wrong place, wrong time

Maybe you’ve never hear of Mustafa Kassem. He was a 54 year old auto parts dealer from Long Island, New York. Mr. Kassem was a United States citizen who died recently in an Egyptian prison.

Kassem was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Egypt after being arrested in what his lawyers described as a vast dragnet while Egypt was dealing with Islamist protesters. Kassem maintained his innocence throughout his detention and started a hunger strike last year in protest.

Kassem is an Egyptian-American who was visiting family. In 2017, President Trump negotiated the release of Egyptian American charity worker Aya Hijazi and her husband from an Egyptian prison where they had spent nearly three years. Whether Trump got the handwritten note from Kassem for help, we don’t know.

Medical negligence in Egyptian prisons should not be surprising, because it is more common than not in most prisons systems in the world. The very idea that prisoners are worthy of compassion comes from Jesus. The quality of a nation’s prison system might be something to take into consideration when making travel plans.  More so if you are traveling to a place with an authoritarian style government.

Sunnis and Shi’as

The division between Sunnis and Shi’as is the largest and oldest in the history of Islam. The main difference between them is the identity of the successor of Muhammad the Prophet.  The majority of his converts decided his close companion, Abu Bakr, should be the leader or Caliph. The minority, including some of Muhammad’s closest circle, believed that the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin, Ali, should be Caliph.  These followers believed Muhammad himself had named Ali to be the sole interpreter of his legacy.  The majority had its way and Abu Bakr was appointed First Caliph.

According to accounts, the Shi’as say Muhammad appointed Ali in front of his companions on his way back from his last Hajj, proclaiming him the spiritual guide and master to be followed.  Sunnis say Abu Barkr was the chosen by Mohammad to lead prayers while on his death bed. So you can perhaps remember this distinction, Sunna means one who follows the Sunnah.’ Sunnah is what the  Prophet said, did, agreed to or condemned. Shi’a is a contraction of the phrase ‘Shiat Ali’ which describes a follower of  Ali.

Abu Barkr was the father of one of the prophet’s wives, Aisha, who of course claimed to be the favorite wife. When Ali was finally chosen as the fourth Caliph, after the third Caliph was murdered, Aisha opposed him.  Ali moved his capital to Kufa in Iraq, away for Medina.  Aisha took issue with Ali for not finding those who murdered the third Caliph and this led to the Battle of the Camel in 656 CE and a division of Islam. Ali was eventually killed by a relative of the third Caliph who wanted the title for himself. Unfortunately, Ali was praying at a mosque at the time of his death. Mu’awiya assumed the Caliphate of the Islamic state and moved its capital to Damascus, Syria. When Mu’awiya died, his son Yazid succeeded him in monarchical fashion.

Ali’s youngest son Hussein from his marriage to Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammad was called by the people of Kufa in Iraq to become their leader.  Hussein was met by forces of Yazid and refused to pay allegiance. Hussein died in battle and is considered to have sacrificed himself for Shi’a Islam.

Sunni Islam developing four major schools of religious jurisprudence (fiqh) following the thinking of scholars from the 7th and 8th centuries, the Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki and Shaafii schools. These teachings provide answers to more and religious questions.  Sunni Islam continued through the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties to the powerful Mughal and Ottoman empires down to the 20th century. This branch of Islam spread  east through central Asia and the Indian sub-continent to the Indonesian archipelago, and west towards Africa and the periphery of Europe. Today about a billion people world wide are Sunni Muslims, 85% of the total.

Shi’a leadership continued through Imams considered to be divinely appointed through the Prophet’s family. The Shi’a believe that 12 Imams descended from the Prophet and some believe the 12th will come again. The Shi’a community is led by scholars know by the honorific title Ayatollah and they act as representatives of the Hidden Imam on earth. Shi’as are now found in many countries including Iraq, Pakistan, Albania and Yemen and make up 90% of the population of Iran.

What began as a question of who should lead Islam has developed into doctrinal differences because of alternative interpretations. A central tenet of Shi’a theology is the coming of a rightly guided one, Mahdi, at the end of time to spread justice and peace. He will be a descendant of the Prophet in the line of Ali’s wife Fatima.   Many Sunni Muslims also believe in the coming of the Mahdi. Orthodox Sunni Muslims tend to dispute thie concept of the Mahdi as he is not mentioned in the Qur’an.

The Wahabi movement of Sunni  views the Shi’a practice of visiting and venerating shrines to the Imams of the Prophet’s Family and other saintly figures as heretical.  In Shi’a there is a hierarchy of religious leadership, with political and religious authority is vested the most learned spiritual leaders.  Sunni has its own divisions, between the traditionalists who tend to a literal interpenetration and rationalists.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Think about Catholics and Protestants, Theravada and Mahayana, Apple and PC, Android and IOS. Many people claiming to be followers of Christ don’t realize that Muslims have high regard of Isa, Peace be upon Him.  They believe Isa aka Jesus was born of a virgin, was a prophet, performed miracles and will return to earth before the Day of Judgment to defeat the false Messiah.  In Islamic eschatology, Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal is an evil false prophet. Keep that in mind if you watch the Netflix series Messiah.

When ISIL acknowledged the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October, it named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, as his successor to head ISIS.  ISIS Affiliated media accounts claim its affiliates and followers are pledging allegiance to the new leader. ISIL follows a fundamentalist version of Sunni and the organization has destroyed sites revered by Shi’a.

