12 May 2010 (Revee/Shavu'ot)|
Day #58, 5934 AM
The Arab Heart
Understanding the Sons of Ishmael
Dr. Anis Shorrosh
"And as for Ishmael...I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation" (Gen.17:20, NKJV).
Journalist Thomas Kiernan once described the cries at sunset of the muezzin issuing from the minarets of mosques over Cairo like "the wailing of desperate, mortal, earthbound loneliness", and in trying to grasp something of the soul of Arab Muslim at worship, described "the people's celebration of God (Allah)...like lingering, brokenhearted howls of longing - abject, wounded, overflowing with some primordial inconsolable woe" (The Arabs - The History, Aims and Challenge to the Industrialized World - Abacus, London: 1978, p.82).
With the exception of the Marionite Christians and various other Arab Christian communities throughout the Middle East, almost all Arabs today are Muslim. And even though Islam is divided into two major factions, Sunni and Shia, plus a few other smaller ones, and though there is tremendous infighting between them, there is also an astonishing cohesion. To understand how these seemingly contradictory phenomena can coexist you have to understand that what shapes the Arab psyche is an ancient nomadic, desert culture that was shaped by blood kinship in warring tribal clans who lived by raiding one another with a deep instinct for survival and who soon learned that the only real safety in such a harsh environment was in numbers. Desert life bred a fierce independence and a sense of superiority.
There was no public law in this ancient society other than lex talionis - 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'. Thus the kin of someone murdered, injured or insulted had as their duty the obligation to exact revenge from anyone of the culprit's equivalent kinfolk. If he faltered or failed, he would lose his status and be held in disgrace. "These cultural attitudes of superiority", writes Thomas Kiernan, became progressively hardened, "reinforced by their isolation and self-sufficiency in the physical world and their seclusion in an emotional universe formed by the mystical bond uniting all tribes people - that they were absolutely superior to everyone" (Ibid., p.101).
Gratuitous raids on other tribes and caravans, excesses in heroism, fatalism and tribal self-glorification became the custom of the desert, entered the language and was passed down in various forms one generation after the other into our modern age. The Arabic language became a form of action and emotion in and of itself.
It surprises many to learn that not all 'Arabs' are Arabs. The true Arabs are those in the Arabian peninsular with Saudi Arabia the heart of Arabdom. The countries of the Fertile Crescent - from Palestine to Iraq - are in truth mixtures of the original Aramaeans who were conquered and who adopted Arabic ways, customs and their new religion. The Egyptians are a mixture likewise of the ancient Egyptians and Arabs who conquered them, as are the Berbers of North Africa as far west as Morocco. These are the Arabic equivalent of the modern-day Samaritan (who is part Jew and part Assyrian). Culturally and linguistically, though, they are all 'Arab' - they all share the same poetic idealism and harsh realism. And it is driven by an extreme passionate and emotional rather than a rational psychic undercurrent.
What do I mean by that? Whereas rationalism has shaped Judeo-Christian culture over the centuries making it its hallmark, Islamic emotionalism shaped Arab culture, with emotionality becoming the chief means of expression of the Arab character. That is why intellectual debates with Muslims are invariably futile. They are culturally incapable of listening to reason - the only reason they respond to is force. When Westerners explain why they believe in God, it is usually through the medium of long, convoluted expressions of logic. Such is meaningless to an Arab. For him, the existence of God is self-evident - it's an emotional thing.
And this emotionalism is deliberately cultivated in Islam itself. In the second part of the Muslim Hajj, after he has circled the Kaaba seven times in Mecca, the devotee sets off to a place marked by three white pillars called Mina where tradition has it that Abraham was here tempted by the devil as he was about to offer Ishmael (not Isaac as taught in the Bible). Every pilgrim is obliged to hurl seven stones at the pillars, symbolising the stoning of the devil. It is quite an emotion-charged event, designed to release their anger, so that whenever they view the enemies of Islam, it is this violent expression of anger which is called to mind. No other religion has anything comparable to it. And that is why, if you plant an Muslim Arab in a Western culture, that culture will have little or no impact on him so long as he adheres to his religion, which is also his culture, which is also his politics because it is his everything.
