best: "The Catholic Church has funded more hospitals, founded more universities, fed more hungry, and housed more poor than any other institution in the world."

You are absolutely right that family solidarity plays a role in many conversions regardless of which religion being converted to or from. Let us hope that Mr Allam survives the crazies regardless of his reasons.



Col. Lang, true; but it vitiates our secular traditions, which I assume is what we want to defend?

Anyway, I came across this today, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008/03/16/story_16-3-2008_pg7_41

"RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s most revered cleric said in a rare fatwa (decree) this week that two writers should be tried for apostasy for their “heretical articles” and put to death if they do not repent.

Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak was responding to recent articles in the al-Riyadh newspaper that questioned the Sunni Muslim-prevalent view in Saudi Arabia that adherents of other faiths should be considered unbelievers. “Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried in order to take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam,” said the fatwa, or religious opinion, dated March 14 and published on Barrak’s Website."

and threw my hands up and said, maybe the Vatican is right.

W. Patrick Lang


A good point.

At the same time,one must consider the difficulty inherent in dealing with a culture and religion which until now has not accepted the idea of mutual toleration of belief among equals in the world society. pl


"At the level at which this "game" is being played, politics and religion are inseparable. Ask the Muslims if that is not so."

could be, sir, it's time to change the game. say, to one of ours, instead of going deeper into one of theirs.

W. Patrick Lang


A charming idea. You should now see if you can sell it to the takiri jihadis. pl

Leila Abu-Saba

Re: "our secular traditions" - what does a Vatican conversion in Italy have to do with "our" (presumably U.S.) secular traditions?

Col. Lang - so do we accept the fatwa of a Saudi cleric as representing all 1.3 billion Muslims, Sunni and Shi'a? I don't know *that* much about it but I know that many, many Muslims, progressive and mainstream, dislike the Saudi extremist POV intensely.

No I'm not going to argue that "Islam is tolerant" but I think it's important to distinguish between the fatwas of the Saudis, the Egyptian clerics, more progressive clerics here and there, and so forth. Islam is not like the Roman Catholic church, which has a defined hierarchy. Any random Muslim may issue fatwas from what I understand, since there's not really one official ordination process to make a sheikh or imam. The Angry Arab (born Muslim but an atheist) makes fun of Ben Laden for issuing fatwas that are badly written and poorly thought out. Doesn't seem that there's any system of checks, balances or accountability. Seems that Muslims pick which fatwas and clerics they're going to follow. Of course the Saudi cleric has influence but OTOH a lot of Muslims I know would just roll their eyes at him.

Belief in mutual toleration among equals in the world society - well the eye of my own country, the USA, has a giant log in it. We have some work to do on real respect and toleration in this country. Pointing out the specks in other people's eyes just pisses them off, when we are suffering from such massive logs in our own.

(those of you who don't know the gospels - Jesus said you should not point out the speck in your neighbor's eye until you pluck the log out of your own)

Lead by example - we have tried to do this in the past, but I feel that in my generation America has lost the moral high ground in this area. Not every American of course. The Americans I know and live among care about respect and mutual toleration. But respect and tolerance are not in favor among Republicans, cable TV or talk radio, much.

W. Patrick Lang


Now, this is interesting.

You know how much I respect your opinion.

As you say, this possible "contest" between the Vatican and the Sharia-'Ulema has nothing to do with "our secular traditions."

Nevertheless, nobody has said anything here about the 1.3 billion Muslims. We are talking about the infinitely smaller group who will form their own 'ijma group around some god-crazed preacher and who will believe that this Egyptian-Italian should be killed for his infidelity to "the truth."

Never mind the endless history that the Islamicate world has experienced of Shariah-'Ulema hadith people annihilation or mutilation of the beliefs of so many generations of folk like the mu'taziliin, shia or sufis.

