by Imran N. Hosein
I have just spent 10 exciting days with my Russian friend, ‘The Saker’, in the enchantingly beautiful Caribbean island of Tobago. I was born in the island of Trinidad where I now live, and Tobago is located just next to Trinidad in the South Caribbean Sea close to Venezuela:
This was the first time that I ever met with ‘Saker’, and I am happy to report that I succeeded in persuading him to come out in the open with his true identity, while putting his trust in the One God. As a consequence, his identity is now public. He is Andrei Raevsky, but he will continue to use his nom de plume of Saker. If you visit his website: http://thesaker.is/sakers-open-letter-to-the-saker-community/ you will even see his photograph. Those who are not familiar with him will get to know him if they visit his website.
I also got him to agree to record a joint video with me in which I interviewed him for half of an hour, so viewers will soon be able to see us together in that interview in Tobago. It will be placed on my website at www.imranhosein.org as well as my You-tube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/SheikhImranHosein
We were joined in Tobago by my Serbian friend, the US-trained Attorney, Stefan Karganovic, and by his friend, a Serbian Neurosurgeon. I got to know Stefan a few years ago through the Saker, and we corresponded with each other by email before I travelled to Belgrade in 2015 to meet with him and so many others in what must be recorded as a blessed visit to that historic city. It was a dream come true for me to welcome my friend Stefan to beautiful Tobago.
Stefan has just completed the Serbian/Bosnian translation of my book on ‘Methodology for Study of the Qur’an’, and Prof Branko Rakic of the Faculty of Law of the University of Belgrade has written a long Foreword for the book. It will soon be published in a new edition with Prof Branko Rakic’s Foreword Insha Allah.
Both Saker’s wife, Ana, and my wife, Aisha, were also with us in Tobago.
I took them for an all-day tour all around the island of Tobago – driving from one end of the island to the other, while passing through Roxborough and Speyside where we stopped for lunch at a beachside restaurant with an absolutely stunning view of the Speyside Bay, until we reached the town of Charlottesville located at the other end of the island. Here are some pictures of Speyside Bay and Charlotteville:
We then drove through the rain-forest from the eastern side of the island across to the western side, got stuck in soft mud at the side of the road, and eventually found a rest-shed where we could enjoy our desert – which, inevitably, was pineapple.
Perhaps the most beautiful sight of all was when we looked down at the Parlatuvier Bay (otherwise known as Englishman’s Bay) from high up a hill. My guests were all absolutely amazed by the stunning natural beauty of Parlatuvier Bay. Here are some pictures of the Bay: https://www.google.tt/search?q=parlatuvier+bay+pictures+tobago&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwji4_zCgozTAhUESiYKHSBTDQgQ7AkIJA&biw=1163&bih=545&dpr=1.65.
We also made the trip by boat to Tobago’s Nylon Pool as well as to the archipelago known as No Man’s Land.
Captain Phillips, who piloted our boat, assured my guests that whoever took a bath in the Nylon Pool would emerge looking ten years younger. Not only did they all look ten years younger at the end of their visit to Tobago, but Stefan eventually looked quite red. He spent endless hours enjoying himself swimming in the blue/green Caribbean Sea. I do not know why the native people who lived in what is now known as America, were called ‘Red’ Indians, but I am satisfied that Stefan should enter history as the first ever ‘Red’ Serbian who was authentically ‘red’.
Since it was the Christian time of Lent, when Christians have certain dietary restrictions, we bought lots of fresh fish at the Lambeau Fish Market, and took turns in cooking. I had my turn twice, and I was fortunate to escape, despite my somewhat unconventional menus, without any culinary disaster. I took lots of pineapples and two large watermelons to Tobago from Trinidad, and was very relieved when they turned out to be quite sweet. Indeed we ate pineapples so often that some of my guests may even have had dreams of sweet pineapples. I also took a local Indian bread called Dhalpouri Roti. It is soft, round in shape, and large enough for two people to eat one of them. The flour is mixed with yellow lentil called Dhall, which makes it very delicious indeed. My guests loved it.