Ukrainian Plane

By now you’ve probably heard that Ukrainian Flight 752 which went down in Iran, killing all passengers on board, was most likely hit by surface-to-air missiles fired by Iran. The US is being uncharacteristically gracious about the disaster, saying it was likely a mistake.  In the words of President Trump “It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could have made a mistake. Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”

For those who died on board, it makes no differences whether the missiles that killed them were a mistake – or intentionally fired.  It didn’t matter to the 298 souls on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that went down after leaving Amsterdam on its way to Kuala Lumur. The Malaysian fight went down over another rough neighborhood, eastern Ukraine, where an arm conflicted was ongoing.  ThIn June, 2019 four men were charged for bringing the missile that brought down the Malaysian plan into the region from where it was fired. They are scheduled to stand trial in the Netherlands on March 9, 2020 and international arrest warrants have been issued for them..

When Flight 752 that went down outside Tehran, with 176 people on board, it had probably been hit by an anti-aircraft defense system activated as Iran was launching missiles at US forces in nearby Iraq in a  retaliatory strike. In Iran, Soleimani  is seen by many as a soldier  who was doing his job and as the man who had kept ISIL (ISIS) out of Iran. The story that Iranians are hearing is that Soleimani was on a diplomatic mission to improve the nation’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 138 passengers on board were headed to Toronto, Canada. The film Argo is about how the Canadian ambassador sheltered six US Embassy staff members who finally escaped Iran on Canadian passports, using the cover story they were in Iran working on a science fiction movie. Canada closed its embassy in 2012, the same year the movie came out.  There is a memorable scene in the film of the plane leaving the Tehran airport.

Hopefully history will not reveal the plane was intentionally targeted as this would make a difference, to those of us who have survived. It would be an even more dangerous world if nation states intentionally targeted commercial airliners.





Red Flag

According sources, the blood-red flag flying over the Jamkaran mosque is a symbol for spilled blood and a call for revenge in Shia Islam.  Social media from Iran says it symbolizes a great battle on the horizon. Jamkaran is an important center of learning for Shiite Muslims – and it is just 20 miles from one of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.

The Prime Minister of Iraq called the strike near the Baghdad airport  an act of aggression on Iraq and a breach of its sovereignty that will lead to war in Iraq, the region, and the world. Sergei Lavrov told the US Secretary Friday that the U.S. had embarked on an “illegal power” move.  He said that the actions of a UN member state to eliminate officials of another  on the territory of a third sovereign state “flagrantly violate the principles of international law and deserve condemnation.

Geng Shuang, China’s foreign minster said China has always opposed the use of force in international relations and urged the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions. He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.

Iran, China and Russia held joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman last week.  In case you didn’t know, the five permanent members of the UN security council are China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The non-permanent members right now are Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, Indonesia, Niger, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Viet Nam.  Keep and eye on what leaders of these nations have to say about the matter.

Meanwhile, you might want to check if you are set up to shelter in place should Iran’s retaliation disrupt world trade and pray for peace.


has the line been crossed?

Whatever you think about the politics of the drone strike that eliminated an Iranian general, it has consequences for U.S. citizens in Iraq. Why?  Because Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed revenge.

In case geography wasn’t your best subject in school, Iran, with a population of 81 million people borders Iraq on its eastern side.  Iran’s ambassador to the UN called the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani “an act of war,” and vowed that it would be met with “revenge, a harsh revenge.”

The embassy told US citizens to leave the country. Embassy and consular services have been suspended. Airlines are beginning to suspend flights into Baghdad. So far, Gulf Air, the National Carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain and Royal Jordanian have suspended flights. More airlines are likely to follow as commercial airlines don’t like flying into war zones.

If your organization has a written security policy that specifies conditions that would require departing a country, this probably should be mentioned.  When the US government says its time to go and the airlines start to stop operations, might be a time to get out.  Stay longer and insurance won’t work.

Give prayerful consideration to the Iraqi civilians who might be harmed if you stay when Iran comes looking for Americans.  Do you want them to possibly die because of you?

Prudence was one of the classical virtues. Peter alludes to it when he mentions moral excellence.  You can go back when things calm down, but you can’t undo getting someone else killed.  We understand if you want to die for your faith. Do you want an Iraqi Christian to die trying to protect you?

If this doesn’t seem like a reasonable time to depart a nation, what exactly would be a sign it was time to go?


tragic day at Texas church of Christ

Just six seconds, according to news reports, is how long the incident lasted at the West Freeway Church of Christ near Fort Worth.  About 250 people were taking communion when a man stood up pulled out a shotgun and fired three shots.

The shooter killed two members of the congregation before he was shot and killed by an armed member of the congregation.  In fact, several members of the congregation pulled guns after the shots were fired.

After a horrific slaughter at at a small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs killed 26 people, Texas passed a bill in September that allows licensed handgun owners to carry those weapons in church buildings, synagogues and other places where people gather for religious services.

The services were live streamed, as always.   A video of the event is circulating on the internet.  No motive for the shooting has been identified yet.


Trafficking Women

Associated Press says 692 Pakistani women, mostly teenage girls, have been trafficked to  China to be brides.  Many of them are from the poorest group in Pakistan, Christians.

The case of against their traffickers has fallen apart. The women who were to testify were bribed or threatened so the perpetrators were acquitted.  The governments of Pakistan and China put pressure on investigators to drop the case, according to the AP.

In this world, evil sometimes triumphs, but justice will be served in the end.