The United States? Mr. Jefferson said that there should be a revolution in every generation. We need to catch up. pl


And Col. Lang, you know how much I respect *your* opinion and wisdom. I am just responding to this statement:

"the difficulty inherent in dealing with a culture and religion which until now has not accepted the idea of mutual toleration of belief among equals in the world society."

A culture and religion - well it just seems like a very sweeping generalization about Islam and Muslims, sparked it seems by the fatwa issued by some Saudi.

BTW as I reread my comment about the speck and the log, it seems to imply that I think my own country does worse on respect and toleration than say, the Saudis. (our log, their speck). Not so. I think we do better. I think our founding fathers wrote up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to promote respect and toleration, and succeeding generations have broadened those principles to include more people and religions.

However I think it's too bad if we ignore the traditions of co-existence in Islam because we're focusing on a small group of loudmouths. We have our own loudmouths who don't respect our cultural tradition of respect and tolerance.

Again, I am not going to try to argue that "Islam is a tolerant religion" - that's too sweeping a generalization.

However. Islam does have a tradition of acceptance and toleration toward religious minorities, especially "people of the book."

One example. In college I took a class called Cities and Civilizations, team-taught by two full professors, a classicist and a prof. of History whose area of expertise was the Mediterranean. The prof. of history lectured one day on the layout of Islamic cities. She said that if you want to find the old Jewish quarter in any Muslim city, go to the main mosque. The Jewish quarter will be right next to it. The Caliph was supposed to protect minorities, Jews and Christians, so traditionally in Islamic cities, the quarters of Jews and Christians would be located next to the Great Mosque of the town. If there were trouble - ethnic/religious trouble - the religious minorities could go right to the main mosque for sanctuary, to which they were entitled.

Now I know there's a great deal of back and forth about how tolerant the dominant Muslim cultures were towards minorities - what about the Armenians in Turkey? what about present-day Saudi with its ban on churches? Etc. This is why I'm not going to state in black and white: Islam = great tolerance, just misunderstood.

HOWEVER, as you yourself know, Col. Lang, acceptance of 'people of the book' is part of Islam, and acceptance of the right of religious minorities to live and practice their religion has traditionally existed in Islam.

A story - I was having this discussion in a Jewish deli in St. Louis a very long time ago. A customer, an Israeli immigrant, piped up - "No Muslim country killed Jews the way the Europeans did," he said. He was an Arab Jew himself. "They weren't always terrific but they never did to us what the Germans did."

I just don't like promoting the idea of "clash of civilizations". To say that "we're tolerant, they aren't" is simplistic and not correct. There are a lot of "them" and a lot of "us" and the waves of tolerance and intolerance crest on all shores depending on larger economic and political winds.

Of course, we're all looking forward to the day when those reactionary Saudis change their tune...

If I mischaracterize what you are saying by my comments above, I apologize in advance.

W. Patrick Lang


I should have said Sunni 'Ulema. I think the Shia 'ulema have less to answer for.

Yes, it is true that "Ahl al-kitab" were able to live together in the various ages of the Islamicate civilization, but it was only so long as the dhimmi peoples accepted their subservience and inferior status. they sometimes had important court jobs, as in the case of John of Damascus, but this was a status equivalent to that long accorded to Jews in Europe. (court Jews, etc.)

The Nazis abandoned the restraints that the Age of Reason had imposed on behavior and reverted to a barbarous condition. Their crimes are a matter for God Almighty to deal with.

Western civilization has many defects, including a loss of faith, but it does not seem to be dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude.

It remains the case that Islamdom has not yet evolved to a condition in which the majority accept the ideas of the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom." The majority still live in an essentially medieval world. we should pray that God will give them the grace to see a better way. pl



1. "Our secular traditions" as in our post-Enlightenment values.