One thing you have to clearly remember is that even though Islam is a monotheistic religion like Christianity and Judaism, its spirit is still pagan. Yes, it has absorbed elements of both the other monotheistic faiths, but its core is still the wild heart of the pagan Bedouin. To insult his honour is to insult his manliness, and he will be obliged to kill you to keep his face with his underlings. You will not be able to engage in a rational discussion even if your insult was an innocent mistake because you will simply not be understood. And he probably won't listen to you anyway. There is no justice or judicial process in the heart of this culture because every transgression calls for an automatic penalty, no matter who commits it.
Most Westerners have no clue about this. I gew up in a Muslim country. I heard stories about the mindset. One European family we knew of had a very ill child. Next door a Muslim sultan was having a party and making a great deal of noise which was having an adverse affect on the child. The father politely and respectfully requested the Sultan to ask his guests to make a little less noise, for the sake of his gravely ill child. The next day he and his family were given 24 hours to leave the country. Allah may be merciful but his devotees usually aren't...when it comes to infidels.
Before I go on I want to interject that I have nothing against Arabs. In fact, I am not only rather fond of them but I have had a number of them over the years whom I have counted as my friends. They are, after all, from the same human family as the rest of us, but not only that, Yahweh has made important promises to them as the semitic descendants of Abraham, and many have converted to Yahweh's Son. As a people, they are prisoners of their history and cultural evolution and are as a result fundamentally misunderstood - and often abused - by Westerners which is probably why many of them have been waylaid by fundamentalism and earned so much hatred.
I do not believe you can understand someone without first making the effort to understand their history...which is why I believe that history is a vital part of education and of evangelism. Paul the Benjamite Hebrew was successful in evangelising the Greeks and Romans of his day not just because he had a passion for Christ and a passionate feeling for people but because he took the trouble to understand them and so reach them in ways unique to their cultures. You see, the things we take for granted are entirely alien in this Arab society. They do not think as we do. Their's is a gut-reaction culture, something we have learned to moderate and control over the centuries but which is, alas, startening to slacken again, for we too had such primitive pagan origins long ago, which were of the raw-fleshy Adamic nature and not of the Ruach. Expect to see much of the same type of spirit manifest in Western people as they revert back to their ancient pagan ways.
Islam is not a religion like other religions. There is no distinction between religious, economic and political action. It's adherents are incapable of making it which is why there are no real democracies in any truly Islamic country, and certainly not in any Arab one. Democracy and Islam are totally incompatible and that is why all attempts to plant it in Muslim countries - like Iraq and Afghanistan - are doomed to failure. The only Western Muslim - a Muslim with Western values - is a nominal Muslim. A true Muslim is fiercely proud of himself and of his superiority over all others, viewing all others as inferior. He believes implicity in fatalism, that he is superior and in linguistic virtuosity.
Dr. Walid Salam, professor of law and psychology at Cairo's American University, explains why Arab pride is the way it is (these remarks were made in 1975):
Even more interesting is how Arabs view Jews which is not as the propaganda would have us believe:
"Arab pride, which by its very historical and anthropological nature runs deep, has been smothered and encrusted by centuries of frustration and humiliation. Not since the golden age of Arab culture a thousand years ago has the Arab character had the chance to express itself on the world stage....an Arab possesses something that you don't. He possesses a thousand years worth of cultural inferiority...We Arabs are very conscious of our history, and we are most conscious of our golden age, those three of four centuries when we were the light of the world while the rest of the planet was in darkness...We are being reborn, and because we have been buried so long we pursue this rebirth with a passion bordering on obsession" (Ibid., pp.179-180).
Rarely do we hear in the media this view that what upsets the Arab world the most is the fact that Israeli Jews are Western. Professor Salam continues:
"The Jew personifies all that has in the past been inimical to and destructive of Arab cultural pride. It is a visceral reaction, an instinctive one. It is not the Jew himself we object to. Had the Jews remained in the Middle East - dispersed, yes, but dispersed within the Middle East rather than throughout the Western world - and had they then, two thousand years later, regrouped in Palestine to form a nation, there would have been little objection to them. I do not know for sure if such an Israel would have been allowed to develop, but my guess is it would have. However, the present State of Israel was conceived and born in the West, not here. And it was the West that robbed us of our glory a thousand years ago..." (Ibid., p.181).
