Fr. Barnabas Powell: And welcome to Faith Encouraged Live. I’m Fr. Barnabas Powell, the parish priest at Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, Georgia, and also the host of the Faith Encouraged Live. We do a daily devotional called Faith Encouraged Daily as well. All kinds of other things going on, too, so we keep busy! We don’t allow our hands to get idle; that’s a good thing. I’m glad that you’re here, and also, for all of you who are New England Patriots fans, our condolences; for all of you who were pulling for the Broncos, congratulations. Now we go on to the Super Bowl and we’ll see what happens. It’s been a pretty exciting Sunday so far.
Our modern world is in turmoil over the events of the past several decades of the ascendancy of violence all done in the name of Islam, but is that really new? All one has to do is read history and we’ll see violent conflicts in the past having to do with the Ottoman empire, the Roman empire, then the Eastern Roman empire that’s sometimes euphemistically called the Byzantine empire. So violence connected to religion in general and Islam in particular simply isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been going on since the very beginning of the founding of Islam. The truth is, we Orthodox have lived near and lived under Muslim domination for many centuries and have had multiple opportunities to know the Islamic religion and society up close and personal. The lessons learned in the example of faithful Orthodox holding onto their faith despite the enormous pressures to convert can give all of us powerful insights into how we can not only answer the growth of Islam in our own country, but also to equip our children to remain faithful to the Orthodox faith in spite of the growth of Islam in our world today.
So this is going to be our subject tonight. We’re going to be talking about knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective. Our topic tonight is going to be focused on the history of Islam, giving you some basic fundamental history of how Islam started; and also some of the theology that’s going on. My special guest is Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou. He’s a scholar, a priest, and my dear friend. He’s also the priest at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, Georgia. And the phone number for tonight’s program is 855-AFR-RADIO. That’s 855-237-2346. You can call and get your questions or comments in, and you can also email us questions at email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And the chatroom is already open and already populated with several folks. Good evening to all of our folks in the chatroom; God bless you. You can go to ancientfaith.com/live, and you’ll see the chatroom link. All you have to do is click on it, and you’ll be joined right there to the chatroom.
By the way, many of you have already heard about our Journey to Fullness video series and the project that we’re doing there. We just had our pre-production meeting about when we’re going to start shooting videos, and that’s going to be in the last part of February. We’re going to be going up to Nashville, Tennessee, to do that shooting. I’m looking forward to that. But a lot of folks have already been watching what was kind of like the precursor to our Journey to Fullness video series called our Orthodoxy 101 videos on YouTube, and we get notes from time to time about folks who are watching these videos, and here’s one that I thought was really great. It says:
Dear Fr. Barnabas,
Thank you for the Orthodoxy 101 Boot Camp videos on YouTube. I’ve learned a lot and especially the term “catholic” and the five first churches. I used to think it was four churches. I have a question on the Orthodox nations you mentioned. I have not heard you mentioning India and Asia and the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Sudanese churches in Africa. Aren’t they counted in the Orthodox Church?
May God bless you more every day. Thank you.
Well, thank you for your note. I didn’t mention these Orthodox groups because of the confused status of these Orthodox churches with the rest of the Orthodox world. Most of these Orthodox churches, there in India and in Ethiopia and in those categories, fall under what is known as the Oriental Orthodox churches that had a dispute with the rest of the Eastern Orthodox churches around the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, and because of that dispute they have not been in communion with each other since that time. Because of that there have been some developments in each group that [have] been different, and by God’s grace someday the Lord will grant us the gift of unity, and we’ll have that healing occur, because we do have so very much in common with our Oriental Orthodox brothers and sisters. But at this time, when I was doing the videos—and will continue to do so in the Journey to Fullness—we’ll talk about the Eastern Orthodox churches and theology of the Eastern Orthodox churches—not to ignore the Oriental Orthodox, but that’s just not the same subject that we’re talking about in an introduction to the Eastern Orthodox faith. So it’s not because we didn’t know anything about them, it’s not because we didn’t care about them at all—we have some precious friends in the Coptic Church and all of those things—but it wasn’t the subject of the videos at the time, so that’s why they weren’t mentioned.
But we are redoing these Orthodoxy 101 videos in this new Journey to Fullness videos series, and we go into production of shooting those videos on Friday, February 26, and then Saturday the 27th, and we’re going to ask your prayers. Please pray for us as we do this work, because already we’ve had so many folks express interest in having this outreach tool. Because if you think about it, precious friends, you already have people who visit your parish—for weddings, for baptisms, for funerals, for special events if you have a church festival or anything else like that—you are exposing a lot of people to the Orthodox Christian faith, and many of them may want to learn more. Well, how do they do that? A lot of times we’re very, very insecure about sharing our faith with others because we’re not really quite sure what to say and how should we say it. Well, if we had a tool that could just simply help introduce the Orthodox faith to the average person, I’m convinced that would be a valuable asset for many of our parishes around the country. So that’s why we’re doing the Journey to Fullness video series, and we ask that you keep us in your prayers. If you’d like to learn more and maybe you’d like to sign up to keep informed about the development of this project, all you have to do is go to journeytofullness.com—that’s journeytofullness.com—and put your email address in, and we’ll make sure that you get the notices and all the things that are happening about this project. God bless.
All right. We’re going to take a short break right now. When we come back, I’m going to introduce you to my special guest, Fr. Panayiotis, and we’re going to start taking your phone calls at 855-237-2346. This is Faith Encouraged Live on ancientfaith.com.
Fr. Barnabas: And welcome back to Faith Encouraged Live. We do this on the second and fourth Sunday of the month, and each time we get a chance to do this, I always look forward to it, because this is something I feel very strongly about, brothers and sisters, that the whole idea of dialogue, the whole idea of creating a space for conversation, to learn and to grow and to become more and more committed to each other and to grow in our faith—you’re just not going to do anything more important than that. In your whole life, you’re not going to do anything more important than doing this labor. It’s absolutely worth every moment that you can spare to invest in your spiritual growth and the growth in your faith and to become more connected with the faith and with the person of Jesus Christ. It’s the absolute point of all of this, so welcome back to Faith Encouraged Live.
This is a very special Sunday, as we’re going to be talking about knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective. The number to call is 855-237-2346; that’s 855-237-2346. And I want you to listen to a comment from St. John of Damascus. He lived under a Muslim-dominated government, and this is what he had to say about Islam.
There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites, which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the anti-Christ. They are descendants from Ishmael, who was born to Abraham of Hagar, and for this reason they are also called Hagarenes or the Ishmaelites. And from that time to the present, a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a showing of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had to set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his, and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.
Now, tonight we’re going to be talking about knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective, and my special guest is Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou. He is the parish priest at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, Georgia, and he has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in chemical engineering and a Ph.D. in Church history and theology. Fr. Panayiotis, welcome back to Faith Encouraged Live. I’m glad that you’re here tonight. Thank you so much.
Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou: Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to it.
Fr. Barnabas: Good. God bless you. You’re there; okay, good. Outstanding. Welcome back to Faith Encouraged Live. Listen, before we get into the discussing about Islamic theology and our Orthodox perspective, tell me a bit about where you’re from, Father. You were not born here in the United States; you were born on the island of Cyprus. Is that correct?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, yes.
Fr. Barnabas: And Cyprus has a unique history with the Islamic faith and the Turkish government, I assume.
