What About the Boebert Debacle?

You’ve heard the story, right? Maybe you’ve seen the video. (Or an earlier one.) Congresswoman Lauren Boebert from Colorado made a joke suggesting the only hijab-wearing member of Congress, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, is a terrorist.

I’m curious: What was your initial reaction when you heard? For me it was a mix of anger, sadness and embarrassment, due in part to a weird mix of commonality with Boebert: She’s the representative for my district, we both claim to be Christian and we both speak out about Muslims.

Before I share a couple thoughts and suggest a response, let me make some disclaimers:

  1. Yes, I probably am crazy to write about this.
  2. No, Ilhan Omar does not need me to defend her. (And to be clear: I’m not defending Omar’s policies and beliefs. I am defending her right to be a person.)
  3. I think this would matter less to me if Boebert weren’t vocal about her Christian faith. She referenced it in her apology (20 seconds in).

How should we think about this situation? And as people who love Jesus, is there action to be taken?

For starters, it wouldn’t kill me to take a quick check up on my own loyalties. I’d like to say I’m most loyal to Jesus, then country and family, but he and I both know it’s often my own sweet self at the top of the list.

Secondly, for anyone who claims to be a Christian, there’s no free pass based on, “Well, she did really bad things first!” We’re not talking to a seven year old about why he hit his sister.

What can we do? We can heed Paul’s admonition, “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made. . . for kings and all those in authority. . . .” We can vote. We can train our kids to love like Jesus and attack ideas, not people.

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Brief Holiday Special: Do Muslims Do Thanksgiving?

What do Muslims do for Thanksgiving? Well, most of them probably go to work or school. But what about the several million who live in the U.S.? Do families celebrate with get togethers and eating halal turkey? Do they watch football? Presumably Robert Saleh will. He’s the head coach of the New York Jets and a Muslim of Lebanese descent. Even though no matter which of the six teams playing today win, he’ll still be second to last in the league!

Khalil Abdur-Rashid the Muslim Chaplain at Harvard University says, “Thanksgiving. . .affords people who are normally heedless and forgetful of the myriad of blessings, of which we are recipients, to at least once a year acknowledge those blessings. Consequently, Thanksgiving, while not directly legislated by Islam, is at least in essence compliant with the spirit of Islam.”

He goes on, “In most houses, the practice of circling the dinner table with family, expressing what we are thankful for, and why we are thankful for it, is a way of not only expressing thanks to Allah, but also declaring and announcing our gratitude to others. It is an expression of the verse in the Quran, “And as for the blessings (ni’mat) of your Lord, proclaim them!” (Quran 93:11).”

You are a blessing! I’m thankful to God for you and grateful to you for reading Muslim Connect. 

Maybe there are some Muslims on the way to celebrate Thanksgiving at your house right now, maybe tomorrow, maybe Christmas or next year. That would be a blessing to them and to you and your family. I’m grateful for that as well.

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Vests of Death: Why Do Suicide Bombers Do It?

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in Kampala, Uganda earlier this week, killing three others, injuring dozens and permanently altering the lives of many.

When we hear of a suicide bombing, our hearts go out to the victims and their families. That’s natural and appropriate. But do we ever wonder about the man or woman who killed themself?

We’ve got busy lives and maybe it seems a waste to give thought to those who choose to kill themselves in an evil effort to kill others. I get that, but sometimes I wonder: What do they want? What do they expect to happen? What could be so important or make them so desperate? As my friend David Weston asks in his provocative essay, “[what is the] reasoning behind the motivation that leads a person to literally give up their lives by taking the lives of others, often in a most violent and gruesome way?”

I’m not satisfied with answers like, “That’s the way Muslims are,” or “Of course they do it. They instantly get 70 virgins in paradise.” Almost no Muslims are that way, including the cowards who recruit, coordinate and deploy the bombers. And the women who strap on the vest don’t do it for the virgins.

However true those motives are, I wonder what else might be going on.