I relate Professor Salam's views not because they are all necessary correct but because they explain Arab attitudes toward the West. The West's appeasement of the Islamic world has in truth been to placate this injured pride, nurtured over centuries, because the Arab and Muslim world's possession of huge oil wealth on which the West is dependent for its industry. The West, which has become so individualistic, has been taught to hate itself and its past. And this makes the Arab, who has such a strong appreciation of his past (right or wrong), even more contemptuous of the West. Nothing that the West offers will appease the Arab-Muslim mindset until the West has either been converted to Islam or enslaved by it. Then there will be 'peace' in 'Dar es Salaam'. The West, so totally ignorant of the Muslim mindset, is slitting its own proverbial throat.
"We remained abject, rooted in our primitive past, making no progress technologically or socially. Then, all of a sudden, here is Israel in our midst - a state conceived and born in the West, a graphic reminder of our own thousand years of helplessness and indirection, a hurtful kick in the pants of our awareness of our own cultural ineptitude. The establishment of Israel by by the West peeled back the last layer of our historical shame at the hands of the West. It was like pouring salt on a festering wound. It was not the Jews we hated, it was the West, which had carried out this final humiliation, this final act of its traditional contempt for us. Forget for a moment the underhanded tactics of the Zionists themselves in settling in Palestine during the past 50, 60 years. Forget too the expansionism and militancy of the Jews once Israel was established. It was not the Jews we hated back there in 1947. It was what they represented. For in them was embodied the culmination of a thousand years of Western contempt. Not Jewish contempt, but Western Christian contempt. We saw in Israel an unholy alliance between Christians and Jews, the Jews hypocritically uniting with the Christians, their arch-enemies." (Ibid., p.182).
Politically, the West's only hope is to stand up and fight because whether it likes it or not, this is a clash of civilisations, and only the most military and economically strong will survive. Of course, as Christians, we know that this is no solution. Both the West and the Muslim world need to repent. The West must return to Messiah and the Muslim world must forsake its pagan religion of hatred and bellicosity and accept Messiah for the first time. Neither the West nor the Muslim world represent the true God - the Muslim world never has, the West no longer does. The chief and most powerful Western nation, the United States, has a closet Muslim as its President with an agenda to wreck revenge on what the Muslim world views as the 'Great Satan', a job he is doing well. The West is paying for its apostacy and rebellion against Yahweh-Elohim and the sons of Ishmael are one of His agents.
Many years ago I had an unexpected meeting with Anis Shorrosh, a Palestinian Arab who accepted Christ and wrote the book, The Liberated Palestinian. We met in the car park of the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, England. I gave him copies of some of my writings and he gave me a copy of his book. 25 years on I am more in line with his beliefs than I was with my own back then! That was in 1985. He has since done an extraordinary work in bringing the reconciling ministry of Yah'shua the Messiah to both Arab, Jew and Western Christian. You can read about him on his website, Islam in Focus. He has written an amazing book called The True Furqan which explains the Gospel in Quranic, Arabic style. If you are a Muslim and/or an Arab, I recommend you read it.
Ishmael has indeed become a "great nation", as Yahweh prophesied, and become fruitful. He is both important and needed. He is, however, in great spiritual bondage to a false religion made to appear like the orginal one of Abraham but which in truth is as pagan as the paganism which birthed it, full of wildness and hate. Ishmael is a son of Abraham by blood and is as entitled to the blessings of the New Covenant as anyone else:
Ishmael must renounce the chauvanism of blood and accept the only blood that matters - the atoning blood of Yah'shua the Messiah. He does not need to prove himself or exact revenge for real or imagines grievances the past because in Yah'shua all of us are equal and reconciled - Jew, Westerner and Arab. That is really Good News!
"Therefore know that only those who are of faith [in Yah'shua the Messiah/Jesus Christ] are sons of Abraham [today]" (Gal.3:7, NKJV).