May Peace Be Within Your Walls: The Root of Middle Eastern Tensions

May 7, 2010 at 12:40 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , )

When we hear of peace talks in the Middle East, it usually pertains to Palestinians and Israelis. But it goes far beyond these two groups. On the whole, the enemy of Israel is the Arabs. Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Hezbollah and even Russia, are among the enemies of Israel. Why Russia? Simple. Since the 1970′s Russia has armed the enemies of Israel. But why is there so much animosity against this tiny nation called Israel, a state that is not even the size of New Jersey?A Brief History of Relations
Land has always been an issue when it comes to the Middle East. According to the Bible, God commanded Moses to lead His people out from Egypt into the land promised to them. They would 40 years in the wilderness; many of them did not live to see the Promised Land. Indeed, Moses himself was denied access due to the grumbling of the Israelites. It would be Joshua who would go into the Promised Land and conquer Canaan. When David became king, he conquered Jerusalem (abt. 1000 B.C.). After David’s death, his son, Solomon, divided the kingdom in two: the north, Israel and the south, Judea (Adler & Pouwels, 2008, pg. 48).

Around 721 B.C., the Assyrians captured Israel and the Babylonians captured Judea around 586 B.C. The Temple that Solomon built was destroyed and many Jews were displaced. When Cyrus conquered the Babylonians, some Jews were allowed to return; although many remained in Babylonia. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian’s in 331 B.C., but ruled only a short time before his death, when his generals divided the empire. Under King Antiochus IV, the freedom to practice Judaism was threatened. When the Jews revolted, they ultimately found protection under Rome.

Under the Roman “protection,” the land was divided into districts: Judea, Galilee, Peraea, and a small trans-Jordanian section. After subduing many Jewish revolts, the Romans drove out the Jews from Jerusalem and called the area Palestine. In the seventh century, Muslim Arabs conquered Palestine and Jerusalem. They would control this are along with much of the Middle East until the early 1900′s. In 1948, Israel was declared a state. In 1967, the six-day war started, when Israel attacked Egyptian forces when they refused to stand down. The result of this war was Israel gaining several territories including Golan Heights, the Sinai desert, and the West Bank (Isseroff, 2009).

To this day, many Arab nations are hell bent on seeing the destruction of Israel. To see Israel “wiped off the map,” would be a most welcome event to her enemies. One must wonder, is it really just about land? Israel is such a small piece of land after all. Could there be another motive? I believe the answer is yes. When looked at in Biblical terms, it becomes quite easy to see that land is not the sole reason for conflict.

Judaism 101
When studying Judaism, one will quickly find out that the Jews are God’s chosen people. In the Bible, God made a covenant with Abraham. God told Abraham that He would make him the father of a great nation, if he kept his part of the covenant (Hopfe & Woodward, 2009, pg. 255). Abraham’s son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob would inherit this covenant along with Jacob’s 12 sons. Together, these men are known as the patriarchs of the Jewish people.

Abraham and his people worshipped one God, which was quite uncommon at that time. Worship consisted of animal sacrifice, circumcision, keeping the Sabbath. When the Hebrews found themselves in bondage in Egypt, there religious practices were not exactly welcomed. It would not be until Moses was called by God to lead His people out of Egypt that we begin to see Judaism become a structured religion. After the famous Red Sea crossing, Moses was led up to Mt. Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments from God. These commandments are as follows (Hopfe & Woodward, 2009, pg. 286).

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a graven image.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not kill.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness.
10. You shall not covet.

Judaism, like Islam, is a strictly monotheistic religion. Indeed, these two religions worship the same God. Why then is there such hostility? First, Jews are the descendants of Abraham’s son, Isaac and Arab’s are the descendants of Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Isaac was the son of promise; Ishmael was the son of a slave woman born to Abraham when he and his wife doubted God, and told Abraham to have sexual relations with her servant, Hagar. This undoubtedly, is the beginning of tensions. For if this union had never taken place, there would be no Arab nation today!

The two religions, Judaism and Islam, disagree on who the son of promise was. The Muslims claim it was Ishmael, and the Jews of course, claim it was Isaac. But this is not the only reason for hostility. Today’s tension mainly stem from the United Nations giving some of the land in Israel to the Jews following WWII. This land was inhabited by Arabs, who were not at all pleased with this action. It is unclear if there will ever be peace in the Middle East; although I tend to believe not.