Author and professor, Adam Lankford contends that Muslim suicide bombers are people who want to kill themselves, but need an “Allah approved” way to do it. When you want to die, but Islam tells you that taking your own life is a ticket to Hell, maybe you look for another way.

How many are motivated by revenge similar to Samson, arguably one of the very first recorded suicide attackers? And if so, revenge for what?

And how many die believing, hoping their sacrifice expands the kingdom and glory of God?

 

Could you do me a favor? I had an article published this week on the very popular Denison Forum site. Please give it a look and a comment. I’d appreciate it.

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The Richest Muslim in the World

On this Veteran’s Day, I’m grateful for Muslim Connect readers who’ve served our country, perhaps even amongst Muslims. Thank you.

One of my favorite things to say is, “I had no idea.” Not only does this honor the person you say it to: They were, after all, trying to tell you something novel, it also shows a bit of humility and helps cultivate a delight in the world God has created.

I had no idea that the richest person in history was a Muslim guy named Mansa Musa who lived from 1280 to 1337. He inherited his kingdom from his dad (Still the best way to be super rich!) then multiplied his holdings with gold and salt. It has been said that he had so much wealth, it couldn’t really be assessed. When Musa led his entourage of 60,000 people on Hajj to Mecca in 1324, he gave away so much gold along the way that he crashed the economic system of a good portion of North Africa!

Some of the currently richest Muslims in the world are ones who own countries or who married into the royal family. For instance, Princess Lalla Salma, the former wife of the king of Morocco is reportedly worth $2.5 billion. Many others have made their fortunes in finance and business. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, a 67 year old Emerati, took over his uncle’s bank and now is said to have $2.7 billion, well, in the bank.

After his dad’s death in 1966, 21 year old Azim Premji left Stanford, mid-way through his engineering studies, to return to India and take over the family business. He did ok with it, expanding into the tech world and eventually being dubbed, Czar of the Indian IT Industry.  In 2013, Premji signed the Giving Pledge, the first Indian to do so, and agreed to give away at least half of his $11 billion fortune, including over $2 billion to education causes in India.

Jesus said, “it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s pray that these and many others would be the camels who could!

 

PS: Got any thing you’d like to see addressed in Muslim Connect? Questions you’re wondering about? I’d love to give them some thought and maybe write about them in coming weeks. Shoot me an email. Thank you.

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The Arabic word madrasa basically means a place for education. Outside of Arabic speaking countries it has come to refer particularly to institutions focused on Islamic training. As you’d guess, there’s huge diversity in the theology and purpose of various madrasas.

Years ago some friends and I were taken to lunch after Friday prayers to a madrasa in Malaysia. As we sat on the floor, feasting on a mountain of yummy chicken and rice, a young student put his missionary training into action: With earnest sincerity he put his hand on my pastor’s knee, looked in his eyes and said, “Brother, become a Muslim.” That will leave a mark, pretty much whoever you are!

Madrasas in many parts of the world serve similar purposes for young Muslims as AWANA does for kids in evangelical churches. I think AWANA has a leg up on most madrasas in that kids can memorize scripture in the language they speak! Muslim kids usually memorize the Quran in Arabic. They learn how to say it, but maybe not what they’re saying!

Think about why you take (or might take) your kids to Sunday School, youth group or AWANA. Probably most Muslim moms and dads have similar motivation. They want their offspring to grow up and live out the faith. They want good and respectable kids.

If you grew up in church, maybe you remember early Sunday School days. One of the first people ever to teach me how to follow Jesus was Ethel Smith. Her face deeply wrinkled, breath smelling like Sen Sen, it was fifty years ago she taught our unruly class and I’ve never forgotten.

The good people at PrayerCast.com just released a beautiful video in which a former Muslim leads viewers in prayer for kids and adults in madrasas. Will you watch it and pray with me for the winsome, kingdom work of Jesus to break loose in madrasas all over.

Much thanks to those who responded to the questions in last week’s Muslim Connect, “Muslims Are Trouble.” I appreciate you. It’s not too late to weigh in, if you wish. 