2. I'd go along with your latter post if the Saudis did not have increasing influence everywhere. True, it is mainly due to their billions of dollars. And due to shelter under the American security umbrella. But whether in Bangladesh or in Kerala, the state of India where i grew up, which is 56% Hindu, 24% Muslim, 19% Christian, Saudi-funded extremism is spreading its tentacles.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

You wrote: "Western civilization has many defects, including a loss of faith, but it does not seem to be dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude."

You are only partially correct.

In my opinion, about half the so-called Western people are convinced of their own rectitude and the rectitude of their institutions.

Babak Makkinejad


In regards to the Wahabi Doctors of Religion changing their tune...

Persian syaing: "Wolfe's Repentence is Death."


“…I suppose that he will be declared "murtad" (an apostate) and that "fatwas" will be issued by some fool or collection of fools that call for his death. If that is true, then it is simply another indication that Islamdom needs to think about its relevance to modern life or indeed to any life.”

If, in fact, “"fatwas" will be issued by some fool or collection of fools that call for his death”, how can you justify that the blame for their actions be placed at the feet of Islam?

How can the outrageous actions of zealots be blamed on their religion? That’s an absurd proposition, and certainly an overly simplistic one.

You’ve seen evidence that there’s enough religious zealotry to go around the world a thousand times over - and much of it not the fault of Islam. If you doubt me, read the comments section of the Jerusalem Post or one of our very own North American fundamentalist Christian sites for a couple of days. That will peel the scales from your eyes in no time.

There are violent nutbars hiding under the cloaks of every religion everywhere. Look at the self-described, “Christian” occupying the White House. Hasn’t he been responsible for the deaths of at least a million people? Do you have anything disparaging to say about his connection to religion?

I believe you owe it to yourself and those of us who respect your opinions to reexamine your unnecessarily provocative statement regarding "Islamdom", Col. Lang.

W. Patrick Lang


Sounds like an attack of multi-cultural political correctness.

Rubbish. The complete lack of hierarchy in Islam and the fact (look it up somewhere) that such decisions to issue "decrees" are made solely by consensus (ijma') among some group of believers renders the entire "system" vulnerable to my accusation that it is inherently subject to such foolishness.

George Bush's stupidities have nothing to do with this argument. He is either a cretin or a puppet, but he IS NOT a puppet of some religious group. pl

Babak Makkinejad


You are quite correct to observe that other religious traditions have been and are prone to the sort of rigidity of mind and soul that we are discussing here.

From a religious point of view only God knows the truth or falsehood of some one's adherence to this or that religion. Human beings cannot arrogate to themselves that power.

Human beings can only enforce the Law, if they can.

One has to come face to face with the stupid bigotry of various fearful people who profess a deep faith in Islam before one can appreciate the point that Col. Lang is raising here.

The ideas and realities of Islam do not jive.

Babak Makkinejad

meant to say "the ideals and realities"


"It remains the case that Islamdom has not yet evolved to a condition in which the majority accept the ideas of the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom." The majority still live in an essentially medieval world. we should pray that God will give them the grace to see a better way."

I'd call this a curious way to phrase your supplication. I'd opine that Arun cuts right to the chase with his comment that it is the post-Enlightenment West that has given us this tolerance - and the essence of the Enlightenment was to banish religion, not from the public square per se, but from the policeman's box in the center. We no longer allow religious sects to fight over power, and we do this, in the main, by explicitly preventing clerics from exercising any but the most ephemeral and spiritual power.

The respect that the West has shown for personal beliefs is an artifact of our LACK of faith - at least, our lack of the kind of faith that kills for things like heresy and apostacy - rather than our faith itself. We manage diversity better than Islam not because we believe that God gives anyone the grace to see a better way, but because we have banished God's grace to the private sector and rely on Man;s laws, not God's, to oversee our manners and morals.

I hold no brief with theocracy, which means I trust the Catholic Church no more than I trust the mullahs of Qom. We have muzzled our clerics, the Muslim umma hasn't. That's the difference I see. A crucial difference, but not one that reflects much better on Western religion...

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