The reason I feel that learning about Judaism is beneficial to understanding that Middle East conflict is because of the simple fact that God chose Israel for His people. Every religion has their own foundation and beliefs about their god and what role they play in relation to that god. For Israel, their role is to inhabit the land promised to them by their God. That is the fundamental belief of the Jews. Understanding that would help in realizing why there are such contentions in the Middle East.

References
Alder, P.J., & Pouwels, R.L. (2008) World Civilizations Volume I: to 1700 (5th Edition). Boston: MA Wadsworth
Isseroff, A. (2009). Israel and Palestine: a brief history – part I. MideastWeb. Retreived December 13, 2009, from http://www.mideastweb.org/briefhistory.htm#The%20Jewish%20Kingdoms

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In the Name of Allah, Yahweh and Brahma: Religious Conflicts and Why They Happen

May 7, 2010 at 12:39 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

The word religion comes from the Latin word religio, which “refers to the fear and awe one feels in the presence of a spirit or god” (Hopfe & Woodward, 2009, pg. 3). Religion can also be described as a set of beliefs and a code of morals that a person follows; a lifestyle. Among all the religions of the world, there are some that worship a god, many gods, no gods, or nature. In this paper, we will focus on three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. These three religions are the largest in the world and have been the source of great strife.

Throughout history, there have been holy wars, invasions, forced conversions, genocide, and other forms of violence that have shaped the world we live in today. In a large sense, we are still seeing and feeling the effects of those that have gone before us. A person cannot read a newspaper or watch television without there being some reference to religiously inspired conflict. In order to fully understand why there is such hostility between various religious groups, one must first understand what their beliefs are and the history behind those beliefs.
Beliefs and Their Origins
Hinduism

Hinduism is perhaps the oldest religion of the world. When the Aryan people migrated to India, they brought with them their religious beliefs. Over time, these beliefs would merge with native Indian beliefs; thus, Hinduism was born. The Aryan’s contribution to Hinduism begins with the Vedas which is a collection of songs to the Aryan gods. The Vedas also included philosophy, instructions on worship and rituals, and poetry. The Vedas serve as the foundation for Hinduism, but in later times, it would not be the focus. Other writings that are important in Hinduism are the Upanishads (a part of the Vedas), the Law of Manu, and the Bhagavad Gita.
The beliefs of the Hindus are complex. There are literally thousands of gods within this religion, with the emphasis being on Brahman, the ultimate reality that has two other personifications: Shiva and Vishnu. While Brahman is impersonal and has little to do with humans, Shiva, the destroyer, and Vishnu, the preserver, take interest in the affairs of man. It is these two latter gods that many attach themselves to. Hindus adhere to the Law of Manu, which instructs them on how to live. Much like the Ten Commandments are to the Jews and Christians, so the Law of Manu is to Hindus. Some key rules are: control of senses, purity, non-irritability, and pleasantness. It goes without saying that Hinduism is polytheist.
Islam

Before Islam, it is uncertain what religion was followed in Arabia. The people did believe in Allah (God), but also worshipped numerous other gods (Hopfe & Woodward, 2009, pg. 347). Islam is a monotheist religion based on the teachings of Muhammad. Muhammad claims he was visited by the angel Gabriel after a time of meditation in the hills. He would experience these visitations throughout the rest of his life and teach them to his followers. Muhammad believed that there was but one God; the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

People were reluctant to this “revelation” that Muhammad received from God, but over time, his following began to grow. His teachings were recorded and make up the Qur’an. Among the strict monotheist teachings of Islam are the Five Pillars. These pillars are daily obligations that each good Muslim must carry out and include: repetition of the creed, daily prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage. No other religion has such a strong emphasis on monotheism besides that of Judaism. Later, we will see why this one aspect plays a part in the conflict between Muslims and Christians, and Muslims and Hindus.

Christianity
Christianity began as a sect of Judaism. After the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his followers set out to fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus had told his disciples that they were to spread the Good News of salvation to every creature on Earth. Christianity holds to the beliefs of the Ten Commandments, but is no longer under the Old Testament laws. Jesus taught that he had come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17, NIV). This has been the topic of much debate.

Simply put, Christians are to obey the basic tenets of the faith, but are not bound to dietary laws and other regulations that were given to Moses. Christianity has become the largest religion in the world. One out of three people will claim to have some affiliation with Christian doctrine. This doctrine has evolved and been personalized by many different groups over the centuries. Today there are literally thousands of denominations or sub denominations within Christianity.