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“Muslims Are Trouble”

My friend Martin Brooks recently recommended an amazing TED talk by Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie in which she “warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

I’m toying with the idea that Americans mostly hear a single story about Muslims. That being: Muslims are trouble.

Of course the “trouble” part of this one story has several facets with varying degrees of reality: Muslims shoot at our sons and daughters. Muslims migrate to our country and don’t follow the rules. Muslims want to take over the world. Muslims are backward and oppress women. Muslims threaten Israel.

My intent is not to debate these individually, but to be honest about what messages are usually conveyed and consider that their aggregate, Muslims are trouble, ends up being the single story Americans have about Muslims.

And sadly, I think the subset of Americans who’d call themselves Christian would have the same single story. Certainly not all of them, but too many.

I’m wondering about this and would hugely value your input. I know you’re busy and I’m thankful you even opened this email. But can I ask you for two minutes to answer these questions:

  1. Does this observation jive with what you see?
  2. If so, what other facets comprise the single story: Muslims are trouble?
  3. What do we miss out on when this is true?
  4. What can we do about it?

You can reply in an email or comment on this post at shanebennett.com. Either way, I’d be so grateful for your input. Perhaps together, we can add other stories. Maybe we’ll find to be true what Chimamanda says at end of her TED talk, “. . . when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

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Where Did the Taliban Come From?

Nate Bargatze is my current favorite comedian. When his baby daughter didn’t cry at her first inoculations, his wife thought she was very brave. He wondered if she was pyscho! “Who doesn’t cry when they get a shot?!?” He hilariously imagined two possible futures, “Either we’ll be at her graduation saying, ‘Honey, we are so proud of you,” or we’ll be in front of tv cameras in our yard saying, ‘We love you dear. Turn yourself in.’”

Some blend of pride and longing shame likely characterizes the leaders of the seminary in India that catalyzed the early thinking, who shaped the early minds, of the group of Muslims we’ve come to know as the Taliban.

Pride in how they stood up to two of the world’s great powers. Shame that they diluted the teaching which had formed the genesis of their movement.

In the late 1860’s, just a few years after the British had taken over the Muslim leaders of India, a new movement was born to call Muslims back to a pure form of faith. It became known as Deobandi Islam.

After Indian Partition in 1947, Deobandi seminaries began to grow across South Asia, in particular along the Pakistani/Afghan border. It was there the early leaders of the Taliban were educated.

In a classic example of global play-making, Saudi Arabia began advocacy in South Asia in the 1980’s and their ultra-conservative Wahhabism increasingly influenced Taliban thought.

Although this is oversimplified, the Wahhabi thinking contributed to the “domination through violence” modus operandi of the Taliban. In contrast, Deobandis in India have mostly lived at peace with other Muslims and the vast Hindu majority.

Is it possible that India might have a voice in helping the Taliban build a civil society in Afghanistan? They’ve plowed vast sums of money into the country in recent years. Could original Deoband Seminary offer fresh reform? An 80 year old cleric there says, “I’m weak and old. But if given the chance, I would go to Afghanistan.”

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What Happens at Friday Prayers?

You’ve seen the news, right? Another suicide bombing today at a Shia mosque in Afghanistan. Dozens killed and more injured. How many families reel in despair as you read this? Their lives will never be the same.

These attacks usually come on Friday, mid-day because that’s when the mosque is most crowded. Strategic wickedness, eh?

But what’s with Friday at the mosque? Here’s the most basic look at Friday prayers.