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, the history of the Muslims on Cyprus goes back to 1571, when the Ottomans conquered Cyprus after the conquest of Constantinople, and Cyprus was under the Muslim Ottoman domination for about 300 years, over 300 years. Then it was turned over to the British, but there is a remnant of Muslims in Cyprus. A lot of them were not even Turks. They were people who were forced to convert to Islam, entire villages, actually, of Christians were forced to convert to Islam. And they were forced to build the mosque across the street from the church, so on Friday they would go to the mosque and on Sunday they would go light candles at the church. They spoke the Greek perfectly.
Yes, yes, and there are still remnants of that in Cyprus, even after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus of 1874, when Turkey took the northern part of Cyprus and kicked all the Christians out, all of us, and I’m one of them. There are still Turkish Cypriot Muslims in the northern part, who speak Greek and they respect Christianity and they honor the peace and the person of the Theotokos, for example. They honor St. George and some of the other local saints that they were familiar with. They were peaceful people for a time. In fact, I remember growing up in Limassol, and my closest friend in school, who sat next to me for three years, was a Turkish boy by the name Ahmed. He was a wonderful young kid, and we were close friends.
Fr. Barnabas: I’ve heard a lot of the stories that you’ve told about some of the things that happened that are just simply heartbreaking. You know, the story of Islam doesn’t really start in the 16th century, does it? It really begins a lot earlier than that, so why don’t we do this? Why don’t we talk a little bit about the history of Islam and give our folks… Because I will tell you this: I would say probably in the last 10 to 15 years, this has been the most that the average American has ever even heard of the Muslim faith. So what’s the history of Islam? What’s the history behind the beginning of the religion of Mohammed?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, Mohammed actually was the founder of Islam, and he started with it… Well, he was born in the year 570 in Mecca, in Arabia, where Saudi Arabia is today. As a young boy, he traveled into the Christian areas, and then he went later as a merchant. It seemed like he encountered a Christian bishop or a monk who converted him to Christianity. In fact, one of the scholars says he converted to Christianity to marry the niece of the bishop. [...] And then, of course, he returned to Arabia at some point, and he decided to start his own religion. He claimed that God sent an angel to him in a cave where he retreated to get away from his wife, and there the angel started saying things to him. There are many stories about that. There are stories that he had mental illness and he was depressed and he was possessed by demons and his wife convinced him that he was not possessed by demons but the devil was talking to him, and then he started reciting these verses that the angel was telling him, and the Quran began to appear. So the Quran is a book that came from the reciting of the verses that this angel was giving him, and from there…
Fr. Barnabas: Isn’t that the first words of the Quran, that he’s commanded to recite? That’s almost the very first thing that’s said there in the Quran: “Recite, obey.”
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes. Well, “Quran” means “recitation,” actually.
So he was rejected by his people, by his compatriots in Mecca, and he pulled out of Mecca and he started teaching others, and he convinced a group of people to actually follow him and submit to the teaching of what he called Islam, which means “submission.” So he formed a band of robbers, basically, and he started attacking the caravans going to Mecca to punish the people of Mecca, and the loot that came from that made him and the group rich, and they bought more weapons and they got more men, and they built an army, and they conquered Mecca and forced the people to submit to Islam. From there they conquered other cities and forced them to submit to Islam, and then they moved on.
As he went on, he came back with new verses that apparently this angel was giving to him in order to deal with all the issues that were coming along. Like when they conquered a city that didn’t resist, for example, okay, the angel had told him that if a city resists, then the men, the fighters, should get three days whatever they wanted, but take the women as slaves, as sex slaves, too, take them as wives, whatever they want; but if the city didn’t resist, they didn’t have a saying, they didn’t have a teaching. So he went back into the cave, and the angel told him that if the city doesn’t resist, then all of the loot goes to the prophet. The fighters don’t get anything. So that’s how the wealth began to accumulate, and over time we have this formation of what we call today the Quran.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. Let me ask you this, Father. It’s interesting that you reveal to us that Mohammed was initially converted or initially became a Christian so that he could marry this—in fact she was actually an older woman, a little older than him that he married first. Is there any record of his baptism? Do we know that he was baptized a Christian first in those times, or was this just some kind of information about Christianity that he got?
Fr. Panayiotis: I don’t think there’s any record of any of this, actually. These are stories that we don’t even know where they come from. There is a book that I have been reading called The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, which shows that a lot of the stuff that was written about him was written much later. There are a few witnesses at the time who knew what had happened; these are stories which developed later. His whole life, his official life anyway, was written 100 years after he died, so we don’t really have any historical evidence of anything, but these are stories related to him. And the stories proliferated into history.
Fr. Barnabas: Also, one other question that I have about him: when he goes back to Mecca and he’s talking to all these people, the basic religion of the people of Mecca and Medina and all of that area and those Arab tribes was very much polytheism and paganism. There had not yet been a lot of Christian evangelism in that area apparently, and he was really fighting against a pagan religious system at the time. Is that correct?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, that is true, but we do know that there were some people who were Jewish. Medina had a Jewish community for sure, and Mecca did, too. There’s also a very small Christian group in probably both the cities, but, yes, he wanted them to accept him as the final prophet, the greatest of the prophets. Of course, both the Jews as well as the Christians rejected that, so they had the same fate as everybody else: be killed or convert to Islam. In particular, he focused on them specifically if they rejected. When they rejected him, he killed most of them.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. Okay. By the way, folks, the number to call is 855-237-2346. That’s 855-237-2346. If you have questions for Fr. Panayiotis about the history of Islam or if you have comments, you go ahead and you give us a call: 855-237-2346. Don’t forget: every caller that calls tonight is going to be entered into a drawing for a $55 gift certificate to tonight’s program sponsor, Legacy Icons. You can find out more about Legacy Icons at legacyicons.com, and everyone that calls in tonight goes into that drawing for a $55 gift certificate.
Father, this history lesson of Islam is extremely important. What I’m really understanding here is we’ve got this nascent Islamic community, this Muslim community beginning around Mohammed the prophet. He’s going into the cave, getting more instructions as they’re dealing with what’s happening with the growth of this movement, this new religious order that Mohammed is founding. It sounds very—how do I put this?—very ad hoc, and they’re kind of, shall we say, doing on-the-job training as they’re doing all of this stuff? Would that be a way to describe this?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, yes, of course. And first of all, the tradition also says that he was neither educated, not literate, so he didn’t know how to read or to write. Whether this man actually sat down and he started the systems of religions and put these together, he made it up as he went along. Now he was creating a community that was no longer religious but it was also a social community, and there were social rules that he was establishing. It was also an economic… there were economic rules and political rules. So it’s a complete societal system, with religion, economics, and politics incorporated into the system so that it can function on all levels.
Fr. Barnabas: I guess that makes me ask: how much of this is… of Islam is really a religion? It sounds like it’s kind of like it’s a political system that has some religious overtones. Would that be fair to say?
Fr. Panayiotis: Ah, you could say it that way, yes. Of course, it has a special theology with respect to God and it has a special theology with respect to the end times and some other things, which, again, they’re multiplicities of traditions that have been developed over the centuries, but at the same time there is this core of theological understandings, certain theological understandings like rules including jihad, which is… I’ll give you a number of things called the tenets, we call it the basic tenets of Islam.
The first one is the pillar of faith, belief in the absolute oneness of God. Then there’s belief in the greatness of angels and djinns; belief in the scriptural relation of the Torah: the psalms, the Gospel, and the Quran; belief in the messengers of God, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, etc., even Jesus Christ—but the most important and perfect of all the prophets is the holy prophet Mohammed. There is belief in the divine decree of predestination. Predestination is essential to Islam; it’s a very critical theological understanding, that everything is… yeah, it’s called qadar in Arabic, kismet in Turkish, and has really affected even the Christians of those regions in some ways. In other words, belief in the end times and the resurrection and judgment.