According to the Campus Crusade for Christ (2009), the basic tenets of faith for mainstream Christianity are:

1. There is one true God, eternally existing in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2. Jesus Christ is God, the living Word, who became flesh through His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth.
3. He lived a sinless life and voluntarily atoned for the sins of men by dying on the cross as their substitute, thus satisfying divine justice and accomplishing salvation for all who trust in Him alone.
4. He rose from the dead in the same body, though glorified, in which He lived and died.
5. He ascended bodily into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father, where He, the only mediator between God and man, continually makes intercession for His own.
6. Man was originally created in the image of God. He sinned by disobeying God; thus, he was alienated from his Creator. That historic fall brought all mankind under divine condemnation.
7. Man’s nature is corrupted, and he is thus totally unable to please God. Every man is in need of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
8. The salvation of man is wholly a work of God’s free grace and is not the work, in whole or in part, of human works or goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby justified them in His sight.
9. It is the privilege of all who are born again of the Spirit to be assured of their salvation from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior. This assurance is not based upon any kind of human merit, but is produced by the witness of the Holy Spirit, who confirms in the believer the testimony of God in His written word.
10. The Holy Spirit has come into the world to reveal and glorify Christ and to apply the saving work of Christ to men. He convicts and draws sinners to Christ, imparts new life to them, continually indwells them from the moment of spiritual birth and seals them until the day of redemption. His fullness, power and control are appropriated in the believer’s life by faith.
11. Every believer is called to live so in the power of the indwelling Spirit that he will not fulfill the lust of the flesh but will bear fruit to the glory of God.
12. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, which is composed of all men, living and dead, who have been joined to Him through saving faith.
13. God admonishes His people to assemble together regularly for worship, for participation in ordinances, for edification through the Scriptures and for mutual encouragement.
14. At physical death the believer enters immediately into eternal, conscious fellowship with the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting glory and blessing.
15. At physical death the unbeliever enters immediately into eternal, conscious separation from the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting judgment and condemnation.
16. Jesus Christ will come again to the earth — personally, visibly and bodily — to consummate history and the eternal plan of God.
17. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded all believers to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world and to disciple men of every nation. The fulfillment of that Great Commission requires that all worldly and personal ambitions be subordinated to a total commitment to “Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

The Great Divide
So what caused the division between Christians and Muslims? To find the answer, we must go back many centuries to explore the relationships between these religions in their early stages. Islamic civilizations were the first to be universal, as it was comprised of various races and cultures, and spread to three continents (Lewis, 1995, pg. 10). Many lands that were once Christian were conquered by Islam. This conquering has a name: jihad. Jihad, or holy war, has but one purpose and it “is not directly to spread the Islamic faith but to extend sovereign Muslim power (faith, of course, often follows the flag). Jihad is thus unabashedly offensive in nature, with the eventual goal of achieving Muslim dominion over the entire globe” (Pipes, 2002).

We are beginning to understand why there is division among Muslims and Christians. Muhammad believed that he was the last of God’s prophets and the finalizer of God’s message (Adler & Pouwels, 2008, pg. 184-185). Muslims are strict monotheist, in that they believe that God is one, indivisible. It is not surprising then that they disagree that Jesus was no more than a prophet. How can God come in the flesh and become a mortal man if God is indivisible? The Trinity has also been the source of debate. Christians believe in God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. To a Muslim, this is polytheism.

Finally, Muslims believe they are the true people of the Old Testament. “Islam regards itself, not as a subsequent faith to Judaism and Christianity, but as the primordial religion, the faith from which Judaism and Christianity are subsequent developments” (Durie, n.d.). Thus, Muslims believe that they are God’s representatives on the Earth, not Christians, or Jews.

The Crusades
The crusades were the Christian answer to Muslim occupation of the Holy Land. Recapturing the Holy Land was not the only reason for the crusades. The first crusade was led by Pope Urban II in an attempt to repair the relationship between Roman and Orthodox Christianity after the Schism of 1054. The following are the dates of the crusades and the leadership under which they were carried out (The Christian Crusades, n.d.)

1. 1095-1099: called by Pope Urban II and led by Peter the Hermit, Walter the Penniless, Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin and Eustace of Flanders, and others.
2. 1147-49: headed by King Louis VII who was enlisted by Bernard of Clairvaux, was a disastrous failure, including the loss of one of the four Latin Kingdoms, the Duchy of Edessa.
3. 1188-92: proclaimed by Pope Gregory VIII in the wake of the catastrophe of the second crusade, which conducted by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, King Philip Augustus of France and King Richard “Coeur-de-Lion” of England.
4. During which Constantinople was sacked, 1202-1204.
5. Which included the conquest of Damietta, 1217-1221.
6. In which Frederick II took part (1228-29); also Thibaud de Champagne and Richard of Cornwall (1239)
7. Led by St. Louis (Louis IX of France), 1248-50.

