Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pic from Jordan: Not Your Average "Starbucks View"!

A friend who lives in Jordan sent me this picture. It's definitely not your average "Starbucks View"!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On this date... "6th Century Christians Massacred in What Is Present-Day Yemen

This entry in the Christian History Institute "story of the day" popped up on my homepage. (I have it set to show me what's on the page every day). The story below is about the massacre of Christians on the Arabian peninsula back in 500's A.D. It happened in what is present day Yemen... two countries over from where we live. Interesting stuff.

In the sixth century, the nation of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) dominated the kingdoms of Himyar and Yemen on the southern Arabian peninsula. There were flourishing Christian churches in the area (also known as Homerites) which looked to Christian Abyssinia for protection.

It happened that a Himyarite Jew, Yusuf As'ar (better known by nicknames referring to his braids or ponytail: Dhu Nuwas, Dzu Nuwas, Dounaas, or Masruq), seized the throne from his king and revolted against Abyssinia, seeking to throw the Ethiopians out of the country. He captured an Ethiopian garrison at Zafar and burned the church there and burned other Christian churches.

Christians were strongest at the North Yemen city called Najran (sometimes spelled Nagran or Nadjran). Dhu Nuwas attacked it. The Christians held the town with desperate valor. Dhu Nuwas found he could not capture it. And so he resorted to treachery. He swore that he would grant the Christians of Najran full amnesty if they would surrender. The Christians, knowing they could not hold out forever, yielded against the advice of their leader Arethas (Aretas or Harith).

What happened next was so appalling that Bishop Simeon of Beth Arsham (a Syrian) traveled to the site to interview eyewitnesses and write a report... "The Jews amassed all the martyr's bones and brought them into the church where they heaped them up. They then brought in the priests, deacons, subdeacons, readers, and sons and daughters of the covenant...they filled the church from wall to wall, some 2,000 persons according to the men who came from Najran; then they piled wood all round the outside of the church and set light to it, thus burning the church with everyone inside it."

In the ensuing week, hundreds more Christians were martyred, among them many godly women, who were killed with the most horrible tortures when they refused to renounce Christ. According to Simeon, many were told "Deny Christ and the cross and become Jewish like us; then you shall live."

Versions differ as to date, but one says that it was on this day, November 25, 523, Dhu Nuwas took his vengeance on Arethas and 340 followers, killing them. These men were quickly included in martyr lists in the Greek, Latin and Russian churches. A song was even written about them by one Johannes Psaltes, although it reports only about 200 deaths.

Other accounts written within a century add that deep pits were dug, filled with combustible material, and set afire. Christians who refused to change faiths were hurled into the flame, thousands dying in this painful martyrdom. Some think that this is the event that the Koran refers to when it says, "Cursed be the diggers of the trench, who lighted the consuming fire and sat around it to watch the faithful being put to the torture!" although Muslim commentators deny this.

A wealthy lady named Ruhm was compelled to watch her virgin daughter and granddaughter executed and to taste their blood before she was killed herself. Asked how the blood tasted, she answered, "Like a pure, spotless offering."

When word reached Constantinople, the Roman Emperor encouraged the Ethiopian king Ellesbaas (Ella Atsbeha or Kaleb) to intervene, as did the Patriarch of Alexandra. Ellesbaas was only too willing to do so, since his garrisons had been massacred and fellow Christians killed. He destroyed Dhu Nuwas and established a Christian kingdom. An Ethiopian-Jewish writing known as the Kebra Nagast regarded the downfall of Dhu Nuwas to be the final catastrophe for the Kingdom of Judah. Another Ethiopian book told the story of the massacre under the title The Book of the Himyarites.