Then you have the second pillar of Islam, which is the confession of faith that every Muslim has to say: There is no God except Allah; Mohammed is the messenger of Allah. And then these five daily—I’m sorry, five times a day canonical prayers, which is called the salat. And there is fasting during the month of Ramadan, and then paying a tithe, the zakāt, and then there is the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a requirement for all Muslims. And then there is the final one which is the struggle for the faith, called the jihad, which some people interpret as a spiritual struggle, like in the Orthodox Church where we have this understanding of the spiritual struggle against our own demons and our passions and whatever we have and the demonic influences, and there is that in Islam as well, but it’s really very small by comparison to how we understand it in the Orthodox Church. For them jihad is the concept of propagating the faith through whatever means possible, including war, including killing, including conquering, and Mohammed of course, he applied that in his lifetime. Throughout the years of his life, he was continually in war; he was continually conquering, and he was continually subjecting others to him.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. Well, I want to get into the violence question in just a bit, but right now I want to talk to Raphael. Raphael, welcome to Faith Encouraged Live. You’ve got a comment and question for Fr. Panayiotis, and I wanted to thank you for calling tonight. Thanks for calling, Raphael. Where are you calling from?
Raphael: I’m in Louisiana.
Fr. Barnabas: Oh, in Louisiana. God bless you. Just some Cajun dirty rice would be perfect right now. I miss it already. Thanks for calling, Raphael. What do you have for tonight.
Raphael: I actually have an interrupting comment about the development of the Quran that I thought some people might have an interest in. So we know that the story that Gabriel would bring down portions of surahs to Mohammed over a period of time, but what’s really interesting is that there’s several incidents… one would be like the Satanic Verses, in which the people were putting pressuring on the prophet Mohammed to add stuff into his revelation. So at one point in time, he had put out a surah that said that Allah had daughters. Later on he backtracked about this and says that this was a Satanic verse. So what’s interesting about this is that Mohammed’s saying that Satan got into there and confused him.
Another incident happened when Mohammed and one of his slave girls… So without getting into too many details, Mohammed was caught cheating on his wife, on some of his wives. When he was approached about this and scolded, he essentially said he wasn’t going to do it again. Well, of course, his wives found him again cheating on them. At this time, Mohammed said that Allah told him that this was good for him to do and that if Allah told him it was good for him to do, then who was he to say that it isn’t. So these are kind of two incidences where revelation has revealed itself to really give Mohammed permission to do what he wants to do.
Another interesting thing about the hadith says that Mohammed related verses of the Quran later in his life that he had forgotten. What’s interesting about this is that they gathered up many of the Quran after Mohammed died and burned them and made one official version. Well, within these versions, we actually find stories that would have been part of ancient Christian writings. One in particular is about Jesus blowing on the clay doves and then turning them into real doves. So that’s pretty much all I wanted to say.
Fr. Barnabas: Thank you, Raphael. I appreciate that. And, Father, if you would kind of comment on the fact that early on a lot of people thought that Mohammed’s teaching was basically a Christian heresy. There’s a lot of influence here, but there’s also this kind of bizarre kind of catch-as-catch-can, and “I’ve got this new revelation” and now it’s different than it used to be, all of that stuff going on there, too. Can you comment on that as well?
Fr. Panayiotis: Ah, yes, of course. I think that—and others will think the same—Mohammed took basically whatever he learned at the earlier times in his life when he had conquered the Christians, he took some of the teachings, especially moral teachings and understandings from monastic life, ideas from Christianity, and tried to apply them. But the theology is really where he moved away, and that’s why St. John of Damascus called Islam a heresy.
The theology is really completely different. For him, Jesus is the word of God, and he was born from the Virgin Mary without the seed of man, and she remained a virgin. But at the same time, he repeatedly says that anybody who says that Jesus is God is an abomination, and he calls the Christians polytheists if they say that God is three, if they say that God is three. So he insists on the unity of God being one and not three, not three persons. He doesn’t really understand the theology, of course. He never really understood it, he never really studied it, the standard mystery of the Trinity in that sense.
So he refuses to accept that Jesus is God, and then he refuses to accept that Jesus is crucified. So he comes up with this idea that Jesus was lifted up from out of the hands of the Jews that arrested him and crucified him, and they crucified his shadow or something like that, and Jesus ascended to heaven and he’s going to come back later again. But the interesting thing is that the Jesus that he’s talking about is not the Jesus we experience in Christianity, the Jesus we know from the New Testament, not the Jesus that we’re expecting to come again. For him, it’s a man who is fully submissive to Islam, and his own people were Muslims, who is going to come in the end to destroy the heresy of Christianity, the errors of the Christians, and kill the Christians and the Jews who object to become Muslims, and also…
Fr. Barnabas: And break down the crosses as well, right?
Fr. Panayiotis: All the crosses, so that this understanding about the cross goes away. If you watch TV and you see what ISIS is doing in Syria and northern Iraq, it’s taking them out. They’re destroying the crosses; they’re destroying the churches as well, but they’re destroying the crosses. They’re pulling the crosses down everywhere. I’ve seen in Cyprus, the twice that I entered the now Turkish-occupied part, all the churches that have not been actively destroyed, the crosses are missing from everywhere.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. Raphael, thank you so much for your phone call. I appreciate it very much. And, Fr. Panayiotis, Raphael said something about hadiths and surahs. Can you tell me what do those words mean there?
Fr. Panayiotis: The surahs are the verses from the Quran, but hadith is a number of verses that are… they describe the story of Mohammed, and they deal with the life of Mohammed and they deal with ways that he reacted to different situations. So the hadith are basically an application of the Quran by the prophet himself, where he teaches to the people through reacting to the events, based on his understanding of the Quran, based on the hadith, and as our caller said he remembers verses that he forgot, and he applies them in the hadith, in the situations where he finds an opportunity.
For example—let me give you an example—he doesn’t say in the Quran, “What happens if somebody insults the prophet?” right? But in the hadith, it does, because—look at this—when a woman spits at him, he orders that she be executed, beheaded. So she is beheaded. So if somebody insults the prophet today, and you want to find out how to deal with them, you go to the hadiths; you don’t go to the Quran. And the hadith says that the prophet kills anyone who insulted him, and that’s what they do. That’s why we have the killings in Europe when somebody did those caricatures of Mohammed and published them.
Fr. Barnabas: Sure. And what’s so significant about this is that the whole idea in Islam, especially the understanding of how to apply Islam, is to imitate the prophet, to do what the prophet did, to live as the prophet lived and to act as the prophet acted. That’s the most important thing, over and over again, I hear from Muslims whom I talk to, that that’s really the goal: “We’ve got to live like the prophet did.”
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, and if you do, you’re going to do what he did, which was killing people, conquering countries, expanding Islam to conquer the whole world. The idea is that the whole universe, the whole world, has to become Islamic.
Fr. Barnabas: I see. Well, Father, I want to take one more phone call before we go to a break. Joanna is calling from Montreal. Joanna, thank you so much for calling tonight. You’re on Faith Encouraged Live, and I’m glad you’ve called. Thank you.
Joanna: Thank you, Fr. Barnabas. It’s good to be here.
Fr. Barnabas: God bless you. I hope you guys are… You aren’t snowed in? I know it’s cold up there, but I hope you’re nice and cozy.
Joanna: It passed right by us, and it went to Nova Scotia.
Fr. Barnabas: Oh, well, God bless Nova Scotia. What do you have for us tonight?