Friday prayers are mandated by the Quran in a chapter called Al Jumah, which means the day of congregation, but also is the Arabic word for Friday!
Muslims will tend to bathe, dress up and present their best selves for Friday prayers.
Men are required to attend and women are given the option. In many mosques there are special, separate areas for women to pray.
Muhammad reportedly said that gathering for Friday prayers was equivalent to a year of praying and fasting alone, and prayers prayed at Jumah would be answered and sins forgiven.
Friday prayers start with the normal pre-prayer ritual washing.
Worshippers line up as usual (though more crowded than usual!) in the mosque for a shortened prayer service, followed by a sermon and another prayer service.
The Friday sermon is called khutbah and is usually focused on how to live as a good Muslim. (You may recognize Christian counterparts in this humorous article depicting different types of khutbah speakers!)
In a Muslim-majority country, Jumah services may be followed by greeting time then enjoying a day off from work. In other places, at least some attendees will rush back to work.
Friday prayers bear many similarities to Christian Sunday worship. Let’s thank God we don’t have to fear fellow believers blowing themselves up in our churches, even as we remember in prayer those who lost their lives today, the injured and their families.

 

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Yay for the Vaccine!

No! Wait! Not that vaccine! Don’t unsubscribe!

Rather, I’m cheering for Mosquirix, the malaria vaccine the W.H.O. just yesterday gave a thumbs up to. It stands to make a huge difference as it rolls out across sub-saharan Africa. Hopes are high, even though its efficacy is pretty low.

If you’re like me and haven’t thought much about malaria the past week, it’s no surprise. There are only around 2000 cases each year in the US and most of those are in travelers who’ve returned from infected countries. (Maybe missionaries we love!)

According to the New York Times, “Malaria kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — including 260,000 children under 5.” You can bet most moms and dads in that region of the world are thinking about it a lot! Even when it doesn’t result in death, the multiple episodes children often experience yearly limit their ability to thrive and make them susceptible to other disease.

Mosquirix is a milestone because it’s the first vaccine developed for a parasite. The science is above my pay grade, but apparently it’s far more difficult to prime the human immune system to fight a parasite than a bacteria or virus. (Can we pause for just a second to thank God for smart women and men who’ve worked long and hard to bring us to this point?) At a 33% efficacy rate, Mosquirix is no slam dunk. But it helps. And better vaccines are in early trials. One with an early effective rate of 77%!

As you would imagine, poor kids tend to take the hardest blows from malaria. When kids can’t go to a hospital, they far too often go to Heaven. And despite the common images of Saudi sheiks and terrorists with briefcases full of cash, in many countries Muslims are the poorest of the poor.

Is it too much to say this vaccine is a gift from God? 

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How to Start a Conversation with Your Muslim Uber Driver

Your phone pings: Uber is en route and your driver’s name is Farouk. You can react in one of three ways, I suppose. A. “Cool. Wonder where he’s from.” B. “Ah, geesh, another foreign Uber driver.” or C. “Sure hope Farouk keeps his car cleaner than that dope Doug who drove me to the airport last week!”

If you’re B, even a very tentative B, this is for you. 

As you slide into the car you think, “I want to talk to Farouk. I should. Jesus would.”

You evaluate the risk: On the imagined downside you bomb the convo, Farouk gets angry and the ride is awkward. He goes on to hate Christians, gets radicalized and leaves to fight pointless battles in far off lands.

On the upside, you learn a couple words of Arabic or Urdu, get invited to Farouk’s mom’s house for dinner and he spends a portion of the drive smiling the smile of someone who senses he’s being honored.

Here’s a script to get you going (Adapt as needed, but stick the landing!)

“How do you pronounce your name?” (Unless he told you!)

“Did you grow up here?”

“Where are you from?” (If the previous answer is negative!)

“I’ve never been there. Is it beautiful?” (Unless you have and it’s not!)

“Do you get to go back and visit?”

“How long have you been here?” (Anything less than 10 years gets a hearty “Welcome” from me!)

(No particular order on the next three.)

“How have you been treated?”

“Have you visited other places?”

“Got kids?”

“Do you have another job in addition to Uber?” (Doesn’t everyone?!?)

“I love to pray for people. I believe Jesus heals and helps people today. How can I pray for you?” (Do your best to get to this. If you can do so logistically and without fainting, pray for him right then out loud.)

Let me know when you give it a go and I’ll hit you with a virtual high five!

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