  1. "Aretas and Martyrs of Nagran (Nadjran)."
  2. Bell, Richard. A commentary on the Qur'an. Edited by C. Edmund Bosworth and M.E.J. Richardson. Manchester, England : University of Manchester, 1991.
  3. _________. The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment. London: Frank Cass and co., 1968; pp. 37 - 39.
  4. Budge, E. A. Wallis. History of Ethiopia, Nubia and Abyssinia. Oosterhout N. B., the Netherlands: Anthropological Pubns, 1966. pp. 261 - 262.
  5. Brock, Sebastian P. & Harvey, Susan Ashbrook. Holy Women of the Syrian Orient. Berkeley, CA: Univ of California Press, 1987; pp 100-121.
  6. Haqqani, Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul Haq. An introduction to the commentary on the Holy Quran : being an English translation of al-Bayan. Lahore : Oriental Imprints, 1975.
  7. Jones, A. H. M. and Monroe, Elizabeth. A History of Ethiopia. Oxford, 1953; p. 30.
  8. Koran. Sura 85. "The Constellations." trans. by N. J. Dawood. Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin, 1968.
  9. Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Yemen, the Unknown Arabia. Woodstock: Overlook Press, 2000; pp. 41 - 43.
  10. Nyrop, Richard F. et al. Area Handbook for the Yemens. United States Government Printing Office, 1977; pp. 13 - 14.
  11. Smith, Sidney. "Events in Arabia in the 6th Century A.D." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies #16. London: University of London, 1954; pp. 425 - 468.
  12. Trimingham, J. Spencer. Christianity among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times. London and New York: Longman, 1979; pp. 287 - 307.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Water-Truck Poetry

Here's a shot out of my window on the way home from church a couple weeks ago. The water trucks glut the road and make traffic difficult. One redeeming aspect is that the trucks are colorful and seem to have creative designs all over them. When I crept up on this truck I noticed something more creative than usual... poetry on the back bumper! Below is a cropped picture for your close-up viewing.

"Mountains can fly = River can dry; You can for - get me = But I can not you"

If anyone knows Urdu out there perhaps you can tell me if this is a typical Pakistani poem or something else that I'm not familiar with. (I'm just guessing it's Pakistani). Help from the readers?
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Native Deen: Islamic Hip Hop Group Out With New Recordings

You may remember that I met up with the US based hip hop group Native Deen here in Dubai over a year ago. (Deen means "religion") We had some great conversation about truth and comparative religions. They've just come out with a new recording. And here is the music video from the group.

Camel Milk in the Store

Some time ago I posted a picture of the camel milk truck on it's way down Beach Road. Just saw this in the grocery store the other day. An interesting "Arabian Peninsula" sight...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jesus... the Failure?

One of the commenters on the "tattoo" post from a few days ago has mentioned the idea that Jesus came to reestablish the Mosaic Law and never intended for his message to go to anyone but Israel. The idea that Jesus was just like the prophets that went before him would also be included in this idea. The idea is one put forward by many Muslims and perhaps other groups though I'm not sure about that.

I don't believe this idea to be true but I've considered it in the last few days. One conclusion that I come to is that if this was Jesus' purpose then he could rightly be considered a complete failure as a prophet.


1.) If he came to reestablish the Mosaic Law he instead did quite the opposite. His teaching and leadership instigated a radical "sect" of Judaism (Christianity) that declared that though the Law was good they didn't have to fulfill the civil or ceremonial component of the Law. So they threw off the dietary commands, the commands about mixing with people of other races, the Temple worship, and all the feasts and sacrifices. They even spoke of a "New Covenant" which Jesus had made mention of just before his death (or disappearance). Mosaic Law, as Israel knew it in Moses' day, was definitely not renewed.

Where is the record of the resurgence in Law-focused Jewish devotion that would have been brought about by a prophet of his stature? After all, he was called Messiah.

To my knowledge, there is absolutely no record of a wave of Law-focused Jewish devotion as a result of Jesus' ministry.

2.) His message, though it's asserted that it was for Israel alone, ended up spreading out across the whole world and continues to spread to this very day. So it would seem that his followers got it wrong when they fanned out from Jerusalem immediately following his death/disappearance. Either he hadn't trained them well or there was some big misunderstanding on their part. They began specifically spreading this message to other nations and didn't encourage them to become Jews.... rather they were to worship Jesus himself!

3.) Unlike the premier prophets that came before him he never delivered a unified "revelation" from God. He also didn't manage to get his "revelations" written down like the other prophets before him, namely Moses, or the one who would come after him like Mohammad some 600 years later. If he was given a revelation we don't have it. We do have what his followers wrote about him but this doesn't fit the format of other prophets before and after. Some might say that perhaps his revelation was lost but this seems like a preposterous thought given the weight and honor and value that his own written words would have had. His own writings would have far outweighed any writings of his followers.

The lack of a written revelation could be considered a major failure as a prophet.