Joanna: Well, I wasn’t sure, because when I called in I got blocked off from the conversation from the previous caller, and it was talking about God and Mohammed’s view on God. So my question is: What is Mohammed’s understanding of who God is in comparison to how we Orthodox know who God is? Because who is Allah?
Fr. Barnabas: That’s a great question, Joanna, and frankly we’ve had a lot of conversations and people coming down on both sides of the question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Is it the same God that we’re praying to?” and so on and so forth and all this kind of stuff. It’s really been a controversial subject, and I think it’s a perfect question. Fr. Panayiotis, when an Orthodox Christian says, “God,” and when a Muslim says, “God,” what do they mean?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, we Christians consider that God is one and yet in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We understand that his Son is incarnate and became man in the person of Jesus Christ, therefore when we talk about Jesus Christ we talk about God the Son and the Logos. And when we talk about the Holy Spirit, we understand that the Holy Spirit is God as well, and all three of them are part of the Holy Trinity, as the Son is begotten and as the Spirit proceeds from the Father, the Father being the source of the three. The one proceeds from the Father and the other is begotten from the Father. So that’s who God is. Of course, you can talk about the attributes of God in many different ways, and you can talk about his love and his affection for us and his desire to save us and the fact that we’re in his image. I think that in Islam all of those elements might be there, but not that God is three; that is totally rejected by Mohammed repeatedly in Islam and even in the hadith, and anybody who is holding onto that, it’s punishable by death. So it’s a dangerous thing to confess anything like that.
Fr. Barnabas: If I ask you this, Father…
Fr. Panayiotis: So that is his expression and understanding of who God is.
Fr. Barnabas: Would you say that Islam teaches that God is alone before he creates? Is that how you would… Would you say that’s the Muslim view of God?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yeah, the unity of God is central in Islam. There is nothing else except one God, who is not in three or anything else. That is polytheism for him.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. Okay. Joanna, does that answer your question or do you need more?
Joanna: No, that’s perfect; that’s great.
Fr. Barnabas: Thank you so much. And I will say this, Joanna. What I would add is that the significance of this difference is huge. Whereas the Orthodox Christian faith understands God as persons in communion, which makes now being in communion a part of acting like our Creator—being in relationships, being in community, being connected together and one with one another—that’s a big deal. With Islam, one of the fallouts from this strict monotheism of Islam is that God is this wholly other, not to be known or even loved, but simply obeyed. So that creates all kinds of difference in practice and so on and so forth on down the line. So this significant difference of how we both understand God makes all the difference in the world. Fr. Panayiotis, would you agree with that?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, absolutely, and I will add to that that because of this understanding of God as the other that is not communicable in the same way that we understand that we become united to him and being sanctified through that, while in Islam it’s pure obedience; you get in Islam a very legalistic approach to God, and to life in general, so Islam is a very basic religion where everything has to be in a certain way and you have to do certain things. Once you do those things, your obligation is completed. If you go to the hajj and if you pray five times, if you pay your tithe and you do the things that you need to do, and you fast and you do whatever you need to do, you are complete. For us, fasting and prayer are the means to be more like God, to become one with him and become gods by grace. Nothing like that in Islam, of course.
Fr. Barnabas: Joanna, thank you so much for your phone call, and thank you for being a part of Faith Encouraged Live tonight. We’re going to be taking a break, but we’re going to be taking that room for your phone calls. All you’ve got to do is give us a call at 8-55-237-2346; that’s 855-237-2346. Tonight’s program is focusing on knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective. This is a big deal, gang; we’re going to continue talking about that and we’re going to find out what in the world is the root of all this violence in Islam. We’re also going to talk more about the end times, and one of the reasons the violence is so hot is because there’s some folks trying to bring about the end of the world. You’re listening to Faith Encouraged Live on ancientfaith.com.
Fr. Barnabas: We’re so grateful for your phone calls tonight. The number to call is 855-237-2346; that’s 237-2346. If it’s going to be a dialogue, we want to hear from you, so please do. Don’t forget that everybody who calls in tonight goes into a pool for a $55 gift certificate. The drawing will be at the end of the program, and you’ll get that $55 gift certificate to use at legacyicons.com. Some wonderful gifts there and some wonderful things that you can look at there at legacyicons.com. Check them out and tell them how much you appreciate them supporting Faith Encouraged Live on ancientfaith.com.
My special guest tonight is Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou, and he is the parish priest at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, Georgia. Fr. Panayiotis is not only a scholar, but he’s also a chemist, and has got all kinds of stuff in there—a brilliant man—and my dear friend, and I love him very much. We’re talking tonight about knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective. There’s so many things about this that it’s so very important, mainly because we Orthodox have lived in and around and under Muslim societies for many, many centuries. We know that world intimately and why in heaven’s name the West doesn’t wake up and understand we have a lot to offer them to help them understand what’s going on in Islam, I don’t know why, but they’ve got a wonderful resource in the Orthodox community to teach them and to help them deal with this—shall I call it an onslaught of Islamic activity that’s going on in the West? I think it’s fair to say. So tonight we’re talking to Fr. Panayiotis about Islam from an Orthodox perspective.
The next issue I want to get into, Fr. Panayiotis, is all of this violence that’s going on right now that we see. But from what you tell me, in the history of Islam, this is actually the norm; it’s not the exception. Is that correct?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, yes. In fact, they are allowed to take a break for ten years, but they have to continue the struggle to bring Islam to the whole world, so I think they took a break for a long time and they were weakened in many ways because the Westerners conquered them for some time and the Ottoman empire at the time, but now they are feeling strong, they have plenty of money, they are selling oil, they’re powerful. So somehow they got the opportunity when the United States army moved out of Iraq, they found weapons ready, they conquered the oil fields, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They need to bring Islam everywhere. There is more to it, though, and we can get into it after this if you want.
Fr. Barnabas: One of the things I wanted to ask you about… You’re going to hear people say all the time, “Well, wait a second. Islam is a peaceful faith. Islam is a religion of peace, and these folks in ISIS, they’re not Muslims, and they’re not representative of the Muslim faith, and we need to think about the other sides of this and the other voices in Islam that say: No, no, no. This is not who we really are.” What’s the truth here, Father?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, I mean, the truth is that the big number of Muslims are not going to express the same fundamentalist kind of expression of Islam because a lot of people… People come to the United States for a job, they come to find a better life, they come to get an education, they come to give to their children what they didn’t get for themselves growing up like a lot of us did. So your average American Muslim is a peaceful person. They feel a little pressure about it, so you need to be careful not to address every Muslim you found as a terrorist and someone who’s going to hurt you and never consider that’s the case. Of course, you never know who is going to hurt you, because you don’t know their hearts, but at the same time you do not consider everybody as liars.
Now, it’s not the people that are violent. It’s the religion that is based on violence from the very beginning. It’s the culture who’s violent from the very beginning. So a person who wants to be… A Christian who wants to be a good Christian will go back to Christ and say, “How did Christ live? What did Christ do when they came to arrest him and Peter took the knife out and cut the ear of the servant?” Christ said, “Put your knife away. If you live by the knife, you die by the knife. If I wanted protection, I would have a legion of angels to protect me.” He first teaches peace. He talks about blessed are the peacemakers. He rejects violence; he refuses to get involved in violence. Even on the cross, he prays for those who crucified him, for those who are mocking him. He doesn’t react like Mohammed, who wanted them immediately beheaded.