Despite the time spent in cooking, touring, and bathing in the blue/green Caribbean Sea, we still found time for all four of my Orthodox Christian guests to visit Tobago’s Masjid al-Taubah to attend the congregational prayers known as Salaat al-Jumu’ah. The Imam invited me to deliver the Khutbah (i.e., sermon) and to lead the prayer, and I delivered a Khutbah on Christian-Muslim relations which was based on verses of the Qur’an. Saker responded to the sermon with a declaration that he wanted all of Russia to be able to hear it, and Stefan had the same wish for all of the Balkans.
My sermon was based on verses of the Qur’an which explicitly affirmed faith in some Christians:
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَلَوْ آمَنَ أَهْلُ الْكِتَابِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُم مِّنْهُمُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
“You (Muslims) are an excellent community evolved (by divine wisdom) for the sake of mankind, (provided that you) enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and you have faith in Allah. If only the People of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians) had faith (in Muhammad as a Prophet of the One God and in the latest Book, i.e., the Qur’ān, as His revealed Word), it would have been beneficial for them: amongst them there are those who have faith, but most of (the rest of them) are perverted transgressors.”
(Qur’ān, Ale ‘Imran, 3:110)
In consequence of the above unambiguous declaration by Allah Most High in which He affirmed that amongst the Christians and Jews (i.e., the People who have the Book of Allah as we, Muslims, also have the Book of Allah) there are those who have ‘faith’, while most of them are sinful in conduct, it became necessary for Muslims to make an effort to identify and demarcate the two groups, i.e., those Christians and Jews who act in a manner consistent with a people who have ‘faith’, and those whose conduct is manifestly sinful. A people who have ‘faith’ would not harbor feelings of hatred in their hearts for the believers in Allah Most High. Nor would a people who have ‘faith’ become friends and allies of those whose hearts are filled with hatred for Muslims.
I quoted the verse of the Qur’ān which explicitly identified Jews to be a people whose hearts will display great hatred for Islam and Muslims. While some Jews did not act in this way towards Muslims, most Jews did so. This was manifest in the life-time of Nabī Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and has once again manifested itself in the modern age in the conduct of Zionist Jews:
لَتَجِدَنَّ أَشَدَّ النَّاسِ عَدَاوَةً لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ الْيَهُودَ وَالَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُواْ وَلَتَجِدَنَّ أَقْرَبَهُمْ مَّوَدَّةً لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ الَّذِينَ قَالُوَاْ إِنَّا نَصَارَى ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّ مِنْهُمْ قِسِّيسِينَ وَرُهْبَانًا وَأَنَّهُمْ لاَ يَسْتَكْبِرُونَ
“Strongest among men in enmity to the believers will you find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who (openly and publicly) declare, “We are Christians”: because amongst them are priests (who devote their lives to teaching and administering religious rites) and men who have embraced monasticism (and have hence renounced the world), and they are not arrogant.”
(Qur’ān, al-Māidah, 5:82)
Not only did the Qur’ān identify in the above verse the community of Jews as the People of the Book who are without faith, but it also went on to identify those (amongst the People of the Book) who display love and affection for Muslims – and hence display an important sign of faith. They are a people who declare of themselves that: “We are Christians”.
Christians who displayed love and affection for Islam and for Muslims, did appear in early Islam when the Negus of Abyssinia (i.e., modern-day Ethiopia) rejected the request of Makkah to repatriate the Muslims (who were slaves or semi-slaves) who had fled from persecution and oppression in Makkah, and had sought asylum in Abyssinia. Indeed, when the Negus died, and the news of his death reached Nabī Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in Madīna, he performed the funeral prayer for him, thus recognizing him as a Christian who had faith in Allah Most High despite some of his Christian beliefs with which the Qur’an had taken issue.
There is absolutely no evidence that the Negus had renounced his belief in Jesus as the son of God, or that he had ceased to worship Jesus as God, prior to his death; nor do we have any such evidence from the community of Christians of whom he was the leader. When there is no such evidence from these two primary sources, dubious evidence from self-serving secondary sources is of no scholarly value. Yet the Prophet offered the funeral prayer for the Negus who was a Christian.
