by Rod Dreher
Check out this NRO piece on Zakaria Botros, a Coptic priest who’s making big waves in the Arab Muslim world with his television broadcasts on Arabic-language television. Excerpts:
A third reason for Botros’s success is that his polemical technique has proven irrefutable. Each of his episodes has a theme — from the pressing to the esoteric — often expressed as a question (e.g., “Is jihad an obligation for all Muslims?”; “Are women inferior to men in Islam?”; “Did Mohammed say that adulterous female monkeys should be stoned?” “Is drinking the urine of prophets salutary according to sharia?”). To answer the question, Botros meticulously quotes — always careful to give sources and reference numbers — from authoritative Islamic texts on the subject, starting from the Koran; then from the canonical sayings of the prophet — the Hadith; and finally from the words of prominent Muslim theologians past and present — the illustrious ulema.Typically, Botros’s presentation of the Islamic material is sufficiently detailed that the controversial topic is shown to be an airtight aspect of Islam. Yet, however convincing his proofs, Botros does not flatly conclude that, say, universal jihad or female inferiority are basic tenets of Islam. He treats the question as still open — and humbly invites the ulema, the revered articulators of sharia law, to respond and show the error in his methodology. He does demand, however, that their response be based on “al-dalil we al-burhan,” — “evidence and proof,” one of his frequent refrains — not shout-downs or sophistry.
More often than not, the response from the ulema is deafening silence — which has only made Botros and Life TV more enticing to Muslim viewers. The ulema who have publicly addressed Botros’s conclusions often find themselves forced to agree with him — which has led to some amusing (and embarrassing) moments on live Arabic TV.
I’ll say! This piece shows how ill-equipped many Muslim spiritual leaders are to engage in real theological and cultural dialogue with non-Muslims. The examples the author cites from television broadcasts, e.g., a hijab-wearing Muslim TV presenter asking an imam why he won’t provide a reasonable answer to Botros’s question, only to have the imam storm off the set; shows that too often, the answer to legitimate questions about Islam is bluster, bullying and evasiveness. I’ve dealt with this sort of thing personally.
(Personally, I’ve had a lot better time talking about religion with followers of Fethullah Gulen’s form of Islam, because, I think, they don’t take serious critical questions about their faith as hostility. But that’s another story.)
More from Raymond Ibrahim’s NRO piece. I’ve highlighted the absolutely critical point he makes:
Botros’s motive is not to incite the West against Islam, promote “Israeli interests,” or “demonize” Muslims, but to draw Muslims away from the dead legalism of sharia to the spirituality of Christianity. Many Western critics fail to appreciate that, to disempower radical Islam, something theocentric and spiritually satisfying — not secularism, democracy, capitalism, materialism, feminism, etc. — must be offered in its place. The truths of one religion can only be challenged and supplanted by the truths of another. And so Father Zakaria Botros has been fighting fire with fire.