A Muslim who needs to live a fundamental Muslim life, where is he going to go? He’s going to go Mohammed. Mohammed was a violent man; there’s no question about it. His whole life is full of violence. That’s why I think… And then there’s other things, of course. There’s the understanding of the end times and other things which we can talk about in a moment, but I think the Muslim who wants to live like Mohammed will end up like ISIS. There’s no other way to do it.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. So you would say… And the reason is this, that the emphasis in Islam is on living like the prophet. If the prophet ate this food, then this is good food to eat. If the prophet bathed in a certain way, then that’s the way we’re supposed to bathe. And on and on and on. If the prophet treated women this way, then that’s the way we’re supposed to treat women. Is that a fair assessment?
Fr. Panayiotis: Of course, of course. And let me just give you some statistics which I was reading on a website, jihad reports of the last 30 days. This is on a website called thereligionofpeace.com, so if you want to go check it out: thereligionofpeace.com. In the last 30 days, there were 137 attacks in 25 countries. This is not only in Syria and Iraq. There were 137 attacks in 25 countries by Muslims, and Muslims who were putting into effect what Mohammed did. There were 1877 people killed in these attacks, and 1637 people injured in these attacks. There were 36 suicide blasts during these attacks. So we’re talking about violence throughout the world. We’re not talking about some very isolated phenomenon somewhere in a corner of the world, that you could say, “These people saw an opportunity, and they’re doing something which others are not doing.” In 25 countries around the world, in the last 30 days, there were 137 attacks, and 1877 people died, and 1637 people were injured. That’s what’s happening in Islam.
Fr. Barnabas: So, Father, let me ask you this: What would you say to someone who would say, “Okay, but we need to make sure that we need to reach out to them. We need to make sure that we reach out to the Muslim community. We need to reach out to the Muslim immigrants, and we need to have a Christian kindness toward the Muslims immigrants and bring them here and have them here” and all these other things, to reach out and show Christian love and to show mercy and to show relief. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked and watched on the islands there on Greece, where the Greek people, the Greek Orthodox people, who’ve been treated so horribly under the Turkish occupation, were going out there and rescuing these folks escaping from violence and pulling them onto shore and even the island where our parish’s saints come from—Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene—the island of Lesvos where they were rescuing these folks out there and showing them mercy and kindness. Are we Christians being foolish by doing that kind of thing, or are we setting ourselves up for our own demise?
Fr. Panayiotis: I think that the Christians of Lesvos and the Christians in Greece who were helping the refugees were doing the right thing. If I were there, I would probably be doing the same thing. I would try to rescue the people, feed them, give them shelter. Of course, there were people who were drowned, and they need to bury their dead. I think that’s the appropriate way to approach people, and I think that our love for humanity and our love for them even if they are Muslims would be the biggest weapon in neutralizing what might be their reaction. Because a person that receives treatment like that will never turn around, even under the— Well, I shouldn’t say never, but if the child decides that he will not turn around and kill the people that fed him and took care of him. And they will always remember that Christians were the ones that brought them in. I saw some pictures from Lesvos where they actually took them into the church. They shut down the churches, and they opened them up, actually, and they moved the seats and everything, and they turned the churches into a place for these people to find refuge so that they won’t die in the cold outside and in the wind and the rain. So that’s what we need to do.
Now, the issue of bringing millions of people into the United States or bringing millions of people into Europe without a way to integrate them, that’s another issue, and I think that’s why the politicians are making it a legal issue. That’s why there’s so much discussion on the news every day almost about how we do this or how we’re going to do that. And you can see that that’s the case in Europe, where you’ve got all these millions of people, and then they’re touching women here and there, and they’re acting in strange ways that the West has never seen before because they’re not integrated into the society and they don’t understand what’s happening; they don’t understand the distance you need to have, and they don’t respect women in the same way, and therefore you have to have good training for them before you let them go loose.
Fr. Barnabas: [Laughter] Yeah, exactly. It really is a conflict, and it really is a source of real consternation for a lot of folks, because we see what’s happening in Europe, especially in Cologne, Germany, and all of the things that are happening there. Is this an invasion or is this a refugee movement or is it both? All of these issues are there, and it seems that what I’m hearing you say is: if a Muslim is going to be a good Muslim, if he’s really going to follow the Quran, if he’s really going to follow the faith of Islam, he’s going to act like Mohammed did. And if Mohammed did it, then that’s the way a good Muslim is supposed to act, and that’s the way a good Muslim is supposed to live, and if that’s the case, then we need to constantly know about Islam so that we can help folks understand where all this is coming from.
We’ve got a phone call from Steve from Chicago, Father, and I want to get him on right now. Steve, welcome to Faith Encouraged Live. I’m glad that you called.
Steve: Thank you, Father. The question I was asking is that I have friends… And of course, you look at a lot of programs on TV, where they talk about the turmoil in the Middle East right now as being a perfect analogue to what happened in Western Christianity during the period of the Reformation. And I know several people who were Catholic or Protestant who would go along with that idea, and I’d just like to get an Orthodox perspective on whether or not that point of view carries any weight or not.
Fr. Barnabas: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate that. You know, Father, that is interesting, because we hear a lot of people say, “Oh, well, this is kind of like when the Protestants and the Roman Catholics were fighting in Europe and the Hundred Years’ War and all of that stuff and all the violence that happened during the Protestant Reformation.” Is this the same thing?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, it’s not the same thing because in the end, all of these Muslims who were fighting will go back to Mohammed. The Christians in the end, they went back to Christ and they realized that what they were doing was wrong. It took them 300 years to realize it, but in the end they realized it and they stopped killing each other. In the process, they damaged Christianity and they damaged Europe and the faith of the people—but that’s another story.
With respect to Islam, the fighting among the groups is there because of the fact that there are no limits to whom you fight. If he disagrees with you, he is [unintelligible]. And we have already established three different groups; well, two major different groups: the Shi’ites and the Sunnis, who are at war. They have been at war for many centuries. This is not the first time that you see them fighting with each other. But, in the end, their greatest enemy are the infidels, because their theology about Islam is in propagating and conquering other lands. It’s the same. So they will look around and they will find battlefields. They will feel comfortable where they are. They will look around, and they will go for the rest of the world. They’re not going to be fighting each other. There’s a big difference between what happened in the Reformation and today.
Fr. Barnabas: Well, I agree. Father, we’re having some real challenges with the phone call. We may need to get back, to reconnect with you by calling you back or doing something real quick. While we’re doing that and trying to get that fixed, I wanted to follow up with what you just said that is extremely important for us to deal with, and that is the fact that when you start having this idea… And by the way, Steve, thanks a lot for the phone call from Chicago. I hope this helps.
It really is significant what Father just said, that the Christians will always go back to Christ, if they’re following Christ, and Muslims will always go back to Mohammed. In the end, the Christians realized they were doing wrong and they stopped, but if the Muslims continue to go back to Mohammed, they will constantly go back to an example of violence. So to say that there is some kind of moral equivalency between the wars of the Protestant Reformation and the violence that we see going on in the Muslim world today, I think it’s really apples and oranges, Steve. I hope that makes sense to you.
Steve: Yes, it does. It certainly does.
Fr. Barnabas: And I think it’s a significant point, too, Steve. I think it’s something you need to really focus on when you’re talking with your friends or anything like that. It really is a mistake to set up this moral equivalency between even the Crusades, which get brought up all the time, that this is a justification of the violence that’s going on, when the fact of the matter is: that isn’t the case at all. Even the Crusades were a final response of the Christian world to the violence that had been going on for 400 years in the land of the Lord’s birth by Muslim conquest and so on and so forth. So it really is a mistake to create this moral equivalency, and it really does show a real lack of historical perspective when people start bringing that up.