While the motives behind the crusades were noble, the actions of the warriors were not. Many of the knights that fought became enamored by power. They would do just about anything to conquer. This was just another reason for Christianity and Islam to be divided, and to this day, we can still see the hostilities and contempt that is held for one another.

Despite the bloodshed and barbaric behaviors during the crusades, there were positive aspects. Two men in particular are viewed as heroes among both Muslim and Christians: Saladin and St. Frances of Assisi. Saladin, a Muslim leader, regained Jerusalem at one point without bloodshed. St. Frances of Assisi risked his life by imploring the Sultan of Egypt to help bring peace (The Crusades, n.d.)

It should be noted that the difference between the Muslim and Christian ways of converting unbelievers is also a source of tension. Muslims conquer. Throughout history, they have invaded lands, and for the most part, forced the natives to either convert or face death. Christians have another approach. Christians would fulfill the Great Commission by spreading the gospel. It is a personal decision for someone to either embrace the message of Jesus Christ or reject it. Two very different methods of proselytizing.

The Muslim-Hindu Conflict
The conflict between Muslim and Hindus began shortly after the birth of Islam in 700 C.E. The Muslims retaliated for the Hindu involvement in Persian affairs. It was not until the 1192 C.E. that Muslims found great success in India when they captured the city of Delhi, which they renamed the Delhi Sultanate (Adler & Pouwels, 2008, pg. 206). This sultanate would last for three centuries and formed the relations between Hindus and Muslims.

The intolerance for the pagan beliefs of the Hindus was cause for much violence. Raids were launched and thousands of lives lost. In just one raid, roughly 50,000 Brahmin were massacred. Ultimately, the Muslims would gain control of a large portion of the Indian subcontinent. Muslims tried to convert their Hindu subjects, but to no avail. The religious differences between Muslim and Hindu were a constant source of hostility. One person, Kabir (1440-1518 C.E.) tried to bring to the two together. He was born a Muslim, but taught that Hindus and Muslims could worship side by side, and was considered a holy man by Muslims and Hindus.

One of Kabir’s contemporaries, Nanak (1469-1538 C.E.), founded a new religion based on Kabir’s notions. Nanak “challenged the perceived fanaticism and intolerance of the Muslims of his time, also criticizing the Hindus for their seemingly meaningless ritual and caste prejudice” (Caner & Caner, 2002, pg.170). This religion is called Sikhism, and rejects all rituals and routine practices. By mediating, following the gurus teachings, and performing acts of charity, a person can merge with Allah. When Akbar the Great came to power in about 1530 C.E., he reorganized the government and for the first time, put into action a policy of religious tolerance (Adler & Pouwels, 2008, pg. 329). He was a practicing Muslim, but allowed others to worship freely, including Christians.

Today the conflict in India between Muslims and Hindus remain. The focal point this time: Kashmir. While the Hindu ruler was debating whether to join Pakistan or India, a Muslims protested violently. In the wake of this event, he chose India. This decision led to a war between Pakistan and India in the city of Kashmir (Nosotro, n.d.). To this day, there is unrest in Kashmir. It is uncertain if there will ever be peace among Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. History tells us that it is improbable.

References
Adler P. J., & Pouwels R. L. (2008). World civilizations (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Campus Crusade for Christ International (n.d.). Statement of faith. Retrieved December 12, 2009, from http://www.ccci.org/about-us/ministry-profile/statement-of-faith.aspx
Caner E. F. & Caner E. M. (2002). Unveiling Islam: An insider’s look at Muslim life and beliefs. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
Durie, M. (n.d.). ‘˜Isa, the Muslim Jesus. Retreived December 12, 2009, from http://www.answering-islam.org/Intro/islamic_jesus.html
Hopfe, L. M., & Woodard, M. R. (2008). Religions of the World (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc.
Lewis, B. (1995). Cultures in conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews, in the age of discovery. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Nosotro, R. (n.d). Hindu-Muslim conflict and the partition of India. HyperHistory. Retreived December 12, 2009, from http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh /essays/cot/ t3w30pakistanindia.htm
Pipes, D. (2002 December 31). What is jihad? New York Post. Retreived December 12, 2009, from http://www.danielpipes.org/990/what-is-jihad
The Christian Crusades (n.d.). Retreived December 12, 2009, from http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/crusades.stm
The Crusades (n.d.). Retreived December 12, 2009, from http://www.jesuschristsavior.net/Crusades.html

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