I argued in my sermon that such Christians who will be closest in love and affection for Islam and Muslims will once again emerge in the historical process in a time-frame that will match the contemporary emergence of Zionist Jews who have displayed unprecedented hatred for Islam and Muslims. That hatred is most visible in their barbarous oppression of the innocent people of Gaza in the Holy Land.
The verse of the Qur’ān provided important signs by which such Christians who would be closest in love and affection for Muslims, would be identified:
- They would be a Christian people who preserve the institution of priesthood and whose priests, from their Patriarch down to the lowest Priest, will demonstrate genuine love and affection for Islam and Muslims. This most certainly excludes the Vatican and the Roman Catholic faith, the Anglican Church (of England), and all other Christian churches in western Christianity.
- They would be a Christian people who preserve the institution of monasticism, and whose monks would display love and affection for Islam and Muslims. This most certainly excludes western Christianity which has almost totally abandoned monasticism and the monastic way of life. Monasteries in the West have almost all been sold, and have now become McDonalds Hamburgers etc.
- They would be a Christian people in whose conduct there is no arrogance. This again excludes those Christians who brought modern western civilization into being with an unprecedentedly arrogant agenda of imposing its unjust and oppressive rule over all of mankind at the point of a naked blood-stained sword.
- They would be a Christian people who would publicly and proudly identify themselves as ‘Christians’. This would exclude the secularized Christians of modern western civilization whose primary identity is with their nation or State, rather than with their religion.
- They cannot be a handful of scattered Christians who worship Allah as prescribed in the Qur’ān, and hence do not worship Nabī ‘Īsa (Jesus (عليه السلام as a third person in a trinity; and do not declare that Allah Most High had a son etc. Rather, they would have to be a community of Christians complete with their priests and monks, and hence can easily be identified. One would not have to search for them in some nook or cranny with a fine-teeth comb!
My sermon identified those Christians, referred to in the Qur’an, with the world of Orthodox Christianity.
When the prayer was over, the entire congregation of Muslims turned around and reached out to the Orthodox Christians sitting on chairs at the back of the prayer hall and greeted them with love and with affection. This first-ever visit to a Masjid was a very moving experience which Saker and his wife, Stefan and the Neurosurgeon, are unlikely to ever forget. No one turned away from them. No one rejected them. No one displayed any negative behavior towards them. I felt confident that they would have received the same welcome in all the Masajid (plural of Masjid) in the neighboring island of Trinidad. The only ones who would have displayed hostility towards them would have been those who took state-of-the-art weapons and heaps of US dollars from Santa Claus to fight their bogus ISIS Jihad in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
Unfortunately the sermon was not recorded, so we do not have a video of it which can be viewed.
In the ten days which we spent together in Tobago we had adequate time to engage in religious dialogue, and the remarkable thing about our dialogue was that it was always conducted with profound respect for each other, and for each other’s religion. At no time did our discussions reach a state in which either side was subjected to any deliberate discomfort. There was no hint of rivalry, and no debate, in which one side sought to defeat the other side, and yet, we never compromised in stating the viewpoint of our respective religions. In fact, what we did was to set an example for those who come after us, in engaging in Muslim – Orthodox Christian dialogue in a form and manner which was free from rancor and bigotry. In doing so, we conformed to Allah’s command in the Qur’ān in which He ordered as follows:
وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
And do not argue or dispute with the Ahl al-Kitab (i.e., People of the Book, or followers of earlier revelation who are like us since we also have a Book) otherwise than in a most kindly manner, (or except with means better than mere disputation), – unless it be such of them as are bent on evildoing, (or who inflict wrong or injury) and say: “We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: our God and your God is One, and it is unto Him that We [all] surrender ourselves.”
(Qur’an, al-Ankabūt, 29:46)
The above verse of the Qur’an has therefore prohibited Muslims from engaging in religious discussions with those who received the Torah, Psalms and Gospel, except in the best way possible. This prohibition did not apply, however, with such Christians and Jews who committed acts of Dhulm, i.e., injustice, oppression, wickedness.