Fr. Barnabas: Thank you very much for bringing that up. God bless you.
Steve: Thank you. A pleasure.
Fr. Barnabas: And we’re glad that you’re listening to Faith Encouraged Live on ancientfaith.com. We’re going to take a break, and when we get back we’re going to talk about the end times. We’re going to talk about the Muslim understanding of the end of the world and eschatology, and you’re going to discover that the Muslim understanding of the end of time is really playing a huge role in all of the things that are going on right now, and one of the basic motivations of all of the things that we’re seeing happening. I’m glad that you’re listening to Faith Encouraged Live. I want you to join us, and don’t forget the phone call at 855-237-2346. That’s the number to connect, and you can get your question answered or your comment heard right here on Faith Encouraged Live on ancientfaith.com.
Fr. Barnabas: And I’m glad you’re back to Faith Encouraged Live. Tonight’s topic: knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective. My special guest is Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou. He is the parish priest at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, Georgia, and we’re having a lively discussion. In fact, let me just pass along to you one of the things we got asked at ancientfaith.com. I love what this precious subdeacon wrote. He said, “Sounds like it boils down to: What would Jesus do? versus What would Mohammed do?” And that really is the case. It really is the case that, in Islam and in Christianity, the two main figures of both of these faiths really carry a great deal of weight. In the Christian faith of course it is our Lord Jesus. Now, a huge difference is how we understand Jesus and how Islam understands Jesus, and that’s one of the things we want to talk about, in fact… We’re not going to have time to do all this, but anyway, that’s okay. There is still time for your phone calls, though, at 855-237-2346; that’s 855-237-2346. Fr. Panayiotis, I’m glad that you’re with us and that you’re back with us, and we have a phone call from George from Lawrenceville, Georgia. George, welcome to Faith Encouraged Live.
George: Thank you, Fr. Barnabas and Fr. Panayiotis. I’ve got a question. On the news you hear about the differences… You’ve got the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, and apparently there was a schism of some sort within Islam causing that. And I know that they’re both probably equally violent with each other. How do the sects relate to us Christians in the Middle East? Are both sects equally aggressive or not?
Fr. Barnabas: Good question. Fr. Panayiotis?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, yes, they are. With respect to us, they are. They’re both aggressive. They have the same theology. They just… One thinks that the other is better because they have the rights to the inheritance of Ali—that’s the Iranians, for example, and the ones who are Sunni, I guess they are—no, they’re not the Sunni…
Fr. Barnabas: They’re the Shi’ites, right.
Fr. Panayiotis: The Shi’ites, yes. They have this understanding that they have this continuity with Ali, and therefore they have moral rights. This division started immediately after Mohammed died. And the import was: who is going to replace him? Mohammed didn’t leave someone behind to replace him, so there was a fight over who was going to be the caliph. The caliph is the supreme authority of Islam, where he is the political leader as well as the religious leader; everybody bows to him. And there was no [decision], so there was this division that happens with every group that has that kind of community leadership. So that remains through the centuries.
As far as the Christians under them, they were always abused. In Iraq, they were abused. Under the Turks, they were abused; the Christians were abused, because Islam teaches [subservience]. The unbelievers are going to be treated like animals, and they will be taxed and they have no rights, and you do whatever you need to do with them. So it doesn’t matter who rules.
Fr. Barnabas: It doesn’t matter, the Shia or the Sunni. And then of course, there are other differences in Islam that aren’t nearly as big. We could talk about the Sufi tradition, which has a great deal of emphasis and influence from the Christian faith on the Sufis and so forth. All of that just goes to show you that it’s extremely important that Islam is not this monolithic thing, except in the fact that if you’re going to be truly faithful to the Islamic tradition, it’s going to be as you follow the life of Mohammed. Mohammed is the life that you’re to follow at all times. That’s the teaching of Islam. So that’s what’s going to be what’s the foundation of all of this.
Father, as we talk about the person of Jesus Christ—and, by the way, George, thanks so much for the phone call from Georgia; we appreciate it so much—when we talk about Jesus from the Orthodox perspective and we talk about Jesus from the Islamic perspective, we really are talking about two different visions of who Jesus is, aren’t we?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, of course. As we said, for us he’s God. He’s an incarnate God, the theanthrōpos. For us he’s the Savior. He saved humanity through the incarnation, through his crucifixion and resurrection, and we need to unite ourselves to him. That’s why we receive holy Communion, physically as well as spiritually, so that we can be transformed, so that we can be deified, so that we can enter the kingdom of God.
For the Muslims, Jesus is a man who… God liked him, but he was a prophet, a lesser prophet than Mohammed, and as far as they are concerned, he was lifted into heaven so that he won’t be crucified, and that he’s coming again to take care of the Christians because they distorted his message and they are not living as he wants them. He wants them to become all-submissive to Islam and become Muslims, and those who don’t become Muslims will be killed, and he will correct them all. And then he will live and have a wife and children, and then he will die. That’s the Jesus of the Muslims.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. And this really brings us to the real issue here, that when we start talking about all this violence and everything that’s going on… In Islam, there is this understanding of the end times, that Jesus will return, and he will set everything straight, and he will tell all the Christians that they should become Muslim, and those who don’t become Muslim, he will kill them, and he’ll break on down all the crosses. This end-time understanding is extremely important in all of these things that are happening with the attempts to reestablish the caliphate and everything that’s going on in Islam now. What’s really driving all of this activity is the Islamic understanding of the end times, Father. Would you kind of explain that to us? What are they expecting to happen?
Fr. Panayiotis: They’re not seeing Jesus as the Messiah or the Savior. They have another one that they call messiah and savior, and that’s a big difference between, again, Christianity and Islam. The awaited messiah is called the mahdi, who is going to be a great warrior. He will conquer all the lands and place them under Islam, and he will create the great caliphate that the Muslims never had, because that was their goal, to have this great caliphate that would cover the whole world, and the mahdi will do that, and he will fulfill the promise that everything will be under Islam.
Fr. Barnabas: So he’s basically seen as the… And is that connected with the twelfth imam and all of the stuff that happens in the Shia understanding of the twelfth imam? Is that connected to the mahdi as well?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, it is, and I think that what’s happening is ISIS right now is doing those things that they’re doing, thinking that they will create the caliphate so that the mahdi will come and finish the job that he’s supposed to finish, because the end times are clear.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. And they really want the West to send their armies there. They really want that, don’t they, because that’s all part of the prophecy, that all the armies of the West will come and attack them, and then they’ll be victorious and the mahdi will come and everything will be fine.
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, yes. They want the confrontation, because the prophecies are that they will win in the end, and they’re provoking because they believe that Allah is going to be with them and Allah is going to arm them and help them. And the black flags that they’re carrying, that ISIS is carrying right now, they have “Allahu akbar” on it, which means, “God is great,” and that is the symbol that the prophecy talks about. The black flag is the symbol that the mahdi will have, and they’re raising them everywhere, because the mahdi‘s about to join them.
Fr. Barnabas: So all of this activity, all of this symbolism that they’re using, all of the black flag of ISIS and all of that stuff, creating the caliphate, all of this is really following through on the consistent Islamic theology that Islam has been teaching from the beginning. This isn’t some kind of new stuff that just kind of bubbled up out of nowhere. This is really being consistent with Islamic theology, isn’t it?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, of course. They’re not making it up. There is a variation between different traditions, smaller variations within different traditions as to how the end times will be, but the major understanding is exactly what they’re putting into practice right now.
