Through a combination of circumstances, the author found himself in Qatar. Following are his observations and matters learned from discussions there.
As a long-time resident of Jamaica, I found articles in recent issues of The Tidings on Islam to be interesting and, in some cases, enlightening. As I am sure most readers know, there are several former Muslims in many of the Caribbean ecclesias, and even a few in North American ecclesias.
I found the review very helpful during a visit to the Sunni/Wahhabi Gulf state of Qatar. Within the Manhattan-like skyline and among the three million autos on the streets of the capital, Doha, I shared fellowship with a Christadelphian who is a Qatari national and is in the service of His Eminence Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabar Al Thani, a member of the royal family. Qatar is an absolute monarchy under Shari’a law. As a result there is no problem of theft. We experienced this for ourselves as we left an expensive camera (not mine) in a busy restaurant. The manager later told us that no one dare touch it, as if found with it, he would lose his right hand (left if left-handed).
I would like to add a few things which I learned about Islam while in Qatar as a rather late postscript to the series in The Tidings.
A multitude of wives
Muhammad said, “There is no celibacy in Islam”, and for healthy males marriage is obligatory. Everybody “knows” that Muslims can have up to four wives simultaneously, as well as concubines. This is custom, but it is not law. Many wealthy Qataris (and today there are thousands of them, due to our thirst for fuel) have many more than four, as well as concubines, mainly obtained from poor non-Muslim societies. This is permissible because Mohammad had at least twelve wives, plus an unknown number of slave girls. After his first wife died, he had a rather bizarre habit of marrying as many widows of his dead enemies as he could get inside his house in Medina.
The attire of the women
It is often suggested in the west that veiling of women is Arab custom and not original Islamic law. This is not so. The Quran lists those who are allowed to look on a “believing Muslim woman” unveiled. I asked why so many concubines went around, even in the market, unveiled, and in the home much less than unveiled. I was told that they were “unbelieving women”. Some of the concubines had stunningly beautiful, gentle faces, and wonderful eyes.
It seemed to me that many wealthy Qataris were trying to show off and impress. I noticed, especially in upper class circles, beneath the chadoors and burkas an almost incredible collection of jewelry on the women.
I was also amazed at the fantastic amounts of gold, diamonds and precious jewels on display in the open-air souks (markets), a certain temptation to thieves. But then I was reminded again that there is Shari’a law! Another thing did surprise me a little. However many wives and girls a man had, they seemed happy, holding hands in public, and laughing naturally. There seemed to be, at least on the surface, little of the jealousy that marred the life of Jacob through his multiple partners.
I acquired many insights into Muslim theology, and some debates on theological issues proved in discussion to be very close to unresolved and non-fundamental issues that have troubled the Christadelphians brotherhood for 150 years and more. One of the most bitter in Islam is the doctrine of contamination and guilt by association. Should we expel sinners from the elect in order to maintain the “purity of the truth” (the same phrases appear regularly!). Must we “come out and be separate” in every aspect of life and worship, and use the church (or mosque) as a road block rather than a gate to the sheepfold? Or does it mean a moral separation from “the world” and its temptations to sin, while still living in it? Muslims, like Christians, have disputed over this for centuries.
Because the faithful who are destined to Paradise must be kept pure and separate, the Kharijites withdrew from other Shi’ites, and have a fellowship restricted to the just and the holy. On the other hand the Mu’tazila believe that a sinner is neither a believer nor an unbeliever and that only Allah (God) can decide what his fate will be.
Muslim Statement of Faith
The Muslims’ principal statement of faith, the Creed of al-Ash’ari, is more dogmatic than I imagined on three points that rarely emerged in private discussions. It commits believers to:
- After death, the “supernatural beings” Munkar and Nakir “interrogate the dead in their tombs”. Since one Muslim dies every two seconds, the two beings are kept very busy or there is a heavy backlog (Clause 45).1
- A very supernatural Shatan (Satan). “Satan whispers to people, makes them doubt and makes them mad” (Clause 51).
- An extraordinarily ‘high’ concept of the absolute sovereignty of God that makes even an arch-Calvinist seem liberal. A person has no power to do anything or not do anything. “There is no creator except God. The evil actions of human beings are created by God. The good works of human beings are created by God. Human beings are not able to create anything” (Clause 16).
Really, how extreme can human beings become?
Purity of the faith
Discussion with Sahhabis was fascinating to me because they constantly emphasize the need to “return to the original purity of the word of Allah and original Islam”, and they talk about “the pioneers” (that’s the term they use). To them, going back to the original means ever harsher and harsher laws and punishments for apostasy. Pulling up the weeds and attacking Shatan (Satan, Americans and Europeans 2) is the main occupation of most Wahhabi Imams.
The endless feuding between Qadarites and Jbrites over pre-destination and freewill, and the eternal arguments between Hanbalites and Sufis over amendments to the fifty or so clauses in the Constitution of Medina and the Sunni statement of faith and styles of worship (whether to worship in solemnity and reverence or with joy and jubilation), are both extraordinary close parallels to disputes “to no profit” among ourselves. (Not so long ago, in the UK, I visited an ecclesia only to find that it was in the “no organs fellowship” about which I was totally ignorant.)
An Islamic campaign
An interesting final note is in regard to the Muslims handing out tracts in the various shopping malls. They seemed quite knowledgeable about the problems in the various Christian denominations and were ready to discuss on various topics. I was struck with their joyful and humble attitude that we could take as an example to ourselves. Somehow they seemed to know about Christadelphians and noted that “you can’t win unless you’re united”. Where did they get that from?
Alan Eyre (Oxford, UK)
1. It must be acknowledged that it is a similar conceptual problem which led many early Christadelphians,
and some today, to envisage a forty year period for “the quick and the dead” to
be judged in Sinai in “the Last Day”.
2. Unlike the Sunnis, many Shi’ites conceptualize Satan much as we do. The Americans are
Satan, and not just the agents of a supernatural Satan.