But perhaps the most important innovation in the doctrine of jihad was its outright prohibition of all but strictly defensive wars. "Fight in the way of God those who fight you," the Quran says, "but do not begin hostilities; God does not like the aggressor" (2:190). Elsewhere the Quran is more explicit: "Permission to fight is given only to those who have been oppressed ... who have been driven from their homes for saying, 'God is our Lord' " (22:39; emphasis added).
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I have to say that it's a weird feeling to have to respond to a Christian leader of an anti-Muslims organisation - it would be like having to respond to a Muslim leader of an anti-Jewish organisation about Judaism so the whole thing is kind of weird. Let me just say it's kind of convenient to simply pick and choose whatever violent bits and pieces one finds in the Koran and ignore the equally important versus that talk about compassion and peace.
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Bill Maher is right to condemn religious practices that violate fundamental human rights. Religious communities must do more to counter extremist interpretations of their faith. But failing to recognize that religion is embedded in culture "" and making a blanket judgment about the world's second largest religion "" is simply bigotry.
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If you ask a Saudi Imam why women in Saudi Arabia can't drive, he'll say, 'Because Islam demands it.' But that's absurd, because - first of all - Islam demands no such thing; and secondly, the only country in the world in which women can't drive is Saudi Arabia. The inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief is shocking among self-described intellectuals.
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Paul's portrayal of Jesus as Christ may sound familiar to contemporary Christians-it has since become the standard doctrine of the church-but it would have been downright bizarre to Jesus's Jewish followers. The transformation of the Nazarean into a divine, preexistent, literal son of God whose death and resurrection launch a new genus of eternal beings responsible for judging the world has no basis in any writings about Jesus that are even remotely contemporary with Paul's (a firm indication that Paul's Christ was likely his own creation).
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How one in the modern world views Jesus's miraculous actions is irrelevant. All that can be known is how the people of his time viewed them. And therein lies the historical evidence. For while debates raged within the early church over who Jesus was-a rabbi? the messiah? God incarnate?-there was never any debate, either among his followers or his detractors, about his role as an exorcist and miracle worker.
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Thus it is written that the messiah would suffer and rise again on the third day, " Jesus instructs his disciples (Luke 24:44-46). Except that nowhere is any such thing written: not in the Law of Moses, not in the prophets, not in the Psalms. In the entire history of Jewish thought there is not a single line of scripture that says the messiah is to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, which may explain why Jesus does not bother to cite any scripture to back up his incredible claim.
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Despite two millennia of Christian apologetics, the fact is that belief in a dying and rising messiah simply did not exist in Judaism. In the entirety of the Hebrew Bible there is not a single passage of scripture or prophecy about the promised messiah that even hints of his ignominious death, let alone his bodily resurrection.
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Pilate, as the histories reveal, was not one for trials. In his ten years as governor of Jerusalem, he had sent thousands upon thousands to the cross with a simple scratch of his reed pen on a slip of papyrus. The notion that he would even be in the same room as Jesus, let alone deign to grant him a "trial, " beggars the imagination. Either the threat posed by Jesus to the stability of Jerusalem is so great that he is one of only a handful of Jews to have the opportunity to stand before Pilate and answer for his alleged crimes, or else the so-called trial before Pilate is pure legend.
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The very purpose of designing the Temple of Jerusalem as a series of ever more restrictive ingressions was to maintain the priestly monopoly over who can and cannot come into the presence of God and to what degree. The sick, the lame, the leper, the "demon-possessed, " menstruating women, those with bodily discharges, those who had recently given birth-none of these were permitted to enter the Temple and take part in the rituals unless first purified according to the priestly code. With every leper cleansed, every paralytic healed, every demon cast out, Jesus was not only challenging that priestly code, he was invalidating the very purpose of the priesthood.
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The plaque the Romans placed above Jesus's head as he writhed in pain-"King of the Jews"-was called a titulus and, despite common perception, was not meant to be sarcastic. Every criminal who hung on a cross received a plaque declaring the specific crime for which he was being executed. Jesus's crime, in the eyes of Rome, was striving for kingly rule (i.e., treason), the same crime for which nearly every other messianic aspirant of the time was killed.