Fr. Barnabas: Interesting. All right. We’ve got a phone call from Kevin from Baltimore. Kevin, thanks so much for calling Faith Encouraged Live, and I’m glad that you’ve joined us on the program tonight. Thanks so much for calling.
Fr. Barnabas: Kevin, you there?
Kevin: Yes, I am.
Fr. Barnabas: Outstanding. What question do you have?
Kevin: Mohammed claims that he received these revelations from Gabriel, yet he denies that Jesus is the Son of God. Obviously, he couldn’t have gotten them from Gabriel, because Gabriel came at the Annunciation and declared to Mary that Jesus is the Son of God.
Fr. Barnabas: Exactly. That’s a good point, Father, in the sense that if Gabriel is telling the Theotokos one thing and telling Mohammed something else, we’ve got a little problem here, don’t we?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, from our understanding, it wasn’t Gabriel. In fact, from the stories which we have, which we don’t know how exact they are, Mohammed when he went into the cave, he was very scared the first time whatever appeared to him appeared to him, and the description of that is a demonic appearance from our spiritual perspective. It wasn’t the light of God; it wasn’t the light of the Transfiguration. It wasn’t the uncreated light which the saints experienced, our Orthodox saints experienced. It was a reddish light, which is demonic, according again to our understanding. So there is no question that whatever he experienced was demonic.
Kevin: I’m familiar with that, but many people, or many Muslims, still claim it was Gabriel, and perhaps were not familiar with the incident that you just told.
Fr. Barnabas: Do you think it’s our job to really inform these Muslims of this, or what do we do, Father? How do we help our Muslim friends—which I have a few—how do we help our Muslim friends understand this and see this, or are they even interested in hearing it?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, you know, I think that Muslims are in a very precarious condition, situation, a very difficult situation, because you cannot have that in Islam. If you abandon Islam, you are condemning yourself to death, especially if you’re already part of the community, you’re already going to the mosque, you’re a pious Muslim, even if you understand that there is error in this, you can’t leave, because you will die. Even in the West this is very difficult for them to do.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we should do nothing. I think that we are responsible to promote the understanding of the errors one way or another, but we have to be very careful, because if they discover that you are trying to convert Muslims, they will come after you. So they already have the decision to kill Christian priests who are trying to convert Muslims, several of them, actually. We have to be very careful, but at the same time we have a duty to kind of speak out and say what we’re going to say, what we understand, so that at least our people will know, and if they get a chance and are able to explain, they would explain. If somebody comes to me and says, “I’m a Muslim and I would like to convert,” I would help him, but I don’t think it would be a good idea to go to the mosque and start telling them what they’re doing wrong.
Fr. Barnabas: Exactly. Kevin, thanks so much for your phone call. I appreciate it. The number to call is 855-237-2346; that’s 855-237-2346. Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou is my special guest, and we’re talking about knowing Islam: an Orthodox perspective. One of the things that I think is so fascinating about all this, especially as we understand the end times, as we understand one of the driving forces behind a lot of these Muslim movements that are going on that are especially violent is to really bring about the end of days, really bring about the revelation of the Muslim messiah called the mahdi, and how he is going to fix everything, and of course how Jesus is supposed to return and make everybody Muslim in the Islamic understanding of the end times.
All of this is bubbling up in society and all of these things are happening, and our Christian message is to be faithful to the faith once for all delivered to the saints which gives us all kinds of insights into how to see through the blindness of these errors and to bring people to a liberating and healing faith in Jesus Christ. That’s really our purpose, and that’s why we’re doing all this work, and that’s why I’m so thankful that Fr. Panayiotis is with us tonight to talk to us about knowing Islam and doing it from an Orthodox perspective.
We’ve got a phone call from Gabriel from Georgia. Gabriel, thanks so much for calling Faith Encouraged Live. You’re on with Fr. Panayiotis and Fr. Barnabas. Welcome to the program. Thanks a lot for calling.
Gabriel: Thank you.
Fr. Barnabas: And what is your comment or question for us tonight, Gabriel?
Gabriel: I just wanted to ask Fr. Panayiotis… I’ve learned in school that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity proceeded from the same area, and that Muslims are not very violent, but that extremists are the ones that are the terrorists. They have the same roots from Abraham, but they regarded a different testament that became the faith.
Fr. Barnabas: Gabriel, thanks a lot for that question. Father, I will confess to you: this is what we hear more and more and more, that Judaism and Christianity and Islam all are the faith of Abraham and Muslims are really not violent people, it’s the extremists that are the problem and the terrorists that are the problem. But what we’re hearing tonight is the history of Islam has been violent from the very beginning. So how do we respond when we hear this as the story that’s being told over and over again, when they say it’s all the Abrahamic faiths and it’s really all the same, and these violent people are not the norm. How do we respond to that?
Fr. Panayiotis: It’s not all the same, to start with, but I think that I would go again… This is very difficult for us in the United States especially, because we don’t want to label a group of people as violent when they are not violent. So if your neighbors are Muslims and good people and they treat you well, treat them well. Of course, I would say treat them well even if they’re not treating you well, because that is our Christian response to this. We should not label anybody. We should not go after anyone. We should not call them names. We should not do anything, because we are not supposed to do anything because we are Christians and we should love and we should respect everybody, no matter what religion they are from, even if they are Muslim.
Now, that having been said, Islam is another story. I separate the Muslims from Islam, because the Muslims, in a way, they are slaves to Islam, because they have no choice. Once they were born into Islam, they are Muslims, and they have no ability and no right to leave. Even if their father was Muslim and their mother was not, they’re still Muslims. They’re Muslims because they are Muslims to the end of time. And sometimes they consider themselves Muslims. So what I’m saying is that we need to differentiate between the people who may not have any desire to follow Mohammed to the T as the ISIS people are following Mohammed to the T and trying to bring the end of the world or as other violent people who are trying to do like what happened in California recently.
We need to separate the people from Islam itself and treat the people well, and maybe that will help them reconsider what Islam is, because sooner or later a very smart and understanding person will say, “These people are not right, that they behave like this and they kill people for no reason. They fire into a crowd and kill children and kill innocent people; they’re not good people. So I’m not going to follow them. I’m not going to do that.” And there are Muslims around the world who are doing that, and we have the story where there was a teacher who protected Christians, and he was wounded himself, and he died in the hospital later in a recent attack.
Fr. Barnabas: And not only that, Father. I would also agree wholeheartedly on that, that we do separate these folks from this Islamic ideology, but the thing that we have to make clear is that it is not honest to simply say, “Oh, well the Muslim faith is a religion of peace.” That’s not honest. What’s true is, if we take things at face value and historically look at it, the fact of the matter is: the following of the example of the prophet is paramount in Islam, and the prophet Mohammed had violent tendencies—and that’s just a historical reality; that’s just what it is: it’s a historical reality.
But the other thing that I want to focus on and I want to bring up is that one of the things that we have to constantly remember is our Christian duty to follow through on the example of Christ is just as significant. And because of all of these things that are going on, one of the fastest growing problems that the Islamic community is facing are Muslims that are becoming atheists. They are abandoning… They’re saying, “Listen—” Because they don’t have a witness of the fullness of Christianity in their life, so consequently they’re just abandoning religion altogether. One of the fastest growing segments in the Muslim world are Muslims who are simply saying, “I don’t believe in God any more. If this is the way God acts, if this is the way God wants us to act, I don’t want to believe in God at all any more.” And that’s happening over and over and over again throughout the Muslim world, and it’s becoming extremely concerning to the Muslim leaders, so I think that’s another fascinating subject that is the reality.