4.) Referring to the end of my point #2, it could be considered a major failure that his key followers began a "sect" that encouraged the worship of him, that equated him with God, and posed some "trinity" within the One God breaking with conventional Jewish thought. It would be one thing if a 'break-away' group of renegade followers started this. But these were his chosen lieutenants. This would be the greatest failure of all perhaps.

Let me re-iterate; I do not believe what I've written above in points 1-4 to be true. I'm merely trying to illustrate how Jesus could not have been considered a success as a prophet of God AND be one who sought to reestablish the Mosaic Law and get his message out exclusively to the people of Israel.

To my Muslim friends this imagining might seem blasphemous. For they hold Jesus in high regard. So I hope you understand my desire to simply illustrate a hypothetical situation.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Friends in Pakistan are Facing Abuse

You may know that Pakistan has been put under Emergency Rule or Martial Law by P.M. Musharraf. The Pakistani population is Dubai is rather large and I have a number of Pakistani friends. One friend had returned to Pakistan to live with his family recently. Mansur is his name. His father is a leader in one of the opposition parties there and his Father's been in hiding for a while now to avoid police interrogation and abuse.

Just this week students gathered at a Lahore University called LUMS to protest martial law. My friend's sister and some co-workers were there for the rally and they were beaten by police trying to disperse the rally. My friend has written about it on his blog. You can read about it there.

And mostly I encourage you to pray for Pakistan. Pray for peace, justice, and for God's purposes to be accomplished there even in this time of turmoil. I'd also appreciate prayers for the safety of my friends there.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tattoos and Islam

An article in the Gulf News yesterday covered the topic of tattoos and specifically addressed tattoos in light of the teaching of Islam. Dubai is a place where you are likely to see tattoos frequently though not as often as you'd see in the West.

But the most interesting part of the article was the information about how tattoos are viewed in Islam.

Ahmad Al Kubaisi, a leading Islamic scholar said, "Some of us unfortunately bring troubles to ourselves. Tattooing is prohibited in Islam because of its obvious dangers as the process requires drawing blood," he said.

"Muslims are prohibited from defacing their bodies as defacement of Allah's creation is not permitted in Islam. They also will not be able to pray because Islam does not allow prayer if you have drawings on your body," he said.

In Christianity there is no specific ban on tattoos though there is one Old Testament reference in Leviticus 19:38 which seems to refer to tattoos as they are related to idol worship. Even still, I believe that this command is not a part of the moral code of the Old Testament Law and therefore is not applicable to Christians today. Yet, other biblical commands should be considered when Christians consider tattoos. I think that a possible count against tattoos is that they seem to often be markings which inordinately draw attention to oneself and appeal to vanity and pride. The question should be asked, 'why can't your personality be revealed in the normal ways of relating with one another?' Furthermore, we're told to be about the business of loving God and loving people. Going to the trouble of getting a tattoo seems to me to often cross the line into self-centeredness.

Still, in Christianity, there is nothing that prevents a person from repenting of their sin in life and putting trust and faith in Jesus... even tattoos.

But what about tattoos and Islam as stated above? My question is this: If you are not a Muslim and you have tattoos there is no way you can convert to Islam and have any hope of pleasing God as Islam tells you to. You would not be able to pray and without prayer in Islam you cannot please God. Even expensive and painful procedures to remove them do not guarantee that the images will disappear. So it seems, based on the Gulf News article, that in Islam there is no hope for acceptance from God of those who have tattoos.

UPDATE: A keen blogger from India has commented that there is provision for those with tattoos in Islam. I'm posting the link to that explanation here for those who are interested. Also, it wasn't my intention to be harsh with my analysis above. I hope the Muslim friends who read are not offended. My intention was just to consider the ramifications of what was taught in the Gulf News article.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

One for the Grandparents: Honor Choir Tryout Recordings

I don't post much here about my family... kind of a privacy thing. But my two oldest daughters (I have 4 total) age almost 17 and 14 recently tried out for the Honor Choir which will sing in London in March 2008. I was pretty impressed so I've put up their tryouts here. The recordings are a couple minutes each at most. They sing scales first to warm up and then sing a song portion toward the end. Wonder where they get their talent :)

This is the oldest, 17 year old.

This is the younger one, 14 years old.