The verse also went on to establish the very foundation of any engagement in religious discussions with Christians and Jews in the declaration that: “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us (i.e., the Qur’an) and in that which came down to you (i.e., the Torah, Psalms, Gospel); Our Ilah (i.e., God), and your Ilah (i.e., God), is One; and to Him we bow (in submission)”.
It is not my intention to write a comprehensive report of all subjects of our dialogue since Saker and I have decided to jointly write a book which will present both Islamic and Orthodox Christian Eschatology while examining the subject of Islam and Russia. Rather I choose to focus on only one subject of our dialogue and, in doing so, offer our readers a glimpse of what is to come when the book is written Insha Allah (God Willing).
Saker already knew that the Arabic word ‘Allah’ was a combination of the definite article (‘the’) and the Arabic word for God (‘ILAH’). Hence the word ‘Allah’ meant ‘The God’ i.e., The One God. Even though the Christian worshiped Jesus as God, he was still insistent that he worshiped One God since the Bible was unequivocal in its declaration: Know Oh Israel that the Lord, Your God, is One! Hence when I repeated to Saker on several occasions that his God and my God were One God, it built between us a solid common foundation for positive dialogue.
There might, unfortunately, be some Muslims who will be uneasy with the above verse of the Qur’an in which Allah Most High ordered Muslims to declare to Christians and to Jews that: Our Ilah (i.e., God) and your Ilah (i.e., God) is One. Their uneasiness would be in consequence of their knowledge that Christians worship Jesus as God. Allah Most High has already responded to such uneasiness by asking them whether they wish to teach religion to the Lord-God (Allah):
قُلْ أَتُعَلِّمُونَ اللَّهَ بِدِينِكُمْ . . . .
Say: “Do you want to teach your religion to Allah? . . . .
(Qur’ān, al-Hujurāt, 49:16)
It is remarkable that we conducted our religious discussions in exactly the opposite way from the boxing matches staged by the late Ahmad Deedat of South Africa which sought to expose several things in the Bible, belligerently so, as false and rancid. Many Christians were enraged by those boxing matches, and those who were not enraged were secretly smiling with Deedat’s Saudi sponsors since they shared a covert agenda of driving such a thick wedge between the two faiths as would preclude any possibility of friendship and alliance ever emerging between Muslims and Christians. I believe that Saker and I were more faithful to the Qur’an than Deedat and his acolytes ever were, and we set the right example of mutual respect and proper decorum for those who will now follow us Insha Allah, in Orthodox Christian-Muslim dialogue.
I asked Saker what were his expectations for the future of Muslim – Orthodox Christian dialogue, and he was very clear and precise in his response in directing attention, first of all, to those matters wherein we differed, and which appeared to him to be beyond resolve. Saker was forthright in his declaration that Orthodox Christianity does not recognize Muhammad as a Prophet of the One God, like unto Abraham and Moses (Allah’s blessings be upon them all), and does not recognize the Qur’ān as a divinely-revealed Word of the One God. However he did go on to explain that Orthodox Christianity does not have a book comparable in absolute authority to the Qur’an. Rather, Orthodox Christianity is dependent on both the Bible as well as the Church, and the collective wisdom of its luminaries through the ages, for an authoritative declaration of what constitute Truth and Faith. And so, it appeared to me that Orthodox Christians have a possible future in which the Church and its luminaries can modify Christian views through new interpretations of Christian religious symbolism and through divine visions etc. I therefore did not close the chapter between us pertaining to the status of the Qur’an and of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah Most High ever be with him).
I was familiar, of course with our own Islamic view that while whatever is clearly and explicitly stated in the Qur’an is eternally binding on all Muslims, there are other verses in the Qur’an which have to be interpreted, and hence that new knowledge would constantly keep on flowing from the Qur’an.
I did address the matter of Christian worship of Jesus as God, and as Son of God, and put the matter to rest between us when I quoted a passage of the Qur’an in which Allah Most High addressed Jesus on the subject:
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَـهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلاَ أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلاَّمُ الْغُيُوبِ
AND LO! Allah said: O Jesus, son of Mary! Did you say unto men, `Worship me and my mother as deities beside Allah?” [Jesus] answered: “Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! It would not have been possible for me to say what I had no right to [say]! Had I said this, You would indeed have known it! You know all that is within myself, whereas I know not what is in Yourself. Verily, it is You alone who fully knows all the things that are beyond the reach of a created being’s perception.