So, Gabriel, thanks a lot for the phone call. Thomas is calling from Florida. Thomas, welcome to Faith Encouraged Live. I’m glad that you called; thank you so much.
Thomas: Hi. Am I on the air?
Fr. Barnabas: You sure are, brother. What’s up?
Thomas: Well, I’ve got a sort of vague and a little bit exploratory question. Reading more about the ancient… the Church councils and some of the things that the early Church dealt with, I’m trying to come to understand in my own head Islam is more of a… it’s sort of like an amalgamation of ancient Christian heresy, like iconoclasm and Arianism and the Judaizers to an extent as well. I was wondering if (1) this was like an appropriate comparison to make and (2) if it is, is Islam a little bit of an example or a cautionary tale in maintaining good doctrine for Christianity.
Fr. Barnabas: Amen, Thomas. A great question. Father, how would you respond to that, that really Islam is an amalgamation of a lot of early Christian heresies?
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, and then, in addition to the amalgamation of early Christian heresies and whatever Mohammed came up with, there are also elements of the tribal traditions and tribal beliefs of the Arabian desert where he grew up and where he lived, and this is a compilation which actually is very bizarre in many ways. So in an article that I wrote, I named it a “bizarre heresy of Eastern Christianity,” because in a way it borrows also from monasticism, and it tries to monasticize the entire community. And it borrows also from Judaism and some of the practices, for example, the stoning of women if they’re caught in adultery or if they committed some sort of crime. [They] are all borrowings from everywhere. And finally, Mohammed added his own stuff as it was convenient for him.
Fr. Barnabas: And St. John of Damascus, as we quoted earlier, called Islam a Christian heresy, but it is even more than that. It is this hodge-podge of desert Arabian tribal thoughts, Zoroastrianism, as Father mentioned—I think that’s a fascinating comment that you made, Father, that Islam tried to monasticize the entire community. I thought it was fascinating, and it’s exactly a fantastic point to make, that Islam tried to monasticize the entire Muslim community. And then all the other amalgamations that were there as well. A fascinating hodge-podge of stuff.
Thomas, I hope that answers your question, and your point is also well taken, Thomas, that that means that holding onto a sure and solid theology is more important than ever, and the reason why it’s so vital—I mean vital—for us to really embrace the fullness of the faith that protects us from traveling down these heretical roads that lead to death every time. Thanks a lot for calling, Thomas. We appreciate it.
I want to make sure I get one final call in. Curt is calling from Tennessee. Curt, thank you so much for calling tonight. Thanks so much for calling Faith Encouraged Live. You’re on with Fr. Panayiotis.
Curt: Thank you very much for taking my call. My call is similar to the previous one. My question is really: What do we really know about the Christians that Mohammed would have encountered? Were they Nestorian, Arian, or sort of a mix, and would he have encountered Orthodox Christians also?
Fr. Barnabas: Good question. Fr. Panayiotis, do we have any idea of what kind of Christians that Mohammed was confronted with or what he dealt with?
Fr. Panayiotis: Well, we don’t really have solid historical evidence like we would want it to be, like scientifically proven historical evidence, but if you remember from what St. John of Damascus says—you read that in the beginning—St. John of Damascus says that he encountered an Arian monk, so there were Arians in that area because it was outside of the empire, and there were also Nestorians because that was outside of the empire. Who knows what else there might have been there. There were Jacobites… This is now, we’re talking about the seventh century, so, yes, I don’t know that he actually had an experience in a regular Orthodox community, but you have to remember that those Arian and those Nestorian groups, they were not very far away from the regular Orthodox, let’s say, experience, because their practices were similar, their liturgies were similar, their prayers were similar. They just differed in the way they understood Christ, and they differed in the way they understood the union of Christ and the icons, of course: they didn’t believe that Christ was God.
So I think that, considering that what Mohammed did in the end was that he rejected the divinity of Christ, I think that St. John of Damascus was correct when he said that he had encountered an Arian monk who introduced him to Christianity, and the Arian monk, of course, taught him that Jesus was a supreme human being but not God himself.
Fr. Barnabas: Wow. Very good. Curt, thanks so much for the phone call. We appreciate it so much. And thanks so much for listening to Faith Encouraged Live. Fr. Panayiotis, we’re getting close to wrapping things up, and I wanted to give you the last word. So go ahead: what final thoughts would you give us as we say good night to this program? It looks like we’re going to have to revisit this subject again.
Fr. Panayiotis: Yes, probably more times than one. I think that we have a duty toward God and a duty toward ourselves to get this straight in our minds as Orthodox Christians, and perhaps to educate the American society around us about what Islam exactly is. I think that our politicians are not telling the truth; they’re dishonest about it. I think they do know the violence and the do know, they understand the danger of Islam in that sense, but for other political reasons perhaps they are not coming out very openly to talk about it.
So we are not… I don’t think that it would be up to us to go out to the streets and go out to people and start talking against Islam or against the Muslims. I think it’s up to us to live an Orthodox Christian life, and wherever we have a chance, to witness to that Orthodox Christian life in the way that we are dealing with people and the way that we are dealing with the Muslims as well. And that could be the greatest witness… That can be the greatest witness to the Muslims, that the Christians are good people and that they respect God; they’re not unbelievers; they have more moral standing than anybody else, especially than the violent ones that we are experiencing. And perhaps that way we can witness to Christ in a big way.
Fr. Barnabas: Amen. Fr. Panayiotis, thank you so much for taking your time and joining us tonight. Let’s follow up on this program in a bit, and let’s do some more work in this area. I think it’ll be very, very valuable for all of us. I’m grateful, dear brother. Thank you so much for your time.
Fr. Panayiotis: Thank you, Fr. Barnabas.
Fr. Barnabas: And don’t forget about our wonderful news about our Journey to Fullness video teaching series. We’re going to be developing that, and at the end of February we’re going to be shooting all the videos, and by God’s grace we’ve raised the money to do the production of the videos, so we’re thankful to God for that. Keep us in prayer. If you’d like to learn more about this, go to journeytofullness.com and keep up with our progress. Don’t forget to like the Faith Encouraged Live Facebook page, and keep in touch with everything that’s going on with our Faith Encouraged ministries here at Faith Encouraged Live.
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Don’t forget that next week—I want to make a special announcement about next week’s daily devotionals. Next week’s daily devotionals are going to be reruns. That’s right, they’re going to be reruns. I need to take some time and take a break from the daily production of these daily devotionals to get ready for some other projects that are coming up, so next week’s daily devotionals on Faith Encouraged Daily are going to be reruns. We’re going to talk about that next week as well, but we’re grateful tonight also for your time. Next Sunday’s program is going to be a fifth Sunday, and that means that our dear friend, Bill Marianes, will be here with his program Stewardship Calling, and his next show Sunday is about GPS Sunday, Part One: Using God’s Positioning System—I love that!—to Navigate Six Steps to Discover and Live Your Calling. That’s going to start next Sunday night at 8:00 p.m., and yours truly is going to be here.
Thank you so much for our wonderful broadcast team for making tonight’s show possible: John Maddex, our engineer; Troy and Steve Early; and our chatroom moderator, Fr. John; and my executive producer, Mike Bingham, and Bobby Maddex there in the studio as well. We’re so grateful for all of our team that makes Faith Encouraged Live possible, and I’m especially grateful to you for being a part of the program.
Don’t forget, brothers and sisters: knowing the Orthodox faith is absolutely vital, and being Orthodox on purpose is absolutely essential if we’re going to keep the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I’m Fr. Barnabas Powell, your host. I look forward to seeing you again soon.