I have lived and worked in the Muslim Middle East for the past thirty-five years, and have many dear friends who are Muslims. Most recently, I prayed with a 38-year old Muslim man in the ruins of his house in the old city of Mosul, as he told me his story of surviving the ISIS occupation.
I stumbled upon Azam Nejim Abdallah by accident, while inspecting the devastation wrought upon the magnificent 4th and 5th century churches of West Mosul with an Iraqi police brigadier general and activists from the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, a local group dedicated to protecting Iraqi minorities.
Azam and an older neighbor, Abu Ibrahim Mohsen, were among the hardy few who had returned to the ruins and were attempting to rebuild. Their problem on this particular day was that they had no water, and no electricity. "People just three blocks down the street have water," they complained to the brigadier general. Why not us?"
To us, the answer was obvious. The fact that Azam and his neighbors were alive was nothing short of miraculous. One neighbor's house was just a pile of rubble. Bomb squads were still combing through the neighborhood, more than a year after the liberation, for ISIS booby-traps and unexploded ordinance. There was not a single house left standing in the neighborhood. Water? Electricity? Really?
When Azam saw me, he wanted to tell me the story of how his four-year son and father were killed in the final days of the ISIS occupation. He kept pointing to an alleyway, and in the end, I let him take me by the hand to his house a bit further away. He had already started to rebuild the walls, but that wasn't what he wanted to show me: it was a picture of his four-year old son, Omar, and the jagged hole a coalition bomb had torn through a metal door. "I was crouching, right there," he pointed. "Omar was crouching here, with my father. They were both killed," he wept. All I could do as he showed me a photograph of his son was to pray with him.
I am reminded of this story by an encounter with a pastor in an Anglican church in Europe recently, who commented that ISIS and all their barbarity were "such a distortion of true Islam."
I must have raised an eyebrow, for he went on: "You know, the Koran says to protect the People of the Book."
"Those are the Meccan verses," I countered. "In Medina, Mohammad preached violence and conquest."
"You must read the Koran in its entirety," he said. "It's like the Bible: you can't just take things out of context."
I was floored by that statement, and not wanting to get into an argument in Church, I left it there. So instead, I am writing this column.
As anyone knows who has actually studied Islam -- Islam itself, not the version purveyed by the apologists of the "religion of peace" -- Mohammad changed his tune after the hijira or migration from Mecca to Medina.
While in Mecca, he attempted to win over local Christians and Jews, and so preached a doctrine that allowed for a modicum of tolerance, even while relegating the People of the Book to second-class citizen status, or dhimmitude.
But once in Medina, where he built a powerful army, he jettisoned that baggage and verbalized the famous Verse of the Sword proclaimed by ISIS and millions of Muslim warriors over the past fourteen centuries as they slaughtered unbelievers.
He also pronounced the Verses of Abrogation, which explicitly annulled the Mecca verses of relative tolerance. My Anglican friend was either ignorant of the doctrine of Abrogation, or for some reason felt that he, as a Christian, was somehow a better judge of its relative merit than the unanimous verdict of fourteen hundred years of Islamic scholarship, which has always upheld abrogation.
In other words, Islam as a religion explicitly rejects tolerance of others. The Koranic verses proclaiming relative tolerance have been declared null and void by Allah himself, according to Mohammad and 14 centuries of Muslim scholars.
My Anglican friend clearly preferred the illusion of Islam, rather than its harsh and often barbaric reality, the one I had witnessed in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain.
The overwhelming majority of ordinary Muslims I have met have little notion of what the Koran actually says. It is, frankly, an unreadable book. Much of it makes no sense at all. Some contemporary scholars believe this is because it was actually written in Syro-Aramaic, the common language of the time.
So most Muslims believe what their imam tells them to believe, or if they are not practicing, whatever their parents and grandparents have handed down to them. And for the most part, that is a religious code based on what we would call family values, aimed at keeping societies that are 100 percent Muslim from crime and disorder.
Over the centuries, these Muslims have coexisted with Christian and Jewish neighbors because those neighbors brought them prosperity and innovation, something the imams did not. From time to time, roused by Islamic "radicals," these peaceful Muslims rose up and slaughtered their neighbors. In the most famous of these pogroms, Muslims slaughtered nearly half the Assyrian, Greek, and Armenian Christians in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey during the final years of WWI, just one hundred years ago.
In my experience, there are three broad categories of self-aware Muslims in the world today, all of whom understand the Doctrine of Abrogation.
There are the Reformers, who dare to proclaim that Islam must be better than violence and the sword. These are brave or foolhardy people, most of them men. They have a better chance of surviving in the Shiite world, which has a long tradition of ijtihad -- Islamic jurisprudence or interpretation -- something that died among the Sunna in the 12th century, if indeed it had ever existed as more than an afterthought.
Then there are the Seducers, the public intellectuals and politicians who proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace and that anyone who says the contrary is committing blasphemy. These are powerful people, who have won much support from wishful thinkers in the West.
The wishful thinkers have so thoroughly bought into their denials of the Doctrine of Abrogation that it has now become illegal in Europe to even write about it, something the United Nations General Assembly has not managed to accomplish, despite the best efforts of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to support Resolution 1618.
Finally, there is the Muslim Brotherhood and its evil Salifist spawn, from al Qaeda and the Taliban to Hamas, ISIS, and beyond. They simply point to the Book, shout out "Koran says," and eagerly behead Christians or Muslims who refuse to adopt their version of Sharia law, which happens to be drawn from authentic Islamic texts and 1400 years of unanimous Muslim scholarship.
Want to know the true face of Islam? Ask the Christians of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Or the Christians of Syria. Or the Muslims whose better nature rejected the barbarity of ISIS and who paid for their humanity with their lives.
Or ask Tara Fares, the former Miss Baghdad, who was gunned down last month in Iraq because she was a Christian who dared show her face in an outdoor market.
To my Anglican pastor friend, I say: wishful thinking will only get you dead. If not in this generation, then in the next.