I argued that this response implied that the matter of the worship of Jesus as God, and as the Son of God, should not become a subject of dispute and debate between Muslims and Christians. The Qur’an has advised the Muslim to let the matter rest until Allah Most High deals with it Himself on Judgment Day. This Divine wisdom seems to have escaped the attention of those misguided Muslims who ignore the Qur’an whenever they take up their boxing gloves to do religious battle with Christians and with the Bible.
This brief report does not record all the matters discussed between us, since there is a book coming, Insha Allah, which Saker and I will jointly write. He and I will endeavor to set the example, as well as the stage, for future such dialogue between Muslims and Orthodox Christians so that we can advance the cause of friendship and alliance between our two persecuted peoples.
Saker has already set the example of faithfulness to his Orthodox Christian creed, and I too will endeavor to ensure in my dialogue with Saker that I remain faithful to the Qur’an and faithful Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) who personally received in Madina a delegation of about 60 Byzantine Christians (including many religious scholars) who travelled from their native Najran in Yemen to meet with him. He not only welcomed them warmly and kindly, but offered them the Masjid itself as their place of residence and rest, as well as a place for them to pray, during their stay of approximately 3 days in Madina. The inter-religious dialogue did not yield any break-through regarding the central issues which divided the Christians and the Qur’an, but also did not result in bitter and acrimonious exchanges. Before saying good-bye and returning to Najran in Yemen, the delegation of Christians even requested of the Prophet that a learned and trustworthy Muslim be sent to them in Najran so that, among other things, the lines of communication for continuing dialogue could remain open. Despite all that has since occurred between our two peoples, and which unfriendly critics will now rush to relate, Saker and I are doing precisely that – we are continuing that Orthodox Christian – Muslim dialogue that was initiated in Madina in the presence of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and upon all the messengers of Allah Most High).
Small post-scriptum by The Saker: with all due respect and love for the Sheikh, I don’t believe that he is correct when he writes that “it appeared to me that Orthodox Christians have a possible future in which the Church and its luminaries can modify Christian views through new interpretations of Christian religious symbolism and through divine visions etc.“. The problem here is that for a teaching to be considered “Orthodox” it has to meet two criteria:
- It has to be the expression of the consensus patrum, the agreement of all the Church Fathers, and thus is cannot contradict the past position of the Church. Saint Vincent of Lérins (5th century) expressed it in the following words when he said that is true that “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all” . Thus, it cannot be the opinion of only some, contemporary, Church Fathers.
- It has to be “upward compatible” with what has been taught in the past. Saint Athanasios (4th century) expressed this idea in the following words that the Orthodox faith is the faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian“. Thus no new teaching can be accepted if it contradicts what was taught in the past.
The Church having refused to recognize Muhammad as a prophet of God and having refused to accept the Quran as a divine book, She cannot under any circumstances change Her point of view. On issues of faith and dogmatics the Church, being the Theandric Body of God filled with the Holy Spirit, She is infallible.
However, and as long as their is no compulsion in religion and as long as everybody recognizes the absolute right of each human being to follow his/her conscience, I totally agree with the Sheikh when he writes “the matter of the worship of Jesus as God, and as the Son of God, should not become a subject of dispute and debate between Muslims and Christians. The Qur’an has advised the Muslim to let the matter rest until Allah Most High deals with it Himself on Judgment Day“.
As long as our differences are not obfuscated or otherwise minimized, I do believe that it makes little sense to engage in disputes about them. What we all have to do is the explain our beliefs and make sure that the other is not mislead/misinformed about them. But once that “informational” phase is over, there is simply no point in engaging in disputes. Finally, we all have to recognize that the other is following his/her conscience with as much honesty, zeal and purity of faith as we do. While we do not have to agree with the other, we do have to respect this quest for the truth in by the other.
These are my humble comments to the wise and kind words of the Sheikh.