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Jesus was surely not the first exorcist to walk the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In first-century Palestine, professional wonder worker was a vocation as well established as that of woodworker or mason, and far better paid. Galilee especially abounded with charismatic fantasts claiming to channel the divine for a nominal fee. Yet from the perspective of the Galileans, what set Jesus apart from his fellow exorcists and healers is that he seemed to be providing his services free of charge.
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The choice between James's vision of a Jewish religion anchored in the Law of Moses and derived from a Jewish nationalist who fought against Rome, and Paul's vision of a Roman religion that divorced itself from Jewish provincialism and required nothing for salvation save belief in Christ, was not a difficult one for the second and third generations of Jesus's followers to make. Two thousand years later, the Christ of Paul's creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history. The memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history.
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Certainly the shahadah contained an important theological innovation, but that innovation was not monotheism. With this simple profession of faith, Muhammad was declaring to Mecca that the God of the heavens and the earth required no intermediate whatsoever, but could be accessed by anyone.
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According to Mark, it was a custom of the Roman governor during the feast of Passover to release one prisoner to the Jews, anyone for whom they asked. When Pilate asks the crowd which prisoner they would like to have released-Jesus, the preacher and traitor to Rome, or bar Abbas, the insurrectionist and murderer-the crowd demands the release of the insurrectionist and the crucifixion of the preacher. "Why?" Pilate asks, pained at the thought of having to put an innocent Jewish peasant to death. 'What evil has he done?' But the crowd shouts all the louder for Jesus's death. "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (Mark 15:1-20). The scene is absolutely nonsensical. Never mind that outside the gospels there exists not a shred of historical evidence for any such Passover custom on the part of any Roman governor. What is truly beyond belief is the portrayal of Pontius Pilate-a man renowned for his loathing of the Jews, his total disregard for Jewish rituals and customs, and his penchant for absentmindedly signing so many execution orders that a formal complaint was lodged against him in Rome-spending even a moment of his time pondering the fate of yet another Jewish rabble-rouser.
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This is an extremely difficult matter for modern readers of the gospels to grasp, but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus's birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the word "history." The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foreign concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts, but of revealing truths.
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Scattered across the Roman Empire, it was only natural for the gospel writers to distance themselves from the Jewish independence movement by erasing, as much as possible, any hint of radicalism or violence, revolution or zealotry, from the story of Jesus, and to adapt Jesus's words and actions to the new political situation in which they found themselves.
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most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality. The two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened, than in what it meant. It would have been perfectly normal, indeed expected, for a writer in the ancient world, to tell tales of gods and heroes, whose fundamental facts would have been recognized as false, but whose underlying message would have been seen as true.
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It took many years to cleanse Arabia of its "false idols." It will take many more to cleanse Islam of its new false idols-bigotry and fanaticism-worshipped by those who have replaced Muhammad's original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living in it.
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In times of economic distress, it's only natural for people - and Americans have done this for many years - to look for a scapegoat. Depending on where you live in this country, the scapegoats are either, frankly, Mexicans or Muslims. So, you know, God save you if you happened to be a Mexican Muslim in America right now.
I'm interested in the origins of the religious experience, how the history of religion has evolved over the last umpteen thousand years, and where religiosity is going in the future. I think that's a topic I've been chewing on for a few years; I would love to eventually work on and produce a book out of it.
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Many of the prophets of Jesus's time were thought to just be mad men, just sort of crazy people who were claiming to channel the divine. Perhaps that means we should be a little less judgmental of some of our own crazies talking about God on the corner. They might actually have found a pretty comfortable place in Jesus's time.
As with all journeys, the Way has an end, though it should not be imagined as a straight road leading to a fixed destination but rather as a majestic mountain whose peak conceals the presence of God. There are, of course, many paths to the summit-some better than others. But because every path eventually leads to the same destination, which path one takes is irrelevant.
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For an academic to launch a public conversation about journalistic integrity, the role of religion in society, scholarship and faith is a dream come true. These are the kinds of things that we sit around talking to each other about in our dusty libraries. To see these conversations take place in popular culture is the best thing that could have ever happened.
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What's happened in the United States is something that has already happened in Europe and that is that Islam is become 'otherised', it has become a kind of receptacle into which fears and anxieties about the political or economic situation, about the changing racial landscape of this country are being thrown.